Choose Our Own Deck—An Adventure

Posted in Serious Fun on February 14, 2012

I enjoy adventures. From fantasy novels—starting early with Tolkien and growing up along with R.A. Salvatore's Drizzt Do'Urden—to travel and exploration in a new city, and the more mundane means in between, expanding my horizons through experiences is something I crave.


Today's article is a lovely twist on one of my adventures. I get to take it with you.

Through the Dark Ascension previews, concluding last week, I've been asking questions around ideas, themes, and commanders for a sweet, community-driven Commander deck. We're almost there, but it's now up to you to piece together the final deck.

Since I love you all so much, I thought I'd bring you on an adventure to decide the final fate of Ghave, Guru of Spores!


    The Mana Event

Before we get started, let's see where we've come from. These are the results of last week's poll:

Where should Adam show off, and write up, our Ghave, Guru of Spores deck?
Traditional paper Magic, at the local game store100342.9%
Traditional paper Magic, hosting a few friends at his house93039.7%
Digital Magic Online, with an open call via his Twitter account when the time comes34914.9%
Digital Magic Online, with a select few friends invited to the game582.5%
Total2340100.0%

It's a good thing I enjoy heading to my local store! Incorporating this with our previous results, we're looking at using Ghave, Guru of Spores, alongside fellow on-color champions Rhys the Redeemed and Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter, to play some regular Commander with some of my friends at the local game store. This sounds great!

While the plan is all well and good, we need a deck. That's where you get to choose even more. (This is an adventure!) Let's begin with the most required of elements: lands.

I'm a big fan of mana in games of Commander. I think most of you are, too. Mana means much more in a format filled with fantastic fatties and stupendous spells. How we get to casting the awesome is a huge consideration. There are two basic paths to follow.

An emphasis on basic lands provides all sorts of sensible insurance:

  • The ability to leverage almost all of the ways you can search out lands.
  • A significant portion of the deck is economical, from both a logistical perspective (you have these lands already laying around) and an availability constraint (even if you somehow don't have these lands already they're easy to get).
  • Multiple ways to repeatedly search for the land you need most.

One of the most common pieces of feedback I've seen for Commander articles is that builders often lean heavily on lands that produce multiple colors. Following through with more than a proof of concept (by providing a live demonstration of an easy-to-build base of mana) is something you've asked for. You have the chance to take it.


Of course, basic lands aren't the most common way to build up mana in Commander. An emphasis on nonbasic lands provides an exceptionally polished experience. Thanks to a still-increasing repertoire of these multicolored mana sources, it's never been easier to assemble a base to build on top of. And it's a smart thing to do so as well:

  • The ability to assemble the needed mana to cast anything in the deck with the fewest lands required in play.
  • A significant portion of the deck is unique, from both the experience of drawing a diversity of lands every game to actual difference in the names of the lands.
  • Pinpoint precision in grabbing exactly the land desired at the time you want it.

"If it isn't broken, don't fix it." A mantra like that is well-earned, and nonbasic lands are the epitome. Many of us have worked hard to collect the variety of options available specifically for our mana-hungry decks.

So where are we going?

Basic lands, eh? I like your style! As promised, here's a rough outline of ways to make a mostly basic-land mana base work!


Card(s)Purpose(s)
Bant Panorama, Esper Panorama, Evolving Wilds, Ghost Quarter, Jund Panorama, Naya Panorama, Terramorphic Expanse, Thawing Glaciers, Lands that can search out the basic land desired.
Cultivate, Dawntreader Elk, Elfhame Sanctuary, Explosive Vegetation, Harrow, Journeyer's Kite, Kodama's Reach, Krosan Tusker, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Solemn Simulacrum, Yavimaya ElderSpells that can search out the basic land desired.
Terrain GeneratorAllows you to put an extra basic land into play every turn.

