Hey! Hayes here to give you a introduction to the 1v1 Commander format. Because most of the content that will be coming out from us here at CS will be produced via MTGO, we will be sticking to the MTGO Commander Banlist which can be found here.
What is 1v1 Commander?
Its a format very similar to Commander, but players have 30 life and there is a different banlist that accounts for the format being a duel instead of a multiplayer format where multiple players could have answers against various threats.
The most notable difference between this type of Commander and normal Commander is that fast mana has been dramatically undercut. This means Sol Ring, Mana Crypt, and Mana Crypt, among other cards, are out of the format.
After playing several dozen games with the new MTGO banlist I can say that the format feels like a hybrid between Modern, Legacy, and normal Commander. Most of the efficient removal is coming from Modern and Legacy and from Commander you bring powerful/resilient/flexible commanders that you can cast on a consistent basis at least once per game.
What’s Important To Know
About half of the removal from normal Commander ports well into the format. Their value is discerned mostly from if they are efficient (path to exile) or if you get value from casting the removal spell (desertion). Other spells like Damnation are playable, but once you start including higher cost mass removal spells in your deck you are getting loosely the same payout for a higher mana cost, which is obviously something that can be punished easily in this format.
Removal is also conditionally good based off which archetype you are playing against. Aggro decks are probably the weakest against removal because you can tear apart their attackers or if they are playing a tribal aggro deck you can snipe the lord or enabler and break apart their synergy.
Against decks that can easily redeploy their commander removal is actually questionably bad; if you are spending cards from your hand killing low CMC commanders like Grenzo, Havoc Raiser and your opponent untaps and replays Grenzo then they are getting a type of virtual card advantage. If your opponent is playing a high CMC commander this won’t be the case because it could be several turns before they could recast the removed card. You need to actively be taking synergy or pressure away from your opponent for the removal to be giving you true value.
Information gathering is much more important in 1v1 Commander than it is in other formats. Because this is mainly an online format you won’t usually know what your opponents are capable of. In other formats like Modern decklists/archetypes are much more similar in build nature and its reasonable to be able to guess what types of cards are in your opponents decks.
This all leads to more emphasis on understanding how to assert and remove pressure on the battlefield instead of understanding specific matchups. Let’s take a look at what I perceive to be the main archetypes in this new format.
Three Core Archetypes
Most aggro decks can be broken down into two sub-archetypes: voltron and tribal.
Voltron decks such as Xenagos, God of Revels are trying to push a singular big dude through blockers – because the creature is huge and can’t be traded easily they get value through strong attack steps. Voltron decks can be beaten through sacrifice effects, deathtouch, or well timed removal to disrupt the voltron creature when your opponent is committing cards or effects to build the voltron creature.
Tribal decks usually run lots of creatures and use lords like Goblin King to synergize with the rest of the deck. While elves and goblins are some of the most notable tribes in Magic there are other tribes like allies and humans that can bring consistent decks to this new format. These types of decks are usually wrecked by sweepers like Wrath of God or Infest.
Control decks are trying to stop whatever the enemy is doing, then sustain the game to the point where they can play any threat imaginable and win the game.
Control decks in this format vary the most from other formats because they often rely on their commanders to bridge the gap to taking control of any given game. Examples of commanders who embody traits that are perfect for control decks are Marath, Will of the Wild and Breya, Etherium Shaper. They each have three modes that are all relevant to interacting with most of the decks that exist in this duel format. Its almost like having a charm as a commander!
If commanders didn’t exist in this format I would argue that control decks would be much less viable because control decks typically thrive on consistency in any format they exist in. When decks are predictable control decks can maximize the value of their counterspells and other value generating spells through natural chokepoints.
Value decks are trying to create value and sustain/increase that value creation until their opponent is dead.
I have not run into many dedicated combo decks in this format, even though hyper efficient cards like Demonic Tutor and Vampiric Tutor exist. I think this is partially because of the overlap that value decks and combo decks can have. If you think about it, most combo decks are really value decks that are working to achieve a spontaneous burst of lethal value.
I think not seeing a lot of combo decks can be attributed to how quickly games can be decided. I would say that after the first 5-6 turns of any game in most scenarios the game becomes heavily favored towards one player. This generally isn’t enough time for a deck to tutor up two combo pieces and force them through. It’s too much time for aggro decks to assert lethal pressure and control decks to hold up a singular answer to stop the combo enabling spell. If fast mana still existed in the format this might be different.
This isn’t to say you can’t play combo. I still think its possible. I don’t think people have had enough time with the new banlist to grind out a deck that can consistently threaten a combo early in the game. I bet there’s something if you looked to build a deck similar to the old Birthing Pod decks that used to be in Modern.
Commanders To Watch Out For:
These are the commanders I expect to see the most play when the format goes live on MTGO come May 10th.
Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice : I’m not sure if she’s one of the strongest, but she is sure one of the most popular. I think this is partially because she doesn’t have any activated abilities and this leads to easier decision making. This, combined with a insanely powerful 4/4 stock body with 4 relevant keywords makes her a house on both offense and defense. If you wanted to play a planeswalker deck her proliferate is good too. The proliferate is also really good with effects like Parallax Wave or god forbid Parallax Tide. Tide can lead to you exiling away most of your opponents lands and keeping them exiled. Tangle Wire is pretty good too.
Tasigur, the Golden Fang : Classic powerhouse in 1v1. So powerful he got his ass banned. Probably the most busted thing about Tasigur in EDH is that his commander tax can be paid with the delve, allowing even further control over what you want to exile out of your graveyard and his recurrability from the Command zone.
Marath, Will of the Wild : Marath has three options with his X ability (WOTC actually misworded the first option under the X ability and had to ammend the card’s oracle text) and all three of them make Marath very hard to kill without your opponent getting value from his abilities. The best way to punish Marath is to kill Marath when he has no mana to do things with his X ability. Watch out for cards like Cathars’ Crusade, Earthcraft, Goblin Bombardment. If you like to beat up any deck that runs small creatures Marath is your man. He’s banned in French 1v1.
Breya, Etherium Shaper : Very similar to Marath, Breya is hard to get rid of without letting your opponent have value. Similar to Marath Breya has a bunch of combos/degenerate value cards that combo almost solely with Breya. Probably the scariest artifact to pair with Breya is Krark-Clan Ironworks. But similar to Marath you can be doing literally anything while Breya is getting you value through her thopters and abilities.
Leovold, Emissary of Trest : WE GET IT YOU LIKE VALUE AND YOU PROBABLY ALSO LIKE TO CAST BLUE/BLACK WHEEL OF FORTUNE. Leovold has nuts power/toughtness stats, a low cmc, three colors, and is difficult to kill without trading value away. He was recently banned in multiplayer commander (paper rules).
Vial Smasher the Fierce : Another commander that is banned in 1v1 French, Vial Smasher gets free value whenever you cast your first spell each turn. This can get nuts with cards like Treasure Cruise because of how efficient delve can be – especially in a burn deck where you are putting spells and fetchlands into the graveyard quickly. Every spell in your deck becomes a small burn spell in addition to whatever powerful stuff the card is already doing. Spells like Logic Knot can allow you to delve away your whole graveyard to maximize X and increase its CMC on the stack, dealing lethal damage from long range. I would not be surprised to see Vial Smasher banned in MTGO, he’s banned in French.