All posts by Sheldon Menery

RC Statement on secret lair: the walking dead

We’re not going to bury the lede here.  We’re not banning the cards from Secret Lair:  The Walking Dead.  We understand that this won’t sit well with some folks; we have spent a lot of the last few days listening to a wide variety of opinions, and we want to thank everyone for taking the time to share their thoughts. It was, at times, quite overwhelming. It’s clear that this is an issue that many people are passionate about.

Our decision doesn’t reflect an endorsement of these cards, but what we believe is best for Commander in the long run. If you’d like to understand how we arrived at this decision, we encourage you to read on.

We identified three major concerns during the course of these discussions, and we’ll address each and how they relate to Commander below. They are:

  1. The availability of these cards is problematic
  2. The existence of non-Magic IPs on cards should be discouraged
  3. Negan is a dubious character.

There’s no support in the Commander Philosophy Document for banning these cards. They certainly present no mechanical difficulties, and taken simply as cards, don’t come close to fitting any criteria we have for banning.  However, as we are always seeking to improve the document, we discussed whether banning these cards could fit under new philosophical criteria and whether using the banlist in this way was appropriate.


A concern of many players is that these cards would not be widely available, and for some countries, only available through third-party sellers. They worry that this model will be repeated in the future. We’ve heard you loud and clear on this issue.  Because the cards are mechanically unique, this is the major problem most folks have. We wish that all of our friends around the globe had access to these cards.  However, the RC of its own accord can’t solve that problem.  What we can do—what we already have done—is add our voice to yours. Since this issue broke, we’ve been in contact with well-placed people at Wizards of the Coast to make sure that they understand your displeasure and where it comes from, as well as urging that they work towards a solution. 

While we understand why people are concerned about such limited availability, we don’t believe that the problem applies to Commander in the same way it does to tournament formats. Successful tournament formats require generally equal and complete access to cards. But, one of the themes that we’ve reiterated since the earliest days of the format is that you don’t need access to every card in order to have fun playing Commander.   The focus of Commander being on non-tournament play, plus the enormous cardpool available where almost everything goes, means that unique cards floating around don’t present the same kind of problem. The stakes in a Commander game is the fun of the participants, and that doesn’t require all the cards.  

A problem we see with adopting a ban philosophy based on card availability is explaining it down the road.  If, a year from now, someone stumbles across a copy of one of these cards, tries to use it and discovers that it is banned in Commander, they will ask why. And the explanation is unsatisfactory: people didn’t like how they were allocated. This does not make a lot of sense to the person who is holding the card, and who doesn’t own many other cards that may be out of reach for them. We want people to be able to play the cards they own, and only resort to bans when it’s problematic for the health of the format, not the wider ecosystem.

These cards are in no way a threat to the health of Commander.  In fact, we see it just the opposite.  We’re the only format that could bear the weight of this kind of experimentation.  This is the format in which Crab Tribal is just as valid as Blood Pod.  Adding a few quirky cards that aren’t ubiquitously available doesn’t threaten that. 

One of the calls from the community was that we should ban these cards to “send a signal” to Wizards of the Coast for a “blatantly commercial act”.  First of all, we don’t think it’s appropriate to tell them how to run their business; that’s way outside the scope of our charter.  Second, the banned list isn’t the appropriate vehicle to voice our displeasure over something, nor is using it as punishment.  The banned list is an abstract construct to corporate decision-makers.  The right path to walk is the one we’ve gone down:  real change happens from having real conversations with real people, which we have been doing since the news broke.  Finally, attempting to send such a signal would be doomed to failure.  It will not have the effect that people hope.  The primary goal of these cards is almost certainly new-player acquisition. Wizards hopes to lure some Walking Dead fans into Magic and any interest from Commander players is just a small bonus. Banning the cards until functional reprints are available doesn’t do much either. 


Some folks simply don’t like the idea of The Walking Dead crossing over into Magic, a modern IP breaking an immersion barrier. We understand that feeling (none of us care at all about The Walking Dead), but also realize that almost everyone has some universe for which they’ve dreamed of having Magic cards.  We don’t think it’s productive to try to gatekeep that.  If you dislike it, we support you not playing with the cards.  Introduction of a different IP opens Commander to audiences who might not have ever heard of Magic or the format; we welcome the new friends we haven’t yet met.  