Green is the queen of manipulating basic lands, and it shows here clearly! There's actually plenty more ways to spend green mana to find basic lands, but these are some of the most common and powerful ways to do it. Elfhame Sanctuary has a particular place in my heart; enchantments from long ago that become decidedly more awesome thanks to today's effects (landfall, specifically) make me giddy.

Forest | Art by John Avon

It's the little things that count.

With the mana base of out the way, it's time to turn our eyes to the general theme of the deck. Ghave comes with two immediate ideas, each synergistic with the other.

The first theme focus is token generation. Headlined by Rhys the Redeemed, Ghave and the assorted spells played with it can create a very large number of tokens with relative ease. This is awesome for several reasons:

  • Tokens traditionally swarm other players quickly while providing protection from many frontal assaults.
  • Creating lots of little creatures makes it possible to use certain types of board-clearing effects to our favor, along with many other beneficial side effects.
  • There are many ways to create a permanent source of token creation, helping you get back on your feet after taking a powerful blow to the battlefield.

While I've built and played many token-based decks before, the additional benefit and complexity of using black is an exciting depth I haven't plumbed fully... yet. And while Rhys is on board with joining the action, Ghave will make the most of plenty of extra creatures to go around!

Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter | Art by Michael C. Hayes

But that's only half the story. Pulling an army out of a can is a noble choice, but the darker side of Ghave speaks to a theme of sacrifice effects. Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter is a counterpoint to the all-upside Rhys. While generating lots of creatures is great, sacrificing them for various effects (all beneficial and cool things to do) is a sneakier way to play:

  • Tokens traditionally can be converted into numerous other resources, such as extra cards, mana, and removal spells.
  • Creating lots of little creatures through other creatures themselves enhances graveyard effects to be both powerful and on-theme.
  • There are ways to set up looping effects of sacrificing a creature, only to end up back in the same position with more (arbitrarily large loop of effects, as desired).

I've hinted at the power and potential of recursive creatures and sacrifice effects, and my love affair with Kresh the Bloodbraided demonstrated clearly how slick it is to dump bodies through a few juicers.

Which way we go it entirely up to you!

TOKENS! Hurrah!


It's no secret that tokens are something I enjoy immensely, and artfully sculpting generation and manipulation is an easy task:

Card(s)Purpose(s)
Ant Queen, Awakening Zone, Doubling Season, Jade Mage, Parallel Lives, Phyrexian Processor, Rhys the Redeemed, Rings of Brighthearth, Seedborn Muse, Selesnya Guildmage, Sword of Feast and FamineA constant stream of tokens, as well as ways to generate as many tokens as possible as rapidly as possible.
Aura Mutation; Decree of Justice; Elspeth, Knight-Errant; Elspeth Tirel; Garruk, Primal Hunter; Garruk Wildspeaker; Howl of the Night Pack; Increasing Devotion; Kjeldoran Outpost; Necrogenesis; Storm Herd; White Sun's ZenithNon-creature-based ways to create tokens are often more effective, and stick around longer, than trying to iterate through a creature.
Master of the Wild Hunt, Mycoloth, Rampaging Baloths, Verdant Force, Wolfbriar ElementalCreatures that generate tokens can still be very useful though!
Aura Shards, Chord of Calling, Cream of the Crop, Gaea's Cradle, Glare of Subdual, Mentor of the Meek, Mirror Entity, Skullmulcher, Vault of the ArchangelHave tokens, will travel.
Akroma's Memorial; Dauntless Escort; Eldrazi Monument; Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite; Essence of the WildGoing on the offensive with tokens requires a little finesse.
Austere Command, Dregs of Sorrow, Hour of Reckoning, Martial Coup, Solar TideYou can avoid destroying your own army as you clear your path to victory!
Life // Death, Return to Dust, Vampiric TutorIt's okay to put a few "staples" in if you think they're handy!

