As a Magic player and mega-fan, I feel that I’ve lived quite a charmed life. I stumbled across the game in 1994, nearly the very beginning, so I’ve had access to just about every card ever printed at reasonable prices and have been able to build a sizeable collection without breaking the bank. Also, while I’ve always loved playing tournament Magic, the way I started playing Magic was multiplayer with friends and it’s been the way I’ve most enjoyed Magic over the years.
Luckily for me, after Sheldon Menery brought Commander (previously called Elder Dragon Highlander or EDH) to the masses back in 2004, the format has exploded in popularity and has stepped out of the back rooms of stores and side tables of conventions to become one of the main drivers of the Magic community. The growing interest in Commander let me focus my written Magic content on the format that I love the most, which has been an absolute joy.
An interesting aspect of Commander’s growing popularity is seeing more and more people from the competitive Magic scene getting into playing the premier casual format, and I think it’s fair to say the transition can sometimes be bumpy. When someone whose Magic muscle memory has been honed to a razor’s edge from tournament play starts to explore Commander, the format offers intoxicating access to all sorts of broken combos and synergies that make it super-easy to win a game of Commander according to the rules of the game.
But from the earliest days, Sheldon and the Rules Committee cultivated Commander to be a refuge away from the play patterns and motivations inherent in competitive, duel-oriented Magic. If four players with the principal goal of winning the game sit down to a Commander game, 75% of the players are going to walk away unhappy in the end. It’s important for newer Commander fans to recognize the value in adjusting what it means for them to win a game of Commander away from literally winning as per the Magic rules.
Two awesome tools for making sure you’re winning each time you sit down to a game of Commander are building mini-quests into your deck and adding pet cards that spark joy.
Mini-Quests and Pet Cards
You may have heard people describing Commander as a format where everyone has a chance to “do the thing” that their deck is meant to do before the game reaches its conclusion. Often, “the thing” that your deck does is some sort of powerful synergy with your commander that leads to gaining a sizeable advantage or outright winning the game, so you’ll find that your opponents are highly motivated to stopping that particular thing you’re trying to execute. When you add a bunch of mini-quests to your deck, you expand the number of ways your deck can “do the thing” to put a big smile on your face.
For me, mini-quests are particular combinations of cards that do something short of game-winning but are really fun or cool to pull off. Sometimes they tie into your commander’s abilities directly, and sometimes they’re just something you’ve put into your deck to entertain you or your opponents, or maybe just show off an obscure rule interaction.
Another way to increase your “winning” quotient is to include as many pet cards in your deck as you can find. These can be cards you find funny, or weird, or something hardly anyone else plays so it’s become a bit of a signature card for you. Or maybe it’s a card with alternate art you love, or a card signed by your favorite artist, content creator or someone from Wizards of the Coast (WotC). Maybe it’s a signed artist proof or a breathtakingly beautiful card alter from one of the many talented card alterists in the community. Maybe it’s a card that creates some weird and rare creature tokens that allows you to show off your dry-erase marker talent on an Infinitoken.
Pet cards often have stories attached to them, so each time you draw and play one is an opportunity to share the story with new or old friends sitting at your Commander table. The more mini-quests and pet cards you add to your Commander decks, the greater chance you have of sparking that joy which leaves you with a smile on your face when the game concludes.
To illustrate the sort of cards I’m talking about, I thought I’d pick some random decks from my Commander collection shelves and point out the mini-quests and pet cards I’ve built in.
Prossh, Skyraider of Kher
I’ve had my Prossh, Skyraider of Kher deck together since 2013, but it’s undergone a lot of changes over the years. Initially the idea was to (eventually) kill my opponents with a bunch of Kobold tokens, which I thought was funny, but it didn’t take long before people added Food Chain to Prossh and turned it into a high-powered deck that everyone feared.
For several years I tried to tell people that my Prossh wasn’t that sort of Prossh deck, but unless my opponents had played against my version of Prossh before, I was understandably treated as the table’s archenemy by default. Since I happened to own a Food Chain, eventually I decided to just embrace the power and turn Prossh into the high-powered deck that everyone already assumed it was anyway. Now it’s a deck I break out when everyone agrees to play a high-powered game of Commander, and a lot of the card choices lean more towards the more efficient and potent side of the card pool, but I do still find some room for fun.
