This entry is part 8 of 14 in the series Peasant Rebellion

Posted by Maxwellian2000

Timmy: Dudes, check it out!  Looks like a Commander side event has been added to that PTQ we’re gonna hit up.

Johnny: Yeah, I saw that.  Looks like it’ll be $5 entry, with two packs for each opponent you eliminate in a four-person pod.  Free for all, obviously.

Spike: Farm some packs, baby!  Hey, does it say anything about a bonus for “last man standing”?  The GP in Indy last week had Commander side events with $10 entry to play in a four-person pod, three pack “bounty” per opponent eliminated, plus three packs for da winnah!

Timmy: I don’t see any bonus bounty.  Sheesh, with awarding packs only for eliminating opponents, it’ll be a wonder if anyone shows up with anything non-combo.

Johnny: Oh, you might be surprised.  There will be for sure your fair share of competitive douches (glances pointedly at Spike) but you gotta think out of all those people at least SOME will want to play the right way.

Spike: The right way?  You mean the casual player’s credo: don’t ruin my fun while I do whatever I want to ruin yours?

Timmy: Whoa, slow down guys.  Magic players are a diverse lot.  Last time I was at an event like this I saw some dudes at a table with a sign that just said a sign that says “Casual EDH games wanted.”  Looked like they were having fun every time I walked by.

Johnny: Yeah, we’ll be able to find games, for sure.  But I saw an interesting prize structure for a PTQ side event online the other day.  $5 entry, with four packs for first, two for second, and one each for third and fourth.  That might at least encourage SOME casual players to participate.

Spike: Maybe.  But I still can’t see why anyone would pay money to play and then not give themselves the best chance to win.  That’s why I’m bringing my BUG reanimiator.  Can you say third-turn Hermit Druid activation, FTW!!!

Timmy: So, the table to avoid will be the one you’re at.  Good to know.

Pro Tour season is in full swing, which is generally is no concern to purveyors of a casual format.  But these days, Commander side events like the one our trio of dudes is discussing are becoming more and more common.  Promotional material for GP: Indianapolis this past weekend proclaimed here that “we will also be starting our Grand Prix Side Event Champion events at noon as well. You can play nothing but Magic: The Gathering Commander all weekend and still be the Side Event Champion, taking home a huge prize!”  Turns out the “huge prize” comes with a $10 entry: each opponent you eliminate earns you a “bounty” (3 packs), with an extra prize for the last man standing (another 3 packs).

So the gauntlet has been thrown down: even without DCI sanctioning, opportunities to play Commander competitively are going to present themselves.  Today, we will explore what to expect if you want to try your luck at a side event, and how managing your expectations and making use of rudimentary social skills before you even shuffle up is key to having a good time.

First things first: while any prize structure theoretically conflicts the RC’s intentions for Commander as a social format, one that only rewards elimination of players and the “last man standing” inevitably leads to the most degenerate, crushing decks.  If the side event you are attending is based on “bounty”, my advice would be to bring your third-turn Hermit Druid reanimator or some other mind-numbing deck.  The good news is that when you’re staring down Arcum, Uril, and Azusa  you know the game isn’t going to take very long.  Under these circumstances, the winner will be whoever achieves their combo first.  Simple as that.  If your deck can’t consistently win before turn 5, you should bring a different deck or just not play.  I think it’s fair to say that Commander in this sort of meta needs no time limit.

The prize structure at the Massachusetts PTQ I mentioned earlier intrigues me, though.  The odds of people bringing out their Tier 2 deck seems much more likely under those terms; worse-case scenario, you slightly overpaid for a pack.  While the only events I’ve seen have involved the bounty system, I think a shift to the Massachusetts-style prize structure would reduce the prevalence of degenerate decks.  But even there, it would be less than shocking for someone to be interested solely in “farming packs” by playing the most brutal deck possible.

Regardless of the prize structure, it is imperative to dust off those social skills and strike up a conversation with prospective opponents, even before you sign up to be in a pod.  The main thing you want to discuss is what sort of level of competitiveness everyone is looking for.  Then, you can make your deck choice in light of those goals.  Of course, you want to give yourself options, so having a stable of decks with varying degrees of power will allow you to tailor your play to the desires of your pod.

The next most important issue to discuss with your prospective opponents is how collusive things will be.  It’s no fun if two stealthy opponents take over the table with cooperative play and split the packs later.  Ultimately, the best way to avoid this from happening is to take a friend with you.  Then, if your opponents look like they are going 2v1v1, or if they are up-front about their collusion and you know it’s going to be little more than two-headed giant, you can buddy up and still have a chance.

I said before that you want to have a range of decks, but let’s get serious: especially in an era where Wizards themselves is promoting a “bounty”-oriented prize structure, it is likely you will need a deck that can win in the first 5 turns, preferably the first 2 or 3.  In other words, this is not the deck you will be playing against your friends at Magic night if you value the integrity of your playgroup.  But in a tournament setting, anything goes.

So don’t take your theme deck to a side event unless you enjoy being disappointed.  But seriously, talk with your fellow event-goers, look out for collusion, and for god’s sake, don’t throw a fit when your opponents seem to “always” win on turn 3.  Because if Commander is going to be played in this quasi-competitive fashion under this ban list, if someone doesn’t win by then, it’s a freaking upset.

Maxwellian2000 is a former competitive Magic player who now plays mostly Commander formats, along with Palladium Books’ Rifts RPG and Legos. He also works as a lawyer in Kansas and produces music at

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