We’ve also heard some displeasure over the Negan character being on a card, given his (fictional) history of terrible actions. We are sympathetic to this, and did give some consideration to banning just that card. We chose not to because Negan is a villain, plain and simple. There’s no implied endorsement, sanitation or glorification of his actions.  In that, he’s no different than other villains already in the Magic universe, even though as portrayed by an actor it seems closer to “real world” discomfort.  No one is suggesting that by putting him on a card  he should be idealized, any more so than Nicol Bolas or Yawgmoth.  We will use this as an opportunity to remind each other to respect other players’ boundaries.  Being empathic and accommodating is vital for a healthy gaming community; being considerate of other players makes us all better.   


The community outcry over these cards did not go unheard.  We used our relationship with people inside Wizards of the Coast to have an honest conversation about how and why so many of you felt betrayed by this process.  One of the outcomes of that conversation is that they were supportive of whatever decision we made.  We believe that conversation has had influence and they clearly understand the concerns. Thank you to everyone who has weighed in with their thoughts. We tried very hard to keep up with all of them, even as the Discord became overwhelming. 

September 2020 quarterly update

It has been a quiet quarter for Commander, and we are going to keep it that way. We don’t have any changes to the Rules or Banned list this time around. We will continue to monitor the format, player experience, and so forth. 

As always, we’re interested in your feedback.  You can pop around to the free RC Discord server and be pretty likely to run into an RC or CAG member in a chat (or four). 

We are making one small change regarding our announcements. This is the last quarter in which our regular announcements will take place on the Monday after a new expansion’s prerelease weekend. Starting in January 2021, quarterly Commander announcements will happen the Monday before a new expansion’s prerelease weekend. The reasons are two-fold:

  1. Since new sets are legal in Commander as of the prerelease, it only makes sense that any announcement take place before then. 
  2. This will get any possible bannings/unbannings and rules changes out of the way prior to the prerelease. Commander players can attend their prerelease (well…someday), acquire cards, and not be worried about rules changes the following Monday.

The Rules Committee, some of the Commander Advisory group, and a few “friends of the format” have been playing a format variant for the last 4 month. Dubbed the “EDH Boxing League,” it has proven itself to be a very different, fun way to play Commander.

The short version is:

  1. Each player opens a booster box or a normal release expansion or Core set cards.
  2. Players build their Commander deck from this pool.
  3. Starting each subsequent week, each player can open 6 boosters of another set and add those cards to their pool. They can’t select a set for which they have already opened boosters in that league.
  4. All Commander Rules are in effect (including banned cards).

There’s a full write up of the rules here.  There’s also a dedicated channel for it on the Discord server. 

If you’d like to see the format in action, join us on the RC Twitch channel ( on Thursdays at 8PM EDT and Sundays at 2PM EDT.

2020 has been a challenging year for everyone. Our hope is that Commander has provided some small sense of relief from the crazy over the last 6 months. See you again in January!

New Voices: Yet another Golos Deck Tech

by Gabriel Mahaffey

“You can’t keep me down”

Golos, Tireless Pilgrim, probably

I would like to talk to you about our lord and savior, Golos. When commander players see Golos, they might think of five color good stuff, powerful and spicy cards. The take I did for Golos is to really abuse him without activating him. If you’re like Patrick living under a rock, Golos is a 3/5 Legendary Artifact Golem for 5 generic mana, and when he enters the battlefield, you can search you library for a land and put that land onto the battlefield tapped, then you shuffle your library. You can also pay 2 generic mana and one mana of each color in order to cast the top three cards of your library without paying their mana costs until the end of the turn. This deck is designed in a way to not use the activated ability of Golos. 

Golos, Tireless Pilgrim

Blink and Now He’s Gone

The object of the deck is to rarely, if ever, activate Golos’s activated ability. How can we abuse the enter the battlefield effect? There is always recasting it. Eh, seems inefficient. Blinking it! There we go! There are several ways that we exile Golos and have him come back. One way is Thassa, Deep-Dwelling and Brago King Eternal, flicker him either at the end of turn or on combat damage. Another way is Venser, the Sojourner. Exile him and have him come back at the end of the turn. The final way is to use Astral Slide effects, send Golos on a journey that lasts until end of turn whenever a player cycles a card.

