Starting Your Own Commander League

Sheldon Menery’s recent Commander 2015 League was a huge success! So what’s next? How can you get your own league started? Sheldon shares his group’s latest fun-packed project!

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease April 2-3!

Our Commander 2015 League has come to a close, so we’re already preparing for the next thing we’re going to do. The Monday Night Gamers (that’s Keith, Michael, Shea, and Todd) and I enjoyed the structured setup of the league and want to try something that both captures the structure and gives us something new. Get ready for a wild ride.

We’ve decided to do a Commander Rotisserie Draft. If you’re not familiar with the term, Rotisserie baseball is the forerunner of fantasy baseball. Players in leagues would gather together on draft day (yes, Virginia, in the olden days, people physically came together in the same spaces) to draft their teams, so that’s what we’re going to do. The first real activity in my new game room will be the Commander Rotisserie Draft.

Speaking of the new game room, I know I promised you some pictures. For those who haven’t been following along, Gretchyn (my wife) and I have recently moved into the new house that we built. The second floor is a single room of about 800 square feet (around 86 square meters for our metric-using friends) which contains my office, home theater, RPG pit, gaming table, and music setup. It has its own full bathroom and will eventually also have a wet bar. Here are a couple of pictures. It’s still in a state of disarray since I haven’t had time, what with the semester still ongoing, to unpack and set up everything.

Game Room 1

This first shot is from the corner farthest from the door, where my keyboard rig is currently standing. To the left, you can just make out the corner of my desk. Yes, that’s a wine cellar—capacity around 100 bottles—because we must have priorities. Dominating the shot are the movie theater seats. A yet-to-be-purchased 70-inch TV will go in front of them. At the back of the shot you can see the doorway to the stairs, the closet, the unpacked boxes with some of my Magic collection, and just the corner of the triangular bar-height table, which we’ll use for now. Long-term, that will turn into one of those tricky game tables from hell you see at Gen Con. On the mid-right of the picture, you can see the footstool of one of the RPG pit chairs.

Game Room 2

This shot is from the other side, giving you some scope for the size of the room. You can see the blank wall between windows where the TV will hang. To the left are three of the five RPG pit chairs. Obviously, we’re missing curtains. The keyboard rig is in the fair corner, covered up for now. For those of you who are into such things, it’s a first-generation Roland D-50. The one thing I didn’t get a shot of (and you’ll see in the shots of the completed space) is the sweet Middle-Earth shower curtain Gretchyn got for the bathroom. You also can’t see the Palantír light which currently sits on top of the game table. Not only do I love my wife for getting cool nerd stuff for me, I love that she can correctly pronounce Palantír. So this is the space that, in three weeks’ time, will be (mostly) transformed so that we can do our draft. To notch up things even an additional nerd level, we’re going to do the Commander Rotisserie Draft on Day of Thrones 6.

Day of Thrones (which you’ve probably figured out that we’ve done five previous times) is when we get together for a day full of gaming leading up to watching the season premiere of HBO’s Game of Thrones. The guys come over (a few times, we’ve had additional guests), eat lunch, game all day, eat a fancy dinner, drink something nice, and then watch the show. On a few of them, we’ve tried to play a spread of games. Once we played a video game, a tabletop board game, did a few RPG hours, and played some Commander, hitting all the subsections of our nerdom. On a few we’ve simply run the next session of our ongoing RPG. We’ve also just played Commander all day on one of them. This year, we’ll be drafting the Commander decks which will come to dominate our games this summer.

Step One: Choosing Colors

All the rules I’m going to lay out were the result of long discussions between the five of us, frequently before, during, and after Commander 2015 League games. The first thing we decided was that we wanted everyone to play three-color decks. We were divided on whether they should be shards or wedges. I liked the latter because it provides an homage to the original Commander product, but it wasn’t something I felt all that strongly about. The one strong point that we didn’t want to move off of is that each of the five colors must be represented exactly three times. During the discussion, we realized that it would be possible to draft a combination of shards and wedges and still keep that restriction. So we color-drafted, one at a time, building our shard/wedge. The simple rule of the color draft is that you couldn’t pick a color which would make a three-color deck impossible for someone behind you. This obviously meant that the first two rounds were the significant ones, and the third one would fall into place.

The draft went in a direction which I hadn’t expected. I didn’t go in necessarily caring—all the color combinations have their strengths, and I knew that I could put together something fun no matter which one I ended up with. I had some hopes for being able to get both black and green (The Gitrog Monster demands it!), but those hopes weren’t all that strong. My preconceived notions that the first six picks would eat up all the green and blue right away were rather quickly exploded.

The official way of determining random things in Commander is with Dino Dice. Since it was just three picks, we decided to snake it (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). We rolled for draft order, ending up with Todd, Michael, Shea, Keith, and me. I wasn’t sad being last, since I knew (or at least thought) that sitting at the wheel gave me some flexibility in determining what would happen downstream of me. Here’s what happened:

Round 1

Todd, blue. Michael, black. Shea, black. Keith, black. Me, green.

