Picking Your First Commander: The Ultimate Guide

RJGiel

Robert is anxiously awaiting the release of this year's Commander decks. These decks always provide a great entry point for newer players. But new players don't need to wait for new Commander decks when there are so many great commanders already out there. Join him as he explores some of the best!

Endless Possibilities

Magic: The Gathering is the greatest game ever, but it can be a hard game to get in to. Wizard's latest attempts to increase the accessibility of the game through platforms like Magic Arena certainly increase the game's attractiveness for newer (and younger) players, but there's just something about playing Magic in paper that you can't replicate online.

Commander is an amazing format to explore the endless possibilities that Magic has to offer, the format is social, diverse, and has a lower barrier to entry than Modern, Legacy, and, to some degree, Standard. Commander also allows for more creativeness and customization than most competitive formats, making it very appealing for players looking to express themselves.

With that said, Commander is also an overwhelming format. With nearly the same card pool as Vintage, and ever-growing complexity, it can be very hard to find your way into the format.

What Makes a Good Starting Commander?

So, whether you are new to Magic, new to Commander, or are getting a friend into the game/format, here is a list of great Commanders to start with. But before we dive straight into it, let's quickly check out the criteria I used to assess these Commanders.

1) Synergy

This determines whether the Commander has an obvious theme to focus your card selection and create a fun and synergistic game experience. As a new player, you need to be able to discover the value of each card in a deck, and by offering clear themes and synergy, these Commanders provide an optimized game experience. Basically, decks with a high synergy play cards that work well together, decks with a lower synergy play cards that are just good on their own.

2) Complexity

This determines how complex the deck is to build and/or pilot. More complex decks have a larger card pools that make it hard to pick the right cards for your strategy, and the game-plan of these decks isn't always straightforward.  Less complex decks have more obvious card choices and inclusions and try to achieve a similar playstyle in every game, regardless of what your opponents are doing. Playing a more complex deck isn't any better or worse than playing a less complex deck. Rather, it's up to your preference on how you want to play Magic.

3) The "Timmy" Factor

Timmy, Power Gamer

This is a bit of an interesting category. Some people like playing very explosive, impactful spells that do lots of things, other people prefer more technical, synergistic plays. The Timmy factor indicates how much a deck cares about making an impact on the board and executing big, battlecruiser-like plays that you don't really get to do outside of commander. This is the only criteria not graded on a scale, as they either have this factor or they don't have this factor … there's not much in between.

4) Budget

These Commanders need to be somewhat affordable. It's understandable that you as a new player aren't ready to make a big commitment into a game or format you haven't played before. For this reason, both the Commander itself, as well as the other 99 cards need to be affordable.

I will give every commander a score on these points, so you can decide what points are important to you. One star means that this commander doesn't offer a lot on this attribute, five stars means that the commander excels at this aspect. Last, but not least, I will add some keywords to every commander so you can quickly identify what the deck is about.

Mono-Color Commanders

Mono-color commanders have one big advantage and one big disadvantage. The advantage is that they are more affordable than multicolor commanders, as you can save a lot of money on their simplified mana bases and only need spells of a single color. However, mono-color commander can also sometimes feel stale and inflexible, as you are just limited to the options that those colors give you. A good example for this is not being able to deal with artifacts or enchantments when you are playing a mono black commander.

Talrand, Sky Summoner

Talrand, Sky Summoner

Synergy: **
Complexity: **
The Timmy Factor: No
Budget:
If you like: Control, spell slinging, and drawing cards.

Talrand, Sky Summoner is about as straightforward as it gets; you play Talrand, you play a bunch of spells, you create tokens, you attack with the tokens. The deck has a strong theme as every spell you play provides additional value on top of its own effect, making cantrips and card selection spells even more fun to resolve. With Talrand being a mono colored commander, saving money on the mana base is quite easy. Another exciting thing about playing Talrand is that every set brings new toys, whether it is Drawn from Dreams from M20 or Archmage's Charm from Modern Horizons, any fun-new blue card is a potential addition to the deck. The deck scores relatively low on synergy despite it's strong theme. Yes, all cards work great with your commander, but there is very little synergy between the cards in the 99 other than that they're all "good blue spells."

