Scavenging for More

Posted in Serious Fun on December 4, 2012

Making the most with the least available is an admirable goal. Thousands of stories, both fiction and non, revolve around the success of ingenuity borne from missing resources. It's a well-worn trope that is personified by the titular character of the 1980s television series MacGyver.

Ghave Guru of Spores | Art by James Paick

That's what last week's common and uncommon Commander blowout was about. After I ran through the entire list of Standard cards eligible for a Ghave, Guru of Spores deck I shared a deck:

Adam's Ghave, Guru of Commons Commander Deck

Download Arena Decklist

One of the reasons I use a prescreened pile of cards is that I generally overlook something when I have too much to look at, losing the trees within the forest. As several of you were quick to point out, my unhappiness with the shortage of creatures could have been adjusted by adding three:


I'll be honest: I simply didn't make the cleanest connection between undying critters and Ghave. For those who missed it, too, let's look at Young Wolf:

Strangleroot Geist works the same way, and Lumberknot is a perfect fit for this in addition to being a hexproof place to put +1/+1 counters. I'm not MacGyver, but the mind-at-large of the community never fails to see what I don't.

Thanks for always being awesome.

This week's article is the second piece, maintaining the limitations outlined last week but beefing up our motley crew to include more rares. We can scavenge from where others aren't looking and build a deck that's both more exciting and closer to the power you may want for Commander.

    Gold Standards

As I emphasized last week, there is no correct or incorrect choice for cards. What you want is always more important than any idea of need. With only four rares in our example deck it's easy to see that building a Commander deck without any rares (for those of you willing to reach into Legends and Chronicles for a commander) is possible.

Like many of you, I don't like cutting away rares from Commander. In fact, part of why I enjoy Commander so much is because I can pile together lots of splashy, sweet cards that I don't have a home for anywhere else. Balancing that desire against our restrictions is the tension at the heart of newer Commander players' barrier to entry.

Here are the restrictions we're working under:

  • How can we use more commons and uncommons to full effect?
  • How can we show newer players, using newer cards from newer sets, how to get in?

Put another way, they will limit what players can do, and how they can do it:

  • "Commons and uncommons" I took to mean without the splashy, powerful rares that are harder to find and acquire. I used the decklists and games featured in recent Grand Prix event coverage as a guide for what's hot and desirable as rares to avoid. I also looked at preconstructed decks and promotional cards from Prerelease events to see what may be more abundant.
  • "Newer players" I took to mean those who only have access to a small, recently released pool of cards—or, Standard legal.

Circumstances vary by player. Commons, uncommons, and rares that aren't featured in Standard tournaments are still daunting if you just picked up Magic with Return to Ravnica. It's impossible to cover everything, but the idea of looking through what you have to identify what you want to use is applicable everywhere.

I've already done that with rares in Standard, so it's just a matter to making swaps where one card does something I want in a way I like even better. It's not about defining one card as "better" than another, but that sometimes I like how a card gets the job done even more. Rares often fit the bill, but they don't have to.

OutInReason(s)
Blessings of NatureLumberknotGenerates +1/+1 counters with Ghave synergy
Common BondStrangleroot GeistGenerates +1/+1 counters with Ghave synergy
Travel PreparationsYoung WolfGenerates +1/+1 counters with Ghave synergy

The three cards pointed out before are a good example of this. None of these are rares, but the three new cards create +1/+1 counters in ways I want even more. I'll roll through modules like this before showing you one master summary for all the changes. Many of you love dataso I'm happy to oblige.

OutInReason(s)
Grisly SalvageIncreasing AmbitionFinds what we want with more precision
Make a WishJarad's OrdersFinds what we want with more precision
Altar's ReapBloodgift DemonCard draw stapled to a creature
Harrowing JourneyDisciple of BolasCard draw stapled to a creature
ReviveHarvester of SoulsCard draw stapled to a creature
Eaten by SpidersSilklash SpiderStop flying creatures
Fungal SproutingRequiem AngelBigger creatures that can make more tokens
Slime MoldingVorapedeBigger creatures that can make more tokens

All of these swaps result from things I want to do better. I want to find what I'm looking for every time. I want to draw more cards during games. I want to fight flying and make more tokens. Above all, I want to fit more creatures into the deck, and these are creatures or help me get to them.

OutInReason(s)
Executioner's HoodCathars' CrusadeMakes way better creatures
Intangible VirtueCollective BlessingMakes way better creatures
Spare from EvilVault of the ArchangelMakes way better creatures
Centaur's HeraldGeist-Honored MonkMakes way more tokens
Druid's DeliveranceIncreasing DevotionMakes way more tokens
Vitu-Ghazi GuildmageParallel LivesMakes way more tokens
Seek the HorizonBoundless RealmsMakes way more mana
Traveler's AmuletGilded LotusMakes way more mana

Moving up the rarity line lets me add all sorts of things that I like more. While cards like Spare from Evil and Intangible Virtue can do a lot for tokens, it's easy to see how Collective Blessing and Cathars' Crusade work in bigger ways. Cards like Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage are the best available at uncommon, but Parallel Lives is the token card. Going bigger feels good.


