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Charting Your Commander Course

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Hi! Maybe you're a friend, perhaps a stranger. We may have played dozens of games of Commander together, or we've never interacted at all. Wherever you and I fall on that spectrum, I can guarantee this: The two of us likely don't see, enjoy, or play Commander exactly the same way.

Magic players who don't dig Commander, and those who believe they know best, would have us believe that diversity in perspectives and play styles is a fatal flaw in the format. The rest of us know the truth - it's the very best thing about Commander.

2020 has been a tough year for our format. It started with the expansion of Command Fests and Command Zones at Magic Fests, a long overdue bit of recognition that a great many players relish the opportunity to come together for something other than competitive grinding - though those prize wall tix are always nice.

I didn't know it at the time, none of us did, but I was fortunate enough to be here in Reno, Nevada for what turned out to be one of the last big real-life Magic events of 2020. I didn't play a whole lot of actual Magic at Magic Fest Reno - heresy, I know - but that's thanks in large part to the fact that I spent the majority of my time meeting and getting to know a whole mess of wonderful new friends, and getting reacquainted with some old ones. (And drafting Mystery Boosties. Did a lot of that.)

I walked away from that weekend with a lot of great memories. Among them are the conversations about Commander, about how different people view it and play it. Those interactions, both with players I happened to encounter on the convention floor and with big names in the content creation world, cemented my belief that we all approach this format in our own unique way.

And it's in that spirit that I challenge anyone reading this to start getting out of your Commander bubbles.

We Don't Know What We Don't Know

Less than a month after Magic Fest Reno, everything shut down. Magic Fests, Command Fests, comicons and in-store events at LGSs across the U.S. were cancelled. It's now been almost seven months and it's anybody's guess when things will return to anything approaching "normal".

During that time, many - probably not most - Commander players have turned to playing the format remotely with their webcams. I've played a lot of webcam Commander this year. It's not perfect by any means, but it's the best way we have right now to play the format we love when we can't get our friends together at the LGS or book a block of hotel rooms and meet everyone for a Magic Fest.

It also happens to be a perfect opportunity to play Commander with players you wouldn't have played with before. And that is something I firmly believe all Commander players need to do.

One of the most common arguments when discussing the banlist or proposed rule changes is some variation of "that is/isn't a problem in my playgroup, so..."

That's the problem with never venturing outside our established playgroups. Don't get me wrong - there's a lot to be said about having a regular group of people you sit down to play with. I certainly have one. It's fun to develop a micro-meta for ourselves and come up with house rules that deepen our enjoyment of the format and of each other. It can become problematic, however, when we wade into the larger pool.

Sure, Paradox Engine may never have been a problem in your playgroup. Maybe your regular pod of four friends doesn't like commander damage and just refuses to use it in your games. I've heard of playgroups where virtually everything about the rules is tweaked in some way. All of that is wonderful. It's what Rule 0 is there to ensure.

But what happens when you leave the cozy confines of your playgroup and sit down with strangers? If you're approaching it the right way, good things should happen just about every time. It's an incredibly powerful learning opportunity... if you're open to it.

Please be open to it.

Windows to the World

Thanks to modern technology (when it works) we can sit down and play Magic more easily and with more people than we've ever been able to before. I've been playing webcam Commander with my longtime playgroup this year, but not as much as I've been playing with other people. It's not that I don't love playing with my old friends, it's just that we've played together a lot. Having the opportunity to experience the format we love with different players from different backgrounds has taught me an awful lot.

One of the most helpful lessons I've learned is that up until the pandemic, I'd been building decks for my playgroup. When I considered which answers to run, for example, it was in deference to specific cards and strategies I knew I would see from my friends. I'd built entire decks entirely with my friends' decks in mind.

Again, there's nothing at all wrong with that, especially if your playgroup gets together a lot. But at the same time there's a whole big world out there with thousands upon thousands of other Commander players, and our webcams make it easier than ever to experience the format in entirely new ways.

I'm here to encourage everyone to take that opportunity if you can. (I do acknowledge that not everyone can make webcam Commander work from a logistical perspective; please don't take this to mean, "Davie says we all need to go spend a bunch of money on equipment now." That's not it at all.)

Familiarity breeds complacency. We get comfortable. My other job is as a certified personal trainer, and the very last thing we want to do when we're trying to change our bodies is to get comfortable and complacent. We must constantly challenge ourselves in order to keep making progress. We have to get out of our comfort zone in order to grow.

The very same is true in Commander. This is a format in which we treasure our freedom to use thousands of different cards which were never designed to work together. It's a place where we can do all manner of weird, wild things in conjunction with the weird, wild things our opponents do with their decks. Commander is where we regularly encounter cards we never knew existed and marvel at the awesome things we can do with them.

Maybe your playgroup is filled with players who regularly build new decks and plumb the depths of Magic's history to discover fresh ways to play. But if it's not - and, honestly, even if it is - I can't advocate strongly enough for getting out of your Commander bubble once in a while.

Second Star to the Right

So how exactly do we do that?

Social media is a great place to start. I'll be the first to admit that social media has an awful lot of downsides, but it's the easiest way we have to come together as Commander players - if you know where to look.

I spend a lot of time on Twitter and, to be sure, Magic Twitter can be an exhausting, infuriating experience. But each and every day as I scroll through my timeline I see people finding each other for games of Commander. Some of them stream their games so others can watch and keep them company, but most just play privately as if they were at someone's kitchen table.

Discord is another great resource. I don't even know how many Magic-focused Discord servers are out there, but I know there are a lot. If you have a favorite Magic content creator, chances are they have a Discord where you're likely to find players who want to jam some Commander. One of the best I've found belongs to the Rules Committee itself, and is constantly filled with players linking up to play Commander together.

And, eventually, in-store and big event play will return. When the day comes that we can do that safely (and not a MOMENT sooner) I strongly encourage everyone to get out there and sit down with some new folks. You'll probably see cards you've never seen before, play your decks in whole new ways and - if you're really fortunate - walk way with some new friends.

In the end, that's what Commander is and always has been about, right? It's a social format. It's about making and strengthening those bonds so we can continue forging memories that follow us long after the games are over.

So, if you catch me on Twitter, feel free to ask me for a game. I'm always excited to make those new connections, and as a bonus, you'll get to meet my good pal Hot Daxos! Let's see how he's doing these days:


Dave is a Commander player currently residing in Reno, NV. When he's not badly misplaying his decks, he works as a personal trainer. You can bother him on Twitter and check out his Twitch channel.

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