For months, players have been sending me questions about Commander (2018 Edition). Each time I've had to pump the brakes, promising we'd say more in July. I've typed out tweets and Reddit posts I wish I could send, then deleted them accordingly. Just a little bit longer
Well, we've all waited. And now, it's finally time: previews are here!
Making cards for Commander has become one of my favorite parts of working at Wizards. As a lead designer behind Commander (2017 Edition), Battlebond, and now Commander 2018, I've really taken a deep focus on Commander in R&D—and this set is lined up to really take all the lessons I had learned from those sets and put them toward this one.
As one of the people most at the social media nexus when it comes to Commander right now, I've heard a lot of the questions you've been asking. In this article, I'm going to answer a few questions you've been asking, answer a few questions you probably haven't been asking, tell you a few things you probably didn't know—and show off two exciting preview cards to boot!
First, as is design article tradition, let me introduce the designers behind the set! First up, Vision Design.
Okay, so that's the Vision Design team. They worked for a couple months to create the raw vision and skeleton behind this year's product. Then, they handed it off to me and my team.
Okay. That's the team. Now that you know who is behind the set, let's get into the juicy details.
A Feedback-Driven Set
Normally when we make a Commander set, we start with our ideas, or our themes, or our goals, and then build outward from there.
But this time, Ken Nagle flipped the script a little.
He started with a major mission: find common Commander requests, and incorporate them into the set.
Commander sets are a great opportunity to really look at the format and see what it could use. Ken had this great philosophy baked into Commander 2018 from the beginning and did a bunch of research, combing through articles, Reddit posts, and YouTube videos. He designed a few cards for it, then I took it and ran. In a sense, it's a "bottom-up" design: a lot of how the set came together was designed around making things work out so we would have the room to make cards (and commanders) for popular strategies, and cards that addressed holes in Commander.
You saw a little bit of this yesterday, with cards like Treasure Nabber and Enchanter's Bane.
We had seen a lot of requests for a way for red to fight enchantments. However, that is outside of red's color pie! Well, we worked with Mark Rosewater and the Council of Colors to find a red way to do just that. Whether red's opponent keeps their enchantment is always their choice; red asks, "How much damage is this worth to you?"
Mana rocks are everywhere in Commander. People wanted an answer to them, but also not one that blew all of them up. This is somewhere between: if you're going to load up on mana rocks, I'm going to take advantage of it too!
Those two were ones Ken handed off to me. And in the set, you'll find a number of these kinds of cards: White mana ramp, a very unexpected tribal lord that has been requested for years, and finally, a Jund lands-matter commander
I took this a level deeper by working with Creative to figure out which characters people really wanted to see. And in this set, you see several fan favorites finally show up—did you catch Tawnos and Varchild yesterday?
And for the mega-Vorthoses out there who like those really, really deep references—well, we didn't want to leave you out in the cold either. So how about a card designed entirely based on the flavor text from Sarcomite Myr?
Now, if all of this sounds like some mix of Time Spiral, Planar Chaos, and Future Sight to you, all I have to say is
Commander is a great place to experiment, pushing bounds to see what players enjoy—and we definitely tried some experiments with this set based on your feedback.
And, of course, most of all, this even ties in with the deck's colors and themes. We chose most of the themes so that we could make commanders for them. Like what, for example? I'm glad you asked!
Building a Theme
With Commander 2017, we switched from focusing on colors to focusing on themes. And indeed, you'll notice that these four decks are not perfectly color-balanced; there's a two-color deck alongside three three-color decks. While we wouldn't ever go as far to leave a color entirely out of it, this new model has given us the flexibility to make these decks something different.
So here's how the decks are set up.
First and foremost, each deck has a planeswalker as its face card! Rowan and Will in Battlebond may have whet your appetite, and now it is time for the main course of the return of the planeswalker-as-commander mechanic
This was pretty popular the first time. However, we did make one major tweak to their design. This time, none of them make emblems—we've heard a lot of feedback about Commander-focused planeswalkers making emblems and that being frustrating to deal with, so these characters have some quite splashy effects—but we're leaving the emblems to main-set planeswalkers.
So, who are they? We've split them down the middle: two new characters, and two returning characters.
You saw Saheeli yesterday. I'm glad to get another take at that character!
The green-white-blue (Bant) deck is helmed by a new character named Estrid, an enchanter who has the ability to create quite unique masks for herself and her friends—you'll see what that means mechanically with the card.
The white-blue-black (Esper) deck is helmed by one of the most unique Planeswalkers we've had yet: Aminatou. She looks like a kid
We were looking for the aesthetic of creepy, all-powerful kid
I couldn't nod fast enough, and I think you'll soon see that he nailed it.
So that leaves one left: the black-red-green (Jund) deck. And if you were paying close attention, you'd know it was a returning character!
This is a character people have latched on to. He played a major part in the storyline in helping defeat Phyrexia alongside Urza, and we looked into creating him in Dominaria. But there was one problem: he is dead.
Fortunately, Commander sets get to pull from across time and space! Behold: the appearance of Lord Windgrace!
So, what do these characters do?
Well, a front-facing planeswalker wasn't enough. Each deck has a theme!
