Occasionally we all like to switch up our Commander play. Sometimes that takes the form of a Cube draft, sometimes a self-limiting variant like Ten Tix or Pauper Commander. This idea, initially suggested by friend of the show and Magic Pro Tour Historian Brian David-Marshall, is a mixture of sealed deck and precons which lives and grows.
The rules are relatively simple. In short form, you open a box of the product of your choice, and build a Commander deck from it. After each game, you can open six booster packs from a single set and add them to your pool. The only restriction is that you can’t open packs from a set you’ve previously used. After that, it’s normal Commander.
Here are the rules in slightly longer form:
Commander Booster Box League
Each player will open a booster box (36 packs) of normal-release expansion or Core Set cards. Un-sets, Masters sets, reprint-only sets, and other anthology products are not allowed.
At the start of each week (even if they have not played games the previous week), the player will open six (6) booster packs from a single set to add to their card pool. The same stipulations apply (no Un-sets, etc.). The additional restriction is that a player may not open packs from a card set from which they have already opened packs.
Brian chooses Core Set 2021 for his initial product. After the first week, he chooses to open six packs of Amonkhet. After that, both of those sets are unavailable to him, and so on.
Deck construction follows all the normal rules of Commander regarding commander, color identity, deck size, and singleton nature. The normal Commander banned list applies.
Players choose their commander from their original card pool, but are allowed to change it after opening booster packs. A player doing so will notify the other players before the next round of games begins.
Games will follow the normal rules of Commander.
The League week will run from Monday to Sunday. Players are welcome to schedule and play as many games with the other league members as they like. As much as possible, they will report the results to the League Commissioner, who will record them. Results include both the first player eliminated and the last player standing.
While many ideas of how to instantiate the league abounded, we decided in the end that simpler is better. While it may work in a broad, open format, that would require a great deal of organization and administration. I don’t want to add more overhead to anyone’s life (to include my own), so going big isn’t the answer. A limited number of 8-12 seems to hit the sweet spot of not being too much burden on anyone. We can easily collect results (meaningful in the long run or not) and arrange games without a great deal of overhead.
It also seems like Commander Legends would be great for this–but we want to get it up and running sooner rather than later. This will be a nice warm-up for that.
I’ve gathered a few other Magic notables to join Brian and I in the fun: WotC Commander Architect Gavin Verhey, fellow RC members Scott Larabee and Toby Elliott, CAG member and five-tool threat Olivia Gobert-Hicks, The Commander Sphere host Rachel Weeks, Goblin Lore podcaster Thomas “HobbesQ” , Loading, Ready, Run superstar Ben Wheeler, Chase from ManaCurves, and Commander Community co-host Anthony Alongi are all in so far. You’ll no doubt notice I’ve put together some folks with platforms of their own–that way, we have as many opportunities as possible to showcase the games online.
After putting together the squad, my first thoughts went to strategizing what I’d open. I had boxes of Throne of Eldraine and War of the Spark laying around, so that would have been the cost-efficient way to go. Being the set that I’d have to pick a commander from, my first look was at the possibilities from both.
Throne of Eldraine has some compelling choices, to include Chulane, Teller of Tales; Kenrith, the Returned King; and Korvold, Fae-Cursed King, but they’re all at mythic rare. There’s hardly a guarantee of getting one of them. Grumgully, the Generous might be a compelling choice that you could then target to fill out with your next set of booster packs. Otherwise, your choices are limited to mono-colored commanders, which is a little narrow for me—even if that gives me a reasonable shot at Syr Konrad, the Grim.
War of the Spark has even fewer choices (sixteen as opposed to nineteen), and they’re all mostly mono-colored as well. There’s upside to mono-color, as you don’t need the mana fixing that other decks will (since you’ll need to crack it—you can’t just go to the collection). There’s an attractiveness to maybe building a Massacre Girl deck. In the War of the Spark multicolored category, Roalesk, Apex Hybrid seems like it could be a good choice, especially since the commander dies trigger rule has changed.
Guilds of Ravnica and Ravnica Allegiance only have eight choices each, which is way too much of a crap shoot. I’d love to play with Prime Speaker Vannifar or Zegana, Utopian Speaker, but the chances of getting anything, let alone something playable, is low. Likewise, Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan have only seven and nine, respectively. As sweet as peeling a bomb like Gishath, Sun’s Avatar might be, there’s no real percentage in it.
