I cracked my first packs of Magic in the spring of 1994, and I was the exact demographic Richard Garfield and the creators had in mind when they developed the product—a portable and fun fantasy-based game that people could break out and play in between games of Dungeons & Dragons. One of my D&D buddies and I were the first to sample the game and were immediately hooked, and it did not take long before my entire D&D crew had Magic decks too. We would break them out to play as the appetizer for D&D game nights, but it did not take long before Magic became the main course.
From the beginning, for me, Magic was all about rollicking good fun with multiple opponents. So when Commander exploded in popularity, it was incredibly easy for me to jump in and start doing very well in Commander games. Multiplayer is my primordial Magic state of being.
But as natural as Commander felt as a format to me, over the years I found many people were put off by the multiplayer dynamics that simply don’t exist in a duel. As an evangelist for Commander, I would be frustrated when the things I loved the best seemed to push away some people. A lot of the trepidation was regarding multiplayer politics, and a lot of that boiled down to one simple concern:
Whom to attack?
In a duel, it is easy. If you have a creature that can attack, you have one opponent you can attack. But what happens when you have the first creature on the battlefield and you have two or three opponents you can attack, and you are reasonably sure you can attack with no immediate consequence. Whom do you pick? I thought it might be helpful to share what goes through my mind when I am determining whom to attack in games of Commander.
The first consideration has to do with the previous game. Did you play a game before this, and is the victor one of your opponents now? There is a general unspoken rule when playing multiple games with multiple opponents that the same player should not win all the games. All things being equal or at least neutral, it is acceptable to attack the winner of the previous game.
You do not necessarily want to be vindictive about it because each game should be a fresh start, but getting your digs in for the sake of revenge should not earn you any demerits.
A variant of this rule is if the person who killed you in the last game did not end up winning the game. In this case, either the person who knocked you out or the winner is fair game for a revenge attack.
Threat Assessment of an Archenemy
Another important decision-making tool is threat assessment. Unlike tournament, Magic where you generally have no idea what sort of deck your opponent has before you play, in a game of Commander, when each player reveals their commander, you can draw some conclusions on what sorts of decks they’re playing.
Not all commanders are created equal, so if one player’s commander is considerably more powerful than everyone else’s, it is certainly acceptable to start putting pressure on them at your earliest convenience. This is especially so if the commander encourages quick combo kills. If you play a lot of Commander and read up on decks, this will be clear to you, but even if you are not invested that heavily into the format, usually it is pretty obvious just by reading the abilities what the player will be up to.
Sometimes your opponent will protest the attacks and say “This isn’t a combo Zur the Enchanter deck; it’s a fun casual deck that just happens to run Zur!” In this case, you have to decide whether you trust what they are saying. Talk with the other players around the table. Do they believe it? Healthy skepticism is fine—anyone who picks one of the overpowered commanders has to know that alarm bells will sound and they will have a target on their head.
Opening Power Play
In Commander, there are some cards you can cast in the first few turns that provide you with a clear advantage in the game, such as Sol Ring, Mana Crypt and other forms of mana ramp, Skullclamp, Sensei’s Divining Top and Sylvan Library, Rhystic Study, and Survival of the Fittest. These power play moves should get your attention, and if you have the opportunity to take the player down a couple of pegs, you definitely should.
Who Will Have Early Defenses?
One thing to keep in mind is the casting cost of the commanders. If the cost is low enough the window for attacking one player might close much sooner than for other players, one consideration is to attack someone who might not be open much longer.
Sometimes there is no early “archenemy” to pick on, and no obvious power play. There is no revenge to be had. One option is to just sit back and do nothing, but I do not think that is a very efficient use of your resources.
There will be one winner eventually, so you might as well move the game along, right? Randomly rolling a die to determine whom to attack is perfectly fine in the early part of the game, but once you attack one opponent, if it comes back around and you can still attack, you should probably choose another opponent to make it fair.
Another way to choose whom to attack is what I call “future revenge.” Based on the colors each player is using and the strategies their commander suggests in deckbuilding, you can probably peer into the future and figure out which player will be responsible for killing your early attacker, so you might as well attack them with it if they are going to kill it anyway. If they are playing white, they probably have Wrath of God, Rout, and Swords to Plowshares. If they are playing black, they are probably playing Damnation, Toxic Deluge, Crux of Fate, and Tragic Slip.
Thinking About the End-Game
One thing you should constantly keep in mind: how is the game likely to end, given the current battlefield state? If one player has a clear advantage, it is perfectly acceptable to start applying pressure on them, even if they have done nothing directly to you yet. If you attack someone other than the person who has the advantage, you are in effect helping that person win, and unless that’s something you want to happen, I’d advise against it.
How do you go about deciding whom to attack, especially in the opening moves of a Commander game?
Commander at U.S. Nationals
I am super-stoked about U.S. Nationals being held right here in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia this weekend! While I am not qualified, I do think it’ll be fun to go watch games being played by some of the best Magic players in the States and cheer on a few of my friends who are qualified. I do intend on bringing my Commander decks and playing lots of pickup games of Commander this whole weekend, so if you’re coming for the event don’t forget to bring your Commander deck and track me down for a game or two!
One deck I will be bringing is my Feldon of the Third Path deck. I first built it three years ago, and it is proven to be one of my favorite Commander decks of all time. It is a major departure from the typical mono-red deck, and I really like the silver bullet approach to many of the creatures alongside Feldon’s activated ability. And I love how it’s evolved over the years, so I thought I’d share my latest decklist for anyone who might be interested.
