One of the nicest things about Commander is that it allows us so many avenues to explore the mechanics, flavors, and gameplay of Magic: The Gathering. With just shy of 100 cards banned in the format, there are seemingly infinite ways to build decks, exploit interactions, weave a story, or express yourself and your preferred style of play within the format. Let’s be honest, though – sometimes you can still find yourself in a deck building or gameplay rut. You might always play with the same group of friends, maybe the meta has become stagnant; you’re starting to know exactly what cards are in everyone else’s decks and things are becoming predictable. It could be that times are tough, the financial and time investments required for building another deck just aren’t something you can do right now. Even with all these things considered, there’s still a way to keep your meta fresh, your mind challenged and the gameplay satisfying!
Infusing a new mechanic, a new world, or maybe some new restrictions might be just what you need to spice things up! Let’s explore some of the things you can do to keep your games engaging.
Keeping Things Exciting
New challenges in a game can test our minds, our playstyle, and our decks in unexpected ways – they let us discover how truly versatile and adaptable our decks can be. Restrictions force us toget creative and these handicaps can be a fun, and in many cases, cost-effective, way of getting out of a gameplay rut. There are plenty of ways you can approach deck building restrictions. We will only cover a few here – feel free to use your own imagination!
Everyone has a favorite set, plane, tribe, notable mechanic, or bit of flavor they just enjoy building around – lean into it – build a strange tribal deck. Only use cards that feature Dominaria or Ravnica or whatever plane intrigues or delights you. I won’t belabor the Side to Side tribal deck I made, so instead I’ll mention my beloved Najeela deck where all the creatures are women, I also tried to include as many women as I could in the non-creature cards. This incredibly fun deck is awesome, I’ve found the restrictions you place on yourself can be as arbitrary and ridiculous as you want – anything to get the juices flowing.
Olivia Gobert-Hicks – Commander Najeela
Consider other fun options like sealed box Commander – get a booster box that speaks to you, crack some packs, find a legendary you think you can build around and see where the card pool takes you. I can’t recommend Mystery Booster Commander enough – plenty of great options, spicy reprints, and a diverse enough pool to easily build something fun – you can always just grab a 5C legendary to put in the Command Zone and go to town!
However, sometimes it’s just not feasible to spend money on a booster box to build a deck you might just tear apart later – don’t worry, there are other ways to bring new elements to the game. They don’t have to be huge changes, even small things can really shake things up. An easy option is making the last player to take a turn the monarch, though this approach may be better suited to faster groups. There are groups that will just insert the monarch mechanic whenever the first combat damage is dealt to a player, and then it just stays a part of the game. You can experiment with all kinds of small gameplay tweaks – just try anything that sounds like it could be fun and see how it goes.
Another wellspring of ideas comes from Rules Committee member, Gavin Duggan. Gavin writes an in-depth and engaging “Format of the Month” column, covering ideas, modified rule sets, and sub-formats complete with wit and decklists – much of the work there can flavor up your playgroup’s games. His explorations into sub-formats can give you great ideas and ways to mix up your games and inspiration to experiment with new things!
Don’t Be Afraid to Try…
Silver border cards are also worth a mention, they offer more off-the-wall situations while at the same time still making those neurons kick into overdrive when you try to figure out the stack after a slew of Un-situations start resolving. Of course, there are some cards with silver borders that are more fun than others (I promise, arm wrestling for a 3/3 Ape token using Side to Side on Game Knights was every bit as satisfying as it looked) and you should check with your playgroups because some Un-cards are absolutely ridiculous. In some instances, unending walls of rules text (looking at you, Rules Lawyer) might become a bit much to bear. Poke around a little because there are silver-bordered cards that can bring a new dimension of lunacy to the game.
Even though little tweaks here and there can add some of those new dimensions, why not try my personal favorite – Planechase? Planechase Commander is amazing. Your finely tuned Big Bad Eldrazi deck might just become utterly useless if you end up on Hedron Fields of Agadeem, or the Token/Sacrifice/Lands Matter deck may suffer an embarrassment of riches when you land on Goldmeadow. Couple some terrible planes (Skybreen and Mirrored Depths, for example) with the Spatial Merging phenomenon and you’re suddenly playing a very different game than you ever have before.
You’ll be able to come up with myriad ways to alter your game in a fun and meaningful way with your pod. Don’t be afraid to try things out! Play with banned commanders, borrow each other’s decks, or even try building decks where you aren’t allowed to buy any new cards to finish them. Monocolored theme night, no card more than a dollar, no ban list – unleash your inner mad scientist, the world is your oyster.
Everyone can have fun with Commander as it is, but adding some variants, themes, restrictions or new game-wide effects/benefits is a great way to keep the game fresh, your instincts well-honed, and your creativity and deck-building on point. See you at the virtual tables!