There are some more thought-provoking two-color choices from Theros Beyond Death, even outside the mythic rare slot (but who wouldn’t love Klothys, God of Destiny?). Haktos, the Unscarred might cause quite some difficulty in a league with a small card pool. Siona, Captain of the Pyleas is an uncommon with a build-around ability. Dogs are popular right now, so Kunoros, Hound of Athreos might be cool. Of course, there aren’t going to be too many good control decks, but you might go high-CMC tribal with Thryx, the Sudden Storm anyway.
Someone feeling really lucky might think about cracking Core Set 2020. There are only 12 legendary creatures, but a few really saucy ones, like Golos, Tireless Pilgrim, Omnath, Locus of the Roil, and Yarok, the Desecrated. Core Set 2019 has the new versions of the five Elder Dragons, but with only five other legends not a great pick. It’s way too chancy for my blood, but I’d appreciate the gamble.
Dominaria is the other recent set that piqued my interest, probably the one that I most strongly considered. The possibilities are there. There are 44 legendary creatures in a broad selection of color identities. The top pick has to be Tatyova, Benthic Druid. It’s an uncommon, so it’ll be a bit of a blowout if you don’t actually get it in your box. Grand Warlord Radha is another rampy selection. Muldrotha, the Gravetide in a low-powered environment is going to be pretty much a house. There are the two historic spell options, Traxos, Scourge of Kroog and Jhoria, Weatherlight Captain; I suppose you can also call Rona, Disciple of Gix an historic spell card. Slimefoot, the Stowaway is also an uncommon and pretty strong. Dominaria is a pretty safe choice; you know you’re going to get something playable. To me, that makes it a little boring, because it’s probably objectively the best choice.
BDM, a noted Simic addict, said that it was the set he would be opening. When I asked him if it was because of the relatively cheaty choice of Tatyova, he actually he wanted Sagas and Slimefoot. Brian actually crowd-sourced via Twitter which set he should open, as did HobbesQ. I’ll note that both of them ended up with Dominaria (Scott told me he’s also likely going this direction), which simply underscores it as the objectively best pick—and is exactly why I didn’t want to go with it.
In the end, I chose Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths. I suspect that a good deal of this league is going to end up with giant monsters smashing into each other, and Ikoria is all about the monsters. It doesn’t have the kind of density that Dominaria does, but it does have the companions, many of which make good commanders in their own right. My choice is more about feel than flexibility.
To some extent, I don’t want to game this too much. It’s about having fun and doing something interesting, not finding the absolute best slices of value. I’m not going to go into a deep valuation of the commons of the set that I crack the second six packs from. Sure, I want to be a factor in every game I play, but more than that, I want to get to the top of the style points leaderboard. I want to get the sweet reacts from the other players, all of whom are aware that we’re in this to do a cool thing. I’m not just going to blindly go into anything, but I’m also not writing scripts to mine any data. If something occurs to me, like the deck really needs Pestilence, I’ll crack Sixth Edition packs or something. Otherwise, it’ll be just what feels right. Clearly, I’m putting thought into it; I’m just not going to go super hog wild with data analysis.
It’s not like I’m without choices in Ikoria. There are 23 legendary creatures, meaning 22 legal ones, since Lutri, the Spellchaser is one of them (although I suspect my friends would let me play it as commander if I asked—I’m unlikely to). There’s also the option of companions, although I suspect that meeting the criteria will be exceedingly difficult in what is basically a giant sealed deck pool.
All the Mythic Rares could build strong decks. Of them, my top three picks are Brokkos, Apex of Forever, Nethroi, Apex of Death, and Winota Joiner of Forces. I’d clearly go with a mutate theme on the first two. Buidling the Winota Humans and their friends deck just sounds like fun. Of the normal rares, Gyruda, Doom of Depths and Obosh, the Preypiercer speak to me. Gyruda resonates for the obvious graveyard recursion and Obosh for the simple savagery. I’ll be pretty happy with most of them. If there’s a “please don’t make this my only choice,” it’s Vadrok, Apex of Thunder. I doubt there will be enough initial spell choices to make it viable.
