Speeding up your Commander Games - With James N.

Okay commander players.  There’s a topic I’m sure that’s near and dear to each of our hearts that we need to address.  How the heck can we speed up these games?!  Worry not.  I got you.  I’ll lay out some options for your consideration and you and your groups should discuss which ones feel like the best fits.  These are only suggestions.

These are options best suited for social games rather than more competitive leaning ones as they are geared to help ensure that everyone gets an optimized chance to participate in the game and minimize “feel bads” due to bad luck or other variables.  So without wasting any more of our precious, precious time, let’s jump right in.


  1. Expectation Setting

I just want to get this topic out of the way right quick first, before we get into the real time savings, but this may help to create a better play experience overall.

Before you sit down at your tables and start turning cards sideways, the first question is for you: why are you playing?  Very simply, what is the context of the game and what are your objectives?  You may expect players to behave differently if there are prizes on the line as opposed to casual games with friends and therefore, the level of “rules lawyering” you may want to engage in and how flexible you or your pod may want to be with the rules.


  1. Player Preparedness
    1. This one is very simple.  Come prepared to play the deck you want to play.  If your deck isn’t sleeved or needs edits, don’t make players wait while you make these adjustments.


    1. Think about your turn and what you may need to do.  Don’t disconnect from the game between your turns, plan what you may want to do on your turn based on your hand and available resources so you can ship the turn.


  1. Getting Started

Before we get to the meat of this discussion, I want to share an official rules tidbit that I feel many people get wrong (to no consequence, really, but is interesting all the same!)

The official rules state that the play who wins the determining event gets to chose the first player.  This player does not need to be themselves and they may choose any of their opponents to start the game.  Similarly,  games where the convention is the let the loosing player start, this is actually worded as ‘the loosing player chooses the starting player.’


Okay, now that we’re all sitting down and know why we’re all playing, let’s see who starts.


    1. Fastest

Each of the 4 players are assigned a number range.


For example:


Player 1: 1 – 5.

Player 2: 6 – 10.

Player 3: 11 – 15.

Player 4: 16 – 20.


A D20 is thrown and the result determines who gets to start.

There will never be a tie with this method and no re-rolls will ever become necessary.


This is how Gavin Verhey starts games during R&D matches!


    1. Really Fast

Each player is given two D6s and they roll, highest sum (the two values added together) starts.  In the event of a draw, the player with the single highest value on any of their two die goes first.


For example:


Player 1 rolled a 4 and 2.

Player 2 rolled a 3 and 3.

Player 3 rolled a 1 and 5.

Player 4 rolled a 2 and 2.


In this example, 3 players tied by rolling a total of 6 however Player 3 would start because they rolled a 5, which is the highest single value rolled by any player who tied for 6.


This minimizes rerolling due to ties (but doesn’t eliminate the potential), but requires more dice up front.


  1. Starting Hands

I’ll preface this section with an additional reminder.  Not all methods are appropriate for all play groups.  These are also only suitable for social games and not competitive.  If the object is simply to spend time with friends and have fun, I’d advocate for relaxed mulligan rules so everyone gets a chance to play.


For all mulligan styles, I’d like to propose that in the interest of fairness, under all mulligan styles, a player may not mulligan to a Sol Ring and keep it.  That becomes part of the decision making process the player must decide on.


  1. The Exiled Hand

Each player draws their opening 7.  Anyone wishing to mulligan puts all 7 cards aside and draws 7 new cards.  Repeat this process until a usable hand is found and the pile of discarded hands gets shuffled back into their library only after their starting hand has been found.


The more a player mulligans under this method, the more narrow their possible opening hand can be as more and more cards will be discarded.  This forces the player to decide if they want to risk a questionable hand with a certain potential or not.  This also prevents players from “goldfishing” (The practice of mulliganing until certain key pieces are in their hands) as if a piece is drawn and discarded, it’s eliminated from being in their opening hand.


  1. The “Cheat-y” Scry

As a soft alternative to a full mulligan a player may choose to Scry X (I suggest X = 2) and base the viability of their starting hand based on what’s coming up.  If a plyer does this, other players may “Cheaty Scry” as well (I suggest other players scry a value less than the initial Cheaty Scry value) to help provide value in foreknowledge without stalling the start of the game.


You can modify this method by not allowing the player to scry the cards to the bottom of their library but only look at them.


Variation 1

A player scrys based on how many positions they are away from the first player.



Player 1 cannot Cheaty Scry.

Player 2 may scry up 1.

Player 3 may scry up to 2.

Player 4 may scry up to 3.


  1. The “Abundance” Land

If a player misses and early land drop (turns 1 – 4) on two consecutive tuns, they may declare missing their second land drop after looking at the top card of their library, but before putting it into their hand.  This card is set aside face down.  The player’s opponents may unanimously decide if that player may reveal cards from the top of their library until a land is revealed and that becomes the card they draw for that turn.  The initial card they looked at that wasn’t a land as well as all cards revealed are shuffled into their library and that player then starts their turn.


  1. Spin Down Dice vs D20s

This won’t save any time, however I just wanted to cover real quick why some players don’t like starting rolls to be decided by a roll of a spin down die.


The difference between a Spin Down and a D20 is that a Spin Down die has sequential values (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.) touching on one face.  This makes it easier for the player to find the next value where as D20s have these numbers randomized.


If a player were to throw a Spin Down and it “teeters”, or is about to stop moving but it seems as though it’s going to land on a certain value based on how it may be spinning or moving, it has a higher probability of landing on a similar value.



Player 1 throws and it appears as though its very likely to land on a 20.  If it doesn’t however, 19, 18 and 17 are also increasingly likely as these are by design one face away from the 20.