Bringing Commander 1v1 From The Kitchen Table to the Tournament Table

Born as a causal format and intended for funny multiplayer games, today Commander 1v1 has garnered a large community and needs to move forward. This article will examine the major distinctions between the main Commander 1v1 formats and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses.

In the beginning, Commander 1v1 was a format about legendary generals, giant decks, huge casting costs, funny combos, and beers on the table.

After a few years, the format quickly gathered passionate players, active groups of discussion, and today is probably one of the more popular constructed formats, behind Modern, Legacy and Standard.                             

The Multiplayer Giant Becomes a Duel

Duel/1v1 Commander found great success in Europe, specifically in France, Germany and Italy, where players started to play it as a spin-off from EDH Multiplayer, which is an entirely different format.

Multiplayer EDH is defined by 40 starting life points, a pod with 4 to 5 players, medium- to long-term strategies, huge casting costs, and devastating spells. It's also an "enjoy and let others enjoy" format, with players often deliberately avoiding cards like Winter Orb and Stasis, as they made the play experience "boring."

But, as EDH grew, many players saw the opportunity to play the same format (100 cards, a General as a theme) in a 1v1 format, which would both be easier to organize and more "tournament-appropriate".

Commander Products Photo

But obviously, Commander was still a casual format and the life point totals, the deck-construction rules, and the banlists were left to player preference or individual tournament preference.

Multiple Countries, Multiple Formats, and Multiple Rulesets

After many years, Commander 1V1 constructed has a huge community of players, mainly divided around three formats: Duel Commander, the first 1v1 format derived from EDH Multiplayer, Leviathan Commander, born recently and directly derived from Duel Commander to maintain the 30 starting life points and MTGO Commander, born in 2017 as the official guideline and reference for Commander 1V1 games played on Magic Online and, from there, imported and adopted in many live tournaments.

I’ve tried to summarize the differences among the formats in the following table (updated as of the end of February 2018).

Commander 1v1 Format Specifics
Format Starting Lifepoints Diffusion (EU) Additional Banned Cards (cards not banned in at least one of the other formats) Banned Generals
Duel Commander 20 High Chrome Mox, Eidolon of the Great Revel, Fireblast, Grim Monolith, Loyal Retainers, Mox Diamond, Necrotic Ooze, Polymorph, Price of Progress, Sulfuric Vortex Breya, Etherium Shaper, Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder, Derevi, Empyrial Tactician, Edgar Markov, Edric, Spymaster of Trest, Erayo, Soratami Ascendant, Geist of Saint Traft, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound, Marath, Will of the Wild, Oloro, Ageless Ascetic, Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Vial Smasher the Fierce, Zur the Enchanter
Leviathan Commander 30 Medium Ancient Tomb, Balance, Cataclysm, Chrome Mox, Emrakul, the Promised End, Grim Monolith, Grindstone, High Tide, Intuition, Loyal Retainers, Mind Twist, Mox Diamond, Necropotence, Serra Ascendant, Yawgmoth's Bargain Derevi, Empyrial Tactician, Edric, Spymaster of Trest, Erayo, Soratami Ascendant, Oloro, Ageless Ascetic, Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Vial Smasher the Fierce, Zur the Enchanter
MTGO Commander 1v1 30 Growing Balance, Baral, Chief of Compliance, Bazaar of Baghdad, Braids, Cabal Minion, Brainstorm, Demonic Tutor, Derevi, Empyrial Tactician, Doomsday, Edric, Spymaster of Trest, Enlightened Tutor, Erayo, Soratami Ascendant, Griselbrand, Moat, Necropotence, Ponder, Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary, Serra Ascendant, Survival of the Fittest, Treachery, Vial Smasher the Fierce, Yawgmoth's Bargain, Zur the Enchanter Like Multiplayer Commander, All non-banned legendary creatures can be run as Commanders. Basically, if its banned in the 99, it can't be your general, otherwise, fair game.

Let's Dive into The Specifics

The table above shows us the peculiarity of Duel Commander compared to the other two. There are differences of course between Leviathan and MTG, mostly in the 13 cards that are banned in Leviathan and aren’t banned in MTGO.