Thassa, Deep-Dwelling, Magic, Theros Beyond Death
Venser, the Sojourner, Magic, Scars of Mirrodin
Astral Slide, Magic, Onslaught

Stop It, You’re Enabling Him

There are cycling payoffs and cycling enablers in the deck. The enablers make it so my cycling abilities cost cheaper, from Gavi, Nest Warden and New Perspectives, to Fluctuator. Gavi and New Perspectives makes my cycling abilities free while Fluctuator makes them cost two generic less. The payoffs are Drake Haven and Lightning Rift. By paying 1 we can either create a 2/2 flying drake or deal 2 damage respectively.

Gavi, Nest Warden, Magic, Commander 2020
Drake Haven, Magic, Commander 2020
Lightning Rift, Magic, Commander 2020

Cycling is Fun

For those of you like Patrick Star, I’m going to go over what cycling is and isn’t. Cycling isn’t a spell, so if you want spell like effects but worry about counters, then you are in luck. Cycling is an ability that you can pay mana and discard the card with cycling to draw a card. Cycling can turn cards that are dead in certain circumstances into useful cards, be it dig for answers or just wanting to draw cards. Nearly half of the deck is just cards that have cycling. Some just plain cycle such as Barren Moor and Forsake the Worldly. Other cycling cards help you get the land you need in lieu of drawing in Eternal Dragon and Ash Barrens. One notable thing about Eternal Dragon is that by paying 3 and two white you can bring it back on our upkeep. And our final category of cycling cards are card that have effects when you cycle them. There is Renewed Faith where we gain 6 life if we cast it, but if we cycle it we may gain 2 life, and Krosan Tusker, which gets us a basic land when you cycle it plus the draw.

Barren Moor, Magic, Commander 2018
Eternal Dragon, Magic, Commander 2020
Renewed Faith, Magic, Masters 25

Ladies and Gentlemen, introducing…

With all the exiling and entering the battlefield effects that we have, we might as well abuse those as well. How do we do it? We include creatures that have an ability that triggers when they enter the ring. There is one creature that doesn’t have an enter the battlefield ability, but doubles up those abilities, and that is Yarok, the Desecrated. These enter the battlefield effects can range from drawing a card with Wall of Omens, scrying with Omenspeaker, to bringing back cards from the graveyard with Eternal Witness and Archaeomancer.

Wall of Omens
Omenspeaker, Magic, Core Set 2019
Eternal Witness, Magic, Commander Anthology Volume II

I Never Miss My Target

There is a suite of targeted removal. When there is an annoying creature or permanent that you want gone, then do we have the right product for you. Here is Pongify and Rapid Hybridization for when you want that annoying creature gone. Not to your liking? Okay, moving on! You might like this one, Oblivion Ring and Cast Out. You can get rid of the annoying creature and you can also get rid of the annoying nonland permanent that you want gone. One other note is that Astral Slide and Astral Drift can also remove those pesky creatures for the turn as well.

Pongify, Magic, Planar Chaos
Oblivion Ring
Astral Drift, Magic, Commander 2020

Wipe Out!

An essential part of any commander deck is the suite of board wipes. These board wipes come in two varieties, symmetrical and asymmetrical. The asymmetrical board wipe is Archfiend of Ifnir, where whenever you discard or cycle a card you put a -1/-1 counter on each creature your opponents control. The symmetrical board wipes are Wrath of God, which destroys all creatures, Decree of Pain where you can either cast it to destroy all creatures and you draw that many cards or cycle it to give each creature -2/-2 until the end of turn, and Akroma’s Vengeance which destroys all artifacts, creatures and enchantments.

