To help with social distancing, people are finding ways to play Commander online more and more. Playing with physical cards over webcam is easier than it seems, but requires opponents you really trust. Arena is another option, but only supports two-player Brawl which falls far short of the experience many Commander players want.
MTGO has a full multiplayer Commander implementation, but is what we call an “untrusted” experience. That means you don’t have much (if any) chance to talk to your opponents and hash out what kind of experience you want ahead of time.
Those rule-zero pre-game discussions are more than just power level… it’s agreeing how long you expect the game to go, what levels/types of interaction are enjoyable, etc. If that sounds like it takes effort, well… it does.
If that sounds like it takes effort, well… it does.
Surprise! It’s worth it!
So how do we do that in an untrusted environment? Sub formats are effective because they can be communicated quickly using just the name of the variant in the game description. If that name is self-explanatory, even better.
A format for deck-builders!
One such variant of Commander which has picked up a lot of traction lately for MTGO games is 10-ticket Commander. I originally learned about it from Eric Levine… an old friend and Commander content producer under the nickname Raging Levine. He originally wrote up the format back in 2016, but for the aforementioned reasons it’s got a real shot in the arm this year.
You will have to make hard choices… which feels great!
Eric invited me to join a Discord community where folks play Commander on MTGO, with the restriction that the total “cost” of the cards in the deck (excluding the commander) should be 10 tickets or less. I use mtggoldfish to price out decks, and there are a bunch of sites online which have prices built in. (If you run such a site, feel free to message me and I’ll add a link here).
Is ten tickets enough?
Remember: Your commander doesn’t cost towards the limit.
Because MTGO ticket “prices” are very different than physical card prices, the power level you can squeeze out of 10 tix is actually pretty reasonable… this isn’t low-budget magic in the classic sense. Even rares usually only cost 0.05 tix, so you can fill a deck with interesting choices.
What the price cap does preclude many of the “usual suspects”… the automatic must-haves, which usually cost 1-2 tickets and now aren’t worth the cost. You’ve got some room to wiggle if there are a couple of cards you REALLY want for a particular archtype, but either way you will have to make hard choices… which feels great!
Cards you won’t have to play, or play against:
|Sol Ring (3 tix)||Eternal Witness (2 tix)|
|Cyclonic Rift (2 tix)||Smothering Tithe (2 tix)|
|Mystical Tutor (1 tix)||Rhystic Study (3 tix)|
|Avenger of Zendikar (3 tix)||Craterhoof Behemoth (3 tix)|
|Insurrection (1 tix)||Demonic Tutor (4 tix)|
Since most cards you’ll want are less than a tenth of a ticket (Your non-basic lands need to average about 0.13 tickets), it’s useful to think of cards in centi-tix (cT). You’ve got 1000cT to spend.
How do I build a 10-ticket deck?
You can easily put together a first-cut deck in an hour or so, and might have more fun. Ten ticket decks tend to evolve over time more than my full-price decks, because the set of playable cards is larger, so it’s less important to get the first cut “just right”… a pile of playables will likely be sufficiently powerful to be involved in the game. From there you can learn as you go; I don’t think I’ve ever played a game where I didn’t witness at least one card I wanted to add to my deck after I was done.
Building with a mechanical theme will help, as always. Mechanics like Cycling or Reanimation, which have been printed at common in multiple sets, are a good place to start. Counters (+1/+1, -1/-1, poison, etc) are another… just about any non-parasitic mechanic will have enough support to build around, but you should keep that support in mind when choosing your commander.
I tend to start by pasting a bookmarked manabase into MTGGoldFish’s deck pricer tool and then go from there. It will find the cheapest “printing” of each card for me.
A card which costs 0.03 tix is 3cT.
You’ve got 1000cT to spend.
What if the price of cards goes up?
It’s always a bit bittersweet when a card you like becomes unavailable, and it does happen in 10-ticket commander… but it helps to see it as a blessing in disguise. A card spiking in value is an opportunity to find a replacement… harsh, but fun.
In the end, it’s mostly up to you. If the cost of some of your cards creeps up over time by 10-20%, it’s probably fine for you to leave the deck as-is. Maybe check once a year by pasting it back into a pricing tool… but don’t sweat it too much.
Unless your deck is blatantly cheaty, it’s unlikely people will call you out… you’re the only one who will know you’re bending the rules, but the community is small so if you betray the public trust you can be sure people will share your name and ostracise you.
(It’s worth noting that some cards will never go up in price no matter how popular they are in Commander, or even 10-ticket commander.).
Duals, Shocks, Tricycles, and Fetches are a mainstay of regular Commander mana-bases, but they’re also the first thing to go under budget constraints. Making your mana work with only a ticket or so is a good place to start, and there’s a lot of pre-existing solutions:
Two- and Three-colour mana bases (sans green)
To start with, a surprising number of top-shelf mana fixers are 1-3cT. Thawing Glaciers hasn’t been playable in any online format other than commander, so it weights in at a paltry 3cT. Unfortunately, some cards (like Command Tower), occasionally list at “default” price of 0.01 but aren’t actually available for that price… the format rule is you have to be able to actually purchase it for a given price to count towards your budget.
The real secret to building a budget mana base is finding ways to leverage basic lands, and there are a bunch of colour-agnostic ways to fetch basics without spending significant tix. Evolving Wilds and Terramorphic Expanse effects are fairly easy to come by as a start: Panoramas, Myriad Landscape, Thaumatic Compass, and Warped Landscape are all less than 5cT.
