Top 10 Things I Want For Commander Christmas

Even the Godfather of Commander has a Christmas wish list. Sheldon Menery shares his Top 10 wishes for the Commander community.

Topdeck the Halls, illustrated by Kieran Yanner

Christmas is that magical time of the year when we want dreams to come true.  It’s a season of giving, and if the universe is in the mood for it, I’d like for it to consider putting the following under my tree. 

10. Successful Return of The Command Chair and Commander Community

One of the unfortunate side effects of chemotherapy is some swelling in my throat and tongue that’s left me with a bit of a speech impediment.  While it’s not painful or otherwise debilitating, it’s thoroughly annoying.  At times, it’s difficult to push enough air through my throat to talk quickly or for long periods, which is what you have to do when making video content.  I have some trouble with X and S sounds, which further slows down the process. 

I’m sure the entire SCG video production team joins me in wanting to give you the best of the best video content, and just as soon as I’m once again capable, we’ll get back to it.  The good news is that should be shortly after the first of the year.  My last treatment is in early January and the docs tell me the side effects should be gone within six weeks.

Both of those shows are important to me because they represent the complete picture of Magic’s best format — from the technical end and the social one.  The Command Chair lets me and my Commander Rules Committee (RC) compatriots open up our thought processes, ideas, and decisions to a broad audience. Commander Community lets co-host Anthony Alongi and me both celebrate and elevate the people who make the format what it is as we suggest ways to make it even better. 

9. Exploration of More Tribes

I don’t want to be the curmudgeonly old guy here, but I’m pretty much over Vampires and Elves.  I get that they’re popular and they’re an easy go-to for design teams because they know well-known tribes will resonate with a good portion of the player base.  It’s part of a default business decision I find an unnecessary step.  Designers are creative people and can do lots of exciting things with underserved tribes.

Breeches, Brazen Plunderer Malcolm, Keen-Eyed Navigator

I offer as a primary example the Pirates of Commander Legends.  Pirates already existed, getting a bump from Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan, but Commander Legends sent them into overdrive.  They’re still a tribe that a deckbuilder needs to roll up their sleeves and tinker with, which makes them all that more compelling.  There’s not a default build like some popular tribes suggest.  You really need to dig to find the treasure, as it were, and that’s a strength, not a weakness.  I look forward to Minotaurs or Crabs or Minions or a host of other lesser-used tribes getting their moment in the sun.  We’ll all be better off for it. 

8. More Exploration of the Magic/D&D Crossover

I had a great time playing in a one-shot adventure set in Theros with Rachel and Dan from The Commander Sphere (three of the four episodes are already out!).  Fellow RC member Gavin Duggan has been running an adventure set on Ravnica for quite a while.  There are already D&D sourcebooks for both and, if I’m correct, online supplements for more.  We need to expand this list. 

You’ve already seen the beginnings of previews for Kaldheim.  Everyone knows a Viking-themed world makes for epic play.  Innistrad evokes the existing horror setting of Ravenloft, down to alluding to the name of its uber-villain, Strahd von Zarovich.  Kaladesh features a world of wonders.  We’ve been to Zendikar enough for it to be compelling and familiar.  There are many amazing Magic planes and worlds to explore.  I’d be down for nearly any of them. 

7. Staples to Stop Being a Thing

My pithy little title isn’t naivete (or maybe it is, you be the judge); it’s just an honest hope that some Commander players consider the format’s roots.  The whole idea was to make something different from other formats, where things like “best deck” and “metagame” are simply less important.  Recently someone asked about best advice for Commander, and my reply was “build the deck that you want to, not the one you think you have to.”  This is what Commander is all about and why it’s the most popular format in Magic history. 

When a format gets as large as we have, you can’t help but have pockets of people who want to play different ways.  We all get different things from the games we play.  In fact, that’s actually one of our strengths.  One of those perfectly valid ways is for players to bring what they know from other formats into Commander.

Build the deck that you want to, not the one you think you have to.

One thins that I think has impacted players’ approach to Commander is the relative lack of availability of other Eternal formats around the globe.  In some places, players wanting to play Legacy or Vintage simply don’t have enough other folks to play with (although the rise of the webcam has changed that to some degree).  When they can’t get the format they want, they gravitate towards the most similar thing, which, due to a similar card pool, is Commander.  I think this is why we see a heavier high-powered amount of content outside of North America.

What I hope for the folks who haven’t discovered it is to get a taste of what the rest of us have known all along — the secret of this format is in not breaking it.  I’ll say it again:  build the deck you want, not the one you think you have to.

6. Give Partners a Rest

The partner mechanic is a good one that filled a necessary niche.  Getting us to be able to have four-color decks without having four-color creatures was a stroke of inspiration, even if some of the partners came out a little too good.  Then, when searching for how to make Commander viable for a Draft format, the design team for Commander Legends knocked it out of the park.  This is the best instantiation of partner, which is one of the reasons it’s time to retire it. 

Thrasios, Triton Hero Vial Smasher the Fierce

When the RC were first consulted on the partner mechanic, we were excited by the concept, but our caution was “be careful.”  They paid attention this time around.  None of the potential partner commanders are ones you just play because they’re good in a vacuum, like Thrasios, Triton Hero or Vial Smasher the Fierce.  They all have to be built around and give deck brewers plenty of space to explore.  We’ve put the ribbon in it, so let’s move on.

My preference for the future of partner exploration is in “partner with. ” Even if you’re not using both (or either) as commanders, the search function is part of what makes the mechanic compelling.  There’s plenty of territory to venture into here.

