Ten Commander Commandments

Posted in Serious Fun on November 26, 2013

By Bruce Richard

Bruce's games invariably involve several friends, crazy plays, and many laughs. Bruce believes that if anyone at your table isn't having fun, then you are doing it wrong.

Christian Goldie, @EastCoastEDH on Twitter, recently finished listing the Ten Commandments of Commander. He spread out tweets over the course of several days, listing a "Commandment" then letting the community respond. The Commandments ranged from lighthearted to strong suggestions. I wanted to take this opportunity to add my thoughts to his list. My thanks to Christian for letting me run with this idea.

The beauty of this Commandment lies in the double meaning. The first part is simply telling you not to play Consecrated Sphinx because it violates the social contract. Part of the benefit of playing a multiplayer game is that it is generally very difficult for a single person to win without any help whatsoever. When you play one on one, you have 20 life and your opponent has 20 life. You start with the same number of cards in hand and the rules say that you draw the same number of cards. Your resources are the same as your opponent. In multiplayer, your resources are less than your opponents. You have 20 life, and your opponents have 60 life (assuming a four-player game). You draw one card per turn. Your opponents draw three cards per turn. Your resources, in comparison to everyone else's, are limited.

Generally, even when you run a lot of card drawing, your opponents are doing the same, so there continues to be a balance. You will still have to play a careful game of strategy, with shifting allegiances and constant pressure on the player who is ahead in the game.

Consecrated Sphinx takes all that and throws it out the window. You are now drawing twice as much as your opponents. The only limiting factor is whether you have mana to cast the cards you are drawing. Consecrated Sphinx turns Commander games into a bizarre Commander variant.

Consecrated Sphinx

The second part is the warning. Playing Consecrated Sphinx makes you a target for every other player in the game. There are far better ways to get card advantage that don't put a target on your head the way Consecrated Sphinx does. And besides, it is only a matter of time until someone copies the Sphinx. Now the two of you can draw your entire decks. Are you interested in drawing two cards if it means someone else can double whatever you're drawing?

My friend John runs an Ink-Treader Nephilim deck with Natural Affinity and Threaten as the win condition. Another card he runs with the Nephilim is Panic. I love the originality of the idea. I know many of you have Nephilim decks or know someone who does, but this was the first time I'd seen anyone use it, and John runs cards that I had never even considered. I started looking to set up a deck of my own, then stopped. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but in casual Magic, it should be avoided. Your group doesn't need two versions of a deck running around. Besides, it was someone else's great idea. I'm currently running a deck that revolves around four copies of Edric.1 I've had a couple of people mention that they were looking at doing something similar but will be waiting until my deck has run its course. When someone has run the idea for a while and pulls the deck apart, then you can take that idea out for a ride. Until then, hands off.

For those of you who are newer to Magic, there was a time when tournament-legal cards had either white borders or black borders. Cards that were reprints were run in white borders. It was an easy way for collectors to differentiate between original and reprinted cards. Generally, it was just the core sets that were white-bordered, but the cards were out there.

And they were ugly.

That is probably too harsh. The art was still the same, but it never looked as good as the black-bordered cards. Eventually, Wizards heard the complaints and decided that keeping the white borders wasn't worth it. Now, a white-bordered card is an anomaly that you generally only see when someone is using a card not available in a black border.

But white-bordered lands? Lands?! There are so many varieties of each basic land that there is no reason to run white-bordered lands, unless you are looking at some particular nonbasic lands. So many artists have done such beautiful work that all show up with black borders.

And on top of that, running white-bordered lands when all your other cards are black-bordered is questionable. They can be seen when shuffling and make it easy to stack your deck. Just don't do it.

Many players love infinite loops. Whether it is card draw, damage, or lifegain, infinite loops happen. Infinite mana loops tend to be the most common, as infinite mana enables everything else. The idea of being able to use a small combination of cards to do something repeatedly is as EV as it gets and should lead to a win in the near future.

The problem is that most players hate infinite loops. Your Commander game will be getting tense as everyone has set their plans in motion. It is clear the defining moment in the game will be happening very soon. Efforts will be made to take the win or stop someone from winning, based on the building blocks players have been setting up. Then someone hits his or her infinite combo and wins the game. Or someone happens to find his or her combo five turns into the game and wins.