No surprise that Todd went first with blue. Michael’s choice of black surprised everyone and set the tone for the rest of the picks. When Michael picked black, I was confident that I would get green and black on the wheel. You see what happened. Shea and Keith both taking it was a real surprise. I suspected that Keith, who played green/black in the Commander 2015 League, would want to try something different. He does, but I think he intentionally cut me from black—seeing that, if he doesn’t, I’m most likely to end up with green, black, blue, arguably the most powerful of all three-color combinations. It doesn’t matter which order I take them in. My picks are going to be green and blue, and then I don’t care about whatever I’m left with in the end, which I’m pretty sure is going to be red.

Round 2

Me, blue. Keith, green. Shea, red. Michael, red. Todd, green.

What the hell is going on here? You think you know people, and they just dagger you! The two red picks in the middle mean that Todd, who has already said he doesn’t want to play Bant, is going to grab red, which means I know that I’ll end up with the Bant that Todd doesn’t want (not that that’s terrible, by any stretch of the imagination).

Round 3

Todd, red. Michael, blue. Shea, white. Keith, white. Me, white.

After Michael took blue—which he thought about for a while—that locked the rest of us into the only remaining color. I would have laid good money that white would not have been each of the last three picks. We ended up with three wedges and two shards:

Todd, Temur; Michael, Grixis; Shea, Mardu; Keith, Abzan; me, Bant.

I’m fine with how things turn out. It’s been a long time since I’ve put together an original Bant deck (the Phelddagrif Do-Over was more of a thought exercise; I still haven’t fully assembled it). So now it’s on to deciding on Commanders.

Step Two: Choosing Commanders

Here, I’m going to describe the process, but I’m not going to tell you yet exactly what I’m choosing. Part of this is that, between now and draft day, we all do our research and decide which cards we’re going to try to draft. On draft day, we will each show up with three potential commanders, each of which will then be revealed before we begin drafting. They must be in all three colors, and they become part of your team. Before each game, you get to choose which one you’re playing as your commander for that game. Each of the other two may be in your deck, or they may be on the sidelines (more on this later). When you reveal who you’re playing that game, you do not have to reveal the disposition of the other two commanders.

Obviously, this gives you some flexibility in deciding how you’re going to play. You can either focus on heavy usage of one commander or draft a deck that can make any of them work. I have ten choices.

Angus Mackenzie: Obviously, Angus lends himself to Turbo Fog. This could be an excellent choice, knowing that everyone else is quite likely to choose a creature-based strategy.

Arcades Sabboth: The original Bant general would make an excellent nostalgia pick, especially since he was the first one which I used.

Derevi, Empyrial Tactician: Oh, Derevi. I think I like my friends too much to play this. Or at least that’s what I want them to think going in.

Jenara, Asura of War: There is certainly a +1/+1 counters matter deck to be had. Simple, straightforward, wins by commander damage.

Phelddagrif: I know I’m giving away a little bit here, but I won’t be picking the purple hippo.

Rafiq of the Many: Another one which can get oppressive pretty quickly; I might choose it to see if I can draft the strong-but-not-broken version.

Ragnar: Pretty weak compared to modern creatures.

Roon of the Hidden Realm: Rhino tribal? This might be a thing.

Rubinia Soulsinger: Not quite Merieke since it doesn’t have the creature-killing untap clause, but there is certainly something to be said for borrowing the cool stuff other people will cast.

Treva, the Renewer: I may add Treva to my team of three in order to set up a lifegain deck. If I see that the other four people have somehow picked commanders that don’t tend to kill with commander damage, then lifegain becomes an amazing strategy. I don’t think it’ll happen, but you never know.

I’m not going to go deeply into the directions I might be leaning, and I won’t talk about stuff I think that the others are going to do (or that I hope they won’t do). Todd has already mentioned that Animar has protection from the other four of us, which may make for some interesting play, but we’ll see. His Temur choices are the best, although, to some extent, I think he’s going to have to go with a direction and stick with it. I don’t see too much flexibility from one commander to the next in his stable.

Step Three: The Draft

As I mentioned, on draft day, we each show up and reveal our three potential commanders. The we proceed with the draft. We’re going to draft in Rochester fashion. First round, 1-2-3-4-5-5-4-3-2-1; second round, 2-3-4-5-1-1-5-4-3-2; and so forth. Seat order will be chosen by the final results in the Commander 2015 League, going from top to bottom. The winner isn’t locked in to seat one; he gets to choose which seat he sits in (the math people will probably tell you that seat three or four is probably the best, but I’m not sure). If anyone knows how to set up a spreadsheet that will automatically generate something I can record the picks on after plugging in who is sitting in which seat, I’d be grateful.

Just like in baseball, in which there is only one of any player available, this is a true singleton draft. Once a card is gone, it’s gone for good (unless it gets released). The card pool is everything legal for Commander. We considered Conspiracy draft cards for a bit, but decided against it (although the “normal” Conspiracy cards are available). We will be drafting 99 more cards, for a roster of 102. Basic lands will not be drafted.

