Panels, Parties, Phelddagrif: My Magic Weekend At CommandFest Indianapolis

Sheldon Menery attended CommandFest Indianapolis and had a great time guesting. Get his event report, from panels to VIP parties and, oh yes, games of Commander MTG.

Intruder Alarm
Intruder Alarm, illustrated by Luca Zontini

My first CommandFest of the year—in fact, my first since the end of the pandemic—ended up as a great weekend in a great convention city.  Despite a bit of a rocky beginning, CommandFest Indianapolis hit all the notes for me.  The people, the places, and the things exceeded expectations.  I missed doing a few things, but that doesn’t dampen the thorough enjoyment I experienced during my days at the show.  There are some broader themes that I carried through the weekend to go alongside simple pleasures, which I’ll touch on as we go along chronologically. 

Thursday: Arrival and Old Friends

What surprised me about travel day was how quiet the airports were.  I figured it’s summer and vacation season, but Tampa (one of the best airports I’ve ever been in, by the way) was a bit of a ghost town.  I suspected that it was just a local phenomenon, but Atlanta was also rather subdued—which is rarely the case for the world’s busiest airport.  Obviously, I didn’t mind the easy navigation of either.  Another upside is that everyone seemed to be in a pretty good mood.  I’ll take it, because that seems unusual in travel these days. 

My reading for the trip was the last few chapters of Book 13 of the Wheel of Time series, Towers of Midnight, and eventual beginning of the finale, A Memory of Light.  I’d undertaken the three Brandon Sanderson books when we went to Europe in November, skipping books 10 and 11; if Jordan had written the final three, I might have skipped them as well.  Book 9, Winter’s Heart, was the last straw for me in a series that I loved, but had really fallen off. 

Sanderson, however, is one of my favorite fantasy authors, so I was motivated to give it a try.  If you’re on the fence, I recommend picking up the Sanderson pieces despite the fact that the books are a significant commitment, at 861, 865, and 1,025 pages, respectively.  He’s a skilled professional at the height of his powers.  I definitely will thank him for resurrecting the series for me. 


I popped over to the venue, a mercifully short walk over the hotel’s sky bridge, for a quick look at the site.  I’ve been to Indianapolis Convention Center a bunch of times, most of them for Gen Con.  It was super-weird to walk those halls empty of the hundred thousand nerds that’ll be there in just a few weeks’ time. 

The highlight of my day was getting together for dinner with the show’s tournament organizer (TO), Alan Hochman of Pastimes, and former Pro Tour Coverage Team compatriot Rashad Miller, whom I hadn’t seen in quite a few years.   The meal at Root & Bone was very good (I had the Short Rib Meat Loaf) and the company better, as we caught up on each other’s lives and just settled into the kinds of chats you have with old friends. 

Friday: Illness and Interviewing

Friday was an up and down day.  I had gone to bed not feeling well and woke up feeling worse.  First thing in the morning, I was supposed to do an interview with the producers of an upcoming film.  They’re the team behind Eye of the Beholder: The Art of Dungeons & Dragons, which you might have already seen.  They’re doing a new film, Igniting the Spark, about Magic.  I begged off, which they were very gracious about.  Fortunately, I started feeling much better later in the day. 

We got together and, with camera rolling, they talked to me for an hour and a half about Commander.  Our talk covered its creation and history and, more importantly, its place in the Magic: The Gathering ecosystem.  We discussed why Commander’s message as a social format first and mechanical one second resonated with such a large portion of the Magic player base.  I’m quite pleased with how it went.  In the near future, I’ll have a good deal more to say on my ideas regarding why Commander is not merely the only format with a philosophy, but the only one with a conscience. 


I got a few extra hours of sleep, but I still was feeling pretty lousy.  I’m pretty sure it was due to the radiation treatment I had two days earlier; we never know how those will affect me.  Sometimes it’s not bad, and sometimes they have a powerful impact.  When the hall had opened at ten, I got myself over to the hall and did a meet-and-greet alongside my near-constant companion for the weekend, Commander Advisory Group (CAG) member Rachel Weeks. 

Pastimes had carved out a spot for the Special Guest content creators at the end of Artists’ Alley, so we’d have a place to both hang out with the fans and jam games when we wanted to.  Between signing cards and chatting with some of the early-arriving folks, Rachel and I engaged in some good talks about the format, as well as doing some planning for Saturday’s panel, appropriately titled The Future of Commander

Dauntless Escort

I must have still looked pretty terrible and probably worse than I thought I was, because at the end of the hour, Rachel said something like, “Why don’t I walk you back to your room?”  Even though I was feeling pretty rough, it felt nice to know that she was looking out for me.  Alan did the same later in the day after I had returned to the hall post-interview.  He took one look at me and insisted that he escort me back to the hotel for some rest.  He made sure that I had enough food and water for the evening, insisting that I check in with him at least one more time. 

I really was heartened by the way that the two of them, as well as a few other folks over the weekend, took it upon themselves to look after me.  It stands as an outstanding example of the quality of the Commander community. 

Saturday: Panel, Play, Party

I woke up Saturday feeling like new, strong and fresh.  I took my time with breakfast and whatnot, then headed over to the site an hour or so in advance of the noontime panel with Rachel and Sara Mox, the manager of Wizards of the Coast’s (WotC’s) Casual Play Design Team.  Before we fielded questions, we talked about the future of the format from each of our individual perspectives, as members of the RC, CAG, and WotC. 

