Magic: The Gathering Commander 2013

Magic: The Gathering Commander 2013 consists of five decks: Power Hungry, Nature of the Beast, Mind Seize, Evasive Maneuvres and Eternal Bargain, which we were given for review.  Each deck contains 100 cards and three oversized, foil commander cards – the normal versions of these cards are included within the 100 cards.  The pack also comes with a Magic “learn to play” guide, and a strategy insert with rules for the commander.

Commanders for Eternal Bargain

Commander, sometimes known as Elder Dragon Highlander, is meant to be played as a free-for-all game with three to six players, though two player games are possible.  Players are encouraged to form alliances and/or betray each other.. though eventually only one player can win!

Each player starts with 40 life points instead of 20, and with the Commander, a legendary creature, serving as the centrepiece of the deck.   The game is played in Singleton format, which means apart from land cards, all the cards must be unique.  There’s a further restriction in that each commander has a three-colour identity, and only cards matching those colours can be included in the deck: eg, Eternal Bargain’s commanders are white, blue and black, so cards with green and red colour cannot be used.

The commander starts the game in a special area called the command zone, visible to all players.  Players can use the oversized foil card here, swapping it out for the normal version of the card as and when the commander is placed into the player’s hand or shuffled in the library.

For a newcomer like myself, there are more things to keep in mind for Commander than there are in the basic game.  The commander works differently to the other cards in the deck, with some very powerful abilities that are only tempered by an increasing cost every time the card is played: players pay the costs listed on the card plus an additional 2 mana for each previous time it has been played.  When the card is exiled or placed in the graveyard, the player can put it straight back into the command zone instead.  Players must also keep a record of how many points of damage their commander deals to any one player, because if a player is dealt 21 points of damage from any one commander in the game, they lose!

The Eternal Bargain deck’s primary commander is Oloro, Ageless Ascetic (the strategy insert recommends using the commander listed first in the deck list), and he grants life to the player at the beginning of each upkeep, while giving the option to pay mana and take life from your opponents.  The other two commanders are Sydri, Galvanic Genius, who boost artifacts into artifact creatures, and Sharuum the Hegemon, who allows players to bring artifacts from the graveyard to the battlefield.  The oversized foil versions of these cards are rather nice, of a high print quality with excellent artwork, just as I’ve come to expect from Magic cards.

The other 99 cards in the deck include 41 lands, 27 creatures and 31 other spells.  You can of course, make the deck your own by exchanging some of these cards for others, so long as you stick to the rules about each card being unique, and fitting in with your commander’s colour identity.

Oloro, Ageless Ascetic provides you with additional life points all the while he is in the command zone, and many other cards also grant life: Azorius Herald grants 4 life when it enters the battlefield, while Disciple of Griselbrand allows you to sacrifice creatures to gain life equal to their toughness, and Filigree Angel grants 3 life per artifact under a player’s control.  While this is happening, abilities on some of these other cards can trigger too: Ajani’s Pridemate gains +1/+1 counters each time you gain life, Serra Avatar’s power and toughness are made equal to the player’s life total, and the Vizkopa Guildmage can spend mana to cause each opponent to lose the amount of life gained that turn.

When it comes to lands, there are some of the familiar Island, Plains and Swamp cards, but also other named land cards with different effects.  Some provide a choice between two or more mana colours to add to the pool, while others have rather more interesting benefits: Springjack Pasture allows you to place white Goat creature tokens onto the battlefield, and later sacrifice them for mana and life points, while Opal Palace allows you to boost your commander with a number of +1/+1 counters, depending upon the number of times the commander has been cast so far.

I think players have to be more adaptable to make the best use of the cards that you draw when there are 100 cards with no duplicates.  This isn’t a bad thing, but if you’re only just getting to know what certain cards do, or which types of cards work well together, it’s a harder job to piece together a good strategy straight away.  For new players, I think it’s a bit harder to get to grips with what’s going on unless you have more experienced friends to play alongside.. but then again Commander is aimed at groups of players and could be a more sociable than competitive game.

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