Haste Not Always Makes Waste

Posted in NEWS on April 3, 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.

Multiplayer games take more time.


Time Stop | Art by Scott M. Fischer

While a game of Magic is typically a ten- to twenty-minute affair, dialing up the player count turns those ten minutes into upwards of an hour or more. Commander and its decks, packed with wacky, wild, all-different-from-each-other cards, adds another wrinkle to things: Just reading and understanding what everyone else is doing takes time.

It isn't fun to sit and watch others do their thing for what can be the length of an entire Standard game before it's just your turn again.

Solving this issue is complicated. Players are people, and everyone will react differently to new information and situations. What works for you and your friends may backfire in a spectacular manner for someone else. Today's article covers several ways others have managed to keep the pace going. Find what might work best for you and give it a try.


The Unstoppable Force


The most obvious way to speed the game along is similar to the most obvious way to grind the game to a halt: Use abilities and effects that force other players to do what you want. Just as "prison" decks have their array of artifacts and enchantments to lock down the battlefield, "chaos" decks force everyone into actions that change the game. David shared a deck he uses to that effect:

I have Commander decks specifically designed to speed up the game. My favorite is Ruric Thar, the Unbowed, a classic Gruul build. The goal of the deck is to stop extra turns and tutors via Stranglehold, and just attack. If the card says "players must attack" it went into the deck. Most notable here is Avatar of Slaughter, who forces everyone into combat, with double strike for good measure.


It also aims to sweep enchantments and artifacts off the field, to ensure creatures are unfettered in their quest for lower life totals. Traditional white-blue prison decks are less confining once the way is cleared with a Vandalblast and Multani's Decree.

Ruric Thar keeps cards coming for everyone in the form of Heartwood Storyteller and Rites of Flourishing. Those full hands require extra mana, delivered in the form of Heartbeat of Spring, Mana Flare, Zhur-Taa Ancient, and my personal favorite for flavor and function—Overabundance.


I keep the damage flowing to everyone in the form of Ruric Thar himself, along with Burning-Tree Shaman. These two make sure that if you're not attacking, you're taking damage for doing anything else.

Playing Ruric Thar is a lot of fun, because he's tough but fair. Nobody is singled out, the global effects apply to everyone. Games go much quicker once everyone has extra cards and mana, and creatures are required to get into the red zone!


David's Ruric Thar

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1   Command Tower 1   Copperline Gorge 1   Evolving Wilds 1   Fire-Lit Thicket 8   Forest 1   Gaea's Cradle 1   Gruul Guildgate 1   Gruul Turf 1   High Market 1   Highland Weald 1   Jund Panorama 1   Kazandu Refuge 1   Kessig Wolf Run 1   Mossfire Valley 10   Mountain 1   Naya Panorama 1   Raging Ravine 1   Reliquary Tower 1   Rootbound Crag 1   Shivan Oasis 1   Stomping Ground 1   Taiga 1   Terramorphic Expanse 1   Yavimaya Hollow 1   Anger 1   Avatar of Slaughter 1   Balefire Dragon 1   Bane of Progress 1   Brawn 1   Burning-Tree Shaman 1   Dragonlair Spider 1   Engulfing Slagwurm 1   Fumiko the Lowblood 1   Furnace Dragon 1   Garruk's Packleader 1   Gruul Ragebeast 1   Heartwood Storyteller 1   Hellkite Charger 1   Hellkite Tyrant 1   Hydra Omnivore 1   Lord of Shatterskull Pass 1   Mycoloth 1   Nacatl War-Pride 1   Polis Crusher 1   Predator Ooze 1   Primordial Hydra 1   Primordial Sage 1   Regal Force 1   Root Greevil 1   Silklash Spider 1   Soul of the Harvest 1   Steel Hellkite 1   Tempting Licid 1   Urabrask the Hidden 1   Utvara Hellkite 1   Vigor 1   Woodfall Primus 1   Zhur-Taa Ancient 1   Alpha Brawl 1   Blasphemous Act 1   Calming Verse 1   Chain Reaction 1   Collective Unconscious 1   Collective Voyage 1   Disaster Radius 1   Elixir of Immortality 1   Fires of Yavimaya 1   Flame Wave 1   From the Ashes 1   Heartbeat of Spring 1   Inferno 1   Kodama's Reach 1   Loxodon Warhammer 1   Mana Flare 1   Multani's Decree 1   Overabundance 1   Rites of Flourishing 1   Stranglehold 1   Tempt with Discovery 1   Vandalblast 1   Garruk, Primal Hunter 1   Sarkhan Vol 1   Xenagos, the Reveler
99 Cards

