Commander is a new format for Magic: The Gathering that is not exactly new. In truth, fans have been playing Commander for years by its original name, Elder Dragon Highlander, but now the format is gaining widespread recognition. As a community-created variant, Commander gained its popularity as the casual format of choice for pros seeking a break from the intensity of competitive play. Now Wizards of the Coast has brought Commander to the masses with five pre-packaged decks that include everything needed for a player to join the game.
Commander's popularity is not without warrant; the game is actually quite fun, and could serve as a great entry point for players not interested in traditional games of Magic. As I mentioned earlier however, most players were drawn into Commander through an active love for Magic. The format was not being used to its full potential for bringing new players into the hobby or attracting older fans back into the fold. The release of pre-packaged Commander decks is a welcome change as it opens the door to this wider audience in an attempt to strengthen the game's player community.
While the game plays mostly by standard Magic rules, there are a few quirks that make it perfect for casual 3-6 player free-for-all matches. For starters, each deck is led by a legendary creature, referred to as that deck's commander. These creatures start the game set aside face up with the ability to be can be cast on any turn, and can return to this position any time they would normally be exiled or put into a graveyard.
An example commander creature included in the green-themed "Devour for Power" deck
The most significant of changes to standard Magic is in the construction of a Commander deck, which consists of a hundred unique cards. There are also special rules on mana based on the casting cost of your commander creature, referred to as its color identity. No card may be included in a Commander deck unless its casting cost includes colors seen in the color identity if that deck's commander.
There are also some twists in how the game is won. Each player starts with 40 life, but must also track any damage they tack from each player's commander creature. If any individual commander ever deals a total of 21 or more cumulative damage to a single player, that player loses the game.
If Magic: Commander sounds interesting to then look for one of these five pre-constructed decks. Each has a different three-color identity with one primary color strategy and includes a starter strategy sheet for new players to the game. For a retail cost of $30, you'll get the entire hundred card deck in a Commander tuckbox, as well as three different oversized legendary creature cards that can be used as a reference when holding your commander face up out of play. There's also a draw here for Magic veterans, as each Commander deck includes fifteen never-before-seen cards that are legal for use in the Vintage and Legacy play formats.
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