5. Getting Back to the LGS and Back on the Road

Now isn’t the time, and it’s not going to be time soon, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who is looking forward to returning to meeting each other in person to sling spells.  Maybe this is even a wish for next Christmas.  I expect that we won’t safely return until late spring or early summer, but when we do, it’ll be with a vengeance.  I have frequent flyer miles that are longing to be spent on tickets to see old friends and new ones we haven’t met yet.  We’ll be safe until then, but when we get back to it, I imagine there are going to be some pretty big parties.

4. White Continuing to Get Better

Keeper of the AccordAkroma’s WillSkyclave ApparitionDrannith MagistrateLuminous Broodmoth.  It was a pretty good year for white, and it’s part of a trend that we need to continue.  Those are only the mono-white superstars.  We can look to cards like Winota, Joiner of Forces; Yorion, Sky Nomad; Liesa, Shroud of Dusk; Lurrus of the Dream-Den; and Yasharn, Implacable Earth to see white getting a boost in multicolor options as well.

Long regarded as the weakest color in Commander (incorrectly, as it’s still red), white has gotten attention lately as being the color of “catching up,” leveraging an idea as old as Land Tax and culminating in Keeper of the Accord.  There’s still room to grow.  The big one that folks talk about is card draw, and I’m on board with it getting better if it’s conditional.  Raw card draw is still outside white’s color pie, but we have space to find things along the lines of Mentor of the Meek (which I know isn’t exactly new) that draw under certain circumstances. 

Mentor of the Meek

Part of catching up is taxing other players if they’re ahead on certain resources.  I see it as a reasonable capability in the color to make casting permanent spells more expensive if you control more of that kind of permanents.  Straight-up taxing, like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, is miserable.  Adding the “if they control more creatures than you” rider is interesting design space.

Speaking of Thalia versions, I’m also on board with Thalia, Heretic Cathar making nonbasic lands enter the battlefield tapped.  I see white as having this purity of vision, so the primacy of basic lands makes sense.  Also, making greedy land bases awkward for other players is in the bigger picture good for the format. 

While I obviously can’t tell you anything about cards from upcoming sets Kaldheim and Strixhaven, I can tell you two things.  The Council of Colors representative for white has been helping step up the color’s game, and there will be plenty of things from those two sets for fans of Commander’s most underappreciated color to be excited about.

3. Content Creators to Give Themselves a Break

We are living in extraordinarily difficult times.  Just getting through the day amidst a global pandemic and all the associated problems it causes can be a real chore.  Pile onto that being a public figure and all the additional nonsense that sometimes goes with it, and you’re on the precipice of a real challenge.

Some folks have turned that challenge to success.  Jimmy and Josh at The Command Zone have ramped up their production to unheard of levels.  The thing is, their operation is large.  They have a big team and the resources to do what they’ve done.  For smaller creators, it’s easy to feel lonely.  I’m here to tell you that the rest of us have your back.   

Here’s my message to all of you:  give yourselves a break.  I know it’s easy to fall into the mindset that we need to be constantly producing more and more material in order to stay on the treadmill, in order to remain valid.  That’s simply not the case.  You’re doing good work and sometimes you need to rest. 

I understand the feeling that if you pause even for a second you’re going to drop out of the public eye, but I’m here to tell you that your fans will be patient with you.  Your ability to create the excellent content that you’ve made in the past is contingent on your continued mental health.  Let yourself relax every now and again.  We’ll be here waiting for you when you get back.

2. More Diversity in the Content Creation Game

While I think we’re better than we were even a year ago, we can do even more to amplify voices from traditionally marginalized groups.  I long for the day when it’s not considered unusual for folks from our many diverse communities to be among the best and most popular content creators.  I’d love to look across the content creation landscape and see it as a more accurate representation of the community that it serves.  It’s incumbent upon those of us who can give folks a leg up to do so, and my wish is that even more of our friends do their part.  From simple signal boosts to hosting them on our platforms, it’s a slam-dunk easy thing to do.

Those of us who have voices already can do everything in our power to join their voices to our chorus.  We can find some lesser-known people and have them as guests on our streams. We can take a chance on featuring new content creators in our videos.  There are stars waiting in the wings, and for some of them, all it takes is a little leg up from the people who are already there.  We’ve made it; now let’s help some deserving new folks do the same.  I know that some folks may be concerned that there’s a limited amount of space in the content creation universe, but giving the size and demographics of the Commander player base, I assure you that there’s still plenty of room.

1. Our Commander Community Continuing to Be the Best

Commander was built on the premise of caring about the other people you’re playing with.  It’s no surprise, then, that the format attracts the kinds of people who are interested more about the bigger picture than any single game.  We’ve created an amazing community over the years — one that sets the tone for inclusivity, acceptance, and simple humanity (despite there being the occasional outlier). 

I can point to the community builders like the Commander Advisory Group’s Olivia Gobert-Hicks, SCG’s own Jeremy Noell, and Jim LaPage, whom you know from The Spike Feeders

I can pick out folks like HobbesQ and Dave Kosin who actively look out for other members of our extended family, offering advice on self-care and self-improvement. 

There’s Jake Boss, who set up a Discord server specifically to help out other content creators. 

A legion of mods on various servers and forums do the work of making sure those places continue to represent positive values. 

I could spend my whole 2000 words listing more names.  Suffice it to say that I’m intensely proud of the Commander community, and thank you all for making it truly the best. 

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