Draft, Sealed, and Standard became popular for their simplicity and accessibility. Vintage, Legacy, and Modern allow players to compete with the some of the greatest cards of all time. Commander is where the greatest personalization for playing lies: you have all of the cards without any of the requirement to compete.
But every format has its twists, too.
Draft typically means Booster Draft, although Cubes can replaces the set du jour, and methods for drafting include Winchester (for two players) and Rochester (for teams with plenty of time). Formats like Standard and Legacy can be modified with rules such as "Players may use only commons" or "Decks may only include basic lands" that contort what you can bring to the table. Even in the most basic of Magic formats, the venerable "this pile of my cards against that pile of your cards" mashing we all begin with, can be enhanced and adapted with house rules to speed up games or support the wild antics you love most.
Commander, according to many of you, has plenty of modifications. You know because you've tried them.
The Mod Squad
The changes to Commander you shared weren't necessarily big. Small tweaks and additions can make all the difference you need.
To answer the question of "what twists, if any, do you put on your game," my one is simple—our group lets Planeswalkers be commanders.
Due to the potential unfairness rising from somebody using something like Liliana of the Veil and just dominating off her, we set up two unique rules around the 'walkers
1: A Planeswalker cast from the command zone cannot use any ability that turn.
2: When casting a Planeswalker from the command zone, you choose, for each instance it's been cast before, to pay two extra mana, or have it enter with 1 less loyalty.
As far as "why," the origin story is simple and elegant—I wanted to build around Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, and talked to the group about it. We came up with those rules and tried it out. We liked it; we've done it since.
Naturally, considering Ashiok has only been out for about a month, there's still plenty more testing of corner cases that can play havoc (I'm looking at you, Gatecrash Gideon) with our variant, but at the moment, all is well.
This is one my local game store floated around a couple years ago. With every set ratcheting up the choices for Planeswalkers, building Commander decks around them makes more and more sense. Domri Rade would be my choice.
My playgroup of Commander plays with a "time aging rule" because 90% of us are blue players and we love to shove those extra turns into the deck. What the rule is, is that if you take an extra turn, you lose 2 life. At first this seems unreasonable but this is because many of us have either infinite tricks or just a bunch of extra turns coming up. This made the few not playing blue not really want to play so we decided to tweak it (And flavorfully too!). This rule has made games much more interesting and I've witnessed a game where someone used Beacon of Tomorrows as his finisher. (Forcing the opponent to take an extra turn, aka aging 2 life)
I'm not a fan of taking extra turns in Commander, so anything that changes the "extra turns are always awesome" dynamic is something I can get behind. While I don't see players losing to taking a couple extra turns, the fact that one of the best ways to stymie aggressive decks is to take away their combat steps changes the normally bulletproof method of letting them have fewer turns into one where caution should be applied. The point of dodging combat is to avoid damage. I could see dialing the amount of life lost up or down as your group changes. Losing 10 life might seem extraordinary, but it leaves taking extra turns possible where just banning it doesn't.
My group bans tutors, except for basic land search. Or, to put it less succinctly, "Whenever a player would search a deck for a card, that player may only find basic lands, and must reveal them."
Playing without tutors really emphasizes the singleton part of Commander, increasing the unpredictability. Combos become less consistent, but more special when they happen—both pros in my eyes. Players who want more power and consistency tend to replace their tutors with card draw and graveyard recursion.
The biggest con is that tutor commanders, like Sisay and Momir Vig, are essentially unplayable. Regardless, the change really puts the fun and wackiness back in Commander.
As I've also shared before, I'm not the biggest fan of tutors, the venerable descendants of Demonic Tutor and Enlightened Tutor. I use them, but it's rare to put more than one or two in my deck... except for those that search out basic lands. Daniel's group's rule sounds exactly like something my local group would want to try, although not everyone likes giving up on commanders like Arcum Dagsson.
My playgroup has two house rules:
a) No Commander damage. We like our games to take a little bit of time, we like having back-and-forths, and lifegain to be relevant. Uril decks and the like are pretty powerful already, they don't need to have their opponents start at 21 life.
b) The first mulligan of each player, even if partial Paris, is free. We have a gentleman's agreement in our group to shy away from infinite combos, so we need not worry about the drawback of free partial Paris mulligans. On the other hand, it prevents people from being mana screwed (if your starting hand has only one land, doing a full deck mulligan won't ensure you more lands; but chucking the remaining six cards in your hand and drawing six more will) and it speeds along the pre-game fumbling.
Different Daniel, and very different ideas. I usually build my decks with commander damage in mind: Dealing 21 damage to an opponent with a Dragon that just keeps coming back is something I particularly enjoy. But that doesn't mean rules like Daniel's can't be fun for other groups that want to get away from the high-flying beatdown.