While David's deck is built to make bashing happen, he included a resource bump for everyone else. That's another classic approach to keeping games moving: ensuring everyone has something awesome to do, and the mana to go do it immediately.

That's the aim of "Group Hug" decks, personified by their usual commander, Phelddagrif. I've discussed Group Hug twice before: once as a favorite Commander archetype some bring to the game, and earlier as something to model for the "Bear Hug" type of deck. This is what Group Hug looks like:

Lou's Relentless Hugs

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1   Adarkar Wastes 1   Ancient Tomb 1   Breeding Pool 1   Command Tower 8   Forest 1   Ghost Quarter 1   Glacial Fortress 1   Hallowed Fountain 10   Island 1   Maze of Ith 1   Mikokoro, Center of the Sea 8   Plains 1   Reliquary Tower 1   Strip Mine 1   Sunpetal Grove 1   Temple Garden 1   Yavimaya Coast 1   Arbiter of Knollridge 1   Consecrated Sphinx 1   Forcemage Advocate 1   Hunted Wumpus 1   Indentured Djinn 1   Magus of the Vineyard 1   Mystic Snake 1   Noble Benefactor 1   Nullmage Advocate 1   Questing Phelddagrif 1   Tempting Wurm 1   Veteran Explorer 1   Austere Command 1   Bant Charm 1   Capsize 1   Collective Voyage 1   Counterspell 1   Crystal Ball 1   Darksteel Ingot 1   Dream Halls 1   Eladamri's Vineyard 1   Enlightened Tutor 1   Enter the Infinite 1   Final Judgment 1   Font of Mythos 1   Gate to the Æther 1   Heartbeat of Spring 1   Helm of Awakening 1   Horn of Greed 1   Horn of Plenty 1   Howling Mine 1   Memory Jar 1   Minds Aglow 1   Mystical Tutor 1   New Frontiers 1   Oath of Druids 1   Oath of Lieges 1   Otherworld Atlas 1   Overwhelming Intellect 1   Plasm Capture 1   Regrowth 1   Relic Crush 1   Relic of Progenitus 1   Rhystic Study 1   Rites of Flourishing 1   Show and Tell 1   Skyscribing 1   Sol Ring 1   Spell Crumple 1   Spellbook 1   Swords to Plowshares 1   Temple Bell 1   Time Reversal 1   Time Spiral 1   Time Stop 1   Upwelling 1   Weird Harvest 1   Jace Beleren 1   Jace, Architect of Thought
99 Cards

Group Hug gives other players something to do but typically doesn't focus on winning itself. Don't think that those decks can't, though, or you might end up with a face full of Phelddagrif.

Bear Hug is based on the same principle of "giving things to other players," but it also actively looks to deal damage and find a way to win along the way. One of the two decks David (different from above) sent in is what I'd consider a Bear Hug deck, with a Bear Hug commander in Nekusar, the Mindrazer:

I help the speed of games in my playgroup by playing either my Nekusar or Ruhan deck. Nekusar has tons of card draw to help keep things moving and can kill people with Nekusar damage or one of the two combos (Splinter Twin/Deceiver Exarch or Niv-Mizzet/Curiosity). Ruhan speeds things up by cutting through any table talk, and with tons of ways to make Ruhan unblockable and enormous, he usually one-shots people.


My playgroup will often play a variant to help speed things up too. We've played Bang-gic (using roles from Bang! to determine objectives for different players), as well as pentagram, among others.

