Christmas is soon approaching and I have Commander on the brain. I'm making my Wish list and checking twice. New Commander product this time of year would really be nice. Partly, I think marketing is missing out. The product packaging has the lovely appearance of a gift if that makes any sense. Grandparents and even mom or dad can feel like they are giving their children something special. It doesn't hurt that buying said product is grokkable for non-Magic-enthusiasts and simple to purchase.
See. Simple. It makes me wonder if marketing forgets about the biggest consumer of Magic product: parents with money to burn. This isn't the reason for why I am writing this article today. I was fine-tuning a couple of decks after purchasing some upgrades. Cards go out and cards go in. As I desleeved and resleeved, I kept marveling at the Kaysa I picked up for a dollar fifty. How in the world is this Elf Druid (Lord) that gives all my green creatures +1/+1 sitting in front of me only a dollar fifty? An Elvish Champion on average runs four dollars and only works on elves. Kaysa works with any mono-colored or heavy-green deck. It has only been printed once compared to the five times Elvish Champion has been printed. Have people completely forgotten about this card? Sorry. Excuse my ADD, the thought still boggles my mind.
As I repeated this task for other decks, I asked myself: what were my favorite Commander decks? I picked out my favorites and sat them in front of me and began to puzzle on why these decks were my favorites. My top five were Dromar, the Banisher, Mayael the Anima, Rubina Soulsinger, Thraximundar, and Zedruu the Greathearted. Picking a complete favorite would be very difficult. Each one plays completely different. It is like deciding between chocolate and ice cream. The reason I probably enjoy them so much is because how extremely different they are to one another. Trying to create a set of rules on how to properly build a Commander deck like the ones in this article would be ludicrous. How does one make rules for fun? I do believe there are some lessons to be learned here. Follow along as I keep in the spirit of the season by sharing my favorite decks and lessons learned.
As I have confessed before, I love enchantments and this color combination has given me the best configuration. After reviewing all the black and red enchantments, a lot of them are horrible or don't mesh well for an enchantment-themed deck. Anyway, why Rubina Soulsinger? I did have a few viable options for this particular color combination. I could have easily chosen a different commander since this isn't a build-around-me commander. The color combination was vital and important factor to create a successful enchantress Commander deck.
I do believe Rubina Soulsinger was the correct choice and illustrates an important lesson: commanders can support the subtheme of a deck. I don't go overboard on enchantments supporting theft, but thievery is a small aspect of the deck and Rubina Soulsinger fits into this role perfectly. While I don't necessarily support players picking commanders solely due to their color choice, I think it is also mistake to take any legendary creature and mindlessly build a deck entirely around it. What I am trying to get across is it can be perfectly acceptable to select a commander and use it as part of a subtheme of a deck. A commander doesn't always have to be the central focal point of the decks construction.
On to the lighter side of things, this deck is a lot of fun to pilot. It plays out completely different than any of my decks and has an almost combo feel in its style of play. As a pilot, you can ignore many disadvantages most decks have against the field. This deck shrugs at Wrath effects and many other nuances in a group game. Enchantment destruction is frequently light in Commander games compared to artifact removal, leaving this deck often unmolested throughout the game. If you are looking for something completely different to play, this is it.
Wishlist: Academy Rector, Replenish
When I built this deck, the main goal wasn't to build around Thraximundar. My goal was mischief. I wanted to bring out my inner Loki. Many people look at this deck and they have all kinds of suggestions on how to make this deck better. Grave Titan is a common suggestion. If I wanted better, I would play it. Without context, yes, Grave Titan is better than Fallen Angel. In this deck, Fallen Angel has the obvious advantage of synergy. I didn't want to have a better deck: I wanted a fun deck.
Personally, I think redirect effects are all kinds of fun. Nothing is better than redirecting an opponent's twenty-point Fireball back at them. Stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself... It is the same reasoning for the Clones. Stop hitting yourself. I don't feel too bad for the thievery in the deck as most of the theft is temporary. Stop hitting yourself. In all seriousness, nothing is more fun than casting Traitorous Blood on somebody's Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre and sending it right back at them. I think it's equally humorous that my Devouring Swarm just ate the big, bad Eldrazi.
