What exactly is Duel Commander?
Duel Commander (also known as ‘French’ EDH) is a Commander variant designed for competitive 1v1 play. It brings the competitiveness of other 1v1 formats like Legacy with the sheer variety you only find in Commander. There are dozens of commanders who are strong in this format, and decks for every commander can be built in different ways. Duel Commander has its own rules committee that is dedicated to (and many believe successful at) balancing the format for competitive play. Being balanced for 1v1 means the pitfalls of multiplayer games with collusion and social contracts don’t come into the format, and cards aren’t banned for being ‘against the spirit of EDH’, whatever that means these days. It opens up the commander format to players who prefer higher powered and competitive decks, without alienating the more casual players.
Duel Commander has the same rules as normal commander – a 99 card singleton deck, a ‘commander’ you can cast from the command zone, and you can only make mana of and include cards that have the mana symbols of your commander’s colour identity. There are a few differences though.
1. In Duel Commander, you start with 30 life. 30 life still lets you play games with elaborate game plans and helps control and combo decks have long enough against aggro to find the pieces they need in a 99 card deck to be efficient. Having time to draw more cards to find the ones you need is important in a singleton format. One of the main ideas of the rules committee is that they want games to go on at least past turn 5, and at less life, certain combos (storm) and some very aggressive decks, would be able to win by then. There is often discussion of what the starting life total should be, and some often argue 30 life is mostly to make it still feel like regular Commander with a higher starting life total.
2. When taking mulligans, you use the Partial Paris mulligan, without a free mulligan. This means you draw your first 7 cards and can pick any number of them to set aside face down. You draw 1 less cards than the number of cards you set aside, and then repeat this process until you like the hand you have. Shuffle all the cards you set aside back into your library. Players also know their opponents commanders before taking mulligans, so you know what kind of cards you might need to keep.
3. If a commander would be put into its owner’s library from anywhere, that player may put it into the command zone instead. This is in addition to if they would be put into exile or the graveyard as in normal commander. This means having your commander tucked isn’t an issue in Duel Commander like it is in normal commander, as you can get them back easily.
4. Games are played best of 3, in 50 or 60 minute rounds, and there are no sideboards.
5. There are some changes to the ban list.
Banned in Duel Commander:
Duel Commander Ban List
The reasoning behind most of these bans are to limit regular kills before turn 4, to balance decks and archetypes, and sometimes because of sheer power level. There are some cards that are banned for being part of a quick combo, others for being ‘fast mana’ allowing decks to cast things way ahead of curve.
Ancestral Recall, Balance, Gifts Ungiven, Karakas, Library of Alexandria, Mana Drain, Mind Twist, Necropotence, The Tabernacle of Pendrell Vale, Time Walk, and Yawgmoth’s Bargain are banned for sheer power level. Some of them are too undercosted what they do (Recall, Time Walk, Mana Drain) others provide too much advantage in the format (Yawgmoth’s Will, Necropotence, Karakas, Library). [card[Mind Twist[/card] turns a game on its side when it resolves, and could easily strip a whole hand turn 3 or 4 and thus was banned, Tabernacle made creature based aggro decks very difficult to play successfully and was banned to help aggro in the format. Gifts Ungiven lets you find 2 combo pieces and put them in your graveyard, and in a format like Duel Commander, you often win on the spot from that position.
Ancient Tomb, Black Lotus, Channel, Mana Crypt, Mana Vault, Mishra’s Workshop, the Mox’s and Sol Ring are all banned for being fast mana, enabling certain decks to win in the first couple turns.
Back to Basics was banned to remove blue’s ability to disrupt mana bases, as that is thought to be one of red’s strengths. It let mono blue decks with few non-basics disrupt the mana of the formats decks, and when resolved could auto-win against 3 or 5 colour decks that rely on non basic lands for mana fixing.
Crucible of Worlds is a complicated ban, it was banned to stop the absurdly powerful fixing Crucible and fetchlands gave players, as well as the advantage Crucible and Wasteland provided, and other powerful utility lands that sacrifice as part of their effect. It means mana denial through land destruction was not a viable archetype as you can just replay your lands, and lastly, with the unbanning of Fastbond, it allowed you to ramp an absurd amount with fetchlands, Crucible and Fastbond, or gain infinite life with Fastbond, Crucible and Zuran Orb. No one reason is enough to warrant a ban, but with all of these together, it makes the card too powerful for the format.
Grindstone was banned when Painter’s Servant was unbanned to prevent Painter/Grindstone from winning on turn 2 or 3, especially as the whole combo is colourless and can go in any deck.
Hermit Druid was banned to stop Hermit Druid combo winning on turn 3-4, it’s a very powerful card in a deck with no or very few basic lands. In a deck with no basics, you can tap it to put your whole library in your graveyard. From there, by flashing back spells, unearthing creatures, and reanimating creatures, you can win in a couple different ways. The combo was just too fast for Duel Commander, where games are meant to last at least past turn 5.
Humility was banned to help creature based decks be viable in the format, U/W control was just too powerful, especially as many of the ways to get rid of humility was attached to creatures.
Imperial Seal and Vampiric Tutor were banned on power level, their ability to add such consistency in a singleton format was deemed too powerful.
Loyal Retainers was a recent ban, it was decided its interaction with Survival of the Fittest was too powerful, able to stop certain decks by turn 3-4 by reanimating Iona, Shield of Emeria or Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite.
