This entry is part 7 of 7 in the series Crossover Month

Bruce represents one-third of the Muse Vessel’s collective power. You can hear his fatherly voice on S2E11. Over on the Vessel, Bruce’s expertise is anything casual and multiplayer, with a huge depth of knowledge and experience around traditional 60×4 multiplayer games. You can find his complete works compiled here.

Commandercast’s loyal listeners/readers are, by and large, all experienced EDH players.  All of you have a playgroup or two (or more!) that you get together with on a regular basis to get your fix of Commander.  Some of you have probably ventured into the wild world of online Commander.  You are the established players who have played long enough to know your local metagame and have a pretty good idea what to do about it.

I am not you.  I have played Commander, but only in a very limited environment, and not many games.  While I keep meaning to build more decks, I still have only one deck, and to be honest, playing Sedris isn’t all that interesting right now.  I am still a new Commander player.

As a new Commander player, I have a unique position with all of you, in that I still remember what a daunting task Commander can be.  It is from that point of view that I present the Top 10 Things that Frighten New Commander Players.

#10.  Complicated Board States

I make a point of saying that I can speak from experience as a new Commander player, then the first thing on my Top Ten list is something that doesn’t apply to me!  While I am new to Commander, I am a multiplayer Magic old-schooler who plays 60-4 multiplayer every week.  Complicated board states are commonplace for me.  My first Magic game involved six players and 50 or more permanents, excluding land, in play.

While it may not apply for someone like me, for the many new Commander players who come from the tournament side of Magic, or players who only play casual one on one games, a Commander game is an entirely different beast to try to tame.  Considering the board state, the cards in hand for each player, then making a proper threat assessment and acting accordingly, can be an overwhelming prospect.  There are so many more things to consider.  Learning what is relevant and what isn’t in a large Commander game is a skill learned over time that most of us don’t even remember doing.

Bring your new player along slowly.  Get them comfortable with a deck and playing it out without really worrying about what other players are doing.  Soon enough they will start scanning the board and discovering the relevant cards and improving their threat assessment.

#9.  New format!

Magic players get comfortable playing in their format of choice.  Whether it be draft or Modern or Legacy, Magic players increase their experience and knowledge of a format the more they play it.  They develop a comfort level with that format; an expectation that they have an understanding of that format appropriate to their level of experience.

Switching formats demands a new level of understanding.  Masters of the Legacy format bring some Magic knowledge to the draft format, but they have a lot to learn.  A tournament player has a lot to learn when confronted with a format that has different deck construction rules and multiple opponents.

Even someone with my background has a lot to learn about Commander.  While deck construction is not as daunting as it may be for other new players, understanding how best to play the deck and how to deal with the known information of a Commander before the game even starts are just two of the things I am struggling with in Commander.

I was used to an advanced level of understanding of the format.  In Commander, I am reduced to only an average understanding of the format.  This shift can be uncomfortable and take time to acclimate to.

#8.  Variants

Too many EDH regulars want to thrust the new player into a game of 2HG EDH or even Horde EDH before they are comfortable even with the Commander format.  Adding more rules changes and more variations can completely overwhelm the new player struggling with the format.

This is not to say that new players shouldn’t be introduced to these variants.  2HG with an experienced partner provides a better understanding of the format and can correct some play errors the new player would make much more quickly than if he was working these out on his own.  Horde Magic takes much of the confusing board state away since you become less concerned with what other players are playing, since you are all on the same team.

Take your lead from the new player.  If they are just sitting there, watching the game going on around them, there is a good chance they are overwhelmed.

#7.  Deck Creation

In almost every other Magic format, decks are 60 or 40 cards and you can use multiple copies of a single card.  Since most of the time you want to limit variance and have your deck do the same thing again and again, you build 60 card decks with 4 copies of a card.  If you figure a 2 color deck using two different types of dual lands, you will likely end up with 13 different cards.

The average EDH deck has somewhere in the neighborhood of five times that many different cards!  Just the sheer volume of various cards in a deck is intimidating.  Now you want to make them all work together?  And I can pick from almost any card ever created?  These options can paralyze efforts to build a deck.

I have only one EDH deck.  Sedris is a fun deck to play, but it took far longer to build and I am constantly making small changes to the deck to make it a little better.  The time it takes to build a decent deck can be an issue for new players.

