Last updated on September 27, 2022
Kenrith, the Returned King | Illustration by Kieran Yanner
Let’s get into the rules and details of Magic’s most popular casual format, and my personal favorite!
How Many Players Does a Commander Game Have?
Split the Party | Illustration by Zoltan Boros
Commander is a multiplayer format where most games have somewhere between four to six players. You can have duels with only two players, and you can have
unending matches with more than seven or eight players. If you go with Wizards’ official rulings then you have a limit of six players per table, which is pretty reasonable.
I think the ideal number for a game of Commander is somewhere between three to six players. Two can be kind of a drag since most decks are built for multiplayer interactions. More than six is a lot of players and Commander turns can be pretty lengthy. Having to wait 20 minutes between your current and next turn isn’t exactly fun.
So three to six is the sweet spot.
How Many Games Are in a Match?
Commander isn’t played in matches. The average Commander game takes anywhere between one to three hours. Anything below one hour can be considered a short match.
This means Commander is a single-game format. Matches can be organized with house rules if everyone has a lot of time to play, but they’re not official and there aren’t any sanctioned rules when it comes to this aspect of the format.
How Many Cards Can You Have in Commander?
Battle of Wits | Illustration by Jason Chan
Commander decks have a total of 100 cards. One of them is your commander, a legendary creature or planeswalker that stays in the command zone and determines your deck’s strategy and color identify. The other 99 are what constitute your actual deck.
In the case of commanders with the partner keyword (which I’ll talk about in a bit), you have two cards in your command zone and 98 in your main deck.
Rules and Restrictions for Deckbuilding
Commander is a format with quite a few restrictions when building your deck. I’ve already mentioned a few but I’ll go through them again here.
Number of Cards
First is the number of cards. Your deck must have a total of 100 cards. One of them is your commander, who starts the game in the command zone, and the other 99 make up the bulk of your deck. Commander is a singleton format, which means you can only have a single copy of any card that isn’t a basic land.
I mentioned a commander, also known as general. I’ll go into more detail about them later but I have to mention that your commander determines the colors that you’re allowed to play in your deck.
Every card has what’s called a “color identity.” Since your commander is the one leading your build, all of the cards in your deck have to be within your commander’s color identity, or colorless.
The legendary creatures you use as your commander can have the partner ability. This particular ability allows you to use another card with the same ability as an additional commander.
You can either pair two creatures with the generic partner keyword (the most infamous pair is Thrasios, Triton Hero and Tymna the Weaver) or you can use creatures that have the “partner with creature” ability, like Haldan, Avid Arcanist and Pako, Arcane Retriever.
How Does Color Identity Work?
Color identity refers to all the colors present on your commander’s card. This includes casting costs, abilities, mana-generating abilities, and any other mana symbol you might find on a card. It’s worth noting that a card’s color and its color identity aren’t necessarily the same.
I’m going to use a few examples to illustrate this a little better. Let’s start with a simple one:
Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow
This commander has both black and blue mana symbols. They’re present in its casting cost and its ninjutsu ability. In both cases the only symbols are for black and blue mana, so Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow’s color identity is black and blue. Cards in a Yuriko deck can’t use any color other than black and blue.
The card’s color is also black and blue because those are the colors in its casting cost. This is relevant if a player uses any spells or abilities that need to check for specific colors like Display of Dominance.
Kenrith, the Returned King
This is an example of a commander that has a different color and color identity. Kenrith, the Returned King’s casting cost is and it has five abilities. Each of these abilities requires one mana of each of the five colors in the color pie. This means that Kenrith’s color identity is 5-colored. Decks that use this commander can have cards from any of the five mana colors.
But Kenrith’s color isn’t 5-colored. The card’s casting cost is specifically white. To repeat my example, Display of Dominance wouldn’t affect Kenrith at all. This is a clear example of the difference between color and color identity.
Ramos, Dragon Engine
Ramos, Dragon Engine is a colorless card. Its mana cost is , which can be paid with any type of mana.
This is also a 5-color commander thanks to its last ability. Since Ramos’ mana generating ability uses the five mana symbols, its color identity is all five colors.
Partner Commanders and Double-Faced Cards
The color identity of a deck that uses two partner commanders is the combined color identity of those two creatures. So a Thrasios, Triton Hero and Vial Smasher the Fierce deck has a color identity of red, black, blue, and green. The cards you play can be within any combination of those four colors.
