Atla Palani, Nest Tender
1, May, 23

MTG Lead Designer Reveals Why Commander Is So Popular

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Article at a Glance

Originally known as Elder Dragon Highlander (EDH), Commander, is a format steeped in history. First devised by Adam Stanley back in the late 1990s, the Commander is almost as old as MTG itself. Saying that, however, this now beloved format has come a long way from the first iteration played in Alaska. 

Over the years, Commander has steadily risen in popularity, from being a niche cult classic to the most popular format around. Being accessible, creative, and especially fun, there are countless reasons behind Commander’s success. While each of these is valid, one reason is supposedly more important than all others. According to Wizards of the Coast, Commander’s popularity is all thanks to them.

Humble Beginnings

Begin Anew
Begin Anew | Alchemy: Innistrad

First being played by Stanley and their friends in Fairbanks, Alaska, it’s safe to say EDH had incredibly humble beginnings. After all, when it was first created, there were only five Elder Dragon Highlander decks for players to enjoy. Each helmed by a different one of the Elder Dragons, these decks were nevertheless thoroughly enjoyable to play. Subsequently, once Stanley showed the format to Sheldon Menery in 2002, the idea stuck. 

As a level five Magic judge and a hugely influential figure within the Pro Tour circuit, Sheldon Menery would propel the format’s popularity dramatically. Effectively taking EDH on tour as he tweaked the format, Menery would significantly open up the once-tight deckbuilding restrictions. Allowing for any Legendary Creature to be the General/Commander, and removing restrictions on land, EDH effectively became Commander under Menery’s watch.

With a streamlined and more casual-focused ruleset, EDH became an increasingly enticing format to many MTG players. Lauded for its freedom, fun, and use for old cards, EDH’s player base would steadily grow over time. This eventually led to Wizards of the Coast taking notice of the format and playing it for themselves in 2005. 

Six years later, in 2011, Wizards of the Coast would release their first EDH-focused product: Magic: The Gathering Commander. Comprised of five preconstructed decks, this initial product would be an immediate sales success, paving the way for the future. 

Following this initial success, Wizards went on to release Commander products every single year, with increasing regularity. Launching more deck collections, anthologies, and later preconstructed decks for each set, Commander received a lot of support from Wizards. While this greatly increased the accessibility for this format, not every player with so happy about Wizards’ intervention.

The Rise of PreDH

Nicol Bolas, the Arisen
Nicol Bolas, the Arisen | Core Set 2019

Throughout recent years, the popularity of Commander has absolutely exploded within the MTG community. Turning from a beloved but nonetheless niche format, Commander is now the most widely played format on paper. Unsurprisingly, with so many players currently enjoying the format, Wizards has endeavored to cater to that immense audience. Launching product lines such as Secret Lair and Universes Beyond, alongside countless new preconstructed decks, Commander’s popularity is undeniable.

While many MTG players are understandably delighted by all the new Commander products to enjoy, not everyone is entirely pleased. As, in the eyes of some players, Commander is actually the worst thing to happen to MTG in its lifetime. Supposedly to blame for flooding sets with legendary creatures and Commander-focused spells, some players believe Commander is too influential, ruining formats like Standard as a result.

Somewhat surprisingly, it’s not only Standard players who are up in arms over Wizards’ Commander support. Even some Commander players believe Wizards of the Coast has gone too far. This led to some players creating the sub format, PreDH. As the name vaguely suggests, this format is EDH pre-Wizards intervention. This means that any cards printed after 2011’s New Pyhrexia is automatically banned.

Effectively suggesting that Wizards’ influence has been detrimental to Commander, the PreDH format is quite the line in the sand. Subsequently, some players have been left wondering how Wizards feels about this nostalgic format. To find out just that, recently, Tumblr user zackdes44  questioned MTG’s Lead Designer, Mark Rosewater. Asking, “Is PreDH as a concept offensive to you?” Rosewater simply replied, “Why would it be offensive?”

The People’s Format

The Crowd Goes Wild
The Crowd Goes Wild | Battlebond

Following on from this rather dismissing answer, |ackdes44 would later explain why they felt Rosewater and Wizards should be offended by PreDH. “Its founding principle is that WOTC ruined Commander, so, the only cards allowed are from before WOTC started making Commander products.” While it certainly seems like Wizards would have cause to be offended by this, Rosewater seemed anything but when answering the question. 

“I believe if Wizards had never made any Commander products, the format wouldn’t have become the number one played format in tabletop.”

Mark Rosewater | MTG Lead Designer

Flying in the face of what PreDH stands for, this answer from Rosewater had plenty of potential to be incredibly controversial. Across social media, however, players were quick to stand behind Rosewater, agreeing that Wizards is behind Commander’s success. On Reddit, for instance, players such as u/readreadreadonreddit commented, “Yeah. I reckon he’s on the money there.” 

“There’s plenty such as myself who might have heard of EDH but don’t know what to do or couldn’t be bothered to compile a deck. The precons have made the format accessible to myself and mates, and having these generally casual games with more ‘randomness’ (and interesting lines of play) without having to spend hundreds and hundreds every few months/years make it so appealing. I’m glad for these precons, and I’m grateful I’ve been able to secure most of these for battle boxes.”


Alongside this anecdote, other players such as u/planeforger highlighted how Wizards has dramatically lowered the format’s barrier to entry. While Commander may be predominantly a casual format, building a 100-card singleton deck is no easy feat. Especially not for a new player. Subsequently, the preconstructed decks have been vital in the growth of not just Commander but MTG as a whole too.

“As casual as the format is, building a semi-coherent deck of 100 singleton cards is a high barrier of entry for most players. Without premade commander decks, the average player simply wouldn’t be able to participate (or participate with any chance of winning).”


At the end of the day, the overwhelming success of Commander isn’t just down to one factor. Support from Wizards with new cards and preconstructed decks obviously helps, but if the format wasn’t fun, it wouldn’t succeed. Ultimately, with it facilitating a creative, social, and engaging environment, Commander is most definitely fun. Subsequently, don’t expect it to go away or be replaced by PreDH anytime soon. 

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