- 1 Myr Retriever
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Moggcatcher
- 1 Mogg Maniac
- 1 Goblin Sharpshooter
- 1 Siege-Gang Commander
- 1 Rukh Egg
- 1 Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer
- 1 Goblin Welder
- 1 Ravenous Baboons
- 1 Viashino Heretic
- 1 Shrieking Mogg
- 1 Fortune Thief
- 1 Jaya Ballard, Task Mage
- 1 Scuttlemutt
- 1 Wurmcoil Engine
- 1 Steel Hellkite
- 1 Zealous Conscripts
- 1 Thundermaw Hellkite
- 1 Hellkite Tyrant
- 1 Molten Primordial
- 1 Scuttling Doom Engine
- 1 Dualcaster Mage
- 1 Pia and Kiran Nalaar
- 1 Magus of the Wheel
- 1 Skyline Despot
- 1 Grenzo, Havoc Raiser
- 1 Combustible Gearhulk
- 1 Armory Automaton
- 1 Scrap Trawler
- 1 Hope of Ghirapur
- 1 Glorybringer
- 1 Tilonalli's Skinshifter
- 21 Mountain
- 1 Smoldering Crater
- 1 Great Furnace
- 1 Forgotten Cave
- 1 Winding Canyons
- 1 Terrain Generator
- 1 Darksteel Citadel
- 1 Reliquary Tower
- 1 Phyrexia's Core
- 1 Homeward Path
- 1 Buried Ruin
- 1 Myriad Landscape
- 1 Arcane Lighthouse
- 1 Flamekin Village
- 1 Mirrorpool
- 1 Geier Reach Sanitarium
- 1 Nephalia Academy
- 1 Throne of the High City
- 1 Mana Vault
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Journeyer's Kite
- 1 Ashnod's Transmogrant
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Lightning Greaves
- 1 Mind Stone
- 1 Welding Jar
- 1 Word of Seizing
- 1 Thousand-Year Elixir
- 1 Liquimetal Coating
- 1 Spine of Ish Sah
- 1 Darksteel Plate
- 1 Batterskull
- 1 Swiftfoot Boots
- 1 Blasphemous Act
- 1 Trading Post
- 1 Vandalblast
- 1 Illusionist's Bracers
- 1 Commander's Sphere
- 1 Blade of Selves
- 1 Smuggler's Copter
- 1 Oracle's Vault
- 1 Hazoret's Monument
- 1 Mirage Mirror
- 1 Hour of Devastation
- 1 Star of Extinction
- 1 Conqueror's Galleon
Since Feldon’s copies are artifacts, I’ve got a pretty strong artifact theme running through the deck. I’ve included a fair number of ways to discard or “loot” cards I’d be more interested in copying with Feldon than paying retail. I was excited to add more sweeper effects recently with Hour of Devastation and Star of Extinction; I especially look forward to casting Star of Extinction with a Mogg Maniac on the battlefield!
I’m also eager to see Tilonalli’s Skinshifter do some work. I imagine it’s going to have some sweet things to copy in a typical game of Commander! Has anyone giving it a try in their 99 yet?
Let me know if you have any questions about particular card choices. How would your Feldon deck differ from mine?
New to Commander?
If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:
Commander Primer Part 1
(Why play Commander? Rules Overview, Picking your Commander)
Commander Primer Part 2
(Mana Requirements, Randomness, Card Advantage)
Commander Primer Part 3
(Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
Commander Starter Kits 1
(kick start your allied two-color decks for $25)
Commander Starter Kits 2
(kick start your enemy two-color decks for $25)
Commander Starter Kits 3
(kick start your shard three-color decks for $25)
Commander write-ups I’ve done
(and links to decklists):
• Zurgo Bellstriker (Bellstriking Like a Boss)
• Dragonlord Ojutai (Troll Shroud)
• Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund (Dragons, Megamorphs, and Dragons)
• Dromoka, the Eternal (One Flying Bolster Basket)
• Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest (Tempests and Teapots)
• Tasigur, the Golden Fang (Hatching Evil Sultai Plots)
• Scion of the Ur-Dragon (Dragon Triggers for Everyone)
• Nahiri, The Lithomancer (Lithomancing for Fun and Profit)
• Titania, Protector of Argoth (Titania’s Land and Elemental Exchange)
• Reaper King (All About VILLAINOUS WEALTH)
• Feldon of the Third Path (She Will Come Back to Me)
• Sidisi, Brood Tyrant (Calling Up Ghouls with Sidisi)
• Zurgo Helmsmasher (Two Times the Smashing)
• Anafenza, the Foremost (Anafenza and Your Restless Dead)
• Narset, Enlightened Master (The New Voltron Overlord)
• Surrak Dragonclaw (The Art of Punching Bears)
• Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient (Ghost in the Machines)
• Jalira, Master Polymorphist (JaliraPOW!)
• Yisan, the Wanderer Bard (All-in Yisan)
• Selvala, Explorer Returned (Everyone Draws Lots!)
• Grenzo, Dungeon Warden (Cleaning Out the Cellar)
• Karona, False God (God Pack)
• Karador, Ghost Chieftain (Shadowborn Apostles & Demons)
• Roon of the Hidden Realm (Mean Roon)
• Vorel of the Hull Clade (Never Trust the Simic)
• Borborygmos Enraged (69 land deck)
• Derevi, Empyrial Tactician (Tribal Birds)
• Gahiji, Honored One (Enchantment Ga-hijinks)
• Nicol Bolas (Kicking it Old School)
• Oloro, Ageless Ascetic (Life Gain)
• Polukranos, World Eater (Monstrous!)
• Reaper King (Taking Advantage of the new Legend Rules)
• Roon of the Hidden Realm ( Strolling Through Value Town)
• Shattergang Brothers (Breaking Boards)
• Sliver Overlord (Featuring the new M14 Slivers!)
• Varolz, the Scar-Striped (scavenging goodness)