In the case of double-faced cards, the color identity for your deck is a combination of both faces if the front and back have different colors in their abilities or casting costs. A Valki, God of Lies / Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor deck has a color identity of black and red even if the front face of the card is mono-black.
Color Identity in the 99
I’ve established that your commander’s color identity determines what other 99 cards can go into your deck. This means that the cards’ color identities also need to be the same as your commander’s.
To use one of my previous examples, you can play any card that has black or blue in its color identity if you’re playing Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow as your commander. This means that mono-blue cards, mono-black cards, Dimir () cards, and colorless cards are all good. Since you need to check for color identity and not just a card’s color, cards that are blue or black but have other mana symbols in their effects can’t be played in a Yuriko deck.
For example, if you wanted to play Mythos of Nethroi in your deck at the cost of foregoing the extra effect, you wouldn’t be able to use it. The card has a green and a white mana symbol in its text, making its color identity green, white, and black. That makes it incompatible with a black and blue commander.
Another thing that needs to be considered is hybrid mana. A card like Jund Hackblade is considered a 3-colored card. Both its color and color identity are green, red, and black. This means that it can’t be played in decks that use only two of those three colors.
The good thing about hybrid mana cards is that your playgroup might let you run some even if they don’t technically fit your deck’s color identity, especially in mono-colored decks. Maybe you’re building a mono-black horror tribal deck but you’re lacking some cards. You can talk to your group and see if they’ll let you play something like Cryptborn Horror. You can’t play it at any official games, but your group might let it slide at a kitchen table match.
Can Any Card Be a Commander?
Alesha, Who Smiles at Death | Illustration by Anastasia Ovchinnikova
No, not any card can be your commander. The first thing to keep in mind is that your commander must be a legendary creature. The only instance where this rule bends is in the case of certain planeswalkers that can be your commander, like Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath. Cards other than legendary creatures can’t be your commander.
With various double-faced cards existing, you can “cheat” different cards into your command zone. The Magic Origins set lets you have creatures as your commander that turn into planeswalkers under certain circumstances. We got something even more original in Strixhaven with Extus, Oriq Overlord.
Since you can cast any side of a modal dual-faced card, you can cast Extus as Awaken the Blood Avatar and technically have a sorcery in your command zone. But even then, you can only do this by having a legendary creature as your actual general.
The Command Zone and Commander Tax
I’ve mentioned that a Commander deck consists of 99 cards and a commander (or two) that gets its own special zone. This is the command zone. Your commander begins the game in this zone and you can cast it from here as if it was in your hand. But keep in mind that you’re not actually casting it from your hand, a distinction that could be important when certain cards are in play, like Drannith Magistrate.
Another important thing is that you can put your commander back in the command zone if it would be sent to the graveyard, to your hand, to your library, or into exile. And you can simply play it again the next chance you get once it’s there.
You might think this is a bit broken, and you’d be right. That’s why a little thing called commander tax exists. Every time you cast your commander, the next time you cast it costs an extra . If your commander has a converted mana cost of three, casting it a second time will cost a total of five mana, and then seven, and so on.
When I mentioned your commander moving zones, I said that you can put it back into the command zone. You don’t have to. If you want (or need) your commander to go into the graveyard, your library, or your hand, you can allow it. Keep in mind that the commander tax only applies when casting it from your command zone. So getting your commander back into your hand can help you recast it for its original cost without any penalties. The same goes if you can put it into your graveyard and recast it from there.
What Commanders Are Banned?
Banishing Light | Illustration by Willian Murai
The official banned list for Commander doesn’t restrict cards from being your commander. If a card is on the Commander banned list, you just can’t use it in the format.
That being said, I’ve compiled a list of banned commanders anyways. The following is a list of legendary creatures that are banned in the format. Most of them are banned because they affect the focus of the format or are too disruptive and unfun to play against.
Not all of these would be good commanders, but I’ve put them here regardless:
- Braids, Cabal Minion
- Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
- Erayo, Soratami Ascendant
- Golos, Tireless Pilgrim
- Iona, Shield of Emeria
- Leovold, Emissary of Trest
- Lutri, the Spellchaser
- Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
Duel Commander Banned Commanders
1v1 Commander and multiplayer Commander have quite a few differences. One of them is the list of banned cards. A lot of Commanders that are relatively harmless in regular EDH are banned in 1v1 because they’re too powerful and make the game unfun.
