MtG: Plebeian Planeswalkers & the Commanderp Format

All card images taken from http://gatherer.wizards.com/. I do not own the rights to any depictions of Magic: the Gathering cards in this post which is the property of © 1995 - 2016 Wizards of the Coast LLC. I love your game Wizards, please don't sue me.

I am a big Magic: the Gathering fan and have been for about four years since time of writing. I was first introduced to MtG by my First Year roommate Howie. I'd seen the game when I was younger and loved looking through the art of the cards, but found the rules too complicated. When Howie taught me how to play, I realized the thing that had scared me off was the terminology, and the base rules were actually very comprehensive.

Howie had an abundance of both cards and patience and ended up teaching most of the lads on our floor. Before long we were having mini tournaments and games nights in A Common until the wee hours, getting looks for the other students as someone would scream in defeat to the victory cry of "get Kede-REKT!"

I bought my first deck for barely over $6 NZD from the commons/uncommons box at our local card shop; intimidating vampires that built scary momentum if left unchecked. Not a bad first deck but got shut down very early as it gained infamy.

We played throughout the year and I gradually got more cards from the shop and the leftovers from my friends who took the game more seriously. I played over the next two years, converting flatmates to the game and meeting new people through it. I'd put together nearly twenty different playable decks at this point. Each experimented with different mechanics and gimmicks, some effective, some not so much. All of them were built for less than $8, some as low as $4. I deliberately avoided rares because they were expensive and I could win without them. Most importantly, most of my friend only played a couple in each deck and games were mostly balanced.

This carried on for a long while but eventually I began to tire of our semi-pauper format. I'd seen most of what it had to offer and the sets coming out didn't interest me.

Enter EDH (Elder Dragon Highlander or something equally ridiculous - personally I prefer Expanded Deck Hilarity).

Prossh the Skyhunter - by Todd Lockwood (toddlockwood.com)

We gave the format a go with some guy's decks at a LAN party hosted by the Uni during a mid-tri break. It was overwhelming at first. I didn't realise there were creatures in the game that had "game breaking bullshit" as a power, but they exist and combo with equally ridiculous cards. At a later date I gave it another go with my roommate Rosco. We were playing with tamer decks and the game felt more balanced and playable to people who only saw mythic cards through the glass of a display screen.

At the pre-release of Born of the Gods I managed to pick up a Xenagos, God of Revelry from a consolation booster for finishing embarrassingly low in the tournament. Given its mythic status, it wasn't playable in our current mode. I decided it was time to take on Commander mode. I had a bunch of leftover Gruul cards as I didn't run a green/red deck at the time and pulled out the best cards from my other decks. The resulting stack of cardboard was an abomination to be kind.

My flatmates did the same and before long we had playable EDH decks. Our first few games were pretty mediocre given the ragtag nature of our deck's construction so we decided to bite the bullet and spend some proper money on Magic. Just a disclaimer; being students who could make $10 last three whole meals, "proper money" involved raiding the $1-2 bins to get our super-powered rare cards.

To help with this endeavor we also established a pseudo-Commander format using the following restrictions: standard deck construction rules (100 cards, no duplicates excluding basic land, legendary creature for commander etc.), no more than 15 rare cards (land included), five of which can be mythic, one of which can be a planeswalker (regardless of rare or mythic status). Also, don't be a dick and buy a $20 card (with the exception of commanders and planeswalkers given there will only be one of each and they're generally expensive anyway).

The result was significantly better for play and seemly very balanced. It gave us an excuse to use the rares we'd gradually picked up and also brought something fresh to the table. Games were exciting because each deck felt more powerful than any we'd played prior, each card draw was something different. We refined our EDH decks and then made more. Eventually we stopped playing 60-card decks entirely. Magic became a game that would last entire evenings where we'd only play a couple of rounds, yet each game was exquisite. More and more people joined our personal format until we could consistently get game nights going. While each person has their own names and quirks for each deck they run, from my perspective they look like this:

With some honorable mentions from less played decks:

Of the decks depicted above, I run the first five. Despite Xenagoat, God of Good Times being my first EDH deck, Rakdos, Lord of Bargain-Bins would have to be my nastiest. Being able to dump three 8+/8+ eldrazi each with annihilator for free after delivering punishing damage never quite seems fair, even when I've earned it.

Ulamog's crusher - by Todd Lockwood (toddlockwood.com)

I find the main thrill of Commander comes from the power of each card involved. I'm a typical Johnny according to the Wizards, so every card I put into these decks has a specific purpose and fits into at least two strategic paths. It doesn't matter if I win or lose, as long as I get to pull off a satisfying maneuver. I find my excitement grows whenever play reaches my end of the table; to the point where "I love it when it's my turn" has become a lame and unintentional catchphrase of mine. Knowing that no matter what I draw, it's going to be useful is a great feeling. Given that there are 100 unique cards in the deck also means that each game you play with a single EDH deck will be completely different from the last, giving the format immense variety and replay value.

Building an EDH deck is an equally complicated and satisfying experience. Of course, picking those 15 rares is always the hardest part, but it's also one of the most exciting and is a great way to keep the deck balanced. Cards come out regularly enough that each deck has a couple of cards cycled in and out every month or so. There are also a number of older cards that become available on the online market every now and then. My first EDH deck has come a long way since I first made it but not once have I gotten bored with it. Nor with any of the others for that matter. We've experimented with different ways of playing with the decks we have; randomizing who plays what, alliances and a delightful mode named "Kingdoms," and every time I play, win or lose, I find it rewarding.

If you're new to Magic, I'd recommend learning how to play the standard game first. EDH is heavy, with a lot of complex cards doing ridiculous things and circumstances that require googling specifics on rules are common. To someone who is adept at the basic game and looking for something more volatile, elaborate and quirky, definitely try out EDH/Commander. Pre-built and very potent Commander decks can be purchased like any other themed Magic deck from your local card shop, but are generally more expensive. Building a deck within our format (which does not go by an official name but the title of this post will serve) came to about $40 or so albeit ours have grown to be something more like $60-80, depending on whose you pick up.