I would like to take the opportunity to clear up some misconceptions that players new to the format (or even those who have been around a while) might have about the Commander format. Even I have been guilty of a few of these misconceptions in the past, so I think it beneficial to highlight ten things I have seen or heard people misunderstand about Commander rules.
1. Your older card might not do what you think it does. Errata happens to Magic cards all the time – in fact, many cards just got errata applied with the inclusion of the Indestructible keyword included with the Magic 2014 rules changes. If you have older cards, always double-check the Oracle text with Gatherer to make sure you understand exactly how it works. This is one of those misconceptions I myself have been guilty of – for over a year I ran Soldevi Sentry in my Group Hug deck. Looking at the text of the card, by the way today’s formatting works, you can pay 1 mana to create a regeneration shield on Soldevi Sentry, and a target opponent gets to draw a card. I was using the Sentry as a massive opponent-draw engine, without realizing he had received an Oracle text update. The Oracle text reads, “1: Choose target opponent. Regenerate Soldevi Sentry. When it regenerates this way, that player may draw a card.” BIG DIFFERENCE. Soldevi Sentry creates the regeneration shields, but instead of letting an opponent draw a card, it sets up a delayed triggered ability that lets them draw WHEN he regenerates.
Kind of embarassing for me when I finally realized. So, check that Oracle text!
2. Shahrazad is, in fact, banned. But it’s not on the banned list, right? There’s a reason for that – because it’s on the Vintage banned list. The Commander format uses the Vintage-legal card pool, with additional cards banned because of format requirements. In addition to Shahrazad, cards which refer to the ante zone (like Timmerian Fiends) are banned, as are cards which require a feat of dexterity in order to function (Chaos Orb and Falling Star).
3. Mulligans work a little differently. First, all multiplayer games have a “first mulligan is free” rule. So, unless you’re playing Commander in a two-player game, when you take your first mulligan, you draw back up to seven cards. Second, Commander uses a “Partial Paris Mulligan” rule. Instead of shuffling your entire hand into your library, you instead select any number of cards in your hand you don’t want, and exile them. Then, draw back up to your mulligan number (for example, your first mulligan you draw back up to seven, then to six, then five and so forth). Once a player no longer wishes to mulligan, THEN the exiled cards are shuffled back into their library.
4. A player must be dealt 21 COMBAT damage from a general to lose the game. If you wish to defeat a player with Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind you actually have to attack that player and connect for a total of 21 damage that way. Damage done with his second ability (Whenever you draw a card, Niv-Mizzet deals 1 damage to target creature or player) does not count toward this total. Same deal goes for Brion Stoutarm. He can fling creatures at your opponents’ faces all day, and while you’ll still gain life from it due to his Lifelink ability, he will do precisely zero general damage this way.
5. Color identity is tricky sometimes. Three things identify a card’s color identity: its casting cost (hybrid mana counts as both colors), its color indicator (for example, Kobolds of Kher Keep is red, because its color indicator is red), and any mana symbols that show up in its text box. Here are a few examples of things in the text box that affect color identity:
Alternate Costs: Bringer of the White Dawn MUST have a general with all five colors in its identity to be played, because it has an alternate cost of .
Additional Costs: In order to play Dismantling Blow in your deck, your general must have blue and white in its color identity, because the spell has a mana cost including white, and a kicker cost which includes blue.
Other abilities: Honestly, anywhere on the card’s rules text you see a mana symbol defines its identity. Naked Singularity, for example, has all five colors in its identity, because all five mana symbols show up in its rules text. However…
6. Some things you may think affect color identity actually don’t. First and foremost, reminder text is not rules text. Reminder text is anything in a card that is within parenthesis. For example, Syndic of Tithes can be played in a mono-white deck, even though the reminder text (within parenthesis) of Extort has hybrid W/B in it.
