The Commander Change-Up: How I Embraced Exploring New Formats

Chase Carroll found themself caught up in the “Commander vortex”, viewing Magic cards only for their use in that format. See how they broke out and get inspiration to do the same!

Painter's Servant
Painter’s Servant, illustrated by Mike Dringenberg

Okay, so this article is gonna be a bit different from what I usually write. In fact, rather than sharing with you some of my favorite reprints in Commander Masters or a list of my favorite nonbasic lands, I thought I’d share a lesson that took me a while to learn with y’all:

Commander isn’t the center of the Magic universe.

Mikokoro, Center of the Sea

I know what you’re thinking, or at the very least typing. ‘That’s so obvious, Chase.’ And you’re right. It’s obvious that there are other formats out there besides Commander. Even with the current focus on Commander and casual play, there are handfuls upon handfuls of other formats to explore. Then what? Well, my entire Magic career, its lens and its focus, have been centered around Commander. I have a podcast about Commander, I write articles about Commander, I stream Commander. Almost every single day is Commander. I have narrowed my Magic worldview to the tiniest percent, and recently I’ve been seeking to change that.


My realization hasn’t all been at once. In fact, this has come to fruition over the course of a few months. My first intro into this started four months ago at my local game store (LGS)’s Regional Championship Qualifier (RCQ). My friend was judging the event and I wanted to hang out with him, so I decided to play Pioneer…for the first time ever…in an RCQ…with a deck someone lent me. Great idea, right?

Well, not necessarily. I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. My intro to the deck was a fifteen-minute talk before the event kicked off. I was on my friend Brandon’s Mono-Red deck. It ran things like Eidolon of the Great Revel, Monastery Swiftspear, and Bonecrusher Giant. Mono-red typically feels like home for me, so I thought, why not?

Eidolon of the Great Revel Monastery Swiftspear Bonecrusher Giant

Well, Round 1 was off to a decent start, and by decent, I mean rough. I went 1-2 against Rakdos Midrange. Bloodtithe Harvesters and Sheoldred, the Apocalypse quickly became the bane of my existence. I was proud of myself for even winning one game. After the round, my opponent asked if he could give me some advice. I nodded, and he proceeded to tell me that I had missed some key triggers on my Giants that would have won me my second game.

Can’t lie, I felt a bit icky after that. I was used to the casual spirit of helping others and reminding them of their triggers in games of Commander. Here, things were different. My friend who lent me the deck later told me my opponent was angle-shooting. I chalked it up to my ignorance and vowed to never make that mistake again. In the next round, I would be on top of my cards. No mistakes. Round 2 came, and a Creativity Wurm deck quickly squashed me. My opponent was absolutely lovely, and I immediately dropped after Round 2 to annoy my judge friend. I didn’t miss a trigger though. 

DanDan and Bennies

The next step happened at CommandFest Richmond. I had been pestering Star City Games’s own Braden to play DanDan with me. I was curious after hearing the hum about it online. It seemed cute, and I have a funny personal history with the card before I started making content. When I sat down, I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. Cast DanDan, bounce DanDan, get a token of DanDan, change DanDan’s text. It was incredibly soothing to play.


I like to call DanDan Magic’s equivalent of tennis. There is a lot of lobbing, a lot of back and forth. I found myself being able to kind of turn off my brain and fall into the rhythm of the format. It was an absolute blast. I lost count of how many games I played with Braden, but I do know that I ended up winning a few of our matches. I was feeling pretty proud of myself for winning my first few games of DanDan…and then Braden let me play him at Bennies, and I got my butt handed to me three times in a row. You win some, you lose some. 

I only played a few games of Bennies at Richmond, but wow was I godawful at it. I was handed a mono-white deck that ran pieces like Seasoned Dungeoneer, Mother of Runes, Reckoner Bankbuster, and Sevinne’s Reclamation. And I was struggling. I felt the most fish out of water here. I lost track of how many games we played but safe to say, Braden was a pro at it.