Archfiend of Ifnir, Magic, Amonkhet
Akroma's Vengeance, Magic, Commander 2020
Decree of Pain

I Don’t Fit In

There are six cards that don’t fit into the above categories. I’m just going to go over the notable ones. One helps our engine go into hyperdrive. That card would be Ephara, God of the Polis. She will very rarely become a creature, but her ability draws us a card at the beginning of the next upkeep if a creature entered the battlefield last turn. With our cycling engine going, that is exile a creature and having it enter the battlefield at the end of turn, or with Gavi out, we can reliably draw a card every turn. The other card is Shadow of the Grave. Sometimes we may get carried away and cycle our entire hand in one turn and not draw any more cyclers. This is where Shadow of the Past comes in. When you cast it, you return all cards that you have discarded to your hand. You essentially refill you hand with cyclers. The final card is Reliquary Tower. Sometimes you draw a lot of cards with Decree of Pain or bring back four cards with Shadow of the Grave and at the end of the turn you would have to discard a card. Reliquary keeps you from discarding those sweet, sweet cards.

Ephara, God of the Polis, Magic, Secret Lair Drop Series
Shadow of the Grave
Reliquary Tower, Magic, Commander 2020

You Better Watch Out!

With the commander death trigger rule change. For those that don’t know what the rule is: 

“If a commander is in a graveyard or in exile and that card was put into that zone since the last time state-based actions were checked, its owner may put it into the command zone.

If a commander would be put into its owner’s hand or library from anywhere, its owner may put it into the command zone instead. This replacement effect may apply more than once to the same event.”

There is one thing that you might want to be aware of is an opponent using cards that counter triggers like Stifle and Disallow. Astral Slide and Astral Drift have a delayed trigger of the creature coming back to the battlefield at the next end step. One way to combat this is running Rift Sweeper. Although this card is not in the deck, it might be worth running.


The Close Out

This deck has plenty of ways to close out the game. We’re not monsters and build a deck with no win conditions. We have Maze’s End, where we use our engine to get every gate onto the battlefield with Golos. The second way the deck can close out the game is Decree of Justice. We can cast it for its mana cost and get maybe one to three angel tokens or we can cycle it for three or less and create twice as much 1/1 soldier tokens than angel tokens. The other way is to cast Approach of The Second Sun twice. When you cast it from your hand for the first time, it will be the 7th card from the top of your library. Since we are cycling cards, instead of being seven more turns, it will become at least one more turn to three more turns before it will be the second time you cast Approach, in which case you win the game.

Maze's End, Magic, Dragon's Maze
Decree of Justice
Approach of the Second Sun, Magic, Mystery Booster Cards

Sliding Out

In playing this deck, I find it very fun to play with and can win fairly quickly without going infinite. I have included a link to my deck list for you:

Gabriel Mahaffey lives in Arizona and has been playing Magic since Onslaught block and has been playing Commander since September 2008, when From the Vault: Dragons debuted, in what he calls “the first officially-recognized Commander set.” You can catch him as a regular in chat on streams such as the RC’s and AffinityArtifacts.

New Voices: $100 a Deck

by Verdell Shannon

In $100 a Deck, we tackle the the simple concept of a budget brew for Commander. The concept of budget decks is always a slippery slope, with some wanting to aim for the absolute lowest possible price to play, and others thinking budget is whatever a card costs. Generally, I aim for the lowest price point where I can design with flexibility and consistency. Now, let’s dive in.

Part 1: What does the commander do?
Well, we lucked up and got ourselves the most desirable of the new Commander 2020 precons, with a creature that both reduces the cost to cycle cards AND rewards us for doing it. So, any deck we build will be doing a lot of cycling. This is a commander that has a great pedigree with it’s mechanical tie in.

Cycling is a mechanic that has been around in Magic since my favorite block (back when Magic had those) Urza block. It has taken many laps over the years, and appears in all five colors.

Part 2: How do we break this thing?
Thankfully, there is a lot of inspiration to draw from here. We can break him by loading up our deck with cards that are playable and beating our opponents with an interactive game plan… OR we can do a couple of cheap parlou tricks and ruin some fools!

Part 3: What is our inspiration?
I had to dig in a bit to research on cycling in competitive play for this guy. Cycling has come around in tournament decks at least four times, with long time players having seen it do a lot of tricks over the years. So, here are the cliff notes:

Modern: Living End
Game plan is simple, load the graveyard with big, dumb animals, and cast a Living End to reanimate them all. This deck won off the back of cascade spells to control when you could cast the backbreaking spell in a deck that featured no other cards under three CMC. That deck is Jund (black, red, green), so we can’t really rely on it for a direct port. The deck evolved to include an amazing mana denial plan with cards like Avalance Riders, Fulminator Mage, and Beast Within. This is something to note.

