It’s been about a year since A Muse N Games introduced the Competitive Commander events during Friday Night Magic, and about six months since I decided I’d try to build a deck and win a flight of Competitive Commander.
So let’s talk about Competitive Commander, the differences between it and regular Commander, and maybe we can get you down to the store to try it out this weekend!
*or maybe next weekend as this week is July 1st and the store is Closed 😉
WHAT IS COMPETITIVE COMMANDER?
Commander its, at its core, a social format, and often—but not entirely—a casual one. Some groups like to play as cutthroat as they can, building the best decks and using the most powerful cards to consistently win as early and often as they can. These groups are playing Competitive Commander.
Importantly, Competitive Commander groups have established in their Social Contract—a concept I’ve written about before—that they expect to play extremely competitive games with extremely powerful decks. Very little feels worse in Commander than games where the decks’ power levels do not match, so as always, establish the power level of the game you want to play before you shuffle up. Talk to your playgroup about the cards and strategies you’re using—“I’m playing Karador and I have a bunch of un-fun denial cards like Gaddock Teeg in my deck, is that okay?”—before you begin the game.
WHY PLAY COMPETITIVE COMMANDER?
Because your decisions are always interesting.
Competitive Commander is often called “Legacy lite,” or “100-card singleton Legacy,” and I can see where those comparisons come from. Competitive Commander decks sometimes share cards with Legacy decks, and the tense, tense decision trees that sprout when you get one of your combo pieces and need to make sure it isn’t removed are similar to Legacy.
But I feel that those comparisons are unfair in their own way.
As in most things, restrictions breed creativity. This is why Commander as a whole can never be truly “solved” as a format—the colour-identity and singleton restrictions force players to find new and creative ways to stay ahead in mana production and card draw, in which tools to use when and why.
Competitive Commander players want the Legacy-style thrill of that razor’s-edge walk, making sure they never make the wrong decision, but they want to walk that edge creatively, under Commander’s restrictions and Commander’s trademark variability. And that is something I can respect.
It is extremely fun holding both a Cryptic Command and a Jace’s Archivist, looking at the combo player across the table, and trying to decide if you can safely play the Archivist or hold back mana for the Command, in case the combo player tries something. And it is so satisfying knowing that whether you make the right play or the wrong one, you will have become better at Magic in the process.
(Pro tip that doesn’t come from my experience at all: the combo player is always going to try something… )
WHAT TO PLAY—COMBO, STAX, AND CONTROL
Contrary to what you might think, Competitive Commander is not a place where you only see combo decks that refuse to interact.
When deckbuilding for Competitive Commander, it’s important to know that the traditional rock-paper-scissors cycle of aggro, midrange, and control decks (explained very well here—an article I highly recommend reading!) is replaced by combo, stax, and control.
In Competitive Commander, combo decks take the role of aggro decks, attempting to race to a win before anyone can stop them. Control decks remain the same, stalling and waiting until they can go for the win. And stax decks (a slang term for decks whose primary strategy is resource denial—preventing you from getting mana, cards, or casting spells) functionally replace midrange decks, putting painful effects on the field and then breaking out of them in one-sided ways.
To give you an example, here is the Teferi, Temporal Archmage deck I’m currently sitting down with at the competitive tables.
This is a stax deck—once I’ve cast Teferi, I play cards like Winter Orb, Imi Statue, and the unforgivably-brutal Stasis to lock everyone out of the game. Then, I use Teferi’s -1 ability to generate tons of mana for myself, until I eventually (hopefully) (occasionally) win, using The Chain Veil with Teferi to generate infinite mana and casting either Blue Sun’s Zenith to mill out my opponents or Laboratory Maniac to win by drawing my library. The rest of the time, I’m playing a typical mono-blue control game, making sure nothing hurts me while I execute my gameplan.
I’ve been slowly upgrading it over time—it started at about $200 US. But it has threatened to win at every table I’ve sat down at. And that has certainly been satisfying.
Well, that’s it for my thoughts on Competitive Commander for now. If you’re interested in exploring further and looking for a budget introduction, Yisan the Wanderer Bard is a good choice, as he can very consistently tutor anything he needs out of his deck. Here’s an excellent online primer for building Yisan on a budget.
See you Friday!
Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. He totally cast the Jace’s Archivist in that example. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column on Magic!