Commanding Commons

Posted in Command Tower on December 3, 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.

Commons are the bread and butter of Magic. Mythic rares and rares may be splashy attractors, and uncommons fill in the spaces of many sideboards and decks in Standard, but it's the commons that most of us see en masse. They fill most of our booster packs and Draft decks, and they define what colors feel like across every format.

And they have a potent place even in Commander.

Might of the Masses | Art by Johann Bodin

Commons often fill the most critical role for my decks: greasing wheels and making things work seamlessly. I have a Pharika, God of Affliction deck I've enjoyed immensely since Pro Tour Journey into Nyx. While I'm constantly fiddling with the basic lands (currently nineteen—and these more or less count as commons, too!), the core of what helps Pharika tick are a pile of commons: Sakura-Tribe Elder, Civic Wayfinder, Krosan Tusker, Yavimaya Granger, Silverglade Elemental, Yavimaya Elder, Diligent Farmhand, Wood Elves, and Dawntreader Elk.

Commons, as the bulk of what Limited sees, find a lot of functional repetition over the years. Unlike most uncommons and rares, effects on commons are, well, common. My Pharika deck wants disposable creatures in the graveyard. Things like Yavimaya Elder, Sakura-Tribe Elder, and Yavimaya Granger smooth out my mana and colors while ending up exactly where I want them to be: the graveyard.

These effects are redundant to each other, and that's the biggest appeal of commons. If you need some more of something, like Lightning Bolts, you have an array of similar choices to work with. While some rares have a regular feature in sets—I'm looking at you, Planar Outburst, End Hostilities, Day of Judgment, Supreme Verdict, and so on—it's at common you'll build out a suite of similar cards to give you what you want.

But that's not all commons do for decks. While great lands like Polluted Delta and Sunken Hollow are as ubiquitous in Commander as they are in other Constructed formats, mana fixing doesn't take more than commons either. Golgari Rot Farm started out as a common, and Jungle Hollow and Golgari Guildgate are perfectly serviceable for my purposes.

There's exceptions where commons are just plain powerful, too. Fierce Empath is a card I always assumed put whatever it tutored for on top of the library (it's just a common!), but it turns out it's amazing almost any time in the game. Vulturous Aven can draw cards and put any creature of mine I'd like into the graveyard. Both are unique cards at common and deliver a bigger punch than expected.

Commander is a format for awesome cards and amazing experiences, but don't turn a blind eye to the simple things that can make your deck shine. Don't just take my word for it; Raphael's Marchesa, the Black Rose deck pivots an entire combo around a humble common:

 

I have many commons that I use for my Commander decks. From such staples as Sakura-Tribe Elder and Fierce Empath (paired with Woodland Bellower) and Vines of Vastwood to other cards that may not be used that much in Commander decks. Perhaps one of the most unexciting-yet-solid ones is Vulturous Aven. It's a flying body that nets you two cards for the cost of another creature, and it's a body for any other sacrifice shenanigans.

The cool thing is, when I have Marchesa out, any creature I exploit with Vulturous Aven that has a +1/+1 counter on it comes back at the end of my turn. The one common that can win me games is of course Nantuko Husk. It's my second sacrifice outlet in the deck (the other one being Altar of Dementia), and it does major work. Imagine having Marchesa and Nantuko Husk out. First you steal a ton of creatures with Mob Rule, then attack the player on the throne, just to sacrifice all creatures to Nantuko Husk, making him immensely huge, and in the end you gain control of all the creatures stolen with Mob Rule. The Zulaport Cutthroat is just the icing on the cake!

—Raphael

 

Raphael's Marchesa Exploits

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Marchesa, the Black Rose
Planeswalker (2)
1 Dack Fayden 1 Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
99 Cards

Nantuko Husk can eat everything, and using Marchesa, the Black Rose to make that a valuable way to keep stolen creatures is downright dangerous. There are other sacrifice outlets, of course—Nantuko Husk isn't even unique as a common (see Blood Bairn)—but using a creature that also gets huge doing it feels great.

Alongside the centerpiece of the "Aha! Gotcha!" combo Raphael has here, fixing mana in a three-color deck is easier with things like Transguild Promenade and Opal Palace around. Common mana for the win!

And as I alluded to earlier there are some commons that can help drive an entire deck, as Isaiah shared:

 

The commons I find myself using a lot are from my Rakdos, Lord of Riots deck, and they are Nettle Drone, Rakdos Ickspitter, and Terminate. Before I talk about why, here's the deck list that I use:

 

Isaiah's Rakdos, Lord of Riots

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Rakdos, Lord of Riots
Planeswalker (1)
1 Sorin Markov
99 Cards

 

I use Nettle Drone and Rakdos Ickspitter a lot, because they're both three-drops that fill the essential function of allowing me to easily ping my opponent's life total, thus enabling the casting of Rakdos. Nettle Drone in particular has good synergy with the large Eldrazi spells I like casting, and that card has won games for me. Not only that, but they only ping for 1 damage, so they don't immediately draw hate until the annihilators come out, at which point it's too late. I really like Terminate because, in my opinion, it's the best creature-kill spell in black-red. It kills at instant speed and prevents regeneration.

Thanks for reading,

—Isaiah

 

If someone is threatened by Rakdos Ickspitter hopping down on the third turn, they probably already know what's up.

Isaiah's point here is an important one to recall: commons typically don't set off alarm bells. Rakdos Ickspitter is a great example of a card that does its job in a deck without breaking the battlefield along with it. There's no doubt that a card like Utvara Hellkite or Mikaeus, the Unhallowed is more impressive and dominant, but there are few cards in the game that can reliably get Rakdos, Lord of Riots down on exactly the fourth turn.

It's a party he's excited to be at, for sure.

Common Understanding

Balancing that raw power against role-playing synergy is what using commons in Commander is all about. Sometimes a simple Terminate is exactly what a deck wants. A card like Sheer Drop can fulfill the role of removal and also gets you a creature onto the battlefield. Rhystic Study is among the most powerful draw engines in multiplayer, and the humble Mental Discipline is a powerful tool for any graveyard deck to stock up and dig down. Tortured Existence tutors creatures back out of your graveyard, or puts the right ones into it.

I think I've made my point: if you aren't looking at commons, you're missing out on a lot of Commander opportunities.

Join us next week when we show a highlight reel of a great Commander year. See you then!

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