There are a lot of moving pieces, but you can see how the ideas clump together and follow the essential token path:

  1. Make a bunch of tokens! (Planeswalkers, creatures, enchantments, sorceries, and even lands make this straightforward.)
  2. Have bonuses for making tokens! (From effects that pump up creatures to triggers that let you draw extra cards, if we're making tokens we're getting more for our mana while we're at it.)
  3. Attack! (Specific ways to wipe others' creatures from the battlefield, in conjunction with the aforementioned bonuses, present a potentially lethal combination to opponents.)

There are a few extra tricks I threw into the mix as well. Life // Death seems like just a recursion spell, but with a few creature pump effects it's easy to "pull the pants down" on someone with a lethal attack from a formerly creatureless board. Dangerous, but that's why it's a backup plan! Mirror Entity can transform a handful of late-game tokens into sudden death as well.

Doubling Season is usually a dangerous enough card when paired with token-making, but thanks to the bevy of planeswalkers it isn't unreasonable to see an instant ultimate pop up if your opponents leave the enchantment alone. Parallel Lives doesn't affect counters, but it's just as dangerous alongside Ant Queen or Verdant Force!

Adding these to our basic mana core ends up with a complete Commander deck:

Adam's Ghave, Guru of Spores—Tokens and Basic Lands

Download Arena Decklist

But wait! There's more to this adventure! What if you had chosen a different path? Were you torn between two of the previous options given? There are four different decks to be had here, and I'd like you to choose which one I end up playing! Here's a handy breakdown of where you can go:


The darker side of Ghave, Guru of Spores is calling you! Excellent!


Thanks to the addition of black to the usual token mix in green and white, throwing your little dudes under your own bus never felt so good.

Card(s)Purpose(s)
Avenger of Zendikar; Captain of the Watch; Deranged Hermit; Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder; Garruk Relentless / Garruk, the Veil-Cursed; Geist-Honored Monk; Grave Titan; Hornet Queen; Mitotic Slime; Myr Battlesphere; Precursor Golem; Sacred Mesa; Sengir AutocratHaving more ways to make tokens attached to bodies.
Carnage Altar; Culling Dais; Feed the Pack; Grim Backwoods; High Market; Martyr's Cause; Ooze Garden; Phyrexian Altar; Spawning Pit; Vish Kal, Blood ArbiterA sacrifice theme needs sacrifice outlets!
Bloodghast, Crime // Punishment, Deadwood Treefolk, Gleancrawler, Karmic Guide, Nether Traitor, Oversold Cemetery, Phyrexian Reclamation, Reassembling Skeleton, Reveillark, Unburial Rites, Volrath's StrongholdA little recursion can go a long way when we're throwing creatures into the graveyard.
Attrition; Butcher of Malakir; Grave Pact; Kuon, Ogre Ascendant; Martyr's Bond; Plague Wind; Reaper from the AbyssIf you sacrifice, your effort will return magnified.
Cauldron of Souls; Conspiracy; Increasing Ambition; Mikaeus, the Unhallowed; Mimic Vat; Requiem Angel; Woodfall PrimusThis is an "Increasing Ambition Package" of dangerously powerful toys that rely on sacrifice outlets.

The dark side of the themes is packed full of powerful options, most of which revolve around the benefits of converting a creature into something else—effects, resources, or more creatures.

  1. Creature-based token generation firmly roots the deck in having a presence on the battlefield! (Forgotten classics like Sengir Autocrat and modern powerhouses such as Avenger of Zendikar place a lot of creatures down in a hurry while adding to the body count themselves.)
  2. With tokens at hand, we can attack while still getting the full benefit of a variety of creature converters! (Drawing more cards, accelerating our mana, forcing our opponents to sacrifice their creatures, and creating many more tokens are all powerful ways to keep your game going.)
  3. When our battlefield has been emptied out, we already have plenty of ways to get creatures back! (From sexy, fresh options like Mikaeus, the Unhallowed, to tried-and-true looping mechanisms such as Karmic Guide and Phyrexian Reclamation, we should have no issues re-buying our best generators to start the process all over again.)

