The Experiment Must Go On

Posted in Top Decks on June 13, 2013

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.

Creating a Commander deck from scratch can be tough, but even just changing a deck you already have can be hard. When you're talking about sixty, seventy, or even more unique cards the options can be daunting.

That's what we were faced with two weeks ago when we gathered together the submissions for a Melek, Izzet Paragon Commander deck built from many of your suggestions.

Melek, Community Paragon

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It's a Melek deck that elicited mixed reactions, exactly as I had hoped. We asked ourselves a straightforward question: What simple changes would you make to this deck to improve it? (Alternatively, what's wrong with this deck and what would you do differently?) Some of you answered that you would wouldn't change much, and that you loved the deck.

Great. Stop here and skip to this week's prompt at the bottom, unless seeing how others did change perfection is something that still interests you.

For most of you, there were plenty of tweaks, changes, clarifications, and adjustments you'd make yourselves. Even many of you who liked the deck still shared some changes you'd apply. Today, we'll run down a lot of your feedback and apply what we can to turn the dials on this Melek deck all the way to eleven.

Code Swaps

The most common way you considered changes to the deck was in direct swaps of cards. Take out something so there's room for something else. And the most common swaps were with the lands: Our initial pass was almost all basic lands, which leaves a lot of room to play with, and Boris shared:

You asked in the article "Melek, Commander Paragon" what I should improve to the deck. First of all, let me tell you that I really like how it looks!

However, the one thing that strikes me as odd is the mana base: So many basics? Here's what I would add:

That's it. Good job, I enjoyed the read!

Melek really likes to see an instant or sorcery on top of our deck. Without getting into the raw statistics of the matter, it takes removing more than a couple lands from our library to significantly reduce the odds of seeing one on top, but the fact fetch lands shuffle your library is handy, as Boris noted with Madblind Mountain. Desolate Lighthouse is a land any Izzet can appreciate, and including lands that become creatures is one way to help us gather our mana and defend our turf when we have fewer creatures than other decks.

Madblind Mountain
Desolate Lighthouse

Matthew had a different group of lands in mind:

One simple change I would make to this deck would be the land base of the deck. Cards like Izzet Guildgate, Izzet Boilerworks, and Steam Vents can give you access to both red and blue mana, letting you cast spells more freely. Cycling lands such as Forgotten Cave and Lonely Sandbar allow you to draw cards more freely while changing the top card for cheap, while Reliquary Tower allows you to keep all the cards you draw between slinging spells left and right. I would also increase the amount of lands in the deck by one or two, as I feel thirty-four is a bit too little for red and blue decks.

Izzet Boilerworks
Lonely Sandbar

So where do we make room for these lands? Jason pointed a few weaker choices:

Nivix, Aerie of the Firemind is useless when you have Melek, as it removes the top card and still forces you to pay the mana cost. Try Halimar Depths instead.

Scrivener/Anarchist/Izzet Chronarch are too expensive for a copy deck. You have access to enough good spells already without needing to recur them for five mana each.

Izzet Guildmage can only copy four spells in the deck, as it currently stands. Just plain chuck him.

For fun tricks, Divert is incredibly good when copied, and when Reroute is included, most combos stop working.

Add Mass Mutiny.

Well, those are my suggestions. Nice emailing you!

Making room for a little more mana is an idea several of you brought up, and between Jason and Matthew's feedback we find enough room to make it happen. (If you're wondering exactly which cards are getting swapped around there's a handy table at the end of this article so you can see everyone's feedback at work!)

Nivix, Aerie of the Firemind

Aaron had even more switches to decrease the creature count and increase the spell count:

The Melek, Community Paragon deck is overloaded with ways to manipulate instants and sorceries at the expense of actual spells. The deck only has twenty-three instants and sorceries at the moment but it should have at least twice as many for Melek to be reliable. We can fix some of this by replacing permanents with spells that share a similar role.

