MTG: Cardboard, computers and DIY: this is what Magic is like in times of coronavirus
Video games - Games to stay at home (IV): Magic Arena
With a quarter of a century behind them, the Magic cards from Wizards of the Coast - owned by the giant Hasbro - are part of popular culture and living history in board games.
Currently there are international competitions, an immense secondary market in which these cards are sold for thousands of euros in value and two applications to play online.
However, currently the best known and most popular format is
, a version that was invented by a player, it is designed for more than two people to participate and has different rules that an external committee of players that has nothing to do with the company alters. .
When Richard Garfield created the game more than 25 years ago, he also devised a set of rules that, with some changes, have remained until today.
The idea is that two players 'fight' with the spells - of up to five colors, each with its own characteristics and play styles - that contain their 60-card decks (they can include up to four copies of each) to make the 20 The lives your rival starts with drop to zero.
In Commander everything works much the same, but the decks are built around a 'commander', a legendary creature that gives identity, personality, colors and mechanics to these creations.
In addition, there can only be one copy of each card, which gives more variety to the game and the decks.
Everything is rounded off with a much more social orientation: although there is no limit, the ideal is that the games have four players and politicking and alliances are key.
For the layman to understand, it is something like playing FIFA with a team made up solely of left backs or having each time you pass through the Monopoly starting box allow you to tear down a hotel.
The rules and context are the same, but the games are completely different.
Little by little, Commander spread from its origins in Alaska, where it was born with the name
Elder Dragon Highlander
(EDH) from the mind of Adam Staley, until it reached tables around the world.
Dragons (no dungeons)
Legends are a type of creature that came to Magic in one of its earliest expansions that went by the subtle name of Legends.
Each of these sets has its own story, in turn intertwined to a greater or lesser extent with the global one, and the legendary creatures are characters with prominence in it.
That is to say, it is not a question of
warrior, ogre or magician, but of
In fact, the first commanders were five legendary dragons, hence their name.
Staley's motivation was to create a different way of playing that accommodates all kinds of cards, not necessarily the best ... which are usually the most expensive.
Additionally, the inability to repeat opens new doors and makes the deck-building process itself part of the game.
These come to reflect a mixture of the personality of its owner and the commander, who is always a character with some relevance in a story with elves, dragons, heroes and wizards that Wizards has been counting for 25 years.
Commander games are governed by the same rules as a normal Magic game, but with a few variations.
The main one, of course, is the commander himself: it must be a legendary creature (or one of the few planeswalkers that indicates it) and its colors will give the deck its identity: no card can have a mana symbol that does not have its commander, either in cost or abilities.
The decks must be built following this restriction another 99 cards that cannot be repeated except for basic lands.
Almost all cards are legal, with a few exceptions.
Each player starts with 40 life, their commander in the command zone - from where they can be thrown as if they were in their owner's hand - and everyone draws on their first turn.
Also, the first
Anyone who runs out of lives or who can't draw a card when they have to, loses.
Also, if a commander deals 21 damage to the same player, that player will lose the game.
If a commander leaves the battlefield, either by going to the graveyard, being exiled, or must be shuffled into the library, its owner may decide to return to the command zone.
Each time this happens the cost to cast it will increase by two generic mana.
The most important rule, in any case, is 0: all rules, prohibitions and restrictions are more a list of suggestions.
Commander is a casual format, so anyone can apply the 'in my house we play like this' and use custom rules, as long as everyone agrees before starting the game.
"The increase has been exponential, but the phenomenon is not so recent," explains Esther Trujillo, a partner at Ítaca, a two-storey store in the center of Madrid dedicated exclusively to Magic, either organizing games or selling cards.
"We have been noticing it in a significant way for about two years and we were clear that Commander would end up being the favorite of the public."
With regard to the economic factor, it is also noted: "clearly there is more interest in the affordable [product], we sell much more of this type in proportion."
There has also been an increase in the sale of pre-built decks - created by Wizards and ready to play - that allow you to start in the format for about 30 euros.
From the NFL, YouTube and the dining room table
Commander has achieved - or is on the way - what the cards have been trying for more than two decades: to reach the general public.
The games that broadcast on the YouTube channel of The Command Zone can exceed one million views and have the presence of actor Jimmy Wong (
Video Game High School
) and guests such as the Indianapolis Colts player Cassius Marsh or the writer Brandon Sanderson.
There are also options in Spanish such as the Drinks of Alara games.
Jaime García, a 27-year-old tax advisor, and Manuel Beltrán, 31, dedicated to marketing, are behind some videos with an almost professional production that takes a day of recording and up to a month and a half to edit.
