Dear Stybsy, Part Two

Posted in Command Tower on December 24, 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.

With the end of the year nearly upon us, we're taking two weeks to revisit the best articles from DailyMTG in 2015. If you didn't catch some of these the first time around, do yourself a favor and read on. Then, join us back on December 28 as Oath of the Gatewatch previews get underway in earnest!

Happy Holidays!


Your questions, my answers. Commander isn't a puzzle but an experience, and we all have questions about what's happening.

Stroke of Genius | Art by Stephen Daniele

It's time to take the tough conundrums you have and provide more pithy answers to solve all your problems—or at least make you laugh. I hope you enjoy it!


Have you tried "milling" things into their hands? Prosperity, Howling Mine, and other things that cause everyone to draw cards effectively do the same job you're looking for: getting cards out of your opponents' libraries.

Mixing in ways that feel like fuel for everyone should ease the pain of chunking away their library with Phenax, God of Deception.

I rely on my commander as much as I want to. Each deck is different, and I build them with the commander in mind. Choices such as Rhys the Redeemed and Mogis, God of Slaughter I'll cast as soon as I possibly can. Others like Prossh, Skyraider of Kher I keep in waiting until it's time for me to make use of a bunch of token creatures or a sacrifice outlet.

The recent rules changes to ensure that your commander can always return to the command zone regardless of where it was supposed to go means relying on your commander is probably safer and stronger than not, but don't let that limit you in looking at what works best for your deck and play style.

While there are some arguments to be made for Allies thanks to Battle for Zendikar's additions, I think the absolute best tribe across all five colors after Slivers is Humans. While there isn't a ton of Human tribal synergy per se, Humans are unparalleled in access to utility and ability. From Big Game Hunter to Avalanche Riders to Daru Sanctifier to Æther Adept, Humans can do a little bit of everything.

Getting wildly different Humans to work together well? That's the tricky part.

My new favorite Angel in Commander is Emeria Shepherd. Getting back all the things for just a humble land—ideally a Plains—is unbelievably good. My favorite Angel as commander is Gisela, Blade of Goldnight. She's won me games (when I've stolen her with Sepulchral Primordial) and changes the math on spells like Earthquake wonderfully. The work she does toward making players move and take more damage is amazing.

Also: Two. Swords. Seriously. That's boss.

Because some people aren't.

I typically use the partial Paris mulligan rules and find it's okay for playing. I like to take a free mulligan to start—the "big deck" rule—but I don't build decks that look for specific cards in opening hands. If I have enough mana and something to cast with it, I'll keep.

What's challenging about any set of mulligan rules is that there are always players looking for an edge over opponents. Building decks to take advantage of things like free mulligans or extra shuffles defeats some of the point of Commander as a format filled with randomness and the unexpected.

The best mulligan rule is probably the one you and your friends all like to use, and my personal favorite is to "free" partial Paris away nonlands until you have the number of lands you want to start with.

Ultimately, any specific set of rules to handle mulligans can be min-maxed by players looking to capitalize on combos or specific sequences of cards. The best mulligan policy is ultimately the best gameplay policy.

Because Rules Manager Matt Tabak is a monster. He's also a Packers fan. I'm not sure these two facts are unrelated.

By "more design space," I'm assuming you mean "can be played beyond its obvious style." Boros is a great example to point out, since it does lend itself to aggressive angles so much it's hard to overlook them. Thanks to white being home to Planar Outburst and so many other battlefield-sweeping effects, Boros Control is something that can and should exist. Take a commander like, say, Gisela, Blade of Goldnight, staple on powerful red spells that deal damage to everyone, and you're on the right path. With white dealing with enchantments and red handling artifacts, all the bases get covered.

The color combination that gets the strictest archetyping is blue-black. Yes, counterspells and card drawing are covered well by these colors, along with ways to kill off creatures en masse or grind away cards from players' libraries. But blue gets great synergy with artifacts (say, Equipment) and evasive creatures while black gets burn-as-life-loss and evasive creatures. An aggressive deck filled with blue and black spells can be just as powerful as white-red or white-green combinations, and backed up by a commander like Vela the Night-Clad, it's something I'd love to see more of.

Dear Stybsy,

I always have trouble figuring out the right combination of expensive, world-ending cards and cheap utility effects. I find I build decks that sit around casting one six-mana spell per turn and then lose because each one gets destroyed, or I have a hand full of little effects that get steamrolled.

I'm usually a Modern player, so getting into the Commander groove is difficult. Is there a golden ratio for big effects vs. small utility?

Thanks,

—Simon

There is no golden ratio, unfortunately. Each deck and player is different, and what feels good for you might be unimpressive or unexciting to someone else.

I find the best way to try balancing these out is to use utility effects that come on, or with, creatures. Conclave Naturalists, Clutch of Currents, Sheer Drop, Fleshbag Marauder, Solemn Simulacrum, and others can give you little tools you need (namely removal) while also giving you a useful body to work with. Attacking and blocking with something that's already "done its job" is a fantastic way to keep momentum going, particularly if you have a deck that can make use of the creature you get beyond combat.

If you were helping a new Commander player start building a collection for the format, other than commanders and mana sources, what general-use cards (or class of cards) would you encourage your protégé to find?

—Mike

I'd strongly recommend new players look for effects that give them the biggest bang for their buck. Spells that use the phrases "each player" or "each opponent" will find their way into usefulness more than narrower but perhaps more powerful synergistic cards.

