Last updated on January 6, 2023

Force of Will - Illustration by Terese Nielsen

Force of Will | Illustration by Terese Nielsen

Commander has become Magic’s most-played format in the past few years despite its origin as a way for players and organizers to keep themselves entertained between tournament rounds. The format has since grown beyond a way to pass the time, and one of those changes is the rise of the Duel Commander format.

Duel Commander is an adapted rule set that takes Commander from a multiplayer format to 1v1 while still keeping the original essence. But there are important changes, like a different banlist. After all, what’s broken in a 1v1 context is really different from what’s broken in multiplayer games.

Ready to find out more? Let’s get into it!

What Is Duel Commander?

Isamaru, Hound of Konda - Illustration by Christopher Moeller

Isamaru, Hound of Konda | Illustration by Christopher Moeller

Duel Commander is a one-versus-one format where players pick a legendary creature to act as their commander and build a Singleton 99-card deck that adheres to that commander’s color identity. Players in Duel Commander start the game with 20 life instead of 40 like in regular Commander. Deckbuilding sensibilities can be pretty different between the two formats as a result.

This format’s origin can be traced back to France where level 4 (now level 5) Magic judge Kevin Desprez decided that EDH would benefit from a 1v1 iteration. The idea quickly spread and grew until a new committee (different from the EDH one) was formed to regulate the format. It’s since spread into tons of countries and is one of the most played non-sanctioned formats.

Who Is Duel Commander For?

Duel Commander upholds EDH’s values, so the format is open to everyone who wants to get into it. It keeps a strong focus on fun and personalized decks that don’t have to conform to a meta as strict as the one in 60-card formats.

I reached out to Adrien “Oni” Demoget, a Duel Commander veteran, the founder of Magic Biquette (the format’s largest Discord server), and a competitor with several Top 8 results. When asked about what types of players he thinks the format draws in, he says that he personally identifies “three types of people who get into the format:”

  • EDH players who want a more competitive version of the format.
  • Grinder players who want to have access to more events (Duel Commander events were more prolific in the post-pandemic environment than other formats).
  • Legacy players who want to enjoy eternal formats but can’t find regular events.

He also says that Duel Commander:

[…] is for everyone interested in it. It’s a format that’s rich and complex thanks to it being Singleton, but also very regular because of the use of the command zone. Someone might want to play to deeply express themselves through deckbuilding, have a chance to play old cards they’ve had in their binders for years, push that legendary creature they love to their best, or just because it’s one of the best ways to play tournaments around their area.

Adrien “Oni” Demoget

This last point holds especially true for France, the country where the format was popularized, where it can be significantly easier to find Duel Commander tournaments compared to other formats.

Fellow format-veteran and competitive player Jules “Askeladden” Lestienne also adds that it’s a format:

[…] for deckbuilders, people who want to create decks in a wild and open environment. Regular formats place a stronger focus on gameplay than they do on deckbuilding due to a very dense metagame, while Duel Commander’s higher variability opens up more space for deckbuilding.

Jules “Askeladden” Lestienne

Duel Commander-Legal Sets

Duel Commander is an eternal format, so all eternal sets are legal in the format. The only sets that aren’t legal for Duel Commander are silver bordered, acorn cards, or alternate back (not counting double-faced or meld) cards.

Duel Commander Rules

For the complete and comprehensive rules set, the safest and most updated source will always be the official rules by the committee. They keep the site up to date to any and all changes, so you should always check this source when in doubt. They’re mostly pretty similar to regular EDH rules with a few notable differences.

That said, here are the rules for Duel Commander:

  • Choose a legendary creature to use as your commander. Exceptions are planeswalkers that explicitly allow you to use them as commanders or cards with the partner ability that let you have two commanders. Commanders start the game in the command zone instead of the library.
  • The decks consist of 99 cards that have to either be basic lands or cards within your commander’s color identity. You can have any number of basic lands in your deck, but only a single copy of any other cards (except cards that explicitly mention that you can have any number of them in your deck).
  • If your commander would leave the battlefield for any reason, you can always choose to send it back to the command zone. Casting your commander costs more for each time it has returned to the command zone.
  • Duel Commander is played between two players.
  • The format doesn’t use sideboards. Official rules state that you can change your commander for another legal one between games.
  • If you have multiple commanders, such as partner commanders or backgrounds, you can only cast one per game.

