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How to Build Your First Commander Deck In MTG

TheGamer 9/11/2022 Nicholas James
© Provided by TheGamer

Quick Links

  • Rules To Consider
  • Finding Your Commander Style
  • Building Your Deck

Commander has rapidly ascended to be one of the most popular ways for players of Magic: The Gathering to engage in the massively popular strategy card game. With massive decks headed by singular legendary creatures, Commander can feel very different from regular Magic: The Gathering to newer players.

RELATED: Magic: The Gathering - Everything You Need To Know About The Commander Format

But don't let the different rule set intimidate you. Getting into the system can be as easy as putting a Commander deck together. From selecting your titular commander to making sure your deck feels personalized to your favourite ways to play magic, here's how to build your first Commander deck in Magic: The Gathering.

Rules To Consider

There are a few rules that separate Commander from normal Magic: The Gathering to consider when building a commander deck.

You can only have one copy of any card with the same name between your commander and your library, so redundancy is king.

Secondly, every card in your Commander deck must match the color identity of the legendary creature that is its commander. Color identity is the sum of all the colors represented on the commander's rules text. This includes its mana cost, activated abilities, mana production, and any other instances of a colored mana symbol. So, if your commander costs only green to cast, but has an activated ability that costs or produces red mana, then that commander's color identity is both red and green.

At the same time, Commander has no sideboard, so cards that retrieve cards you own from outside the game don't work. There's no way to provide yourself a wishboard in Commander, so abandon any dreams of using Burning Wish and its ilk early on. Apart from that, and a list of banned cards, Commander follows the same principles as normal Magic.

Finding Your Commander Style

The main obstacle is figuring out exactly what you want your deck to do. There is a near-endless list of types of deck you could theoretically build in commander, but most of them fall into larger archetypes. Here are some of the most popular archetypes in Commander.

Artifacts

Artifact decks rely on the innate powerful synergies between Magic's mostly-colorless artifacts, able to cover everything from mass removal, to powerful combo engines and mana ramp. Usually, these decks look to cheat out powerful artifacts by not paying their mana costs, recurring these artifacts for cheap from the graveyard, or ramping out powerful win conditions thanks to the variety of mana acceleration effects available through artifacts.

These are often highly synergistic decks that have a web of combos to ensure they can get the effects that they need when the time arises. Popular Artifact commander choices are:

  • Urza, Lord High Artificer
  • Sharuum, the Hegemon
  • Breya, Etherium Sculptor
  • Daretti Scrap Savant
  • Sai, Master Thopterist

Aristocrats

Aristocrats is an archetype named after a Standard deck that used Orzhov Aristocrat and Falkenrath Aristocrat to repeatedly sacrifice its creatures for value. This name has carried over as the jargon for any deck that focuses on regularly sacrificing creatures to trigger 'on-death' effects.

These decks often have a commander that either has a sacrifice outlet in its own rules text, or some ability that synergizes with you regularly sending your creature tokens and cards to their demise. Popular Aristocrat commander choices are:

  • Korvold, Fae-Cursed King
  • Ayara, First of Locthwain
  • Prossh, Skyraider of Kher
  • Ziatora, the Incinerator

Tokens

Tokens is a timeless and simple strategy in Commander, the goal of these decks is to assemble a massive legion of creature tokens and then power them all up to potentially kill several opponents at once. Token decks hone in on creating a wide board state of small tokens and then augmenting those cheap, disposable bodies with powerful anthem effects that buff all of their creatures.

These decks want to keep the tokens alive so that they can be powered up to present a truly ludicrous amount of combat damage. Often these decks' commanders will either create tokens, buff creatures or otherwise reward the large number of creatures entering the battlefield throughout a game. Popular Tokens commanders are:

  • Trostani, Selesnya's Voice
  • Rhys the Redeemed
  • Purphoros, God of the Forge
  • Winota, Joiner of Forces
  • Jinnie Fay, Jetmir's Second

Counters

Counters' decks profit from having counters placed on permanents and players, using effects like Proliferate, and cards that care about specific types of counters. Infect decks kill opponents by placing 10 or more Infect counters on them, often also placing -1/-1 counters on their opponents' creatures. +1/+1 Counter decks focus on the battlefield and on powering up one or many creatures with +1/+1. Finally, keyword counter decks place new keywords and abilities on creatures through the use of unique effects, many from Ixalan block. Popular counters commanders are:

  • Hamza, Guardian of Arashin
  • Atraxa, Praetor's Voice
  • Skullbriar, the Walking Grave
  • The Scorpion God
  • Volrath, the Shapestealer
  • Toxrill, the Corrosive

Lifegain

Lifegain decks are exactly what they sound like, focusing on a variety of effects that increase their life total and make it incredibly hard to kill them quickly. Lifegain on its own isn't enough to win you a game of Commander, however, so look for cards that turn a high life total or lots of lifegain triggers into more tangible value.

Often these decks will play effects that discourage or prevent opponents from targeting them or their creatures, to more easily ensure the safety to execute their game plan. These decks have plenty of redundancy to make sure all of their cards work together in similar ways, giving a consistent style of play. Popular lifegain commanders are:

  • Dina, Soul Steeper
  • Oloro, Ageless Aescetic
  • Beledros Witherbloom
  • Karlov of the Ghost Council
  • Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose
  • Heliod, Sun-Crowned

Instants & Sorceries

Instant and sorcery decks eschew a varied board state for the ability to profit from repeatedly casting instant and sorcery cards, inundating their opponents with spell-slinging goodness. Some of these decks look to cast a high number of cheap spells in a single turn before unleashing a massive spell with the Storm mechanic, while others look to cast massive, game-defining spells at a high discount.

Oftentimes, these decks' Commanders are the key payoff for all their instants and sorceries, ensuring they can take quick advantage of their deck's theme. Popular instant and sorcery decks are:

  • Mizzix of the Izmagnus
  • Talrand, Sky Summoner
  • Kalamax, the Stormsire
  • Lier, Disciple of the Drowned
  • Chun-Li, Countless Kicks
  • Kess, Dissident Archmage

These are just a small taste of the archetypes available to build in Commander, and there are tons of resources available online to help find the commander that's best for you.

RELATED: Magic: The Gathering - Powerful Cards That Are Banned And Why They're Banned In Commander

Building Your Deck

There are no hard-and-fast rules for building a Commander deck, apart from the singleton nature and a list of banned cards, like any other Magic: The Gathering format. The average deck should have somewhere between 34-42 lands, depending on its level of mana ramp, and its synergy with lands specifically.

If you want to harness the hive mind of fellow Magic: The Gathering players, check out community resources like EDHRec, which shows you what players like you are putting into their decks for certain commanders. Putting together your first Commander deck doesn't mean it's finished, as you'll be sure to slot cards in and out as you play with it and figure out exactly how it functions. Commander decks are always a work in progress.

Look to make sure that you have significantly more cards that cost one to three mana than cards that cost four to six and beyond, being able to set your plan in motion early is paramount. You should also ensure that expensive spells will generally give you enough of an advantage to be worth waiting to cast or use.

A good rule of thumb is to divide your deck up with approximately these numbers.

  • Seven to ten mana acceleration effects if you have them.
  • Five to seven removal spells including both targeted removal and board wipes.
  • Six to ten pieces of card draw.
  • At least twelve cards that synergize directly with your Commander or your central strategy.

Fill out the rest with a balance of cards, and you'll be well on your way to being a Commander veteran.

That's all you need to know for how to build your first Commander deck, get out there and dominate your opponents!

NEXT: Magic: The Gathering - The Best Mana Dorks For Commander

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