Running a Budget Commander League
It’s time for Commander 2017! Excite yes!
I’ve run a budget Commander league for my friends for a few years now and it’s been a blast. So this year, instead of telling you what I think some of the gems will be (Fractured Identity, Path of Ancestry) or ranking the decks by an arbitrary metric (there’s a Cats deck, metrics are meaningless), I’m going to talk about how to run a budget Commander league for your friends, using the C17 decks as a basis.
Budget Commander leagues can be a great way to re-vitalize a playgroup that has fallen into a rut, to introduce newer players to Commander in a friendly environment — or even both at the same time. They’ve been incredibly rewarding for my playgroup, and I hope they can be for yours as well.
You’re going to want to figure out a few things about your Commander league right away.
- Players — Who’s interested? Whether you’re making a Commander league for fellow university students, for your kids and their friends, or for a bunch of adults with 9-5 jobs and their own children, knowing who your players are, what they like in Magic, and what their availability is will affect several of the decisions you make below.
- Points — How to award the players in each match. Your points structure will inform a lot of your players’ strategy and the types of decks and games you’ll see.
- Schedule — Do you play weekly or monthly? Do you get everyone together to complete Commander league games in a regularly-scheduled night, or do you set periods where Commander league games can be played anywhere with the results reported to the organizer?
- Budget — How much can your players add to their decks between games? Do you limit how much single cards can cost? Can players carry over a balance between weeks?
Who your players are is something I must necessarily leave to you, but I’ll address points systems, schedules, and budgets below.
This is often the first place people go when thinking about making a Commander league. All of a sudden, you have the power to help make the games you like to see happen, just by adding your own unique rewards system.
Here are the questions you’ll want to answer when making your points system:
- Points for placement in each game: How top-heavy do you want the points for first and second place to be? Top-heavy systems reward winner-take-all strategies and encourage games that are shorter and more cutthroat.
- Points for gameplay: Do you award points for kills? Cool plays? Saving players? Sportsmanship? Extra gameplay points can help even the rankings over the course of the Commander league and make sure things stay competitive until the end.
- Penalties: Do you punish combos? Do you punish failing to report decks in time? Kills that are too early? Choosing what you punish, and how severely, also affects the strategies people choose.
There are several examples of points systems online, which can be found with some research. One example is the Commander VS. folks, who lay out their points system at the start of each season.
Here’s what my group currently goes with:
- Players receive points for their placement in Commander league games as follows:
- +4 points for first place,
- +3 points for second place,
- +2 points for third and fourth place.
- Players can receive bonus points in each Commander league game in the following ways:
- +1 point for “first blood” — being the first to inflict combat damage on another player;
- +1 style point for coolest play, as voted by the table;
- +1 sportsmanship point as voted by the table; and
- +1 point for playing in the game with at least two players you did not play with in the previous week.
- Players can be docked points in the following ways:
- -2 points for knocking out two or more players in the same state-based action;
- -1 point for failing to report your purcahses and new deck list on time; and
- Forfeit points for this week and last week if you play a deck over budget.
This system encourages decks that are aggressive and have a lot of battlefield presence, as well as classic control decks.
Combo has an inherent efficiency advantage in multiplayer, so I chose to balance that out a little bit. If you go the combo route, you’re planning to eat a loss of two points per game in return for greater consistency, and possibly some style points as you pull off your combo.
These are all choices I made to even the playing field — my playgroup includes heavily-invested players as well as newer ones, and gently pushing games towards battlefield interaction and away from combo wins results in enjoyable experiences for everyone.
Make sure to take stock of your own playgroup and find what’s right for you.
These are the questions you’ll want to answer when setting your schedule:
- Weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly?
- Official Commander league nights, or windows in which to play games?
This is where you’ll need to know who your players are, and how much time they set aside for gaming in their lives.
For example, most of my players are dedicated gamers with 9-5 jobs but no kids of their own yet. I have a few players who are happy to play Magic, but don’t invest in the game the way some of the rest of us do. And some of us — including me — have an extremely demanding schedule, so I need to be conscious of how often they may be able to make it to Commander league nights.
What this means is that I can set a faster schedule (weekly or bi-weekly), but will need to be flexible (open windows).
If a plurality of my players had children to take care of, or heavy shift work, I would consider a monthly schedule. If they invested a lot of their time in gaming in different leagues, I might require everyone to play their games on an official Commander league night, to make bookkeeping easier.
My solution was to set up a regular weekly gaming night where most of us would be getting together for Commander league games, but also create “league weeks” with set start and end times, as well as deadlines for reporting your deck’s expenditures. I also allow players to play in multiple Commander league games each week — but in games after their first Commander league game, they’ll only be eligible for style and sportsmanship points.
This creates a system with more than enough flexibility — as well, it encourages players to help each other out and be available for more than one Commander league game each week, as they can earn extra points.
Again, make sure you take stock of your playgroup and find what’s right for you.
Along with your points structure, your budget has a large impact on the strategies your players choose and the types of games you see.
I strongly encourage having as low a budget as your playgroup will still find fun — reducing the presence of “money cards” evens the playing field and results in games that are surprisingly memorable and interactive.
Here are the questions you’ll want to answer when setting your league’s budget:
- Do you set a limit per card, or per week? Strict per-card limits heavily affect available strategies, while per-week limits are more flexible.
- Can players carry over a budget from week to week? Allowing this will let players “save up” for a big-money card that may be quite powerful compared to the rest of the Commander league, but forces them to “fall behind” for a few weeks first.
- What happens to cards that are cut from decks? Do players have to re-buy them if they wish to use them again?
My group uses the following rules:
- Players can add $10 in cards to their decks each week, as defined by the lowest TCG Market price for a non-foil English printing. (My players get… specific, sometimes.)
- Players may carry over their budgets from week to week.
- Basic lands can be purchased at a rate of $0.25 for 10 lands.
- Cut cards are placed in a “card pool“. Cards may be freely moved between your decklist and your card pool between Commander league games.
I am generally okay with proxies in the leagues I run, although I do mandate that all cards in decks at the Final Table must be real, in order to prevent abuse of the rule.
We generally ask that people upload their decks to a TappedOut link so that I can easily do deck checks and make sure people are following the rules—here is an example.
Also, for those who are curious, we use the following mulligan rule:
- Exile your hand face-up, then draw 7 new cards. Repeat until you have a playable hand. Once you do, shuffle all exiled cards into your deck.
This makes sure everyone has a good game, still incurs a cost for mulling in terms of game information, prevents abuse, and has the incidental advantage of helping newer players by showing them what is and is not a keepable hand.
GO FORTH, HAVE FUN, AND WHEN YOU’RE DONE (OR BEFOREHAND) COME TO THESE EVENTS AT THE STORE
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We’ve got Open Board Game Day!
And pre-registrations are open for Ixalan!
Come on down!
Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor for A Muse N Games. He will never be Gary Bettman’s equal. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column on all things Magic!