In the ancient times of the Commander format (a couple years ago), back when it was still officially known as Elder Dragon Highlander, playing EDH was not incredibly common. Many people I came across had heard about EDH, but few had ever sat down and tried it. The more I read about how the game worked though, the more I realized it wasn’t all that different than how our usual casual play group behaved: we often had games of five or more people, politics were a big factor, few played 60 card decks, and there’s usually some major spell just around the corner. EDH was a more specialized form of what we already enjoyed. I was enamored with the concept, and decided that I was going to see about getting my friends to try it out too. It should have been a no-brainer.
Needless to say, it was like pulling teeth. Pulling teeth on a Rancor.
After trying to excite the masses, I announced I was going to have a night in the near future to play with whatever decks people amassed. When the evening came, there were far fewer attendees than I had hoped. One of the attendees was a young plucky member of our group at the time who was new to Magic and really liked the idea of an avatar fighting in your name. She showed up with a 99 card Blue/White deck and was quite happy she’d be able to try things out. She only had one problem: she did not have a legendary Blue/White creature (remember, she was new). To compensate for this, she was provided the only one handy at the time: Tobias Andrion. I know, hold your excitement.
Regardless, we did enjoy ourselves. Yet I distinctly recall that she did not cast Tobias once. She essentially used him as a placeholder Commander to play her deck. Granted, Tobias is hardly a stellar choice by any means, but the phenomenon of using a Commander “for their colors” isn’t incredibly rare once you get into multiple (usually 3+) colors.
For many new players to the format, or casual players who don’t invest a lot of money into Magic, sometimes playing with one “for their colors” is all you can muster. In the case of Mr. Andrion, his presence (or lack thereof) made no impact on how her deck performed that evening. Alas, as the format has grown, it seems that this move is being pushed to becoming more passé.
When you hear people who like to compartmentalize Magic, you’ll inevitably come across statements on how to “properly” choose a Commander. Picking your Commander is an important part of the format, and how you arrive at that decision can vary. There are usually two distinct paths mentioned:
- Pick your Commander and build the deck around them (mechanics, tribe, etc.). They are a vital component to how the deck behaves, and it’s almost essential to have them on the battlefield. This is also known as a top-down approach.
- Throw a bunch of cool cards together you want to use and then go requisite a Commander that fits the color(s) you’re trying to pull off. They can benefit the deck if on the battlefield, but they aren’t a necessity for winning. Sometimes they even are just there “for the colors”. This is also known as a bottoms-up approach.
Often the more casual players amongst us don’t have the perfect legendary creature sitting around for the deck we want to make. If you’re newer, more frugal, or lazy, chances are you’ll choose the latter approach for the first few decks (if not more). A bottoms-up deck is easier to make and requires less planning. That’s quite alright. There are countless stories of strewn-together decks holding their own just fine. That is one of the great appeals of Commander: it is a relatively forgiving format, and you don’t have to always min-max your way to a win.
The thing is, while both approaches have been traditionally acceptable, a growing but vocal minority of the Commander family claim that only top-down Commanders have long-term viability. The logic is that they are have more synergy and combo-potential with overall deck strategy, and if that increases your odds of winning, why bother with a Commander that costs too much mana or you only cast on occasion?
I have five words to the people who think there’s only one right way to play- Today we have: Empress Galina
Name: Empress Galina
Focus: Control Magic
Highlights: Empress Galina is a prime example of a card not useful in most formats thriving in Commander. Having Galina present on the battlefield provides you with both offensive and defensive capabilities.
Firstly, you can use her to engage in a game of table politics. Do people want to put their Commander out if it’s able to be stolen away from them at will? Worse – it’s a permanent control change.
Secondly, did we mention she can steal another player’s Commander? This is important as not only does add to your own board power, but it can annoy, derail, or even cripple your opponent’s plans. It’s generally also fun to club them to death with 21 Commander damage from their own Commander.
Additionally, she herself is a legendary Merfolk and can fit multiple top-down strategies. If you go that route, however, be prepared to back her up. Galina doesn’t exactly do a lot of fighting on her own. That would be beneath her station. Royalty, amirite?
Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.
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Do you have a particular Commander card to suggest for us to shine a future Spotlight on? You can send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org