These days, Magic players have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to constructed formats. Vintage has been around forever, Standard is great for newer players that know a handful of blocks and mechanics, and Modern is perfect for those who want a large, non-rotating card pool with a lot of deck options, but can’t afford to buy into Vintage or Legacy. Traditional Commander is a fun and popular choice for new and entrenched players alike who want to express themselves through their deckbuilding and also love the political nature of multiplayer game play.
All of these formats have their advantages and disadvantages, but the one format that really hits the sweet spot for me is Duel Commander. If you’ve never heard of this format, don’t feel bad – it has never been officially supported or promoted by Wizards of the Coast. Rather, it was created by French players who wanted a Commander (EDH) alternative for those who didn’t have large playgroups in their area and/or who preferred 1v1 play. Doing away with the multiplayer aspect of Commander logically results in a format in which competitive play is not shunned, but encouraged. The signature rules of DC are the exact same as normal multiplayer Commander, with the following exceptions:
- Players have a starting life total of 20.
- Winning through “Commander Damage” (21+ points of attack damage with your Commander) is not legal.
- A separate ban list is maintained by the Rules Committee.
That’s it! Those of you who are upset you can’t play your Primeval Titans in normal Commander, rejoice! Despite the somewhat lengthy ban list, there is still a lot of degenerate stuff you can do in Duel Commander. Some even call it “Legacy Lite” because it is not uncommon to see a Stoneforge Mystic fetch an Umezawa’s Jitte or Dark Ritual into Hymn to Tourach + Deathrite Shaman. However, the command zone still has a huge effect on the game; having a Commander like Edgar Markov makes a card like Bold Impaler not only playable, but great in this format…and that card was unplayable in draft!
There are a few reasons why I am so drawn to this format and keep coming back to it, even after 3+years of heavy play:
- The Commander him/herself. Nothing gets the creative juices of deck building flowing like looking at Arcum Dagsson and going, “WOW, how can I abuse this?!?” I love to find “build-around” Commanders and, well, build around them by finding cards that become playable or even great when paired with a particular Commander.
- The 100-card singleton deck building “restriction” allows obscure cards to shine that don’t see play in Vintage or Legacy because of better alternatives being available or the redundancy of being able to jam 4 copies in a 60-card deck. Deck building for Commander is an immensely enjoyable experience in and of itself, largely because of this structure (and yet those last few cuts are still soooo painful!).
- There are over 700 unique legendary creatures that you could use as a possible Commander at the time of this article’s publication. That’s over 700 unique decks you could build, even if a lot of them aren’t super competitive.
- New and strong legendary creatures keep getting printed, especially in the Commander supplemental products, which keeps the metagame from getting too stale. There is always a shiny new toy to play with.
I would guess that most people who start to play this format seriously are people who already have had a long exposure to traditional, multiplayer Commander. While I do enjoy that format, there are a number of things about it that leave a bad taste in my mouth:
- Too much time is wasted waiting for other players to take their turns/make decisions (selfish, I know!).
- The (too) high starting life totals basically require decks to incorporate infinite combos to be able to finish games in a reasonable amount of time. Even “Stax” builds need to have infinite combos to end the game, as dealing 120 damage to the table is unrealistic.
- I’m not a huge fan of table talk & politics. I like to let my actions in the game speak for themselves. And just because I attack you for 1 damage on turn 2 doesn’t mean you should be personally offended and label me your enemy for the rest of the game.
- One-for-one interaction is actively bad. If I spend a card dealing with one of my opponents’ cards, the ones who really benefit are my other opponents.
- Red is highly non-competitive as a color, and aggro is non-competitive as a archetype.
- The ban list is kind of a joke; cards like Coalition Victory are considered too dangerous while Sol Ring and Mana Crypt are A-Okay. (YES, I get that the nature of multiplayer polices this somewhat, but come on…Sol Ring?)
- Not really a knock on the format, but it doesn’t translate well to digital game play – and since I’m living as a world nomad these days, digital is the only way I can play Magic.
Again, I love Magic in all forms and think it’s the greatest strategy game ever created. I’d be thrilled to see all of these different formats flourish. But for me, in this little corner of the internet, I’m going to keep talking about the format that captures my imagination like no other: Duel Commander. There are no Pro Tours for this format. No Grand Prix, no World Championships. No riches to be won (yet). Just the pride and passion of a small community that loves this game and most of all loves to build unique decks! Brew on my friends!