Big Things Are Coming for Commander in 2020

Posted in News on October 30, 2019

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

It's a great time to be a Commander player!

With Commander (2019 Edition) on track to be the most successful set of Commander decks we've ever released, Command Zones at MagicFests, the upcoming CommandFests (and in Chicago and Washington, D.C.!), and tons of you making awesome content for the format, Commander is more popular right now than it's ever been before.

The format has come a long way.

It's evolved from a small group of Sheldon Menery and friends playing the format, to a product we thought we'd try out in 2011, to being the primary way many of you experience Magic.

Commander is a grand unifier. Where before there were all kinds of splinters and offshoots of kitchen-table Magic formats, now Commander has become the default way to play for so many people. It's not the only way to play—and we'll keep trying out new ones, too! But Commander is the default language many people looking for a casual, pick-up game of Magic are speaking.

As the product designer focused on Commander, I've been paying real close attention to the format, community feedback, and how we can do more for it than ever before. In my travels around the country and world, I've been trying to play and talk with everyone I can about the format. (A Commander deck has more or less become a permanent fixture of my suitcase!) I've done a ton of research online. I've read every tweet you've sent my way. And it's not just me—at Wizards, we've all taken notice.

Very soon, you will begin to see the fruits of these labors manifest in product form.

2020 will be the biggest year in Commander's history, and it's not even close! Let me first talk about a few key learnings we focused on:

1. There's a Huge Appetite for Commander

Our first product for Commander came out back in 2011. In the time since, the format has grown to incredible heights. It's one of the most popular formats in all of Magic!

But the products haven't really followed suit: we've still just released that one series of decks a year. Sure, sometimes we'd make a Commander Arsenal or Anthology, or a set like Battlebond with plenty of Commander cards. But that's it.

So let's change that. There's clearly so much more we could be creating for Commander players. More products. Different products. Things for all kinds of Commander players.

The recent Brawl decks are a great example of this. Regardless of how much you play Brawl with them (time will tell), Commander players still really wanted the new cards.

And it's not just on the new-card level, either. Commander players love to bling out their decks, and there's no doubt more we could be doing in that space too.

Plus, when it comes to older cards, well . . .

2. Players Need Reprints

It's that simple.

The format is growing—and fast. Given the rate of growth, we need to get you reprints for your Commander decks! Not just of older cards that have never been reprinted, but even of ones that have been reprinted recently.

And to top it all off, if you're entering Commander for the first time, you need access to the staples for a deck. If you're new, you aren't just going to have every green ramp spell under the sun in your collection.

More Commander-focused products create more opportunities for us to reprint these cards. They have to be in the right place, so we've created some great places for them to land.

I know reprints are a touchy subject, and I've said plenty about reprints before. I can't possibly reprint everything, but I think many of you will be happy with the reprints coming throughout 2020. (I look forward to Reddit quoting me on this for the next year.)

3. People Are Learning Through Commander

This is something I never would have anticipated saying a few years ago. But it's true: everything we're seeing shows that a lot of players are actually coming into Magic through Commander. (Or at least picking up Commander very early.)

For a long time, we had considered the format an anathema to new players, full of complex interactions, every single mechanic, and tons of cards to keep track of. I mean, somebody could even cast a card with banding! We have generally tried to point new players to other places.

However, as it turns out, realistically, that's not how Magic works. You start playing, and you want to play with your friends. So, of course you're going to pick up whatever they're doing. Telling someone, "You want to play with us? Great—go play for about three months and then come back once you've learned what phasing is," just isn't how it tends to actually go down in reality.

Fortunately, despite Commander's complexity, it's actually great for teaching in many respects because it's multiplayer and totally casual. People can help you through the game and provide suggestions, and you don't need to understand everything that's going on to understand the game.

Instead of leaning away from starting through Commander, which is fighting how people are actually coming into Magic, we have taken a few steps to help lean into this and make Commander a great landing pad for people. (Read on for more on this!)

2020 will be the biggest year in Commander's history—and our product lineup is going to be a huge piece of this.

You might have seen the video I did with Jimmy Wong and Josh Lee Kwai over on the Game Knights set to talk about all of these changes. If not, take a look!