When Prossh “goes off” with Food Chain and gets cast over and over again, it’s often game over unless your opponent has some way to stop you, ideally in a way that leaves Prossh forever stranded in the command zone with an impossibly high commander tax. That’s why I found room for Genesis Storm and Skull Storm, two of the cycle of “storm” cards from Commander 2018 that copy themselves for each time you’ve cast your commander from the command zone this game. If you’ve cast Prossh with Food Chain an arbitrarily large number of times, the storm copies of Genesis Storm and Skull Storm will be another epic way to potentially end the game.
If something unfortunate has happened to Prossh by the time you’ve drawn Food Chain (say, it’s been Imprisoned in the Moon), I wanted to have a couple of other ways to take advantage of the Food Chain in the deck. Enter Squee, the Immortal and Eternal Scourge! Either of these plus Food Chain effectively give you unlimited mana to cast all your creature spells. One of which is the sweet storm creature from Modern Horizons 2, Aeve, Progenitor Ooze!
Plumb the Forbidden is a card I love from Strixhaven: School of Mages, and I love nothing more than to cash in all those Kobold tokens for a fresh new grip of cards in the face of a battlefield sweeper for just two mana.
Chatterfang, Squirrel General is another cool card from Modern Horizons 2 that loves decks that make lots of tokens, and if you cast Prossh with Chatterfang on the battlefield instead of Food Chain and make an army of Squirrels to stand beside your army of Kobolds, you’re winning no matter what happens next. Seriously, if you have a token deck that can play Chatterfang, you should find a slot for it because Squirrels are fun.
A hold-over from the original Kill ‘Em with Kobolds version of Prossh, I think it still has enough power to justify its slot while having enough of a cool factor (since I have the original Legends version) to put a smile on my face when all my random 0/1 Kobolds suddenly have a wee bit of teeth.
Piru, the Volatile
Piru, the Volatile was my preview card from Modern Horizons 2, but I only recently got around to finalizing my Piru Commander deck and sleeving it up. It’s an eight-mana commander with no access to green mana ramp, so I don’t imagine there will be too many games where I’ll get to cast Piru more than a small handful of times. I wanted to ensure to pepper in other cards that will bring me smiles along the way.
Stuffy Doll is a long-time favorite card of mine and is a stand-out card in my Grothama, All-Devouring deck. So, when Brash Taunter came along doing Stuffy Doll things but even better, it rocketed toward the top of my all-time favorite Commander cards list. They both obviously play great in a Piru deck where Piru dies and deals seven damage to each nonlegendary creature, but just casting Brash Taunter or Stuffy Doll and having them do their thing just once in a game is going to bring a big goofy smile to my face.
As I mentioned above, eight mana is a ton, especially in Mardu, but I love that Stinging Study and Imposing Grandeur turn that high mana cost into a real benefit with a massive flow of cards. In particular I love that Imposing Grandeur’s symmetry gets broken if your opponents are playing cheaper, more mana-efficient commanders.
Marshland Bloodcaster is a cool card that I keep looking for good homes for, and it’s perfect in Piru. It helps you trade life instead of the hefty mana to cast Piru ahead of time, and Piru’s lifelink ability means you can quickly recoup that life loss. The fact that it’s not legendary means it’s a bit of a non-bo with Piru dying, but it’s a card I love in concept and really want to work.
Doom Weaver is another pet card that I’ve been excitedly shoving into all sorts of decks lately. I just love the design; it’s a low-power creature that you want in a deck with high-power creatures. And who doesn’t love drawing cards? But what really put things over the top for me in this deck was the Spider’s eight toughness, which means it will survive Piru’s death trigger. Each time a creature dies that’s paired with Doom Weaver is a glorious mini-quest!
I’ve played D&D longer than I’ve played Magic, so just casting the Magic card of such an iconic D&D monster as The Tarrasque is winning enough. But yikes, nine mana is still a lot of mana, and games can potentially end before I get a chance to even cast The Tarrasque, so mini-quests and pet cards are important!
Liquimetal Coating has long been a favorite card of mine, so when Modern Horizons 2 brought us Liquimetal Torque I was in love immediately. Liquimetal Coating always felt a little bad if you didn’t happen to have a way to destroy an artifact handy, but the Torque solves that by being a mana rock in the meantime. This is particularly amazing in a mono-green deck since creature removal is hard to come by, but if you’ve got Glissa Sunseeker or Kogla, the Titan Ape on the battlefield, Liquimetal Torque is going to do some work. I also like how it can combine with Tower of the Magistrate to turn a blocker with deathtouch into an artifact so that it can’t block and kill your attacking The Tarrasque.
