Last updated on May 18, 2021
Inniaz, the Gale Force | Illustration by Livia Prima
In the summer of 2020, I was faced with a dilemma that I’m sure many of you can relate to. With the pandemic in full swing, my friends and I couldn’t meet up in person to hang out anymore and we needed a new way to get together and socialize. Thankfully most of my buddies are nerdy enough that I was able to talk a few of them into playing some EDH online, so we set a date and all met up virtually through Tabletop Simulator.
A few of us MTG veterans brought extra decklists for our friends who were newer to the game and we set about getting our gaming session underway. Everyone understood the basic rules and the first games went smoothly with everyone enjoying themselves, but we quickly realized we had an issue:
The newer players who didn’t know the EDH meta struggled with threat assessment and had a hard time deciding when to play big cards. When tutors came up, they had no idea which cards were part of a winning strategy and struggled to close out games.
The divide in game knowledge was just too much after the first few games. Some people in the group told me that although they enjoyed playing Magic overall, they just didn’t enjoy playing against the decks that the veterans had been brewing for years and knew inside and out. The burden of knowledge for such a complicated game was just too much.
There was only one thing we could do: make EDH more accessible.
Commander Jumpstart: How It Happened
Commander Legends Provides the Spark
Thriving Heath | Illustration by Alayna Danner
When Commander Legends spoilers started releasing, I knew exactly what I wanted to work on: Commander Jumpstart. I spent a few weeks playing with the idea of making a Commander draft cube for my friends and I, but my buddies weren’t super excited when they found out it’d take an hour or more of drafting before we even started to play. But the release of mono-colored partner commanders like Gilanra, Caller of Wirewood and Tormod, the Desecrator was a game changer for me.
Now I could design smaller decks based around each of them, and my friends and I would just pick two different decks, smash ’em together, and start playing. I started sifting through the newly spoiled commanders to find four from each color that had some similar themes I could focus on to create synergy for the decks and establish how I wanted my cube to play.
Mechanics and Themes
With the plan of making an accessible EDH experience, I set about planning what mechanics I wanted to use. I enjoy playing powerful cards with big, flashy, flavorful effects like Quietus Spike and Disrupt Decorum, and I knew I could make a more aggro-focused meta that enabled these kinds of cards to really shine.
I made sure to pick very general mechanics that allowed me to focus each of the decks on having a unique playstyle related to the commander while still leaving opportunity for synergies between different commanders. I eventually settled on about 10 different themes I wanted to design around including tokens, artifacts, +1/+1 counters, graveyard interaction, voltron, bigstuff, and more.
With a set of commanders to build around and a framework of mechanics to focus, on it was time to start planning what a finished deck was going to look like.
Keeping it Commander
Tinybones, Trinket Thief | Illustration by Jason Rainville
Start with two different-colored commander “decks”
I was hoping for my cube to feel as close to a regular EDH game as I could manage. The first rule I decided on was forcing my players to choose commanders of different colors to make up their finished deck. Every green deck wants to be running Cultivate and I was attempting to maintain the singleton rule, so this seemed the simplest way to solve the problem of having multiple copies.
No more worrying about which deck was lucky enough to have Swords to Plowshares. I could drop the card in every deck if I felt it was justified. I still wanted each deck to be as unique as possible, but some cards are just too good to not include.
Then, receive a 3rd pack with lands, fixing, and other goodies
The same issue arose when I started looking at mana rocks and colorless lands. I couldn’t just pick a favorite deck to give Command Tower to, I needed another solution. That combined with the need to have some color fixing in the cube drove me to add a separate pack to each deck.
Once you finished picking two commanders, you’d also be given a third pack based on the color combo you’d chosen. Now I could easily include mana rocks, dual-lands, and even some fun dual-color staples. I set each commander’s pack at 40 cards and the dual-color packs at 20, giving me plenty of space for necessary mana fixing as well as some fun flavor cards.
Colorless cards proved to be the biggest hassle to plan around in general since I’d chosen artifacts as a focus for the cube and quite a few of my commanders were going to rely on them. Prioritizing which deck was going to get a certain powerful artifact was a challenge, but it ultimately forced me to develop a more specific identity for the decks and I’m very pleased with the end results.
Bringing it All Together
Blessed Sanctuary | Illustration by Anastasia Ovchinnikova
With a framework in place, I turned my attention to constructing the decks and tweaking my cube until I got the right power level and balance. My intention was to have the cube’s power firmly at the battlecruiser level while including enough interaction that games stayed fresh and exciting. I also avoided cards that relied on information to be powerful in the interest of keeping the cube approachable.
This meant no forcing players to tutor through decks they were unfamiliar with or time-consuming mechanics that slowed the game down. I wanted to keep the turns quick. Tax effects were few and far between with decks relying more on destruction than prevention and games with big power swings were more common than not.
