Bowed. Bent. Broken.

Posted in Command Tower on July 2, 2015

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

Today is—at least to my memory—the first time I've written an article that's published on my birthday and brings an amazing new card to show off. My birthdays are usually quiet affairs with friends and food. A gift is something extraordinary, and here it is in my hands.

Art by Dan Scott

This year's birthday—today—is one that involves flying into Montreal for the Grand Prix this weekend. I'll give myself the first gift of Schwartz's Deli, as is customary for my Canadian visits, and move to work over the weekend with glee.

What I have for you today is a much richer gift from Magic Origins that's going to do some powerful work in Commander. This is Willbreaker, and she packs a punch:

Being the Target

Willbreaker is the type of card that feels typical for blue. It's reminiscent of Dragonlord Silumgar, but has the build-around-me potential of many blue rares. The fun takeaways you should have are easy:

  • Targeting everything on your opponent's side is the most powerful play, but most of blue's targeting options are descended from Boomerang.
  • Being a creature, and not an enchantment like Dismiss into Dream, means protecting it is harder but the payoff is significantly better.
  • It won't shore up any defenses alone as five mana for a 2/3 is unimpressive, and it won't steal any creatures by itself: You need to support it.

These are a tall but attainable set of conditions to meet. I've been itching to create a blue-black Commander deck since Silumgar's Command popped up on my radar. And, after a quick look over all of the blue-black legendary creatures available, there's one commander that can target creatures on the battlefield: Skeleton Ship.

Now Skeleton Ship isn't a powerful commander. It's five mana for a 0/3, and if you don't have any Islands on the battlefield you can't even keep it around. But its activated ability is precisely the type of tool Willbreaker wants around. If you're stealing the best creatures in play, a pesky -1/-1 counter isn't much to worry about.

The bigger question is how do you build a deck around a targeting ability and something that wants other creatures to be targeted? My answer was to add more of each.

Stybs's Skeleton Ship Commander

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Skeleton Ship
99 Cards

This isn't a polished piece of creative Commander: no first passes at a deck are. But the tools and themes of Willbreaker are pushed as hard as possible:

Bridging the Gaps

Of course, building a deck around something new and exciting is just the first step to a deck's origins. Playing games is the necessary follow up. With something unpolished and completely untested, what you want to look for is going to be much broader than when you're playing a deck that's evolved over time already.

What feels missing? This is the biggest question, but oftentimes the most valuable to explore. At a glance, I predict I'm going to feel pressured by creatures constantly. There aren't many blockers or early bodies to play as speed bumps. Anyone with smaller, quicker creatures not only outspeeds our already-slow deck, but is using creatures that are inefficient for us to steal and copy: We're interested in heavy hitters, not tiny critters. The answer may lie in things like Spellskite and Man-o'-War to bolster our early game while providing some utility later.

What are we swimming in? I went very deep on steal and copy effects. Ultimately that may prove to be too many. If we can only copy opponents, it becomes difficult to handle situations where we can't…and easier for our opponents to adjust to playing against. The answer to this may be adding another theme, like graveyard recursion or returning permanents to their owner's hands. Going in a different direction gives us more opportunities to meaningfully impact games.

What do we need? It takes more than a handful of games to get a real sense of a deck. Resist the temptation to evaluate something new based on the first try. Feeling out if a deck needs ways to draw cards, produce more mana, play more creatures, or answer more things opponents play comes with experience playing it. It's hard to say if there's enough mana or not in this deck. It's even hard to predict if we really do need to layer in some ways to draw cards. Keeping an open mind and honestly evaluating how games played out is tough—avoid the best and worst case scenarios as your baselines is what's needed—but after your play the deck enough, the vision for the next step will be clear.

That's what leads me to this week's question: How would you handle building a blue-black Commander deck with Willbreaker in it?

  • Feedback via email, in English
  • 300 word limit to explain your strategy
  • Sample decklist (does not count against word limit)
  • Decklists should be formatted with one card per line with just a leading number, such as "3 Mountain"—just a space (no "x" or "-") between the number and the card name, without subtotals by card type (Submissions that don't follow this rule will be ignored.)
  • Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column)
  • Your Twitter handle if you use it

This deck is just an idea on paper. Before I even begin to test it, I'm open and asking for your thoughts on answering the same problem. I like Willbreaker and its related effects. I like Silumgar's Command and borrowing, stealing, and copying things opponents control. But I rarely play this color combination despite how popular it is. Experts like you will provide much-needed counsel to bring my baseline approach up to par. I'm looking forward to that.

Join us next week when we have new worlds unleashed upon us. See you then!

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