David's Nekusar

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1   Akoum Refuge 1   Command Tower 1   Crumbling Necropolis 1   Dimir Guildgate 1   Drowned Catacomb 1   Grixis Panorama 7   Island 1   Izzet Boilerworks 1   Molten Slagheap 11   Mountain 1   Rakdos Carnarium 1   Rakdos Guildgate 1   Reliquary Tower 3   Swamp 1   Temple of the False God 1   Arcanis the Omnipotent 1   Burnished Hart 1   Charmbreaker Devils 1   Deceiver Exarch 1   Enclave Cryptologist 1   Goblin Electromancer 1   Hypersonic Dragon 1   Jace's Archivist 1   Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur 1   Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind 1   Phantasmal Image 1   Sepulchral Primordial 1   Sphinx of Uthuun 1   Talrand, Sky Summoner 1   Thassa, God of the Sea 1   Uyo, Silent Prophet 1   Ætherize 1   Archmage Ascension 1   Armillary Sphere 1   Browbeat 1   Call to Mind 1   Cancel 1   Crosis's Charm 1   Cruel Ultimatum 1   Crypt Incursion 1   Curiosity 1   Curse of the Swine 1   Dark Betrayal 1   Darksteel Ingot 1   Devastation Tide 1   Diabolic Tutor 1   Dissolve 1   Dream Fracture 1   Dreamstone Hedron 1   Enslave 1   Exquisite Blood 1   Fleeting Distraction 1   Homing Lightning 1   Illusionist's Gambit 1   Incendiary Command 1   Izzet Signet 1   Mirari 1   Murder 1   Obelisk of Grixis 1   Omniscience 1   Preordain 1   Propaganda 1   Prosperity 1   Rapid Hybridization 1   Rite of Replication 1   Skyscribing 1   Sleep 1   Sol Ring 1   Splinter Twin 1   Steam Augury 1   Stolen Identity 1   Sudden Spoiling 1   Swiftfoot Boots 1   Temple Bell 1   Temporal Mastery 1   Think Twice 1   Vandalblast 1   Vessel of Endless Rest 1   Vision Skeins 1   Chandra, Pyromaster 1   Jace Beleren
99 Cards

This deck isn't really very fast by itself and as such doesn't win that often but everyone drawing a bunch of cards does speed up the game.

David's Ruhan

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10   Island 11   Mountain 10   Plains 1   Thespian's Stage 1   Vivid Creek 1   Artisan of Forms 1   Augury Owl 1   Elgaud Shieldmate 1   Enclave Cryptologist 1   Heliod's Emissary 1   Hopeful Eidolon 1   Iron Myr 1   Malignus 1   Nimbus Naiad 1   Nivix Guildmage 1   Nyxborn Rollicker 1   Observant Alseid 1   Purphoros's Emissary 1   Sea Gate Oracle 1   Silver Myr 1   Stoneshock Giant 1   Thassa's Emissary 1   Wrecking Ogre 1   Aqueous Form 1   Assault Strobe 1   Azorius Cluestone 1   Battlewise Valor 1   Boros Cluestone 1   Cancel 1   Catch // Release 1   Distortion Strike 1   Divination 1   Epiphany Storm 1   Faith's Reward 1   Feeling of Dread 1   Fireshrieker 1   Gods Willing 1   Hands of Binding 1   Hyena Umbra 1   Izzet Charm 1   Izzet Cluestone 1   Izzet Keyrune 1   Journey to Nowhere 1   Luminous Wake 1   Lyev Decree 1   Mammoth Umbra 1   Martial Glory 1   Mizzium Skin 1   Moonsilver Spear 1   Murder Investigation 1   Ordeal of Heliod 1   Ordeal of Purphoros 1   Ordeal of Thassa 1   Prowler's Helm 1   Regress 1   Repel the Darkness 1   Righteous Authority 1   Ring of Valkas 1   Rootborn Defenses 1   Rush of Blood 1   See Beyond 1   Sigil of the Empty Throne 1   Sleep 1   Sphere of Safety 1   Think Twice 1   Titan's Strength 1   Traveler's Amulet 1   Treasure Hunt 1   Triton Tactics 1   Whispersilk Cloak 1   Wild Evocation
99 Cards

This deck is still in its first iteration and I haven't been able to put all the cards that I've wanted to in it. That doesn't stop it from killing someone on turn five every now and then. Additionally, the amount of table talk that the pilot of the deck needs to engage in is almost zero, so that also speeds things up.


