New to the Table: Playing Commander with (or as) a New Player


Welcoming Vampire [VOW] | Art by Lorenzo Mastroianni

2021 was the biggest year Magic has had to date. Even amidst the pandemic, Wizards of the Coast reported record sales. This, paired with mediums like Arena making learning the game easier, has made Magic more accessible than ever. With this growing popularity, a huge number of new players are searching for tables at which to play their new favorite game.

Commander, being Magic’s most popular format, has welcomed many of these new players. Commander’s status as a casual, multiplayer format makes it the perfect place for newer players to learn the ins and outs of the game.


In most experiences I've had, new players have been welcomed into pods with open arms. When I was first getting into Commander, I learned a ton from the different groups I was playing with and those same groups were very open to teaching me. This experience is what kept me coming back.


For players who are familiar with the format, it is on all of us to pay that forward. With all this said though, what can seasoned players and new players alike do to make playing Commander a great experience for everyone?


Let's take a look.


Communication is Key

Like most things in life, communication is vital in a game of Commander. The “Rule 0” conversation, championed by the YouTube channel I Hate Your Deck, has become an integral part of almost every Commander game.


Essentially, Rule 0 serves as a way for each playgroup to make the game what it wants to be. Players can (and should) discuss the power level of the decks they will play, how they see the game going, and what the goal of the session is.


When integrated thoughtfully this conversation helps create games that are both meaningful and enjoyable for all the players involved. Every game that I have played, outside of my regular playgroup, has included this conversation and it has helped foster a more pleasant experience in those games. Being open about the deck you’re playing and how you plan to play it allows for other players to choose a deck that best suits that day's meta, making for a more consistent game.


Communication is a must throughout the game as well—not just at the beginning. If you have a question about a card, you should always ask. It is impossible to know every card in existence and some cards can be confusing. Asking questions about those cards and potential interactions is an important part of group dynamics.


If a card is on the table it is not hidden knowledge. Don’t feel like you’re being annoying when asking about cards. If you are about to combo off, communicate how your cards are interacting and what you are doing so the table understands the entire process, especially if you are going through an infinite loop. Remember, not everyone knows the ins and outs of your deck like you do.


Quite often, we find ourselves playing games of Commander with strangers. When playing with people you don’t know, it can be uneasy. How players in the pod communicate with each other can make or break the game. I have found that it is better to be overly communicative than the opposite. It eases tensions and leaves everyone feeling more collaborative and open with each other.


Be Open and Welcoming

This section really pertains to longtime players. Sometimes we forget to look back on when we started playing and realize the immense amount of help we received from more seasoned players. The community is part of what makes Commander so special and successful.


I remember my first game at my LGS. The pod was made up of people who had been playing for years, but they took the time to teach me and work with me. They were patient and kind and that is part of what hooked me on Commander.


One of the biggest sources of hesitation for new players is the fear of being looked down on for being new. While this is almost always not the case, we need to view ourselves as ambassadors of this format and show new players that we are an overwhelmingly welcoming community. We need to show our patience and help players form good habits when playing. Doing so makes for not only a better game that day but a better format as a whole.


When a new player is at the table, oftentimes they struggle with understanding how priority and the stack work—understandably so. Those are concepts that can confuse even seasoned players.


Those with more experience should try to explain how they work and take new players through step-by-step when they need help. The same goes for tapping cards when declaring attackers. I have noticed that a lot of new players began learning how to play on Arena, which does all the tapping automatically. This does create a bit of a learning curve when transitioning to paper play.


These are certainly not the only times that a more experienced player can help someone that's new to the format. Always be on the lookout for ways to foster a welcoming table. Showing new players a little bit of patience makes for a better learning environment and one that's more enjoyable.


Remember, This is Still a Game

Overall, we cannot forget that, at the end of the day, Commander is a game. The vast majority of games are not high stakes. They are meant to be fun. After all, this is why we play Commander.


Of course, winning is nice, but it isn’t everything in a casual game of Commander. If players are looking for high-powered, fast games, cEDH is a fantastic alternative.


However, when it comes to a traditional game of Commander, most of us just want to see our decks pop off and have a good time with our friends. New players should be just as welcome at any table as long-time players.


If we want to see this format continue to thrive as it has, experienced players must hold themselves personally responsible for it. New players are what keep the format alive. We all need to recognize that and use it as an opportunity to strengthen our community and build it towards a bright future.


 

What's your favorite way to help ease a new player into the format? What was your experience like in your first Commander game? Let us know in the comments below!

 

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