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Commander Oscars 2020

You only thought awards-show season was over! Sheldon Menery recognizes the best in Commander from the past year!

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Syr Konrad, the Grim, illustration by Anna Steinbauer

Welcome to the Commander Oscars 2020, where we recognize outstanding achievement in the field of Commander. The various facets that make up the Commander community are what make it the best format in Magic, so we’ll be taking a sometimes light-hearted, sometimes serious look at recognizing the people who play it and design it, those who create content for it, and of course the cards themselves. This evening is about more than picking winners. It’s celebrating all of the above.

Members of the Commander Rules Community (RC) and Commander Advisory Group (CAG) have generously removed themselves and the content that they create from consideration for these awards. First, we didn’t want any accusations of insider trading, since the voting bloc consists of just me. Second, CAG member Olivia Gobert-Hicks has no equal when it comes to Commander cosplay. Third, we didn’t want to see the bloodbath when The Command Zone trounced Elder Dragon Statesmen in the Achievement in Online Content category.

Card Mostly Likely to Be a Format Staple for All of Eternity

This category (suggested by CAG member Shivam Bhatt) is self-explanatory.

Nominees:

And the Winner Is...

Admit it, you love and hate Smothering Tithe all at once. Not only are you a fan of playing it, but you like the fact that white is getting some love. Of course, if you’re like me, the name of the card is SmotheringTitheDidYouPay? By choosing Smothering Tithe, I’m also deflecting attention away from the fact that Risen Reef is working its way into nearly every one of my decks, violating my own rule of only one copy of a new card into the entire deck suite. And I’ve Sharpied over Coiling Oracle’s creature types to make it an Elemental.

Achievement in Commander Cosplay

Cosplay is a more vital part of the Commander and overall Magic communities than some folks give it credit for. It’s an element that brings the kind of enhancement to events that eludes putting a hard and fast value on, but you realize you’d miss if it wasn’t there. The fact that organizers support bringing in these artists to their events tells me what I need to know—that cosplay strengthens the foundations of our Commander community.

Nominees:

And the Winner Is...

The fans. There’s no real upside to singling out any one of these or any number of other amazing artists; it’s enough to simply celebrate what they do. They’re all dedicated to their craft and highly skilled. If I had to pick a tie-breaker to save a puppy’s life or something, I would say 1) the RC doesn’t negotiate with terrorists and 2) I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Nadine play more games of Commander than any of the others—although she killed me in that one on-camera match when she should have killed Josh instead, so that immediately eliminates any consideration she might get. I mean, who doesn’t kill Josh first?

Special Achievement Among Facebook Groups

Magic The Gathering EDH-Commander

No insult to any other groups, but with 54,000+ members, this group has become one of the primary FB launching points for conversations about the format. But it’s not all about numbers. Founder Andrew Webber, whom you may have run into at CommandFestDC, has done a great job of cultivating a positive culture. He and his rather large (as you can imagine) team of mods set the standard for making sure that negativity and toxicity get booted as quickly as possible. I’ve found most FB groups which I’ve visited welcoming; Andrew’s group simply raises the bar to become the platinum standard.

Quiet Support Award

There are many, many people who qualify for the Quiet Support Award. They include online moderators and administrators, community group members, and a host of people whose names you might not have heard, but regularly have a positive and enduring impact on the format and its players. This year, there are three folks whom I believe have particularly distinguished themselves.

  • Andrew Lee

Andrew “Shoe” Lee was a long-time voice of reason and engaging discussion on the old mtgcommander.net forums. Also a web developer, Shoe stepped up to do most of the redesign and coding of the new website. It looks great, is an order of magnitude more functional than the old one, and leaves us with plenty of room to grow. If you haven’t seen, one of the things he implemented was giving each of the RC members an individual page so that we could head off in whatever directions we see fit to, whether that’s Gavin’s wacky format variations or me listing appearance schedules. He’ll continually be involved as the site finds its feet and matures.