Duel Commander Banlist

The official Duel Commander site divides the banlist into three distinct categories:

  • Structurally-banned cards. These belong to specific non-legal sets, mention specific mechanics that have been wholly retired from the game or are completely banned in all formats.
  • Restricted cards. These are specifically banned as a commander but can still be played as part of the 99.
  • Banned cards. These are chosen and banned by the committee for a variety of reasons.

Structurally-Banned Cards

Cards Banned as Commanders Only

Banned Cards

Where to Play Duel Commander

Duel Commander can only be played on paper. Neither Magic Online or MTG Arena support the format, but they both have formats (with notably different rules and banlists) that could act as a replacement in the form of Brawl and 1v1 Commander respectively.

Duel Commander isn’t sanctioned by WotC and is technically considered casual according to their rules. But you can still find Duel Commander tournaments as side events at officially-sanctioned tournaments. As with any other format, you can always hit up your LGS to see if there’s a format-related playgroup.

Duel Commander Decks

Duel Commander is just like any other format in the sense that it has some archetypes and strategies that can prove stronger in the format’s rules and limitations. Some of the main archetypes you start with include mono-red aggro, white-weenie aggro, land aggro, blue control, even some combo decks.

I asked Jules “Askeladden” Lestienne for some recommendations on good decks based on the format’s current meta. All of these decklists and their explanations were provided by him. These are pretty focused and competitive decks, but they can work as decent examples of what to expect if you’re trying to get into the format yourself.

Grist by Askeladden

Grist, the Hunger Tide - Illustration by Yongjae Choi

Grist, the Hunger Tide | Illustration by Yongjae Choi

This deck, led by Grist, the Hunger Tide, focuses on a midrange toolbox strategy that aims to have answers for almost anything except creatures. It also boasts a lot of dork creatures that can simultaneously ensure your commander hits the field early and serve as cannon fodder for its -2 ability. This ability is key to the deck since it can get rid of plenty of the format’s biggest threats.

The deck also makes great use of the synergies that cards like Contamination, Skullclamp, and Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis have with the rest of the deck.

Raffine by Nicolas Prail

Raffine, Scheming Seer - Illustration by Johannes Voss

Raffine, Scheming Seer | Illustration by Johannes Voss

This deck can fluctuate between going for an aggro or a tempo strategy. Raffine, Scheming Seer’s ability works great with linear 1-2-3 curves while the combination of premium removals, counterspells, and efficient threats gives the deck tons of flexibility.

Raffine’s ability can reward you for assuming a more aggro stance, but it can also be used to stick to a more tempo role by developing and protecting a single growing threat. This combination also makes the deck really efficient at preventing your opponent from making plays that can prove to be too overwhelming.

Tivit by Thomas Mechin

Tivit, Seller of Secrets - Illustration by Chris Rahn

Tivit, Seller of Secrets | Illustration by Chris Rahn

This is probably the most classic deck in terms of strategy. It’s a control deck that focuses on Esper ()’s interactions. Tivit, Seller of Secrets is great at generating both mana and card advantage thanks to its ETB/damage ability.

The rest of the deck is pretty straightforward. It aims at denying and stopping a lot of the most prominent strategies in Duel Commander.

Will, Lucas, and Lurrus by Askeladden

Wernog, Rider's Chaplain - Illustration by Diego Gisbert

Wernog, Rider's Chaplain | Illustration by Diego Gisbert

You don’t see a deck with partner commanders and a companion every day, but this deck boasts that while working in great synergy with each other. This deck is fronted by Lucas, the Sharpshooter (a.k.a., Bjorna, Nightfall Alchemist), Will the Wise (a.k.a., Wernog, Rider's Chaplain), and Lurrus of the Dream-Den. It’s a combo deck that tends to control the game until it gets a window to assemble its winning combo.

Your combo needs Underworld Breach, Lotus Petal, and a final step of Brain Freeze or Painter's Servant and Grindstone to win. Another card that can prove instrumental to this combo is Demonic Tutor since it lets you search for every card you need thanks to Underworld Breach.

The combo should go something like this: you need two mana to cast Demonic Tutor to find Underworld Breach. Cast it on turn 5 and use it to cast Demonic Tutor again to find and play Rain of Filth, then Demonic Tutor again to find Lotus Petal. One final Demonic Tutor finds Brain Freeze.

