The Thrill of Victory

Posted in Command Tower on August 27, 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.

There are many facets of Commander I find elusive: a deck that "just works" from the start when it's put together; the right mix of mana sources to ensure every spell can be cast when I want it; the perfect creatures to support and answer my beck and call.

Having the winning mix preordained would be a nice trick to know.

Preordain | Art by Svetlin Velinov

Finding victory in Commander is often the most elusive cut of the gem to find. Multiplayer games naturally lead to more losers than winners and while losing can tell you something about how to change the next game, it's those sweet moments of success that always stand out brighter in our minds. At least, that's how I like to remember things.

Here are few of my brightest memories:

The decks I recall easiest are those that have earned their share of wins over time. It isn't that every win was great—there were great reasons I took apart Rhys the Redeemed and Maelstrom Wanderer, after all—but finding any victory is a rare moment for everyone that plays Commander.

I've regaled my stories of taking the top before, so I asked you for some of yours.

If You Aim For the King, You Best Not Miss

The first story came from Jonah and a commander we've look at before—Lazav, Dimir Mastermind.

I had to write in because this happened in a game just last week. I have four Commander decks I consider my "good" decks, and one that I consider my "bad" deck—my Lazav, Dimir Mastermind mill deck. I think mill is pretty hard to make work in Commander, because libraries are so large and so many players actually want their best spells in their graveyards. But that's exactly why I have a mill deck in Commander—for the challenge and for the joy of the moments when it actually wins. Trouble is, up until last week, it never had.

In a recent five-player game, I survived to the final two mostly by being so little of a threat that no one attacked me. Finally it was just me and the Mimeoplasm player. He had an impressive board that would definitely kill me if he untapped, along with a Glissa, the Traitor that could profitably block anything. I had literally nothing on my board but a single Consuming Aberration (currently a 32/32), and nothing in hand—basically no way to get it past Glissa.

With one draw step, what do I top-deck? Phenax, God of Deception. The trigger from casting Phenax milled him for four, which let me tap the Aberration to mill him for 36—which just happened to be exactly the number of cards left in his deck.

Was it a totally undeserved win? Yes. But was it satisfying to see my worst deck not only win, but actually mill an opponent out? You bet it was.


Jonah's Lazav Different Wincons

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Lazav, Dimir Mastermind
99 Cards

Milling—the effect of putting cards from the top of a player's library into that player's graveyard—is a challenging win condition in Commander. Libraries of 100 cards combined with powerful creatures put even more pressure on a difficult victory objective.

Jonah's success in the face of adversity is testament to how every card in a Commander deck matters. The benefit of choosing an odd strategy then using every card in your deck to support it is you maximize your odds of experiencing what Jonah did, and I think that's something we're all on board with.

Daniel's tale of Melek, Izzet Paragon is a series of fortunate cards that came together for something so much bigger:

My most explosive, convincing win came from my Melek, Izzet Paragon deck. I had already copied someone's Boundless Realms, so I wasn't short on mana. On my turn, after drawing my card, the top card of my deck was a Turnabout. I cast it from the top, copied it with a Reverberate, and after realizing the new top card of my deck was Increasing Vengeance, copied the Turnabout twice more, for a total of five untaps of all my lands.

My mana problems solved for the turn, I used Brainstorm to stack my deck with a Bribery on top—which was copied to retrieve my opponent's Hellkite Overlord and Utvara Hellkite—and a Rite of Replication next, which was copied to create ten more Overlords. The resulting 88 haste trample damage took out the opponent who hadn't bestowed the dragons upon me, and ten 6/6 Dragon tokens dropped into play on my side. When the last surviving opponent, the one from whom I had bribed the dragons, tried to clear the board, I only had to reveal the Time Stop in my hand to end the game in my favor. Of all the ways to win, winning with your opponent's creatures has to be the most fun.


Daniel's Melek, Izzet Paragon

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Melek, Izzet Paragon

One word comes to mind in this situation: overkill. Daniel's string of stealing, copying, and casting created a battlefield cluttered by creatures. At some point before dealing the final blows, Daniel could have stopped, but it's appealing to go all the way when the battlefield is so clear.

Going the full distance the one time the opportunity comes up it great: It's why that's a story Daniel is excited to share in detail. But second or third time that sequence comes up, you should reconsider going all the way. The best decks create great tales all opponents share in. The worst decks force the same tale upon players in every game. If you're finding powerful wins regularly with a deck, take the time to check in with your opponents.

Commander is about the experience everyone walks away with, not your deck's win rate.

Of course, not all wins are created by your deck alone. Stuart's victorious run with a Marchesa, the Black Rose Commander deck is the kind of story that requires the circumstances that opponents present.

The most fun I've had winning a game of Commander is with Marchesa, the Black Rose. The Vaevictis Asmadi player (he believes in doing Commander "properly") had popped Vraska the Unseen's ultimate, making three deadly assassin tokens. He then tutored up a Siege Behemoth, dropped it on the table, and passed the turn.

The Goblin player and I exchanged a concerned glance; the Behemoth would allow the assassins to assign combat damage through blockers, so unless one of us did something, we were both about to be Junded out of the game. Life totals were high and all I had on board was a Torch Fiend, a Mindless Automaton, and a Butcher of Malakir. Fortunately I also had Harness by Force in hand. I was able to gain control of two assassin tokens, sacrifice Torch Fiend to blow up my own automaton to clear the remaining blockers out of the way (thanks, Butcher) and swing a lethal 1/1 attacker at each of my opponents. The flavor with Marchesa was just too perfect: "Oh, you thought those were your assassins? Cute."


Stuart's Every Rose Has Its Thorn

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Marchesa, the Black Rose
Planeswalker (2)
1 Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver 1 Liliana Vess
Mágica Instantânea (4)
1 Fact or Fiction 1 Grab the Reins 1 Slaughter 1 Spinal Embrace
99 Cards

Vraska is tough to use in Commander. With plenty of players that typically don't let the Assassin tokens appear, just getting them onto the battlefield is a challenge. But using someone else's Assassin tokens to take the win?

That's a Commander achievement unlocked, and a Commander win well-earned.

Fortune Favors the Bold

Earning a win in Commander often casts a shadow over all of the other fun that happens in a game. When you're on the end of the unexpected and lose, it's harder to say whether it was pleasant or not.

But in the time between drawing your opening hand and the final play being made, there's a ton of room to accomplish amazing feats. I want to know the best you've performed yourself: What is the best "Commander achievement" you've unlocked?

  • Feedback via email in English
  • 300 word limit to share the moment and decklist
  • 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)

There aren't any official achievements to aim for in Commander, but there's an innumerable diversity of wild interactions that happen. Everyone has a few amazing moments that stand out, and I'd love to hear about yours.

Join us next week, when we land hard. See you then!

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