Commanding Before the Fun

Posted in Command Tower on April 23, 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.

When you think of Commander I bet the first thing that comes to mind are the commanders.

Crown of Empires | Art by John Avon

The single leader that defines the colors and, often, theme of a deck is the most visible part of the format. The rules of the format build around them, and finding the most exciting version to use is part of the appeal of finding premium foil and promotional versions.

Commanders are awesome, but they're only 1% of the deck.

Continuing off last week's theme of looking at the other 99 cards in the deck, this week I wanted to highlight just how much fun choosing everything after your commander can be. I've shared many stories about my decks over the years, including my recent pleasure building a deck around Dragonlord Dromoka and the success of my favorite deck yet in Pharika, God of Affliction was described in game-gory detail.

This week is dedicated to your stories about awesome decks and how much fun they were to assemble. I hope you're ready to take some notes.

Building Up

Building around a particular commander is a common way decks begin, and Andrew's story makes it abundantly clear how wide the opportunities are when doing just that:

While the public perception of Commander is that it's a battlecruiser Timmy format, I think the singleton nature of the format is a thrilling problem to solve for Johnny players. Just finding cards that mechanically fit your theme can be a wild adventure through Gatherer and lead to the discovery of cards that few people have ever heard of.

While I haven't even physically built it yet, just putting a list together for Titania, Protector of Argoth was this kind of adventure. Green has plenty of cards that get you lands, but finding ways to destroy your own lands for some benefit was quite the challenge. I knew Zuran Orb, Harrow, and Constant Mists were cards I would tap in to. Older cards like Overlaid Terrain, Squirrel Wrangler, and Natural Balance really surprised me with their potential to propagate Elemental tokens.

Figuring out how to get all my dead lands back was fun too. Including Conjurer's Closet and Erratic Portal to reuse Titania's "enters the battlefield" ability was a place I didn't think a mono-green land deck would end up. The whole deck just takes the idea of playing lands and twists it around in a way that no other card does. Terastodon your own lands for 33 power? Restock for two Forests? No other deck would even think about doing things so backwards. Decks like this remind me of the challenges that first brought me into Commander.

The trees give their regards,


Andrew's Titania, Protector of Argoth

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Titania, Protector of Argoth
99 Cards

I've seen a few clever ways to build around Titania, Protector of Argoth but Andrew's pushes what she can do to its natural conclusion. Land is my favorite card type in Commander, and playing one nearly every turn of every game is something I build my decks to do. Andrew's take on Titania wants to do the same, but gets far more out of every land than I ever thought possible.

I mean…Restock for basic Forests really is an amazing play here!

Another way of supporting your commander through building a deck comes in discovering powerful combinations of cards that work in surprising ways. Ben discovered this when he went digging and uncovered enchantments all over again:

The day Trostani, Selesnya's Voice was previewed, I knew I'd never love a commander as much as her. She's been my right-hand woman (women?) for every green-white commander deck and likely always will be. Her deck has gone through many phases, from tokens to Giants and back to tokens again. To bring something new to the table (people get tired of Craterhoof Behemoth) I decided to build a theme I've never done before, forgoing all my staples as well (except Garruk's Packleader. I'd rather burn all my decks to the ground than bench him!)

Trostani, Selesnya's Voice | Art by Chippy

I honestly don't recall how many edits it went through until one day, I landed on enchantments. I'm a fan of Primadox bounce effects (or Shrieking Drake, for us old timers) and have been toying with Eidolon of Blossoms for a while, so it seemed like a good hunch to follow.

As Mark Rosewater is fond of saying, restrictions breed creativity, and this was certainly the case! I fell in love with Trostani all over again (don't tell my wife!) after seeing how she also meshed perfectly with all these enchantments I owned and had summarily banished to the back of the box for not being creature spells.

Sigil of the Empty Throne into Angelic Accord with Trostani on the board is pure poetry, and something I never would have thought of before. The simple joy in taking silly enchantments like Abundant Growth and Nylea's Presence, mixing them with a dash of Enchantress creatures, and getting a hand of cards and tokens for your time, that's what dreams are made of. The sheer joy of discovery in cards I'd never have given the time of day to before earns Trostani's Enchanting Tokens my most enjoyable deck building experience. Until I find a new direction to take her!

Ben's Trostani, Selesnya's Voice

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Trostani, Selesnya's Voice
99 Cards

While "token" decks already love enchantments like Parallel Lives and Doubling Season, there are far more synergies than the obvious ones for adventurous players to try. With more than a decade of playing and cards under my belt, I still find fascinating new themes to explore.

