Commander Can Be MTG’s Most Relevant Format – Alvin Choo

Commander Can Be MTG’s Most Relevant Format – Alvin Choo

The hottest format today in Magic wasn’t actually started by Magic’s own creators. Elder Dragon Highlander (EDH) – now officially known as Commanderfirst started in 2004 by judges who loved the game and wanted to experiment with a multiplayer format.

Today Commander drives official Magic product releases, prices of special cards in the secondary market, and keeps friendships (and the game) alive as stores close during this Covid-19 pandemic.

It’s the desire to connect that first drew Alvin Choo to start his Facebook group MTG EDH Commander – Singapore for the local community. The 34-year-old is a big believer of the format and doesn’t pay much attention to the thinner constructed formats such as Standard and Pioneer. He puts all his heart (and money) into his decks, especially his favourite – which will be revealed below!

What do you do for work and play when you’re not casting spells and Planeswalking?

I work in the Internal Audit and Risk Management consulting fields. I do enjoy “Planeswalking” (i.e. travelling), and 2020 has been an unfortunate year where it is in remand. When I’m not casting spells, I mostly spend time on non-MTG outings with friends and family, in activities ranging from cycling, board games to food hunting.

Tell us about your Magic playing history. When and how did you start, especially for the Commander format?

My journey started by collecting MTG cards for their artwork. The memory started as far back as 1999 with a couple of singles purchase of Dark Offering, Devastation and Fire Elementals at a Malaysian Local Game Store (LGS) in Kuala Lumpur. Back then, most of my friends were fond of Pokemon trading cards, but that didn’t stop me from continuing to acquire more MTG cards with fancy artwork.

I started to play MTG more competitively during my university days in 2004-2005. I was heavily engaged in the Extended format (now gone), playing the then competitive Mono-Red and Zombie Reanimate decks.

Work commitments forced MTG to a back seat, and I eventually relocated to Singapore to further my career. Then in 2012-2013 I was reintroduced to the game with the Commander format (then known as EDH – Elder Dragon Highlander) by a fellow Malaysian player who was also working in Singapore.

My very first Commander deck was Kaalia of the Vast, which has gradually transformed over the years. To this day, the deck is still my favourite in casual Commander, and can hold its own in competitive games too.  

How did you start MTG EDH Commander – Singapore? What are your dreams for the Facebook group?

Commander first began as a casual format and less favoured than popular formats such as Standard, Modern, and Legacy. The crowd pool is limited to individual playgroups throughout Singapore and infrequent visits at LGS. I was playing with the same folks at a LGS, and we wanted to meet new people and play with new decks. So the Facebook group’s initial intention was to serve as a gathering point for Commander players to easily arrange game sessions and also share knowledge and strategy.

It started pretty successfully with almost 15-20 people participating though it has dwindled over the years (today it has about 750 members). There is significant distinctive gameplay for the Commander format – Casual and Competitive. Either term is relative in individual playgroups.

I always hope the Commander community in Singapore will grow my wish is that the group page serves as effective event management and an avenue to share current meta knowledge with new players. 

Do you believe Commander format can bring more awareness to the game? Is it good for beginners? 

Yes, the Commander format has brought more awareness to the MTG scene over the recent couple of years. Particularly we see reprints focused on making it affordable for new players entering the format. New mechanics targeted to enhance commander gameplay, which are signs of getting attention from Wizards of the Coast. The Commander format can one of the most relevant in MTG.

The main obstacle for new players would be the cardboard prices of some “reserved list” staples that many competitive playgroups run. Beginners can start off with with easy aggro decks and slowly go off. But it’s probably less accessible than other constructed formats like Standard.

Have you used programs like Spelltable or Cockatrice for Commander – How does it compare to paper?

I’ve not utilised online live platforms for Commander games. I’m still a person who prefers physical face-to-face interactions. I’ve actually not tried anything online, even Arena.

It just never occurred to me to play online. During the Circuit Breaker (where you could not meet any friends), I was so heavily swamped with work. It really distracted me from MTG. By the time I have some free time I’m so worn out that I just want to sleep for 12 hours!

In your opinion, what are the ugliest aspects of Magic (not necessarily about the gameplay)?

Over engrossment in the cardboard game in terms of “Play-Life Balance”. Work-life balance has always been an on-going dilemma that entraps a lot of Singaporean working adults. One should balance the time spent on family, friends, work, and all other hobbies.

Another highlight is seeing players taking the outcome of a game too heavily. Just be nice and enjoy the session.

And have there been any positive experiences from the Magic community?

The Singapore Magic community is generally nice has always been helpful towards new players. Personally, deep and meaningful friendships are formed over the years, which also spans non-MTG related topics in life.

The co-founder of the group and my friend, Jed, holds an annual Commander tournament for friends and gives away prizes from his own collection. It’s an expensive prize – a Cube box worth $200!

What cards would be in your very own “Signature Spellbook?”

I like Wheel of Fortune  because it offers good value and card advantage, costing just three Mana for a seven-card draw. I’m usually exhausted by the time of cast and in need of some good fortune! 

Armageddon helps to reset the Mana base in a very competitive environment. Opponents with Green sources normally get a head start as compared to my Kaalia of the Vast deck. I offer no mercy for the social contract in competitive play, since Blue-Green decks have been dominating Singapore’s Commander scene. I sometimes choose not to play it in casual gameplay. 

And Pyroblast is just the absolute best friend against the world of Blue opponents. In Commander I always target the Blue players first! 

Which Commander deck is the first one you take out for a fun game of Magic? Walk us through the mechanics and why you love it.

It’s a simple tempo agro deck that focuses on getting Kaalia of the Vast at the soonest with ramp spells’ support. The board state’s threat is dependent on Kaalia’s attack trigger for quality Angels/Demons/Dragons. Kaalia runs out of gas quickly being effective on the battlefield; keeping up the pressure should also focus on efficient draw mechanisms.

An alternate win condition is to utilise a 3-step combo for an infinite loop:

a.    Have Damage/Destruction pieces on the battlefield – Sunscorched Desert, Piranha Marsh, Scourge of Valkas, Bogardan Hellkite, or Angel of Despair.

b.    Put Worldgorger Dragon in the Graveyard by casting Entomb.

c.    Cast reanimating Enchantments such as Animate Dead, Dance of the Dead, or Necromancy targeting Worldgorger Dragon for the combo loop.

Ultimately, I still prefer swinging (attacking) an opponent in the old school style and avoid overly complicated gameplay. It just hurts the brain after a long day at work! The ideal Thank God its Friday (TGIF) game night would be having a good time with simple mechanics deck, accompanied with some beer/ wine.  

Editor’s note: I pitted my relatively new Anowon, The Ruin Sage deck against his Kaalia and although I lost both games, the second one was particularly interesting where he was down to 1 life. He had tutored for a Gisela and attacked for the win before I could Mill out his Library or deal 1 more damage.

After playing from Tempest to Urza's Saga block, Ted took a 20 year break from the game before returning to the classic Plane of Dominaria in 2018. His favourite formats are Commander, Draft, and, grudgingly, Standard.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top