Complete Commander Review

Complete Commander is a book by Bennie Smith about Commander, the multiplayer-singleton MtG format.

I guess one of these days I’ll have to review something I actually liked…

(Actually I have, but it feels like I’ve been overly negative at times.)

So, Complete Commander is a 155 page (the PDF version) book with about 50000 words. Not much. Especially on a complicated subject. The book is meant to be a primer on the format. Something a new player can pick up and learn the basics of the format.

Of that 155 pages, 28 is dedicated to fiction, ten is dedicated to “Spirit of Commander” or anecdotes of game experiences, a whopping five pages is used for credits, there’s 21 pages of lists of commander staples, there’s 21 pages of MtG basics, and ten pages of covers, aknowledgements and all that mandatory stuff. That’s 95 pages of padding, leaving only 60 pages of actual content, some of which are full pages dedicated to chapter headings.

And does Bennie make those pages count? Not really.

This is the whole sum of all the information on the number of manasources Smith gives us:

Today’s Magic decks typically run 24 lands in their 60 card decks—40% mana and that’s not including other mana accelerators such as Elvish Mystic that can push a deck towards having nearly 50% mana in their decks. So does that mean you should run 40 lands in your 100 card Commander deck plus an additional 8-12 non-land mana sources?

In most cases, that would probably be excessive. The rule of thumb I follow when sketching out deck ideas is 39 mana-producing lands plus a Sol Ring, a 2-mana artifact such Fellwar Stone or Everflowing Chalice, and one to two 3-mana artifacts like Darksteel Ingot and Chromatic Lantern. If I’m playing green I’ll likely go ahead and include Sakura-Tribe Elder and maybe a Cultivate or Kodoma’s Reach. If I’m not playing green I’ll usually find room for the artifact Journeyer’s Kite, which isn’t mana acceleration but it can help with mana-fixing and making sure you keep hitting your land drops.

No reasoning behind this. No insight on why 60 card decks run that many lands (and many vary the number quite greatly, from 17 in a recent SCG Open Series Invitational winning Boss Sligh, to 27 in some Esper Control decks, and there have been various combo decks throughout history with very extreme numbers), or why that would even be a good basis for any deductions.

In EDH, I have played decks with as low a land count as 33 (you have to be really careful about your curve when going this low) without accelerants in the deck, all the way up to 46 with some acceleration. It should all depend on the needs of your deck. If you want to cast your seven mana commander on turn seven (without acceleration) you need half of your deck to be lands to do it reliently. Does Benny ever tell you this? No.

Nothing on how the commander should affect the amount of manaproducers, or how to choose the amount of manaproducers based on your curve. None of that.

The there’s a page on typical strategies in Commander. A whole page. With four strategies, none of which are that common. They are: Aggro, Voltron, Care Bear, and Griefer. Apparently things like combo, pillowfort, token hordes, group hug, ramp, goodstuff, and whatever don’t count.

All in all, I don’t think the book is very helpful for a beginner. Since pretty much no-one starts play in a vacuum, and Commander players are generally pretty helpful, you’ll probably get much better information by just asking for tips from your playgroup. Maybe the list of staples would be good, if it had some explanations on why to play these cards, but since we don’t get that, it pretty worthless as well.

For more experienced players, this book doesn’t present much either. Chapin’s book on deckbuilding (Next Level Deckbuilding) is much more interesting and, although its generally talking about 60 card decks, its still so much more insightful on the subject that it will be much more helpful for most people thinking about building their own 99+1 card decks.

(Although, Chapin’s chapter on Commander is not that good either.)

2023 UPDATE: Was I being too harsh on this book? Maybe. So I reread it. The answer is no. The only difference is that now the book is horribly outdated, but that doesn’t actually change the value that much, because it didn’t really have value even back when I first read it. What’s actually incredible is that I also visited Smith’s last few decks on SCG and his thinking regarding deckbuilding has not evolved at all during all this time. That’s an incredible ability to resist any kind of learning that a few people can exhibit.

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