Archenemy Updates Its Rules To Accommodate Commander

Josh Nelson • June 29, 2024

On June 28th, Wizards of the Coast announced many things during their preview panel. Located at MagicCon Amsterdam, we got updates for Bloomburrow and Duskmourn: House of Horror. But what made me the giddiest was the fact that, in Duskmourn's Commander decks, we'll receive Archenemy support!

For some background, I have been a fan of supplemental casual formats in Magic since the original Planechase was released in 2009. I've collected all of the possible cards from Planechase, Archenemy, and even Vanguard! I even have two copies of each scheme from Archenemy, since that has been the maximum limit you can use. I've used these supplemental formats numerous times, sometimes even at the same time. Ultimately, I'm saying this to reassure you that the gamut of my extensive experience playing these formats is vast. You're in good hands here.

This is what having 140 Archenemy scheme cards looks like. Photo credit: Josh Nelson
This is what having 140 Archenemy scheme cards looks like. Photo credit: Josh Nelson

What is Archenemy?

Archenemy is a supplemental format to any game of multiplayer Magic within casual bounds. To play, you need at least four players with decks, a deck of at least twenty scheme cards, and a format the players can play. This can be as simple as four kitchen-table casual decks or as elaborate as four thematic Commander builds. The possibilities are pretty expansive here, limited by the imagination.

One of the four players, here dubbed the Archenemy, faces off against the other three. Those three players are allied against the Archenemy and share a turn. The Archenemy always goes first, as they are typically at a distinct disadvantage by numbers alone. At the beginning of their precombat main phase, they flip over a card from their "scheme deck", the twenty scheme cards mentioned earlier. The scheme flipped then takes effect. Some schemes stay in the command zone and apply a lasting effect; these are known as ongoing schemes.

The Archenemy's goal is to eliminate their three opponents, who have a collective 60 life. This total was originally divided evenly; each ally had only 20 life. The allied players' goal is to defeat the Archenemy, who until recently had a life total of 40.

A Brief History Of Evil

The Archenemy format had two iterations before the Duskmourn Commander announcement. There was the original, eponymous Archenemy release of 2010, which began the supplemental format with 45 schemes. There were also five promotional scheme cards accompanying this release. Later on, the Archenemy: Nicol Bolas release of 2017 added 20 new schemes to the mix. These were specifically themed after Nicol Bolas, the primary antagonist of the story at the time. While 2010's Archenemy did alright, it faltered somewhat, with the attached preconstructed decks largely driving sales. Archenemy: Nicol Bolas met similar issues when it came out as well. Lead Magic Designer Mark Rosewater has gone on record saying that Archenemy trailed both Commander and Planechase in popularity.

Archenemy Has Changed For a Changing Audience

Anyway, with this latest announcement came a confirmation of updates for the supplemental format. While initially created for the usual 20-life gameplay of non-Commander casual formats, Archenemy now plays in a more balanced way. The format originally had the archenemy at 40 life with each player on the allied team sitting at 20 life apiece. Because of the Commander format's heightened life totals, this had to change. Now, the archenemy sits at 60 life and the allied team shares a life total of 60.

So, with this as a new feature for the game, Wizards also acknowledged that some schemes will flat out not work anymore as intended. The scheme Mortal Flesh Is Weak springs to mind as one that no longer functions as intended. Magic designer Gavin Verhey advises that players cut this card from scheme decks.

There are a few other schemes that don't necessarily work as intended, but they're largely inconsequential in impact. The Mighty Will Fall and Your Inescapable Doom both work similarly to how they did before, but they don't need to track who has the highest life total among allies anymore.

Are There Other Rule Changes?

We do not yet know if there are other changes to the Archenemy format. There was, as mentioned earlier, a two-of maximum limit for scheme cards. Whether that's now become singleton is something to ask Gavin, or Annie Sardelis, who designed the Duskmourn Commander decks. Another question one might ask is whether there are any Archenemy reprints in the scheme decks. Completionists may either love or hate the concept of reprinted schemes. On the one hand, new schemes are a welcome addition; we've already seen that new ones will come out. On the other hand, oversized card sleeves are in short supply at this time. For example, UltroPRO's website lists a 40-count pack of black oversized card sleeves. However, they are fully out of stock on their own website.

Overall, the single known change to the Archenemy format is a welcome one. They keep otherwise eliminated players engaged, and maintain the fun factor of the concept.

Are you excited to revisit this supplemental format, if you've played it before? Are newer players also hyped to try this format? Sound off below!

Josh Nelson wears many hats. They are a music journalist when not writing gaming news. Beyond this, they're a scholar of the Sweeney Todd urban legend, a fan of monster-taming RPGs, and a filthy Aristocrats player. Josh has been playing Magic since 2001 and attributes their tenure to nostalgia, effort, and "aesthetic".