While we aren't looking to attack as early and often as a more token-esque deck usually does, we do pack plenty of ways to eliminate obstacles to victory. Additionally, there are several very powerful combinations to be used when appropriate:

  • Mikaeus, the Unhallowed with Woodfall Primus and a mana-free sacrifice source lets us remove annoying noncreature permanents (up to and including every noncreature permanent if we wanted).
  • Requiem Angel with Conspiracy and a mana-free sacrifice source lets us loop any token as much as we want, so long as Conspiracy is set to something other than Spirit.
  • Reveillark with Karmic Guide and a mana-free sacrifice source is another way to loop through as many iterations as desired.

Increasing Ambition makes assembling any of these combinations straightforward, so be sure to hold onto it until you absolutely need to pull the trigger!

Adding these to our basic mana core ends up with a complete Commander deck:

Adam's Ghave, Guru of Spores—Sacrifice and Basic Lands

Download Arena Decklist

But wait! There's more to this adventure! What if you had chosen a different path? Were you torn between two of the previous options given? There are four different decks to be had here, and I'd like you to choose which one I end up playing! Here's a handy breakdown of where you can go:



Full tilt spicy! The power and privilege of powerful mana is an allure too strong to ignore. Here's what it looks like:

Card(s)Purpose(s)
Bayou, Godless Shrine, Grasslands, Krosan Verge, Marsh Flats, Overgrown Tomb, Savannah, Scrubland, Temple Garden, Verdant Catacombs, Windswept HeathThe standard package of true dual lands and the land-based ways to find them at will.
Brushland, Caves of Koilos, Fetid Heath, Golgari Rot Farm, Isolated Chapel, Llanowar Wastes, Orzhov Basilica, Selesnya Sanctuary, Sunpetal Grove, Tainted Field, Tainted Wood, Twilight Mire, Wooded Bastion, Woodland CemeteryWhile they aren't as obviously powerful, these "second tier" dual lands smooth out any casting requirements our deck can dish out.
Command Tower, Darksteel Ingot, VesuvaDespite a well-put series of dual lands, a dash of any-color options are a fine insurance policy to layer on.
Crop Rotation, Crucible of Worlds, Expedition Map, Knight of the Reliquary, Oracle of Mul Daya, Primeval Titan, Realms Uncharted, Reap and Sow, Sylvan Scrying, Wood ElvesSurgical strikes to achieve the perfect mana set takes specific spells, but the payoff is well worth it.

Mana mana everywhere, so we don't have to think! The ease provided by powerful lands is never to be underestimated, and the options they provide are phenomenal:

  • Primeval Titan and Realms Uncharted can grab multiple copies of lands that provide the same colors.
  • Crucible of Worlds and Oracle of Mul Daya help us ramp mana either from the graveyard (just replay a Verdant Catacombs or similar land!) or the top of the library (which will constantly change thanks to the variety of effects that force us to shuffle our deck).
  • Vesuva not only plays nicely with making our mana better, but also lets us double up on a more interesting land if the opportunity presents itself!

With the mana base of out the way, it's time to turn our eyes to the general theme of the deck. Ghave, Guru of Spores comes with two immediate ideas, each synergistic with the other.

The first theme focus is token generation. Headlined by Rhys the Redeemed, Ghave and the assorted spells played with it can create a very large number of tokens with relative ease. This is awesome for several reasons:

  • Tokens traditionally swarm other players quickly while providing protection from many frontal assaults.
  • Creating lots of little creatures makes it possible to use certain types of board-clearing effects to our favor, along with many other beneficial side effects.
  • There are many ways to create a permanent source of token creation, helping you get back on your feet after taking a powerful blow to the battlefield.

While I've built and played many token-based decks before, the additional benefit and complexity of using black is an exciting depth I haven't plumbed fully... yet. And while Rhys is on board with joining the action, Ghave will make the most of plenty of extra creatures to go around!