I could continue on, finding other rares I like more than another card already in the deck, but we're still bound by the first restriction of using "mostly commons and uncommons." These replacements up the rare count to twenty-one, including Ghave, Guru of Spores himself.

Tweaking the lands makes sense as we've increased our commitment to black and white, with cards like Vault of the Archangel, but the deck looks essentially the same.

Old Basic LandsNew Basic Lands
8 Swamp 9 Swamp
7 Plains 9 Plains
14 Forest 12 Forest

Adam's Ghave, Guru of Commons Redux

Download Arena Decklist

You don't need every card to be the coolest rare you can find, but choosing which you want to include the most yields a dramatic difference. Nineteen of one hundred cards is a fair chunk to change, and it should show in how the deck feels when playing it.


To borrow an expression from software development, I can also eat my own dog food by playing the deck. So I did just that on the wide beta client for Magic Online.

    Dashing Through Dining

The first game I played featured both a mono-blue Thada Adel, Acquisitor and blue-red Jhoira of the Ghitu deck. Both of these Commanders are among those I consider strong, and I knew both would bring powerful stuff to bear. The game unfolded in a strange way:


Another game was a usual affair, with two players packing The Mimeoplasm and one with Maelstrom Wanderer—all more traditional-but-still-powerful commanders—that dove into a ramp-and-graveyard-recursion contest. A turn-two Hermit Druid led to Consecrated Sphinx sitting in a graveyard and different players' Body Doubles copying it.


While I managed to cast and flashback Increasing Devotion, a quick overloaded Cyclonic Rift later left me light on battlefield action. I was able to recycle my Vessel of Endless Rest to put the Sphinx on the bottom of the library, but a Body Double copy still sat in play. I used Oblivion Ring to keep Survival of the Fittest from running away with The Mimeoplasm.


The other The Mimeoplasm player decided that copying a Mortivore was enough, and made a Lightning Greaves–equipped attack against Maelstrom Wanderer. The Consecrated Sphinx player could hard-cast Terastodon, taking care of a Garruk, Primal Hunter; Lightning Greaves; and something else annoying.

Grave Pact and Fleshbag Marauder made several creatures go away, but between Ghave and Strangleroot Geist I didn't even blink. (Thanks again for pointing out that synergy!)


The game continued to build with things like an entwined Tooth and Nail, more Terastodon action, and Mulldrifter shenanigans. Through it all I kept plugging away by making Saprolings and ever-increasing the size of Ghave, Guru of Spores.

Maelstrom Wanderer eventually got to Body Double his Avenger of Zendikar, making a metric ton of Plant tokens. Following that up with several ramp spells, including my old-school favorite Quirion Trailblazer, the kingmaker position firmly switched. However, my 10/10 Ghave and seven Saprolings, with room to grow, weren't far behind.

One of The Mimeoplasm player had enough and cast Go for the Throat on Ghave. While it's hard to say why, as the player didn't share, I'd suspect it was due to how long it took me to iterate through the actions. Even with auto-yields it takes a lot of time to remove counters and sacrifice creatures.

Soon, one player's Butcher of Malakir faced down another's Grave Pact, like a powder keg primed. Maelstrom Wanderer fired for Roil Elemental and Rite of Replication, which naturally copied the Elemental. A Mosswort Bridge yielded Creeping Renaissance for creatures. Some landfall later and lots of things were stolen.... but there wasn't an attack.

I pounced.

With Golgari Decoy, Ring of Valkas, and Phantom General in hand, and the mana to play them all, I scored an exact 24 damage alpha strike against the Maelstrom Wanderer player. Just as I had been planning for a few turns, saving things for a one-shot wonder worked.


Unfortunately, time really was against me: I was forced into concession by running out of time as Extractor Demon milling let one of the The Mimeoplasm players combo out the game.

    Fungus Among Us

Did our deck of "mostly commons and uncommons" let us play some good Commander? I'd say we've succeeded. Our deck won't become a model for absolute power, or an oppressive feature our friends may hate. It's straightforward, aggressive, and gives us just a few ways to power out a battlefield full of critters and keep others honest.

It's also as weak as other decks to Supreme Verdict effects, as well as any deck that's brimming with the most powerful cards Commander can offer. Again, we can't ask a handful of rares to replace a well-tuned and battle-forged deck of power, but keeping things going and giving us ways to get in a few good licks is enough.

I'd love to hear what else you see for the deck.

Join us next week when we launch into one hell of a party. You're attending whether you like it or not. See you then!


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