MTGO 1v1 Commander Starts May 10!

Posted in Magic Online on May 3, 2017

By Bryan Hawley

Bryan Hawley is a game designer for Magic R&D.

UPDATE May 5, 2017:

Greetings MTGO Commanders,

We've heard your reaction to the Magic Online Commander update and will be adjusting our plan to accommodate. It was never our intent to disrupt the paper multiplayer Commander community and the format you play at your local game store or at home with friends. We fully support the Rules Committee's work to make multiplayer Commander the best it can be and will do our best to support their effort.

On May 10, we will update the Magic Online Commander format with the new banned list and begin 1v1 Commander leagues as planned. We want to start gathering data on this format as soon as possible so we can start refining it. This includes updating the banned list and evaluating the match structure (one game versus best-of-three and match length). This does mean that all Commander play on Magic Online will use the updated banned list for a short period of time.

With the Magic Online deployment of Hour of Devastation on July 5, however, we will add another Commander format with a second, separate banned list. When this happens, one format will endeavor to match the official Commander rules and banned list for multiplayer Commander as published at while the other will feature a Magic Online specific banned list tailored for 1v1 matches and will feature League and event support. Essentially, multiplayer Commander and 1v1 Commander will be treated as separate formats.

Please note that Magic Online will not always be able to support every card that is legal in paper Commander and may need to make gameplay concessions to fit Magic Online's digital environment. We'll try and be as transparent as possible when this is the case.

We still have some work to do to finalize the names of the formats, but we will provide more information as we get closer to the Hour of Devastation release. Finally, I want to thank you for your dedication and passion for this game we all love. We're always looking for ways to improve the experience on Magic Online, and your continued feedback is important part of that process.

Thank you,

Chris Kiritz

Senior Product Manager

Magic Online


A brief introduction: I'm Bryan Hawley, a developer in Magic R&D. I joined the team around Theros, have been a Future Future League (FFL) mainstay since that time, and have been on teams for Conspiracy: Take the Crown, Eldritch Moon, Modern Masters 2015 Edition, and several upcoming sets. For the last couple of years, I've also been the content lead for Magic Duels, overseeing the campaigns and designing the card sets for that implementation of digital Magic.

For some time now, the large majority of Commander play on Magic Online has been 1v1 play. Much of the social element of multiplayer is lost in the digital translation, so this shouldn't come as much of a surprise.

The format has also been growing lately, and it's clear that 1v1 Commander is something that players enjoy and a format that we think is worth supporting. That said, this growth has prospered despite that the banned list Magic Online has been using is heavily slanted toward multiplayer play, and the resulting 1v1 format is relatively imbalanced.

Starting May 10, Magic Online will be launching tournament play for 1v1 Commander consisting of two-player queues and a Friendly Constructed League, and we will be changing the official banned list of Magic Online Commander to the list that will be detailed below. On Magic Online, 1v1 Commander will have a starting life total of 30, but multiplayer will remain at 40. Both styles of play will be using this new shared banned list. This banned list and rules set is intended to support both experiences, but the banned list leans toward optimizing for the 1v1 experience.

To be perfectly clear, this banned list is only intended for Magic Online Commander. We respect the community roots and oversight of the Commander Rules Committee, and the creation and support of this format is in no way intended to impact paper Commander.

As the developer behind the banned list, I'll give some brief philosophical basis. Broadly, the goal of this banned list is to create a format that's fun for as many players as want to play it. We'll factor in both how strong cards are and how much fun players have both playing with and against them. Cards and strategies that are frustrating and unenjoyable to play against have a slightly lower threshold for banning than cards that are universally enjoyed, but we still consider those bans carefully.

We believe that diversity in a metagame is an important factor in having fun, so having a wide variety of commanders and strategies and avoiding an oppressive top tier are also important. This is one of several factors, but it's an important one.

Given that the majority of Commander play on Magic Online is 1v1, we will lean toward optimizing that experience. But we want both 1v1 and multiplayer to be enjoyable experiences and will adjust the format accordingly.

1v1 Commander is a more casual experience than many of our formats and isn't aimed at the top tiers of competitive play. Changes to the banned list will be driven by negative player experiences, so if/when clearly dominant decks or strategies emerge we'll look to take action. We expect to be relatively reactive when it comes to banning or unbanning cards. Given the lack of pressure from premier-level play, we expect changes to be slower than for formats that have that level of competition. We will also consider the impact of changes; we weigh whether bans invalidate entire decks or just remove individual cards and where possible try to preserve the viability of players' decks.

This banned list may go through relatively rapid iteration as this format is put through its paces on Magic Online. The first few months may see bans at an accelerated pace if the format at launch is problematic, but the eventual intent is that it will fall into our normal banning cadence.

This is the Magic Online Commander banned list, broken down into loose categories. Several of these cards belong in several categories but are only listed in their primary category for ease of reading:

Fast Mana

While mana acceleration is integral to many Commander decks, these cards accelerate mana too quickly and too early in the game, leading to uninteresting and uninteractive gameplay. Especially without the social pressure and political nature of multiplayer, these types of cards create runaway games at too high a rate.

Combo Enablers

There are a myriad of powerful combinations available in the format, but these types of cards are either essentially single-card combos (Hermit Druid milling your entire deck) or extremely efficient at enabling other combinations (Gifts Ungiven finding four cards that combine to win the game).

Oppressive Commanders

Each of these commanders is essentially a story in its own right, but the common thread is that they are nearly impossible to beat once they resolve. There's a great deal of consistency in being able to play your commander every game and being able to cast them again should they die. In some cases, this means the deck itself becomes too consistent and too powerful, and these are commanders that have shown that to be the case.


This is a catch-all category of cards that are either blatantly too strong (Ancestral Recall, Time Walk), or are very strong but extremely unenjoyable to play against (Karakas, Mind Twist). As mentioned above, the threshold for banning cards is lower when they're particularly frustrating to play against. All the cards in that category are very strong, but the way they warp the format is less about creating imbalance and more about making the format less enjoyable overall.

Multiplayer-Pointed Bans

While this list leans toward 1v1, it will also support multiplayer Commander on Magic Online. These are the more egregious cards in that format that aren't covered under the above categories. Sensei's Divining Top may stand out among these; this is a logistical consideration for Magic Online multiplayer.

Event Details

1v1 Commander Friendly League

Entry Options:

  • 8 Event Tickets
  • 80 Play Points

Structure: Up to 5 single-game matches, played at your convenience. Each player will have 20 minutes of clock time.


  • 5 wins: 80 Play Points + 8 Treasure Chests
  • 4 wins: 80 Play Points + 4 Treasure Chests
  • 3 wins: 80 Play Points + 1 Treasure Chest
  • 2 wins: 40 Play Points
  • 1 win: 20 Play Points
  • 0 wins: 10 Play Points

1v1 Commander 2-Player Queue

Entry Options:

  • 2 Event Tickets
  • 20 Play Points

Structure: A single-game match. Each player will have 20 minutes of clock time.


  • 1 win: 30 Play Points
  • 0 wins: 5 Play Points

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