My First Taste of Commander – Everything I Love About Magic by Alex Ball

Having Fun in Magic: What is fun to you? by Alex Ball

My First Taste of Commander – Everything I Love About Magic

As much as I love casual MTG, I had never played Commander prior to purchasing one of the Commander 2013 decks.

Commander 2013 Banner

Make that two…

It’s an interesting format, and brings together a lot of what I love about Magic. Yet up until now I had never gotten around to making a deck. With the announcement of Commander 2013, I figured this was the best time to get stuck into the format. (Also, I wanted a Baleful Strix…)

And so I bought two of the decks. Esper and Grixas, Eternal Bargain and Mind Seize. Dave Shedden has already done a great review of the Esper deck, and you should definitely check that out: Commander 2013: Eternal Bargain Product Review – A new lease of life by Dave Shedden

This isn’t going to be a review though…

My First Taste of Commander

My first ever game of Commander came down to a tiny little table in my living room, with my friend and I kneeling on cushions on the floor. Both of us were playing with cards we had, for the most part, never seen before, which I loved. I am a huge fan of playing decks blind.

To give you an idea of the atmosphere during our game, whenever we drew, most of the time it was accompanied by a giggle or cackle. How can you not laugh at the sheer craziness of Echo Mage? Or Wall of Reverence and Cradle of Vitality?

The game began, I was playing Esper and he was playing Grixas.

Oh, what was that, I gain two life per turn? Don’t mind if I do.   Thanks, Oloro, Ageless Ascetic!

Oloro, Ageless AsceticHe in turn plays Spiteful Visions that initially seemed advantageous… but soon he realised that all it did was cancel my life gain (of which there will always be more…) in order to give us both the same card draw, but cause him to lose 2 life per turn. He was on a ticking clock, and in the end used spells to force himself to draw cards in order to kill himself. Which was just great.

This is typical of the kind of plays I love in MTG. When the game is futile and defeat is inevitable, and so instead cause yourself to die in humorous ways. It’s a great game when your opponent is taking a while to decide what to do, and when prompted with a “Doing anything?” responds with “Yeah, just trying to figure out the best way to kill myself.”

Don’t Give Up

But a game of MTG is rarely futile. I am a firm believer of playing to the end of any game, until that last life has gone and my counter has ticked down to a big ol’ 0. Magic is a game of possibilities. Anything is possible. You may only have 1 life left, but the next card you draw might save you.

Too many times have I played games where the opponent has conceded at 10+ life. To them it might save time, but to me it’s foolish. To me, the only time you should ever concede is when, until your next card draw, you can’t play anything. So long as there’s something left to play, or if I make it to my next draw, I will keep playing.

If I am on 1 life and my opponent has ten creatures out, I am likely to lose, sure. I’m not promoting blind hope here. But I might draw something that could stave off death, and possibly, just maybe draw something that could win it for me. This is an essential part of MTG’s gameplay. The unpredictability. The random chance.

The most basic element of chance in Magic is Land. You might draw nothing but Land, but have nothing to play, or you might draw no Land, and have a hand full of great cards. This can be helped with fetch lands, Mana Elves, but ultimately, what you draw during a game is down to chance.

This is welcoming to newcomers, for no matter how good your opponent, there is a chance they might not draw any lands, and regardless of how new you are, you always have a shot. A little chance.

And that same thinking, that no matter how the game looks, you always have a chance at turning the odds keeps MTG interesting, at least for me. As long as I have 1 life left I will keep fighting – the next card might turn things around.

That Next Draw Might Save You

Recently however, I didn’t follow my own advice. It was in a multiplayer free for all, and I was on 3 life, with one 2/2 boar token (I wonder where that came from…) on the field. I took the 3 life, annoyed at the game. I rarely do get annoyed, but it happens occasionally and I always feel bad afterwards.

I had done well in the early game and so everybody teamed up on me. If I had blocked with my 2/2, it was my turn next. He had no Mana left to play cards so I would have been safe. When I took the damage and packed up my cards, I made the mistake of looking at the top card of my deck.

Sun Titan Commander 2013Sun Titan. With Sun Titan, I could bring back Gift of Orzhova to give my Titan wings and make him a vampire. Nobody had Mana for counters. I had an Ethereal Armour in my hand and could have given him first strike and beef him up.

Now of course, I still probably wouldn’t have won. It wasn’t enough to catch up with the board presence of the other players, but it would have kept me in the game for a little bit longer, possibly until I could have drawn into something that could win the game for me. Like a Winds of Rath? Huh? Huh?

MTG is a game where one card can change the entire board, whether it’s in Commander with Order of Succession or a casual game and you just need that Lightning Strike to build back up your tempo.

Commander exemplifies a lot of my favourite parts of Magic. The random, crazy plays, the sheer luck and chance, and the banter. You go into a game of Commander expecting a laugh, expecting people not to take it too seriously.

The Awesome Craziness of Magic

One of my favourite plays ever in Magic was in the first weeks of my playing. It was a ten man game of free for all (it took about five hours to play…). Someone played Wrath of God (I remember because I had to ask to see the card as I had never seen it before), and somebody Mana Leaked it. Grand, no Wrath!

Mana Leak 233Except somebody else Mana Leaked his Mana Leak.

And somebody else Mana Leaked his Mana Leak…

By the end of it, there were eight Mana Leaks on the stack. It was crazy. Every blue player had mana leaks in hand, and it got to the point where it didn’t matter whether Wrath of God was countered anymore; what mattered was having fun.

The crazy play, the fact that by chance there were that many counters, let alone Mana Leaks in hand with the open mana available. It was one of those once-off plays that I likely won’t see again. It was so situational, and exemplifies what I love about Magic. Every game is different.

Everyone was laughing so much that it took several minutes to resolve the stack and figure out whether Wrath of God was ultimately countered. It wasn’t.

So the board was wiped anyways. I remember this, nearly a year ago, having only just begun Magic, and not really sure what to expect. I was still using a Gatecrash Intro Deck (Simic), with a few changes, and then that happened. It was awesome.

Magic is unpredictable and crazy, and I always go into a game not knowing what to expect. That’s why I love it, and why I think I’m going to love Commander as I play more of it.

What about you guys?

What’s the craziest, wackiest play you’ve ever seen?

Thanks for reading, and see you guys next week.



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