This past Sunday, Wizards of the Coast held a virtual panel to talk about the upcoming Commander Legends set. The finale (so far as we know) of “The Year of Commander”, Commander Legends is a very unique set- for the first time, you will finally be able to draft your Commander deck!
Now, I understand that product fatigue is a very real thing by this point. Almost every set seems to contain something of interest to we Commander players, and there have been so many of them to choose from in recent times. Coming on the heels of Ikoria, Commander 2020, M21, Jumpstart, and Double Masters, and with Zendikar Rising and its associated Commander decks just around the corner, I empathise with anyone who feels like they could just do with a long break to play with all the new toys they already have. I really, really do.
But this is different.
Anyone familiar with my articles knows that I love Commander, but I am also a big fan of Draft, and just the idea of putting my two favourite formats together makes me want to do a happy dance. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic will likely mean that- at least here in the UK- our ability to actually draft this set may be significantly affected. This is disappointing, but I’m absolutely going to try and snag a box of this set anyway for when the world has finished ending and I can have people in my house again.
“I’m Confused. We Draft a Commander Deck?”
I don’t blame you. Let me break it down for you:
Packs of Commander Legends contain 20 cards, each including two legends and a guaranteed foil. If you’re drafting them, each player takes three packs- remember to wash your hands thoroughly first!- and drafts a deck of 60 cards, rather than the usual 40. It’s suggested that you do this in a pod of 8 and break into two games of four, but fewer people should also work fine.
The first major difference between Commander Legends and a normal draft is that each player takes two cards for every pick of the draft. Anyone who had the joy of drafting Battlebond may remember doing this as part of the team drafts, but this time you’re on your own. This is very important, because the second major difference is that Commander’s colour identity rule applies to your draft deck. In other words, you must have a legendary creature to lead your draft, and the remaining 59 cards (or 58- more on this later) must all conform to the colours of that creature. Since you draft your commander as you go along, building your deck two cards at a time should help you assemble something coherent and synergistic by the time you’re finished.
Once you’re done drafting, all the other normal rules of Commander apply to your game- multiplayer pods, 40 life per player, commander damage, and so on. The one exception to this is the singleton rule. Just as a regular draft does not obey the 4-of maximum, a Commander Legends draft does not obey the normal Commander 1-of restriction. Scoop up those Command Towers while you can!
“I Can’t/Don’t Like to Draft. Can I Skip this Set?”
You could, but I would advise against it.
Even if we set aside the drafting element of the set entirely, the mere presence of these five lands would be enough to ensure it will be a massive success. The original set of five were one of the best things about Battlebond, becoming instant staples and leading to calls to complete the cycle for years now.
If you haven’t played with them yourself, it is very difficult for me to overstate how good these lands are- other than lacking basic land types, they are the perfect Commander duals and one of the few sets of cards released in the veritable whirlwind of product in 2020 that really are as good as advertised. I am no expert on MTG finance, but if you are a Commander player looking to pick up singles for your decks, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you start with these. They will repay your investment on the battlefield many, many times over.
The next major thing to note about Commander Legends is the return of that most divisive of mechanics: Partners.
Partner is perhaps second only to Eminence as the most powerful “made for Commander” mechanic Wizards has ever produced. It is the glue that holds Commander Legends together as a draft format, allowing you to pivot colours without having to give up your previous commander in the process. Even if you don’t care about that part, however, the return of Partner is bound to have a significant impact on the format going forward. The set has 41(!) mono-coloured Partners, all of whom can pair with each other or the previous Partners from Commander 2016. Whilst many of these legends will undoubtedly be designed for limited rather than constructed play, the sheer number of options this presents is both intimidating and exhilarating.
I also just want to clarify a couple of rules things about how Partner works, since it’s been some time since we last saw it and a lot of newer players may never have encountered it in the wild before. This is especially important in the light of one card from Sunday’s panel, which appears to have caused quite a few misunderstandings since it was previewed:
First, the basics: if two legendary creatures have Partner, they may both serve as your commander (taking up two slots, so your total is still 100). The colour identity of your deck is the combined identities of both cards, so running Sengir + Halana would produce a Golgari deck. You cannot pair cards with Partner with anything that doesn’t have Partner, nor with anything that has “Partner with” (seen in Battlebond and Commander 2020). The commander tax is tracked separately for each commander, as is the amount of commander damage they deal to each opponent.