Standard: Astral Slide // Lightning Rift (Onslaught standard)
This is a RWX value deck that won the long game through card advantage provided by sticking a powerful enchantment that could match our opponent threat for threat and finally win card advantage. Due to the archetype dating back to 2003/2004 standard, sadly digging into this deck is a bit tougher. You don’t have the same wealth of coverage available to mine, as websites port over content, and the web ages.

Standard UW Control with Drake Haven (Amonkhet standard)
This deck features a suite of UW control options, and wins off the steady stream of creatures a resolved Drake Haven provides, while also controlling the game. This is going to be very important to our build.

Standard Fluctuator (Tempest/Urza standard)
Similar to Living End, but the original. This deck took advantage of the card Living Death out of Tempest block to load up on cards with cycling (that all had the then standard cycling cost of 2 mana), to fill it’s graveyard quickly.

Part 4: What’s the brew? 
Really, the best cycling decks are either blazingly-fast combo reanimator decks with some interaction, or they are slow, grindy incremental advantage decks that win off the value enchantments. Well, in our colors we are doing ourseves a service to go for the long game here. There are two different decks that are long-game driven to draw on in color. Also, I am a strong believer that Commander needs control decks. You don’t need to take every game to one hour length, but sometimes it’s okay to not combo out on turn five.

Here’s the link to the deck list.

Part 5: How does it work?
Cycling is a skill testing mechanic. The deck will reward you for long term play, and getting a feel for what you need in any scenario. You have a lot of grind them out potential. The interaction between blinking your own creature and re-buying one of your board wipes is huge. Also, you will be able to remove threats and stall your opponents by cycling cards.

Essentially, your plan is to slow the game down using a lot of tap out control. Once you have exhausted your opponent’s resources, you can take charge and start to bully the table with your near limitless card advantage available.

Part 6: Upgrades
So, upgrading this deck further is all about retuning your interaction and adding more cards to slow your opponens’ development. Decree of Silence is a free counter anything and Nimble Obstructionist is your Trickbind option. You of course can upgrade the mana base, to minimize the tapped land impact more and make sure you hit your colors.

Part 7: Closing Comments
Gavi, Nest Warden is a fantastic control or combo/tempo commander. You can dictate the pace of the game very well, and are mostly immune to counterspells. Call me nuts, but I think after you cast the same wrath effect for the 5th time, people may scoop in frustration, since they can’t kill you. The best thing about the 2020 Commander decks is a lot of the cards are already packaged in there, so your upgrade money can go much farther.

Verdell has been into magic since Phyrexians roamed the earth during Urza block. He is a tournament scrub turned commander player and loves all manner of broken and classic deck. You can find him hanging around EDH forums and talking about why he draws the line at Boil and Acid Rain, but is perfectly fine with Ruination, Armageddon and Wave of Vitriol in commander. He can be reached on twitter (@VerdellShannon) or Instagram (@res5music).  

Deal or No Deal?

by Magical Hacker

I have a method for upping your political game that no one is talking about. Once you start using it, you’ll rarely ever make deals again. What comes to mind when you think of “politics” in Commander? Chances are, you’re probably thinking about making a sales pitch to another player for your “mutual benefit” and the destruction of everybody else. Sounds great, right? But there’s a problem.

The Problem with Deals

The problem with deals is that they lock you in to what could be a bad play in order to convince an opponent to do something that is probably beneficial for them anyways. Say I’m playing a game with my friends, Taylor, Spencer, and Jordan, and at 10 life, with no creatures on the board, and just a Path to Exile in hand, I’m tempted to make a deal, especially because Taylor has an Ulamog the Infinite Gyre on the board, while Jordan has four 3/3 Beast tokens. 

If I get attacked by both players, I lose the game even after using my Path to Exile on the Ulamog, so I decide to make a deal with Taylor. “Hey Taylor, if I get rid of the Ulamog, will you attack Jordan with all your creatures for the next two turns?” It might seem like a fair trade: I don’t take damage from the Ulamog or the tokens, I don’t have to annihilate anything, I stay alive, and Taylor gets to attack Jordan without fear of Annihilator retaliation! But by making a deal I lock myself into a course of action.  