What I expressed is something that I’ve already started talking about over the last several months, going back to what I mentioned regarding the RC’s plans for 2022.  It’s important to me as the format matures that the RC focuses on value-added services to the community.  Whether that’s some of the projects mentioned in that article, helping promote and/or fund content creators (to include cosplayers), promote diversity, or whatever else we might do, I want us to be leading by example when it comes to creating a powerful and positive community.  I don’t think it’s all that difficult; we just have to invest the time into doing it. 

Long-Term Plans

After the panel, I rested a little backstage.  I then returned for another hour or so of meet-and-greet.  Then I got in my first game of the weekend, with everyone’s favorite tech support superstar Logan Isch, fellow Special Guest AGirlNamedRon, and longtime format supporter (like from the Pre-EDH days) Blair Simpson.  I had intentionally not brought decks for the weekend, knowing that I’d spend more time doing panels and the like instead of just slinging games.  I figured that I’d just borrow decks from folks who would like to show them off. 

In this game, I borrowed Logan’s Neyith of the Dire Hunt deck.  During our pregame conversation, I think we got our general feel and power level (if there is such a thing) right, but we failed to consider that Blair’s mostly-black control deck would dominate the high creature counts that Ron and I were bringing to the table.  Logan had a bit of a chance, but Blair took it in the end. 

Saturday evening featured the VIP Cocktail Party at the hotel.  I got to see and chat with quite a few folks and make some new friends.  I also got to reconnect and spend some time with two old friends:  Rob Tierney of Good Games and OG artist Rob Alexander.  The conversations flowed easily, some folks gave me some excellent input and feedback on the format, and the night got late very quickly.  Special thanks to Meg from Pastimes for being the consummate host at the event. 


The final day was rather leisurely, as Rachel and I met up at the hotel restaurant for a late breakfast and to continue some of the discussions that we had stemming from Rachel’s main point on Saturday’s panel.  One of the things she’s going to work on—with the full support of the RC—is helping develop common language to aid players in navigating the sometimes-tricky waters of the pregame and Rule 0 conversations.  Games with unknown players are among the major anxieties expressed by Commander players.  We’d like to do what we can to offer some relief.  It’s not going to be easy or simple, but it’s an effort well worth pursuing. 

We did an impromptu roundtable with the other Special Guests, AGirlNamedRon, Anna Thorton, CovertGoBlue, Dana Roach, and Sara Mox.  We were unfortunately minus Taalia Vess, who had a commitment.  Friend of the format and regular in the chat of many popular streams Mishotem was also there. 

We continued that conversation about common language and more.  I just wanted to see if there were things that we could do from an RC level to better leverage the two-way street on which content creators live.  It’s not just that they make content for people, but they get feedback from and can broadcast our message to them as well.  I’ll make an effort to do the same with the Guests in Orlando this coming weekend, where I’ll be joined by fellow RC members Scott Larabee and Toby Elliott plus Olivia Gobert-Hicks and Shivam Bhatt from the CAG. 

Kamiz, Obscura Oculus

After we were done signing cards and stuff, I got into a game with Rachel and two friends who walked up at the right time, Will and Dale.  Will was playing Kamiz, Obscura Oculus, one of the New Capenna Commander precons.  Dale was running Alela, Artful Provocateur, and Rachel her version of Dynaheir, Invoker Adept.  This time, I played Rachel’s renowned Phelddagrif deck. 

I kept a three-land hand without a great deal of action, then proceeded to miss three land drops in a row.  What kept me in the game was that I had Propaganda and Ghostly Prison in my opener.  I finally drew Overgrowth and got back into things, improved my position with Psychic Possession on card-drawing Will, then really improved it with some Nyxbloom Ancient action. 

Intruder Alarm

After Dale had gotten rid of both of the other two, I drew into the final piece of the deck’s infinite combo:  Phelddagrif, Mirari’s Wake, Treetop Village, and everyone’s favorite, Intruder Alarm.  Turn Treetop Village into a creature.  Tap a green source other than Treetop Village for two green mana.  Give the opponent a creature, which triggers Intruder Alarm.  In response, tap Treetop Village for two green.  When the trigger resolves, untap Treetop Village.  Use one of the two mana to make another creature with Phelddagrif, netting a green mana with each iteration.  But just infinite mana isn’t the real name of the game here. 

The main kill condition with the combo uses Angel’s Trumpet—give the opponent a zillion tokens post-combat and have them die to the end-of-turn trigger.  The problem in this game was that Dale had Ashnod’s Altar.  He could just sacrifice the tokens to avoid dying.  Then he bounced Phelddagrif, leaving me only with Nyxbloom Ancient on the battlefield.

Treetop Village Nyxbloom Ancient

I went into the tank on my turn to figure out how I could get out of this mess, since my life total was getting low.  He was at eight, so there had to be something I could do.  Then, in one of those smack-yourself-in-the-head moments, I realized that with all of Dale’s creatures tapped, I could turn Treetop Village into a creature—and just attack with it.  It’s a 3/3, so added to the Nyxbloom Ancient, that was eight for exactsies.  You know that I’m not the biggest fan of the infinite combos, but this deck was indeed a blast to play. 

Running a fun deck was a fitting end to the weekend.  We punctuated it with a meal at the legendary Harry & Izzy’s, but CommandFest Indianapolis was about the folks who we had the opportunity to hang out with, play games, and celebrate Magic’s most popular format.  I hope we can strike a good balance on how many CommandFests are right during a given year without overloading the fan base.  I want them to be fun, interesting, and worthwhile while always being useful. Once again, thanks to Alan and the whole Pastimes crew for an excellent show.

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