The Prismatic Piper may look like it complicates this, but this is not so. In draft, you will always have access to the Piper- even if you didn’t draft it yourself, you will be able to choose a Piper (or two Pipers, if you dare) as your Commander. Each Piper allows you to add a colour to your deck’s colour identity, like pairing with Sengir to make a Dimir or Orzhov deck. The purpose of this card is to prevent someone from completely screwing themselves over during the draft by somehow not taking a usable commander and being unable to play.
In “normal” Commander, a single Piper can be paired with any other legend with Partner, and adds a colour to it in the same way. Like any other Partner, it cannot be paired with a non-Partner legend or a legend that only has “Partner with.” Some people seem to be under the impression that you could use it to make Urza into a two-colour deck or give Muldrotha a fourth colour, but thankfully this just isn’t the case.
In the initial reactions to Sunday’s panel, this card came in for a lot of flak, with some people decrying it as completely pointless or a waste of Seb McKinnon’s awesome artwork or (oddly) certain to be banned. I really don’t think there’s anything to be worried about from a strategic perspective, though. If you wanted to add an additional colour to, say, Thrasios, you already had the option to do that by pairing it with a C16 Partner and just playing a three colour deck. Given that it has no abilities of its own, it would be strictly worse to use Piper rather than literally any other Partner for this purpose.
Of course, this isn’t to say Piper won’t see any play whatsoever- that artwork is truly gorgeous, and I am the last person to begrudge anyone playing cards simply because they want to. I only want to reassure you that it isn’t going to break the format in half in the way some people seem to think it does.
Quite a bit, as it turns out. This article is already a bit on the long side, so I haven’t mentioned literally everything from the panel here. If you’re interested in learning more about Commander Legends, the article summarising everything we know so far can be found here.
Overall, I think the way Commander Legends has attempted to blend both Commander and Draft into a single (randomised) product is probably the best of the possible options. I love that the set keeps the “core” Commander rules of colour identity, multiplayer and 40 life per player, and (although I know some of you will disagree), I find 60 card decks to be an fine compromise between the normal 40 of draft and the pure 100 of Commander proper. Personally, I’d have happily drafted a full 100 and had the games take all night, but I recognise this is probably a minority opinion.
I feel similarly about the decision to abandon the singleton rule, which- whilst heretical to certain purist corners of the community, if Twitter is any guide- I think is a net positive for the draft experience. I get that it makes the format “feel” less like Commander, and I’m sympathetic to that, but I think the combination of randomised booster packs (as opposed to a curated singleton pool of cards, as in Cube) and maintaining the colour identity rule essentially requires this. I imagine very little would feel worse than accidentally drafting duplicates and then realising you’ve wasted your pick during the deckbuilding stage, or- perhaps even worse- knowing that the only on-colour cards in your pack are useless to you because you already have them both. Again, I would have preferred a “true” singleton experience if one were possible, but under the circumstances I can accept it.
This leaves the matter of Partners…and here, I confess, I am uneasy. I understand the important role that Partner plays in gluing the draft format together, and there is no easy replacement for it. My concern, rather, is about the impact of so many new Partners on the Commander format as a whole.
Partner is already an incredibly powerful mechanic with only fifteen cards to choose from, to the point where I genuinely believed Wizards had recognised it to be a mistake- hence the move to the much safer and narratively satisfying “Partner with” in Battlebond and Commander 2020. The largely generic abilities of the “classic” Partners and their two-colour identities tend to result in four-colour goodstuff piles, and I have always considered that to be unhealthy for a format that highly values diversity and personalisation in deckbuilding. Even accepting that the new mono-coloured Partners can only add one colour rather than two, the sheer number of potential combinations this set will open up makes me worry that the ceiling of the format will be raised once again when all is said and done.
I don’t want to make too much of this worry, though, because it’s impossible to know if it’s justified until we see more of the set. Additionally, some reassurance about this has already been provided by Gavin Verhey, who has suggested that a great deal of care has been taken to avoid producing the same kinds of combinations which we know have been problematic. Whilst it’s impossible to be certain nothing will break with the introduction of so many options, as he acknowledges, this gives me a lot of hope that my fears may be unfounded.
But what do you think? Are you hyped for Commander Legends, or is it not quite what you were hoping for? Let us know your thoughts at https://twitter.com/masterofmagics, and until next we meet- may you always be the one in command!