Ezuri, Renegade Leader

Ezuri, Renegade Leader

Synergy: ****
Complexity: *
The Timmy Factor:
No
Budget:
€€
If you like:
Aggressive plays and Elves.

Ezuri, Renegade Leader is a solid choice for any player who enjoys a fast an aggressive playstyle. Elves are one of the oldest creature types in Magic and Ezuri is, by far, their most popular general. Most aggro/go-wide decks are weak to mass-board removal, but Ezuri can protect your other elves for the low cost of one green mana (this usually just means tapping the Elf itself for mana). Ezuri also has a built-in win condition, by being able to pump all Elves on your team. Remember, you can activate ability as many times as you can pay the mana for it, so expect to attack for huge amounts of damage. Just be sure to run plenty of card drawing spells like Collective Unconscious and Shamanic Revelation, as the deck can run out of steam fast.

Krenko, Mob Boss

Krenko, Mob Boss

Synergy: ****
Complexity:
*
The Timmy Factor:
No
Budget:
€€
If you like:
Aggressive plays and Goblins.

Krenko, Mob Boss is basically a more aggressive, explosive version of Ezuri, Renegade Leader, but with Goblins instead of elves. You will trade in some resilience for massive swarming abilities. Play the tribe's greatest hits like Goblin Warchief, Goblin Chieftain, and Siege-Gang Commander and throw in cards like Impact Tremors and Purphoros, God of the Forge to end the game before your opponents get a chance to say "Wait, how many Goblins?"

Two-Color Commanders

Two-color commanders generally solve the issue that mono-color commanders have, by allowing the best of both colors to work together. Their mana bases are still relatively cheap as long as you don't play cards with extremely steep color requirements.

Brago, King Eternal

Brago, King Eternal

Synergy: ****
Complexity:
***
The Timmy Factor:
No
Budget:
€€
If you like:
Generating value and working with triggers.

Brago, King Eternal is a great example of a low-entry but high-ceiling commander. The plan of Brago is to play cards that do something when they enter the battlefield, and then finding a way to re-use these abilities repeatedly. Elite Guardmage is a great example from a new set, gaining 3 life and drawing a card is great when it enters the battlefield, but now imagine making Elite Guardmage trigger multiple times per turn. Brago can be relatively cheap to build and is an extremely powerful choice as you literally overwhelm your opponent with card advantage. I would say that there is some level of complexity involved as you need to properly stack your enter the battlefield abilities and triggers, but you will get accustomed to this very quickly.

Skullbriar, the Walking Grave

Skullbriar, The Walking Grave

Synergy: ***
Complexity:
**
The Timmy Factor:
No
Budget:

If you like:
Voltron and +1/+1 counters.

While Skullbriar, the Walking Grave is not one of the most obvious Voltron-style Commanders out there, he's easy to pick up and a ton of fun to play. +1/+1 Counters are such a big part of Magic that there is an abundance of great support for this theme, and usually new cards in every set. Skulbriar can be fast and aggressive but is also relatively resilient because you don't lose your investment when it dies. Cards like Hardened Scales and Corpsejack Menace make sure your commander will grow out of hand very quickly.

Omnath, Locus of Rage

Omnath, Locus of Rage

Synergy: ***
Complexity:
*
The Timmy Factor:
Yes
Budget:

If you like:
Big creatures, ramping, and dealing tons of damage.

I remember getting a friend into magic, and his first deck was a 45€ Omnath, Locus of Rage deck that we built together. I also remember losing to it a lot. If you just got into Magic, you learned that you can play one land per turn, and with Omnath out, that means getting a free 5/5 every time you play a land. Now throw cards like Evolving Wilds or Explosive Vegetation in the mix, and you literally create an army of 5/5's, combine this with effects that give creatures haste and/or trample, and smash your opponents to rubble. Oh, and if they dare play a card like Wrath of God, you can usually just finish them off with Omnath's second ability, which will send massive damage directly to their face.