Though I thought my Bennies experience would end there, a few months later, I ended up returning to the format when I went to Roanoke to film with the Commander VS boys. Braden and I ended up playing Bennies yet again that evening. I was determined to be better than my last time. I started out with green Tron (mostly because I thought it would be cute to play Tron), and yet again I stumbled. My mood immediately deflated but I kept at it.

After two games I was starting to hold my own, then eventually achieve a victory. I was slamming down Myr Battlespheres and Phyrexian Gorgers with confidence. I was enjoying our back and forth, regardless of if I won or lost. And I was able to confidently handle his Liliana, the Last Hope and Tourach, Dread Cantor. Eventually we swapped decks. I was on Medium Red, and he was on Hoof. This was where I felt like I was a pro. I wasn’t letting Braden have it. None of his Llanowar Elves, Arbor Elves, or Elvish Mystics were allowed to live. They all fell prey to my Stomps and Bolts. I found my stride and I kicked his butt (his words, not mine). 


My introduction to legacy came through my friend, Gene. Gene is a dedicated Legacy player and often guest stars on the Legacy Pit’s weekly streams. I would tune in a few times to leave cheesy jokes in the chat, but quickly fell into watching the gameplay. I found it fascinating; I would see players scoop at ten life and be absolutely baffled as to why. They still had half their life total left. Why not try to play it out? I asked Gene this very question and received an interesting answer. “A lot of the time you know your deck well enough so you know if you have actual answers left.  If you don’t, you scoop often rather than ‘make your opponent kill you’.”

This was yet another contradiction to my Commander worldview. You always play it out; you never just stop playing. It was kind of jarring…and exciting. 


When we were at SCG Baltimore, I was able to sit down and play Legacy with Gene. It was an 8-Cast mirror match, and I was having a blast. I was throwing down Lotus Petals, Mox Opals, and multiple Mishra’s Baubles. At one point I was able to throw down multiple free spells on Turn 1. My battlefield was full of tokens from Sai, Master Thopterist and cheap Thought Monitors.

I don’t remember how many games we played, but I do know that I won two of them (though Gene doesn’t count them because he says he wasn’t hardcore mulliganing against me). Personally, I think they count. I thought 8-Cast was absolutely insane and I started researching Legacy lists. However, I was talked down from investing because there is absolutely no Legacy scene where I live. The investment sadly wouldn’t be worth it. I waved my imaginary playset of Force of Wills goodbye and resigned myself to never playing the format again (or at least until I move). 

The Lens 

I am a Commander player. I make a living off making Commander content. However, Commander isn’t the only format out there. I won’t speak for everyone, but when I consume Tweets, content, and previews, I always do it through the lens of Commander. When I was deckbuilding on stream, I was confused why Painter’s Servant was $70. Chat told me it was because of Legacy.

Painter's Servant Gifts Ungiven

I went to my LGS the other and saw a list someone had tossed aside (probably after picking up their list). My brain is so accustomed to commander that I thought it was odd someone was buying a playset of Gifts Ungiven. That’s some touch some grass type of thinking, right? I asked the owner what the list was for, and she told me someone was building a budget Vintage deck for my LGS’s Vintage night. The cap for deck cost was $30. Perhaps this is a new format for me to explore!

It’s plain to see that Commander is the hottest Magic format right now, but that doesn’t mean it’s the center of the universe. We are getting precons every set, Commander cards in Set Boosters, and even a whole set dedicated to the format. It’s hard not to feel like the only format in the world.

I believe Commander players often get stuck in the Commander vortex. We only consume content and critique card designs through our Commander lens. What seems horrible in Commander may very well be an all-star in Legacy or Bennies or Pioneer. Other formats exist; new ones are spawning and coming into their popularity. You can be an all-star in Commander but dreadful in Limited.

That’s what I find so exciting. There are still things to gain and learn from exploring these formats, and I highly encourage Commander players to take a stab at something new. Exploring these formats has not only made me a better Commander player, but a better Magic player as well. Happy exploring, deckbuilders!