Forcing Fruition

Posted in Command Tower on February 6, 2014

I like looking at new ideas.

Inspiration | Art by Matt Cavotta

Some of you who play Commander get a real kick off of tuning and evolving one deck. It's your pride and joy, something that you put on display in a flourish because you've devoted yourself to it for so long it's almost an extension of your ego.

Your one idea becomes a manifestation of everything you hold dear in Commander.

Purity | Art by Warren Mahy

I'm on the other side of the coin, along with many more fellow players. I gleefully shred deck after deck, constantly searching for a new experience. Delighting my sense of discovery—something that always gets fired up when a new set like Born of the Gods is released—is what drives my love for Commander.

My ego isn't tied to one deck, but the sense that I'll have a new deck every time we meet.

Escaped Shapeshifter | Art by Douglas Shuler

Two weeks ago, when I previewed Astral Cornucopia, I pitched one of my strangest ideas yet: "What would you include in a 'multicolor counter Commander deck' and why?" I had dreams of an exotic Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch deck, or perhaps a mana-hungry Chorus of the Conclave deck. The idea wasn't specific, and was left open for a lot of angles of attack.

Which meant it was a little confusing to try and respond to.

Increasing Confusion | Art by Dan Scott

Not every idea works out as intended. That is the risk of running headfirst into something new—you have to be willing to accept when things don't fall into place. But there's always a silver lining if you look for it, and I have three pieces of feedback that will satisfy the hungriest of counter manipulators.

Hypothesis—Null Hypothesis

Instead of sharing bits and pieces of commanders and cards, I'll skip straight to one key piece of feedback that showed me the breadth of my question.

What would I put in a multicolor counter deck, and why?

First, cards that improve or increase counters. Doubling Season is the king of this category, because it can double any kind of counter. Vorel of the Hull Clade and Gilder Bairn both offer targeted counter doubling, while any of the proliferate cards you mentioned in your article allow you to go broad. My personal favorites are Thrummingbird and the Contagion Clasp and Contagion Engine.

Secondly, cards with powerful counter-based abilities. I'd include Planeswalkers, in all the colors that the deck can run. They are frequently powerful enough by themselves, but what if you could ultimate them the turn they hit the board? Creatures that use and abuse counters can do powerful things, too; Zameck Guildmage can keep the cards coming slowly but surely, while Myojin of Seeing Winds can flood your hand. Master Biomancer and Forgotten Ancient can ensure your army is stronger than anybody else's. Simic Manipulator can steal your foes' creatures, while Grim Poppet can weaken or kill them. What about artifacts? How does Lux Cannon sound? Or maybe you just want to outright win the game with Darksteel Reactor! Ring of Three Wishes? Just three? How about as many as I want?

Third, counter-based mana ramping. Everflowing Chalice was my favorite magic card for a while because of how well it combined with proliferate. In my Vorel of the Hull Clade deck, I use the Chalice, plus storage lands like Hollow Trees, Rushwood Grove, and Saprazzan Cove to generate amounts of mana far in excess of what my opponents can muster, thanks to a little help from Vorel.

Fourth, survival cards. Let's face it, counter manipulation can be a slow process; it often takes time to pay off in a big way. And it's not like you can hide what you're doing. Your opponents *will* see you as a threat. I like cards that help me stay in the game. Clearwater Goblet can allow me to reclaim lost life or even set up a massive buffer if left in play long enough. Spike Weaver can make me immune to suffering the pain of combat, even protecting me from losing to Commander damage. Platinum Angel provides similar value.


John breaks down the idea of a counters-based deck into four sets of components, each contributing to the theme in its own ways. In sum:

  1. Cards that benefit or increase counters on other cards.
  2. Cards with strong abilities that use counters.
  3. Cards that use counters for mana generation.
  4. Cards that delay and protect you until your counters are set up.

The specifics for each will vary based on the commander you choose, but the most common feature for a counter-based commander is to use green, thanks in part to powerful choices like Experiment Kraj and Vorel of the Hull Clade. Take, for example, this deck from Alex.