Jhoira of the Ghitu

Jhoira of the Ghitu

Synergy: *
Complexity:
**
The Timmy Factor:
Yes
Budget:
€€
If you like:
Playing big spells and not having to pay for playing big spells.

While suspend is not the most entry-level mechanic in Magic, learning it is about all you need to know before picking up a Jhoira of the Ghitu deck. For 2 mana, you remove something in your hand from the game, then, four turns later, you get to play that spell for free and give it haste if it's a creature. Sounds easy enough right? The deck isn't very synergistic, as you will most likely just be playing huge spells that individually have an impact on the game. Think of cheating in cards like Niv-Mizzet, Parun or Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur.

Tatyova, Benthic Druid

Tatyova, Benthic Druid

Synergy: **
Complexity:
*
The Timmy Factor:
Yes
Budget:

If you like:
Ramping and drawing tons of cards.

Very similar (obviously) to Omnath, Locus of Rage. Tatyova, Benthic Druid also converts every land that hits the battlefield under your control into something valuable. Where Omnath makes huge attackes, Tatyova allows you to overwhelm the opponent with card advantage. Top decking lands and ramp spells are no longer an issue, as they just simply convert into more card advantage. Blue-green decks usually play a lot of top-heavy, large creatures, and Tatyova should be no exception here. Since this deck is so similar to Omnath, the question is if you like being more aggressive or more adaptive, then make your decision based on the answer.

 

Depala, Pilot Exemplar

Depala, Pilot Exemplar

Synergy: ****
Complexity:
**
The Timmy Factor:
No
Budget:

If you like:
Artifacts, vehicles, and aggro

Depala, Pilot Exemplar is a surprisingly fun commander. Usually, I wouldn't advice anyone to play a Boros deck in commander, as it lacks proper card draw, which is essential in the format, but Depala fixes this issue effortlessly. Whenever you tap her, you can invest mana to draw more vehicles and dwarves. And it just so happens that tapping her is exactly what you need to do to crew vehicles. Most vehicles are very cheap to pick up, and the same can be said for most dwarves. And what's more glorious that crewing a Weatherlight or Parhelion II?

Three-Color Commanders

In terms of diversity and flexibility, three-color commanders are in the most optimized spot. They allow you to play a wide range of different tools, while not staying overly complex. The manabase will be more expensive however, unless you are okay with trading in speed for affordable lands.

Arcades, the Strategist

Arcades, the Strategist

Synergy: ****
Complexity:
*
The Timmy Factor:
Yes
Budget:

If you like:
Playing creatures and attacking for large amounts of damage.

There is almost no Commander more to-the-point than Arcades, the Strategist. You play defenders, you draw cards, you attack with defenders. It's a very simple concept in which not a whole lot can go wrong, and thus it's ideal for newer players who want to have a clear game plan. Another great aspect of Arcades is its color combination. Bant has access to a lot of the sweet toys that Commander has to offer, including ramp, card draw, and a great removal package. Since defenders are usually printed on lower rarities and barely see play outside of Commander, they're affordable too. Suddenly, Wall of Denial is an 8/8 Flyer with Shroud for 3 mana, doesn't sound so bad right?

Nekusar, the Mindrazer

Nekusar, the Mindrazer

Synergy: *****
Complexity:
**
The Timmy Factor: No
Budget:
€€
If you like:
Making your opponents suffer and drawing cards

I have to be very honest, when I first started playing Magic, it was around the time that Nekusar, the Mind Razer was printed. I saw this card and first thought; "Why the hell would you want your opponents to draw additional cards?" Little did I know that Nekusar punishes your opponents for drawing cards, something they were probably planning on doing regardless. Now keep in mind that cards like Windfall, Jace's Archivist and Teferi's Puzzle Box exist. Combine this with cards like Fate Unraveler, Underworld Dreams, and Spiteful Visions and you are dealing massive amounts of damage without even having to attack. Your opponents also barely get to play with their hands until you inevitably force them to draw a new one, making it hard for them to adjust their game-plan to your onslaught.

