Filthy Commanders

I’ve talked about RPGs a lot recently, so it’s time for a change of subject.

As I’ve said before, Magic: the Gathering is probably my favourite game/hobby/addiction/void into which I feed money. As you may expect, with a game that’s been around as long as Magic (20 years and counting), there’s several ways it can be played,

The two most common and most well-known are the duel (one player versus another player), and the free-for-all or “chaos” multiplayer. Almost all variants are based on either a duel or multiplayer and the basic game structure, though some are some solo play variants for those who are Forever Alone, and some truly weird 1v1 or multiplayer variants which are essentially brand new games with wildly different rules.

Some groups may have their own variants of duels and multiplayer, but Wizards of the Coasts recognises and supports a lot of these variants. Some of these just require a quick rules document explaining the differences between the variant and the core game, like Star Magic (5-player politics at its best) or Emperor (two teams of three, consisting of one “Emperor” player and two “Generals”), but some require players to buy extra stuff.

The best example of this are the “Casual Multiplayer” products that Wizards have been releasing for the past four years, such as Planechase and Archenemy. Both these multiplayer variants require players to buy the oversized Planar and Scheme cards, otherwise you can’t play them (you could improvise and use existing Magic cards that have similar effects, but it wouldn’t be the same damn it!).

"C'mon, you know you want to. Look how fun we look! Now get out that wallet, nerd."
“C’mon, you know you want to. Look how fun we look! Now get out that wallet, nerd.”

One of the most beloved multiplayer variants is called Commander, or Elder Dragon Highlander (EDH), depending on how much of a neckbearded grognard you are. In Commander, a player chooses a legendary creature to be his deck’s “general”, and then builds a 99-card deck around that creature. The choice of general limits what colours of cards can be in the deck, so if your general is blue, and blue only, you’re only allowed blue and colourless cards. The choice of general can also determine the deck’s strategy; your general might be vital to your strategy, or be a good choice but not essential, or just be an excuse for you to build a deck using your preferred colours.

Apart from the general, the other key defining feature of Commander (and the reason for the “Highlander” part of the EDH name) is that there can be only one! A deck can only contain one copy of a card, except for basic land. This means games can have a lot of variation, which is a good thing.

However, the thing I find not so great about Commander is the time it can take to play a game. When Wizards released the Commander precons in 2011, I snapped all five up immediately, and got my group together for a Commander throwdown. The first game took four hours, and by the end of it we were exhausted, stressed, and players who’d been knocked out first were understandably grumpy. Therefore, a problem arose; I love Commander, but I dislike the tedium of a long game. Ideally, I’d want to play about three or four Commander games in a single session. A solution was needed.

I took inspiration from an article I found on Gathering Magic, a format called “Filth Casserole”. This is a format which is essentially Modern (my preferred “proper” format) singleton, with a minimum deck size of 50 cards and no sideboard. I built a few Casserole decks and tried it out, and loved it. Then I thought, “Hmm, this singleton deck is about half the size of a Commander deck, all I’d have to do is add a legendary creature and OH MY GOD.”  And so Filthy Commander was born, a weird bastard hybrid of Commander and Filth Casserole.

Kaalia is an especially filthy commander. Filthy, filthy, filthy.
Kaalia is an especially filthy commander. Filthy, filthy, filthy.


1. Choose a Legendary Creature. That’s your deck’s Filthy Commander.

2. Build a 50-card deck using normal Commander rules  (rules for deck construction, casting your commander in game, and the banned list can be found here.) Don’t be a prick and build a “wins-on-turn-2” combo deck.

3. Shuffle up and play! HOWEVER. Unlike regular Commander, players instead start with 30 life and (this is the important bit) don’t track Commander damage. If you’re playing infect, a) gtfo, and b) players lose by having 15 poison counters, not 10.

So, the advantages of Filthy Commander? Games are quicker and there’s less chance of a tedious stalemate. Smaller decks means that players can have a larger collection of decks, and require less investment to build a new deck; after all there’s nothing worse than buying all the singles you need for a deck and finding that it doesn’t work out so well. You could also say that with only 50 cards to work with (of which 19-21 are going to be land), it forces players to make good deckbuilding decisions, rather than go with the no-brainer “Commander defaults” like Sol Ring, Solemn Simulacrum, Duplicant, Sensei’s Divining Top, Lightning Greaves, tutor cards, etc.

If you play Magic and whether you’ve tried Commander or not, give Filthy Commander a try and see what you think, and if you like it, spread the love. The filthy filthy love.

Filthy Commander twins. SO HOT.
Filthy Commander twins. SO HOT.



One thought on “Filthy Commanders

  1. I also enjoy Filth Casserole. I’ve always liked singleton formats in general – they sort of make sense in a way, because each card’s depiction of a character or event is unique, even when it’s not legendary. And there’s something I find aesthetically pleasing about the 50-card deck, too. It forces the sort of decisions you mentioned, while being a good size for avoiding some of the more agonized, drawn-out deckbuilding decisions (I’ve always had trouble with the last five to six cards of a 60-card deck, singleton or no).

    Thanks for the post.

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