Lies Commander Players Tell

Commander is a friendly format for some, another competitive format for others, but one thing it doesn’t need to be is dishonest! Which of these untruths have you heard around your recent Commander clashes?

We tell many lies, for many reasons. Usually it’s to gain something. Other lies are less insidious. These happen when we are wrong and we are very often wrong.

Commander is no different. People lie for advantage, for their own personal reasons, or because they are wrong. But lies about Commander hurt the format. This is a social game, a casual-focused format intended to be a way for some friends to sling some spells and have some laughs.

Even with the casual focus in the format, people lie about things in the games. Some of these are in-game lies that people tell to win. But others are lies told because someone is convinced they are correct. With the new preconstructed decks from Commander 2016 out, we are likely to start hearing more advice to new players about what is right and wrong in Commander. When the new players are told lies, it hurts the format because the new players hold them as true. Then they continue that trend with their groups.

The lies that people hold as true can hurt Commander and the enjoyment of others. We should always support the best interests of the format as much as possible and combat these lies. Here is a brief collection of common lies I see and hear regularly.


Lie: Every Commander deck needs Sensei’s Divining Top / Sol Ring / Your Staple of Choice.

Not every deck needs these cards. You may need to work to explain how a deck doesn’t need Sol Ring, but those decks exist. My Grenzo, Havoc Raiser deck doesn’t want a Sol Ring effect until the mid-game, and by then I can hope to steal one from an opponent’s deck. Running Sol Ring messed up the early-game plays where the Grenzo deck shines.

Other cards people rally behind are just lazy deckbuilding. Sensei’s Divining Top is a fantastic card, but if you’re playing a deck like Damia, Sage of Stone and plan to ramp up to her quickly, then you might not need it; when you are drawing an average of four or five cards on your turn, how much use is that Top? A deck that almost never has spare mana will be unable to use Top well either. A deck without fetchlands or shuffle effects can use Top, but not as well as another deck with more shuffle effects.

Lie: My deck isn’t competitive.

There are probably millions of decks where this is accurate. However, those decks don’t need defending. A player sitting down with a Sekki, Season’s Guide is not going to be rocking a competitive deck. No one worries.

This lie comes out when people see Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind or Azusa, Lost but Seeking or Sharuum the Hegemon. When you play a notorious commander, be honest about your intentions. Lying to a table is awful and those games where you combo-kill a deck of precons or decks like my Dromoka, the Eternal, leading the charge of functional reprints with all-stars like Suntail Hawk or Stampeding Wildebeests…well, you did it. But what was the point?

This has several other lies that start here and evolve. “I just threw this together with some spare cards.” That sounds fine until the player pulls out a highly tuned deck and obliterates the table.

“I’m not playing that deck.” This may be true. But it probably isn’t.

If you wanted a blue commander to have fun, there are other options besides Arcanis the Omnipotent and Azami, Lady of Scrolls. When you run across this particular lie enough times, you never trust the notorious commanders.

Lie: This card or commander, which is known for being awful, is used fairly here.

Everyone meets this liar at some point. You settle down for a game and the person opens up a Zur the Enchanter deck. Maybe it’s fine. But a few turns in and the game is in a lock because no opponent can cast a single spell. It’s bad. Same thing when you plop down a Blightsteel Colossus to use with Muzzio, Visionary Architect. We all know that someone is going to die. Don’t make us play under your thumb.

To combat these people, attack! Keep them on the defensive, blow up their stuff, and never let them catch their breath. The might still walk over you, but at least you went down swinging.

Lie: Running one counterspell can be a good way to protect yourself from the big plays your opponents will make.

Again… just what are we telling people? Does a single ramp spell protect you from stumbling on mana? Does a single removal spell keep you safe? Does a single win condition allow you to carry victory? Stop telling people things that will make them worse. A single counterspell cannot be depended on. You need to have it in hand when an opponent casts a big mean spell with the mana open to play it, too many things that need to happen correctly for a single spell. If you want to run a single counterspell, use something with modes like Dromar’s Charm or Mystic Confluence, which can do more for you.

Lie: Arcane Denial helps you not make an enemy when you counter a spell.

I don’t know who decided to start this bit of fiction, but it needs to stop. Arcane Denial replaces itself at the cost of giving an opponent two cards. This trade is mediocre. But you can stop an absolutely brutal spell for only two mana. However, the cards going to an opponent do not make friends. They do not prevent enemies from emerging. Just stop.

Put yourself in the situation where you are playing a card that practically wins you the game. When Johnny counters it, do you care about the two cards or are you still looking at the Insurrection or Resolute Archangel or Eldrazi Titan that got stopped? The cards do not make things “better” for your opponents.