Seething Song

While some of these have already been swapped to lands, it's always up to you to change things the way you'd prefer. I hedged toward more lands since that was the most common piece of feedback. Aaron's addition of more spells was common for others as well, such as what Andrés suggested:

I was looking at the Melek list, and the first thing I thought was that there is no clear way to win. So, I'd change the following:



Pact of the Titan + Djinn Illuminatus + Nivmagus Elemental means infinite counters of the Elemental (also add Fervor for additional wins). Besides that, I think extra turns should be a theme in the deck and drawing should be maximized as much as possible. The only additional change I'd make would be to add some nonbasic lands.

I'm almost out of words, so see ya! And great article.

Converting creatures that care about spells into spells that Melek can care about pushes things further into our spell-based plan. While extra turns are a thing of beauty, taking all of the turns is a quick way to make friends unfriend you. Instead of cutting Call the Skybreaker (a spell!) for Beacon of Tomorrows, I decided to add my own change by preventing it.

Call the Skybreaker
Beacon of Tomorrows

But don't take just my word for it. Bradley said it, too:

While there are a couple of suggestions I have for improving the deck itself, I want make a suggestion when it comes to making card choices for your deck, in general. Melek gives you power—free spells with double the output. But remember that with great power comes great responsibility.

If you're going to supercharge instants/sorceries, don't let it be of effects that aren't actually fun for the group. Taking an extra turn is only fun for YOU. The more extra turns you take, the more turns and time that are solely dedicated to pleasing you. You become a fun vampire, draining the enjoyment from the rest of your group.

I speak from experience. I took ten extra turns once with Melek. I hated what became of the game and its players as I took my extra turns. I vowed to never take extra turns with Melek ever again.

So there you have it: A sample size of two.

Two was a common number for summarizing things that were wrong, as Ray shared:

The main two problems I see with this deck are a lack of focus and over repetition. I understand in Commander it is important to be able to get what you want and having multiple ways to do that is good, but in a deck with this much fixing, it's not necessary. So I would take out Vedalken Orrery and Leyline of Anticipation because I think Hypersonic Dragon will do fine and we aren't running that many sorceries that will be bombs at instant speed. Also I'm taking out Kiln Fiend, Wee Dragonauts, Nivix Cyclops, and Nivmagus Elemental because they are aggro creatures, and this deck is not going to win with creatures, it will win with spells. With all the copying going on, I personally would play Bribery to use my opponents' threats against them, and maybe grab some stormy stuff like Empty the Warrens or Temporal Fissure for defense.

Ray brings up several cards we've already swapped out, but exchanging Vedalken Orrery and Leyline of Anticipation for instants or sorceries is still on theme. Bribery is a common enough card in Commander that it's no surprise to see it, but Temporal Fissure is something of a different flavor. Clearing away or at least slowing down everyone else a few turns is one way to give Melek more time to do his thing.

Vedalken Orrery
Leyline of Anticipation

Oren chimed in on the instant and sorcery theme too:

There are two things that need to change concerning the Melek deck we've been constructing thus far.

First: Far, far too many of the instants and sorceries in the deck don't have enough of a significant effect on the game. Library manipulation is fine (and very necessary), and copy effects have their place, but the deck needs more heavy hitters like Mind's Desire, Time Spiral, and Wheel of Fortune, and fewer cards like Index or Eyes of the Watcher.

Second: Kiln Fiend, Nivix Cyclops, and Wee Dragonauts are not nearly powerful enough creatures, especially because they don't trigger their bonuses when Melek copies. If that's our deck's focus, make instants and sorceries the way the deck wins, not lackluster creatures that probably can't attack profitably anyway.

If we're looking to make use of storm and cast a series of copies of spells, Mind's Desire is one way to get even more spells from the top. With Melek out... it's like our own Epic Experiment come to life.

Mind's Desire
Time Spiral

Context is King

Not all feedback came from one-for-one swaps of cards. Many of you provided the context of what you'd change but left it open for how to see it through. Will summed up what most of the changes above drove at:

I think the Community Melek deck could use two main tweaks.