The problem with infinite combos is they are about winning, and nothing else. When you talk about the great games you've had with your friends, do you reminisce about that turn-three combo when I milled everyone, or do you remember the crazy combat, the wild kicked Rite of Replication, or when you played that amazing card that completely crushed the game-winning play?

When I saw this tweet I had to respond:

I disagree with using two d6s to determine who should go first. Two six-sided dice produce only eleven different options. Rolling a total of 7 happens one in every six times. Rolling two d6s will force you to reroll, regularly. A single d20 can produce twenty different options, each of them with the same percentage of regularity. As this reduces the amount of rerolling, a d20 is a better option. Multiple d20s, or a die with even more sides than a d20, would be better, but using multiple d20s is generally annoying and the odds of all the players having a die with more than twenty sides is minimal.

Roll once, announce your number, and the highest number goes first. Easy, straightforward. I like it.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, "tuck" refers to the act of putting another player's commander into that player's library. Hinder is an example of a card that tucks a commander.

Tuck is hated by many Commander players because it takes a part of what makes Commander unique, the idea that you can recast a commander when it dies, and removes it. Many players build decks that function solely because they will always have access to their commanders. Their commanders may die, but they can always recast them and continue to do whatever their decks do. Tuck is the only way to truly remove a commander from a game. The player needs to have a way to search his or her library for the commander to get it back in play. Tuck often leads to miserable Commander games for these players.


Part of me is understanding to their plight. Who wants to play a game for an hour, hoping beyond hope to somehow draw your commander from your ninety-nine-card deck? In the meantime, you can do almost nothing and have little to no chance of winning the game. It is miserable.

The other part of me wants to say, "Suck it up, Buttercup."2 Tuck is a part of Commander and needs to be there. There are some commanders that just need to be gone. There are times in a game where your only shot is to stop your opponent from using his or her commander, and tuck is the most effective way. If your deck is so reliant on your commander that the deck cannot function without it, then you better have a way to search for your commander in your library.

That said, tuck is a potent weapon that carries plenty of ill will. Use it sparingly.

Land destruction is a touchy strategy in Commander games. It is available and effective, but can really suck the fun out of a game. If you are going to use land destruction, you better have a way that wins quickly after you do it, and destroying all the lands is an essential part of that win condition.

Too many players use land destruction simply as a way to annoy their opponents. They reset the lands, but aren't holding any kind of board advantage, so they are rebuilding their mana base to do the next thing, just like everyone else. This just sucks the fun out of games. Others use land destruction because they are struggling with their mana base and want to reset everyone. Too often, this leads to a boring game where the person who was out in front can now quickly cruise to a victory because no one has mana to stop him or her. If your land destruction is giving the win to others, you are probably doing it wrong.

You are playing Commander and you didn't bring dice? Then you steal someone else's dice? That is just bad mojo.

Commander is a casual format. Some friendly ribbing is certainly in order, but leave the taunting and stupidity elsewhere. Commander is about the big plays and the fun that was had during the game. Winning the game is great, but if it doesn't happen, don't worry about it. Shuffle up and try to win the next one.

Even worse is the whiner complaining about the defeat. "I should have played it this way," is fine. "I would have won on the next turn," can be okay if it is framed the right way and not heard after every game. "There is no way you should have won," is almost always a problem. There is a good chance that someone won because he or she built and played a deck well. There is a good chance that you lost because you did not build or play your deck well. Think about what you want to change and make those changes to the deck or your play style the next time. A whiner can suck the fun out of a night of Commander faster than most anything else.

Dumping on your opponent because he or she made a poor play or is new to the format is poor form. If everyone is going to have fun, respecting your opponents is a must. We want to grow the community to ensure there are always people to play with. Making fun of your opponent is not going to get you invited back to play again.

And if someone is going to make fun of my deck because it is a straight black-bordered, English-only, non-foil deck, then I won't be playing with that person again. I'm not wasting my time with anyone so shallow.

Thanks again to Christian Goldie for letting me share his Ten Commander Commandments. You should check out his site for all sorts of interesting Commander content. It was a fun idea that I'm sure no one will have any opinion about!

1: I know these are Commander Commandments, but stay with me, the point still applies. (return)
2: Yes, I actually say "buttercup" from time to time. (return)


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