Each of these cards can’t be your commander, though you can still add them to your 99:
- Akiri, Line-Slinger
- Arahbo, Roar of the World
- Ardenn, Intrepid Archaeologist
- Baral, Chief of Compliance
- Breya, Etherium Shaper
- Derevi, Empyrial Tactician
- Edgar Markov
- Edric, Spymaster of Trest
- Emry, Lurker of the Loch
- Esior, Wardwing Familiar
- Geist of Saint Traft
- Inalla, Archmage Ritualist
- Krark, the Thumbless
- Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist
- Najeela, the Blade-Blossom
- Oloro, Ageless Ascetic
- Omnath, Locus of Creation
- Prime Speaker Vannifar
- Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer
- Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
- Tasigur, the Golden Fang
- Teferi, Temporal Archmage
- Thrasios, Triton Hero
- Urza, Lord High Artificer
- Vial Smasher the Fierce
- Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow
- Zurgo Bellstriker
What Other Cards Are Banned?
Sphinx’s Decree | Illustration by Daarken
Aside from individual bans, there are three groups of cards that are banned from Commander for various reasons:
- Cards with the card type “conspiracy.”
- Cards that reference “playing for ante.”
- Cards whose art, text, name, or combination thereof are racially or culturally offensive.
Individual Banned Cards
Following a similar idea to that behind the banned legendary creatures, most of these cards are banned for the way they interact with the game. Winning out of nowhere, putting the game on hold, making it unfun to play, or making entire decks and strategies completely useless with a single card are all reasons to ban some of these cards.
- Ancestral Recall
- Black Lotus
- Chaos Orb
- Coalition Victory
- Falling Star
- Gifts Ungiven
- Library of Alexandria
- Limited Resources
- Mox Emerald
- Mox Jet
- Mox Pearl
- Mox Ruby
- Mox Sapphire
- Panoptic Mirror
- Paradox Engine
- Primeval Titan
- Prophet of Kruphix
- Recurring Nightmare
- Sway of the Stars
- Sundering Titan
- Sylvan Primordial
- Time Vault
- Time Walk
- Tolarian Academy
- Trade Secrets
- Yawgmoth’s Bargain
I think it’s worth noting that you can just talk to your playgroup if you want to use a banned card. Especially in kitchen table games and casual LGS games. They may or may not bend the official rules to accommodate your card. Always keep in mind that the group has the final say and you should respect it if they don’t want cards that might ruin everyone’s fun.
Banned Cards in Duel Commander
- Ancestral Recall
- Ancient Tomb
- Back to Basics
- Black Lotus
- Capture of Jingzhou
- Cavern of Souls
- Chrome Mox
- Deflecting Swat
- Dig Through Time
- Eidolon of the Great Revel
- Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
- Field of the Dead
- Fierce Guardianship
- Food Chain
- Gaea’s Cradle
- Genesis Storm
- Gifts Ungiven
- Grim Monolith
- Hermit Druid
- High Tide
- Imperial Seal
- Jeweled Lotus
- Library of Alexandria
- Lion’s Eye Diamond
- Lutri, the Spellchaser
- Loyal Retainers
- Maddening Hex
- Mana Crypt
- Mana Drain
- Mana Vault
- Mishra’s Workshop
- Mox Diamond
- Mox Emerald
- Mox Jet
- Mox Opal
- Mox Pearl
- Mox Ruby
- Mox Sapphire
- Mystical Tutor
- Natural Order
- Necrotic Ooze
- Oath of Druids
- Price of Progress
- Protean Hulk
- Sensei’s Divining Top
- Sol Ring
- Strip Mine
- Temporal Manipulation
- Thassa’s Oracle
- The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
- Time Vault
- Time Walk
- Time Warp
- Tolarian Academy
- Treasure Cruise
- Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
- Vampiric Tutor
What Sets Are Legal?
Council of the Absolute | Illustration by Zoltan Boros
Every single set that has a non-silver border is legal in Commander. This doesn’t include the exclusive gold-bordered World Championship decks since they have non-standard card backs and aren’t legal in any format.
