6 Commander Lessons You Need to Learn for 2024

Update your play (and your decks) to 2024.

Another year is in the books, and it sure has been a big one for Commander. With tons of Commander products, two Universes Beyond expansions and a plethora of sets, the landscape of your average EDH game is changing rapidly. It’s hard to keep up with the constant releases and just how much MTG is evolving, so it’s worth having a reality check for grizzled deck builders and new players alike for how to approach the format.

For what it’s worth, this article is aimed at the casual Commander audience. If you want some premium competitive Commander (or cEDH) content, check out Cal Jones on 2023’s cEDH heavy hitters.

1. Play Cheap Creatures

What’s the best creature in casual Commander? Set aside Orcish Bowmasters and Dockside Extortionist and you’ll think maybe it’s something big and flashy like Craterhoof Behemoth or punishing like Drannith Magistrate. In my opinion though, it’s Baleful Strix.

Baleful Strix

Commander: Outlaws of Thunder Junction, Rare

Baleful Strix - Commander: Outlaws of Thunder Junction - magic

This little birdie has won me more games of Commander than I can count. It just does everything! It’s cheap enough that it can come down early, it cantrips so it’s never a bad draw later, it flies, it has deathtouch, and it’s an artifact. If you play this and trade for a three-drop, you’re happy. If you flicker it or recur it continually, you’re still happy. And if you play it, never get a major attack for seven turns because your opponent doesn’t want to trade with something as small as a Baleful Strix, you’ve won the game.

Baleful Strix isn’t the only creature out there though. If we’re to take Patrick Sullivan’s “Banedrifter” portmanteau and apply it to cheap “rattlesnake” creatures, we can call them “Strixtritons” or “Balefangs.” Or don’t, those names are awful.

Ice-Fang Coatl
Mire Triton
Kura, the Boundless Sky

The main takeaway here is that MTG is getting more aggressive. Creatures are becoming increasingly more powerful and you can’t just sit around and do nothing for the first couple of turns. You need some defense (or offense) and playing cheap creatures that generate some value is needed.

2. Play More Interaction

This goes out to all of us self-proclaimed “casual” Commander players. I’ve heard a lot of enthusiasts talk about how removal can be “unfun”, but what’s even more unfun is suddenly losing the game or being completely put out of it.

Swords to Plowshares

Interaction is what makes MTG exciting. If it wasn’t for interaction, we’d all be playing solitaire. The stories that stick with you are the ones where you squeaked out a win and played masterfully around your opponents’ counterspells and removal. I don’t think a lot of people talk about games where they just played their hand, no one ever touched them, and they just won.

As an aside, focus on cheap interaction. We’re past the point where “Murder with upside” is a playable card. Three-mana counterspells aren’t good either, so try to play some Delays and Arcane Denials. There’s also a lot of powerful artifacts and enchantments going around, so multipurpose removal like Generous Gift or Beast Within is good (even if they are “Murders with upside”). 

3. Make Sure to Have a Combo

The worst games of Commander are the ones that slog on. If everyone just plays things on the board and expects to win by eking out some value, that’s just not going to cut it anymore.

A “combo” isn’t necessarily Splinter Twin and Deceiver Exarch or anything that goes infinite. It just has to be some sequence that wins the game or puts you so far ahead that the game will be over in a turn or two.

Craterhoof Behemoth

Commander Masters, Mythic

Craterhoof Behemoth - Commander Masters - magic

Some Commander players won’t call Craterhoof Behemoth a “combo” card, but it basically is. It wins the game if all its things work, which is the same as something like Splinter Twin. Sure, it’s not “infinite” damage, but it’s enough to push you over the finish line.

It’s up to you to determine what your combo is. It could be a literal infinite one, or it could be something like Living Death to completely trounce the board. Either way, just playing dudes and getting value isn’t going to cut it, especially when the amount of usurping plays rises every year.

4. Cut the Board Wipes

We’re all guilty of the old deckbuilding template of “five board wipes, 10 pieces of spot removal, 38 lands” and so on. But if your deck is playing 30-plus creatures, why are you looking to wipe them all away?

