In the untidy sprawl of a game of Commander, the Magic: The Gathering format where a table full of players all pretend they’re not plotting the others’ downfall, eventually you need to take a big swing. After the early turns spent trying to make yourself seem small and non-threatening, like a tiny mammal curled into a ball who just happens to have been seated at the same table as a herd of dinosaurs, you eventually need to uncurl and show some teeth. Either you make the kind of play that suggests you’re actually too dangerous to mess with, or you respond to someone else’s attack with a dismissiveness that shows you’ve got a hide too thick to penetrate.
As the name suggests, Commander Masters reprints a bunch of Magic cards suited to play in Commander, and especially to situations just like that—reprints like Craterhoof Behemoth, a green creature that’s incredibly powerful. Not because of its own stats, though as a 5/5 it’s nothing to be sneezed at, but because it gives every other creature you control the trample ability, and a boost to their power and toughness equal to the number of creatures you control. In a green deck, by the time you’ve got the eight mana to cast Craterhoof Behemoth you’ve probably got enough creatures that bonus will well let you win before the Behemoth even gets its own attack.
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It’s not all big beasts, though. Deflecting Swat, reprinted from the Commander 2020 set, is a defensive instant that lets you retarget an incoming spell or ability wherever you choose. Though not a game-winner, it’s a fun “you just activated my trap card” turnaround to surprise someone with, and the new art features a dismissive-looking dragon slapping some incoming magic aside with enough force to send it over the top of the card’s title.
“My favorite cards are the ones that make for memorable moments,” says Max McCall, the architect of Commander Masters, who was responsible for its overall design, direction, and vision. “Deflecting Swat is great for drama. If you control your commander, Deflecting Swat can be cast for free, so you can really pull the rug out from under someone who thinks they’re just about to claim the upper hand. And Deflecting Swat isn’t the only card in Commander Masters that’s free if you control your commander.”
As is always the case with Masters, the booster packs will contain purely reprints. The preconstructed decks, however, come with 10 new cards including their commander. Each deck seems designed to suit an archetype that’s already popular, if hard to pull off. One is colorless and another is every-color, while the remaining two are built around enchantments and the “Super Friends” archetype where your deck is stuffed with powerful planeswalkers.
The aim was to make the preconstructed decks not just enjoyable to play, but also useful to pull apart and work into your own decks with the same themes—themes that have previously received less love in expansions. “Colorless Commander decks, for example, are cool, but are hard to build because they don’t typically get much support in new sets,” McCall says. “So, Zhulodok, Void Gorger’s deck is not only a fun cool deck in its own right, but also gives other colorless decks more options. Sliver Gravemother, Commodore Guff, and Anikethea, Hand of Erebos all have decks that are doing similar things—cool on their own, but supporting other archetypes that rarely get new options in normal Magic sets.”
Preconstructed is how I like to play Commander, because putting together an entire deck out of random boosters on the night is a sure way to lose half the time you could spend playing. McCall is happy to play either, depending on his mood. “Sometimes I want to play with my Daretti, Scrap Savant deck and smash around with gigantic robots and play the deck I know and like,” he says. “and sometimes I want to open some packs and see what I can put together on the fly. One thing that is fun about Commander draft is that there’s no singleton rule—if you draft two or more copies of a card, you can play them both! It’s a fun little treat to play your second copy of a card, like you’re getting away with something.”
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Commander Masters certainly seems to have plenty of cards that, in terms of Magic’s psychogeographic profiles, suit Timmy—the person who wants to make large, exciting plays. Cards like Craterhoof Behemoth and Deflecting Swat are made for the Timmy in all of us, but so are the legendaries Commander Masters is stacked with.
Many of them are presented in a new art style, side-on and up close against a bright backdrop. Where the average Magic card is as busy as videogame box art, these are stark and will stand out across the table in a poorly lit pub, which is where I usually am when I play Commander. “We’re always looking for new fun things to do with alternate art treatments,” says McCall, “and the portraits came out of an idea of ‘what would a legend’s headshot be in a magazine profile about them?’ So we mocked a few up and thought they looked cool, and into the set they went.”