To counter this explosive value, I had to be very selective of the power cards I included in the cube and make sure I had the removal necessary to deal with the powerful threats I planned to include. Rather than putting in something like Craterhoof Behemoth, which can instantly win the game, I chose Ghalta, Primal Hunger. It requires a turn to come online. Instead of Cyclonic Rift, I opted to use the more flavorful Curse of the Swine. To go along with that, nearly every commander’s pack and some of the dual-color packs include a board wipe in case games got a bit too crazy.
Making defensive decks a little less efficient really opened the door to Voltron being an effective strategy which had a very positive effect on the cube’s playstyle as a whole. Gone were the days of playing combo solitaire on 15-minute long turns. Consistent aggression and political plays took the forefront instead.
Veterans and new players alike enjoyed the spectacle of watching Rograkh, Son of Rohgahh smash faces with his Sword of Vengeance, and seeing games end to a Rakdos Charm nuking an overzealous Prava of the Steel Legion player was very satisfying.
The Commander Decks
Here are all the monocolored decks based on each commander.
Mono Red Alena
Feldon of the Third Path
Ilharg, the Raze-Boar
Terror of the Peaks
Tuktuk the Explorer
Mono White Alharu
Abzan Battle Priest
Archangel of Thune
High Sentinels of Arashin
Mangara, the Diplomat
Mikaeus, the Lunarch
Nils, Discipline Enforcer
Mono White Ardenn
Mono Black Armix
Scuttling Doom Engine
Mono Blue Brinelin
Mono Green Gilanra
Avenger of Zendikar
Bane of Progress
Beanstalk Giant // Fertile Footsteps
Ghalta, Primal Hunger
Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma
Greenwarden of Murasa
Mono Blue Glacian
Chief of the Foundry
Emry, Lurker of the Loch
Master of Etherium
Padeem, Consul of Innovation
Sai, Master Thopterist
Mono Green Halana
Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma
Kogla, the Titan Ape
Rhonas the Indomitable
Soul of the Harvest
Mono Green Ich-Tekik
Ancient Stone Idol
Colossus of Akros
Mono Red Kediss
Mono Black Keskit
Ayara, First of Locthwain
Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder
Pawn of Ulamog
Priest of Forgotten Gods
Mono White Prava
Mono White Radiant
Angel of Serenity
Archon of Emeria
Brisela, Voice of Nightmares
Bruna, the Fading Light
Eidolon of Rhetoric
Gisela, the Broken Blade
Sephara, Sky’s Blade
Spirit of the Labyrinth
Mono Red Rograkh
Mono Blue Siani
Archetype of Imagination
Keiga, the Tide Star
Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
Sower of Temptation
Warden of Evos Isle
Mono Green Slurrk
Champion of Lambholt
Pir, Imaginative Rascal
Renata, Called to the Hunt
Mono Red Toggo
Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge
Mono Black Tormod
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Sheoldred, Whispering One
Sifter of Skulls
Syr Konrad, the Grim
Whisper, Blood Liturgist
Commander Jumpstart Supplemental Packs
These are the packs you receive based on your color pair after you’ve picked your two commander decks.
Quick note: If you view the decks on Moxfield, click the “Customize View” button, then click the Group By –>”Custom Tag” in order to see the packs sorted properly.
Branching Evolution | Illustration by Tomasz Jedruszek
After extensive playtesting with my own playgroup and with volunteers I recruited from r/EDH, I’m happy to say the feedback has been incredibly positive. Decks seem to be relatively well balanced, and cards that are often overlooked in regular EDH have a chance to really shine in the limited meta.
Seeing Grothama, All-Devouring terrorize the board, or watching the weenie player’s delight turn to dread as his Nomad’s Assembly army spells his downfall when an opponent drops Rakdos Charm has been fresh and exciting. Games tend to be very back-and-forth with intense and interesting board states happening frequently.
The buddies who were hesitant to join have all been greatly enjoying the ease of setup and replayability of the cube. Whenever we play it takes only 15 minutes for all of us to have brand new decks with interesting synergies and get the game underway. Games are never the same and even when someone picks a commander combo that’s been seen before it’s playstyle varies wildly based on which half of the deck pops up.
Months after starting this project, I’m happy with how far it’s come along, and my friends and I are thoroughly enjoying the gameplay offered by the cube. Having a way to make up new decks in just a few minutes has helped me convince more people to join us. But there’s still more I’d like to accomplish.
Problematic lines of play will no doubt turn up weeks or months in the future and I’ve tweaked my decklists multiple times when cards like Grave Pact felt a bit too oppressive and unfun.
I’ve managed to get the cube posted up on the Steam Workshop for anyone who’s interested in giving it a try, and hopefully it can help you convince some of your less magically inclined buddies to enjoy the format I’ve spent so much time playing with my own friends!