Even though they’re not legal, you can technically build a Commander deck based around the silver-bordered un-sets. This is a better idea if your entire table decides to play decks in this style so that everyone is playing parody decks. The results could be pretty chaotic in the best ways.
The Commander Damage Rule
This is a rule specific to the Commander format that states that if a player has been dealt a total of 21 or more damage by the same commander over the course of the game, that player loses the game. This damage is counted as a separate state-based effect. This means that gaining life doesn’t change the damage received from commanders.
The origin of this rule goes back to when EDH was first invented. All of the elder dragons that made up the first possible generals were 7/7. The idea was that even though players had way more life than in regular games, three hits from one of these dragons should be enough to defeat any player.
Yes, you can lose to your own commander’s damage. If your commander keeps getting stolen by your opponents and they hit you with it enough to deal the necessary 21 points of damage, you lose. The same goes if you use your opponents’ commanders to attack them. The only condition is that the 21 damage is dealt by the same commander.
What’s the Starting Life Total?
Felidar Sovereign | Illustration by Zoltan Boros & Gabor Szikszai
Your starting life total in regular Commander games is 40. Commander Duel is considered a different format by some, but since most of the rules are the same it’s worth mentioning that the starting life total in Commander Duel is 20.
Who Goes First in Commander?
There are no official rules regarding who goes first in Commander. Most groups have each player roll a die and whoever gets the highest number is either forced to go first or gets to choose if they want to start. Regardless of who plays first, the turns proceed clockwise.
Another method that’s used is to have each player cut their deck and show the bottom card. Whoever shows the card with the highest mana value goes first.
Do You Draw On the First Turn in Commander?
In all multiplayer formats, the starting player gets to draw a card on turn 1. It’s pretty common to have players drawing during the end step of their first turn instead of during the draw step since most players are used to 1v1 Magic where the starting player doesn’t draw on their first turn.
How Do Mulligans Work?
Windfall | Illustration by Scott Murphy
Commander follows the same mulligan rules as regular multiplayer formats do. This means using the standardized London mulligan rule which has players draw seven cards and then put one card in the bottom of their library for each time they mulligan-ed. The first mulligan is also “free,” meaning that the first time you mulligan you don’t have to put cards on the bottom of your library. After that you lose cards for each mulligan as normal.
Commander is also fond of two other types of mulligans in casual games. The first of these is the partial Paris mulligan. This modifies the original Paris mulligan, which consisted of returning your entire hand to your library, shuffling, and then drawing a new hand with one less card.
In the modified version you set aside all the cards you don’t want and then draw that many cards minus one. You can repeat this process as many times as you want until you’re either satisfied with your cards or have reduced your hand to zero cards. Once you settle for a hand you like, all the cards you set aside are shuffled back into your library.
The other type of mulligan is called Gabriel Special Surprise Mulligan, or GSS Mull. This style allows you to draw a first hand of 10 cards and then select three to shuffle them back into your library.
Does EDH Have a Sideboard?
The short answer is no, Commander doesn’t have a sideboard. Since EDH is a mostly casual format and it’s not played in matches of more than one game there aren’t really any rules about sideboards. Some playgroups might allow it, some might not. It ultimately depends on what everyone agrees on. But as far as official rules go, sideboards generally aren’t allowed in Commander.
Can You Control Two Commanders?
Yes, you’re allowed to have two legendary creatures in your command zone as long as both commanders have the partner keyword. If you happen to gain control of an opponent’s commander, that card also counts as a commander while under your control. But this doesn’t interfere with your own commander at all.
Can You Steal Someone Else’s Commander?
Threads of Disloyalty | Illustration by Tyler Jacobson
You can absolutely steal another player’s commander. There are actually entire decks that rely on using opponents’ creatures, including their commanders. Both Mind Control– and Act of Treason-type effects work on commanders.
I mentioned it before but it bears repeating: damage you deal to an opponent with their commander counts as commander damage. Controlling your opponents’ commanders also has no effect on your own commander or deck. They have an effect on cards that care about commanders for their effects, though.
Do You Control Your Commander in the Command Zone?
Not really. As long as your commander is in the command zone, it’s
kind of like it’s in your hand. Abilities that have effects on creatures you control don’t have any effect on a commander that’s in the command zone. Your commander’s activated and static abilities also don’t work while it’s in the command zone.