They met -of course- playing this format and believe that this social and casual aspect (what is known as the
, in reference to the dining room tables where games are played at home) is precisely one of the keys of your success.
"Commander is a format that has a very important social component," summarizes Beltrán.
"Ultimately it is about sharing with friends, hanging out and having fun," he explains, "and the fact that you can include almost any card from the entire history of the game makes it very attractive to all types of players."
Trujillo, who believes that it is "one of the most popular formats" that they see in his store, agrees on both factors as the reason why it sweeps tables and patios.
"The main reason is the social factor," he explains.
"Why limit the fun to two people?"
Also, the restrictions on creating the decks mean there is "greater diversity of strategies" and helps to play "those cards that may not have a place in the four-copy format."
The explosion of this game mode has also generated demand for content like the one they create in Drinks of Alara.
"It has been a success in every way and has helped us gain a lot of visibility in a short time, Beltrán acknowledges." People are very entertained by the format, they appreciate the quality and we feel quite rewarded for everything they enjoy the community".
Thus, in a few years Commander has gone from being a minority game mode to the most popular, above any professional circuit.
"Commander is now the gateway to Magic," Garcia sums up.
In a way, it makes sense: there is much more football in mud fields and schoolyards than in stadiums of 80,000 people.
There will be those who arrive at the Bernabéu, but most enjoy the pachangas.
"The Wizards theory is that people play what their friends play, and their friends play Commander."
The first expansion for
Commander thrives on the new cards that appear in each expansion released by Wizards.
The company is in charge of its development, creation and distribution, but it is a committee of players who decides which ones are legal in this format and which ones are not.
With exceptions, those that are too expensive - in the vicinity of several thousand euros in some very specific cases - or that lead to more boring games are left out.
In García's opinion, this separation between church and state is something that has served the format well, although he believes that it would also have succeeded if it had not been so: "Commander was such a good idea that it was called upon to succeed, it's something different as seen so far ".
Despite this, Trujillo believes that the support of Wizards, which officially turned to the format in 2011, when he gave it its current name and began releasing pre-built decks, has been very important.
"There is a symbiosis."
Until now, every time a new edition was launched, it was aimed at all the game modes managed by the company, with their restrictions, prohibitions and rules.
There is a competitive circuit, two ways to play online and, at least until the pandemic hit, face-to-face tournaments which was where traditional players moved, while Commander was more of a parallel and casual fun.
Within this circuit, the cheapest way to play are drafts: each participant acquires three envelopes, opens one, chooses a card and passes it on to the next person, who does the same.
When the process is complete, everyone has a deck to play with and the cards will be theirs forever.
Things have changed: Commander is now the 'gateway drug' and Wizards has just released its first dedicated expansion, Legends of Commander, which will - or would - enter;
Covid-19 had other
And the company knew it was important "to make the games look like Commander games," as Gavin Verhey, designer of Wizards of the Coast and one of the main pillars of Commander within the company, explains by email.
Gavin VerheyWizards of the Coast
From a design point of view this means that cards that would not normally have a place in competitive Magic take down in a format where creatures are larger, spells are more explosive, and winning is often secondary.
"This made the design very interesting, because the cards that would be good in a normal draft may not be as powerful here," sums up Verhey.
Legends of Commander joins Jumsptart, another
that launched a few months ago, in this new Wizards bid for Magic to go beyond Magic.
"We want to make products so that new players, or even people who don't play Magic yet, can find their game. There will definitely be more products like this in the future."
Sand, no ... for now
Legends of Commander will be playable in Magic Online, but will not be available in Arena.
Although Wizards is focusing on the second client, which will arrive on mobile early next year, it is not intended for multiplayer games.
However, experiments like Brawl (a variant of Commander with 60-card decks and two-player games) and the popularity of the format suggest that it is a matter of time before it ends in Arena.
"In the long term, it is something that I think is absolutely on the table," acknowledges Verhey.
"There are many possibilities with Arena and this is one of those that could happen, but other things are a higher priority right now", explains the manager.
Both Jaime García and Esther Trujillo agree that the experience offered by Magic Online is not capable of matching a physical game, despite the fact that from a technological point of view it fulfills its mission.
"In a physical game of Commander with your friends the players usually have a story behind their decks, you share time together, you joke about the game and you interact while it develops ...", sums up García.
"All this in the end goes far beyond the game and often the
, even if it is identical in terms of rules, is only able to offer you that, the game, without everything else."
And everything else is precisely what has made for many Commanders already bigger than the Magic themselves.
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