Growing a Commander Playgroup

I recently moved about 200 miles from my previous local game store and wanted to find another place to play Commander. In early March 2014, I scouted online for pictures of different nearby shops to gauge size, cleanliness, and player feedback. My search dug up Cybertek Games near Louisville, KY. The store looked nice and unlike its competitors, staff was extremely responsive to my questions through Facebook. That weekend, I headed out early on Friday to try to luck into some Commander pick-up games.

I walked in as a complete stranger and of course immediately began scoping out the store’s sale binders next to another player named Zack. Zack was buying cards and, after introducing myself, I offered up some suggestions. I found out he was interested in Standard and Commander and I offered to see if there were any improvements he could make using his existing collection.

Quick Note About Me

It’s been my long-term personal policy to donate bulk commons and uncommons to a Magic club at a local library instead of recycling them back through a retailer (true, it’s a bit of a personal financial loss versus bulking them out to a local game store, but I feel it helps generate more interest in the game which to me is worth it). To be fair, I typically keep obviously valuable commons and uncommons back for trade and personal use. I stockpile particularly relevant budget Commander cards like [card]Scroll Thief[/card], [card]Stealer of Secrets[/card], [card]Krosan Tusker[/card], [card]Cultivate[/card], guildgates, cycling lands, and [card]Armillary Sphere[/card]. I find these are great budget deck cards and having mass quantities of them is extremely handy. Also, between my girfriend and I, we own 32 Commander decks with various power levels. It’s extremely useful to have some of these cards readily available when building something new. (I share Jason Alt’s assessment that Commander players simply do not rip their decks apart. I also epitomize this trend and have the collection to back it up. Consider this when getting into Magic finance.)

And How I Got There

During my first visit to Cybertek, I brought my box of Commander commons and uncommons with me. In Zack’s case, I was able to give him some utility cards that allowed him to customize his Eternal Bargain precon even further. As we went over his build, I got a feel of what he likes about [card]Oloro, Ageless Ascetic[/card], what he wanted out of the deck and theme, and what he likes to play with. This in turn helped me assist him with deck building suggestions and properly judge what deck I own that would avoid breaking the social contract. Later on, we shuffled up, played, and had a great time.

Since that first meeting with Zack and later Jake, Cameron, Corey, Ricky, and others, I’ve somehow become a Commander ambassador at Cybertek games. Other existing Commander players have since asked to sit down and game with us. While I’m there, other players ask me for deck-building advice. They ask me to play certain decks to work within certain power levels. Now at Friday Night Magic, I can expect to see anywhere between three and six other Commander players with various styles and deck power levels with which to explore the social contract.

My policy on Commander commons is well-known, but no one asks for free cards or attempts to take advantage of it. I’ve even had some other players offer to trade for the random commons and uncommons in Theros block relevant to Commander just because they know my overall level of disinterest in the set. Offering up these cards and deck building advice has also managed to pull at least three players away from Standard Friday Night Magic to play Commander instead. A few weeks ago, Zack brought in a new player and I was able to build a rather competitive Raka deck for him. (He noted that being able to use cards he was very familiar with was very helpful for him. This was something I had not considered before since I’ve been playing for so long.) Even Mike, the employee responsible for Magic at the store, has tasked with me building “the most annoying deck ever” using [card]Child of Alara[/card]. (I think he actually wants to play Archenemy instead of Commander, but I’m fine with letting him see how long he can outlast the table. I think the other players will be as well. It’s like Horde Magic, but you’re trying to beat the store instead.) Mike has also been very receptive to new ideas to getting a better organized selection for the Commander singles in order to garner more money for the store and improve access to card stocks for the Commander players.

At the End of the Day

Sure, Standard, Modern, and Draft all have their places at Friday Night Magic. However, there are a lot of casual players out there that are still looking for something else. If you’re a Commander player, consider looking for those players and reach out for a game. If you can afford it, take some of those extra commons and uncommons from drafting that still work well in Commander and make sure the non-drafters who play Commander have them. Of course, you can buy a pack by turning in one thousand commons, but how many [card]Archetype of Courage[/card], [card]Banishing Light[/card], [card]Dawn to Dusk[/card], [card]Nyx-Fleece Ram[/card], [card]Revoke Existence[/card], [card]Dissolve[/card], [card]Divination[/card], [card]Hour of Need[/card], [card]Interpret the Signs[/card], [card]Mnemonic Wall[/card], [card]Omenspeaker[/card], and others do you really need to hold onto?

Also, consider taking those extra commons and uncommons and building a budget Commander deck. If you bring that deck with you, you can potentially loan it out without fear to that guy that says, “Well, I don’t have a Commander deck…” Sure, it may not be as snazzy as the 2013 preconstructed decks, but a communal deck like that can have some unexpected gravitas. (I played at a shop where every card in one player’s deck had been a donation and he insisted each donor sign the card. It was awesome to see what people had been willing to give up.)

Lastly, maintain the social contract for your group. Granted, many of the players in my group are beginning a bit of a nuclear arms race, but generally each of them really stops to consider and attempt to adhere to the social contract. If your deck isn’t on the same power level as the rest, you’re risking driving others away. And Commander isn’t nearly as much fun just playing a goldfish.

Have comments or suggestions on growing a Commander playgroup? Please share below!

About the Author
@duneecho     -     Email     -     Articles Kirsin Koch works as an IT professional and trainer. As a Magic: The Gathering player since Revised in 1994 and one of the original founding members for, he deeply enjoys Commander, Legacy, and Draft.

One comment on “Growing a Commander Playgroup

  1. Steffan Ennis says:

    I love the commander format and have been an Ambassador at my local for the better part of 2 years. I also often help new players trying to get in the format by passing over cheap rares, commons and uncommons. Its been great to see the format grow at the store from just 2-3 players one night a week to about 8 players two nights a week. One night I can’t make because of work commitments but its still holding strong. Between myself my brother and a mate we also have close to 30 decks of different power levels on hand for new players to try as well. It is great having a good ammount of tradees locally and we are always fair. E.g I recently bought two judge foil sword of fire and ice for 75 a piece but will not trading the spair for above 75. One of the other players immediately overed me cash and they do the same if they fall into cheap cards its great

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