Logan is an Atlas in the Commander social media world, holding up more people than I can count—andI’m one of them. Not only did he build from scratch the shiny new, blisteringly-fast, 21-century capable-of-streaming rig I now use, he’s always available for technical advice. He hangs out in the Content Creator Help Discord in case folks who want to be creators need to chat about equipment and whatnot. He does most of it in his spare time and because he just loves helping out people. He’s also set up the Discord server for Elder Dragon Statesmen as well as building the new (soon to be unveiled) Commander RC Official Discord server. You can catch him regularly on Olivia’s stream where he frequently turns into the archenemy.

You might know Mike as “cryogen” online, both on Twitter and as a moderator for MtGNexus. Mike was a regular and articulate contributor on the old official forums. As a moderator, he nearly singlehandedly remade MtGSalvation from a place that I had called the Mos Eisley of Commander forums to a spot that members of the RC were happy to hang out in. A great ambassador for the format, he’s brought that same sensibility to MtGNexus.

Inside the Building Award

There are many people at Wizards of the Coast who love Commander. We could spend all day talking about them, from the many designers and developers, administrators, managers, and more. The Inside the Building Award is dedicated to the person or group at Wizards of the Coast who have done something either outside the course of normal business or that’s so extremely important to the community that it’s worthy of recognition.

The Inside the Building Award for 2020 goes to Aaron Forsythe, Aaron Reed, Ben Drago, and Gavin Verhey, the team that dreamt up and began implementation of CommandFest.

You’re likely already familiar with all the names on the list.

Aaron Forsythe is the VP of Design for all of Magic and has been Commander’s primary advocate inside the building for more than a decade. You can also thank him for breaking Braids, Cabal Minion as his first act of playing in the format. You’ve seen his Ramses Overdark deck featured on these very pages.

Aaron Reed is the Manager of Premier Play Operations, huge Commander fan, and a fellow CommandFest guest. When we were talking recently, he pointed out that the Commander community is one of the best ways to showcase the social “gathering” aspect of the game. True words.

Ben is relatively new in his position as Manager of Competitive Gaming, but not new to the industry or Magic at all. He’s worked in several high-level positions at well-known companies. He’s a one-time Level 3 Judge, and I had the pleasure of leading his interview—which, by the way, was the most slam-dunk I ever presided over.

You certainly know Gavin from his many Commander adventures. He’s the Commander architect inside the building, so he has an overview of everything that’s going on with the format and the cards being made for it. There are few people who simply delight in the format more than Gavin. I do understand he once brought a STAX deck to casual night, so he also needs to get some chatter directed his way.

With many props to the organizers who pulled off the events seamlessly and on relatively short notice, getting CommandFests approved and on the calendar will go down as one of the most significant milestones in the format’s history. It signaled the culmination of the “we have arrived” moment which began when the first Commander product was introduced. I see the idea of CommandFest as the kickoff to 2020 being the Year of Commander. Many thanks to this team for teeing it up.

Honorable mention in this category goes to Ethan Fleischer. In addition to being a top-flight designer and all-around brilliant Magic mind, Ethan was my cubicle mate during my time in R&D. The lead on one of my projects, Ethan was always available for advice and solid feedback. More importantly, he frequently led and was my ride on the Lunch Train, the daily gathering of folks to get noontime grub, which has to be experienced to be believed. He was also always open to the oddest of “what if” conversations, not just about Magic and Commander, but all other aspects of life as well.

Lifetime Achievement Award

What would the Oscars be without a Lifetime Achievement Award? We old folks need to stay together, after all. This year’s recipient is fellow SCG columnist Bennie Smith.