Just look at competitive Magic formats. You don’t see Modern Yawgmoth packing Damnation or Hammer Time running Wrath of God. They’re decks that play to the board, and trying to get card advantage out of a board wipe doesn’t exactly add up when a few of your pieces are dying in the equation.

On the flip side, look at control decks. They usually have no creatures (save ones that already get their value like Solitude) and can load up on Supreme Verdict and Terminus. They lose nothing and even getting a one-for-one is acceptable to them.

If your Commander deck is light on creatures, then a couple of board wipes are probably in order. If you’re playing to the board, which most decks do, you probably keep one or two board wipes somewhere in the deck as nuclear options, but any more is a stretch.

Furthermore, the worst games of Commander are the ones where everyone feels like they lost. Maybe everyone played a few board wipes and they’re left with the dregs of their decks. There’s no engines, no cool interactions, just fragments of a game plan just bumping against each other. After a couple of hours, you’d rather just scoop it up and play again, or go home and never speak to each other again. Personally, I’d rather lose a game because no one had the third board wipe than play a game past the fifth Wrath.

Alternatively, if you want to cling covetously to your Wraths, consider some more modal options to tailor to your needs. At least you’re not always wiping away your creatures!

Austere Command
Cleansing Nova
Perplexing Test

5. Be Upfront About Your Power Level

This is the trickiest piece of advice, and one with no clear answer. However, letting people know what you’re playing and how you play will lead to much better games overall.

Power level is a multipart equation, and it’s not just cards. Someone who has played their deck forwards and backwards for 10 years will do better than a supposedly “stronger” deck by a newer player who just built it. Knowing your lines, your outs and your play patterns increases your power level. Being a veteran player also increases just how well you’ll play with any deck too.

Think of your power level conversation like a dating profile. You don’t just put a picture of you and expect people to get the whole picture. Sure, maybe you’ve got awesome abs, but what are your interests? Just how much do you enjoy long walks on the beach? Think of this as an example of a power level conversation:

“Hey, I’ve got a combo deck. I’ve played it for years so I know the lines pretty well, but it doesn’t have the speed to be a cEDH deck.”

That’s a lot clearer of a picture than “It’s a seven,” which every deck is by the way. Be open about what your deck does and just how well you think you play it. If it’s a brand-new deck, even if it’s strong, you’ll have very little knowledge about how it works perfectly. Additionally, be forward with just how strong of a player you are. Some people have played MTG for decades and may even be a competitive player. Others play it as casually as a board game and only touch it here and there. You don’t want to run circles around people, or have circles run around you.

6. Play More Lands, Mulligan More Hands

No one likes eating their vegetables (except me, I’m a vegetarian). However, what makes Magic great is having to make land drops and essentially fill your deck with “necessary evils” – cards that aren’t really gas or fun, but are required to actually play. It adds some variance and deckbuilding challenges that no other game has captured thus far.

Still, if there’s one thing Magic designers have done over the years, it’s make lands more palatable. Going back to that old template, 38 lands is really not a lot, especially if you look at the math.

With so many ways to make your lands more than just dead draws later in the game, it’s time to up that land count.

Bala Ged Recovery
Hagra Mauling
Emeria's Call

For starters, we have modal double-faced cards (or MDFCs) that function as lands or spells. You normally wouldn’t play a three mana Regrowth or a four mana Murder, but when a hand is two MDFCs, three lands and two “real” spells, that looks so much more playable than five lands and two spells.

Boseiju, Who Endures

Market Price: $35.04

Takenuma, Abandoned Mire
Otawara, Soaring City

Market Price: $17.54

Then there’s a cycle of channel lands, which have seen play in competitive formats all around. When people play Boseiju as a sideboard card, you know it barely qualifies as a land.

The last note here is a hard and fast rule I’ve come to learn from my playgroup: never keep a two-land hand. Casual Commander is a marathon, not a sprint, and falling behind on your mana early is like tripping at the start of the race. You have time to develop and sometimes you only need one card to turn things around. Make sure you have the mana to cast it, and take advantage of the free mulligan exclusive to the format. Even going to six or five isn’t a bad prospect when you have a free card in your command zone and the ability to play possum early on.