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How to Play Magic the Gathering When You Can't Gather


What a time to be alive, my friends.

We have virtually no frame of reference for the way the world is changing. Heck, between the time I write this and you read it, about a thousand crazy new things will have happened. It's...a lot.

So, it's a good thing we have Magic. And, for my money, a profoundly good thing that we have Commander in particular.

It can feel really trivial or silly to be thinking about, talking about or playing Magic at a time like this. But to me, these are the times when we're best served by leaning into the things that make us happy, that cure a bit of our cabin fever, that make us feel not quite so alone.

You might be thinking, "Well Dave, how can I play Commander with my friends if I'm supposed to be practicing social distancing? Our LGS is closed, all the restaurants are closed, nobody wants to come over to the house..."

If you're reading this right now, you already have everything you need.

You probably know Olivia Gobert-Hicks. She's a member of the Commander Advisory Group, an extremely talented cosplayer and metalworker, and all around pillar of the Commander community. She's also one of my very best friends, so much so that I live in Olivia's house with her, her husband and their (our?) ridiculous dogs. If you know Olivia, you've seen her stream paper Commander on her Twitch channel, and if you've seen her stream you've almost definitely seen me playing with her. Badly, of course, because I am Aggressively Just OK At Magic(TM).

That's how we play Commander 90% of the time. We haven't had four people sitting down at that table at the same time since we all lived in Seattle years ago. Once Olivia and her husband moved out of town, the three of us and the fourth member of our playgroup missed our Commander games. We hopped on our computers, hung iPads from ceiling fans, stuck laptops in between cases of zero calorie soda and played Commander remotely.

That's how Olivia's stream was born. That's also your blueprint for keeping your Commander playgroups alive even if you can't physically be together right now.

Unless you're planning to stream your games, you don't need anything more than your computer's built-in webcam, a smartphone and/or a tablet. It doesn't have to be pretty, it just has to work.

And here's the really interesting thing we've learned from playing online paper Commander for almost two years now--it changes the way you build and play decks. Sen Triplets? Jeleva, Nephalia's Scourge? Commanders (and other cards) that rely on actually playing your opponents' cards don't work so well when your opponents are in different time zones.

That's why I decided to build a deck that's a bit more online Commander friendly.

Riku of Two Reflections

Hi We're Riku Hi We're Riku, Nice to Meet You Nice to Meet You

The next best thing to stealing your opponents' cards is copying them, and Riku of Two Reflections enables that in some super borked ways. I had been intrigued by Riku for years, but also slightly intimidated by the sheer volume of options for building a deck around him. Should I spellsling? Clone? Tokens? Combo?

I opted for all the above.

Riku of Two Reflections | Commander | Dave Kosin

Now I'll concede that incorporating little bits of multiple strategies probably isn't the optimal way to play Riku. I'm okay with that for several reasons. First and foremost, I can't afford to build Riku at its most powered-up level. But also, as anyone who's played with me knows, I am quite proud and protective of my Aggressively Just OK At Magic(TM) reputation.

To that end, my Riku deck aims to be adaptable. If one of my opponents is flooding the board with creatures, I'll try to cast a Clone Legion and--if possible--copy it several times. What's better than you having an army of creatures? Me having three or four of each of your creatures!

If that's not gonna work, I can lean into spellslinging, using things like Thousand-Year Storm and Bonus Round to give me the ability to copy my instants and sorceries two, three or sometimes even four times over. I once got five extra turns with copies of Time Warp. That was neat! I still lost the game, because, well, because it's me. Aggressively Just OK At Magic(TM).

Quadruple Vision

But by far my most reliably successful win condition in this deck is Biovisionary. It's the kind of card Commander players may not see coming, because the wincon that's stapled onto it requires four copies to be in play. At first glance, people may think, "Well, Commander is a singleton format, so that's no good." I was guilty of that. But then I thought of Riku. And then I realized what else fits in Riku's color identity...

Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer

Good old Bro-diclad. This dude is an absolute unit in a Riku deck. When it's time for the game to end, I can cast Biovisionary, copy it with Riku, go to combat, get a token from Brudiclad, make all my tokens copies of the Biovisionary token, and then...

I'll grant, some of my Commander friends have grown weary of losing to Biovisionary. (Hi, Joe!) And I'll also grant that the first time I won with it, it was super neat...the fifth time, not quite as neat. That's why it's an "In Case Game Has Gone On Too Long, Break Glass" kind of card. I don't tutor for the pieces that make it work, I don't mulligan over and over to make sure I have all the pieces in my opening hand. If it becomes clear that I'm going to lose, it's turn 12 and nobody's close to winning, it's time for bed, or all of the above...then and only then is it Biovisionary time.

Coax Fun from the Blind Eternities

Whatever it is you're trying to do with this or any other Commander deck, you can still do it even if you're stuck at home. I've spoken at length on various platforms about how the Gathering is what makes Magic so amazing. And right now we have more ways than ever to Gather with each other. Just find a handful of friends, fire up Discord (or Skype or any number of other platforms) and enjoy Commander. You can play Commander on MTGO. Sometimes, maybe, allegedly, you can play Brawl on Arena, which is not Commander but will do in a pinch. Heck, you can even play text-based Commander! I've never tried it, I'm not even quite sure what it is, and in truth I quite literally just thought of it (and now I must try it)...but I think you get my point.

Many of us are separated from one another right now. That stinks. Magic events are being cancelled by the boatload. That really stinks. Local game stores are either closing or being prevented from hosting organized events. This all really stinks.

None of that means we can't enjoy our game and our format with each other.

This may be a time when we can't sit across a table from our friends. But I'd argue we need our friends, and our hobbies, now more than ever. We're all feeling so many feelings right now and it's very easy to be overwhelmed. Games like Magic, and most especially social formats like Commander, can provide a badly needed escape from the hour-to-hour strain of what's happening all around us.

So fire up your webcams, wrangle your friends and have some fun. We don't just deserve it, we need it.

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 @daviekumd and check out his Twitch "channel" at twitch.tv/mooks311.


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