Varina, Lich Queen

Varina, Lich Queen

Synergy: ****
Complexity:
**
The Timmy Factor:
No
Budget:
€€€
If you like:
Braaaaiiins and tribal synergy

It wasn't until last year that zombies where exclusively reserved for mono black and Dimir commanders (with some exceptions playing red). Varina, Lich Queen changed that all as she is the first ever Esper Zombie commander. If you like zombies, then Varina is an amazing card to have as your general. she draws cards, fills up your graveyard, and gains you life – all at the same time. Her second ability allows you to recycle old cards into new recruits for your zombie army. And what does white offer for zombie decks you ask? Well, besides white being an amazing support color in commander, look at cards like Necromancer's Covenant, Wayward Servant, Corpse Knight and God-Eternal Oketra. I would say that one of Varina's main downsides is the deck's price point. Zombies are a popular tribe and cards like Gravecrawler or Ghoulcaller Ghisa reflect this.

Mayael, the Anima

Mayael, the Anima

Synergy: **
Complexity:
**
The Timmy Factor:
Yes
Budget:
€€
If you like:
Thicc boiis, sneaking creatures into play and a healthy dose of RNG.

I have a soft spot for Mayael the Anima. it's one of the few commanders that I own and still enjoy playing after a long time. Her ability allows you to cheat big dudes into play, preferably in the opponent's end step so that you get to untap with them. Since every set of Magic brings at least one to two over-costed bombs, there's no shortage of creatures to put into the deck. Ever wanted to play with cards like Worldspine Wurm and/or Gisela, Blade of Goldnight? Mayael Is an excellent commander for these cards. Six mana for her ability might seem like a lot but it comes with two massive advantages; you're not using up any cards in your hand and it's very hard for opponents to interact with her, as the creatures you put into play cannot be countered (they are not being cast). 

Muldrotha, The Gravetide

Muldrotha, the Gravetide

Synergy: ***
Complexity:
**
The Timmy Factor:
No
Budget:
€€€
If you like:
Reanimation and graveyard strategies.

Muldrotha, the Gravetide is probably the best commander to pick up when you enjoy interaction with the graveyard. The ability is straightforward - you can play one permanent of each type from your graveyard every turn. This reaches maximum value when you can play lands like Evolving Wilds, enchantments like Font of Fortunes and creatures like Mulldrifter or Spore Frog. Another great reason to pick up Muldrotha is that you are in one the strongest color combinations that Commander has to offer.

Kaalia of the Vast

Kaalia of the Vast

Synergy: ***
Complexity:
**
The Timmy Factor:
Yes
Budget:
€€€
If you like:
Being aggressive, being the archenemy, and cheating big creatures into play

Kaalia of the Vast is one of the commanders printed in the original Commander set that Wizards released. The deck is very fast and obviously has a high-power level. I would say it might sometimes even be too powerful for very casual playgroups. Then again, when people see that you are playing Kaalia, they will likely try to take you out first. If you have no problem with being the archenemy at the table, and you like playing creatures like Avacyn, Angel of Hope or Lord of the Void, then Kaalia might be the right choice for you. Just be aware of the fact that Angels, Demons, and Dragons are popular creatures, so they might not be the cheapest.

Maelstrom Wanderer

Maelstrom Wanderer

Synergy: *
Complexity:
**
The Timmy Factor:
Yes
Budget:
€€
If you like:
Playing big spells you won't get to cast anywhere else, and some RNG.