The modal dual-faced cards like Turntimber Symbiosis and Kazandu Mammoth are awesome when you need a land drop early, but it always hurts just a little bit later in the game when you’re looking for some gas and those cards are sitting there in your land stack. That’s why I love cards like Multani, Yavimaya’s Avatar and Guildless Commons that can help you bounce those lands back to your hand so you can play the front side. Doing that never gets old no matter which deck I have that synergy in.
Vigor is one of the MVPs of my Grothama, All-Devouring Commander deck, doing insane things in that deck. It’s a little less insane here, but it still can do some impressive work making creature combat quite tricky for your opponents in the turns before you cast The Tarrasque. And once you do cast The Tarrasque, how much fun is it going to be to fight someone’s Lord of Extinction to put 40 +1/+1 counters on your commander? Even if it gets chump blocked by a Squirrel token, it’s still gonna be a hoot.
Reshape the Earth is a nuts card that you rarely see in a game of Commander because it costs a whopping nine mana and doesn’t say “win the game” on it. But since I’m already racing to nine mana just to cast my commander for the very first time, I made room for Reshape the Earth too. Basically, this card tells me I’ll be able to cast The Tarrasque from the command zone five more times from just this one card, and erasing the commander tax burden from your nine-mana commander is definitely winning!
Valduk, Keeper of the Flame
Valduk’s design suggests a very linear deck — cast lots of Equipment and/or Auras, attach them to Valduk, and create lots of 3/1 red Elemental tokens with haste and trample each combat. That said, I’ve added some fun twists and turns that I think make my Valduk deck a bit different from others.
Valduk was where I first explored the “No Guts, No Glory” concept of playing high-risk cards like Final Fortune in my decks. Sundial of the Infinite is such a weird card that just happens to have great synergy with Valduk’s token-creating ability, letting you end your turn with the exile trigger on the stack to keep any surviving Elemental tokens around. You have a built-in way to keep from losing at the end of your turn from Final Fortune or Glorious End, but even if you don’t have Sundial of the Infinite, casting either of those cards is a clutch moment will often turn the game on its head and create an epic story worthy of retelling.
Did I mention Brash Taunter is one of my favorite cards?
Darksteel Juggernaut doesn’t care what I’m doing with Valduk; Darksteel Juggernaut only cares that I’m playing a bunch of artifacts and wants to attack each combat. Though in a pinch you could end your turn before combat with Sundial of the Infinite if you needed an indestructible blocker.
This is a card that constantly surprises me in its potential outside of just protecting your commander. Whenever I draw it my focus on the game kicks into overdrive, and I’m constantly looking for something crazy to do with it. I really wish WotC would reprint this card because I would love to jam it in a lot more decks, but that whopping $39 price tag is quite hefty!
I simply love casting my more expensive creatures by tapping my Equipment to help pay the generic mana cost. Tapping most Equipment doesn’t do anything, so tapping them this way just tickles me.
What what? Scuttlemutt! One of my favorite cards since its debut in Shadowmoor, its color-changing ability often finds some clever way to be useful and I’m always on the prowl looking for it once I’ve got Scuttlemutt on the battlefield. Of course, if I happen to have one of the Swords out too, Scuttlemutt’s ability quickly shifts from clever to cleaver.
What sort of mini-quests and pet cards do you add to your decks that help you “win” every Commander game you play? And to read more of my thoughts on squeezing more fun out of each game of Commander, check out my article Why You Should Commander Like Me.
Do me a solid and follow me on Twitter! I run polls and get conversations started about Commander all the time, so get in on the fun! I’d also love it if you followed my Twitch channel TheCompleteCommander, where I do Commander, Brawl and sometimes other Magic-related streams when I can. If you can’t join me live, the videos are available on demand for a few weeks on Twitch, but I also upload them to my YouTube channel. You can also find the lists for my paper decks over on Archidekt if you want to dig into how I put together my own decks and brews.
And lastly, I just want to say: let us love each other and stay healthy and happy.
Visit my Decklist Database to see my decklists and the articles where they appeared!