The commander is Magic The Gathering’s most popular size. Thanks to its social-friendly focus and lenient deck-building rules, it has grown from a fan-made niche format to one that has a massive community and regular new products for it.
Sometimes you want something different, though. Not quite standard or highly competitive modern, but something to shake up your Commander games. Luckily, the Magic community has come up with all sorts of variations of the format that are worth checking out. Here are five you really need to try.
Some people may see the word “Brawl” and shudder, but go for it for a second. Brawl was Wizards’ attempt to create a format like Commander that it could control on its own, as Commander is run by fan-created committees with minimal input from Wizards itself. Before we started receiving regular Commander precons, we had Brawl decks (which were, admittedly, very good; one even had Smothering Tithe).
Unlike Commander, which is an eternal format that allows you to use almost any printed map, Brawl is based on the Standard rotation. As long as you still have a commander who dictates your deck’s color identity, you can only play cards that are currently legal in Standard (at the time of writing, from Zendikar Rising to Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty) into your deck. of 60 cards.
People hated Brawl when it debuted, as it looked like a cynical attempt to lure Commander players into the Standard rotation where their cards would eventually become illegal. But Brawl has a huge one, huge advantage on Commander: you can play it on Arena.
Whether it’s the originally designed Brawl or the hugely popular Historic Brawl – which uses Historic’s largest card pool and borrows Commander’s 100-card decks – Brawl is the only way to get your dose of Commander on Arena. And people have really embraced it – Historic Brawl is an incredibly active format on Arena, and it’s benefited from the various additions to the Historic format over the years, like Amonkhet and Kaladesh Remastered or the various Historic Anthologies.
4 Duel Commander (French Commander)
Duel Commander, also known as French Commander in honor of where the format originated, is the most competitive single variant of Commander. Instead of playing against three opponents, you only have one.
It may seem like a small change, but it’s big enough to make Duel Commander a radically different format. There is no politics involved here, as the only potential target for your opponent’s punishment is you. It’s also a lot less forgiving because removing scary cards from your opponent’s battlefield is your job and your job alone.
The move to two players means Duel Commander has a little bigger ban list. Unlike Commander, Duel Commander has a ban list for purely banned cards as your commander, and it includes some of the main format’s most popular names like Yuriko, The Tiger’s Shadow, Edgar Markov, Derevi, Empyrial Tactician, and Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar. The main map list also has a few Commander favorites, like Jeweled Lotus, Mana Crypt, Mana Drain, Sol Ring, and Thassa’s Oracle.
In other words, thanks to its inherently more competitive nature, Duel Commander is a far more curated experience than anything in the traditional commander’s wild west. If you want simple Magic, but enjoy the 100-card singleton nature of a normal Commander, it might be time to play French Commander.
3 Pauper Dragon Highlander
Pauper has been getting a lot of love recently. The common-only format has been the focus of Wizards of the Coasts’ new Pauper Format Panel, which has been designed to oversee and guide him with each new set. If the idea of Pauper intrigued you, but you prefer the multiplayer nature of Commander, PDH (Pauper Dragon Highlander) might be the way to go.
as poor, PDH only allows you to use cards that have already been printed at a common rarity. Of course, there are no common legendary creatures (the Prismatic Piper from Commander Legends is not common, despite the icon on the map), the format had to try something a little different: you’re allowed any creature of uncommon rarity as your commander.
This means you can play cards like Fleshtaker, Baleful Strix, or Lorescale Coatl as a Commander, which you can’t do in any other format. The common rarity required for your 99-card singleton deck is a pretty big limitation, but it’s an interesting challenge that’s incredibly economical.
2 craftsman commander
Some of the most interesting Commanders aren’t the big splashy mythic rares, but the more sober rare ones. Commanders like Trelasarra, Moon Dancer, Ardenn, Intrepid Archaeologist, and Dina, Soul Steeper are all rare but great fun to play, which is what makes Artisan such an interesting format.
While Pauper Commander is strictly common only, Artisan allows both commons and uncommons in your 99-card singleton deck. This wider range of rarities is balanced by the much, much smaller commander pool: you can only have one uncommon legendary creature.
With more cards at its disposal, Artisan Commander is a little faster than its Pauper sibling, but still a cost-effective alternative for those who don’t want to go broke with a Commander deck. This relatively new format has gained popularity recently, but has a busy community keep things smooth behind the scenes. If you want to take a look at some of Magic’s most overlooked and underrated commanders, Artisan is a great place to try it out.
1 Swear Breaker
If there’s one thing newcomers to Commander are often confused about, it’s whether planeswalkers can be your commander. Some of them say you can, but, in general, a Planeswalker is not valid for format. And that really trips people up.
If you have a planeswalker that you really enjoy, Oathbreaker is the format for you. Your commander can be almost any planeswalker, and they come with a “signature spell” – an instant or sorcery that matches your planeswalker’s color identity. From there, you build a 60-card singleton deck and play with a starting life total of 20 instead of the usual 99 cards and 40 commander life.
Oathbreaker has a active community on Reddit and Discord. It even maintains its own ban list, which is similar to Commander’s but includes a few additional inclusions – mainly top mana rocks like Sol Ring, Mana Crypt, and Jeweled Lotus. There are also four community pre-built Starter Decks, if you want to give it a try but don’t feel comfortable building your own deck just yet.
NEXT: Magic: The Gathering: 10 Most Powerful New Commanders In Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty
Bing, what do you have against Serebii?
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