Beg, Borrow, and Steal (The Fun)

Posted in Top Decks on March 20, 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.

One of the experiences I've heard shared around Commander is how it's a bit like a virus.

Contagion Engine | Art by Daarken

One person gets infected and shares the format with a few others. They, in turn and in their excitement, share it a step further. The cluster of carriers grows, branching through travel and mutually exclusive play groups. What started as an innocent "Here, try this!" becomes an epidemic of fun.

At least, that's how I imagine it all going down.

Today's topic is a tame one, but it's important: getting the first hook of Commander going with someone new to the format. While preconstructed Commander decks can be an excellent first step into the format, I've found I'm not always in a local game store when someone new can be introduced. Without an easy way to grab cards for him- or herself, borrowing someone's deck becomes the only way to get the game going.

And I asked you which of your decks you're most likely to share.

Trading Spaces

The most common path for sharing involved the theme of simplicity. Many of you identified that Commander is, all things considered, a complex way to play a complicated game, and you thoughtfully use decks that are easier to wrap one's head around, like Mitch's token deck:

My group of friends adopted the Commander format recently, so I only have two decks built for it in opposing colors. One is Grimgrin, Corpse-Born, a deck centered not on the obvious Zombie theme, but sacrificing creatures to the greatest effect I am able. My other deck features Trostani, Selesnya's Voice, and it does take the obvious route, producing tokens and protecting or comboing with them.

Grimgrin, Corpse-Born

Which deck do I lend to others? Well, whichever one they choose. I made the Trostani deck for the express purpose of having a backup in case a friend needed to borrow one, but I'm happy enough with both decks, and my preference to play the Grimgrin one never outweighs the need to keep my friends happy and involved.

Even though people tend to pick Grimgrin, the desire to lend my friends decks is what led to the creation of the Trostani deck in the first place. For that reason, I'll share my Trostani decklist here, since it feels more in line with the spirit of the question you asked. Just keep in mind that both decks are made of leftover cards, no Commander-specific purchases.

My Trostani deck is fairly straightforward, lacking big combos and simply trying to push out tokens and gain life as much as possible. It uses Bronzebeak Moa for a bit of aggression; Emmara Tandris to protect my tokens; Odric, Master Tactician to force bad blocks; Howl of the Night Pack and Feed the Pack for late-game punch; and Rhox Faithmender to gain ridiculous life. The deck also has two mini-combos in Angelic Accord (auto-Angel) and Séance (populate the token). I'd talk more about those, but I'm running near the word limit. Cheers, and keep writing good stuff!


Mitch's Trostani

Jeremy, too, had a twist on tokens, although he took things to a third color:

The Commander deck I always lend my friends is my first deck I sought cards out to build. I think its very fun and easy to play, so whenever I meet new players who want to play some Commander, I hand them the following deck so they can have a great time. Nothing says power like having fifty tokens, or swinging in with twenty 21/21s and a Craterhoof Behemoth to win the game. The deck name is in German because my Ghave is in German.


Craterhoof Behemoth

Jeremy's Ghave, Der König (Ghave the King)

99 Cards

Creature-based strategies were a consistent theme across submissions as well. "Normal" Magic, like you might experience at a Prerelease or Friday Night Magic, typically involves making and then attacking with creatures. John shares Commander with his son using a deck that is definitely creature-centric:

I most often find myself loaning a deck to my nine-year old son, Matthew, who just started learning to play last year. He hasn't truly "caught the bug" yet; he still gets more excited about using his own dice than playing Magic, but he does have fun and that's what's important.

The deck I most often lend to him is my Ezuri, Renegade Leader mono-green Elf synergy deck. I chose this for his first game of Commander for two reasons.

First, it's simple. It's only one color, so there's no mana-fixing decisions to worry about when mulliganing... you either have a couple lands or you don't. Also, the majority of the spells in the deck are cheap, so mulligans are generally not required; if you have at least two lands in your opening hand you're probably good to go.

Second, it's powerful! Despite its lack of complexity compared to two-, three- or more-colored Commander decks, this deck is capable of killing an entire table out of nowhere very rapidly, and often doesn't require a lot of deep thought or decision-making to do so; this makes it a great deck for a beginner to snag some fun wins with.

Llanowar Elves
Arbor Elf

"Ears" (my name for the deck) has become Matthew's go-to deck choice for most of our Commander games; so much so that some of us (mainly his older brother) have gotten a little weary of seeing it at our table!


