Magic: The Gathering's Big Commander Debate: Etched Or Oversized?

Hello there, players, collectors, and other fans of Magic: The Gathering, the premier trading card game produced by Wizards of the Coast! Today, we want to touch upon a rather heated debate that has been generating a conversation a long time in the making: in Commander, what is preferable? Foil oversized cards, or foil etched stand-ins?

A set of oversized Magic: The Gathering cards for the Commander format, found listed on an online auction website.
A set of oversized Magic: The Gathering cards for the Commander format, found listed on an online auction website.

Since 2011, when Wizards of the Coast co-opted EDH from fans and turned it into something even bigger and even better than it had been, renaming the format Commander in the process, they released a series of preconstructed theme decks, within which they added three oversized foil copies of the main legendary creatures from each precon.

This wasn't the first time Wizards of the Coast used oversized cards to great emphasis. In 2009 we saw the first Planechase cards, a year after we saw Archenemy schemes, and many years before, even before I'd started playing back in 2001 there were Vanguard character cards showcasing characters from the Weatherlight Saga. These were awesome centerpieces for a collector to have even if they weren't all that practical from a competitive viewpoint. Plus, they actually had a function for those interested in the formats that used them.

Oversized non-Commander cards from the history of Magic: The Gathering (from left to right: a character card from Vanguard, a plane from Planechase, and a scheme from Archenemy). Image attributed to Wizards of the Coast.
Oversized non-Commander cards from the history of Magic: The Gathering (from left to right: a character card from Vanguard, a plane from Planechase, and a scheme from Archenemy). Image attributed to Wizards of the Coast.

But the oversized Commander cards seemed to appeal to a smaller group of players as the majority didn't really make use of them in gameplay the way Wizards of the Coast had originally hoped. After all, anyone who was opening a sealed Commander precon was getting the actual card that was being offered in an oversized form anyway – it was ultimately a bit of a waste of good cardstock to a degree, aside from perhaps a reminder that your commander was about to be shuffled into your deck between games. What a regretful situation! So consequently, Wizards of the Coast reduced the amount of oversized commanders in a precon to just one – the face card – and let the idea percolate a bit more.

Meanwhile, players who did indeed like the oversized cards often tried to make them work in the context of Commander. Some people even cut up their oversized cards and affixed them so that they fit in a normal-sized sleeve. The results were pretty darned cool, to be frank about this, and I myself even am guilty of doing this.

An altered (cut-down) copy of the oversized card for Karador, Ghost Chieftain, one of the original new commanders from the first set of Magic: The Gathering preconstructed Commander decks.
An altered (cut-down) copy of the oversized card for Karador, Ghost Chieftain, one of the original new commanders from the first set of Magic: The Gathering preconstructed Commander decks.

So, fast-forwarding to last year, when Strixhaven: School of Mages was on the horizon, Wizards of the Coast declared that they would be retiring the old model of packaging for Commander precons. There would be a more sustainable model for this (which was a huge positive for the game and for the environment!), but there would also be a price: certain amenities would have to go, which meant no more oversized commanders. In their place, however, we got etched-style foil stand-ins for the face commanders of each precon (the $20 precon model also had to go, which may be another story for another article). These were less impactful, in all seriousness, partly because they were the same size as the normal cards, but also because, due to their increased thickness, they are literally not usable anywhere… except, once again, as a reminder that your commander doesn't go into the deck between games. Let the cycle begin anew.

A render of the etched foil stand-in for Kotori, Pilot Prodigy from the Commander decks for Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, a set for Magic: The Gathering.
A render of the etched foil stand-in for Kotori, Pilot Prodigy from the Commander decks for Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, a set for Magic: The Gathering.

In the end, the pros and cons of these extra, unusable cards are such that either one could be argued as better than the other by anyone who likes them. So what do you think? Is it better to have oversized Magic: The Gathering cards? Or do you prefer the thicker Commander stand-ins? Let us know your opinions in the comments below!

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About Joshua Nelson

Josh Nelson is a Magic: The Gathering deckbuilding savant, a self-proclaimed scholar of all things Sweeney Todd, and, of course, a writer for Bleeding Cool. In their downtime, Josh can be found painting models, playing Magic, or possibly preaching about the horrors and merits of anthropophagy. You can find them on Twitter at @Burning_Inquiry for all your burning inquiries.
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