Commander for Brand New Players
But here's the thing: Playing Magic is tricky. The rules are dense. The timings, restrictions, formats, combat, and everything else that makes Magic so wonderful takes a while to even explain, let alone remember and apply. I know someone out there reading this is thinking, "I've taught plenty of people to play Magic and it's been just fine." Well, congratulations.
Wizards has done a good thing with releasing Duels of the Planeswalkers. I was floored when my wife introduced me to a couple of people and the conversation steered to toward gaming. It went something like this:
"My daughter plays Pokemon and loves it."
"Oh, hey I've been playing a game on my iPad called 'Duels of the Planeswalkers', ever heard of it?"
"As a matter of fact, I have. It's based on a card game. Let me know if you want to try it sometime."
My guess is that this is the conversation that Wizards imagined people having when they designed the Duels of the Planeswalkers trainer... er, game. That, and they imagined big piles of money. We call that a win/win.
But, showing a new player the ropes with a pre-constructed deck and getting them into Commander are two very different things. A lot of Commander games are wacky and random, and chock full of technical interactions involving stacks of spells and several players. Besides, one of the biggest barriers for new players is understanding combat. Combat in Commander is crazy. And the games can be extremely long. "Sit down right there, draw some cards, and don't move for about 4 hours." Sounds like fun, right?
What we need is a step between just-getting-started and full-on-Commander.
I recommend pre-building a couple of decks using the modified rules below. You can get a new player up to speed quickly so that they can get the main concepts down and so that they aren't completely lost at the table.
Champion (mini-Commander) Rules
Your "Champion" must be a Legendary Creature just like in Commander, but the "color identity" rule is relaxed a bit. You may include spells in your deck with one additional color besides your Champion's color(s). In other words, if you Champion is a White creature, you may include White spells in your deck along with spells of one other supporting color: Blue, Red, Black, or Green.
-This retains the "feel" of Commander, with your "Champion" creature giving your deck "flavor," but opens things up for deck-building. This is especially important for new players with small collections.
60-card deck, Highlander (Singleton).
-One copy of any given card still gives the decks a "random" feel, so that it's not the "same game" over and over.
-This lowers the barrier of entry for a new player that doesn't have a large collection.
-The reduced deck size is easier to shuffle and less prone to random bad draws.
You start with 30 life. It takes 15 poison counters to kill you.
-This speeds the game up compared to Commander, but pushes things out enough turns to still cast big spells.
Your Champion deals double the combat damage to players.
-Instead of tracking damage from every Commander separately, the Champions simply deal more damage.
-Yes, this makes some Champions better than others. Have removal ready.
If your Champion would put into any zone from play, it is put into the Champion zone instead. Pay 2 more mana each time to cast it.
-No more tucking the Champion into the deck or bouncing it back into your hand. It's simple. If it leaves play, it goes back home.
At the start of the game, set aside two basic lands from your deck. Shuffle the remaining cards and draw 5 cards instead of 7 into your opening hand. Put the two basic lands that you set aside into your hand. You'll end up with 7 total cards in your opening hand, 2 of which are the basic lands you set aside.
-It's super crappy to teach someone to play when they get mana screwed.
-Muliganing takes a long time. New players don't want to watch you shuffle for 10 minutes while you hem and haw over what to set aside for your partial paris. They want to play.
With these changes, teaching a new player about the format is much easier. They can build a deck with a smaller collection since the deck size is smaller and more forgiving with the Champion's color identity. The games are shorter since the life totals are smaller. And, it puts the focus on your Champion since they do extra damage.