Soft Skills Development in Multiplayer Magic – Commanding Armies by Cyd Oliver

Soft Skills Development in Multiplayer Magic – Commanding Armies by Cyd Oliver


Commander is an interesting format with infinite possibility and endless opportunity to make, and break friendships. Like a healthy game of Battlestar Galactica or a treacherous game of Talisman (when you are playing with someone hell-bent on turning everyone into frogs), you can take a lot of experience from the kitchen tabletop into the big, wide world. Yes. I am indeed suggesting playing Magic: the Gathering is good for you.

Who knew?

Stop the press!

There has been a lot of talk about the type of skills trading card games develop. Problem solving. Mathematics, Memory and logic. Sure, great, and all useful for sure. What about soft skills, though? What are soft skills, I hear you ask? They are the things you do pretty much every day and the skills most employers look for in truly exceptional candidates. Speaking & listening, team work, diplomacy, delegation, and of course, convincing other people to do things your way or think things through with your perspective.

“Just let me hit you with this… it will be good for you!” – The guy everyone attacks first, famous last words.

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Sure, this all boils down to how to lose friends and alienate people, but it also leads to being a confident individual in dynamic and testing situations. By the end of the article, I hope you at least think about what you say, and how you say it when sat at a table with eight other bloodthirsty Commander players.

So, onwards, into words and stuff.

It is Not What You Say…

It is almost definitely how you say it. Commander, for most, is a statement. A general is not just an effective strategy to victory; it is you telling the world how you want others to see you. I seldom make a commander deck unless I have an affinity for the commander, or the tribe/deck philosophy that the general supports. I have trial and erred some, sure…but now I only play around with characters I have read about, experience in drafts, or identified with through a long-standing fascination with the underdog and anything with a tail.

When picking a commander, think about what it says about you as a player, and as a person. There will be many preconceived ideas about whatever legendary creature you place on the table into the command zone at the start of a game. Take the following creature, for example. If I put this down, what would you expect in the deck if you did not know who your opponent was? (We all know if it were I, it would be crammed with discard effects and devilish fun for me to play… never mind everyone else.

Marrow Gnawer

I use Marrow-Gnawer for a variety of reasons, all of which are personal and unique to me. I started playing Magic the day Fifth Dawn released in 2005. My first foil was a Nuisance Engine, and my first legendary creature from Kamigawa was this person. I identify very strongly with the tribal approach, and I love nothing more than to use my weakness (the graveyard), as a strength (one dies for the good of all). I also have a deeps-seated passion for Japanese culture, especially ninja, samurai, and Ronin. There is no other black commander for me.

So, have a think about the commanders you use. Did you see it in a trade binder and immediately have to have it because you have a handful of like-minded creatures at home itching to see the light of day (I am looking at you, Judgement clerics)? Does it remind you of a favourite book or film? Do you secretly desire to be just like he/she/it? Give it a thought. Commander is a much more personal play experience than constructed formats; free to experiment and dabble in the absurd should be its tag line.

The next important thing to say is remember body language. How you sit, stare, and fidget can give off the entirely wrong impression. It is just a game when you peel back the layers, and whilst we are all human, do not force yourself into a bad state of mind if you are not enjoying it. Other people will be, so one small sacrifice for the greater good and a smile will build bridges. Even after that guy plays this and cackles maniacally in an eight-man commander slugfest:


The same said for how you expect other people to behave. Designed for casual, multiplayer gaming, commander is seldom susceptible to Comp Rel and professional conduct. Does that mean you should swear, stomp, and scowl? No. Common decency is a virtue. If you do not like what your opponent tries to do to your poor, poor Rhox, take it out on him in the game…

Doom Blade M14 Rhox

With a well-deserved eye for an eye:


I am as guilty as the next man is when it comes to holding a grudge. People have done things in Magic to my poor, poor Norin the Wary I have spent weeks developing payback for. I spent a whole summer devising a deck to repay the favour in kind, and when I finally played my trump card… it was not worth it. Norin was still dead. We never reunited. He would not just return to the battlefield at the next end step’s arrival. Had I been more sportsman like during the game, I would have learnt from the experience, and not been so cocksure in letting their artefact resolve because I miss read Norin’s ability. Apparently, he runs away from anything except a magical sceptre of flaming doom:

Norin the Wary

The lesson learned here is make statements, but make them for the right reasons. If you want to play Narset Voltron, do it because you are a black belt in karate or your roleplaying character is a monk. Play Sisay legends because you absolutely love the Weatherlight arc so much you bleed silver oil. Trash talk might be acceptable in your gaming group, but it is more meaningful if it is in character. If you are playing Krenko, think of goblin-esque insults instead of falling back on profanity.

It is all well and good calling someone names, but how could anyone survive the burn of comparison to this:

Krark's Thumb

Dipped in some of that:

Primordial Ooze

Next week, we will look at effective communication in a hectic multiplayer game where people hearing you is crucial to your survival, and surviving sometimes means knowing when to shut up.

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Cyd Oliver

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