Players new to multiplayer hear advice like this and start using Arcane Denial and Dream Fracture while thinking they are safe. Don’t lie to them. No one tells a player that using Oblation or Chaos Warp will keep a player from becoming an enemy since they get cards too. Of course not! You just tucked Avacyn, Angel of Hope into my deck! I will not be happy.

Lie: You don’t need ramp.

This one is not a full lie, but it’s walking a fine line of being ridiculously specific in order to be correct. This is a format filled with ramp and fast mana. When you exclude these cards, you open yourself up to many problems with your opponents. One of the most obvious is that everyone else can outpace your plays. We are no longer seeing mana creatures for one mana due to how they can push midrange decks to outpace aggro decks. This problem occurs in Commander and is exacerbated by multiple opponents. Getting a three-drop out on turn 3 is good, but not as good as the seven-drop on turn 4. If you avoid ramp, you need to know exactly what you are doing.

The opposite end is a strict adherence to a formula, for example, “every deck needs ten ramp pieces and ten card drawing spells.” That may be a fine way to play for you, but those twenty cards would interfere with another deck’s gameplan. Running template builds is awesome, but a rigid adherence that everyone should use the same formula is awfully boring. Different decks will be built differently and use different cards to achieve their goal. Don’t limit someone to a formula that works for your couple of decks in the same archetype.

Lie: Red is the worst color.

This entire line of thought continues the idea that you must be playing blue, green, and then a tertiary color. Enough. Do you know what every Boros commander wants to do? Super-aggro, rawr! All the time. Voltron and aggro. Every Boros deck looks the same. Practically every Orzhov deck is aiming to win via attrition. They all seek to grind out a win or pull off a two-card combo.

But do you know what red commanders do? Everything: control, combo, aggro, multiplayer burn, and everything in between. You can play with artifacts, without them, big creatures, weenies, or creatureless builds. Mono-red legendary creatures have the most interesting designs to build around. Play red! Give it a spin. Get back to me with your Jaya Ballard, Task Mage deck or Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer. Daretti, Scrap Savant is certainly not weak.

Lie: I didn’t know it would do that.

The good old “accidental” synergy that turns into a fun-sucking time. This used to happen a bit more regularly, but now we have too many resources at our disposal. You are reading an article about a casual format online. Possibly on your phone or a tablet. We carry around computers with greater computing power than the spaceships that went to the moon. We are severely lacking for excuses when you “accidentally” destroy all the lands or combo off or make infinite mana and hold the table under your thumb.

Staff of Domination and Rings of Brighthearth are the cards I most frequently see in this category. The staff untaps a creature that makes a bazillion and one mana, untaps itself, and game. Rings of Brighthearth copies an effect twice with a break in between to get mana, and game.

Now, newer players can certainly run into this. But don’t assume the player didn’t know what they were doing. Even players new to Commander can do a quick Google search and find some fantastically powerful plays. In the age of smartphones and Magic rulings being in search databases for cards, you don’t have an excuse for taking away people’s fun. Own it, apologize, and move own.

The Biggest Lies

I see two lies that stand above all the others. While some of the previous lies are misinformation or stances taken too far, these two are the lies that fibs want to grow up to be, the Commander Super Lies.

Lie: You are playing Commander wrong.

Lie: Your fun is more important than the table’s fun.

The first lie is rarely stated this way. In fact, I have never heard that actual phrase used. But that message is given all the time. Players will belittle other players for not adhering to a set goal. I prefer to talk out a difference in expectations rather than just insult my opponents.

But that is different. As long as a playgroup is okay with something specific, there is no wrong way to Commander. That is why this format is so amazing. Standard and Modern and Legacy, even Pauper, hold tournaments and have metagame shifts. You can be playing a Modern deck that won a huge invent from three years ago and do terribly. You are not up-to-date and are playing Modern (under the assumption of playing to do as well as possible in a tournament) wrong. Commander doesn’t have this.

Rather, the fun of the game is held paramount. And it should be. But even that fun can be twisted. This leads to the second lie. Everyone should enjoy the game. Now, I am not saying you should only play certain decks so that everyone has exactly equal amounts of fun. That is ridiculous. But many will give advice to a player to “just do what they want and let the rest deal with it.” Sure… if everyone is on the same page. But if your fun is a turn 3 Armageddon and everyone else was geared up for a game where Giant Warthog is among the scariest cards in the deck, then things are not going to work. Putting your fun above everyone else’s means that you are likely to be indifferent to their fun.

Push for Fun

No one should have a game of Commander where they wish they had not played. Don’t continue these lies. Especially do not continue the biggest lies. Be critical in thought. Be strong in action. But don’t seek to put yourself above your table.

What lies are told by Commander players that I did not discuss? Do you think there is a bigger lie than the ones I gave? How do you handle the lies in your LGS?