There are a few exceptions to this. The Commander 2017 precon decks all had commanders with the eminence ability. This was a static ability that was active as long as that creature was either on the battlefield or in your command zone. It was eminence that got Edgar Markov banned in the Duel Commander format. A lot of people thought these abilities were a bit broken thanks to the advantages they created.
Can You Put Your Commander in the Graveyard?
Yes, any time your commander would be sent to the graveyard from anywhere, you get to choose whether you let it actually go into the graveyard or have it go back to the command zone. Most decks have the commander return to the command zone so they can play it again as soon as possible. But there are plenty of graveyard-focused decks that find it advantageous to put their own commanders in the graveyard.
Can You Sacrifice a Commander?
Phyrexian Altar | Illustration by Yigit Koroglu
You can absolutely sacrifice a commander. A cheap commander can even be ideal sacrifice fodder since sacrificing it puts it into the command zone and it’s relatively easy to cast it again.
You can also sacrifice your opponents’ commanders as long as they’re under your control. This would most likely put them back into their command zone, but it’s still a viable way to remove them from the field and up their cost a bit in the process.
Can You Reanimate a Commander?
If you’re playing a reanimation-heavy kind of deck, reanimating your commander is not only possible but even encouraged. Bringing your commander back from the graveyard is a great way to avoid paying or having large commander tax costs pile up from recasting your commander over and over.
Can Double-Sided Cards Be Your Commander?
Double-sided cards can be commanders as long as their front face is a legendary creature. That means you can cast the Kaldheim gods as creatures or you can cast them as their legendary artifact or enchantment counterparts, depending on what you need the most.
Double-sided cards also opened a really interesting possibility with Extus, Oriq Overlord since you can cast it for its reverse side, Awaken the Blood Avatar. This is the first time in the history of the game that a sorcery can be cast from your command zone.
Does Infect/Poison Work Any Differently?
Blighted Agent | Illustration by Anthony Francisco
Since the official text on poison counters states that any player with 10 poison counters loses the game, there’s no reason for this to work any differently in Commander. If you’re going by official rules, 10 counters is enough to lose the game. A lot of groups change this to 15 or even 20 counters in an attempt to make it more fair.
I think 10 counters works well enough since most infect creatures aren’t exactly overpowered, and having such an aggro strategy would paint a giant target on your head in a multiplayer game. You need to be able to take your opponents out quickly for the strategy to make any sense.
Are Infinite Combos Banned in EDH?
Some groups are more receptive to infinite combos than others. It’s good to mention if your deck has an infinite combo beforehand to give your opponents a chance to choose what they want to play or even opening up the discussion of whether or not infinite combos are allowed.
I don’t mind playing against infinite combos, but that’s as long as it takes the player some effort and time to bring them together. There’s nothing more boring than combo decks that only have to do one or two things for the combo to trigger. It doesn’t feel like the player earned that win by protecting their permanents and building a perfect line of effects that allows them to win. It just feels like they cheated and ended the game for no reason.
1v1 Commander Rules
This is technically where it all started. Commander was a 1v1 format way before it was multiplayer. Since the multiplayer version of the format is an offshoot of this original version, the rules aren’t all that different.
The three main differences between Duel Commander and regular Commander are the life points, the deckbuilding strategies, and the banned list. These three differences are rooted in the fact that 1v1 games and multiplayer games play out pretty differently.
Some strategies are way more viable in 1v1 than they are in multiplayer, and vice versa. Take infect or mill as examples. These are two strategies that need to be hyper-focused on a single opponent to be any good. This makes them pretty useless in multiplayer but insanely good in 1v1.
1v1 decks keep the 100-card deck and singleton rules, but the banned list is way longer to prevent decks from gaining easy advantages that would ultimately make the game unfun. Life totals are the usual 20. Other than these three things, the rules for Duel Commander are pretty much the same as the ones for multiplayer Commander.
Peasant Commander Rules
Beloved Beggar | Illustration by Francisco Miyara
This is a variation for the Commander format derived from Pauper (there is also Pauper EDH, which is similar but still different). While you still play with 100 cards and have 40 life, some fundamental changes are made. The biggest ones are that your commander has to be a common or uncommon creature and doesn’t need to be legendary, and only 15 of your 99 cards can be uncommon. All other cards must have been printed as commons at some point in the game’s history.
