Shiny Toy Funs

Posted in Command Tower on April 30, 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.

Making new Commander decks can feel like a full-time job. With a dizzying array of options and potential to consider, there's never an end to the opportunities available.

Ad Nauseam | Art by Jeremy Jarvis

Not for me, per se, but for every Commander player. Every few months there are new cards, new legendary creatures, and new ideas being infused into our world. Like those that chase victory and glory in Standard and Limited, the temptation and incentive to upend our current decks for new leaders is strong. It's almost an invariable fact that as soon as new legendary creatures are revealed in a set, I begin seeing submissions using them before they're released.

We love new things. Of course, that doesn't mean we're always using the newest commanders.

This week, we look at some of the newest you've put together, and why that happened.

You Are The One

The most common reason I try a new deck is to revisit a concept or plan that didn't work out as well as before. When I level Kaervek the Merciless up to Mogis, God of Slaughter; the feel and potential of the deck soared.

Adam, too, discovered the same thing:

My newest Commander deck came about as a result of my first Commander deck being…underwhelming. A little backstory is in order. When I first got into the Commander scene, I obviously turned to my favorite color combination, red and green, to go off of for my first deck. At the time, there were so few good commanders in those colors I could choose from, but after looking into my selection, I decided to go with an old favorite of mine: Borborygmos, a card which is very near and dear to my heart. Establishing that, and with Dragon's Maze having just launched, I stumbled upon a brilliant idea: a Gruul tribute deck.

It came together pretty easily, and soon I had a working build…but then I realized my mistake. The deck simply wasn't very good. It had plenty of creatures, but few were good enough to keep up with my playgroup. Overall, as much as I liked the idea behind the deck, it was just lacking. In the time between then and now, I built another Commander deck which played a lot better, so I stopped using the Borborygmos deck altogether. Still, I wanted a deck to satisfy my favorite color combination in the format, so I went back to the drawing board and, after another quick Gatherer search, found my new commander: Xenagos, God of Revels.

His cheaper mana cost, difficulty in being removed by my opponents, and immediately frightening effect (especially with additional combat phases!) made him a perfect choice for my ends. I love hard-casting a good fatty, and when my fatties double in size and get to swing immediately, how could I possibly say no? All said, I haven't regretted my decision to make Borborygmos part of the 99.

Hail Based Xenagod!

Adam's Xenagos, God of Revels

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Xenagos, God of Revels
Planeswalker (2)
1 Domri Rade 1 Sarkhan Vol
Artifact (2)
1 Gruul War Plow 1 Mage Slayer
99 Cards

Trying the same deck over again with a new commander may feel like "more of the same," but it's really not. The difference in mana costs between commander options means some are easier to get onto the battlefield…and keep there over time. The difference in abilities means a new commander can revitalize how everything else plays out.

Adam took what he learned from his first pass at Gruul shenanigans and made it evolve. What's old is new again and, if you've been sitting on a deck for some time, try looking at it in new ways with a new top slot. You'd be surprised how much just changing the commander can cascade through everything else.

Another reason to build new decks is to have an opportunity to dive into cards and themes that are from before our time in Magic. John broke down how he found an opportunity for just that in morph:

Since I started playing Magic in 2008, I've often found older mechanics that I never got to play with intriguing. When I learned that Khans of Tarkir was bringing back morph, I determined that a Commander deck involving the mechanic was my destiny.

That covers the "why." I'd used morph cards in decks before, but never possessed a critical mass of cards with the mechanic to be able to build a deck focused on it. Once Fate Reforged hit shelves and introduced manifest as a new variant, I finally felt ready to begin.

I started out knowing that I'd be running three colors and that two of them would be blue and green. I had picked up a number of interesting blue and green morphs over the years that were just waiting in my binder and destined to be part of my 99. Of the other three color options available, I finally decided that red's morphs were the most compelling to me. I had both Jeering Instigator and Ashcloud Phoenix from KTK, and remembered I also had some interesting red morphs floating around in my uncommons box.

The deck began helmed by Surrak Dragonclaw, simply for color's sake. Though Animar, Soul of Elements was obviously a better choice, given how well his ability interacts with the completely colorless casting cost of all Morphs, I didn't own one. I hunted for a copy of Animar from local players and shops for weeks before I finally broke down and ordered one online. I did enjoy that afternoon at my local comic store hunting through their big binder full of old singles from Onslaught block, looking for fun morphs I didn't have yet for this deck.

