This weekend I had a few friends over and we played some Commander. J and Z joined me and Dana to play a fairly chill free-for-all game, that still managed to last a fairly long time. Interestingly enough, J is new to EDH, so I got to lend her a deck and help show her the format.

One of the culture blogs I read does a series in which they single out gateway episodes for people to get into some of the sprawling television fandoms that are out there. It’s a great thought, since “throwing you into the deep end” may be a successful swimming strategy, but I don’t think it tends to produce a lot of enthusiastic water-lovers. Similarly, I feel as though I’ve figured out some ways to make a new player feel comfortable and have the type of experience one would want to replicate. Thus:


1. Lend them a powerful deck that’s reasonably straightforward.

I tend to like to lend out Edric, Spymaster of Trest. It’s a strong weapon, but it plays with cards that usually have familiar effects. You might not know both Augury Owl and Sage Owl, but if you get how to use one, you’re going to recognize the other. Similarly, Edric supplies his own draw engine, in a way that is readily apparent to the new player. Not only does this ensure that the new player will keep having things to do, but it also gives them a reason to remember to cast their commander from the command zone, which is a key element of the format.

2. Play a deck with an obvious victory condition.

For this round, I chose Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. There are ways in which she can make for an excellent prison commander, but my version is tribal humans instead. By turn three I was swinging at one of the more experienced opponents with a doublestriking Thalia, courtesy of Silverblade Paladin. Losing to a combo out of nowhere is disenchanting, especially when some of the combos out there would seem truly ridiculous to the untrained eye.

3. Play a deck that takes reasonably short turns, and plan them out before it gets to be your turn.

Look, this is general advice for EDH, but it gets amplified when you’re trying to sell a format to a new person. Particularly as games go long, turns can morph into these massive undertakings in which each individual draws a million cards and does a million different things, before passing the turn with the board still at some rough semblance of the status quo. Commander is a great format, but you need to make it to the end of a game to really get someone interested in a repeat performance.

4. Be very open about the way you play politics.

Let’s face it, multiplayer games are always going to have a political element to them. It’s a truth we all approach differently, and that’s fine! My thing is that I never lie to my opponents and I always go through with any deals I’ve made. Of course, I use the goodwill from these gestures to steer my opponents play towards strategies that help me long term, but usually they’re going to help my opponent as well. Dana, on the other hand, likes to drive up the threat awareness of other players in the game while maintaining a low profile until the rest of us have managed to mess ourselves up. That’s when she strikes. Either way, the politics of a game can be overwhelming to a new player unless you are clear about what’s happening, and what your strategy is. Shockingly, most strategies survive transparency.

5. Don’t be evil.

There are a lot of vicious things you can do in a game of EDH to set individual players back. When you’re coaxing along a new player, lay off these tricks. Just because you CAN Submerge a Knight of the Reliquary in response to the ability doesn’t mean you SHOULD in an introductory EDH game.

6. It’s okay to lose.

I’m not saying throw the game, although there have been times where that’s been a winning strategy for me (playing one on one EDH against the same opponent who shares a bed with you and having to cut a winning streak). What I am saying is that it’s worth playing looser than you normally would, in order to make the game move along and to ensure the new player isn’t the first one knocked out. For example, with my Thalia, Guardian of Thraben deck I drew a lot of early aggro with an aggressive strategy aimed at one of the old hands. She was pissed at me, and I gained the “Big Threat” designation until I was the first one kicked out. This was good for the new player, since she was thrown into a bit of an Archenemy situation where she could be attacking me with other people. It provided a bit of focus that I think helped her to enjoy the game.

So that’s it! Six easy tips on how to guide someone new to Commander through a typical game. I mean, you could just throw them in the deep end, but Commander is a social game, and I don’t think that strategy breeds enjoyment. Instead, look at the experience you’re crafting, and try to make sure it’s one that’s worth repeating for all the players at the table.

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