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It Doesn't Have to Be This Way

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Not too long ago, Josh and Jimmy from the Command Zone did a stats show, where they took results from over 100 games and compiled them to find out a few things about Commander games generally. With stats like this, there are all sorts of limitations and restrictions that should be considered, but it certainly made for an interesting show! I wanted to share three of the stats that I found especially interesting.

The Stats

The average game ends at turn 10.29. When I say turn 10, this means the tenth turn for everyone in the game. Perhaps saying Round ten would be more accurate. In any event, with the stats they discovered, 70% of all Commander games end between rounds eight and twelve. While I believe most of us thought our games were longer, I suspect the reason we think that is because we measure turns by how long they take in the first four or five rounds when we are mostly just playing a land and possibly one spell or attacking with a single creature and immediately passing the turn. Those later turns where all the fun stuff happens take longer than we think!

The average player casts a 7 mana or more spell 0.6 times in a game. This doesn't include cheating these cards into play. This is how many times you are casting it for full price from your hand.

I was definitely shocked by this stat. It seems like Cyclonic Rift overloaded, by itself, is played more often than that! They also said that 19% of games saw no spells of 7 mana or more cast in a game. I should not have been as surprised as I was about this stat, given that games end as early as they do. There is just less opportunity to cast these cards than I realized!

Commanders are cast from the command zone 1.4 times per game. I was surprised by this number as well, but again, if games end on turn ten, I shouldn't have been. If you are running a four casting cost commander, you probably can't cast it until turn three or four at the earliest. If you are casting it that early, you don't likely have a way to protect it, so you are waiting a little to play it with your Lightning Greaves. That means that your opponents have to kill it in three or four rounds for you to need to play it again before the end of the game. Suddenly 1.4 times doesn't seem so low.

Is This What We Want?

Jimmy and Josh took these results and made some practical conclusions based on them. If the average player is attacking 2.86 times per game, then you are looking at opponents that are attacking 8.58 times in ten rounds. If attacking is happening that often, you will want ways to send those attacks elsewhere. This sort of analysis is very sensible and I encourage you to take a listen to their suggestions.

I want to look at it a little differently. Rather than ask how best to play the games or build decks with the knowledge the stats reveal, I want to ask a bigger question: why would Commander players want to play those games? Let's consider each point in turn.

The average game ends on turn 10. I understand the allure for some players. It means that games end faster, so they can play another game. Players want to play more of the decks they have put together and that sounds like fun. However, if that is the case, wouldn't it be even better if the average game ended on turn six? Faster and faster the games can end so we can start new ones! More games! More fun!

Really? I play Commander because the games are longer than other games of Magic. I want to play cards that work over a long period of time. I want games to last long enough that someone can be the person leading the game, only to see it snatched away by someone else, then a third player steps in and takes the victory. The interplay between the players is what makes a great Commander game and that is significantly reduced when games run for only ten turns.

Games that end by turn ten demand opening hands, large ramp packages, and cards that can finish games immediately. While there is a place for that, there should also be a place for decks that don't do that. Decks that start a little slowly but finish fast. Decks that run bizarre quirky cards that need a little help getting set.

If a game ends on turn ten, you have probably seen thirteen or fourteen cards. If your deck follows the standard metric of ten card draw cards in your deck, by turn ten you will have drawn one of them and added that number to your card draw total, so you have probably seen thirteen or fourteen cards. By turn ten you probably have naturally drawn six lands (assuming the standard 37 lands in a deck) and two ramp spells (assuming ten ramp cards in your deck), bringing you to close to 10 mana.

Can you really say that starting a new game at this point would be more fun than drawing deeper into your deck and getting eleven, twelve, and thirteen mana sources onto the board to allow you to play multiple haymakers in a single turn onto an already evolved board state? Do you want the first three or four turns of a game where little to nothing are happening, to make up a higher percentage of the Commander games you play?

.6 7+ mana cost spells cast per player per game. For several years now I have heard players saying that if you are going to play a 7 mana spell, it should essentially read, "you win the game." Given that games end on turn ten, that makes sense. Playing a 7 mana spell is something that can only be done in the late game, so it makes sense that it should have to have an effect immediately.

But why is that the case? Commander is supposed to be the format where you can play your cards. I still want to see 7 mana cards do something; you did pay 7 mana! However, they shouldn't have to "win now." Alhammaret, High Arbiter is a 5/5 flying creature that stops each of your opponents from playing one of the cards in their hand. This is a wonderful and interesting card, but it is essentially useless in Commander as described since you will almost never get to cast it. Luminate Primordial is 4/7 with vigilance that allows you to Swords to Plowshares one of each opponent's creatures when it enters the battlefield. No good.

I play Commander for the opportunity to play these cards! I want big haymakers and these cards do that. Do they win games? Not immediately, but they set you up to win in the coming turns. I want players to run cards that cost seven or more mana because they are cool and make the game fun, not just because, "games gotta end."

Casting the commander 1.4 times per game. The most interesting decks are the ones built around a commander. The commander creates an environment or board state that allows the rest of your deck to work better. Some decks run a Voltron build that relies on the commander doing 21 damage to win games. If you are only casting your commander 1.4 times per game, then you really can't rely on your commander being on the battlefield as heavily as you might want.

While there are some commanders that cost a lot so they are unlikely to be cast more than twice, and others that are very difficult to remove from the battlefield, so you don't likely need to replay them often, but there are plenty of others that demand to be replayed from the Command Zone plenty. Krond is one of my favorite commanders, but when I win with him, it usually involves casting it at least three or four times. Nissa, Vastwood Seer has never been in a game when I didn't cast it at least twice, and often four or more times in a game. The ability to search for a land and draw extra cards when it flips makes it worth the price.

Again, do you really want to be playing in games where you aren't likely to cast your commander twice in a game? If that is the format, it makes more sense to build a deck, then choose a commander for it that helps a little, but just isn't essential. Has Commander, a format named for the commander always available to you in the Command Zone, reached the point where that card is best treated as a little bonus or an early boost. Should you build an all-Red deck with Grenzo, Havoc Raiser as a commander just so you can treat it like a two-mana sorcery to be played once when you really need it, and never again? Is Nin, the Pain Artist just a one-turn card draw spell?

Where to Go From Here

There is a solution to the misery that is Commander that Jimmy and Josh have discovered, and the joy is that it is very easy to find! Right at the start of their show, the guys explain that their stats are based on over 100 games played by players running decks in the 6-8 power range. Wizards creates cards for Commander with that power range in mind. Most online players build for that power range. This is leading a lot of new players to believe that building decks at anything under that power range is building something that is weak and just can't compete in regular games.

I would argue that decks that come in at the 3-4 range not be referred to as "casual," but "fun." These are decks that want to go to turn 15. These are decks that are loaded with 7 mana cards that are fun and exciting, but don't necessarily win instantly. These are decks that utilize the commander and will recast it as often as necessary. These are the decks I love and the games I love to play. This is the style of play I wish Wizards would build for.

I strongly encourage all of you to build in this range. Bring your theme decks, your underpowered commanders, and weird expensive spells! Play your cards and have fun! Bring Commander back to the crazy whimsy that it used to be and can be again!

Bruce Richard

@manaburned

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