David touches on a lot of good points here, too:

  • Including a few "surefire win" combos to draw into can break stalemates and end games that are just dragging on.
  • Giving everyone more resources lets them find something to do right away; dealing damage while you're doing it is a bonus.
  • Dealing a surprising, unexpected amount of damage can reshape the battlefield.

But there are other ways than just creating decks that push everyone else around. Modifying the rules for Commander can help expedite games too, as Nate shares:

Our group has each player start at 30 life. This can make a dramatic effect on the overall length of the game without giving a very noticeable advantage to the aggressive decks. We also like to cap each game at four players.

My favorite deck is Krenko, Mob Boss. Sometimes the deck will play like an average aggressive tribal deck, but it has the possibility to go off like a combo deck on any given turn to wipe multiple players. I think one issue is that Commander players play with powerful cards, but just because a card is powerful doesn't mean that it can win you the game.

Game-ending cards:

Blood Moon/Magus of the Moon + Goblin King—There are many decks that can produce a steady stream of 1/1 tokens, but if those tokens can't connect with a player, they're not worth much. Making my horde of Goblins unblockable and at least 2 power helps to make them a force that can easily deal 30 to 40 damage each turn. This combination is made very real by other universal pump effects for my Goblins, like Goblin Warchief, Quest for the Goblin Lord, and Shared Animosity.


Goblin War Strike/Mob Justice/Goblin Bombardment/Kyren Negotiations/Furystoke Giant—These are all cards that translate into guaranteed damage. It's very important to have a large amount of redundancy so I'm able to consistently draw into one of these cards that can simply end the game, given I have enough tokens in play.


Insurrection—This is an easy way to spend eight mana to end the game. Many Commander games can come down to massive board stalls where it becomes very difficult for anyone to profitably attack another player. Insurrection isn't a new or innovative choice, but there's a reason it's considered a Commander staple.

Nate's Krenko

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1   Ancient Tomb 1   Forgotten Cave 32   Mountain 1   Strip Mine 1   Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle 1   Anger 1   Arms Dealer 1   Furystoke Giant 1   Gempalm Incinerator 1   Goblin Bushwhacker 1   Goblin Chieftain 1   Goblin Chirurgeon 1   Goblin King 1   Goblin Lackey 1   Goblin Lookout 1   Goblin Matron 1   Goblin Recruiter 1   Goblin Ringleader 1   Goblin Sharpshooter 1   Goblin Warchief 1   Goblin Wardriver 1   Magus of the Moon 1   Mogg War Marshal 1   Moggcatcher 1   Reckless One 1   Siege-Gang Commander 1   Signal Pest 1   Skirk Prospector 1   Solemn Simulacrum 1   Warren Instigator 1   Zealous Conscripts 1   Ashnod's Altar 1   Barrage of Expendables 1   Basalt Monolith 1   Battle Hymn 1   Blood Moon 1   Brightstone Ritual 1   Dragon Fodder 1   Faithless Looting 1   Fervor 1   Goblin Bombardment 1   Goblin Grenade 1   Goblin Offensive 1   Goblin Rally 1   Goblin War Strike 1   Grim Monolith 1   Insurrection 1   Krenko's Command 1   Kyren Negotiations 1   Lightning Greaves 1   Mana Echoes 1   Mana Vault 1   Mind Stone 1   Mob Justice 1   Quest for the Goblin Lord 1   Rack and Ruin 1   Reforge the Soul 1   Ring of Valkas 1   Rings of Brighthearth 1   Ruby Medallion 1   Shared Animosity 1   Skullclamp 1   Slate of Ancestry 1   Sol Ring 1   Swiftfoot Boots 1   Thran Dynamo 1   Vandalblast 1   Wheel of Fortune
99 Cards

Thanks for the great articles!