Take for example Planar Outburst and Barrage Tyrant from Battle for Zendikar. The utility of "a random Wrath of God effect" will be more useful to more decks than the amazingly useful sacrifice ability of Barrage Tyrant. If a deck wants Tyrant, it's amazing, but most decks can't use it to its full effect. Planar Outburst is something the average white deck could use regardless of the commander.

I'm a novice at Commander, having barely dabbled in it, but I do like putting weird and fun decks together. So here's a broad and general question: Is it better to use a cheap commander that you can cast early, or one that comes down late game and has more impact? Or, putting it another way: Should your commander spend more time in the command zone or on the battlefield?

—Chris

Yes.

The value of when you use your commander is determined by the deck you build around it. Some commanders, such as Rhys the Redeemed and Prossh, Skyraider of Kher, love to hit the battlefield as soon as possible for me, but I've built decks that can use extra token creatures for immediate value. Other decks I've built don't mind if the commander hangs out in the command zone a few extra turns, like Oloro, Ageless Ascetic.

What makes when a commander comes down powerful is the context sculpted for the moment it does. That said, I typically plan for cheaper-to-cast commanders (like Rhys the Redeemed) to be much better to cast early and often, and prepare other commanders to have a stage set to maximize them much more in the late game (which is generally how my Prossh, Skyraider of Kher deck works out).

I have nineteen commander decks, and while my collection is vast enough to support so many, it is still finite. I certainly don't have nineteen copies of various staples that really should go in all decks (Sol Ring, Reliquary Tower, Command Tower, and so on). Should I put all my best cards for a given deck into one "strongest" deck, or spread them out over all my decks so they are all more equal in power level? I'm leaning towards the former, so that when I really need to pull out a competitive deck I have one ready to go. But I do like switching from deck to deck at random to keep things interesting, so I might benefit more from having an even spread overall.

—David

This is an interesting question, David, because of how I've chosen to solve it: I never keep more than one copy of any given card. Sol Ring has a home for me, but it's in the deck that answers the question "Which of my decks wants Sol Ring the most?"

I'm fond of avoiding duplication between decks, and so my personal collection is singleton as well. Expanding this idea to what you're considering, I think the question you want to ask yourself is this: "Do I need to make the most powerful deck I possibly can?" If you feel you need an option that's "the best you have to offer," by all means, pile them up. Otherwise, I'd love to see you spread the love across your decks and create truly varied play experiences.

Hello Stybs,

I would like advice on... what question to ask you for advice on?

Rim shot.

I'm sure that's the 50th time someone has felt clever and sent that to you since the article went live. Forgive me for being terrible. Anyway, what I would really like advice on is deck construction around commanders. I feel like Commander is geared toward finding the optimal strategy with your commander. I have forced myself to do more of that lately, but I always fall into the "good stuff" trap. I know Mana Drain is good in decks with blue, but do all blue decks need a Mana Drain? Should I really play Plasm Capture, even though it's less efficient but gives colored mana? Nevinyrral's Disk is a perfect escape valve, but should I replace it with something that has better synergy with my commander? I feel like I am cheating in some way by not choosing ideal cards for my commander.

Thanks for taking the time to read my email and bad joke. Hopefully I am the only one that sent it. Keep on writing!

—Andy

Andy, you aren't the only one to send it in—but you are the only one to thank me for reading the joke.

Thanks.

Your question is interesting because it's the same sort of conundrum many of us face at one point or another: Cards that are powerful in a vacuum feel better, at a glance, than any other random cards that may or may not work better with a given commander.

What's ideal for a commander is, really, what feels good to you. If you enjoy the synergies and strategies that pop when the right cards are together in play, you should go do that. If playing fun cards you enjoy means always losing to the players in your group, there's a bigger discussion to have: What are they putting in their decks? Why?

When you choose "the best" cards every time, it cascades through other players. They, too, will want Sol Rings in every deck to fight fire with fire. Mana Drain is objectively among the most powerful counterspells ever printed. Plasm Capture is pretty good but requires a lot of specific mana. Traumatic Visions is utility-meets-utterly-fair-cost-to-counter-something.

If you and your play groups skews—perhaps not entirely or with every card in every deck—toward the Traumatic Visions end of that scale of cards, you'll find the cards that work best with your commander stand out more, and everyone gets a chance to shine in a game.

The "best" cards aren't always the best gameplay. Own that with your deck.

The Small Things

One of the recurring themes between this and the last edition of "Dear Stybsy" was a focus on the power level of cards. Are cards too powerful? Are cards not powerful enough? What's the right power of card to play with? Why shouldn't I run Sol Ring forever and always in every deck?

Context matters for everything, but there's one general approach I consistently come back to: Using great commons for the mundane effects needed in decks—ramping up lands, fixing colors of mana, drawing a few extra cards—is always a good idea in my book, so I want to see what you have to add: What are the best commons you find yourself using in decks?

  • Feedback via email in English.
  • 300-word limit to share the reason and decklist from Magic Online.
  • 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).

Rampant Growth is one of my most favorite cards in Magic because it's simple, effective, and rarely threatening to other players. Fixing mana or just pulling ahead in land count is usually good news in Commander, and I'm happy to do it at almost any point in the game.

What commons do you get the most value out of? That's what I'm looking forward to hearing back about most.

Join us next week when we turn down the heat to chill out. See you then!

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