John's Cloaking Device Animar

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Animar, Soul of Elements

Casting colorless creatures becomes easy when Animar, Soul of Elements is on the battlefield. Using the saved mana to start playing shenanigans immediately is fantastic. Of course, morphs from our modern era had different rules in development, so if you've never taken a look at what Time Spiral or Onslaught blocks have to offer you're really missing out.

I love some of John's modern-meets-classic combos with things like Ghostfire Blade for all those older morphs, ensure the Equipment will always have something spicy to equip. And putting Mischievous Quanar next to Sagu Mauler means opponents will really have no clue what's going to happen next.

Ghostfire Blade | Art by Cyril Van Der Haegen

Of course, most players build decks to know exactly how things will play out for themselves and that isn't a bad thing necessarily. Evan wanted to ensure his Commander experiences would be good ones for him…and his opponents:

My most recent deck was built for one goal: Fun. Now, you may be thinking to yourself, "Well, duh! Who builds decks that aren't fun?" What I mean to say is, I wanted to build a deck that fully embraced the philosophies of Commander in allowing for fun games filled with gigantic spells and big plays. I wanted a deck that people even loved playing against! What I've found is that a lot of people like to build decks with powerful cards, but that their opponents hate playing against. Playing land destruction, discard effects, creature lock-down, and generally disrupting the goals that each player is trying to achieve gets be really disheartening and un-fun for your opponents.

My deck has three themes: ramp, steal/copy effects, and dragons. The ramp allows me to cast lots of high CMC cards with relative ease, steal/copy effects help me restore/shift balance to the board state from the top player, and the dragons are- well- dragons! It also offers a lot of group hug effects, such as Well of Ideas, Heartbeat of Spring, Boldwyr Heavyweights, and Rites of Flourishing to help others recover from mana droughts and empty hands, getting them back in the game. And while the deck may be led by Yasova Dragonclaw, I mostly just use her for her colors, though her temporary stealing ability jives well with the shenanigans this deck pulls.

So far, I have been extremely satisfied with how this deck plays. The combination of colors is great and allows for interesting interactions that I would never have expected to see (such as an Infinite Reflection on Scourge of the Throne). And even though I didn't set out for a specific win condition, this deck still holds its own in battle.

Evan's Yasova Dragonclaw

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Yasova Dragonclaw
Instant (1)
1 Supplant Form
99 Cards

I've written about and referenced "the social contract" and good principles to follow for Commander players before. Evan took this idea to heart and built a new deck to dovetail right into great experiences for players.

There's no lack of powerful effects here, and it has some great ways to rock an entire battlefield. Dictate of Karametra is a solid one to ensure you get your mana going just before everyone else gets a chance to unload their hands too. The modern take on Mana Flare gets a bad rep among players that focus exclusively on their own success and deck's development, but I find it's a phenomenal way to allow the players running behind in a game to unload their whammies too.

Explosions and fatties are fun for everyone, win or lose.

Don't Cry Out

New decks are so exciting that I was inundated with submissions for this week. I received so many, in fact, that I'm going to split it into another part we'll see down the road soon. And speaking of soon, there's another topic I want to follow up on in the near future.

Earlier this week there was an awesome #MTGChat event on Twitter, where @wizards_magic posed a bunch of great Commander questions for everyone to respond to. With a limited space to share in, the answers were all without reasoning or decklists: two features that can make a rationale easy to understand.

There was one question I just couldn't hold back on answering:

Of course, I wasn't alone in having an opinion on a contentious matter.

While I have no way to enforce what should or shouldn't be played in Commander, I do have plenty of strong thoughts on the matter, such as when I shared the "harmonic synergy" concept.

Now, with more than 140 characters of space to use, I want to hear even more from you: Which card would you ban or unban in Commander, 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)

To be clear, this isn't an opportunity to rant or rave about a card's potential. And showing where it fits—or breaks—in a deck is definitely important. Changing a format that tries to include as many cards as possible is always a tough issue to work through but, just like revisiting things years later, leads to new perspectives. Reflecting on the best or worst of a card in Commander will let us all see things differently.

Join us next week when we have a grand reintroduction. See you then!

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