If you'd prefer to see it written out, well, let's walk through it.

First up: something familiar, with a new twist.

Ikoria Commander

Every year, we come out with our series of Commander preconstructed decks. Those aren't going anywhere—and in fact, next year you'll be getting them even sooner than usual!

Oh, and we're doing five decks instead of four, with 71 brand-new cards—more than ever before.

What's the occasion? Well, for Commander (2020 Edition), we're trying something new: we're aligning the Commander decks with Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths. They'll release with Ikoria on April 24, and you'll even be able to try them (in casual play, of course) at the Ikoria Prerelease April 17–19!

All the new cards in the decks are set on the world of Ikoria. (The reprints can be from anywhere.) This is a way to dig even deeper into this wild new world of monsters! You can still expect the same power level of years past, and the cards are only legal in Eternal formats like Legacy, Vintage, and, of course, Commander. These didn't have to be built with Standard in mind, and they have their own expansion symbol to set them apart.

And just to quell any doubts: the 71 new cards are not also found in Draft Boosters; these are not cards from the rest of the Ikoria set. They were made just with these decks in mind!

There are a handful of cards from the Ikoria set in these decks in the "reprint" slots, but the number is fairly small. Those cards are mostly just there to help make a couple themes work. (Imagine, for example, if Kaladesh had done this: if we had an energy Commander deck, you would definitely want a couple energy cards from the main set also in your deck.)

These decks are a blast to play and spiritually feel just like Commander decks of years past. These replace the Planeswalker Decks for Ikoria. (Though, they're nothing like Planeswalker Decks!) Their expansion code, for those who want to talk about the decks in shorthand, is C20.

But those aren't the only preconstructed Commander decks you'll find on shelves next year! Let me tell you about . . .

Zendikar Rising Commander Decks

Zendikar Rising Commander Expansion symbol

So far, we've always done what I'll call "traditional" Commander decks. Big box, oversized card, and the "biodome" where all four or five decks are meant to play against one another.

With Zendikar Rising, we're introducing a new kind of Commander deck.

It's a great time to be a Commander player—and that means that every time of the year should be a great time to be a Commander player. If you want to join Commander six months after the traditional preconstructed decks release, there should be something new for you to check out.

We're launching two decks with Zendikar Rising. These are meant to be awesome on-ramps to Commander, with a few new cards (three per deck) and the rest reprints, full of things you will want to kickstart your Commander experience. Like Ikoria Commander, the new cards are themed to the world and the reprints can be from anywhere.

Whether you're a player new to Commander looking to get staples or a current veteran hunting for a few reprints and some exciting new cards, these decks should catch your eye. Their expansion code is ZNC, and they also replace Planeswalker Decks for Zendikar Rising. They come in a box that looks a little more like the Brawl Deck box and will release alongside Zendikar Rising.

Why do these instead of Planeswalker Decks for these sets? Well, I talked earlier about how Commander is an early entry point for a lot of players—and this is something on shelves that will be perfect to jump in with.

Planeswalker Decks are also good for learning, and we're still doing them for Core Set 2021, for example. There will be Planeswalker Decks on shelves for the player who wants to introduce someone to Magic that way. But in many cases, people want to hop into what their friends are doing—and the casual, relaxed, multiplayer nature of Commander is a pretty great place to land. Buying a Commander deck leads you right to a community: the wonderful community of Commander!

Okay, so those are some preconstructed decks. What else are you getting that's new?

Let's take a look at a brand-new product!

Commander Collection: Green

Commander Legends Expansion symbol

Coming later in 2020 is something for Commander players that you'll only find in WPN stores: the Commander Collection!

These are eight reprint cards in a box, themed to a color. For this first one, we've selected green—the color of ramp, big creatures, and all kinds of things you probably love if you play Commander!

There's all new art on these cards, and one of my favorite parts is that many of the cards reference popular legends. For example, check out this piece of art:

Card Art 1

On this spell (you'll have to take your own guesses as to which spell it is), you have Yisan, the Wanderer Bard casting it. You get another look at these popular characters . . . and they will be pretty fun to play alongside their legendary counterparts.

