The Kitchen Table: Clash Of The Commander Metagames

Abe offers up some suggestions for how to deal with playing Commander against people that come from very different metagames than the one you are used to.

One of the great things about Commander is that different people can see themselves reflected in the format. Timmys see themselves with big smashing creatures and effects. That works quite well. Johnnys see various combos and synergies, and those work quite well. And Spikes see powerful cards for their costs that will impact the game severely, which also works well. So everyone gets what they want. And that’s awesome, right?

Plus people have different metagames. We’ve seen this in multiplayer for ages. One playgroup might frown upon mass land destruction, another may embrace fast combo decks, and a third could encourage noncompetitive fun decks. Everybody’s playgroup is different, and they have different expectations and metagames. And again, that’s really good, right?


But what happens when people from different metagames play against each other? What happens then?

Take your local game store. You are playing pickup Commander games against random players or acquaintances. You are rocking your tricked-out Nekusar, the Mindrazer deck. You know what I mean; it’s rocking Underworld Dreams, Howling Mine, Wheel and Deal, Wheel of Fortune, Fate Unraveler, and more. It’s a rough deck. But it’s not the worst Commander deck possible or anything. It’s not like you run a combo deck that kills with Ad Nauseam on the third turn reliably.

You’re running that Nekusar deck, and your three opponents flip their generals. One is playing Sliver Overlord; another has Azusa, Lost but Seeking; and the last flips over . . . Jacques le Vert? Huh.

Or suppose that you have an amazing Kaalia of the Vast deck. You have played it for over a year and tuned it into a well-oiled machine. It kills quickly, just blazing out the beasts from Kaalia, and the deck has the ideal combination of pain and gain.

Perhaps you have a nasty Purphoros, God of the Forge deck that can blow the board out with tokens in minutes. Give it a couple of turns and the game over.

You are playing one of these great Commander decks of the day, and you see Jacques le Vert at the card store. All right. Maybe there’s a combo there? But then in the first few turns you see cards like Crown of Convergence, Kitchen Finks and Hoof Skulkin. Umm, is there is a combo that uses those sorts of cards? Doubtful.

What do you do when you are playing a teched Kaalia, Purphoros or Nekusar deck against a super casual Jacques deck? Do you lay off and relax the game? Do you still blow things out and win quickly, ending the game before it really begins? Do you kill the others first but still hit the Jacques player once the others are gone?

What happens when we have a clash of the Commander metagames? What happens when someone wants a nice, easy, relaxed, laidback game but is playing against someone who really hasn’t built a deck for that?  

If the expectation in your group is to play a great deck, then how do you deal with players who don’t?

It can cause problems. Here’s why.

I’ve been the Jacques le Vert player. In fact, I literally had a Jacques le Vert deck myself. I ran into some powerful decks that won in a few turns and had no real answers because I was expecting to just have fun playing.

Because Commander can be multiple things to multiple people, it can also be an issue that can become contentious if we allow it.

I’ve seen people get into verbal tussles at card stores because one was running a combo deck that reliably kills by turn 5 and two others in the game were not a fan of that. I’ve overheard spats because someone was playing a mass land destruction spell like Armageddon and the others felt that was out of bounds.

There are clashes of metagames. How do we deal with that? How do we handle these issues without upsetting anybody?

First of all, I think it’s important to note that there is room for everybody at the table. No one should ever feel like they can’t play Magic at your table. They might need to adjust along with you, but they should be able to play. Simply because someone likes combos or Armageddon doesn’t mean they should be excluded. We have a big enough table for everyone.

Secondly, you should have decks that are flexible enough to play at different speeds. Take the Kaalia deck as an example. If you just don’t play Kaalia, then you can play your Angels, Dragons, and Demons at normal speed. That’s fine—no one minds seeing Rune-Scarred Demon. If you drop Avacyn, Angel of Hope on turn 10 with mana, no one will get upset by that. (Sure, they might not like Avacyn, but she’s getting hard cast.) You might not be able to play Purphoros at different speeds since the deck might not work at all if you never play your God of the Forge. Run decks you can be flexible with.

