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2020 Really Was the Year of Commander


It's almost impossible for our brains to get perspective on the year we've all endured. January of 2020 feels simultaneously like it was 20 minutes and 400 centuries ago. When this year started, we'd never uttered the phrase "social distancing" in our lives. Magic events happened every weekend all over the world, just as they had for years and years before. We could still go to our friends' homes or to our LGSs and play some games around a table without fear of getting sick or, worse, getting everyone else sick.

But here is the encouraging news: 2020 is almost over. In less than a month we'll flip the calendar to 2021, and while it's far too early to tell whether and to what extent that year will differ from this one - for the sake of literally everyone on Earth, I hope it's much better - when it comes to Magic I can say with confidence that 2020 has, indeed, turned out to be the Year of Commander.

Filling the Void

When the pandemic began to dramatically reshape our everyday lives in the early part of this year, many Magic players had fallen into our rhythms with this game. Many, if not most, played multiple formats. We'd go to our LGSs for prerelease events, hit up the closest MagicFest and maybe even travel to one or two as a vacation and a chance to hang out with old friends and make new ones. If we needed a card for a deck or just wanted to crack some boosters for fun or for a friendly draft, we could just go to a store and do it.

For us in the U.S., that all changed in late March and it's still anyone's guess when we may return to something approaching that kind of "normal". The Magic ecosystem has been disrupted in ways it never has before, especially in the competitive sphere. And while some would argue Wizards of the Coast has done its damndest to kill formats like Standard, Pauper and Legacy all by itself, the pandemic has put them on ice in a very real way. I'm not sure what the thaw will look like. Arena keeps Standard going as a format but doesn't sell any physical product, which is fantastic for Commander players - more on that later. MTGO is also a thing for various formats, but even in pandemic times it reaches a fairly low percentage of players. Magic is a paper game first and always will be, Arena be damned, and as 2020 has unfolded Commander has become the premiere method for playing paper Magic by a wide margin.

The loss of in-store events and MagicFests created a void - what the hell were we going to do with all these cards? We've ended up playing a lot of Commander. A lot. Because there are so many ways to play Commander over the Internet there's no way to get an exact number, but I'd feel safe betting that we've played many thousands - if not tens or hundreds of thousands - of games of webcam Commander this year. Our format has filled the void in a massive way.

Mostly Error-Free Ball

That wouldn't have happened if Commander wasn't a fun format to play. My main fear about the whole "Year of Commander" thing was that it would mean, especially with regard to Commander Legends, an influx of prohibitively overpowered new cards that would threaten the format on an existential level.

That hasn't happened. I'm incredibly relieved.

Now, lest anyone think I'm letting Wizards completely off the hook, there are most assuredly 2020 cards that do, and will continue to, elicit groans from social Commander players. There are, most assuredly, problem children.

Fierce Guardianship
Omnath, Locus of Creation

Opposition Agent
Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy
Winota, Joiner of Forces

I won't spend a ton of time rehashing what makes these cards problematic except to say this: They are the manifestation of Wizards of the Coast's ever-increasing interest in, and reliance upon, putting Commander at the top of its priority list because - now more than ever - it's the format that moves product. Wizards doesn't have any direct impact on how the format is governed, its underlying philosophy or what players choose to do (or not do) with the cards they're given, but cards like these are emblematic of how Wizards wants us to play Commander - that is, just like other formats.

Commander is not Standard. It is not Modern, it's not Pioneer or Legacy or Vintage and it never will be. But it would be naive not to see that every Winota, Joiner of Forces or Opposition Agent nudges Commander just a little closer to that end of the spectrum. I have a lot more thoughts on this particular issue, and I spent some time talking to a good friend of mine about them. Maybe you've heard of him. Some kind of adjunct lecturer or something.

At the same time, though, fair is fair - to my eye, nothing we've seen from 2020 has broken Commander in half. I acknowledge that, though "you didn't set the format on fire" is indeed the lowest of bars to clear. And just because 2020 is over doesn't mean Wizards won't have plenty of chances to screw it up next year.

The Price is Right Now

Perhaps the biggest positive to the temporary loss of in-person Magic play is the financial aspect. I never claim to be an expert in that area - in fact, I know I'm not - but I do know this: We've been able to get some fantastic deals this year.

Typically, when a new product is released there are a number of forces that compete to shape the value of individual cards and products in the secondary market. Supply and demand are the big ones, and while supply has most certainly been an issue this year - how many of us still haven't been able to open even one Jumpstart booster? - demand is WEIRD in 2020. Back in the good old days of 10 months ago, a new Standard set release meant demand was coming from all over the Magic ecosystem. Players from every format wanted different cards for different reasons and, often, wanted the same cards, which would drive prices up even when product was plentiful on store shelves.

Over the past few months, however, the dynamics of demand have shifted considerably. Players in much of the world are in absolutely no rush to get paper copies of cards for Standard or other sanctioned formats because they have no idea when they'll be able to use them. And yet product is still being bought, sold and opened like gangbusters because that's what Magic players do.

All of that means great things for Commander players. Zendikar Rising has just one card over $20 right now (not counting special treatments and foils, of course). Double Masters made Jace, the Mind Sculptor a $50 card despite its absurd price point for booster boxes and packs. And Commander Legends is a value bonanza for new cards and reprints alike.

Again, I am no economist, so it's entirely possible the pandemic has little or nothing to do with this. But the end result is the same: Commander players have been able to pick up cards on the cheap in 2020. We'll take it.

Speaking of Commander Legends, my good buddy Hot Daxos has a handful of very exciting new pieces!

Hot Daxos | Commander | Dave Kosin

What's Next?

So, 2020 is almost over and with it the "Year of Commander" will come to an end.

But not really. The Year of Commander will never end.

Wizards knows now, more than ever, that Commander is its golden goose. We're the ones buying product at this exact moment, and even when the Standard and Modern players come back we'll still be the ones driving Magic's profit margins. Anecdotally, it seems Commander Legends is selling like hotcakes, so a sequel set feels like more of a "when" than in "if". The first in the series of Commander Collection sets is releasing this month. I wouldn't be shocked if we kept getting preconstructed Commander decks alongside Standard set releases.

Wizards didn't screw the pooch too badly in 2020. Neither did we as players. Commander is as vibrant as it's ever been. Here's hoping 2021 keeps the good times rolling.

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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