Maelstrom Wanderer might be the ultimate battlecruiser commander. If you have the feeling that Magic has a lot of spells that look amazing, but are impossible to play in competitive constructed formats, then Maelstrom Wanderer is for you. When you cast Maelstrom Wanderer you flip cards from the top of your library until you find a nonland that costs less than Maelstrom Wanderer itself, and then play that card for free. And then you get to do it again! Since Maelstrom Wanderer itself costs eight mana, the sky is the limit (or well, seven mana). It also doesn't hurt that Maelstrom Wanderer gives all your creatures haste, so being able to directly attack with whatever you cascade into can cause for very explosive plays, in addition to Maelstrom Wanderer being a three-turn clock. Last but not least, you actually don't mind when Maelstrom Wanderer dies, because you get even more value form recasting him. So, if you like big plays and cards like Etali, Primal Storm, Mind's Dilation, and Sunbird's Invocation, Maelstrom Wanderer is the commander for you.

Let the Brewing Begin

Hopefully this guide helped you to find a new commander or gave you new insights if you're a long-term commander player. What was your first commander? Was it hard to play? How has it affected the way you play commander currently? I will read your comments and am looking forward to your stories!

As always, thanks for reading and until next time!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.



6 Comments

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Vimozahr(2019-07-05 13:15)

@Der-Redstone-Pro,
You are right with a few sentences. Krenko is very vulnerable to blue Players or removal-Spells - If you do not give him the necessary protection. In 1v1 (French Comander) I would not play him. He is really strong in Multiplayer Games. Especially in the Casual-Community, the Deck can be very good. I have been playing Multiplayer Commander for a very long time, more competetively in several groups. Your last sentence is exactly what you should do. If you would like to take a look at my current list, I would be glad to send it to you. All Decks in my Groups build on ~ same Powerlevel. We use much more politics at the Table (Games include 3-5 Players per Table). That makes Games some Fun. Our Games take 5-8 Turns - i think this is fast and competetive (but not the same Level like French Commander)

Der-Redstone-Pro(2019-07-04 02:49)

@Vimozahr Krenko is definitly not competetive, the competetive decks will kill you before you even have krenko in play.
And he dies to removal quick

If you can give him haste, protect him from removal, and untap him he will be good maybe, but this is hard in mono-red

OtarieCZ(2019-07-03 18:16)

Maelstron wandere is great entering deck into commander format. Even its 3 color you dont have to have dual lands or fetches as half of deck is manaramp. I just dont recommend playing Sunbirds Invocation... It has very poor synergy in that deck. Cards like brainstorm, jace, mystical tutor are great.

That deck performs very good in full budget mode and you can enjoy every new card you will buy and add to it as you usually see many cards during game. I used to play it in competitive events with very good results. Only downside is that that deck is more about deck building than playing, very few playmaking options.

Vimozahr(2019-07-03 17:14)

Vote for Krenko !!!
He can also be very competitive. He is a strong mono colored Commander also on Budget Decks strategys. Just bring 100,000 Goblins onto the Battlefield and sac´em all to destroy anything.

If some one is interest on Budget Precon Decks with limited Budget can take a look of the Decks from Commander Adventures. The decks contain a very high level of synergy and make a lot of fun on Kitchentable Matches.

RJGiel
RJGiel(2019-07-03 16:14)

@M3lk0r, thanks for your comment. I totally agree with you, I actually think the new Kaalia might even be a better commander, solely for that reason. The old Kaalia causes too many problems.

BUT, if you are new in the format, and just want to play some big Angels, Demons, and Dragons, she is very exciting. It's playing Magic in a way that you can't really do anywhere else, and that's what makes her a cool first commander!

M3lk0r(2019-07-03 16:06)

Kaalia is overrated nowadays as it got outdated. If she gets removed after her first etb, the deck just goes into a bottleneck situation (so it will happen most of the times). And because of the deckbuild you will lack gas. As a former Kaalia player (it was my first commander) I can tell that the design team realized what the deck was always running into and tried to solve it with the new version. Despite the old version being apparently more powerful, the new one is a much better commander for today's standards. Solid work as usual, cheers!

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