But that's only half the story. Pulling an army out of a can is a noble choice, but the darker side of Ghave speaks to a theme of sacrifice effects. Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter is a counterpoint to the all-upside Rhys. While generating lots of creatures is great, sacrificing them for various effects (all beneficial and cool things to do) is a sneakier way to play:

  • Tokens traditionally can be converted into numerous other resources, such as extra cards, mana, and removal spells.
  • Creating lots of little creatures through other creatures themselves enhances graveyard effects to be both powerful and on-theme.
  • There are ways to set up looping effects of sacrificing a creature, only to end up back in the same position with more (arbitrarily large loop of effects, as desired).

I've hinted at the power and potential of recursive creatures and sacrifice effects, and my love affair with Kresh the Bloodbraided demonstrated clearly how slick it is to dump bodies through a few juicers.

Which way we go it entirely up to you!

TOKENS! Hurrah!


It's no secret that tokens are something I enjoy immensely, and artfully sculpting generation and manipulation is an easy task:

Card(s)Purpose(s)
Ant Queen, Awakening Zone, Doubling Season, Jade Mage, Parallel Lives, Phyrexian Processor, Rhys the Redeemed, Rings of Brighthearth, Seedborn Muse, Selesnya Guildmage, Sword of Feast and FamineA constant stream of tokens, as well as ways to generate as many tokens as possible as rapidly as possible.
Aura Mutation; Decree of Justice; Elspeth, Knight-Errant; Elspeth Tirel; Garruk, Primal Hunter; Garruk Wildspeaker; Howl of the Night Pack; Increasing Devotion; Kjeldoran Outpost; Necrogenesis; Storm Herd; White Sun's ZenithNon-creature-based ways to create tokens are often more effective, and stick around longer, than trying to iterate through a creature.
Master of the Wild Hunt, Mycoloth, Rampaging Baloths, Verdant Force, Wolfbriar ElementalCreatures that generate tokens can still be very useful though!
Aura Shards, Chord of Calling, Cream of the Crop, Gaea's Cradle, Glare of Subdual, Mentor of the Meek, Mirror Entity, Skullmulcher, Vault of the ArchangelHave tokens, will travel.
Akroma's Memorial; Dauntless Escort; Eldrazi Monument; Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite; Essence of the WildGoing on the offensive with tokens requires a little finesse.
Austere Command, Dregs of Sorrow, Hour of Reckoning, Martial Coup, Solar TideYou can avoid destroying your own army as you clear your path to victory!
Life // Death, Return to Dust, Vampiric TutorIt's okay to put a few "staples" in if you think they're handy!

There are a lot of moving pieces, but you can see how the ideas clump together and follow the essential token path:

  1. Make a bunch of tokens! (Planeswalkers, creatures, enchantments, sorceries, and even lands make this straightforward.)
  2. Have bonuses for making tokens! (From effects that pump up creatures to triggers that let you draw extra cards, if we're making tokens we're getting more for our mana while we're at it.)
  3. Attack! (Specific ways to wipe others' creatures from the battlefield, in conjunction with the aforementioned bonuses, present a potentially lethal combination to opponents.)

There are a few extra tricks I threw into the mix as well. Life // Death seems like just a recursion spell, but with a few creature pump effects it's easy to "pull the pants down" on someone with a lethal attack from a formerly creatureless board. Dangerous, but that's why it's a backup plan! Mirror Entity can transform a handful of late-game tokens into sudden death as well.

Doubling Season is usually a dangerous enough card when paired with token-making, but thanks to the bevy of planeswalkers it isn't unreasonable to see an instant ultimate pop up if your opponents leave the enchantment alone. Parallel Lives doesn't affect counters, but it's just as dangerous alongside Ant Queen or Verdant Force!

Adding these to our nonbasic mana core ends up with a complete Commander deck:

Adam's Ghave, Guru of Spores—Tokens and Nonbasic Lands

Download Arena Decklist
100 Cards

But wait! There's more to this adventure! What if you had chosen a different path? Were you torn between two of the previous options given? There are four different decks to be had here, and I'd like you to choose which one I end up playing! Here's a handy breakdown of where you can go:


The darker side of Ghave is calling you! Excellent!


