How to build a Commander deck in Magic: the Gathering

How to build a Commander deck in Magic: the Gathering
Alan Gadbois Updated on by

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Commander is Magic: the Gathering’s most popular format, and even if you’ve played the game before, building a Commander deck can be a bit of a daunting task. There’s a lot of things to consider when building a deck, so today we’ll walk you through the process of how to build a Commander deck in Magic: the Gathering.

As we said, there’s a lot of cards to consider, so definitely consider checking out our best MTG cards for Commander, as well as our best MTG Commander Decks guide for some inspiration. Also check out our best Wilds of Eldraine Commanders guide if you’re interested in building some of the new Commanders from the newest set. With that, let’s get started!

How to build a Commander Deck in Magic: the Gathering

There’s a few key steps to building your commander deck, so we’ll detail those steps in their own sections a bit more in depth.

  • Pick a Commander / Theme.
  • Pick your staples / mandatory cards.
  • Pick your synergistic cards.
  • Fill in with card draw, removal, and other necessary cards.
  • Build your mana base including mana rocks.

Let’s start out with the first step, picking our Commander or theme for our deck.

Picking your Commander / Theme

Picking your Commander or theme is something that’s honestly going to be entirely up to you. This is the baseline foundation of how you’re going to build your deck. There’s loads of Commanders to choose from, so you can check out our guides that we linked above for some narrowed down options, or you can head over to to see their massive database of Commander cards.

Picture of Hylda of the Icy Crown from Magic: the Gathering

We’ll do an example deck with one of the new Wilds of Eldraine Commanders, Hylda of the Icy Crown. Hylda is a Commander that wants to take advantage of tapping down our opponent’s creatures for some insane value. So let’s go through the process of building our deck.

Picking staple and mandatory cards

Let’s start out by picking our staple and mandatory cards. Staple cards are going to be things like Sol Ring, Arcane Signet, Command Tower, and Lightning Greaves. These are staples that you’ll probably put in every deck you build, but ones you definitely don’t want to forget.

Picture of Hylda's Crown of Winter, Opposition, Icy Manipulator, and Scepter of Dominance from Magic: the Gathering
Four different cards, mountain background, Commander deck.

Now let’s look for the cards that are absolutely mandatory to have in this deck. This is going to be things like win conditions, or cards that will propel our gameplan forward. Cards that I’m considering for this for Hylda include Hylda’s Crown of Winter, Opposition, Icy Manipulator, and Scepter of Dominance.

These cards are cards that once we have these in play alongside our commander really can help establish a powerful state of control over the game. These are cards that I wouldn’t even consider building this deck without including. Now, let’s talk through some of the highly synergistic cards we’ll want to add

Adding Synergistic cards

Pictures of Court Street Denizen, Grand Arbiter Augustin IV, Frost Titan, and Mondrak, Glory Dominus from Magic: the Gathering

For picking out our synergy cards, we want to look for cards that play nicely with our gameplan and commander. It’s very easy to get carried away in this section and we want to have room for other cards later, so be prepared to cut some cards. For our Hylda deck, I’m not going to list out every card that we’re considering but I’ll include some of the highlights.

  • Court Street Denizen – Creates a combo with Hylda’s tokens. Taps as many creatures as we have mana for.
  • Blustersquall – Powerful overload card to build a massive board state at instant speed.
  • Citadel Siege – Free and recurring way to tap our opponent’s creatures.
  • Frost Titan – Powerful threat that can can tap creatures.
  • Willbreaker – Easy way to steal opposing creatures when we target them with a tap spell or ability.
  • Hammers of Moradin – Great early game creature to get the tap game going.
  • Grand Arbiter Augustin IV – Makes our spells cheaper to cast, saving mana for Hylda’s ability.
  • Mondrak, Glory Dominus / Annointed Procession – Doubles our tokens from Hylda.

We’re looking for cards like the ones listed above. Powerful spells that have high impact and synergy with our gameplan. You’ll probably looking for somewhere between 25 to 30 or so cards to fit into this category. Now let’s get into the other non-land cards that we’ll want to add.

Filling out the deck

Pictures of Ghostly Prison, Approach of the Second Sun, Smothering Tithe, and Ashond's Altar from Magic: the Gathering

Now that we have a solid core for our deck, we’re going to fill in the rest of the non-land cards that will round out the deck. This includes mana rocks, card draw, removal and anything else that fits the bill. Here’s a few cards that I’m considering for the Hylda Deck.

  • Ghostly Prison / Propoganda – Ways to keep our opponents from attacking us.
  • Smothering Tithe / Rhystic Study – Tax effects that generate us mana or cards.
  • Mana Drain / Counterspell / Cryptic Command – Counterspells .
  • Time Wipe / Cyclonic Rift/ Righteous Fury – Board wipes.
  • Approach of the Second Sun – Alternate win condition.
  • Ashnod’s Altar / Thought Vessel / Talisman of Progress / Azorius Signet – Mana rocks / generation.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but these cards are very important to making sure that we have some additional action for our deck to play with. Finally, we’re onto the lands.

Sticking the Land-ing

Lands are the final step of the deck building process. Generally, you’ll want to shoot for around 40 lands, just to make sure that you have enough throughout the game. I went with 40 to start, which should be enough in addition to the mana rocks.

Obviously, dual lands and fetch lands are a given here, but don’t forget some of those very important utility lands. Here’s some of the utility lands I’m adding to the deck.

  • Arcane Lighthouse / Detection Tower – Removes hexproof from creatures so we can target them.
  • Mystic Sanctuary – Allows us to recur our instants and sorceries.
  • Castle Ardenvale – Generates blockers.
  • Otawara / Eiganjo – Removal lands.
  • Scavenger Grounds – Graveyard Removal.

And that about rounds everything out! Here’s a picture of the deck list I ended up constructing as well as a link to the Archidekt so you can look at everything yourself.

A picture of a Hylda of the Icy Crown Commander deck in Magic: the Gathering

Building a Commander deck can be incredibly fun. It’s a great way to express how you like to play the game through your cards. That’s not even including blinging out the deck with fun variants. To learn more about those, check out our how to tell rarity in Magic guide.