#6. Broken Commanders

When you see someone pull out Zur as their general, the warning bells go off.  There are certain commanders that are completely broken and change your entire strategy for the game.  What are the chances you will win the game if you don’t alter your strategy when Zur comes to the table?  Experienced players understand what many generals are likely going to try to do before the game even starts, and they plan their game accordingly.  While a smart new player will likely understand the danger of a recursive creature that tutors for needed cards, almost no new player truly understands the brokenness and will likely be run over before understanding that their game plan needs to change.

The fear for the new player isn’t just playing against the unknown broken commander, but never knowing what is truly broken.  Every game involves new cards.  To constantly play the game never sure if that benign card is truly harmless or just the first part of a deadly combo piece makes the game very difficult to play.  This is one of the reasons I recommend casual players to constantly be making new decks.  It is an edge for you against all players, and it can crush new players.

#5. Staple Envy

When someone new to Commander builds their first deck, the deck is either one of the premade Commander decks, or is something the player put together with their own cards.  If the player started playing Magic within the last five years, they are going to be blown away by the staples of the format that they don’t have.  Between dual lands, Maze of Ith, Sensei’s Divining Top and other Kamigawa and older cards, it is easy for a new player to feel like they are playing with a hand behind their back.

The Commander decks have helped with this issue.  Sol Ring, Command Tower and other staples in the decks are now readily available to new players.  While I hope the next set of Commander decks continue to make the format more available to new players, there are some cards that are simply going to force new players to be innovative and find an alternative to Underground Sea.

#4.  EDH Veteran

This is the obnoxious guy who knows everything about Commander.  He will tell you the rules, why the rules exist, what cards are good in all decks, some decks, and your decks.  And whether this neckbeard actually knows the answer to a question you might have is irrelevant because you are a noob and probably don’t even know enough to know what questions to ask.

This guy is easy to spot at your local game shop. He is the one holding court in the midst of a game, explaining how Sheldon Menery gave him the authority to change the Oracle text on some random card.  You probably know this guy at your local shop.  If your shop doesn’t have someone like this, I recommend that you take a close look in the mirror, because every shop has one.

While this guy exists for every Magic format, Commander draws them in like flies to shit.  This guy is doing nothing to encourage new players to play Commander.

#3.  “Helpful” Guy

Many regular EDH players are this guy.  They are excited that someone new is playing EDH, but have almost no clue how to introduce the new player to the game.  In an effort to be helpful, they overwhelm the new guy with the minutiae of the game, explaining things that a new player just doesn’t need to know.

This over-the-top behavior usually comes when “Helpful” Guy starts listing off all the cards you MUST have in your deck.  If you use the words “auto-include” when describing several cards, you are probably this guy.  Pull back and let them enjoy a few games before explaining which cards are good in several different decks.

#2.  “Everything but Commander Sucks” Guy

I understand someone who is excited about Commander.  It is a fun format that offers variety and a change of pace.  However, Commander is not the be all and end all.  There are other Magic formats that people enjoy just as much or even moreso than Commander.  It is great to have someone who is excited about the format, but no new player wants to hear how crappy their version of Magic is compared to Commander.  The new guy was playing that other format for a while, and will likely continue to play it while getting in games of Commander. The “Everything but Commander Sucks” Guy is a turnoff, encouraging new players to defend their old format against Commander.

This guy can even spread to “Magic is better than any game.” I may agree with that, but we shouldn’t need to sell how fun Commander is by saying everything else is garbage.

#1. Time

Nothing scares a new player like the time it takes to finish a single game.  I play 60×4 multiplayer games. These games generally take about an hour, and occasionally up to two hours.  I play Emperor and 2HG games and they rarely take more than an hour.  I have played Horde Magic, and it never takes even an hour.  Standard, Modern, and Legacy legal one on one games can generally finish a best of three in an hour.  With the exception of the rare (and horribly dull) turn 4 combo kill, EDH games generally last at least two hours, and most games take much longer.  The time involved in playing a single game prevents you from playing much more than a two games in an evening.

I’m sure many of you will tell me about your games and how much faster they are.  That’s fine, but you know and I know that Commander is a slow format.  It is designed to be that way.  With deck rules designed to increase variance, higher life totals, and a social contract that encourages big plays, it stands to reason that the games will be longer.  This significant time investment can scare a new player like nothing else.

I’m sure you can probably add a few things to this list.  While some of the things on this list are out of our control, if we reduce what we can, we’ll certainly have more happy new Commander players in the future.

Bruce Richard

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