Protean Hulk was unbanned for about 3 months, and then re-banned rather quickly. Not only can you win on the spot when it dies in a variety of different ways, but you can also search for pieces of other combos, and use it to win turn 2 with Flash.
Serra Ascendant was deemed too powerful in 1v1 with a starting life total of 30, a 6/6 flying lifelink on turn 1 will probably win most games it is resolved in. Anyone who has seen this card land turn 1 in commander should be able to see how absurd it would be in the format.
Tinker allowed for turn 3 combos to be searched for and is all together too powerful even outside of combo as it can turn things like a mana rock into a Blightsteel Colossus and win very quickly.
Vanishing was banned to help stop Zur the Enchanter decks from having so many ways to protect their commander and to stop them being so dominant in the meta.
And lastly Winter Orb was banned to stop decks such as Grand Arbiter having too many ways to lock opponents out of the game.
Enough of what you can’t do in Duel Commander, lets have a look at what you CAN do!
There are an incredible amount of viable decks in Duel Commander, from control to combo, enchantress to stax, and every tournament, people show up with rogue decks that perform well. Here are some examples
Control – Kami of the Crescent Moon
This deck controls the board while drawing cards from Kami of the Crescent Moon and the various other sources of card draw. It doesn’t care about your opponents drawing extra cards as well, as it tries to 1 for 1 every card you opponent plays that is a threat to you with its counter spells and bounce until it finds a win condition. The deck is really just trying to stall until it finds Planeswalkers and hopefully Stasis to help ultimate a Planeswalker. Mind Over Matter and Temple Bell make each player draw their decks (you can discard Emrakul, the Aeons Torn to stop you losing while you make your opponent draw their last card), or draw into a polymorph effect to morph Kami or a mana land into Emrakul. Its also possible to hard-cast Emrakul in long games, or after casting Turnabout.
Kami of the Crescent Moon – HansonWK
Combo – Maelstrom WandererMaelstrom Wanderer can be built in many different ways, but one of the more popular versions is a combo decks that wins by casting Maelstrom Wanderer and cascading into a board wipe like Upheaval. You can then attack with your hasty 7/5 and hopefully kill your opponent before they rebuild their board. It features a lot of mana rocks to get Wanderer out quickly, and some powerful spells to cascade into to clear the board. Oath of Druids works as a solid backup plan as there are very few creatures in the deck, so you are likely to get it to trigger.
Maelstrom Wanderer – Acardus
Storm – Horde of Notions
This is a very complicated storm deck, it plays more similarly to a cube storm deck than anything you would see in Legacy. The idea is to cast as many spells in one turn as you can before casting Tendrils of Agony. This is done by tutoring for Oath of Druids and protecting it for a turn. The next turn your whole library goes into your graveyard. Flashback Memory’s Journey on Yawgmoth’s Will, cast Will, and then win from there by casting rituals and mana rocks followed by Tendrils of Agony. There are many other ways to build storm decks, but this is one of the faster versions.
Five Color Storm – Lyserg
Enchantress – Jenara, Asura of War
This is another Oath of Druids deck that tries to use Oath of Druids and very few creatures to get out Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or Sun Titan. This is far from a pure Oath deck though, Oath of Druids is just one win condition. It controls the board with different enchantments and strong synergies between them. It can lock the board down with Moat and Ghostly Prison, remove or neutralize creatures and other permanents with Prison Term and Oblivion Ring, and build up card advantage with Sylvan Library and Argothian Enchantress. Sigil of the Empty Throne and Jenara herself are both strong win conditions. The deck hasn’t been updated by kwiznek since Theros, but I imagine Heliod is looking like a decent win condition now as well.
Jenara Enchantress – kwiznek
Aggro – Radha, Heir to Keld
A very aggressive deck with a very low curve and efficient creatures. The idea is to hit your opponents fast and hard, either use your burn as removal to get more damage in with creatures, or just as burn to your opponents face. The enchantment removal can help take care of things like Ghostly Prison, and artifact removal for things like Ensnaring Bridge.
Radha Aggro – Yan Lorente
These are just a few viable decks in this format. There are an incredible number of viable decks and strategies, and most decks have a large number of slots that can be changed depending on the meta-game. Deckbuilding is half of the challenge of the format, making sure you have answers in your deck to popular commanders in your meta while keeping your deck consistent and powerful. Most commanders that are good in multiplayer can be made to be at least somewhat competitive in Duel Commander. I demonstrated this a few months ago by turning my Borborygmos Enraged deck into a heavy ramp deck with lots of control elements and Aggro Loam style win condition in Duel Commander that could beat some of the other more popular commanders, and though I wouldn’t bring it to a Duel Commander tournament, it was still pretty powerful in the format. I will be writing about it soon for an article on turning Multiplayer decks into Duel Commander decks for people who want to get into the format but don’t want to have to buy 99 new cards.
I really hope this inspires some new players to look into this format and try it out. It is incredbly fun and both playing and deckbuilding are challenging, the format is always evolving as rogue decks take down tournaments and become more popular and new cards make certain strategies more or less viable. It has the same competitive spirit of Legacy with the deckbuilding style that makes commander such a fun and rewarding format.
Duel Commander Website – http://duelcommander.com/
Duel Commander official rules – http://duelcommander.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Duel_Commander_rules_EN_20130715.pdf
MTGSalvation 1v1 Commander Forum – http://forums.mtgsalvation.com/forumdisplay.php?f=489