Limited Guide to Commander Legends

Tzu-Mainn Chen
November 19, 2020
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How do you play Commander? Do you have super powerful cards that you’ve slowly bought or traded for over the years, or do you play with something close to a pre-constructed deck? Is your playgroup highly competitive with infinite combos and busted plays, or does it have house rules to contain the power level? There are lots of ways to play and enjoy this popular format, and 2020 introduces a new one with Commander Legends: an all new supplemental set that brings Commander play into a Limited format. It’s a fascinating idea that promises to feel both new and wild, and I can’t wait to give it a whirl!


Note that Commander Legends will be available as a paper product and also on MTGO; however it will not be available on Arena.


Commander Legends Limited Rules


In Commander Legends Limited, you’ll build a 60 card deck that includes your Commander(s). You’ll use the same number of packs for draft and sealed - three and six respectively - but each pack contains 20 cards, and during a draft you’ll be picking two cards at a time. Oh, and each pack contains at least two Commanders, so don’t worry about finding one!


A 60 card deck will have roughly 23-25 lands, so if you draft you’ll need to find 35-37 playables - slightly under two-thirds of your picks. In addition, Commander Legends Limited is not a singleton format, so you’re free to play multiple copies of any card that you open or draft. However, the cards in your deck must still match the color identity of your Commander(s).


Mechanics


Partner

                                      
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Creatures and planeswalkers with Partner can be paired up with a single other creature/planeswalker with Partner to allow a player to declare two Commanders, with the color identity of your deck matching those of your combined Commanders. This gives players a good deal of color flexibility in Commander Legends Limited, as well as allowing varied and unique deck strategies.


Encore

Creatures with Encore can come back for one final hurrah, exploding out of your graveyard and multiplying if you have more than one opponent. This ability provides a fair bit of late game value, especially if the creature with Encore has a useful trigger upon entering or exiting the battlefield.


Monarch

Monarch is a fun kind of card advantage: one that encourages continuous interaction while forcing a player to balance offense and defense. This mechanic is especially tricky in multiplayer games, where a player must balance the benefits of drawing a card against the pitfall of becoming a tempting target for every other player in the game.


Cascade


Cascade spells provide inherent card advantage: two spells for the price of one! There are drawbacks, however: the original spell is either overcosted or difficult to cast, and the additional spell is random. But a clever player will mitigate these drawbacks through careful deck construction or the use of abilities such as Scry.


Unlike the other mechanics here, Cascade is only present on Green, Blue, and Red cards, and from a Limited point of view it primarily supports Green/Blue’s “Big CMC” strategy.


Color Pairs


Each color pair has a “signature uncommon” Commander that hints at how that color pair synergizes well together.


White/Blue: Flying


Evasion is the name of the game here. The archetype feels less controlling than other iterations of White/Blue, likely because multiplayer games encourage some sort of board presence. Evasive creatures synergize well with White’s Auras and +1/+1 counters. Blue’s Pirates also provide a good amount of evasion tacked onto a body that usually provides some sort of value.


White/Black: Tokens


Tokens are a resilient threat that take a while to build up. Any sort of mass pump effect is particularly effective at creating an unexpected alpha strike. Use Equipment or some sort of repeatable buff effect to keep your tokens threatening. Black’s sacrifice effects also work well with tokens.


Blue/Red: Pirates


Pirates encourages a more offensive style of evasive play, combining Blue’s cheap flyers with Red’s aggression. Be warned: this style of deck leaves you very open in multiplayer. Lightning-Rig Crew is probably the MVP of this archetype.


Blue/Black: Self-Mill/Reanimation


The payoffs for self-mill and reanimation come later in the game, perfect for a defensive deck that relies on a couple of bombs to win. The key is to appear innocuous for most of the game; keep your value engines safe or hidden until it’s too late for your opponents to do anything about them.


Black/Red: Sacrifice


Black/Red is less of an aggressive archetype than a combo archetype that uses sacrifice engines to either produce value or to kill your opponent outright. Chip in for inconsequential damage early on with a shrug and a smile and encourage your opponents to tackle each other rather than your ranks of explosive idiots. Once they’re weak enough, you can pick them off at your leisure.


Black/Green: Elves


The Elves deck encourages you to swarm both the battlefield and the graveyard with your Elves. The Green side of your deck encourages growth; the Black side encourages death. Walk the tightrope between the two, find maximum value, and obtain a form of deadly inevitability.


Red/White: Auras/Equipment


Red/White needs to win fast, but not at the beginning. Instead, you’ll need to pick a moment when to go all-in with your Auras and buffs in order to break an opponent with one extremely hard hit. Lay low and form alliances until you can do so. White’s tokens are especially good at ensuring that your Auras and Equipment will always find a place to land.


Red/Green: Power Matters


Red/Green is a simple archetype: cast big creatures, and smash face. Paradoxically, that simplicity means that it requires the most political skill to play. Every opponent will know what you’re doing and what to expect; your job will be to persuade them that it’s actually the other player that’s the biggest threat. If you can do so while quietly building up a wall of impenetrable creatures, you’ll find victory easy to grasp.


Green/White: +1/+1 Counters


Green/White decks offer you creatures that scale very well with the stage of the game, simply by allowing them to grow through +1/+1 counters. This gives the archetype a dependable presence that occasionally lacks the spark to go over the top in setting your opponent on fire. Those spark cards are key in making this archetype work.