Additionally, it has to be the mana symbols – color text alone isn’t enough. Go ahead and play that Nightscape Familiar in your Grimgrin, Corpse-Born deck. Grimgrin doesn’t care that he’s making red creatures cheaper – there is no red mana symbol to be found anywhere in its card text, so it’s all good. Want to play Dega Sanctuary in your black-white lifegain deck? Do it; it’s totally legal.
Finally, while all basic lands have an unspoken mana symbol in their text box (so you can’t play Swamps in a Blue-Green deck), your general doesn’t care what land types a card refers to, as long as there are no mana symbols. Go ahead and use that Naya Panorama in your red-white deck to fetch up lands. Just because it can fetch forests too doesn’t mean you can’t use it.
7. Card text supercedes the singleton rule. Right now, there are only two cards that care about this, Shadowborn Apostle and Relentless Rats. You want a deck with 40 Shadowborn Apostles and a bunch of demons in it? Go for it.
8. Commander Tax is applied before cost reductions. The way totaling costs work in Magic is this: First, effects which increase the cost of a spell or ability are applied first. Then effects which reduce costs are applied. Finally, if Trinisphere is on the battlefield, it kicks the cost up to 3 if it’s less than that.
Here’s a practical exercise: let’s say Karador, Ghost Chieftain has been cast from the Command zone three times so far this game, so it now costs an additional to cast him. However, you have 7 creatures in the graveyard. How much does it cost to cast Karador?
We start with his regular casting cost, . Then we add the commander tax, so his cost is . Then we reduce his cost by because you have seven creatures in the graveyard. It will cost you to cast Karador from your command zone.
9. Being a general is a property of the card, not a characteristic. Just what the heck does this mean? Well, it means that “being a general” is not a characteristic that can be copied or overwritten. Okay, so what does that mean? Well, let me give you a couple examples:
If two players have the same general, say for instance Ramirez DePietro, they do not count each other toward 21 General Damage. Say you attack an opponent, we’ll call him Ted, with your general and do 11 damage. The other guy playing Ramirez DePietro does 10 damage to Ted as well with his general. That is 11 and 10 General Damage, not 21. You will still have to deal 10 more damage with your Ramirez DePietro before that player loses the game.
On another note, say your general is The Mimeoplasm. He’s pretty popular, so that can totally happen. Anywho, when you cast The Mimeoplasm, you have him become a copy of Diluvian Primordial with eight +1/+1 counters. This general’s name is no longer the Mimeoplasm, but he’s still your general. So, say you do 13 damage to a player with this setup, and your Mimeoplasm gets destroyed. Later, you recast your general, but this time he’s a Grave Titan with four +1/+1 counters. This Mimeoplasm does 11 damage to that same player. Even though he had different names and characteristics when he hit that player, he’s still The Mimeoplasm as far as General damage is concerned. Your opponent has now taken 24 General damage, and has lost the game.
One final, somewhat esoteric note about “general-ness” being a property. This means that the location of a general is known even when it is in a hidden zone, like the library or hand. This means that, when a general gets tucked into the library, once the library is (legally) shuffled, all players get to know where the general is in the library (usually accomplished by having the general in a different sleeve than the rest of the deck.) Admittedly, I have seen exactly zero Commander play groups use this rule – in all the games I have played in and witnessed, the general was changed into a sleeve matching the rest of the deck before going into the hand or library. Nonetheless, it’s a legitimate, official rule – so don’t be surprised if it ever does come up in a playgroup.
10. There is more than one banned list. Most games of Commander are played with the regular banned list, found here. However, many competitive Commander groups (particularly for two-player games) have adopted the French Banned List. In addition to having a seperate banned list, the “Duel Commander Format” has two differences from regular Commander: players start with 30 life, and if your general would be shuffled into your library, you may place it in your command zone instead. This will almost never come up, but you should definitely be aware of the existence of the other banned list just in case.
Well, that’s it for today’s bonus article! If you have any other questions about Commander rules, use the comment button and ask away! I’ll do my best to answer whenever I can.