Bennie has been an active gamer since early childhood, enjoying card games, board games, video games and tabletop RPGs. He discovered Magic in 1994, quickly became obsessed with it, and has been writing professionally about Magic for over 20 years. He was one of the first regular written content contributors here on StarCityGames.com, which was from the earliest days the go-to destination for awesome Magic content and cards. We wrote a number of things together way back then. Bennie also had a regular column writing for Wizards of the Coast as well as being a writer and editor for Scrye Magazine (where we may have also written something together). A former Virginia State Champion, Bennie is a big fan of both the competitive and casual sides of Magic.

In 2007, I introduced Bennie to Commander, and the rest, as they say, is one of the ways we’ve gotten to where we are today. Soon after, he began exploring deck-building and play strategies for the format in his columns here on the website, and as Commander grew in popularity he dedicated more and more of his writing to it. In 2014 he authored The Complete Commander, an e-book designed to quickly bring new fans of Commander up to speed building and playing their own decks, along with battle-proven strategy tips and fan-fiction that even seasoned veterans could enjoy (the foreword of the piece is especially brilliant, it must be said).

By his own estimate, Bennie recently passed the milestone of having written professionally more than 2 million words about Magic. He’s is a regular collaborator on Commander deck techs and strategy with The Professor of Tolarian Community College, the most popular Magic YouTube channel on the planet. Bennie also has a very active social media platform on Twitter, where he fires up the Commander community with fun conversation and polls.

Outside of Magic, Bennie is the father of two grown children, two spunky and cute cats, and an incredibly rambunctious Blue Heeler puppy. He still lives in Virginia with his partner Wendy, who shares his love of Commander. He works as a data analyst for one of the largest producers of small household appliances in the world, crunching numbers and geeking out over spreadsheets and data visualizations—though you and I both know he’s more often than not also thinking about Magic. Bennie is just good people, and good for the game.

You can find Bennie on Twitter (@blairwitchgreen) and on Twitch (thecompletecommander).

Achievement in Online Content

Nominees:

An honorary nomination goes to Commander VS, whom it didn’t seem fair to consider due to us belonging to the same multinational conglomerate and world domination threat that is Star City Games. Nonetheless, Jon, Justin, Jeremy, and Stephen (and David McDarby) deserve a major shout-out because they’re foundational to the Commander online content world.

There’s also no good reason to pick a winner in this category, and this list is honestly just the tip of the iceberg in a huge family of Commander content creators. I’m highlighting a few here that have an excellent spread across styles of production and play (and obviously this group tilts towards the content I’ve consumed the most). Again, we the fans are all winners when we see (and support!) great content. If you check out any of these folk and then look at whom they’re following and linking to, you’re going to have more great content than you can consume in a lifetime.

2019 Commander of the Year

Nominees:

And the Winner Is...

In a very tight ballot, in a year which could have seen double digits in nominations (perhaps anticipating the 2021 awards and Commander Legends), Yarok barely beat out Korvold and Chulaine. What all three have in common is they don’t necessarily suggest specific builds, but a family or style of directions to take. Why I’m picking Yarok is that it gives me a rationale to play Elemental tribal—which is just a thinly veiled excuse for playing another copy of Risen Reef. Okay, that and double the triggers. I’ve also had a strange amount of success with it as an offensive and defensive force due to deathtouch and lifelink. The card is bonkers.

2019 Card of the Year

Nominees:

And the Winner Is...

I don’t mind telling you that Syr Konrad is also challenging my one-copy resolve. It can be a commander, but it’s very happy and strong in the 99. It’s both a win condition and steady piece of a deck that likes it when creatures go to the graveyard. How many other cards are a threat to kill someone if they Bojuka Bog you? From tomfoolery with Traumatize, to simply using its activated ability to mill stuff into graveyards for later use, to getting into the red zone for a strong attack, Syr Konrad does it all. That’s why he’s my card of the year.

Quite a bit of goodness came out of 2019 and deserves to be recognized and celebrated. There is much more to the Commander format than just cards and rules. Highlighting a few people here is intended to open doors, not just to them, but to the legion of folks who do great things for the format. Here’s to everyone who makes the Commander family the powerhouse that it is.

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