Modern Commander

Hey folks! With the Modern Pro Tour still going strong as I write this (they’re in the finals right now) I want to touch on something that has been knocking around my head for a while. Two of my Judge friends (Jeff Higgins and Riki Hayashi) started talking about Modern Commander a few weeks ago, and I found the idea pretty interesting. I’m sure other people have had this idea as well, but these are the people who were actually talking about it in my little universe. I had thought about creating a Modern Commander deck at one point, but I never quite got around to it. (So it goes.) With some friends spurring me on to work on it, however, Modern Commander sounded interesting enough to write about. After all, we’ve had success discussing alternate Commanderish formats in the past (Tiny Leaders, anyone?) and I figure this could use some discussion. With any alternate format, of course, we have to start by asking one particular question:


The why is simple. As Mark Rosewater is so fond of saying: “I used to write for Roseanne.” Wait, that’s the wrong quote. Hang on, here it is: “Restrictions breed creativity.” How many Commander lists start with “1 Sol Ring” right up front? How many times have you said, “this card sounds really fun, but [staple card] is just so much better?” Modern Commander takes some of the monotony out of deckbuilding and play, although obviously there are still many powerhouse cards in the format. Playing Modern Commander might even turn us on to synergies and powerful cards we never noticed before because we were simply stuck in a rut.

So now that we’ve discussed why, we have to ask the next question:


How does it work? Well, Modern Commander is pretty much the same as Commander. The rules and gameplay are the same. As far as card legality goes, any card printed in a Modern-legal set is legal. This is importantly different from saying “Modern-legal cards are legal,” because we’re not arbitrarily applying the Modern banned list to this format. In addition, any cards whose first printings were in Commander products are also legal—so Command Tower is A-OK, but Sol Ring is right out. I asked Riki Hayashi about applying the same rule to Conspiracy and Planechase products (and similar future offerings) and he said, “I’m OK with it. By this logic, Krond the Dawn-Clad and Selvala, Explorer Returned would be legal, but Brainstorm would not. Some of these cards are obvious Commander plants, so that seems reasonable, though Riki pointed out it might be confusing.

As far as a banned list, that’s part of why I’m writing this article. Right now, cards banned on the Commander ban list that are in Modern-legal sets are banned, which means we won’t be playing with the following cards:

I’m pretty happy with these cards all being banned. I think they’re all still easy enough to abuse in this format that we won’t want to see them all that much. The question, of course, is “what else?”

Honestly, it’s hard to say. The more I think about it, the more this seems sufficient. It may even be worth testing some of the cards on this list for re-inclusion into the format. Primeval Titan might be worthy of consideration for rehabilitation, but I think the card will still be too game-warping.

Here are some cards I could see being banned in Modern Commander eventually:

Consecrated Sphinx has always seemed just as format-warping to me as Primeval Titan. Just because it doesn’t start doing its thing as soon as it enters, it seems to get a pass. Honestly, if you’re just tapping out and slamming this, you’re doing it wrong—make sure to have some backup to keep this fellow alive and let him be more than a simple Divination. Any time there are copies of this card controlled by different players, games get bogged down and miserable because of the back-and-forth with triggers. It’s basically Trade Secrets at that point, and that’s banned in regular-style Commander.

Once this enters the battlefield, the game is “kill the Navigator,” and with the spells decks that play this card pack, that’s often impossible—especially when Deadeye here pairs itself with a Mulldrifter or something. Sure, spot removal exists, but so does Mystic Snake. This card is unpleasant enough in a world where cards like Swords to Plowshares are more plentiful. (Yes, you should play some point removal for cards like this, but that doesn’t magically fix the problem.)

We could swap this and Painter’s Servant and then much more fun could be had. Iona is the unfun half of this combo, and Painter’s Servant is the crux of both the Iona lock and the Grindstone combo in traditional Commander, so it gets the ax for being an enabler. With the more limited card pool, Painter’s Servant probably belongs back in the mix, which means Iona needs to flap her way out of the building. We should be shielding ourselves from her!

This card is so much better than basically every other Commander when it gets cast. The “but it costs 8” argument doesn’t hold up in Commander for two reasons: first, everyone ends up with a million mana, and second, it lets you play green, so it can get out there on turn three or whatever. These are the epitome of “infuriating green decks” in Commander and would probably be too much in this format.

You never know what this card will do. It used to be banned in Commander, and since coming off the list, it has been fun to have around, but it might be over the edge of the Modern Commander line.

Of course, my opinion means very little here because I haven’t played any Modern Commander yet. I have good enough game sense to understand what will probably happen, but I don’t have a crystal ball. (I probably have too many copies of Crystal Ball, though.) If you and your playgroup decide Modern Commander sounds fun, don’t shy away from the cards I put on my watchlist—play them! Heck, test out some of the banned cards! Is Griselbrand too broken as a Commander? Probably, but we won’t know for sure until you draw 7 way too many times! Sound off in the comments with your deck lists and ban suggestions.

To cap things off, I have a sweet deck list I grabbed from my friend Jeff Higgins, whom I mentioned earlier. Jeff is rocking a Sedris, the Traitor King deck featuring a very cool recursion theme. Sedris recurs creatures that can bring back instants and sorceries, and Jeff has a pretty strong suite of instants and sorceries to draw upon. I was surprised not to see Recurring Insight in the list, and I think the deck is also a bit wrath-light. I’d include Blasphemous Act and Black Sun’s Zenith to round things out and protect the planeswalker threats. Overwhelming Intellect also seems sweet, especially given Jeff’s comments about how he kills:

“I kill people by casting Master the Way, Chasm Skulker, and Cruel Ultimatum. And Howl of the Horde has been the most fun to cast.”

Makes sense to me. Enjoy this sweet Sedris list:

Commander: Sedris, the Traitor King

Okay, that’s it for this week. I have tix on MTGO again, and once I finish buying pieces for my Vintage deck, I’ll probably pick up some Fate Reforged cards, which probably means new articles/videos featuring new Commanders. Tasigur, maybe? Hmm…

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