First, the deck simply needs three or four more lands so Melek can reliably come out and we can cast our big spells consistently.

Second, while there are a lot of cards that love having spells cast, there are only about eight big spells that can start to win a game. I would remove some of the cards that like multiple spells per turn and instead just tune the deck to library manipulation, mana, and awesome spells.

In fact, there was so much feedback that even with plenty of editing (of my own words) I couldn't fit everything in. The common themes that cross all of the "missing feedback" were:

  • Lowering the mana curve for our Melek, Izzet Paragon deck. That is, making the deck feel and play faster.
  • Adding more "big effect" instant and sorceries. Creatures aren't what Melek should be trying to use.
  • More nonbasic lands should be included. The total number should be increased, too.

Fortunately, all these of these points are covered, in some fashion, by the changes we did use:

Original Card Change Suggested by New Card
Magus of the Future Andrés Ral Zarek
Hypersonic Dragon    
Djinn Illuminatus    
Call the Skybreaker (Adam kept!)  
Nivmagus Elemental Ray Bribery
Kiln Fiend Andrés Pact of the Titan
Nivix Cyclops Andrés Stroke of Genius
Wee Dragonauts Andrés Merchant Scroll
Sakashima the Impostor    
Stolen Identity    
Rite of Replication    
Echo Mage    
Chandra, the Firebrand    
Epic Experiment    
Increasing Vengeance    
Dual Casting Andrés Ponder
Wild Ricochet    
Uyo, Silent Prophet    
Nivix Guildmage    
Izzet Guildmage Matthew/Jason Reliquary Tower
Cloven Casting    
Cast Through Time    
Eye of the Storm Andrés Preordain
Scroll Rack    
Serum Visions    
Invoke the Firemind    
Mystic Speculation    
Azure Mage Andrés Walk the Aeons
Sensei's Divining Top    
Index Oren Mind's Desire
Izzet Charm    
Eyes of the Watcher    
Darksteel Pendant Aaron Foresee
Cryptic Annelid Aaron Magma Jet
Reality Strobe    
Mystical Tutor    
Scrivener Matthew/Jason Forgotten Cave
Anarchist Matthew/Jason Izzet Boilerworks
Izzet Chronarch Matthew/Jason Lonely Sandbar
Izzet Cluestone    
Izzet Signet    
Izzet Keyrune    
Braid of Fire Aaron Seething Song
Nivix, Aerie of the Firemind Jason Halimar Depths
Mana Matrix    
Arcane Melee    
Goblin Electromancer    
Darksteel Ingot    
Worn Powerstone    
Mind Stone    
Comet Storm    
Grab the Reins Andrés Time Warp
Leyline of Anticipation Ray Temporal Fissure
Vedalken Orrery Aaron Quicken
Possibility Storm    
Time Stretch    
12 Island    
10 Mountain    
Mountain Boris Madblind Mountain
Mountain Boris Desolate Lighthouse
Island Boris Steam Vents
Mountain Boris Izzet Guildgate
Island Boris Sulfur Falls
Mountain Boris Terramorphic Expanse
Island Boris Evolving Wilds
Mountain Boris Ghost Quarter
Island Boris Mishra's Factory
Mountain Boris Ghitu Encampment
Island Boris Faerie Conclave

Put together, our now community Melek build looks like this:

Melek, Community Paragon (Take 2)

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Remember: The only perfect Commander deck is the one you enjoy most, so don't worry if you'd change even more about this. Just update it how you'd like and go for it!

Next week, we'll look at how you start to build decks, but there's a related topic I think we should consider too: What's the most fun part of building a Commander deck?

  • Feedback via email
  • 100 word limit to answer the question
  • Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column)

What you enjoy most about building a deck, and why you feel that way, is one approach to highlighting the many ways you can easily pile up all the cards you need. And if you find the number of cards daunting, having a tip sheet of things to consider is a surefire way to focus on what you want to add next in ways you may not have even considered yet.

But first, we have to get started. See you next week!

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