In the non-legendary creature rares and mythic rares, the Ultimatums certainly are bombs, but they’re also a huge color commitment. The Mythos of Brokkos, Mythos of Iluna, Mythos of Nethroi, Mythos of Snapdax, and Mythos of Vadrok are similarly strong, if less of a color investment. It’s probably too much to hope for getting a Triome appropriate to my colors, especially since a wedge is an unlikely commander choice. The mono-colored rare that I’d most want for flexibility’s sake is Luminous Broodmoth. If mutate is part of the direction, I’ll definitely want Gemrazer. I suspect that artifact and enchantment removal will be at a premium, meaning both of the types are stronger choices for adding to a deck than they might be in a more open environment.
Which uncommons I go with will be dependent on the commander, but there are a few which suggest themselves as single card strategies. Barrier Breach will probably come up huge when it gets played. Bastion of Remembrance will be welcome in any creature strategy, which I suspect all the decks will at least start out with. Migration Path is one of the few pieces of ramp available and fixes mana as well. Ominous Seas played early will certainly churn out at least one Kraken, a fine deal for two mana. Primal Empathy fits right into any creature strategy, particularly the beefier ones that I’m likely to see out of these packs. In normal Commander, the activation cost on Weaponize the Monsters would be a little steep; here, it might be reasonable.
My main concern about the uncommons is that many of the good ones are mutate cards. It seems like a mutate strategy might be all or nothing, but I’ll be happy and pleasantly surprised to be wrong. A few of them, like Chittering Harvester, Necropanther and Pouncing Shoreshark, might be okay in a vacuum.
As far as the commons go, the thing that sticks out to me most are the lands that only get played in Limited formats: Bloodfell Caves, Blossoming Sands, Dismal Backwater, Jungle Hollow, Rugged Highlands, Scoured Barrens, Swiftwater Cliffs, Thornwood Falls, Tranquil Grove, and Wind-Scarred Crag. Add the fact that Evolving Wilds is a common, and it’s fair to say that the mana fixing in Ikoria is better than in Dominaria.
White has some creature removal in Blade Banish and Divine Arrow, plus what will likely be a star, Pacifism. As far as creatures go, the color doesn’t have much. Checkpoint Officer is the best defensive choice in what is sure to be a relatively slow environment, at least in the early weeks.
In blue, Essence Scatter is going to do some heavy lifting. Gust of Wind and Keep Safe are cantrips that have valuable effects. Blue players are going to want the adorable Thieving Otter to get into the card draw, but for me Phase Dolphin might be the MVP alongside a battle-worthy commander.
Black has a bit of creature removal in Blood Curdle and conditionally Dead Weight, Suffocating Fumes, and Lurking Deadeye. Bushmeat Poacher is going to be a superstar, especially in a deck that features some measure of graveyard recursion. Serrated Scorpion will do a little work in that same deck.
The red commons unfortunately lack fire. None of them scream that they must be played, and the relative weakness of the commons might inform the choice of commander. Shredded Sails and Tentative Connection are the two that I see have the best chance of getting put into a deck.
Green is the color of creatures. The two that first stick out involve ramp: Fertilid and Migratory Greathorn. There’s also the immense Greater Sandwurm and Honey Mammoth. The noncreature spell in green to be most excited about is Thwart the Enemy, which is a one-sided Fog.
The artifacts in Ikoria across all rarities are nothing to be too excited about. The Crystals will be fine with a three-color commander, assuming you get the right one. Crystalline Giant is kind of saucy for three mana, but it’s a rare. Although it’s not an artifact, the set also has the colorless Farfinder, another creature which will help you get the right mana.
The charm of this league is that the initial decks are going to be terrible. Each of us will probably need to play nearly every card available in our colors to start out. The weekly updates will quickly make things better; the first six packs increase your available pool by 16.67%. I suspect there will be some quick turns in the viability of decks.
In the early going, commanders will be extremely important. Because they’re always available and the card pool isn’t large, they’re going to have a significant impact on games. They’ll definitely be about more than just setting color identity. It’s an early-season build factor which each of us will strongly consider.
Once I have my box in hand, I’ll crack it open, build, and let you all know how it goes. Over the next few weeks, I’ll also provide a league report on our final roster of players and which direction they’ve chosen to go to start.