Ben's dive into enchantments shows how a theme that's somewhat tangential—not every enchantment makes token creatures—can open up a world of new things.

Of course, you could be like Jetse and open up every color to try out:

The deck I had the most fun building is one of my first decks—Horde of Notions—and it was actually the rebuilding of the deck that had me wriggling in delight. I've been playing Commander for a long time (I am one of those suitcase-wielding maniacs you mentioned) and frequently tinker with my older decks.

At one point, Horde of Notions just kind of stopped working. It didn't do anything for me anymore and I couldn't figure out why. I ended up totally overhauling it and really homing back in on what I had planned at the beginning (which had gotten lost in all the tinkering): Elemental tribal.

Now it's easily my favorite, especially when I get the "what the heck does that elemental do!?!?" reaction (thank you Living Inferno) which happens a lot.

Horde just blows games away with card advantage (hello Greater Good), fatties and recurring removal. The babymaker (i.e. Crib Swap) is unkind, and Duneblasting everything but the Horde means you're ready to go again while your opponents scramble to get defenses back up.

One of my favorite cards in the deck is Guided Passage. Potentially diplomatic in multiplayer, it can also give insight into what cards opponents find least-threatening to their decks….

It's gotten to the point where I'm seriously considering removing Prophet of Kruphix as a card that is just too good (plus you can never have enough weird Elementals, right…?)

Remaking Horde has taught me to be more careful with the changes I make and spurred overhauls in many of my other Commander decks. Yes I'm still tinkering, but now I scan every new set just to see what new and exciting Elementals have shown up to the party, the more bizarre the better!

Kind regards,


Jetse's Horde of Notions

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Horde of Notions
Planeswalker (2)
1 Domri Rade 1 Garruk Wildspeaker
Tribal instant (1)
1 Crib Swap
99 Cards

Some decks you just never stop building with, and Jetse's Horde of Notions build is one of them. With all five colors available, and the Elemental tribe continuing to see cards just about every set, there are always new options to consider. Of course, with great variety comes great responsibility and Jetse has discovered some of the advantages and pitfalls of having every card available.

While it isn't great to discover an issue or something broken with a deck in the middle of a game, the hindsight of lessons and learning is always fun.

Finally, with the Dragons of Dragons of Tarkir still fresh in our minds, I couldn't skip Erick's sweet submission about building his deck:

The deck I've had the most fun building has to be my Karrthus Commander deck. I love Dragons and my choices for a Dragon commander were between Scion of the Ur-Dragon or Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund. I got to experience a Scion deck first-hand and I wasn't too fond of it. The one I encountered had a combo in which he: becomes Moltensteel Dragon; gets pumped; then turns into Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon; and one-shots them with infect. The worst part was that it didn't flood the field with dragons! That's why I went with Karrthus.

It also just so happened that my Karrthus was finished just in time to receive awesome new additions from Fate Reforged as well as Dragons of Tarkir! I had a list of essentials when building this deck: Dragons, board wipes, ramp, and reanimation. I had the most fun picking out all the Dragons, some of my favorites include Bladewing the Risen; Kilnmouth Dragon; Scourge of Valkas; Utvara Hellkite; Atarka, World Render; and Dragon Broodmother. Crux of Fate makes for the ultimate board wipe. My favorite mana creature has to be Somberwald Sage. You can't have reanimation without Reanimate or Animate Dead and Fearsome Awakening fits so well into this deck. Of course you can't build a Dragon deck without including Dragonstorm! So here's what I came up with for Karrthus' Tyrannical Rule!

Erick Lavandier's Karrthus' Tyrannical Rule

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund
Artifact (2)
1 Lightning Greaves 1 Sol Ring
99 Cards

Oh, how do I love Dragons? Erick counted the ways and piled the power up high. I'll admit that Magic's oldest Dragons aren't the ones I'm most familiar with, so seeing so many linked together in Erick's deck is a pleasure. Discovering, then tracking down, some of the splashiest cards in the history of the game is exciting in and of itself, and I can appreciate the fun of taking the strongest new contenders and tossing them in.

It's hard to go wrong when you're pulling in the power of Dragons.


I love building new Commander decks and, based on the variety of submissions I see from familiar faces every week, I know I'm not alone. I hope this jump through the fun of the other 99 cards finds you itching to try something new.

This week's question is one that should be familiar to anyone's that built and played a deck enough time to know all its tricks:

What is the most powerful card in one of your Commander decks, and why?

  • Feedback via email, in English
  • 300 word limit to explain the card and why
  • 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)

Join us next week, when we slowly peel the wrapping off the newest decks we have. See you then!

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