Three unlikely heroes. One nefarious archenemy. Are you up for the challenge?

Miracle Worker (White-Blue-Black)
Miracle Worker (White-Blue-Black)
Death Toll (Black-Green)
Death Toll (Black-Green)
Jump Scare! (Green-Blue)
Jump Scare! (Green-Blue)
Endless Punishment (Black-Red)
Endless Punishment (Black-Red)

Coming up in Duskmourn: House of Horror, the Commander decks have something returning that has been requested for years: Archenemy! This optional game mode pits three players against one. But don't worry if you're the one flying solo—the one player has a special deck of twisted schemes at their disposal.

What is this? Where did it come from? How does it work? What's new this time around? All this and more today—let's get started!

Villainous Beginnings

All the way back in 2010, we debuted the Archenemy format with a special release of 60-card preconstructed decks.

We followed it up in 2017 with a project I led called Archenemy: Nicol Bolas. It made a lot of sense to bring Archenemy back for the Bolas arc: some players got to play as the plucky Planeswalkers of the Gatewatch, while another played as Nicol Bolas, spinning all matters of twisted schemes.

There's a lot of people who love the format—myself included—and so bringing it back seemed like an inevitability.

I personally love how it creates team play: usually in Magic, you play against somebody, but in Archenemy, you get to team up with people. Whether playing with longtime Magic friends, kids, a partner, or whomever, you can bring someone in at any skill level because you get to play alongside them. It's unique that way.

Not to mention, it's a blast to try and take down—or be—the archenemy! The storytelling of the game adds a great little twist.

But where to bring it back?

Enter: Annie Sardelis. 

This rising star of Magic design led the design of the Magic: The Gathering® – Fallout® Commander decks and Bloomburrow Commander decks, and her next task was Duskmourn: House of Horror. As a huge fan of the horror genre that inspired the setting, she really wanted to do something cool for the decks.

We've recently made some bonus additions to Commander decks, like Planechase in March of the Machine and Magic: The Gathering® – Doctor Who™ Commander. So, Annie started thinking about that space …

And what about Archenemy?

It was a perfect fit! The set certainly had a huge Archenemy feel as everyone was working together to deal with the mysteries and horrors of the House of Duskmourn. A well of inspiration for the set was Betrayal at the House on the Hill, and this would very much allow for that kind of gameplay.

People were on board. There was just one trick to figure out … how did Archenemy work in Commander again? We had never done that before!

Becoming the Archenemy

It's probably at this point in the story that I should fill you in on how Archenemy works!

The three players—our heroes—all take a shared turn together. They draw a card at the same time, take a main phase at the same time, attack at the same time, and so on. You can (and should!) help each other out by casting spells on one another, but you don't share resources, so you can't tap someone else's land for mana or cast spells from their hand. If you're familiar with Two-Headed Giant at all, it's like that!

Meanwhile, the archenemy takes their own turn. When they attack, creatures from any player on the heroes' team can block. (Though you still attack specific players.)

How can the archenemy compete? Well, first of all, they go first! But most importantly they have this deck of oversized scheme cards:

I Will Savor Your Agony
I Will Savor Your Agony

At the beginning of their first main phase, they flip over the top card of the scheme deck and do whatever it says. It can range from drawing cards and sweeping the board to making creatures &hellip and all kinds of various dastardly deeds! I highly recommend reading them in the best villain voice you can.

There are even some ongoing schemes that stay in play until their abandon condition happens, giving you a long-lasting advantage:

Because I Have Willed It
Because I Have Willed It

This really gives them a huge advantage, and all three opponents will have to work together to take them down!

In Archenemy, when you finish resolving a scheme (or when an ongoing scheme is abandoned) it just goes to the bottom of your scheme deck, so you never have to worry about running out even if your game does run long!

If you've played Archenemy before, this will all sound familiar. But there's still one big thing to chat about: life totals!

Updating Archenemy

Okay, so back to the story. Commander Archenemy. How was that going to work again?

Traditionally, the way that Archenemy has worked with 60-card decks is that the archenemy has 40 life and each of the players has 20. But in Commander, you already start with 40 life!

There was also one thing about Archenemy that's always been a bit more bug than feature. Because each of the three heroes has their own life total, the strategically best thing to do was to take down one player as quickly as possible. Beating two opponents is easier than beating three!

But that's not the most fun thing to do. For one, it picks on one player and then leaves that player on the sidelines for the rest of the game. It's also not really what you want to do—naturally people want to spread out their blows!

So, after a lot of iteration from Annie and her team, they came up with this rules tweak that really helps it play smoothly.

The archenemy has 60 life. And the entire hero team also has 60 life. They all win or lose together.

While the archenemy still chooses who they attack for any effects where it matters, because any of the heroes can block, it becomes a lot more straightforward: the archenemy attacks heroes, and the heroes attack the archenemy, each group with one shared life total.

This means you don't have to pick on certain players. Plus, it's a huge boon in Commander because no longer do you have player elimination!

How many times in your commander night has one player lost and then had to wait around 45 more minutes for everybody else to finish? Not the case here! Everyone finishes at the same time so you can start playing again right away. Now that's a really clever solve!

To answer a question from the Archenemy regulars with keen memories: this does mean a few older schemes function weirdly, such as Mortal Flesh Is Weak. As you would expect, such schemes are not included here. You're still welcome to play the older way when you play the older product, but I would overall suggest not using the schemes and playing the new shared life going forward. (With 40 and 40 for one on one and 60 and 60 for Commander life totals.) It's more fun!

One other thing about Archenemy Commander that's a small tweak: you only need 10 schemes to play. You can, of course, go as high as you want. (Grabbing the 40 schemes from all four decks and tossing them together is a blast!) But if you want to just play with the 10 packaged with your deck, that totally works, too.

Additionally, unlike Archenemy: Nicol Bolas, these decks are built so any of the decks can be the archenemy. Each deck has 10 schemes bundled with it, so no matter who wants to be the villain that game can be. With that said, the black-red deck features some of the creepiest, spookiest, and most villainous entities that the House has to offer, so if you really want to play the toughest setting, see if you can take down the House together! 

Archenemy is a totally optional opt-in way to play Commander, and the decks work completely fine outside of Archenemy. But it's a blast of a variant, and I hope you'll give it a try!

Make a Friend Your Nemesis

I'm so glad to see Archenemy back! It's been a long time coming, and I always love it when we can bring these optional additions for our Commander decks to the table.

What do you think about the return of Archenemy? Have any questions? Hit me up on social media, and I'll see what you have to say!

Enjoy this little teaser at what's to come in Duskmourn: House of Horror—and see you this fall as we dig deeper into those Commander decks!

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