The other change Daniel shared is actually one of the most common I've seen. One free shuffle and new hand of seven cards is what I learned for multiplayer, and it makes a lot of sense with a bigger deck prone to randomness. While I eschew most combos like Daniel's group, free hands is definitely a concern when your opponent wants to find very specific cards. Combining free mulligans with banning most tutors can be a clever way to maximize everyone's enjoyment.
Hitting the Big Time
Adjusting the rules around typical Commander games can help in incremental ways, but it's still the same core game play. Other changes you shared were much larger.
Me and my friends have been playing a variant of Commander for a long time now, and I think there are many people who might want to give it a try as well.
Basically the format we play is Commander Two-Headed Giant. Basically its rules for Commander and 2HG merged, with a few minor changes.
- Team life starts at 60.
- Cards from the Vow cycle prevent the owning team from being attacked.
- Commanders can't be shuffled into their owners' decks, and are placed back in the command zone instead.
(The latter is more of a house rule and not required for the format, but I figured I'd mention it anyway.)
The advantage of the 2HG format is that players on teams need to wait much shorter between turns compared to normal four-player Commander, and next to that it opens up new possibilities for interaction.
Anyway, I hope you give this format a show in one of your articles.
Thanks, and good luck!
I like getting in more than one game of Commander on a given night. Jeroen's method is a clever way to create more cooperation, speed up the pace of games, and find even crazier interactions you didn't think were possible thanks to having a partner at hand. But there's a simpler way to merge formats with Commander.
My playgroup plays Two-Headed Giant and Star format the most. The Star format is a small change from the "official" star format. Instead of using decks of a single color, we simply use our Commander decks of choice. The Star elimination rules result in a quicker yet politically interesting Commander game.
The Two-Headed Giant format is simply standard Two-Headed Giant but with Commander decks (and Commander ban list). Interestingly enough, I just looked at the Two-Headed Giant page and it notes that Erayo, Soratami Ascendant is banned. That makes sense, as it became a big point of contention for us when we played our Commander-legal decks (I would probably also ban it as well).
Comparing these formats to standard multiplayer Commander, I would say that I like the Star format, as it retains the spirit of multiplayer Commander and the politics, but is also a quick way to play Commander when you have five players. I'm not a huge fan of the Two-Headed Giant variant, as it's quite frankly a 1v1 "duel" (the only point is to eliminates the opposing team, which eliminates all politics). Additionally, EmperorCommander looks like a blast, but we haven't had time to create true Emperor format decks in order to really explore the format.
I've been a fan of Star Magic since former Serious Fun columnist Kelly Digges turned me on to its unique mix of focus and multiplayer shenanigans. Keeping true to the multiplayer madness that is Commander while providing focus and incentive to end the game quicker is exactly my cup of tea. It also reminds me that some "alternative formats" like Traitor are really amenable to bringing Commander decks to.
While my group doesn't play with any Commander-related rules changes, we often incorporate Chaos Magic into our games. For those unaware, Chaos Magic is a casual format that Planechase borrowed some ideas from. To play, you need a shared Chaos Deck made up of Magic cards with global effects like The Abyss, sweepers like Akroma's Vengeance, and powerful spells like Time Warp. At the beginning of each player's turn he or she rolls a six-sided die. On a roll of six the player flips over the top card of the Chaos Deck. If it's an instant or sorcery the player casts it, and if it's a permanent that permanent's effects are now active. We play so that no one can respond to Chaos triggers, so no one can save their creatures from Wrath of God and whatnot. It's extra excitement and variance in an already exciting and variant format, and we have a blast playing it.
Chaos Magic is an art that seems lost in today's modern world of Planeswalkers and deities incarnate. The Ferrett tipped us off to the potential of chaos in his article on the matter, and little has changed since, other than the addition of dozens upon dozens of new global effects to try out. As someone who's mixed Planar Magic with Commander, Archenemy, and even a little Vanguard (which dates me nicely as "one who roamed with dinosaurs"), mixing and matching extra effects is totally worth it for the connoisseurs of randomness.
Out of the Park
I hope today gave you some choices to try when it comes to your next Commander game. My all-time twist is all-commons Commander, which has several different flavors in and of itself. I shared this in Serious Fun a few years back and it's still a fun way to stretch your imagination and find surprising cards you'd never have tried otherwise. What you and your group should try is something only you can decide together.
One of the features that stands out to me from Planechase/Archenemy Commander is how some effects can change up who's doing well or falling behind. It led me to ask this week's prompt: Which cards or effects help get you out of a tough position? That is, which cards help catch you up and get you back into the game?
- Feedback via email
- 300-word limit to describe the cards and deck(s)
- Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column)
Join us next week when we count down our top hits. See you then!