commander deck guide how to play

Elder Dragon Highlander is a Magic the Gathering format where four players face each other in a battle royale. The format originated in the 90s and soared in popularity since. It remains the most popular Magic the Gathering format to this day. Players can use only a single copy of each card, so the format is aptly named. For those who don’t get the reference, it comes from the movie Highlander because "there can be only one".

What makes EDH the most popular MTG format

For some players, the commander is the first format they learn when they start playing Magic the Gathering. While some MtG veterans even forego all other formats in favor of EDH, many players enjoy EDH alongside other formats. No matter if they are newcomers or seasoned MtG players, the majority of players enjoy EDH. So, what makes commander the most popular MtG format?

Many players start playing EDH because it is a casual format. This is a good deal for newer players. When constructing commander decks, you don’t have to own playsets of powerful cards to create a well-functioning deck. Since this is a singleton format, players who build their collection by buying boosters can easily construct a deck from cards they own. It is also worth mentioning that Wizards of the Coast are creating excellent products for EDH. Unlike some other products, preconstructed commander decks are playable out of the box.  

commander preconstructed edh decks magic the gathering

Commander Battle for Baldur's Gate Preconstructed Decks

I originally got interested in EDH because of the deck-building constraints in the format. I was intrigued by the idea of building a singleton deck where all cards have to share the color identity of the commander. The idea of having the commander that the deck revolves around was also appealing. I still enjoy that tiny element of role-playing it adds to the game.

After playing a few games of EDH, I discovered why I love the format more than any other. Two-player MtG formats have straightforward competitive gameplay. EDH is a Battle Royale between four players, so it comes with political gameplay. Players make promises and form alliances when one of the players becomes a too big threat. Being good at playing MtG isn’t enough to thrive in EDH; you need negotiation to come on top. This added social element makes EDH the most enjoyable format for many players.

Difference between EDH and other MtG formats - How to play commander?

EDH has several elements that set it apart from the other formats. As I already mentioned, EDH is a format for four players. A game with more players results in a slower pace and longer games. A game of EDH often lasts for 1-2 hours. Some players enjoy the slow pace of the format, but others prefer fast-paced games. If you belong to the second group, you should learn how to play Modern, Pauper, or Standard; it takes players 6-7 turns to complete the average game of Modern.

battle for baldurs gate prerelease pack

Since EDH is a casual way to play Magic, there are no meta decks in the format. Constructing commander decks takes time. Playing sealed formats is a good way to start building your Magic the Gathering collection while also learning how to construct decks. Wizards of the Coast recently started producing draft boosters for EDH. EDH draft boosters are 20-card packs with multiple legendary creatures in each pack.

A new EDH draft set, Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate, is coming out on June 10th, 2022, and it is an excellent opportunity to try drafting a commander deck. Drafting a commander deck is almost the same as playing a regular draft. There are only two differences. You will pick two cards from each booster before passing the rest to the other players. The other, of course, is that you will play a four-player game once your deck is constructed. 


A singleton format with color restrictions - Rules for building a commander deck


EDH deck-building rules originally got me interested in EDH. Let’s see what makes building a commander deck different from building any other deck. An EDH deck consists of 100 cards. Excluding basic lands, only a single copy of each card can be used in a deck.  At the helm of the EDH deck is a legendary creature – the commander.

Your commander defines the rest of your deck. Every other card in your deck has to share your commander's color identity. The color identity of a card is determined by mana symbols printed on the card. Every mana symbol in the card's cost and rules text counts for the card’s color identity. Mana symbols printed as part of a reminder text don’t count for the color identity of a card. It is easy to recognize reminder text apart; it is always written in brackets.

commander edh color identity guide

The color identity of Tatsunari, Toad Rider in the picture above is black, green, and blue. Tatsunari has a black mana symbol in the cost of the card and green and blue mana symbols in the rules text. Basilica Screecher’s color identity is black, so it is a legal card for a deck where Tatsunari is a commander. If the white symbol printed on Basilica Screecher wasn’t in brackets, Basilica Screecher’s color identity would be black and white. That would make it an illegal card for the Tatsunari commander deck.  


A four-player game with an additional win condition – How to play?


Commander puts a constraint on deck building but also comes with an upside. You start the game with your commander in a zone outside of the deck called the command zone. Players can cast commanders from the command zone by paying commanders mana cost. Commander’s mana cost increases by two colorless mana for every time a commander has been cast from the command zone. Whenever a commander changes zones, its owner can choose to send him back to the command zone instead. This makes commanders available to players throughout the game.

