What about the best casual format?
Will we ever see the Commander format in MTGA?
Commander is arguably Magic’s most popular and best casual format. Will we ever see it make its way to Magic: The Gathering Arena?
MTGA has been implementing features left and right lately. The interface refreshment and the Arena Cube Sealed format shows that Wizards are always looking for ways to improve and build upon their premium online card game experience. And we have to think of a format we want to be implemented next, one comes to mind first - Commander.
What is Commander?
Commander is the best! Well, the best casual format, anyway. Just like Cube, this ruleset was designed by a bunch of players - actually tournament judges, and was originally named Elder Dragon Highlander (EDH).
In EDH, you had to use one of the Elder Dragons as a Commander and add 99 unique cards (save for basic lands) that share your Commander’s colors. This format proved to be extremely fun and quickly caught on, becoming a worldwide phenomenon.
When Wizards saw this, they embraced the format and started supporting it with official decks - featuring cards from all over Magic’s history and inventing brand new ones, such as the infamous True-Name Nemesis.
Here’s how Commander works:
- Select a Commander who is a Legendary Creature
- Build around your Commander a 99 card deck with no repeating cards, other than Basic Lands
- All cards must be in the colors your Commander is affiliated with (both your Commander’s casting cost and ability costs apply, so cards like Golos, Tireless Pilgrim have access to all five colors.)
- You start with 40 Life
- If you deal 21 damage with your Commander to a player, they lose the game
- Commander is most often played in a 4-player multiplayer free-for-all
How popular is it, exactly?
Very popular. A mere year or two ago, Commander was this fun thing you do at your local card shop or in a distant table at a convention. Today, Commander is recognized even by Wizards as an important and respectable format that players simply love. While competitive play isn’t necessarily the goal here, players love to get together and spend an hour or two on a massive melee with 4 powerful decks swinging spells all around the place. There are even massive dedicated events, such as the CommandFest in Seattle.
Wizards have dubbed 2020 the Year of Commander. Unlike previous years, when they would only release one line of products (four or five pre-constructed decks), this year they are giving us four whole collections.
Namely, these are the Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths Commander decks, the Zendikar Rising Commander decks, the Commander Collection: Green, and the Limited set Commander Legends. That’s a lot of official support!
The first two will come in the form of official decks tied to Magic’s upcoming thematic sets. The Commander Collection series is much in the style of the Spellbook boxes, offering reprints of classic old cards with flashy new artwork. Finally, the Commander Legends will be a brand new concept - a Draft using the Commander rules. How practical it is to pass around well over 100 cards? Wizards claim they have “cracked this nut” and know the answer. Which leaves us with the question…
When is it coming to Arena?
Short answer: it isn’t. For starters, we haven’t received any confirmation yet or even heard any talk of Commander in Arena. Next, analyzing the current environment, it is safe to conclude that MTGA’s focus is purely on Standard.
They support Draft, but not in a real sense - players draft with bots, instead of fellow FNM attendees like in the paper game.
They have an eternal format, but it’s the very limited Historic, instead of the full-featured Modern or even Legacy formats that paper Magic has.
Finally, they have a Commander-like experience in Brawl, but again, it supports only the most recent Standard sets of cards and it is 2-player only.
Magic does have the code implemented - the Command zone, a concept introduced first in Commander, is used in Brawl and works great in Magic Arena. However, supporting 4-player mayhem is not something that the online game can do at the moment, and frankly, there are slim chances it ever will.
Lastly, those card pools do matter. There’s a reason players dislike Brawl - it’s like playing half of a normal Commander game in terms of rules, and 1/1000th of its content in terms of cards available. Implementing so many mechanics for so many years of Magic is a task the Magic Arena team surely wants to take on, but certainly, something that will take many years. So our hopes aren’t all that high.
So, what can we do?
Well, obviously, we can all go ahead and participate in Commander using paper cards. This is easier than ever with so many new products coming this year.
Additionally, we can bother Wizards to improve the Historic pool and play Historic Brawl with more options available - this shouldn’t be hard, as it is clearly something they are working on.
Finally, we can just show interest by continuing to play and who knows, maybe Wizard will shift their priorities and make a miracle happen with MTGA Commander. We can always hope!