Freeform Commander - MTGO's Newest Format Lab!
Posted on Jul 11, 2023
Commander’s Insight, by Mike Jordana
Freeform Commander: Boundless Deckbuilding with a Commanding Twist
With the introduction of the Freeform Commander format to Magic Online on July 12, one of the deepest PC games of all time will dive significantly deeper! By adding the command zone rules layer to the already boundless possibilities of Freeform, Freeform Commander unlocks a new suite of online Commander-based Magic formats to enjoy, and a new sandbox in which to tinker with the format-design possibilities of the command zone. Let’s dive in!
Deciphering Freeform Commander
At its core, Freeform Commander is right in the name: Freeform's unlimited deckbuilding scope with the addition of the command zone and its associated deckbuilding and gameplay rules. Freeform Commander has intentionally few deckbuilding restrictions:
- Decks consist of a minimum of 30 main-deck cards, excluding the designated Commander(s).
- Decks have one or two Commanders, which dictate the deck's color identity.
- Starting life totals are set at 20 for two-player games, and 40 for three- and four-player games.
- Any card can be a Commander. Note that cards in the command zone can be “cast” but not played, so the only thing a “Land Commander” does is affect the deck’s color identity.
- Multiple copies of any single card are permissible in a deck.
With these expansive rules, Freeform Commander provides the platform for virtually limitless deckbuilding and tactical explorations. However, if played competitively at face value without additional deckbuilding restrictions, it is a degenerate format. The idea of Freeform Commander is not to figure out how to break the format given the deckbuilding rules above; the idea is to add to the deckbuilding rules above to recreate popular paper formats online, or to invent your own.
Finding Your Match
The best way to get a game in your desired format is to challenge a like-minded friend through the Buddy system. Add them as a Buddy in the upper-right of the Home scene if they aren’t already, and right-click on their name in your Buddy list and select “Challenge Player” to set up a Freeform Commander game with them.
If you don’t have an opponent lined up already, head to the Constructed room via the top nav bar, then choose Commander on the left side, and then Freeform Commander Open Play to create or find a match:
The strength of Freeform Commander is the wide range of formats and deckbuilding rules it enables, but when you create a Freeform Commander match in the Constructed Commander room, the system will not restrict someone from joining your game with a deck following a different subset of deckbuilding restrictions. To find an opponent with the same additional restrictions as you, announce your real-world format name or custom restrictions in the comments of the match you create.
Adherence to the additional deckbuilding restrictions indicated is not enforceable by the system, creating an axis for trolling when playing against unknown challengers. Most opponents just want to play a fair game of Magic with you; if you encounter a troll opponent not respecting your stated restrictions, block them and move on. When you encounter someone great, ask if they want to Buddy up and play again sometime!
Fan-favorites Turn Digital: Duel Commander and Oathbreaker
A big driver for introducing Freeform Commander was that it enables authentic digital play of some of the most popular tabletop Commander sub-formats out there. Duel Commander and Oathbreaker in particular, both of which have garnered significant acclaim within the Magic community, will be fully playable on MTGO—provided all players abide by the additional deckbuilding and spellcasting rules they impose.
Duel Commander's Additional Rules:
- Duel Commander is a two-player format with 20 starting life.
- Player’s decks are 100 cards, including a legendary creature as the Commander, or two creatures with partner.
- If a deck has multiple Commanders, only one can be cast per game.
- Cards on the Duel Commander banned list are not allowed.
Oathbreaker's Additional Rules:
- Player’s decks are 60 cards, consisting of 1 Oathbreaker (a planeswalker), 1 Signature Spell (an instant or sorcery), and 58 maindeck cards.
- All cards must match the Oathbreaker's color identity.
- The Oathbreaker and Signature Spell start the game in the command zone, and the Signature Spell is only allowed to be cast when the Oathbreaker is on the battlefield.
- Cards on the Oathbreaker banned list are not allowed.
We hope the availability of these popular tabletop formats on Magic Online will help them grow and thrive in both worlds!
Reliving Your Favorite Commander Draft
The flexibility of Freeform Commander also offers the unique opportunity to revisit and replay decks from the Commander Legends draft leagues taking place this week, as well as Commander Masters events next month. Without a singleton rule in deckbuilding and a low minimum deck size, players can now save their decks from those events to their Collections and replay them in Freeform Commander. (Be sure to export the deck prior to signing up for another League course to avoid losing that deck info.)
The Thrill of Possibility
Those are just some named formats with an accepted set of rules and an official source for updates and changes, but Freeform Commander is a format laboratory! Commander itself and all the variants listed here began outside of Wizards of the Coast—conceived of and popularized by the Magic community. While many of you are probably excited about the ability to bring your favorite Oathbreaker or Duel Commander decks to Magic Online, I hope that some of you are sparked to invent and playtest your own new Commander variants. You could incorporate a Canadian-Highlander style “point” system, or play with mana-value restrictions and deck size like Tiny Leaders (Reborn), or alternate card types as Commanders.
There are a myriad of customization options for a clever format designer ready to roll up their sleeves. Perhaps with some Research Assistants and tinkering in the lab, you're just the maniac to stitch together the next alternative Commander format to take the Magic community by storm! Happy brewing ...