An Introduction to 1v1 Commander
- Jamin Kauf
1v1 Commander is a relatively new format originally introduced last year on Magic Online. The format is built on interesting decks and allows you to play with many different cards from Magic’s past. If any of this appeals to you, I have what you need to get started in this format.
Those of you that know me personally will know that normally I’m only into competitive Magic. Playing for high stakes, making meaningful decisions and doing the best you can to win just has something very special to it and so it was no surprise that I didn’t really play Commander a whole lot. That was until another Cardmarket writer, Thoralf “Toffel” Severin, introduced me to competitive 1v1 Commander - a format that has since grown on me and that I'd like to introduce today.
Commander has a weird history on Magic Online since most players prefer playing it in paper. Last year Wizards decided to split things up into Multiplayer “normal” Commander and the competitive 1v1 Commander. For the latter, they introduced Leagues and the weekly Commander Challenge Event on Saturday where the winner receives 100 Treasure Chests and a full set of the most recent Standard legal set, which leads to fierce competition.
So, let’s get to it, what is 1v1 Commander? It doesn’t differ too much from regular Commander, your Deck consists of 99 cards and a single legendary creature which starts in your Command Zone for you to cast. Every time that creature would leave the battlefield you have the option to put it back into the Command Zone instead, costing two more generic mana the next time you cast it. Both you and your opponent start at 30 life, but taking 21 combat damage from a single Commander will also kill you, no matter your life total.
As for deckbuilding, you’re only allowed to play cards within your Commander’s color identity and except for basic lands you can’t include multiples of a card in your deck. There’s also a banlist that is constantly monitored by Wizards which keeps the most broken cards from ruining the fun for everyone.
With the rules introduced, let’s now check out the gameplay of 1v1 Commander: how do Commanders, 30 life and singleton decks impact competitive play?
Someone has probably told you “Life is a resource” at some point while teaching you something about Magic. This statement is very true and many cards like Fire Covenant, Sylvan Library, or Ancient Tomb are powerful in Commander only because you have 30 life to play with. Another side-effect of the high starting life is that pure beatdown or burn decks don’t really exist. Obviously, there are aggressive decks but those don’t only pressure your life total, they also get ahead on cards and disrupt your game plan.
An important note on life: just because you have 30 life doesn’t mean that you can sit around doing nothing, hoping to win with your hard-cast six-drop. You still have to play efficient cards that answer opponent’s threats or take over the game on your own.
Having one (or two with the Partner ability) creatures in your command zone is an amazing resource! It’s basically another card in your starting hand that never truly dies to removal. This extra card makes card advantage easy to come by, especially creatures with the Partner ability like Thrasios, Triton Hero, Tymna, the Weaver, or Kraum, Ludevic’s Opus generate a lot of value (if only by being two additional resources to play with).
Another major advantage you can get from your commander is in the consistency of always having access to it. If your deck involves a combo with your commander, you never have to get lucky drawing it, it’s just there. A simple example of the power of a Commander was a Zurgo Bellstriker deck I once played. It was a Mono Red Burn deck, but it didn’t have to play any bad one-drops because it could always play Zurgo on one. While that wasn’t really a combo, another example would be Leovold, Emissary of Trest decks, which often run Timetwister effects since they are absurdly powerful with Leovold on the board. Your Commander is the most consistent part of all the games you play in this singleton format, so keep that in mind while building a deck.
The biggest constraint while building a Commander deck is definitely the singleton-rule. In competitive Magic, you streamline your decks as much as possible as you want consistency in game play. So, your Elves decks in Modern doesn’t only play one “Collected Company”, it plays four to maximize the chances of drawing it. In 1v1 Commander, to make up for the lack of multiples, you play slightly worse versions of cards to have the same consistency. If you play a Ramp deck you should not only play Llanowar Elves, you’ll also play Fyndhorn Elves, Utopia Sprawl, Wild Growth, Search for Tomorrow, and Exploration.
If you look into playing Leovold, you will not only play Thoughtseize when Duress, Inquisition of Kozilek, and Blackmail are also available. The way to work around a singleton restriction is plain and simple: play different versions of similar effects to ensure consistency in gameplay.
Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder // Thrasios, Triton Hero
As an example deck, I’ll go over this decklist that won a recent 1v1 Commander challenge on Magic Online. First up, we’ll have to look at the Commanders: Thrasios, Triton Hero is excellent at using excess mana to generate card and/or mana advantage. To me, Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder is very much the defining Commander of this deck though, as he can deliver the beats quickly. On his own he attacks for six Commander damage with lifelink which is terribly hard to race but he’s also good against removal since his trigger can target creatures other than himself.
As for the 98 cards in the actual deck (98 only because we have two Commanders), the deck consists of the best green mana dorks, blue counter spells, white/red removal spells, and some value creatures in all of those colors.
Mana-generating creatures are insanely powerful here as you can never have too much mana, especially since mana burn was removes. If you do end up with extraneous mana, you can just activate Thrasios for more gas. Getting the mana-advantage over your opponent is very important in this deck’s “get ahead and stay ahead” game plan. As soon as you’ve built a board, you either go on the aggressive with Bruse Tarl or you lock your opponent out with overwhelming card advantage generated by Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Palace Jailer, Umezawa's Jitte, or Sword of Feast and Famine.
Counter spells are great at preventing your opponent from catching up. Most of them are cheap enough to enable two actions a turn. Ravages of War and Armageddon simply win the game as soon as you’re ahead on board.
This deck plays like butter when ahead, which might give you a hint of its weakness: catching up is quite difficult. If your opponent is on the play and opens with Land, mana dork, untaps and kills your Noble Hierarch with an efficient removal spell, it’s going to be a tough road ahead. Cards like Counterspell, Abrade, and Council’s Judgement will always one for one with most cards but are unlikely to do more than that.
Overall this deck does a great job pushing its advantage, disrupting the opponent enough for them not to recover and gets most of its pressure from Bruse Tarl granting Double Strike to your attackers.
That’s it for the introduction, I hope this sparked your interest in the format. If you love singleton decks and play well enough, you might just win the weekly 1v1 Challenge on Magic Online and make those 100 Treasure Chests your own!
Thrasios/Bruse Decklist by Olivetti:
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