John's "Ears"

I recently had to borrow a Commander deck during a trip and it was Ezuri, Renegade Leader I received. Despite having my battlefield wiped out three times over, I still managed to squeak out a trample-induced victory over two more controlling decks. Knowing that "Elf creatures with trample" are coming doesn't mean it is necessarily easy to stop. Giving new players powerful decks not only gives them an easier chance of winning, but helps balance against the handicap of playing decks they aren't familiar with, as Chris shared:

Once Griselbrand was Grisel-banned, I had to resort to other Demon legends for my Demonic Commander deck. The biggest one also offered almost as much control as Griselbrand: Kuro, Pitlord. This time around, he doesn't give you any life back but he at least manages to clear out any and all threatening creatures once he hits.

Even with Kuro's new management the deck is absolutely annoying to my friend circle. The game quickly becomes a game of Archenemy once a Plague Wind, Reiver Demon, or Dread Cacodemon goes off. Thus, when someone is new to Magic, new to Commander, or wants to try something new, I give him or her this deck. I adore facing it because it screws up board situations with single cards. It's extremely challenging for my other decks to overcome it, particularly because my best cards are in the Kuro deck and not my other ones.

Plague Wind
Dread Cacodemon

Most of my friends don't have much black in their decks, either, usually sporting Trostani, Geist of Saint Traft, Teferi, Ryusei, and Animar. I enjoy sharing my deck with them and seeing them enjoy the true power of cruelty for once. I believe everyone has fun trying out different play styles and different cards.

Furthermore, I like seeing if they pull off any of what I call the deck's "Achievements."

Achievements to unlock include: Killing an Angel with Halo Hunter, killing a player with Withengar Unbound, getting Liliana of the Dark Realms's emblem, kicking Sadistic Sacrament/ruining one player's day, and having Kuro and an Eternity Vessel on the field.

Every time this happens you can't help but appreciate Commander and the opportunities it opens up with weird powerhouse cards that never see play in other formats.


Chris's Demonic Commander

Handing over the reins to power can be tough if you really like to win, but multiplayer is already full of players looking to win. In a perfect world, where everyone wins equally, you'd only win 25% of your four-players games. Giving the new player a slightly better chance doesn't seem too bad now, does it?

Archetype of Generosity

Using a deck that's creature-focused, with powerful cards and a variety of things to do is the "archetypical" Commander deck to share, and Alex's is a mix of all three requirements:

If I was going to lend someone one of my Commander decks I think it would be Gwafa Hazid, Profiteer: as a Human tribal deck it's very straightforward to play, which for someone new to the madness of Commander is very helpful. It has a lot of the things that epitomize Commander for me—creatures with valuable effects, card draw, political interaction and a definite game plan.


Mother of Runes
Gideon's Lawkeeper

Alex's Gwafa Hazid

So if Alex shared what I'd consider closest to "the sharable Commander deck" why look at all the other options out there? Michael and Oren explained it well.

My own modus operandi when it comes to letting someone borrow one of my Commander decks, whether it be someone who doesn't have a Commander deck of their own or doesn't have one on hand or whatever else, is to let them have first pick, even before I choose my own Commander deck. I'll put my Commander decks where they're easily accessible, give them a brief summary of each deck's commander and the general theme and strategy of each, then let them pick which one they want to play with. After they've chosen, I'll go ahead and pick from the remaining decks based on what's left and what I feel like playing myself.

I can't remember how I got started doing it this way, but it works out pretty well in my experience. With six decks to choose from, there's plenty of variety to go around, and since it's my intention that I'll be able to have fun no matter which of my decks I play, I never have to worry about not having one left over that I'll enjoy playing myself.

Plus—and I think this may be the most important thing—by letting the other person choose, it helps get the game off on the right foot, since even if it's not the same as if it were their own deck, it's still a deck that they picked themselves rather than one that was picked for them.


Actually, I don't have a specific deck that I lend out to someone else. If somebody else is in need of a deck or just looking for a change of pace, I'll usually give them one of my most recently constructed decks, one that I'm trying to test out or tweak. It's very helpful to me to hear their opinion on the deck's strengths or weaknesses, and it's helpful to them to have a deck so they can play with the rest of the group. I try to make sure the deck is coherent or competitive so that I'm not just handing them a pile of junk, of course...


Letting others choose their own styles of deck, or try something that's never been tried before, weaves in more than just what any archetypical deck can do alone. Part of Commander is the social experience of trying new things together: Letting players choose for themselves what to experience is a great way to demonstrate how Commander really is what you make of it.

This week's feedback question is ripped from the headlines of my Twitter feed.

How do you keep Commander games moving? (Do you have a Commander deck that plays faster than your other decks?)

  • Feedback via email
  • 300-word limit to explain your approach
  • 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
  • Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column)

Multiplayer games naturally take longer—there are more players after all—but there are plenty of shortcuts, tricks, agreements, and strategies we use to make them hum along. I want to know yours.

Join us next week when we discover the stories that make our decks come to life. See you then!

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