Magic: The Gathering Commander Rules

Commander, sometimes called “Elder Dragon Highlander,” starts with the rules for multiplayer Free-for-All games, in which any number of players compete against each other as individuals. It’s played with the Singleton format (in other words, except for basic lands, each card in your deck must have a different name), and each player starts with a life total of 40 rather than the usual 20. Most importantly, the centerpiece of each deck is a legendary creature that serves as that deck’s commander.


To build a deck, you first choose a legendary creature, called a “commander” or “general,” then construct a Singleton deck around it containing exactly 99 other cards. Only cards of the commander’s color(s) and colorless cards may be included in the deck. (Note that split cards and hybrid cards count as all of their colors.) In fact, if a card contains a mana symbol anywhere on it that’s not one of your commander’s colors, you can’t include it in that deck! Within the game, if you would add mana to your mana pool that’s a color not shared by your commander, you get colorless mana instead.

Appropriately enough for a format named after the legendary creature that’s leading your team, your commander works differently from other cards in the game. Before the game begins, each player removes his or her commander from the game. You may play your commander from the command zone (no matter how it got there) for its normal costs plus an additional {2} for each previous time it has been played this way. If your commander would go to the graveyard or the exile zone from anywhere, you may put it into the command zone instead. In addition to the normal Magic loss conditions, if a player is dealt 21 points of combat damage from a single commander over the course of the game, that player loses the game!

It somehow makes sense that such a larger-than-life format was invented up in the wilds of Alaska. Its originators used commanders only from the Legends set, including (and especially!) the Elder Dragons such as Chromium and Nicol Bolas. Over time, the format spread. It became popular among judges, who would play it into the wee hours of the night following a hard day’s officiating at a Pro Tour or Grand Prix event. (You can read more about their rules here.) It soon reached the mainstream and has become a favorite format in casual playgroups everywhere, from the kitchen table down the street to Magic Online to the Wizards of the Coast headquarters!

  • Planeswalker Points
  • Facebook Twitter
  • Gatherer: The Magic Card Database
  • Forums: Connect with the Magic Community
  • Magic Locator