Or take a look at this one:

Card Art 2

This is a Kamigawa creature (here's a hint: the creature was not originally from Kamigawa), and if you look closely at its shape, you'll notice a subtle nod to Azusa, Lost but Seeking's headpiece.

If you're a green player, you're going to want to get your hands on this box.

So where can you find it? Well, there are two versions: a premium and a regular edition.

All WPN stores will get the regular edition, which contains all eight cards in nonfoil. WPN premium stores will also get a blinged-out premium version, which contains all eight cards in foil!

So whether you want them in foil or nonfoil, there's a version of this product for you. You'll have to chew on just those two pieces of art for now. Let the rampant speculation begin! Its expansion code is CC1. (Which certainly implies good things about the possibility of future ones, doesn't it?)

Now, I know that's a lot. But we're far from done.

In fact, I'm about to announce what is one of our most exciting Commander products ever. It's still a way off, coming in the fourth quarter of next year. And by the time it releases, it'll have been about six years since I first conceived of the product. It's my baby in the same way Unstable was Mark Rosewater's baby. And I think you will all love it.

So I'm thrilled to finally be able to tell you about . . . the Commander Legends set.

Commander Legends

CC1 Expansion symbol

It's a full set for Commander players. It's Draft meets Commander. It's over 70 brand-new legends for you to build decks with.

And it is awesome.

I've always wanted to draft Commander, but there's a lot of logistical trickiness there. Fortunately, after plenty of work, we cracked that nut in Commander Legends. It's really fantastic to sit down, draft, build a Commander deck right then and there, and then play! Plus, at the end, you have a great inspiration for what could be your next Commander deck!

Commander Legends has 20-card packs, with a foil and two legendary creatures in every single pack! I'll get into the details of how you draft it as we get closer, but rest assured, it works great and you really feel like you've drafted a Commander deck.

These cards can be from anywhere in space and time in the Multiverse and are legal in Eternal formats like Legacy, Vintage, and Commander. It is larger than a normal set, with oft-asked-for Commander reprints and new cards alike. Tons of beloved Planes and characters are represented—plus many new ones, too!

Normally we'd never show off anything from a set that's a year away. But with over 70 new legends . . . yeah, I think I can give you a taste. Check this one out:

Card Art 3

Longtime players can probably make some guesses on this one. Or, okay, just listen to when I spilled the beans over on the Command Zone podcast. Go watch it to see who it is!

This next one might be a bit trickier, but it is a character you've seen before:

Card Art 4

I'll leave this one to the Vorthoses to crack into. I know that I, for one, look forward to reading the Reddit thread. (The expansion code, by the way, is CMR.)

It's still a while until you can get your hands on Commander Legends, but I hope you are as excited as I am. Every time someone has ever asked me in the past several years if I've thought of combining Commander and Draft, I just had to smile knowing this was coming down the pipeline. And now it's almost here!

It's one of the most exciting sets I've ever worked on.

And with it comes one more bit.

Commander Legends Commander Decks

Finally, Commander Legends comes with two Commander decks of its own!

These are very similar in philosophy to the ones we're launching for Zendikar Rising—though, the decks themselves are plenty different. They each feature three new cards not found in Draft Boosters and the rest as reprints. The expansion code for these is CMC.

This way, if you're starting with Commander Legends and don't have a deck, well, you can grab one of these and hop right into the action!

It's a Great Time to Be a Commander Player

When I say that, I really mean it.

We've been working on a ton of stuff for Commander players—and in 2020, it's finally time to show it all off. We have so much we want to do with 2020 and beyond in terms of products, events, and Commander opportunities . . . and I can't wait for you to see it all.

As a result, feedback is more important than ever. What do you think about these products? What would you like to see that we aren't already doing? Please, let me know! Your comments will help shape the future of this format.

You can always reach me over on Twitter, by asking me a question on Tumblr, sending an Instagram message, or good ol' fashioned email at Beyondbasicsmagic@gmail.com.

Here's to revving up for the best year in Commander history!

—Gavin
Email: BeyondBasicsMagic@gmail.com
Instagram: GavinVerhey
Tumblr: GavInsight
Twitter: @GavinVerhey

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