I absolutely love this deck. By its very nature, some very interesting game scenarios arise. The flavor is incredibly strong and proves bigger isn't always better. If a person does go down that path, pretty soon every one of your decks is the same. Every deck has Grave Titan and so on. Different commander, same deck. Tribal decks are like that. Even though my Lieutenant Kirtar and Nath of the Gilt-Leaf are different colors, both play the same. Play a bunch of creatures of the same type, they all get big, and then you kill the opponent. Slivers anyone?
Wishlist: Backlash, Spelljack, Evil Twin
Originally, the artifact deck had Hanna, Ship's Navigator as my commander. Time and time again, she simply disappointed me. She simply requires too much mana and dies way too easily. Eventually, I swapped her for Dromar, the Banisher. I held out for some time because I attempted to make a color-changing deck with Dromar, the Banisher. It was an attempt to revisit one of my first decks that worked around Blind Seer, Southern Palladin, Douse, and other shenanigans. Unfortunately, the selection of cards with these color changing effects are simply not around in large enough quantities to make the deck a reality.
Why not just use Sharuum the Hegemon? I wouldn't question the validity for anybody choosing to use Sharuum the Hegemon. It isn't a matter of rebelling or trying to be original. Sure, a small part is nostalgia. If a person inspects closely, Dromar, the Banisher has a lot of synergy with the deck. I can still name any color and leave the majority of my robot army on the battlefield. In a situation that I have to choose a color of my own, the majority of my creatures have handy enters-the-battlefield abilities I wouldn't mind playing more than once.
For a moment let's forget about the synergies that Dromar, the Banisher offers. Most commanders reinforce the dynamics of a deck. Sharuum the Hegemon is an example of a commander making an artifact deck better. It acts as a catalyst, if you will. The reason I like Dromar, the Banisher is because he interacts with my opponent. After reviewing a lot of legendary creatures, the majority of commanders have abilities that make a person's deck better and few who interact directly with an opponent. It kind of surprised me, too. I will probably still pick up a Sharuum the Hegemon to pimp out the deck some more, but I assure you there will be no mutiny. Long live Dromar.
Wishlist: Sharuum the Hegemon, Wurmcoil Engine, Sharding Shinx, Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
Political Puppets was by far the least favorite of the Commander deck series. I had to pick one up just because of Zedruu the Greathearted. It is Donate on a stick. In all of Magic, very, very few cards allow a person to give their opponents stuff. Yes, I am sure you are well aware of this facet. However, it is the reason I picked it up. For a lot of decks, a player could swap out their commander for another and have little impact on the deck. Not if you are playing with Political Puppets.
This is not to say there wasn't a ton of chaff in the preconstructed deck. If playing any of the commanders wasn't your style, the pros for picking up one were very few. I even cringed a little. My original problem after purchase was how to balance the deck. Anybody with a brain who has played more than a few games against Zedruu the Greathearted quickly learns to be judicious with the amount of creatures they drop onto the battlefield. Once that happens, players basically will ignore you until everyone else has been disposed in the proper fashion.
Most people don't even give second thought about the fact Zedruu the Greathearted gains life. I decided to build upon this theme. Life gain fit well into the overall stalling tactic. Illusions of Grandeur even fits into the deck and it is blue. I also like my Angel mini-theme. Wrap it all up and it becomes a very powerful and peculiar deck with its many themes. It is the reason I enjoy the deck. Every time I sit down to play a game, it plays different. Some games, I've have simply beaten the snot out of my opponents. Other games I stall and give an unfortunate gift or two. Then there is always Insurrection into I-win.
(Yes, I know I don't get to draw extra cards from the tokens generated by Hunted Phantasm. I consider them my three other Death by Dragons.)
Wishlist: Delusions of Mediocrity and any future, snazzy, life gain cards.