Magic has a huge variety of lands which tap for two or three colours, but only saw play in one standard format. It turns out that many of those “Tier 2” lands are quite cheap even at rare, e.g. Ravnica Karoos, Tarkir Trilands, M10 Buddy Lands (Dragonskull summit and the like), and Hybrid Lands (e.g. Graven Cairns). Tapping into those will easily round out a mana base with only three colours, without needing to play anything bad like Invasion duals. (Invasion Lair lands are some of the most stylish three-colour lands, but they’re still fairly unplayable outside Landfall decks).
The Hybrid lands in particular are some of the best mana-fixing lands ever printed, and cost 2cT. Some of the two-colour animating lands are about 5cT, but others are more than a ticket so you’ll have to shop around… when they fit, they’re a great addition.
Cheap mana rocks are the third piece of the puzzle, and again there’s a lot of them available which are suddenly very playable in a 10-ticket metagame. 2-mana rocks sometimes cost more (Some Ravnica Signets are more than 100cT), but the three-mana counterparts are usually around 5cT:
- Tarkir Banners
- Ravnica Lockets and Cluestones
- Ikoria Crystals
- Zendikar Obelisks
- Alara Borderposts <– Dunno why, but I love these
- Mirrodin Talismen
- Commander’s Sphere
- Darksteel Ingot, Manalith, Mana Geode
Managathering.com has a great rundown of options here.
Four- and Five- colour mana bases
Once you have more than three colours, lands which tap for any colour become worth considering, and the good news is that, once again, many all-star 5-colour lands are nearly free on MTGO.
Even if you have access to green, it’s usually not a good idea to lean hard on one colour for fixing; you might not draw it till mid-game. Instead, spending a little more on your mana is a good idea for 5-colour decks, because you’ll be able to easily make up the power from multi-colour uncommons and junk rares (Conflux is 11cT!).
Gate package: 10 Gates + Circuitous Route, Open the Gates, Gateway Plaza, Guild Summit, and Maze’s End (total 14cT)
5x Panorama + 5x Mirage Fetches will get you any basics you need for 10 buddy lands to come into play untapped. You shouldn’t need to dip into stuff like Vivid lands, but can if you want (usually because you want to play some 1-colour utility lands).
Handy Artifacts: Wayfarer’s Bauble, Armillary Sphere, Journeyer’s Kite, Khalni Gem, Firemind Vessel, Gemstone Array
Price check every card though, because some ostensibly “common” solutions might sneak up on you… Expedition Map is more than 3 whole tickets!
Green-first 3+ colours
Another way to go for mana is to make green a majority colour, and then splash other colours. One advantage to this approach for 3-colour decks is that you can usually guarantee 2, and even 3, copies of those off-colours in the late game. To that end, there are a collection of Rampant-growth style fixers which are cheap enough that they won’t take up any of your budget:
Journey of Discovery, Edge of Autumn, Kodama’s Reach/Cultivate, Fertile Growth, Weirding Wood, etc. Gaea’s Balance does yeoman’s work in 5 colour decks.
One-colour mana bases (aka: good utility lands)
There’s been lots written about good utility lands, which often make your mana base worse, but if you’re playing only one land are a good way to go. Again, managathering.com has a good rundown of lands and rocks which generate colourless mana, which can be good utility+acceleration.
Now that we’ve cranked up the variance, it’s worth talking about ways we can make sure our deck still hits on its theme? One area where 10 ticket commander shines is the value of tier-2, unappreciated tutors. Goldfish again comes to the rescue, with a starting list someone put together. You can find others easily though, by searching for cards with “search your library” and then browsing for old favorites you’d forgotten about or could never find a home for. Sometimes the good ones, like Bribery, will top out your cost-curve at 70cT, but Acquire can be had for 3cT!
Some cards, like Vampiric Tutor or Tooth and Nail, are still available for only a few cT. Others like Liliana Vess, Cruel Tutor, Diabolic Intent, Fabricate, Brutalizer Exarch, Idyllic Tutor and Hoarding Dragon are super cheap, but you will need to get creative. Transmute Cards are restricted in what they can fetch, but also serve as spot removal/counterspells/anti-token hate in a pinch. Even jank like Night Dealings can be a power house.
10-ticket magic is one of many ways to easily quantify deck power, by capping everyone at a low level. It’s easy to communicate (just put “10-ticket Commander” in the game description) and will lead to a lot of veritable Commander-style games. Deck building skill and/or experience are more significant, but the higher variance means you can afford to explore the corners of your collection (or your favourite trader bot’s collection) for stylish plays. Feel free to join the format’s discord (linked above) and say hi!
 The pre-game conversation is core to the format’s experience and success and it’s always worth it. When we talk about “power level” conversations, and ways to communicate power level, it’s actually more than that… really what we’re doing is communicating play style preferences. But lowering power level usually increases variance and interactivity; limited-vs-constructed, standard-vs-modern, etc.
Personally, I’ve fought hard to ensure that “rule zero” conversation remains core to the Commander format because in my experience it is the ONLY way to create a social experience. We can’t write rules which force people to be social. The discussion invariably increases the enjoyment of the game for everyone (well, except trolls).
And if someone says “But I don’t have that option.”? Remember that you never HAVE to play with someone. The freedom to walk away from a game is an essential right you should protect, and exercise. It’s what makes Commander work.