- What does it mean for these to be the “official rules?”
- Who makes the official rules?
- What is “Rule Zero?” Can I break the official rules?
- What is the Social Contract?
- How can I contact the RC or CAG to ask questions?
- Why does hybrid mana work the way it does?
- Why can’t all planeswalkers be commanders?
- Why is infect still 10 instead of doubling, like life totals are?
- Does Commander have a wishboard?
- Are silver/gold-bordered or proxy cards allowed?
- Is mass land destruction (MLD) allowed in Commander?
Are counterspells allowed in Commander?
Is hand disruption allowed in Commander?
Are life-total setting cards (Sorin, Magister Sphinx) allowed in Commander?
- Can I play card X, which sort of looks like a legendary creature, as my commander?
- Can my deck have a Companion in Commander?
- How should I run a Commander tournament?
What does it mean for these to be the “official rules”?
These are the rules that are used by most of the Commander community, including WotC, CommandFests, and other major events.
More important than what “official” means is what the “rules” are. Commander is both a format and a philosophy; while not everyone plays the same way, the format exists to help people find other players who are looking for the same kind of game. The rules exist to provide a useful reference when discussing “what kind of magic do you want to play?”
Who makes the official rules?
The rules for Commander are set by the Commander Rules Committee (“the RC” or “CRC”) and updated approximately every 3 months, if needed. The RC receives input from the Commander Advisory Group (the CAG), a team of community leaders with diverse opinions and extensive contacts, who represent a breadth of perspectives on the format, while sharing the RC’s vision for Commander.
The membership of both RC and CAG is public, with current and past members documented online here.
What is “Rule Zero”? Can I break the official rules?
Rule Zero is a longstanding tradition in many games. It is the philosophy that each group is best at deciding what is most fun for them, and are encouraged to change the rules within their group to make that happen.
Commander does not have an enforcement arm. Nobody is going to break into your playspace and take away your Commander privileges if you decide to ban some more cards or start at a different life total.
Rule Zero does not allow a player to unilaterally announce rules changes. It stems from a group consensus and discussion. If you sit down with a group you have not previously played with, be prepared to have that discussion and undo your proposed changes if they are not comfortable with them.
What is the Social Contract?
The social contract is a commonly-used nickname for a fundamental philosophy of Commander. It can be summed up as “Don’t play games that you don’t want to.” By extension, “Players should collectively be encouraging a game where everyone has fun.” Winning is good, but prioritizing a collective positive experience is the secret to Commander’s enduring success.
The social contract is often implemented/interpreted as the importance of the players having a conversation before each game starts to make sure everyone understands each player’s expectations about their desired experience. Communicate what you enjoy about Commander, what you’re hoping (or not) to see in that game (such as specific cards, length of games, or general strategies), then change plans a bit if necessary. Sometimes that’s pulling a few cards, sometimes swapping a deck, sometimes changing tables or deciding not to play. A thirty-second conversation can sometimes save everyone at the table a lot of disappointment. We’re aware this isn’t always possible; it’s also easier than you might think.
One place where the Social Contract breaks down quickly is when there are prizes determined by who survives the longest; Commander does poorly in that kind of environment.
How can I contact the RC or CAG to ask questions?
Contact information for all members of the Commander leadership are available on the “Rules Committee” link above, and we’re always willing to listen to, and answer, earnest questions. You can also catch most of us on the Commander RC Discord server. If you’re raising a concern about the format, please try to offer constructive feedback.
Why does hybrid mana work the way it does?
In Commander, a Hybrid mana symbol contributes all of its colours to the colour identity of the card, so Spitting Image can only go in decks whose commander is blue AND green.
REASON: Costs containing hybrid mana symbols can be paid for with either colour, but they contribute both colours to the card they appear on. This isn’t Commander specific. The aforementioned Spitting Image can be countered with Red Elemental Blast, and can’t target a creature with protection from green.
A card’s Colour Identity is similar to its Colour, but slightly different. When the rules for Commander (née EDH) were formed, the decision was made to make colour identity more strict than colour (it includes the colour of mana symbols in the text box), to restrict the card pool and encourage diversity in deckbuilding.
The RC feels that relaxing the definition of colour identity to allow hybrid to ignore a symbol on the card would make the rule more complex, and decrease deck diversity, for very little gain. We do not expect this definition of colour identity to ever change.
Why can’t all planeswalkers be commanders?
Planeswalkers have names and epithets, but they are not creatures and do not function the same way as creatures. They are not allowed as commanders.
There would be both pros and cons to allowing planeswalkers as commanders:
- Many of our favourite MTG characters are represented as planeswalkers, and an increasing number are showing up that way as time progresses.
- Red and white are considered weaker colours in Commander, on account of the decreased effectiveness of direct damage (given the 40 point start life total) and the decreased effectiveness of aggressive creatures (in multiplayer games). Planeswalkers as commanders would make burn, haste, and Oblivion Ring-style effects more valuable.
- Commander is a format which aims to give players more time to interact with each other and execute their game plan. Planeswalkers thrive on having more time so as commanders they would be extremely powerful. The RC believes that, if legal, over time a large portion of the metagame would shift to using planeswalkers as commanders, and the set of viable creature commanders would be substantially reduced.
- While there are some planeswalkers which do interesting things, many fall into the same mould: defend against opposing creatures, slowly gain value, release a game-winning effect. They do not provide quirky build-around abilities due to the limitations of the card type. If they could be replayed repeatedly as a commander, this would amplify the repetitious downsides.
- Planeswalkers can’t be interacted with in the same ways as creatures; in fact, many of the best ways to interact with a creature commander don’t work at all on a planeswalker. The suite of answers each deck needed would wider, the suite of “general” removal more narrow, and the end result is less deck-building diversity.
