Magic is a great game that tests players in a variety of ways. It rewards mastery in multiple different areas from deck design to complex rules interactions, from making the most optimal plays to taking calculated gambles. Ultimately, competitive players are looking for the win at the end of their games. However, if you've been reading my articles, hopefully, you can see that when playing in less formal settings there is a value outside of simply winning.
Winner-Takes-All and First-Past-The-Post encourage a particular kind of deck design that rewards efficient players with wins! There are piles of articles that focus on maximizing win chance (coming here soon!) but let's talk about how to reward players for simply playing Magic and worry about winning later. In a word, "Points!"
Playing for Points is not a new idea in Commander and with good reason. It breaks up the monotony of the meta by altering the value of virtually every card and strategy; playing for Points is a deck builder's dream! Maximizing points is a Spike's dream, and, seeking to end the game is usually less important than gaining more points. Rather than heavy-handed house rules like outright bans, reward players with points to guide them to fun!
How to Institute Points
Astute readers will see that I have suggested using a "competitive event" to disburse rules for a casual format, and may think that is sort of weird. Here's the thing; casual players don't need points—competitive players do. Casual players who are just playing for fun are likely already trying to do the things you will award points for; competitive players likely discount things that award points because in many cases they severely damage win chance. However, there is a fairly large difference between having an event called a "tournament" and having a competitive event for significant stakes; especially when what's up for grabs is bragging rights and a big reward—for the next event!
Different Types of Points
Firstly, there are three main point categories: Play Points, Build Points, and Fun Points. All points are added together to determine the overall score of a particular player.
Play Points are simply those you can earn during a game of Commander and various events that happen and game outcomes. Build Points are earned as soon as you present your deck and announce to the table what your starting amount of points is before you even draw your opening hand. Finally, Fun Points are points awarded by the players to the *other players* at their table/pod and this happens after the game is over.
What follows are a variety of different suggestions, some of which you have likely heard of, seen, or used. Feel free to use some, all, or none. Note that with any given point structure there are consequences. These point suggestions do not penalize players—they merely seek to reward *a lot* of suboptimal play so that players can focus on simply sitting down and playing a game of Commander and feel rewarded even if they do not win. In most cases awarding players points for playing more interactive cards is more effective than punishing players for playing "problem cards" or strategies, although I have seen groups try that as well.
- "The Win": 2 Points for the last player standing.
- First Blood: 1 Point First instance of Combat Damage dealt to a player.
- First Blood; Part 2: 1 Point First instance of Commander Combat Damage to a player.
- Even More Firster Blood: 1 Point Dealing the first instance of damage to another player.
- Commander Classic Win: +1 Point Per player eliminated by 21 points of Commander Damage (Sorry Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon!)
- Losing Isn't All That Bad: 1 Point if you are the first player eliminated.
- Pure RNG: 2 Points Unless forced by an opponent, never shuffle your deck.
- Steroids: 1 Point Make the absolute largest creature of the entire game (combined Power+Toughness)
- We're Playing Commander, DUH - 1 Point for the first time you cast your Commander
- It's Good to Be the King/Queen: 2 Points The very first player to become the Monarch. Afterward: 1 Point (All players can achieve this only once!)
- No Sol Ring In Deck: 1 Point
- Lands in deck are only basic lands: 1 Point
- Deck contains at least 2 cards with "Banding": 1 Point
- Deck contains at least 2 cards from Homelands set that are not Blue: 1 Point
- Deck omits artifacts: 1 Point
- Deck omits infinite combos: 1 Point
- Deck omits extra turn cards: 1 Point
- Deck contains the most "Homarids" at the table: 1 Point
- Deck contains only cards from 1 single set of Magic: 1 Point
- Who was the most fun to play with: 1 Point
- Who had the coolest deck this game: 1 Point
Note that if you have multiple players that all have the same outcome or highest amount or simultaneous events occur, award all of those players the point(s).
What Would a Max Point Deck Even Look Like?
Veteran players will note that many of these suggested points reward extremely aggressive decks with low-cost commanders. The nice thing is low-cost removal is an effective way to force additional interaction and extend the game. When everyone is playing a one or two mana commander that instantly gets killed… now all commanders cost three and four. Every turn a player is re-casting their formerly low-cost commander is another turn the entire table gets to develop. Goblin Guide is a great way to get First Blood and Even Firster Blood, BUT, it dies to most removal, it has extremely low value as a game goes on, and the best part - it's highly Interactive! Did I mention Flailing Soldier? Sometimes players beg to be the one attacked by Goblin Guide so they can get a land; if that is not the Heart of Commander, I don't know what is!
Playing for Points is More Engaging
When one player is massively ahead a game might feel like it's over; some players mentally clock out of said game. Worse, it can feel like a game is "over" when someone resolves a big spell or you miss a single land drop and fall behind. However, when playing for points, there's always a chance to score another point, help someone else score a point, or prevent another player from scoring. Merely needing one card to become the Monarch can be the difference between a discouraged player and someone who is still invested in the game. Half or more of your points can come from deck building and being a fun, social, player. Just the action of the group sorting out points is quite different from a Winner-Takes-All outcome where once the game is over, it's over. Talking about the scores can keep players engaged and interested because being behind by two or three points is a lot more manageable than having a gigantic "L" on your first-round record.
Winning the event comes with a powerful reward but also a huge responsibility; the ability to institute new points! Now that is playing with power! Because your winner had the most total points it's extremely likely that they have some kind of twist that will be fun and by all rights, they adhered to the Heart of Commander better than any of the other players. Part of embracing a casual environment is to allow the players to "fix" the local meta with their own house rules as I previously mentioned here. Maybe that particular player just does not like Infect, or Creature Tokens, or Enchantments, or feels they are overplayed in the current meta and wants to reward other strategies -/+1 Point for omitting said game element. Some rules will inevitably be popular and become adopted as permanent points, others will last just for a single event.
What Happens if you Tie?
Event management, please make sure you have a great and dramatic solution in the case of a tie! Here are three:
The tied players play 1 more round with their Commander decks. The downside is this takes forever.
The tied players all win in which case they each get to institute a new rule for the next event.
The tied players play a Magic Mini-Game like Booster Blitz, or some variation thereof. This mini-game has existed for years, and works great as a fast and fun tie breaker!
Welcome to Commander, Where the Rules are Made up but the Points Matter!
If your local Commander group is getting a little too competitive and there seems to be a neverending arms race to combo off on turn three or four, try an event with points instead of wins.
Have you played in a Commander event, league, or just casual match that utilized points? Post your favorite ways to earn points in the comments!