In an EDH game, players start with 40 life total instead of 20. The increased life total helps players stay in the game long enough to develop their game plan. This extended gameplay is a joy for players who dislike fast-paced formats. There is also an alternate loss condition in EDH. If a player accumulates 21 damage points from a single commander, they lose the game.

EDH template - How to build a commander deck?


An important part of playing every TCG is a functional deck. Playing commander is no different. Although there are no meta commander decks, there is a philosophy behind building commander decks.

tymna the weaver commander deck

Every commander deck needs a landing, mana ramp, card draw, targeted removal, board wipes, and cards that are part of the winning strategy. The amount of each of these cards will vary depending on your commander and strategy. Commanders with inbuilt card draw like Tymna the Weaver will need card draw in the deck than other commanders.

Although all commanders need different amounts of each type of card, there is a template for building commander decks. The template was created by The Command Zone, and you should follow it because those guys did a great job.

Commander of the deck takes one slot for one card, which leaves you with 99 card slots to fill. You will need lands to play other cards, so you will have to decide on how many lands you should play. You should play 35 – 38 lands in an average commander deck.

In addition to lands, you will need 10-12 mana ramp cards to get your game plan into action as soon as possible. Mana ramp includes all cards that help you put additional lands on the battlefield or generate additional mana themselves. 

ramp and card draw in commander edh

Having a bunch of mana is useless if you have nothing to use it on. Every commander deck needs 10 card draw spells to run smoothly. Instants that draw you two cards are considered card draw, but you will want to have a few cards like Seer’s Sundial that let you repeatedly draw cards.

Never forget that Magic the Gathering isn’t a single-player game. You will need ways to disrupt your opponents’ plans. In other words, you will need removal cards. There are two types of removal cards; targeted removal and board wipe. Targeted removal, like Decimate, removes the key threats without harming your permanents. Board wipes are cards like Cloudkill that affect the whole board. They will affect your permanents as well, but you will need those. When one or more players have an overwhelming presence on the board, and you can’t deal with it by removing a few targets, board wipe is the only solution. You will need 10-12 targeted removal and 3-4 board wipes in a deck.

cool cards for edh commander 2022

The rest of the deck should be used for cards that are part of your game plan. There are some great websites that can help you if you are struggling with finding the right cards for your commander deck. EDHREC is the website that helps find the right cards for a specific commander or a specific strategy. There is also an active and helpful community on r/EDH where you can ask experienced players for help. 

Tiny Leaders - EDH inspired format with tiny commanders 

I played EDH for years before I discovered Tiny Leaders. I enjoyed my first Tiny Leaders tournament, so I have to share the format as an honorable mention in this EDH article. Since the format is EDH-inspired, there is also a commander in Tiny Leader. However, this commander is tiny. All cards in the deck must have a mana cost of 3 or less.

merieke commander deck guide edh

Notable differences are deck size and starting life. The deck consists of 50 cards, players start with 25 life, and commander damage doesn’t exist in tiny leaders. All other restrictions and rules from EDH apply to Tiny Leaders.

Tiny Leaders is a great format to play EDH-like game 1v1 or practice building commander decks while you have a smaller collection. I discovered Merieke Ri Berit, my favorite commander so far, by playing Tiny Leaders and later turning her into an EDH deck.


Frequently asked questions

What is the color identity of a commander?

The color identity of a commander is a rule in Magic the Gathering that determines what cards can be used in an EDH deck. Color identity consists of all mana symbols printed on a card, except for those in a reminder text. 


Is commander a good MtG format for beginners?

EDH is an excellent format for beginners, provided they don't use complex commanders. Since the format is casual, a playgroup is more likely to teach newcomers and help them during the game compared to competitive formats like Modern and Standard. 


What does EDH stand for in MtG?

EDH stands for Magic the Gathering format - Elder Dragon Highlander. Players can use only a single copy of each card in an EDH deck, so the format was named after the famous quote in the movie Highlander; "There can be only one."


Can I draft a commander deck?

Commander decks can be drafted. So far, Wizards of the Coast have released two sets of commander draft boosters. Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate is the newest commander draft set.



Author - Ante Radoš

Card gamesMagic the gathering