The draft will have time limits (probably a minute) in order to get through it in a reasonable amount of time (although we’re expecting it to take in the neighborhood of eight hours, with breaks scheduled in). I suspect a number of early-round picks will go lightning-fast (assuming everyone has done their homework), but since we’re battling people for the cards in two color combinations (unlike the Commander 2015 draft), there will be things to think about. And if someone is going to make a heavy commitment to a deck archetype, then drafting hate cards will be a thing. For example, if all three black players go down the graveyard road, Todd or I will likely pick up Grafdigger’s Cage at some point.

Looking at the color layouts, I see that I’ll be battling Todd for green/blue and Keith for green/white, but I have white/blue all to myself. This means that I can prioritize those cards for later in the draft and not pick Grand Arbiter Augustin IV until number 99. Here’s where the real strategizing will come in.

Knowing Todd (whose head I’ve been so far inside since the days when we frequently battled with similar Jund decks in FNM Top 8s that I might as well be a synapse; I’m pretty sure I think most of his thoughts before he does), he’ll offer some misdirection with his choices of commanders. I’ll have to pay a great deal of attention to not just what he’s picking, but how he’s picking it (meaning when and in response to what).

Keith is predictably tricky. He’s sly, but I’ve become aware of the shape which his slyness takes. I appreciate Keith because he’s a what-you-see-is-what-you-get person. He’s going to try to misdirect, but since being false is so far from his natural personality, his misdirections turn into telegraphs. I’ll have to contend with Shea for white cards, which will be problematic, since we tend to like the same kinds of things out of white. Fortunately, there are enough good selections that there should be enough for both of us (plus Keith will be nicking some stuff, too). Michael, with whom I’ll be fighting for only blue, is the exact opposite. We like radically different things out of blue cards, so Todd is the one I really have to struggle against.

Step Four: Deck Construction

Once the team of 102 is drafted, you may add any number of basic lands. Some folks will prioritize nonbasic lands differently from others, and those will need to be drafted. I’m still thinking about how I’m going to work my manabase. Just like I’m fighting Todd for those green/blue cards, I’ll be battling him for Breeding Pool and whatnot. It’ll be up to one of us to pull the trigger first; knowing the optimal time to do that will be a major part of the draft.

For any game, your deck can be constructed from any of your 102 cards. Before the game starts (I like some advance notice, like for starting pitchers), you can change the configuration of your deck. If we’re playing more than one game in a session, you can change lineups between games. I like the idea of everyone taking five minutes (once again, announcing who’s “pitching” the next game) to make adjustments, especially if it doesn’t take too long. Other than announcing your commander, you don’t have to tell anyone what’s in your deck.

Step Five: Deck Updates

After the game(s) each week, the waiver wire will open. Cards not currently on a team are free agents available to be picked up. If you do, you have to release someone from your 102. You may not drop one of the three commanders. Updates are less significant in this league, since we’re not actually building the decks as we go along, but I’m sure we’re going to want to do some tweaking. With only 510 of the nearly 20,000 Magic cards being picked, there are still going to be some sweet things out there. We haven’t quite settled on whether there’s only one waiver wire pick for the week or one per game played. I’m leaning toward the former, but we’ll figure it out before we start.

Waiver wire picks are done in inverse order of League standings. We’re going to develop a scoring system something akin to the Armada Games points system which doesn’t favor any particular deck. Once the week starts, the fifth-place player is on the clock. Once he makes his pick, it starts for the fourth-place player, and so on. If a player doesn’t make a waiver wire selection in a pre-determined time, he forfeits that pick. Waiver wire picks cannot be banked.

Step Six: The Supplemental Draft

Just like in sports, new classes of athletes become available from time to time. For us, these will coincide with new set releases. At each new set release, we will have a new mini-draft, probably of ten cards. Players can use these picks to select cards from the new set, or to pick up any free agents (to include those which have recently been released).

Unlike the Commander 2015 League, the Rotisserie Draft League has no real end in sight. Seasons will run for a certain number of games (25 or 30 seems like a good number), at which time League standings will reset. This League will certainly run until a new Commander product comes out, and we’re ready to do that all over again. Then, probably for Game of Thrones 7, we’ll likely be insane enough to want to do some version of the run-backs.

This Week’s Deck Without Comment is the original Bant deck, Purple Hippos and Maro-Sorcerers (updated with Shadows over Innistrad cards).

Sheldon Menery
0th Place at Test deck on 12-30-2012
Magic Card Back

Check out our awesome Deck List Database for the last versions of all my decks:


If you’d like to follow the adventures of my Monday Night RPG group (in a campaign that’s been alive since 1987 and is just now getting started with a new saga called “The Lost Cities of Nevinor”), ask for an invitation to the Facebook group “Sheldon Menery’s Monday Night Gamers.”

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease April 2-3!