What is the Commander Format is Magic: The Gathering?

What is The Commander Format in Magic: The Gathering?

If you’re just getting started with Magic: The Gathering, you’ve probably come across the different formats that you can play in the game. For a game that spans more than 30 years, it only makes sense that there are over 20 different formats between online and tabletop play. Although, only 10 of those formats are commonly used in gameplay today. One format that has had a recent gain in popularity, is the Commander format. 


The Commander format has a unique origin story compared to other formats in Magic: The Gathering. The Commander format was created by player Adam Stanley who originally coined the format as Elder Dragon Highlander. The format was first created back in the 1990’s and quickly gained popularity among Stanley’s player groups. As the format started to circle among Magic players, Sheldon Menery was introduced to the new way to play the game. 

Menery then took it upon himself to develop the format further. It wasn’t until 2004 that Menery spread the news about the Commander format far and wide with an article outlining the format on the popular Magic gameplay site, Star City Games. In 2005, we saw the Commander format being used for the first time in a Wizards of the Coast’s Pro Tour. Shortly after its appearance in the Pro Tour, Menery and other Pro Tour judges created a rules committee and an official website for the format. Following the creation of the official website many were advocating the format to game publisher, Wizards of the Coast. WOTC launched the format commercially in 2011 but the rules committee continues to be managed by the Commander Rules Committee, which operates separately from Wizards of the Coast.

The Commander format began gaining popularity with the larger Magic community shortly after the first Commander set, Magic: The Gathering Commander, was released on June, 17th 2011. This set really brought Commander to the scene of Magic. It was the first set that was printed outside of normal expansions and included five preconstructed decks. In all, the set introduced 51 new cards that were made specifically for mutli-player games. Since then, Commander decks have been included as a part of almost every Magic: The Gathering release. 

Playing Commander

In the Commander format, each player constructs a 100-card deck built around a specific Commander and mechanical theme. In each deck, no card appears more than once. The Commander can be either a legendary creature or a Planeswalker that is allowed to be used as a Commander. This Commander starts the game in the Command Zone, ready for the battlefield. If this commander leaves the battlefield and re-enters the Command Zone, it can be recast to the battlefield once again - in exchange for a higher mana cost. The Commander format is best played with four players, each having their own deck, but it can support anywhere from two to six players. Decks in the Commander format are also built around their Commander's colors. 

Now that you know the basics of how to build a deck that functions in the Commander format, let’s go over the gameplay rules specific to the format. With the Commander format, each player starts with 40 life rather than the 20 that you’re used to with other formats. Another notable rule with the Commander format is that a player will lose if they are dealt 21 points of combat damage from another Commander in the game (“Commander Damage”). Since the Commander format has its own rules committee, it also has its own banned cards list separate from other formats. You’ll need to educate yourself on these banned cards before diving into the world of Commander. You can find this list as well as other resources on the Wizards of the Coast website.  

That’s the basics of the Commander format in Magic: The Gathering! Are you ready to play your first Commander game? Grab your friends and grab a few Commander decks from cardshoplive.com to get started today!