The commander damage is also reduced from 21 to 18, and you’re able to use your commander’s abilities from the command zone with a tax applying for every time you use them after the first one.
Tiny Leaders Rules
Tiny Leaders is another variation to the format and one of the variations that makes the most changes.
While the deck is still singleton, you can now only use cards with a mana value of three or less and your deck can only have 50 cards. Your commanders are also restricted to color identities of less than four colors. Commander damage doesn’t exist in this format and life totals are reduced to 25 even though it’s a multiplayer format.
Brawl vs Commander Rules
Brawl is recognized as an official format unlike other variants of Commander. But the format’s rules are pretty different.
For starters, Brawl is only sanctioned for MTGO and Arena play. The format is also more like Standard than Commander in a lot of ways. Decks consist of 60 cards (59 and a commander) and can only use Standard-legal cards with some exceptions. Players’ life totals are usually between 25 and 30 and the deck can only have one copy of each non-basic land card.
What are the French Rules for EDH?
The EDH rules established by the French committee are essentially the rules for duel Commander games. 1v1 games have a modified ban list and some changes to the rules, all of which I’ve already talked about.
Popular Commander House Rules
Prosperous Innkeeper | Illustration by Eric Deschamps
EDH started as a homebrew format. It’s grown massively with time and is now an official Magic format, but that homebrew spirit is still alive in the format and its players. No group of players play Commander the exact same way. Some rules are changed or modified, others are completely taken away, and others are created in an attempt to keep improving the format.
Let’s take a look at some of the latter!
This rule essentially consists of incentivizing pre- and post-game talk between players. Commander should be a format that focuses on the player experience above all other things. But it’s also a format with the capability to turn into an incredible display of power with combos and insanely powerful decks.
So players should gather before playing and talk about their decks, what they do, what things they’d rather not play against because they may make the game boring, and set up a series of core rules so that everyone gets to have fun. And after the match everyone gets to talk about the decks, what they enjoyed most, what they found fun or boring about the game, and anything else that may improve their experience for the next game.
I consider this rule extremely important. It reminds me a lot of session 0 in Dungeons & Dragons games. Making sure that everyone is on board with what’s about to be played beforehand ensures that everyone has fun.
Magic is still a game underneath all the competitiveness and tournaments. It’s meant to be fun and enjoyable, and Commander is a format that rejects Magic’s turn towards less fun interactions and puts enjoyment at the forefront of the experience.
So sit with your friends or fellow players and talk. After all, Magic is and always will be a social game.
No Mass Land Destruction
I’m sure I’ve made it clear that Commander is a format focused on fun. Land destruction is not fun. Mass land destruction is the opposite of fun. A lot of game groups impose their personal bans on different strategies, combos, or specific cards to make sure no one makes the game boring for everyone else.
I used to have an EDH deck that used mass land destruction as a win condition. It basically consisted of playing an absurd amount of planeswalkers and enchantments. Once I had a reasonable board set, I’d play Jokulhaups and get rid of everything except for planeswalkers and enchantments. Immediately after that my friends would simply concede and we’d start a new game. It’s an almost unbeatable way to win. If you board wipe every mana generator on the table while still being able to play creature tokens
and do pretty much anything else with your planeswalkers, you’ll have several turns to your advantage to take down your opponents.
I played this once or twice before we agreed it was extremely boring and I wouldn’t be playing it anymore. And I actually don’t miss this strategy. It’s no fun seeing other players just look bored and concede because you did something that essentially ruined the game.
No Infinite Combos
Illusionist’s Bracers | Illustration by Svetlin Velinov
This is basically the same as with the land destruction rule. A lot of groups find infinite combos annoying, boring, or otherwise unfun to play against. If the majority of the group agrees, decks that rely on infinite combos won’t be allowed anymore.
Plenty of groups allow decks that can go into infinite combos as long as it’s not the deck’s entire purpose. Sometimes there’s just four or five cards that interact so well with each other that they end up making an infinite combo. I once had my Yawgmoth, Thran Physician go infinite by accident. Other times a deck is built to give its pilot what amounts to infinite turns so they can just keep hitting their opponents until they lose. There’s a huge difference between the two decks.
Some groups ban both “accidental” and by-design infinite combo decks. Some groups allow the former but not the latter. Some groups allow anything. It all goes back to rule 0. Sit with the other players and discuss what can and can’t be played and make sure everyone has as much fun as possible.