Commander 2017's theme was tribal. What's Commander 2018's? Card types! We picked popular card types in combinations people like to build around them and made decks.
We always want to make sure there is something for the player who doesn't buy into the themes of the year. We definitely heard this last year with tribal: players who didn't like tribal weren't as into the decks. So this year, in an experiment, three of the four decks are built around card types and one of them is something pretty wacky and entirely different.
We have Blue-Red Artifacts, helmed by Saheeli.
Next is Green-White-Blue Enchantments, helmed by Estrid.
Then we have Black-Red-Green Lands, helmed by Lord Windgrace.
So, what's the wacky one? The white-blue-black deck is top-of-library matters. What in the world does that mean? Well, you'll just have to wait and see!
So, planeswalkers as the front-facing cards. Card-type matters. Doing things players have been asking for
It's time to introduce you to Lord Windgrace himself!
The number of times I've heard in the past year from people who have wanted a Jund lands-matter commander is incredibly high. I'm so happy to finally bring one into the world! One of Jund's problems—and a problem with land-heavy decks in general—is they can run behind on cards and things to do.
With Lord Windgrace, you can always turn your excess lands into more cards
I expect Lord Windgrace to slot right into to a number of Commander decks. All hail Lord Windgrace!
Layers of Mechanics
All right. Planeswalkers. Cool. What else do we have?
Let's talk mechanics.
Well, first of all, to go with the feel of giving players what they had been asking for, something Ken tried and I latched on to was really playing up one-of returning mechanics. A ton of old mechanics appear on brand-new cards! From evoke to bestow to retrace, you'll see some new takes on some old favorites! It was a lot of fun to revisit these.
Second, this set has the return of lieutenant! You saw a taste of these yesterday with Loyal Drake. But rather than just make themselves better, like the last time, these five uncommons give you an effect every turn that you control your commander! I expect these to show up all over the place—especially yesterday's Loyal Drake:
An important bit of feedback from players were that cards which required getting back to your turn for something to happen just weren't making the cut in Commander unless they were really strong because of the number of opponents who have a chance to mess with it. So, we made these trigger at combat to let you play it and get the trigger in the same turn.
Then there's a rare cycle. You caught a glimpse of the first one yesterday:
These "commander storm" cards have quite the history. Handed off from design, the effects changed quite a bit, but the key mechanic didn't: caring about how many times you cast your commander. (Also, yes, these do work really well with partner commanders like those found in Battlebond!) This mechanic was a lot of fun!
Some of you may be wondering about why this isn't keyworded. We went back and forth on it a lot. "Commanderstorm" was more silly than desired. We looked at other words, ranging from generic ("intensify") to oddly specific ("cyclone," as a reference to storm). However, what we eventually realized is that we wanted to keep storm in the name—and that right naming could cycle them out while still getting the word storm in there. And that's why!
All five of these are pretty powerful. And now, I get to show you my favorite—and one which I wouldn't be surprised to see become a Commander staple! Feast your eyes on Fury Storm!
This card can easily get into that ridiculous territory. A well-timed Fury Storm can be absolutely game- ending!
These cards are particularly good with low-mana-cost commanders and partners. However, we didn't want to make this set all low-mana-cost matters
And that's one example. There aren't a ton of these—but there are a few.
And finally, not a named mechanic, but we wanted to provide additional legendary options as well. Each of the decks has a legendary creature that cannot command the deck. These are bonus legends for you to build new decks around. You saw Varchild yesterday—and all four of these legendary creatures were among the highest-rated cards in the set on our internal rare poll. Stay tuned to see them all!
Calling in the Rules Committee
Finally, I want to call out something new we started doing with Commander 2018 that really helped.
As you may know, the multiplayer Commander format actually isn't managed by us here at Wizards. There's an external committee of the format's original pioneers who manage the banned list and make any rules decisions: Sheldon Menery, Gavin Duggan, Toby Elliot, and Scott Larabee.
As this is a casual format, we are happy to let them run the show. But the relationship was mostly focused on what happened post-release.
Enter: designer Scott Larabee.
As a member of the committee, Scott had a fantastic idea: if this set was going to be all about feedback, what if we looped in the rules committee?
So, we did.
Scott took the four decks down for live playtesting with the committee. We asked them for feedback on all of the cards in the set, over and over. And they were ecstatic to be a part of the process!
I took their feedback to heart. Like any playtest or card feedback, some of it was right to incorporate and some of it we decided not to. But bringing them and their insights in was wonderful, and the set is a lot better off for it. I want to give them a special thanks—and as you're playing, I think you'll really enjoy some of their suggested touches.
Command and Conquer
I absolutely love these sets because we get to make cards we really can't make anywhere else. And to me, Commander (2018 Edition) really embodies that spirit. The decks pull from across time and from a wide pool of mechanics, and were built with your feedback in mind. I am very proud of what we have come up with this year.
On behalf of the entire team: I sincerely hope you enjoy it!
Have any thoughts or comments? I would love to hear from you! Please send them my way. You can always send me a message on Twitter, ask me a question on my Tumblr, or send me an email to BeyondBasicsMagic@gmail.com.
Have an amazing time checking out the rest of the cards in preview season, enjoy the decks, and please let me know what you think.