Changing to 30 life is a subtle shift in the ability for anyone to deal lethal damage to everyone else. In a four-player game, that's a saving of 40 life, an entire player under normal Commander rules. Other small tweaks include using shortcuts such as using a fetch land (Arid Mesa, etc.) before the end of the turn immediately before yours, but allowing a new choice to be made if that player wants. Everyone uses shortcuts of some sort, so if your group is spending a lot of time waiting for other players to finish finding cards in their library, it might be worth looking to see how that process can happen faster.

There's one other way to help make games move, and it's either brave or foolhardy. I'll let Matt explain:

I find that the best possible strategy in getting a Commander game to move quickly is to offer a target. Namely, myself. I have two Commander decks that generate a lot of frustration/anger in my opponents; the first is an Oloro, Ageless Ascetic lifegain deck which easily sets me at 80+ health each game, and a Phenax, God of Deception mill deck. The Phenax deck elicits more emotion, by far. When I am constantly crushing a player's deck, countering spells, and discarding his or her hand, that player is going to make very quick moves to attack me. Odds are, so will the others playing, so that the Dimir deck drain doesn't destroy them in turn. When every player has a clear goal in mind (namely, knock me out of the game), turns tend to go quickly, with spells played almost immediately and creatures focusing attacks on me. My turns move quickly too—generally, I mill someone with Phenax's ability, attack for more mill via Nemesis of Reason and Trepanation Blade, and cast something like Glimpse the Unthinkable.


Basically, all of my games turn into lightning-fast-gang-up-on-Matt games. For an economically restricted deck, it sure does its job well! The only thing that could create a faster game would be a card with "Target opponent reveals cards from the top of his or her deck until you stop grinning evilly, then puts the revealed cards into his or her graveyard."


Matt's Phenax

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1   Dimir Guildgate 1   Evolving Wilds 17   Island 17   Swamp 1   Archaeomancer 1   Clone 1   Consuming Aberration 1   Deathcult Rogue 1   Drainpipe Vermin 1   Duskmantle Guildmage 1   Jace's Phantasm 1   Lazav, Dimir Mastermind 1   Liliana's Specter 1   Mindeye Drake 1   Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker 1   Mortus Strider 1   Nemesis of Reason 1   Ravenous Rats 1   Returned Centaur 1   Sewer Nemesis 1   Siren of the Silent Song 1   Szadek, Lord of Secrets 1   Wight of Precinct Six 1   Annul 1   Blue Sun's Zenith 1   Cancel 1   Counterlash 1   Counterspell 1   Death's Approach 1   Diabolic Tutor 1   Dimir Keyrune 1   Dissolve 1   Dreadwaters 1   Dream Twist 1   Duress 1   Essence Scatter 1   Far // Away 1   Frightful Delusion 1   Geth's Verdict 1   Glimpse the Unthinkable 1   Grisly Spectacle 1   Gruesome Discovery 1   Horrifying Revelation 1   Increasing Confusion 1   Jace's Ingenuity 1   Lightning Greaves 1   Mana Leak 1   Mind Funeral 1   Mind Rot 1   Murder 1   Negate 1   Opportunity 1   Paranoid Delusions 1   Pilfered Plans 1   Preordain 1   Psychic Intrusion 1   Psychic Spiral 1   Psychic Strike 1   Runeboggle 1   Scatter Arc 1   Sign in Blood 1   Spell Rupture 1   Thassa's Bounty 1   Trepanation Blade 1   Whispering Madness 1   Jace Beleren
98 Cards

If you want everyone to focus in on one player, it seems fairest to try and make yourself that target. There is a depth of strategy in multiplayer games, core among them the idea that you shouldn't make yourself the threat until it's too late. Doing so from the get-go is aggressive, but as Matt points out it gets things moving.

Fortune favors the bold, after all. (For a bonus "Target me!" deck, check out the Mogis, God of Slaughter deck I shared a few weeks ago.)


The Unmovable Force


Whatever you choose to do to keep Commander games moving I hope it's something that works for you. Next week is the start of previews for Journey into Nyx, and I can't wait to get started. This week's question is one for everyone who loves to make mana out there: What's something awesome to do in Commander using a ton of colorless mana?

  • Feedback via email
  • 300-word limit to explain your idea
  • Sample decklist is requested (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)

Join us next week when we look into the face of the inscrutable. See you then!