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Magic community mourns Sheldon Menery, creator of the beloved Commander format

His legacy will live on in the Commander Rules Committee and the Commander Advisory Group

A photo of Sheldon Menery at a Star City Games’ event. Photo: Commander Rules Committee
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Sheldon Menery, the creator of Commander, Magic: The Gathering’s most popular style of play, has died following a seven-year battle with cancer. The announcement was made Friday morning on Facebook where his wife, Gretchyn Melde, said that he passed away peacefully. The sad news has been followed by kind words and condolences from across the tabletop industry.

Commander is a multiplayer format of Magic, which was originally designed as a strictly two-player game. It allows three or more players, using unique 100-card decks and a singular leader character, to enjoy a more casual style of gameplay. The format is known for its sense of creative expression, with players concocting all manner of clever uses for existing mechanics — including Menery’s own signature deck, titled You Did This To Yourself, which turns opponents’ cards into weapons to be used against them.

Menery, speaking with Polygon in 2020, discussed the birth of the Commander format in detail. He said that it grew out of the Elder Dragon Highlander (EDH) format, a variation to which he was introduced during his time at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska. Later, during his time as a high-ranking judge on the Magic Pro Tour, Menery would further refine this EDH variant, expanding its potential for creative deck-building, and laying the groundwork for what would become the format’s governing body — The Commander Rules Committee — of which he remained an active member until his death. Today, this volunteer organization helps to guide the format in partnership with its publisher, Wizards of the Coast, giving guidance on rules adjustments, banned cards, new cards, and more.

“Philosophically, [Commander] was always intended to be a break from competitive Magic,” Menery told Polygon. Of its enduring popularity, he added: “It’s validation that you’re doing something good. It’s that shared joy of being able to let some of your friends in on a thing that you know about and they might not. Whether it’s a game or a TV show or a film or a bottle of bourbon, you love sharing things you love with people you like. And that’s basically what we were doing with Commander. ‘Taste this,’ we said. And a lot of people were like, ‘Man, this is right up my alley.’”

Reached for comment, Wizards of the Coast provided the following statement to Polygon:

It is with great sadness and heavy hearts that we mourn the loss of a dear friend and colleague, Sheldon Menery.

Sheldon was a trailblazer, influencer, and revered member in the Magic: The Gathering community, helping to shape the judge program from its earliest days and serving as a level 5 competitive Magic judge until retiring from the program in 2011. A prolific writer and content creator, he shared his insights and expertise through articles, videos, and podcasts.

Perhaps one of his greatest contributions to the Magic community is through the Commander format. Known by many as the “Godfather of Commander,” he was instrumental in the format’s creation and development. As a founding member of the Commander Rules Committee, he oversaw the format’s evolution into one of Magic: The Gathering’s most popular formats. Of his work with Commander, Sheldon said, “to see something that you created and shepherded and nurtured become wildly popular and beloved by so many people, it’s a pretty humbling moment.”

Sheldon was known for his kindness and generosity among the community, and he sought to make the game a welcoming and enjoyable experience for players of all levels and backgrounds. His passion and enthusiasm for the game and its community seemed boundless, and he took pride in his work with the game. “How cool is it that I get to help a lot of people have some enjoyment in this life,” he said during a podcast interview with Mark Rosewater.

Sheldon’s loss will be deeply felt by all those who knew him, and we extend our deepest condolences to his family, friends, and the entire Magic community. Sheldon is a legend who will be remembered for many years to come and whose legacy will live on through countless players.

“It’s impossible to overstate the size of the impact Sheldon Menery has made in my life,” wrote Rules Committee member Jim Lapage on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “My social life, my career — everything. I’m so, so fortunate to have spent as much time as I did talking to him and laughing with him. Today I’m filled with as much gratitude as I am grief.”

“Sheldon Menery was a wonderful soul: intelligent, passionate, but most of all caring,” wrote Brian “The Professor” Lewis on X. His hour-long interview with Menery, conducted in 2022, remains one of the more fulsome discussions of the past, present, and future of the format. “His love for this game, for the Commander format, and most of all for the Magic: The Gathering community will be missed. Without a doubt, he shaped this game and community for the better.”

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