Mastering Commander Draft

Ben Fischer • August 10, 2023

As Commander draft formats become more popular, Limited fans have the chance to enjoy one of the coolest draft experiences in the game. Read on to learn how to win your next pod!

Hey, you! Yeah, you! Do you enjoy Commander? How about drafting? Well, have I got the format for you! Commander Limited has quickly become one of my favorite ways to play Magic, and I’m not alone. Let’s be honest: sometimes the Arena drafts feel impersonal, and your usual rotation of Commander decks can be repetitive. Commander draft solves both these problems at once, promising a unique, interactive experience like no other.

If you’re still reading (and aren’t already sprinting to your local game store for some Commander Masters), maybe you need a little bit more convincing. Of my last 5 Commander drafts, I’ve won 3 and placed 2nd in the others, so I’m confident in sharing some advice on winning your next Commander draft.

One note before we get into it: this article is full of advice for winning your pod. Maximizing fun is also a great way to play Commander, so please feel free to ignore any of my advice in the interest of drafting a meme deck to play with your friends.

Let’s begin by addressing the packs. These are no ordinary draft boosters! Each contains at least 2 rares, about 6 uncommons, and about 12 commons. Because so many of the cards are strong playables (even at common), limited chafficionados would describe the packs as "deep." It’s possible for several players sitting next to one another to overlap on a color without much of an issue. That being said, you’re rewarded if you can position yourself into an open color, as you can grab multiple first-pick-level cards per pack in picks ~3-6.

Another unique aspect of Commander draft is that you take 2 cards from each pack. This flips conventional draft heuristics on their head. After a good number of drafts like this, I find that cutting one color hard in pack 1 is best. The dream is to open a legend and solid rare in the same color. For example, I opened Azami, Lady of Scrolls and Evacuation in my last draft, and hardly looked at the rest of the pack. I was then able to take wizards highly, with a few speculative off-color picks like Kodama’s Reach and Exsanguinate. Sure, I knew I might not end up green or black, but taking 2 cards per pack allows you to spend "expected pick value" to dip into other colors while still diving deeper into your main color. This might be my favorite aspect of Commander drafting, as there’s nothing else quite like it!

The deep packs allow for other ways to draft, too. One opponent I faced took Meren of Clan Nel Toth pack 1 pick 1, a card so strong that they found it worth forcing both colors. It paid off- they quickly became the archenemy of the pod. In another one of my drafts, I pack-1-pick-1'd Morophon, the Boundless, and then just took the best 2 cards out of every pack for the rest of the draft. I ended up with a black-red-green base, which makes me think something similar would work for 3-color legends, not just 5-color ones like Morophon. I even played against an opponent with a fantastic blue-red spells deck helmed by two copies of the The Prismatic Piper! They apparently drafted a strong deck, and just happened to never see on-color legends. While there aren’t a lot of ways to do it wrong, I still believe cutting one color based on your first 2-4 picks will lead to the highest win percentage.

This is Commander draft, right? While it’s apparently not necessary for your deck to be good, try to draft a strong commander! In standard draft formats, the best players are prepared to draft any color combination. In contrast, many Commander players tend to gravitate towards a certain playstyle or colors. If you’re playing to win prize packs, this is not the time to force your favorite playstyle- branch out and try new things! Azami, Lady of Scrolls is the antithesis of everything I love about Magic, but that’s just how the packs broke, and I’m glad I was open to playing her. That deck ended up being my best one yet! If you can pick up at least one commander early (remember, you can partner any 2 mono-colored commanders), you can begin drafting along that creature’s vector, and then either find another to pair with it in your second color, or grab a 2-color legend that fits.

While you’re drafting synergistic cards for your commander, don’t forget to pick up some ramp and fixing. As every commander player knows, the player that starts on a turn 1 Sol Ring has a massive advantage over their pod. Commander draft formats often include accelerants like Sol Ring, Arcane Signet, and Kodama’s Reach, plus multicolor lands like Command Tower, Thriving Heath, and various kinds of dual lands. I recommend taking these highly, but not over key cards like your commander or bomb rares. You can usually grab a few towards the middle of each pack. If you’re playing a 3-5 color deck, you can bump these a bit higher in your mental pick order.

From my experience, the best commander draft decks are assertive decks with reliable card advantage, often stapled to their commander. For example, Commander Liara Portyr was excellent in my Baldur’s Gate draft, incentivizing me to attack multiple enemies while drawing cards. In Commander Masters, Akiri, Fearless Voyager plays a similar role. Here’s a handful of other commanders that exemplify these qualities:

As for gameplay… it’s Commander! Everyone has their own playstyle. Some commander players like to lay low and not attract too much attention. Personally, as my list above demonstrates, I don’t mind becoming the archenemy early in the game. I have a confession: I was once a cowardly commander player. I used to kindly ask my opponents if they would please let my Bruna, Light of Alabaster resolve, and usually get double-crossed regardless. I got pretty sick of this! I rebuilt many of my decks so that I would no longer need to ask for permission, swapping out “friendly” cards for powerful ways to protect my gameplan, like Grand Abolisher and Misdirection. Now, I know I no longer have to ask for permission- I tell my friends what’s happening, and see if they can stop me. I suggest a similar approach in commander draft. To maximize your chances of winning the game, don't slink back and wait for someone else to become the target- actualy try to win the game! Remember, this is still a draft set. Sometimes your opponents simply won’t have the key removal spell or card quality to interact with you.

TLDR: Don’t be afraid to let your deck do what you built it to do.

Here’s my most recent pod-winning decklist- the aforementioned Azami, Lady of Scrolls / Sephara, Sky’s Blade. To quote one of my opponents, shortly after the table scooped: “You took more game actions in the first few turns than the rest of us combined.” Follow this advice, and hopefully your next commander draft is just as successful!

2 Looter il-Kor
2 Cartographer's Hawk
2 Portal Mage
2 Windrider Wizard
2 Ministrant of Obligation
1 Pilgrim's Eye
1 Murmuring Mystic
1 Teshar, Ancestor's Apostle
1 Loyal Unicorn
1 Shipwreck Dowser
1 Body Double
1 Elite Scaleguard
1 Lorthos, the Tidemaker
2 Path to Exile
1 Spectral Grasp
1 Swift Response
1 Sapphire Medallion
3 Frantic Search
1 Fall from Favor
1 Battle Screech
1 Evacuation
3 Rise From the Tides
1 Command Tower
1 Thriving Heath
12 Island
12 Plains

1 Azami, Lady of Scrolls
1 Sephara, Sky's Blade

For more 50% spike, 50% meme limited content, check out the latest episode of the Draft Chaff Podcast.