Now you can cast Brain Freeze and copy it six times thanks to its storm ability. Use one of those copies on yourself, recast Lotus Petal, and sacrifice it for mana. Repeat this step and then target yourself one last time to get another three cards in your own graveyard.

Once all the remaining copies of Brain Freeze have resolved, you can recast it with the two mana you have floating from your Lotus Petals, this time with even more copies. Repeat as many times as you need to keep casting your Lotus Petal and Brain Freeze.

Getting Started With Duel Commander

The main thing to keep in mind when trying to find what could work in Duel Commander is that this format is as close to regular EDH as it is to duel formats. A lot of EDH staples would prove far from useful in Duel Commander thanks to the differences in gameplay. Politics aren’t an option in duel formats so you should focus on more, well, focused cards.

Some of the format’s most played cards include Swords to Plowshares, Force Spike, Demonic Tutor, Fatal Push, and Force of Will. These are all obviously good in regular EDH, but things like targeted removal end up falling to the sidelines when the board can get as wild as it does in regular Commander. Where one format benefits from a board wipe that can instantly get rid of armies, the other benefits more from calculated hits to particularly threatening targets.

Duel Commander is a very varied format with a quickly changing meta. I think the best option for anyone wanting to get into it is to go over the more viable archetypes and playstyles and then try to find cards from your collection or precons that fit those styles. The truth is that Wizard’s official precons are way more focused on multiplayer games than they are on 1v1, so any precon is still gonna need some degree of rework for it to stand up to Duel Commander metas.

According to Adrien “Oni” Demoget, the format:

[…] can be played competitively from around 300 euros (about 295 dollars) and up, and that’s if you don’t own any cards before building the deck.

Adrien “Oni” Demoget

He also estimates the average competitive deck to cost around 1k to 2k euros (about $980 and $1950 dollars respectively), but you can go for higher or lower costs depending on your playgroup’s competitive level.

Duel Commander Products

There aren’t currently any official products focused on Duel Commander since it’s not an officially-sanctioned format. Most of the Commander precons could work as decent bases from which to build a deck or a collection.

There are plenty of precons to choose from if your plan is to play kitchen table duels. The cheaper ones from the most recent sets can be enough for some fun casual games without too much investment. Most precons from the same sets have relatively similar power levels and are even built to play against each other.

All that said, I’d advise you to just go for singles and build your decks mostly from scratch if you want to play outside of your personal casual playgroup. It’s easier and sometimes less expensive.

Duel Commander Communities

The Duel Commander format has quickly gathered a pretty significant following, and it’s pretty easy to find tournaments all over. This seems to hold especially true in Europe. Going to your local LGS or looking out for events and tournaments around you is almost guaranteed to give some results.

For online I’d absolutely recommend the official Duel Commander Discord. They’re always open to new members who want to get in on the format.

Another great recommendation for French speakers is the Magic Biquette Discord. It was actually founded by Adrien “Oni” Demoget, and Jules “Askeladden” Lestienne is also a mod there. It’s a trove of resources and info on the format and the largest server dedicated to Duel Commander.

Bitzelberg is probably one of the best English-speaking YouTube channels focusing on the format, while Chroniques du Commander also has some amazing French-speaking content.

There’s arguably less content for Duel Commander than there is for regular EDH, but there’s still a huge and ever-growing community for you engage with.

Commanding Conclusion

Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist - Illustration by Aaron Miller

Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist | Illustration by Aaron Miller

I’ve been playing regular EDH for years without really paying much attention to Duel Commander, and I honestly couldn’t have been more wrong about it. It’s definitely a much more competitive environment on a meta scale, but you can still pay attention to its rules, deckbuilding sensibilities, and strategies to build yourself a decent casual deck. Keep it for 1v1 matches in between games or when you want to get some Commander play but there are only two players around.

For players who are interested in getting into the format properly, the community around it is extremely welcoming and the Committee works hard to keep the format competitive without it turning boring. That’s no small feat!

Do you play Duel Commander? Which decks and strategies do you like using in it? Are you interested in getting into the format? Leave a comment down below and don’t forget to join the Draftsim Discord.

That’s all from me for now. Have a good one, and I’ll see you next time!

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