Tips for Becoming a Better Commander Player
- Robert Giel
Today we're looking at a few very easy, but useful tips that will improve the way you play Commander, regardless of deck or budget.
Pay (Attention) to Win
I usually find articles that tell you how to be a better player fairly uninteresting. Oftentimes, it's a very accomplished player telling you to write down your mistakes after every match, or that you just need to "always think two steps ahead." I find a lot of these tips either incredibly vague or simply too much effort and, as a result, not relevant for most casual players (including myself).
This doesn't mean that we can't discuss some actual practices that will improve your gameplay in Commander. Today, I'd like to share some tips that are very easy to pick up, easy to follow, and easy to put to practical use. I've come to learn these practices over the past years of playing this wonderful format, and they are useful regardless of your deck, budget, or playstyle. So, let's jump into it.
Tip 1: Wait for People to Pass Priority
Don't stop reading just quite yet! I know this sounds like an obvious thing that every Magic player is aware of, but I still see this happening too often. Imagine that there is a game with four players, with you as player 4. Now player one plays a very big spell that will impact your board. Your emotions get the best of you and immediately respond with a counter spell, without giving players 2 and 3 time to respond.
Not only is this technically illegal, you're also putting yourself at a disadvantage. Whenever an impactful spell is being played, it's likely that all three other players aren't too happy about it. Your other opponents probably have something to say about it resolving, so always wait for them to interact with it until the priority passes to you. Politics are a big aspect of Commander, and you might even be able to convince another player who has priority before you to deal with the situation.
This works both ways though. When you are next after the player who does something big, you have to respond to it first as you might not have the chance again (if the other players decide to do nothing).
Tip 2: Always Tap Mana Artifacts First
This isn't always the correct choice, but it generally is the right move, provided your mana rocks can provide you with the colors you need to make your play. If you can tap your artifacts to play your spell, you should. If you plan on keeping mana open to interact with plays from the opponent – whether this is a counter spell, play removal, activate an ability, play an EOT instant, or something with flash – it's better to have lands available. Lands are often the safest permanents in a game of commander and have the lowest risk of removal.
(Mass) Artifact removal is common enough in Commander and can often enough catch you off guard if you're not prepared for it. Vandalblast, Bane of Progress, and Austere Command are just some examples of cards that can destroy all your signets, talisman, and other mana rocks. Sure, you could play whatever you were planning in response to the artifact destruction, but this would mean that your opponent is forcing you to act. In a game of Commander, you want to do everything on your terms. Tapping your mana rocks in your own turn and leaving lands behind ensures that you won't be caught off guard.
Tip 3: Don't Overcommit, Manage Resources, and Use Mana Sinks
Once again, this tip might seem like a no-brainer, but I've seen many players make this mistake. Overcommitting is one of the biggest vices you can make in a format stacked with board wipes and high-impact spells. The trick to managing resources and knowing when to go for the kill is the single most important skill to master in Commander.
When you've deployed a threat that has the attention of the rest on the table there is no need to start making yourself a larger target, unless you can protect yourself or go for the win. When you've established a board presence that's in line with your general game plan; sit back, relax, and let your opponents deal with it. You technically don't need to draw any more attention or risk losing more resources.
A great way of still doing things without losing resources is using abilities or mana sinks. The newly released card Faerie Formation is the perfect example of the point I'm trying to make. Once you've deployed Faerie Formation, there's not always the need to keep expanding your board presence. Just keep using the ability of the Faerie Formation to draw cards and put creatures in to play. It advances your game state without your directly having to invest anything (besides mana).
Tip 4: Save Your Counter Spells for Defense
This is somewhat related to the first tip in this article and only relevant for any blue mages out there. If you are playing counter spells, try to use them more reactively than proactively. With this I mean that it's not up to you to counter every powerful play that an opponent is trying to make. You can basically let 95% of your opponents' spells resolve, and have the entire table find a solution for whatever threat your opponent put down.
A big part of commander is the multiplayer aspect, meaning that whatever anybody plays will be assessed and accordingly addressed by the three other players. This implies that it's not just up to you to find solutions or deal with existing problems. If a player plays something like Blightsteel Colossus or Cyclonic Rift, try not going for the counter spell right away. Let the table find the solution to the card once it has resolved (or before it resolves).
By doing so, you can use counter spells to protect your own cards, not to stop opponents. It's a matter of finding the perfect moment to strike and then doing so with shields up. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. If your opponent is making a play that is threatening to kill you instantly, then you may have to consider dropping the counter spell, but it should be a decision you end up at, not a snap reaction to the first big spell that's played.
Tip 5: Keep an Overview and Exercise Proper Threat Assessment
Another typical aspect of commander is the way the board state can completely clog up. In no other format will you see battlefields with as many permanents as in Commander. It sounds obvious, but it is very important to keep an overview of what people are doing, and which key permanents allow them to do this. If you have a removal spell, don't just simply use it on the last spell played, or on a thing that might seem annoying to you in this moment. Try to assess which card will likely shape the game.
An example of this is when there's both a Smothering Tithe from last turn and a Luminarch Ascension with 3 counters that was played on turn 2 in play. You draw a card for your turn and the Smothering Tithe player asks if you want to pay 2 mana. You are getting pretty annoyed with this and decide to play a Reclamation Sage, targeting the Smothering Tithe. Yes, Smothering Tithe is annoying and will give its controller value, but an online Luminarch Ascension can singlehandedly take over the entire game.
Commander is an exhausting format and having to play for several hours with a constantly developing board is no easy task, but always try to do proper threat assessment. Take a minute to check what is really going on and make your decisions on that, rather than on what your emotions are telling you to do.
Tip 6: The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Fall
The final tip I want to give for today's article is knowing how to downplay your deck or strategy. The person who goes fastest in a game of four-player commander is likely the first person to die. It's important to consider whether or not you should immediately off if you can (unless you can secure an actual win). Going T1 Sol Ring into Mana Crypt plus Mana Vault is very powerful but draws a lot of attention. Make sure that you have a follow-up play or at least a way to protect yourself, or just save the cards until you need them.
These were some of the things I personally keep in mind when playing a four-player game of EDH. It doesn't really matter what strategy or deck you're playing, most of these apply to you (counter spells excluded). What are some of your experiences? Do you have any practices you like to keep in mind when playing multiplayer Commander? As always, thanks for reading, and until next time!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.