But here is the best suggestion: just have different decks.

Does your playgroup have a Spikey metagame that really enjoys pushing decks to the next level? If your idea of fun is to play decks like the Purphoros, Kaalia, or Nekusar decks outlined above, then great! Don’t let others tell you that your playstyle is unfortunate, bad, or not really reflective of the nature of Commander. Remember, everyone can see their reflection in the format. If you are a Spike, embrace it!

Imagine that your playgroup allows you to play any deck you want. Tomorrow Steve shows up with a Storm Vintage deck that has all of the power and kills everyone on the first turn after building a storm count over a hundred. Perhaps you laugh it off, but you might not like it if Steve shuffles the deck to play another game. Steve needs to have another deck.

This is how some can feel after playing your souped-up Cadillac. Okay, you had fun winning with your deck on turn 6 against a field that was not expecting it. Now it’s time to bench it for another deck. That’s not the playstyle here, so sub it out.

This is a great chance for you to stretch your deckbuilding muscles! Build a relaxed deck around Ragnar, Zedruu the Greathearted, or Tibor and Lumia. Keep clear of antagonistic cards like Armageddon and Obliterate (but feel free to embrace other mass removal, like Wrath of God or something). Use this as an opportunity to build a different sort of deck that you can use when playing against others who may not feel you.

But what if you are the more relaxed player? You have a laidback playgroup who plays big cards, casts expensive effects, and has a lot of fun. Maybe you allow multiple mulligans until everyone has enough lands. Your playgroup embraces fun styles like tribal decks and Timmy decks. Power cards in your group include Akroma, Angel of Vengeance; Avatar of Woe; and Sepulchral Primordial. Your games are never over before the tenth turn. You don’t like quick games where people play very little. And that’s all right. Embrace that laidback attitude. Don’t let any Spike players give you a hard time!

However, you can also benefit from building a new deck. Grab a general that you can abuse and try to push it. Perhaps Oloro, Ageless Ascetic or another powerful option suggests itself. Use this as an opportunity to push your boundaries and build a deck with a more cutthroat style of play.

Another way is to build a deck that does what you like but a lot faster. Consider the Kaalia deck. It has all of the beats that you normally like just sped up. Xenagos, God of Revels could win quickly for you. You can get a 25/25 lethal Thromok the Insatiable with just devouring five creatures. You can play with big creatures, just accelerated and enhanced to the level of other decks. Then when you are playing at a mixed group table and your Jacques le Vert deck was overwhelmed and not the style, you can just grab your Kaalia, Oloro, Xenagos, or Thromok deck and keep going.

Let’s get more specific!

I recommend that everybody who plays Commander at a mixed table like the local game store have several decks in their arsenal no matter their personal playing style or preference. Here are some suggestions to consider building:

  • A fun tribal deck – From Elves and Goblins to Griffins and Spirits, there are a lot of great options out there, so find a tribal deck.
  • A fun combo deck ­– It doesn’t have to always win by turn 2-4, but a deck with a reliable range of combo elements that can win the game with them is a fun way to play in a lot of playgroups.
  • A casual "other" – Build a Commander deck that’s odd but laidback. Perhaps it’s built around winning with an alternate winning condition, like Chance Encounter or Mortal Combat. Or it could be a creatureless Talrand, Sky Summoner deck. Be creative and flexible to build something new and fun!
  • A fun fast deck – You should have a deck that remains fun but pushes the commander fully. It has a lot of tricks and gimmicks and wins reliably early. Whether it uses cards like Sneak Attack or a commander situation that you cannot break out of, have a fast deck that’s fun to play.

It’s important to emphasize that all playstyles are fun! No matter what you prefer, you have a legitimate way to play the game. Remember, Commander is a reflection of yourself. You are not a bad person, so your style of play can’t be either. So play the game the way you like and have other options you can audible to if the situation demands.

The clash of the Commander metagames is an opportunity!