Let’s go deeper, however, and really break down the major differences between these formats:

Duel Commander: 20 starting lifepoints obviously signals a significant shift from its competitors. Aggro and Quick Decks gain a lot of power, and, for this reason, you have several unique banned Commanders like Bruse Tarl, Edgar Markov and Geist, that are allowed and see a decent amount of play in the 30 LP formats.

To slow the aggressive speed of the format, the moxen, Grim Monolith, and some quick damage spells like Price of Progress and Fireblast are banned.

PROS:: Quicker games, High amount of available data, strong community (mainly in France)

CONS: 20 LP not in the "Commander" spirit, constant banlist updates, More dependent on who wins the coin toss.

Leviathan Commander: Started as a spin-off of Duel Commander with the intent of keeping the 30 starting LP, Leviathan encountered some problems in the initial phases with Vial Smasher (too strong for 1v1) and, in general, with cards able to put games in one player’s favor if seen in the starting hand.

The decision to maintain the life total and wider banlist, on the other side, generated a quite slow and "control-friendly" metagame that forced the Leviathan Community to ban Emrakul, the Promised End, whose impact is devastating in a slow format.

PROS:  Balanced Games, Skill intensive, large pool of generals and strategies available, deck manipulation (tutors, ect)

CONS:  Not well recognized and supported only at a local level, long games, Less Data available to support banlists

MTGO Commander 1v1: Started as the official format defined by WOTC for Commander 1v1 on Magic Online, MTGO Commander features 30 starting LP but, as reported before, presents various differences respect to Leviathan: accelerators like moxen, Ancient Tomb, and Grim Monolith are allowed, as well as cards that broke other 1v1 commander formats, like High Tide, Cataclysm, Intuition, and Emrakul, the Promised End. This gives the format a significant speed boost and increases the power level of decks and strategies.

PROS: High amount of Data, Daily Tournaments, Wizards backing, entertaining games without being too quick or random

CONS: Harder keep track of the difference between online and real game and games tend to be more one-sided.

The Attendance Problem

All three formats have a stable base of players but, as happens with all the other "casual" formats, Commander 1v1 often suffers from an attendance problem at major tournaments.

Some Duel Commander tournament in France and a pair of Leviathan Tournament reached larger numbers, but these were not linked to major events and the number of disparate rulesets limits the possibility of having Commander 1v1 featured at top events like the MKM Series or at GPs.

For that reason, for easier promotion, and to make the format more attractive, I think it’s time to reunite all the players, at least for official events, under a single flag.

This will provide to all players a unique reference not only for approaching, playing and testing the format, but also for promoting a single format to tournament organizers, thus building a larger community, better tournaments and larger prize pools.

Time to Make a Choice

Every one of the three formats, as shown, has its pros and cons to which you must add that every player has his preferences, so it's hard to tell which format is the 100% best choice. That said and considered, my statements will be totally apart from gameplay or enjoyability.

I would personally choose the "Wizards" format – MTGO Commander as the reference format also for the paper version.

And this is for five main reasons:

  1. Being played steadily online (there are Commander 1v1 leagues every day and tournaments every week) Commander 1v1 can gather quick and efficient data for improving the format and keeping the banlist continuously updated and effective.
  2. The presence of the format on MTGO leagues will serve as a natural advertisement, given some effort on Wizards part. They can attract new players to the format, enlarging prize pools and attendance in paper 1v1 Commander.
  3. Every banlist update, announcement, and communication on the format will arrive simultaneously to everyone in the world, in an unchallengeable and clear way.
  4. Having Commander 1v1 as a "Wizards" format could bring a lot of benefits in term of reprint policies and could lead to Commander tournaments at larger events like GPs.
  5. Last but not the least, having Commander backed by Wizards could bring contributes in terms of articles and "research", and will also make Commander 1v1 a more "official format," which has been proven as an effective means to explode a formats popularity, given what happened when Wizards first officially recognized Multiplayer Commander as an official format.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.

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