Green/Blue: Big CMC Spells


Green/Blue is a slow archetype that takes awhile to get going, leaving you vulnerable in the early game. This is dangerous in a one-versus-one duel, and a little less so in multiplayer. Everyone at the table will know what your plan is; they’ll all know how dangerous you’ll be in the late game. Play down your potential threat, survive until you can cast your expensive spells, and don’t give your opponents time to regret their decision to let you live.


Mono-Colored Partner Commanders


In addition, each color has multiple mono-colored Partner commanders that can be mixed and matched as needed. I’ve listed the uncommon ones here:


White


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+1/+1 Counters, Tokens
-
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Equipment, Auras
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+1/+1 Counters
-
 
-
Tokens
-
 
-
Flying
-
 
-
Artifacts
-

Blue

 
-
Big CMC Spells
-
 
-
Commander Protection
-

 
Self-Discard, Self-Mill
-
 
 
Artifacts, Self-Mill
-
 
-
Artifacts, Pirates, Flying
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-
Flying, Scry
-


Black

 
-
Artifacts, Self-Discard
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-
Commander Deathtouch/Menace
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-
Self-Sacrifice
-
 
-
Elves
-
 
-
Tokens, +1/+1 Counters
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-
Zombies, Graveyard Escape
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Red

 
-
Power Matters
-
 
-
Pirates
-
 
-
Self-Sacrifice
-
 
-
Commander Damage
-
 
-
Buff Me
-
 
-
Artifacts, Equipment
-

Green

  
-
Commander Protection
-
 
-
Big CMC Spells
-
  
-
Power Matters
-
 
-
+1/+1 Counters, Artifacts
-
 
-
+1/+1 Counters, Elves
-
 
-
+1/+1 Counters
-


There are an obscene number of strategies possible here, both obvious and subtle. For example, Armix, Filigree Thrasher synergizes well with an artifact commander such as Rebbec, Architect of Ascension. However it is also a natural pairing with Malcolm, Keen-Eyed Navigator or Toggo, Goblin Weaponsmith, as both of those cards can generate a ton of artifacts. On a different axis, Armix and its self-discard ability also partners well with Ghost of Ramirez DePietro.


The complexities only increase if we look beyond the uncommon Commanders. There are 10 mythic and rare mono-colored Commanders - all with Partner - with powerful and unique effects. There are also 20 multi-colored Commanders, some of whose abilities and characteristics fit perfectly into their two color archetype, others which will require much additional thought to use effectively.


Unlocking the full potential of all these varied possibilities is key to finding success in Commander Legends Limited - and I suspect it’ll also be the reason why the format will see good long-term replayability!


Drafting Cards


If you’re playing Sealed, then you’ll get what you’ll get; try not to get upset. But if you’re drafting, then here are some tips:


  • Partner lets you stay open in colors by mixing and matching. Although it’s not ideal, remember that if you draft three colors evenly, you should end up with enough cards in each color to make a deck out of any mix of two colors that you’ve drafted.
  • Picking two cards at a time makes it FAR easier to force a color pair early.
  • Don’t sleep on artifacts; they fit into any deck, there’s a light artifact theme spread across all five colors, and every archetype has a few artifacts whose presence seems specifically intended for that archetype.
  • Value threats over answers. A deck full of 1-for-1 removal will not have a good time against multiple opponents.That being said, don’t sleep on removal in your colors. You’ll need some interaction if one opponent jumps out to a blazingly fast start.

What To Expect


So how will Commander Legends Limited decks play out? Well, the power level will be much lower compared to a constructed Commander deck. No deck will be stuffed with rares or be tuned to consistently tutor out a game-winning series of cards by turn five. However, the presence of a Commander means that decks will typically have some sort of overall strategy. Looking around a table and identifying Commanders before a game starts will give you a good idea of what sort of tactics might be needed. Expect janky combos and patchwork game plans - the sort of inventive chaos that makes Limited such a delight!


Also, note that the dynamics of a multiplayer game of Commander is far different than that of a two-player duel. When you play one-on-one, you’ll almost always want to quickly create an advantage, and then keep piling on until your opponent folds. It’s very different in multiplayer: becoming the biggest threat simply means that multiple players will do their best to tear you down. Knowing when to hold back, and knowing when to strike - that’s the key to victory!


A Final Note Regarding Fun and Replayability


I can already foresee the coming cause of most of my stress when playing Commander Legends Limited: there are so many neat and unique Commanders that there will be much regret whenever I set aside one Commander for another. For that reason, Commander Legends feels like a set where players might enjoy replaying Limited pools. Some ideas:


  • Preserving sealed pools to play against friends multiple times, perhaps with a rule preventing the use of a Commander more than once.
  • Playing pack wars, and then drafting the cards for a later Sealed pool - with the winner of the pack war picking first!
  • Creating a Commander cube, adding your favorite legends from past sets while ensuring that no hated cards make it in.

My daughter and I will almost definitely do all three of these things, and we’re both looking forward to the hours we’ll spend crushing each other’s souls!


When Commander Legends was first announced I was a little skeptical of the concept behind it. But now that I’ve seen the cards, I can honestly say that it’s the perfect Magic product to keep me warm and entertained over the coming holiday months. I hope you’ll have as much fun with it as I will!