Different Types Of 'Magic: The Gathering' Commander: Explained

There's lots of different ways to play the greatest game ever made.
Different Types Of 'Magic: The Gathering' Commander: Explained

Commander. Not just the second part of a 2003 Russell Crowe naval epic, it’s the most popular format of the most complex game in the world. Since it debuted in 1993 and changed the nerd world forever, Magic: The Gathering has steadily been growing its fanbase. When a group of enterprising Canadians decided to put their own spin on the game by making decks of 100 cards led by one legendary creature, they created a format called Commander. It’s a format known for the variance of the games, largely because it’s a “singleton” format; no two cards in a deck can be the same (except for basic lands). It’s become the most popular way to play the fantasy trading card game and publisher Wizards of the Coast even makes official products for the format. But you may not know that there are actually multiple types of Commander games.

Duel aka French Commander


A two person format that began when players realized that applying regular Commander rules to a one-on-one game was just broken. In this format, players can die to Commander damage, meaning your Legendary creature has dealt 21 or more damage to your opponent. Some people use the 1v1 MTGO rules and start with their life totals at 30, but in true French Commander, just like a student graduating from college, life starts at 20. 

Wizards of the Coast

The Piper needs to see a doctor to get that eye fixed.

Tiny Leaders

This is a great variation on the singleton format, it’s a great way to stretch those deck building muscles and get creative. The rules are simple (no MTG rules are that simple, but you get the point): None of your cards can have a mana cost of more than three, including your commander. Play with 50 card decks. You have 25 starting life total in 1v1 games. Constraints like this provide lots of challenge to brewing a tasty deck, and players love to sneak around the rules by putting cards with ‘X’ mana costs in their decks.



This format is a testament to the passionate MTG fanbase around the world. The Archon format’s ban list and rules are maintained by a democratically elected council each year. The biggest notable difference is that players are not limited to only 100 cards. In fact, you must have a minimum of 100 cards, and there is no maximum to your deck. You still have to be able to shuffle though…



On the WotC website it says that multiplayer Commander games are supposed to take twenty minutes per player. That’s hilarious. It’s rare to play a four person game in under ninety minutes, and the best games can take upwards of two hours. Tower rules are a great way to speed up a multiplayer game. Every player is beholden to attack the player with the most life total. It’s a silly, meme-ish way to play, but it makes for great, fast multiplayer sessions. An alternate, slightly less silly format is “Highest Life” rules, where you can attack any player and when the first person dies, the game ends and the player with the most life wins. 



If you badly want to play a Planeswalker that isn’t legal as a Commander, check out Oathbreaker. This format uses only Planeswalkers as commanders, plus you choose a “signature spell” which you can cast just like your commander. Having a Planeswalker teamed up with an instant or sorcery you can cast repeatedly makes for some really broken combos and exciting gameplay. It’s still a singleton format, but limited to sixty cards and you begin with twenty life. 

Wizards of the Coast




Another way to seriously mix up your play session, Star is meant as a five player format only. If the drama and politicking of Commander is your favorite part of the game, do not miss out on this one. Deck choices are kept secret and revealed at the same time after players have sat down. The players directly to your left and right are your allies. The players across from you are your enemies. You win if your enemies are defeated. It’s even possible to snag a win if you get knocked out of the game, if both your enemies lose before the other player’s enemies, that’s a W.



Whether it’s for a fun brewing challenge or because you’re broke AF, Pauper is a great way to play the game. This format is inspired by the regular Pauper rules for MTG: you can only play cards with a common rarity. It’s meant as an accessible format for folks who just don’t have $900 to shell out for a fully foiled, fancy shmancy Commander deck. But Pauper Commander adds a whole new dimension as well. It allows any uncommon creature to function as your leader. 

Check out the time Sid Meier made a Magic: The Gathering game or this explainer on the biggest bads in the MTG universe.

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