Magic: The Gathering is an amazing game precisely because it more closely resembles a toolkit than a game proper. Reduced to its simplest form, Magic is simply a ruleset that handles the interactions between cards that players deploy to win a game or prevent others from winning a game. While many people are introduced to Magic through Standard (a constantly evolving set of new cards that you build decks from) or Limited (where you open cards and build from the cards you open), there are many other official and unofficial formats that are available to someone who is interested in playing around with some Magic cards.
Commander is one of those formats. It is relatively simple: each player builds a deck with a commander, which is a legendary creature card. They then build a 99 card deck where you can only have one copy of each card, and those cards can only be in the colors of the commander card you chose. If my commander is Derevi, Empyrial Tactician, then my deck can only contain cards that are blue, white or green. The concept is simple, and the cost for throwing a deck together is generally low unless you’re in a hyper-competitive group. After all, anyone who has dipped into Magic even a little bit has a huge chunk of single cards in various colors, and it’s a fun way to burn an afternoon.
Ever since Wizards of the Coast adopted the unofficial format of Elder Dragon Highlander into the official format of Commander, the company has been supporting it with releases. The Commander product line has been running since 2011, and each year the company releases five different preconstructed decks that are balanced to play against each other. These decks are meant to introduce players to a complicated format in a simple way, and each set that I have played with has generated fun games for me and my play group.
is the most recent entry into supported products for this format, but it isn’t a part of the yearly release schedule. Instead, this product is meant to be a sampling of the different types of decks that have been released since the inception of the Commander product line. There are four decks, one for each player of a Commander “pod,” and you can see specific details on the decks, which I am not going to get into here, at this site.
My major interest in this product is not reliant on whether it has good “reprint value” or whether it provides the best possible matchup of decks for people to play against each other. My prime concern is whether it is fun to play. And, generally, it is. My play group, maybe like yours, is not super competitive. We like to make the interesting and generative plays instead of the absolute best ones. We like to laugh and talk around the game. Sometimes Commander isn’t conducive to that because of the sheer amount of decisions and interactions that the decks encourage. Commander Anthology, especially compared to the Commander 2016 decks, is relatively uncomplicated. Each deck seems to have its own strategy that it develops in a linear way, and none of us has to keep an exacting log of everyone’s on-board options during every turn.
While we had a lot of fun playing the decks against each other, the reality is that we wouldn’t have played with these decks at all if not for my reviewing it. Commander Anthology has an MSRP of $169.99 (although it looks like you can get it for a little less), and that’s a high asking price for the amount of fun that we had with the product.
Commander is a great format, and I’m sure that if you’re hunting for specific cards that are reprinted here then it is probably an excellent purchase, but it is very hard for me to say that you should go out and grab it ASAP (there’s another Magic product I’ll be reviewing soon that I’ll say that about). Despite some really nice options, including some neat cardboard deckboxes and chunky, weighty life counters for all four players, I would suggest spending the money instead on a huge load of bulk cards from which you can build the goofiest, silliest Commander decks possible. You’ll probably have just as much fun.
Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman and writes about games at thiscageisworms.com. His latest game, Epanalepsis, was released last year. It’s available on Steam.