Thanks to the addition of black to the usual token mix in green and white, throwing your little dudes under your own bus never felt so good:

Card(s)Purpose(s)
Avenger of Zendikar; Captain of the Watch; Deranged Hermit; Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder; Garruk Relentless / Garruk, the Veil-Cursed; Geist-Honored Monk; Grave Titan; Hornet Queen; Mitotic Slime; Myr Battlesphere; Precursor Golem; Sacred Mesa; Sengir AutocratHaving more ways to make tokens attached to bodies.
Carnage Altar; Culling Dais; Feed the Pack; Grim Backwoods; High Market; Martyr's Cause; Ooze Garden; Phyrexian Altar; Spawning Pit; Vish Kal, Blood ArbiterA sacrifice theme needs sacrifice outlets!
Bloodghast, Crime // Punishment, Deadwood Treefolk, Gleancrawler, Karmic Guide, Nether Traitor, Oversold Cemetery, Phyrexian Reclamation, Reassembling Skeleton, Reveillark, Unburial Rites, Volrath's StrongholdA little recursion can go a long way when we're throwing creatures into the graveyard.
Attrition; Butcher of Malakir; Grave Pact; Kuon, Ogre Ascendant; Martyr's Bond; Plague Wind; Reaper from the AbyssIf you sacrifice, your effort will return magnified.
Cauldron of Souls; Conspiracy; Increasing Ambition; Mikaeus, the Unhallowed; Mimic Vat; Requiem Angel; Woodfall PrimusThis is an "Increasing Ambition Package" of dangerously powerful toys that rely on sacrifice outlets.

The dark side of the themes is packed full of powerful options, most of which revolve around the benefits of converting a creature into something else—effects, resources, or more creatures.

  1. Creature-based token generation firmly roots the deck in having a presence on the battlefield! (Forgotten classics like Sengir Autocrat and modern powerhouses such as Avenger of Zendikar place a lot of creatures down in a hurry while adding to the body count themselves.)
  2. With tokens at hand, we can attack while still getting the full benefit of a variety of creature converters! (Drawing more cards, accelerating our mana, forcing our opponents to sacrifice their creatures, and creating many more tokens are all powerful ways to keep your game going.)
  3. When our battlefield has been emptied out, we already have plenty of ways to get creatures back! (From sexy, fresh options like Mikaeus, the Unhallowed, to tried-and-true looping mechanisms such as Karmic Guide and Phyrexian Reclamation, we should have no issues re-buying our best generators to start the process all over again.)

While we aren't looking to attack as early and often as a more token-esque deck usually does, we do pack plenty of ways to eliminate obstacles to victory. Additionally, there are several very powerful combinations to be used when appropriate:

  • Mikaeus, the Unhallowed with Woodfall Primus and a mana-free sacrifice source lets us remove annoying noncreature permanents (up to and including every noncreature permanent if we wanted).
  • Requiem Angel with Conspiracy and a mana-free sacrifice source lets us loop any token as much as we want, so long as Conspiracy is set to something other than Spirit.
  • Reveillark with Karmic Guide and a mana-free sacrifice source is another way to loop through as many iterations as desired.

Increasing Ambition makes assembling any of these combinations straightforward, so be sure to hold onto it until you absolutely need to pull the trigger!

Adding these to our nonbasic mana core ends up with a complete Commander deck:

Adam's Ghave, Guru of Spores—Sacrifice and Nonbasic Lands

Download Arena Decklist
Planeswalker (1)
1 Garruk Relentless
100 Cards

But wait! There's more to this adventure! What if you had chosen a different path? Were you torn between two of the previous options given? There are four different decks to be had here, and I'd like you to choose which one I end up playing! Here's a handy breakdown of where you can go:


Congratulations! You've entered a cheat code!

All four decks are listed below, and at the end you can take the warp zone to the conclusion and poll!

Adam's Ghave, Guru of Spores—Tokens and Basic Lands

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