Magic: The Gathering was originally released by Wizards of the Coast in 1993 as a head-to-head competitive game, with two players building 60-card decks filled with spells, creatures, and artifacts designed to bring their opponent down from 20 to zero life as quickly as possible. But fans quickly began to develop their own ways of playing more casual games, offering restrictions like using only community cards or giving each player unlimited mana – the resource needed to play most cards. .
A variation has become so popular that it has gone from a house rule to a central feature of modernity Magic: The Gathering design. Players can only have one named character or legendary creature on the board at a time, a rule that was introduced with the impression of five powerful Elder Dragon legends in the 1994 Legends set. origin of the idea is somewhat contested, creative players suggested extending the rule to every card of a Magic deck so that instead of the usual limit of four of a specific card, there can only be one.
Deck sizes have been reduced from 60 cards to 100, health total has been doubled to 40, and more players have been welcomed into a game. The format was originally dubbed the Elder Dragon Highlander, a fusion of legendary cards and a tribute to the phrase “there can only be one” uttered repeatedly in the 1986 film. mountain dweller about immortals beheading themselves in their own version of a battle royale.
The format is also referred to as Commander, a reference to the other key rule difference. Each deck is built around a specific legendary creature called a Commander who doesn’t have to be drawn like a normal card but can instead be played from a special “command zone” whenever players have. mana for it, although its cost increases each time it is cast. Magic: The Gathering Senior game designer Glenn Jones says the combination of the consistency provided by the Command Box with the randomness of a large deck of unique cards has helped make Commander the most popular format in the game.
“You can play Magic for a very long time and have a lot of different experiences,” he says. “Commander really sums it up in several ways. “
As a casual multiplayer game, Commander also helps provide a more social experience than the traditional Magic formats you might play in a tournament.
“I think one of the things we’ve learned about gaming in general over the past 60+ years is that multiplayer games can really involve a lot of people in a one-on-one way. can’t, “Jones says.” Commander is one of the few formats in Magic where it’s really encouraged as well as directly rewarded. “
While the goal is to be the last person standing at the end of a game, having multiple opponents allows players to make temporary alliances while forcing them to think carefully about how to divide their resources. . As the format grew in popularity, the designers of Magic began to develop new mechanics specifically for Commander.
“They are quite difficult to design,” says Jones. “In an ideal world, all mechanics, even those specific to multiplayer, have some sort of play or joy in single player formats.”
For example, the 2016 set Plot: take the crown introduces the concept of the monarch, a title that players get by throwing specific cards. The Monarch can draw an additional card each turn – a huge advantage in the game – and some cards also have more powerful effects if you are the Monarch. If a creature you control damages the current Monarch, you gain the title.
“The Monarch is very different in a solo format,” says Jones. “It’s not really designed for that, but you can engage in it and it still has an interesting subset for it.”
Sometimes designers take existing mechanics like Unearth, which allows a player to replay a creature from their graveyard for a final attack, and tweak them to be better in multiplayer. 2020 set Commander Legends introduced Encore, where players get a copy of the returning creature for each opponent. “We have harnessed its strength in multiplayer to create something Commander players would particularly appreciate,” said Jones.
Wizards of the Coast has released a steady stream of Commander-focused sets since 2011. Most involve pre-built decks meant to allow an easy introduction to the format or even the game itself. “It’s one of the most ideal entry points from a player’s perspective,” Jones says. “I get a box and I don’t have to work anymore. It is full of rare and awesome cards and my friends will just tell me which ones to buy as they are really set in the game and know what’s going on.
Jones and other commander-focused designers take their work on these decks very seriously because they know how influential they can be.
“We want these prebuilt decks to not only be a great experience in themselves, but also to reflect the type of play experience that we think is fun in Commander and that players should go out and evangelize among their own friends and party. game, ”he said. . “Someone who bought a prebuilt deck 10 years ago, whatever ideas they’ve formed from that first game of Commander, they can still guide their game today. “
The decks are heavily tested against each other and other recently released decks to ensure a good balance of power. “We always want it to be a good experience if someone brings all the decks home and then plays,” says Jones. “If a deck starts to intimidate others, we’ll try to hit it in some places where it doesn’t damage the curb appeal but feels fair.”
As the format gains in popularity, Wizards of the Coast has worked hard to understand the people who play it and design products to appeal to them. “At first, there were people who thought Commander players stuck with one deck, but now that we’ve developed more knowledge, we realize that’s not true at all,” Jones says. . “Commander players love to build new decks. They love to upgrade decks they already have. They’re actually very involved in the new content, and that’s great.
While most of the new sets are primarily designed for players to play competitively by building their own decks or drafting them, the designers are now considering what a Commander player might get out of them. The game now has more legendary creatures and more multicolored cards, since the color of your commander determines what colors the rest of your cards can be. The designers also worked to introduce the format to new players with Commander Legends, the first Commander set to be written. This may not be what the creators of Magic originally had in mind, but Commander offers players a whole new way to have fun with the collectible card game.
“The commander embraces the elements of Magic together in a really interesting way that people can engage and express themselves and what they like MagicJones says. “It’s about building a cool deck, showing it off and having a cool experience. “
Samantha Nelson is a freelance journalist and a regular contributor to NME.