- Planeswalker commanders need to be protected with more creature removal and defensive creatures, which leads to even longer, grindier play styles. Commander games are already long and don’t need to get longer.
- Making a large portion of the commanders played immune to mass creature destruction would further weaken Red and White.
Based on our experience, the RC feels using planeswalkers as commanders make for longer, less interactive, more repetitive games. These outcomes run contrary to our goals for the format.
Why is infect still 10 instead of 20, analogous to life totals doubling?
Poison as a strategy is not very strong at 10 life, and would be completely unviable were it raised. As such there is no value to an additional format-specific rule.
Poison is a reasonably viable strategy for taking out a single opponent, but suffers from the same problem as other similar glass-cannon strategy; once the first opponent has been killed, there isn’t enough strength to take out the remaining players. Additionally, it is a strategy that does not build on what the other players are doing, requiring the infect player to do all the work themselves.
Does Commander have a wishboard?
The rules of Magic provide very little guidance on how wishes work outside of a tournament. No boundaries is problematic and leads to arguments. The best approach it to set the default to non-functional and allow groups to agree on parameters if they want to use them.
Including a competitive construct such as a wishboard would force all players to include one, even if they didn’t have plans to use it (as they might gain control of a spell or permanent with this type of effect). It also violates the exactly-100-cards premise of Commander, and encourages players to run narrow, powerful answers to popular strategies that might not be worth running in the main deck.
Are silver/gold-bordered cards or physical proxies allowed in Commander?
Magic is a collectible card game and only official Magic the Gathering cards produced by Wizards of the Coast should be used in games. Cards intended for play in normal games of magic have black or white borders; gold bordered collectors-edition cards and mystery-booster style playtest cards are intended for display purposes, not for use in games.
Silver-bordered cards, while sometimes amusing, are also not intended for use in normal games of magic. While occasional exceptions to this can be fun, when used regularly they often make games less interesting for most players, and are not allowed without prior approval.
Is mass land destruction (MLD) allowed in Commander?
How about hand disruption?
All of these strategies are a good idea in moderation.
- If an opponent’s deck can combo off without warning, then permission and hand disruption are a must-have.
- If your opponent plays high powered lands, point land destruction is a good idea.
- If you expect opponents to gain large amounts of life, cards like Sorin Markov can help rein them in.
- If your opponent’s deck has no defense, but instead builds to an unstoppable death machine, then mid- and early-game threats which force them to respond, or exploit their lack of defenses, are entirely appropriate.
Taken to the extreme, strategies like “Draw Go” or MLD, which aim to restrict opponents’ ability to act at all, aren’t forbidden in Commander, but they aren’t very popular. Most people don’t find them fun to play against, and one of the tenets of Commander is the shared play experience. If your deck isn’t fun to play against, people won’t want to play against it and you can’t force someone to play Commander with you. As a result, these strategies are fairly unpopular.
That said, there are some places where any strategy is acceptable. Some games are played at a high power level, “no holds barred”; if your potential opponents like that kind of game, great! Just recognize that most Commander players aren’t looking for that, and will choose not to play against it, so it’s a good idea to let people know what you’re planning before the game starts. Ask if they’re ok with it, and be prepared to play something else if they’re not.
Can I play card X, which sort of looks like a legendary creature, as my commander?
The rules for Commander draw a clear, easy-to-understand line between what can be a commander, and what can’t: cards which can be cast as a legendary creature.
There are a bunch of cards which fall close to, but short of, that line, and people frequently ask if they can be played as commanders:
- Elbrus, the Binding Blade
- Westvale Abbey
- The Nephilim
- Kamigawa Flip-legends
- Krark’s Thumb
- Gaea’s Cradle
The short answer is “No, unless everyone else in the game says otherwise.” Some people feel these cards would be interesting and should legal, most people don’t. From a rule-setting perspective, what matters is whether most players will
a) enjoy playing “against” it
b) understand the baseline expectations easily.
The current rule is the best balance of the two, so if you’d like to play any of those cards as your commander, you’ll need to get approval from everyone else in the game, and be prepared to play something else if they don’t.
Can my deck have a Companion in Commander?
The short answer is yes. Since companions bring themselves (not other cards) in from outside the game you can play a companion assuming your deck meets the criteria. The companions criteria applies to all 100 cards of your deck, including your commander who must also fit their demands.
There are two companions who cannot be played as a companion in commander:
– Lutri, the Spellchaser
– Yorion, Sky Nomad
Lutri is banned and therefore cannot be used at all, while commander has a fixed deck size of 100, meaning it is not possible to build a legal commander deck that satisfies the companion requirements of Yorion, Sky Nomad. Yorion however can still be used as a commander or card in your deck.
(Thanks to Tom Coleman for the copy)
How should I run a Commander tournament?
Commander is a multiplayer format predicated on the idea that you should never be required to participate in a game you don’t want to play, which makes it badly designed for tournaments or more formally structured play. We don’t recommend this.
If you want to run a Commander event, the best approach we’ve found is to simply provide space for folks to self-aggregate and let them join in with groups where they think they’ll have fun. Encourage them to have social contract conversations to make better matches, but don’t force it. Initially there may be a lot of watching of games and people figuring out where they belong, but that will eventually turn players who don’t know each other into trusted groups.
Prizing also introduces problematic incentives and should be kept as random as possible so that players aren’t encouraged to try to farm them. Whimsical prizes (“X gets the cool chair next week”) can introduce fun elements as long as players aren’t really worried about it. Prizes for winning puts the focus on winning rather than play, which is suboptimal for a format about the play.