Alex's Vorel of the Hull Clade

Download Arena Decklist
Other (9)
8   Island 1   Mystic Genesis
99 Cards

I built around Vorel of the Hull Clade for a few reasons. The first was that I had opened a Prophet of Kruphix from Theros and wanted to put it to good use. Additionally, I have a soft spot for three-casting-cost utility commanders (I find them easier to cast through multiple deaths). Finally, even though my preferred color pair is Golgari, I definitely have a strong Simic streak.

Vorel also allowed me to explore a more "political" style of play, using my commander and Simic Fluxmage to grow my opponents' creatures. I built it to try and play up the social nature of the format. This lasted about four turns into my first game as the potential power of growth was too much to contain.

Since then, I've reconfigured the deck to be more straightforward. Vorel soups up creatures like Elusive Krasis and Plaxcaster Frogling to beatdown. Mycoloth and Sporogenesis play nice with Vorel and Oran-Rief, the Vastwood to make a mammoth token army. Vorel can make mana with Everflowing Chalice, Fertilid, and Workhorse; he draws cards with Fathom Mage and Mindless Automaton. Finally, the Human Merfolk can keep me alive with Spike Feeder and Spike Weaver. My favorite use might be on Woodripper, loading up on fading counters to eat multiple artifacts for lunch. He's the utility knife that binds this deck together.

Is this an archetypical deck like John suggested? I think so:

  1. Thrummingbird, Doubling Season, and the commander Vorel of the Hull Clade all quickly pile counters onto everything.
  2. Wickerbough Elder, Powder Keg, and Mindless Automaton are all valuable effects driven by counters.
  3. Workhorse, Everflowing Chalice, and the humble Fertilid all help power out mana at an increasing rate.
  4. Spike Weaver, Nevinyrral's Disk, and Draining Whelk all help manage the battlefield until counters are properly set up.

Vorel of the Hull Clade screams counter manipulation, and this will be far from the last Vorel deck tailor made for counters. What's interesting is that Alex said he preferred going Golgari—black-green—where possible. It just so happens that Commander Rules Committee member and Level 5 DCI judge Toby Elliott shared a Skullbriar deck that does the same thing.

Amusingly, my primary deck is exactly that.

Toby Elliott's Skullbriar Commander Deck

Download Arena Decklist
Enchantment (3)
1 Black Market 1 Doubling Season 1 Gutter Grime
99 Cards

It's a ridiculously fun deck—not overpowering, but strong enough to be fun. It uses some cards that you almost never see but turn out to be ridiculous on occasion (Mold Adder, City of Shadows, Angelheart Vial, and various others). Skullbriar comes out on turn two and just starts getting gigantic. What's more Commander than that?

Bring dice. A *lot* of dice. No, more than that.


Toby's deck is an excellent example of pushing the same general theme in a different direction, and it passes muster against John's four pillars:

  1. Power Conduit, Doubling Season, and Protean Hydra are excellent sources of +1/+1 counters.
  2. Umezawa's Jitte, Plague Boiler, and Forgotten Ancient are superpowers when there are extra counters to be had.
  3. Everflowing Chalice, Astral Cornucopia, and City of Shadows can produce mana far above what you'd expect.
  4. Predator Ooze, Angelheart Vial, and Magistrate's Scepter help buy the time needed to overrun the board with counters.

So when Vorel of the Hull Clade gets boring, Alex, I hope this helps you travel down the Golgari path you want. (And thanks again, Toby!)

Evidence Provided

While I wasn't able to gather up the deck that I wanted to create, I hope the principles and two sample decks here today let you build the counter-based deck of your dreams.

While we'll be looking at Born of the Gods changes next week, I'd like to go back a little further in time to hit on a topic that came through too late last year to answer: What are the best commons and uncommons to use with Derevi, Imperial Tactician?

  • Feedback via email
  • 300-word limit to describe your choices
  • Complete decklists are encouraged
  • Decklists should be formatted with one card per line with just a leading number, such as "3 Mountain"
  • Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column)

Enjoy the release of Born of the Gods this weekend, and we'll look closer at the middle set of Theros block next week. See you then!

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