Tap These Too

Posted in Command Tower on July 24, 2014

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.

Themes and mechanics are a mixed bag in Commander. On one hand, following a theme or mechanic through to its natural conclusion expedites an already complex deck-building process. Finding 60, 70, or more unique cards for a Commander deck can be tough, so looking down the lines of cards with Elf as a subtype or "token" in its text box narrows the field considerably.

Chief Engineer | Art by Steve Belledin

Of course, any time you apply a source filter like that you will miss out on seeing cards that work with what you're doing that don't fall into the bucket. Obelisk of Urd won't show up looking for Elf or token cards, but it fits wonderfully into decks aiming for either.

It's not a trap, per se, but a limitation of the methods, and it's a wall I run into often. I shared this first look at my returned Rhys the Redeemed deck a few weeks ago:

Rhys the Redeemed Commander

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Rhys the Redeemed
99 Cards

Plenty of powerful cards making and breaking tokens means this deck is set, right?

Untapped Potential

It's Convoke Week, so we've been filling up with tapping-creatures-for-value knowledge for days now. While I don't have any clever tricks to expand what convoke can do for us, I do know that it's a mechanic suited well for decks with token creatures to spare.

In fact, my Rhys deck already features two convoke cards:

  • Hour of Reckoning, a classic Ravnica way to clear the battlefield of everything but token creatures. With Rhys around, it's easy to copy just four token into a battlefield wipe, and explains Equipment like Shield of Kaldra and Darksteel Plate to protect Rhys. (You know, in addition to the usual way everyone fights tokens, with Supreme Verdict and friends.)
  • Chord of Calling, the Modern utility spell returned in Magic 2015 that can warp any creature in a deck onto the battlefield. The ability to pull everything from Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite to Eternal Witness serves as a catchall tutor only token decks can maximize.

Convoke is something some of you appreciate too:

I have plenty of ways to "turn on" convoke, from Cloudgoat Ranger and Captain of the Watch to Avenger of Zendikar and Hornet Queen, so why don't I have more convoke in my deck?

I didn't see it because I didn't know I was looking for it until Magic 2015 arrived:

Swapping in some or all of these would improve the options on hand for the situations I find myself in often: plenty of tokens without an obvious attack available. The next things I looked at were how the cards I already had could benefit from new additions:

  • Soul of New Phyrexia turns an abundance of tokens and Chord of Calling into ": Ignore whatever Day of Judgment flavor that was just cast." It's a one-two punch players waiting until the last moment won't always be ready for.
  • Life's Legacy provides an option to turn the obvious "Kill Avenger of Zendikar." into a secret Greater Good to reload and begin again.
  • Soul of Theros is, finally, an Overrun on a stick in white that should terrify the table enough into action. While granting trample will still trump in my view, gaining a pile of life is devastating against decks that don't kill you via commander damage or poison.
  • Soul of Zendikar is Centaur Glade on a stick, but more importantly it can grant a token after death. The ability to create even just a single token without investing more cards amplifies the value proposition of Doubling Season and Parallel Lives (and convoke cards).

There are many ways to expand the horizon on the Commander cards you're looking at. What works for you may be different from one of my favorite approaches in this sticky looking-for-related-cards and what's-awesome-in-the-new-set amalgam.

Making room for new cards is usually easy for me: I pull out similar versions to try out the new flavor or remove cards that have become superfluous for new ones that add value.

In

Out

Why

Obelisk of Urd

Caged Sun

Supports one "color" of creature similarly, but comes out much faster and with more impact.

Nissa's Expedition

Rampant Growth

More lands for roughly the same amount of mana put in.

Soul of New Phyrexia

Green Sun's Zenith

Protecting what I have out is more important than finding the next thing.

Soul of Theros

Worldspine Wurm

Both provide value after death, but Soul of Theros works harder for the rest of the deck.

Nothing here is surprising, and it all fits in with what we looked at before. Making changes to enhance convoke doesn't mean bending over backwards to fill out the theme. Expanding on a small aspect that isn't the dominant one doesn't mean giving up on the ideas that led you to your deck in the beginning.

Commander, more than any other format, rewards exploring that unknown-to-you. For my beeline-to-the-battlefield build of tokens, expanding what convoke can do in the deck makes a lot of sense: I plan to have as many tokens as possible at all times. What you want to pursue is something only your deck can tell you.

Start listening.

A Grand Design

One of the more interesting ideas thrown my way recently is one that looks closer at the players around you. Most of you mention your local play group—the people at your local game store or buddies who meet up with you—that plays Commander. We're all humans (I think) and humans generally have tendencies. We get into patterns and ruts that make us more predicable than we otherwise may think we are.

We all have a friends like this, unless you're like me and you are that friend: the player with one deck he or she plays more than any other, and it's focused tightly on a theme with obvious repercussions if left alone. After seeing it so many times you begin to build and change decks to keep it in mind and, suddenly, when your friend goes to make his or her move you're ready with a trump.

We've come to prey on the expectation. In a change from asking about your own deck, this one asks you to reach out to that friend of yours: Which Commander deck does your friend play too predictably, and what have you done to prey on it?

  • Feedback via email
  • 300-word limit to explain how your friend's deck works and what you do to attack it
  • Sample decklist is requested (does not count against word limit; please get the decklist from a friend)
  • 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, and be sure to include your commander. (Submissions with decklists that don't follow the deck formatting rule will be ignored.)
  • Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column)

I'm guilty of repeating the same deck but expecting different results, and I expect some of you know players just like me, who seem to have the same thing up their sleeve every game. I'm looking forward to seeing how you prepare for it.

Join us next week when we kill our kings, queens, and everything in between. See you then!

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