What if Spencer plays out a combo like Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Zealous Conscripts, making enough creatures to kill me and all other players at the table? I won’t have my Path to protect me. Also, what if Taylor overestimates how much influence the deal had in stopping them from attacking me, and Taylor attacks me even more than before? This is why instead of making a deal, I like to use the Art of Inception. 

The Art of Inception

The art of inception is to convince your opponents that it’s in their best interest to help you. Sometimes, our goals will align with the goals of our opponents. In fact, sometimes our opponents will also perceive that their goals align with ours.

Instead of making a deal, say I ask, “Hey Taylor, I don’t think I can deal with Jordan on my own, so I guess that means we are allied against them, right?” That simple question launches the entire political move! At this point, I am forcing Taylor to evaluate the board state. Mentally, they have to decide which opponent is the greatest obstacle standing in the way of them winning the game, and to keep the example fundamental, the simple details tell us that they are going to see Jordan as the primary hurdle to overcome. In that way, Taylor will definitely attack Jordan (unless my commander is scary enough that I’m still a threat without a board state, like Golos, Edgar, or Kykar).

As a result, now Jordan will have to make the same decision for themselves, and with someone attacking them for 12 each turn, they certainly have to start annihilating their board before things get uncontrollable. So, how did I manage to do all this with just a simple question?

The concept behind inception is using the board state to my advantage, and leveraging my unthreatening appearance and the threatening appearances of my opponents to lead them to their own conclusions that they should use their resources to fight back against the biggest threat. In this way, I get what I wanted to make a deal for, but at the same time without having to use any resources of my own! It’s free real estate.

Now that I have performed the political move of inception, I can continue to prepare for whatever happens by waiting to use my Path to Exile, both Taylor and Jordan will use their resources to diminish each other’s life total, and once the dust settles, I’ll know exactly who to use my resources on! But of course, there’s an exception to every rule.

An Exception to Every Rule

There are still times where you know that inception won’t work, and that a deal is your best shot at winning. Sometimes, it’s a hail mary. Sometimes, it’s just the least risky path to victory. Let’s add a few more details to the example and we can see where it might be better to go for the deal instead. Let’s say I also have Heartless Hidetsugu and Loxodon Warhammer in hand, but I have to cast Heartless Hidetsugu this turn in order to cast and equip the Warhammer, tap Hidetsugu, and gain a bunch of life on my next turn. At the same time, I know that playing it down would immediately make my opponents attack me. 

In this situation, I can lock in a deal before the game state changes, allowing me to have a better chance at victory. In fact, this is the most common example of when I’ve seen deals being necessary: when you know you need to become threatening in order to secure a good position, but becoming threatening would kill you.

At the end of the day, politics are key to winning games when all hope seems lost, and I know that using this strategy of inception will be one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal to get there.

So what do you say, deal or no deal?

MagicalHacker is a thinker, a philosopher, and a scientist, constantly searching for the needles of truth in the haystack of what we assume to be true. You might know him from his plethora of YouTube videos (including multiplayer game play, deck techs for commanders previewed within the past week, top 10s featuring only cards he plays in multiple decks, live deckbuilding of underplayed commanders, or even his monthly deck doctor or game play videos for each of his patrons.

18 May 2020 Update

You may have noticed there’s a small line missing from banned list page today. We’ve eliminated the line “Commander is played with Vintage-legal cards.” While the idea has been a useful shortcut for years, it wasn’t really a philosophical foundation, it was merely a convenience. We’ve long been proponents that Commander isn’t alt-Vintage, so it makes sense given the two formats’ divergence to decouple the wording.

The upshot is that between yesterday and today, nothing has changed for us. The exact same cards remain legal (specifically, Lurrus of the Dream-Den is not banned). We’ve clarified the legality language a bit, but none of the descriptions result in specific cards being banned or unbanned. We’ll have our normally-scheduled update in the next cycle, currently slated for 22 June.

We normally reserve changes for the regular schedule; we felt as though the clarification here warranted providing an update out-of-cycle update.