Before I zip into this conversation, I want to acknowledge that I think the Commander decks were a great product. Also, I understand that preconstructed decks must have a general appeal. A highly fine-tuned deck like the ones I have presented would alienate a large audience. The must product must be flexible and have the capacity for players to tune the decks as they see fit. With this said, let's continue.
The one aspect I would really like to see is a little more flavor. Too many of the cards in the decks are just an absolute hodgepodge of cards. Gwyllion Hedge-Mage in Heavenly Inferno is just completely random and flavorless in context with the deck. I don't care if it serves a function. It is just so bland. I think the most successful decks make a player feel something. Yes, I think decks can evoke specific feelings. Gwyllion Hedge-Mage doesn't make me feel like I am playing Heavenly Inferno. It is a definite balance though, but I believe those pre-constructed decks could be pushed a little more towards the flavor spectrum.
While I think the core themes of the five decks were well developed, I think each one could accommodate a minor subtheme. Not only would it help tie the decks together, it enhances game play for a couple of reasons. A subtheme will, as I said before, help the longevity of the decks. All decks have a finite longevity. Some decks you want to play only a couple of times. Others you want to play forever because it makes you happy and joyful. Adding a subtheme can help extend the shelf-life of the pre-constructed decks. The advantage is it gives the buyer another option when they tweak the deck. Do they want to take the blue or red pill? It is their choice and choices are always good players and the game.
When the next Commander decks are released, I would like to see one of the three commanders to be a complement to the deck while the second one leans heavily on opponent interaction. I just want the choice of deciding between Sharuum the Hegemon or Dromar, the Banisher. This aspect I think will help make the product more appealing to a wider variety of players. I feel one of those two should be connected with the main theme of the deck. This brings me to the third Commander that I think should have connection to the minor theme of the deck. Again, it will help make product more favorable to a greater variety of players.
As an afterthought, I would like to see more commanders with multiple abilities in moderation. It is one of the reasons I like Zeruu the Greathearted. I have this whole life gain trigger to take advantage with certain cards along with donating things. I wouldn't go as far as getting Cromat fever, but it would be nice seeing some commanders push the complexity envelope a little bit more.
Off Topic: Deck Formatting
Today's article is probably the most time I've spent entering deck lists. It is such a cumbersome undertaken. As I flipped and typed, I wondered at the correct formatting for such a task. I began searching around to see how other people entered deck lists. It does vary somewhat, but at least every site usually has a specific format. The most common approach is alphabetical. This includes card type headers followed by the cards in alphabetical order except for lands that tend to be at the end of the article. In older days, lands were usually the first script on the list. Now, most people put them on the end of the list. I agree with this decision because it is the least important information on any deck list.
If you hadn't noticed, I took a slightly different approach. For normal tournament decks, I don't think what I did will really matter. The deck lists are so small the majority of information can be attained at a glance. Commander decks by their nature have extensive lists. As such, I don't believe listing cards alphabetically helps convey the necessary information. Articles are about communicating and that information is passed accurately and clearly. An alphabetical list appears very jumbled and difficult to understand/grok. I have this fascination with flow. I have used the idea in deck design and use it frequently in other areas. Instead of listing cards alphabetically, I decided to list the cards by their mana costs. Cards with the same mana cost were then listed alphabetically. I wanted to convey to players the natural progression of the deck and how it could potentially play out.
Passing along information is also about prioritizing. When you build a resume, the most important information should be at the beginning. It is a frequent mistake I see. With that thought in mind, I decided legendary creatures should be at the top of the article. For the Commander format, it is the most important part of any deck. It is the reason lands are placed at the end of the deck list. Beyond the points I have laid out, I think the rest of the deck order of a deck list is circumstantial. If enchantments are a big aspect of the deck, they should be placed ahead of the other card types. To me, it is a matter of putting the most important information first.
What do you guys and gals think? Does it matter? Do you find listing cards by mana cost to be helpful?
If you wish to join me for a few games of Commander in Rochester, MN, feel free to contact me.