Modified Ban Lists
The Commander ban list is kind of “elastic.” While most playgroups respect whatever is in the list (most of the bans make sense anyway), some groups decide to remove some cards to allow specific decks to work better. Other groups add cards to the list because they find the interactions boring, annoying, or excessively hard to deal with.
This ties up with the three previous rules I’ve mentioned. Ban lists get modified depending on what’s agreed on during the group talks proposed by rule 0, and land destruction and infinite combo pieces usually get added to the banned lists.
Every once in a while things will be removed from the list to allow a deck some specific win condition. When this happens there’s usually an implicit (or explicit) promise from the person playing the banned card that they won’t abuse it in a way that makes it unfun for everyone else.
At this point I’m convinced that every single playgroup has their very own unique form of mulligan for EDH. Some groups use some of the different official mulligans through Magic’s history, but others have specific rules that vary from allowing players with no lands on their second mulligan to show their hand and draw seven cards again to simply having everyone mulligan if some of the players don’t have any lands so that everyone starts on relatively equal footing.
If you’re going to play with a new group, make sure you’re updated on what form of mulligan they’re using so that you know just how many times you can draw seven cards. Sometimes it can be a lot of times.
No Commander Damage
Teferi’s Protection | Illustration by Chase Stone
Sometimes your commander isn’t there to do damage but to allow the rest of your deck to work. Sometimes no one in the group really wants to keep track of how much damage they’ve taken from each commander.
The commander damage rule can be simply taken out of the game. This allows for fairer matches between low-attack commanders and stronger commanders. After all, getting hit for commander damage by something like Quintorius, Field Historian is very different than getting hit by The Ur-Dragon.
15 or 20 Poison Counters
A lot of people feel like dying to 10 poison counters in Commander is too unfair. Your life total is 40 instead of 20 after all, so it’s only fair that you need extra poison counters to lose.
I don’t care for this rule since infect and poison aren’t really all that good in Commander. You’re the instant archenemy of the table and the first to go if you play anything with infect, so keeping it at 10 counters at least gives you a chance to fight. But make sure to check in with your group before you build that hyper-aggressive infect deck just to be on the safe side.
Rule 0 (Again)
I want to re-emphasize Rule 0. The truth is that any and all Commander rules (official or not) can be modified. Especially when you’re playing with your friends, whether it be at a kitchen table or at a store. The main goal of this format is to have fun and make sure everyone else does, too. It’s a social gathering way more than a competition.
Rule 0 makes it so that a Commander game can be a safe environment for testing out new decks or having decks that do fun things even if they’re not all too powerful. It also makes sure that everyone agrees on how the games will be played and that everyone has fun.
There’s no stressing enough how important it is to talk to your friends before and after each match.
Who Makes the EDH Rules?
Rules Lawyer | Illustration by Sean Murray
The force behind any and all Commander rules is the Commander Rules Committee. This is a group of players and fans of the format, most of them part of the group that created, nurtured, and popularized the format way back when it first started. The official banned list and rules are curated by the CRC, and all decisions they take are officially backed by Wizards.
There are currently four official members of the Rules Committee. All of them are either judges or involved with WotC and competitive play. They were also all involved in the creation, polishing, and popularization of the format.
They also have an additional advisory group that consists of people who work for Wizards or who are deeply involved in the format one way or another. This allows them to have a variety of opinions on what’s good for the format from people who are involved either as developers of the game or as players.
Dromoka’s Command | Illustration by James Ryman
Well this was a long one! Commander is by far one of my favorite formats in Magic. I’ve been playing it for about five years and I hope I’ll get to play it for many more. It takes some time to learn how to properly play since it’s pretty different from more traditional formats like Modern or Standard. I love that it’s a multiplayer-centric format. It gives me the same satisfaction that Dungeons & Dragons or board games give me of being able to just gather a bunch of my friends and have something fun together.
But I think I’ve talked enough already. What do you think about Commander? Are there any rules you still don’t understand? Do you have any interesting house rules you think everyone should know about? Feel free to leave a comment down below and don’t forget to check out our blog for more content like this.
That’s all from me for now. Have a good one, and don’t forget to try Commander if you haven’t already. You won’t regret it!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: