Insert Fun Pun Fun Here

Posted in Top Decks on June 27, 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.

Commander is about experiences. While crafting a communal Melek, Izzet Paragon deck is great, and working to tweak it together is solid, the goal of building decks is to create something fun. Firing up to build a new deck comes with plenty of ways to start . But there's more ways to have fun than shortcut to games as quickly as possible.

Commander is a communal experience, with rules and intention geared to help everyone sit down to fun games. But Commander is also a personal experience, one where your personality and style is on display with ninety-nine card decks and a commander to lead the way. It's also why I asked you an innocuous question two weeks ago: What's the most fun part of building a Commander deck?

Thoughtflare | Art by David Rapoza

The experience of building a deck can be just as engaging as playing it at the end, and you sent in the feedback to prove it.

One is the Awesomest Number

There was one dominant theme among responses, although it probably doesn't come as a surprise. The most common feature of building Commander deck you enjoy was looking at cards, although what made it fun varied.

We'll lead with Oren's thoughts:

The most fun I have when building a Commander deck is perusing available cards, especially ones about which I didn't know. There are moments when you're scouring your collection with a pile of potential cards off to the side, and you stumble across a card that fits like an absolute glove into what you want to do. Then there are moments when you're running searches on the Gatherer, and a light bulb appears over your head as you find an obscure card from an obscure set that fills in the last missing piece in your deck.
It's moments like those that I love when I'm building a Commander deck.

I agree with Oren. I built a box of nearly every card I would ever want to use in Commander, and when I have multiple decks all of the cards across decks are still unique. Every time I see new-to-me cards that I find awesome, I add them to the box.

That moment when creativity strikes, and something new pops up, is what many of you crave too. Samuel put it similarly:

I think the most fun I have in building a Commander deck is picking the cards that go into it. There are over 10,000 cards in the game. Picking cards can be a tedious task. Once I have picked my commander I start looking at cards in their colors that either do something similar to what my commander does or promotes what my commander does (I never pick a commander for just its colors). Looking at all the cards that will work in my deck is a fun task because it can be difficult to let a card go and not add it due to some synergy with other cards or it's a cool card.

Getting attached to cards in natural. We liked them to start with so it's rare we simply want to be rid of them. Finding new favorites is something Akashortstack shared:

I'd just like to say that I really enjoy your articles. I am a huge Commander fan.
My favorite part of building a deck is often putting in cards that are versatile and have unique reactions when paired with other cards. Mimic Vat is one of those cards where anything with an ETB effect on it can be bonkers, so including ETB creatures that also neatly work with Birthing Pod just as well. If I can pod into a Grave Titan, then Pod him and imprint him on the Mimic Vat, I am in heaven. It's these subtle connections that make deck building great.

Mimic Vat
Birthing Pod

Those "subtle connections" of creativity and realization can make it tricky to decide what to change or remove. But it's not impossible to enjoy even that, according to Mike:

Cutting cards. After all of your research you get a giant list of cards that you think will work well. You can then get the big picture. What works, what doesn't, and what are the game winners. You devise an infinite or two, some "Oh my god I'm deads" and some stuff that you just like seeing. Repercussion + Pyroclasm/Flamebreak? Seems like fun to me. When you get down to the last ninety-nine, you are left with a deck of favorites and you feel confident it will work.

In the newspaper-blackout words of Austin Kleon, "Creativity is subtraction." It can be mindlessly easy to pile up awesome cards that make you smile. It can be devilishly difficult to pare them down. But players like Mike love that experience of switching in and out the minutia of a deck, striking the perfect balance.

Taking cards away is the big-picture approach to ensuring every last card in the deck fits you. Process of elimination is a tried-and-true method, and if you've ever taken something apart just to see how it works you can appreciate how pulling things away can reveal something entirely new and interesting.

According to Yerth, it can even be a social experience deciding what to trim away:

In my opinion, the most fun part of building a Commander deck is once I figure out my commander, I go to my local card store and get feedback on the 200+ cards that I could put in the new deck and all the stupid combos I could use.

No one is the ultimate master of all things Commander. (For example, I dedicate as much of this column to everyone else as I can!) Pulling together your pile of picks and having some help to narrow things down is an ingenious strategy: You whittle down to a deck faster, and end up keeping cards other players will look forward to seeing played.

I can't think of a better political play than "Wait! Don't you want to see what I do with that card you picked?"

Of course, even with friends helping, you'll find all sorts of new interactions that went unnoticed before. John shared that it's less about the cards than what you're doing with them:

For me, the most fun part of building a Commander deck is the playtesting phase. The cards may or may not be sleeved up yet, but I love running my new creation up against my other decks and my friends' decks.
The best part is discovering interesting card synergies or combos that I wasn't even anticipating as I tested.

Okay, perhaps "Wait! I want to try something first!" is a better political play. Just because your cards are all those you like and come with the stamp of approval from friends doesn't mean your deck actually works. How your mana flows, your cards work together, and even your choice of commander can all be called into question by just playing the deck.

I hear playing Magic is pretty neat in of itself, too. Jeffery sees the card selection and deck testing as one continuous process:

The most fun part of building a Commander deck has to be the building and tuning process. For me, I start picking all the best cards of the colors I am in and, while exciting to see all the cards that I would love to play with, I then tune and tune and tune. I tune until the functionality of the deck is to my satisfaction and then I compare it to my playgroup to ensure that I have created a deck that will not make my group unfriend me.

A deck that you and your friends enjoy is the bees knees of Commander. Since it's a social format, ensuring that all sides of the battlefield are having fun is a consideration that's hard to define but easy to understand in action. Players like Jeffery do more than understand there's a balance to be struck, but instead actively seek it out so more games end on a fun note.

When other players trust you to not wreck the game for them, you'll find yourself with more room to do your own things, too. But that's not the only balance you enjoyed finding, as Dominic shared:

One of the best parts of building a Commander deck (at least, for me), is identifying the crucial aspects of the deck, and tinkering to get it right. Commander decks have different needs than most decks. Mana-ramp, removal, protection, cards that only work with the commander, cards for diplomacy... every Commander deck requires different types of cards, and finding the perfect balance is incredibly satisfying.

Cards like Mind's Eye and Sol Ring are common characters to find in Commander decks, but Dominic points out the obvious: Not every card belongs in every deck. That intrinsic balance, tweaking a few cards to subtly reshape how things will play out, can be rewarding.

Mind's Eye
Sol Ring

Decks can be crucibles to forge entirely unique experiences. It's what players like Justin find so enjoyable:

The best part about building a new Commander deck, like building any Magic deck, is exploring a personalized angle to how the deck will play. For example, I just built a five-color "control" deck with Child of Alara as the commander. For me, the best part was adding an indestructible theme (which I haven't seen elsewhere).

Child of Alara

Novelty through cards is a well-trod idea covered above. But a novel experience, where things seen independently elsewhere are combined in an unexpected way is a powerful approach to hundred-card decks. Finding a new theme to underpin a deck can be just as exciting as a new card or interaction you've never seen. It's certainly a pleasant feeling when you realize you're heading into unknown territory all your own.

But what was, again, among the most common responses? I'll let Jake's words explain:

Personally, my favorite part of building a new Commander deck is choosing a new commander. To me, that's the most important part of the process, since it will guide the rest of the deck-building process. Once I choose a new commander, my mind starts to roil with possibilities, even though I sometimes don't have time to build it right away. This is the best part, but it can only begin when I have a commander in mind. Especially if I don't have time, since it gives me more time to plan.

Of course, the format's namesake is something that's incredibly fun to ponder over! While some colors and combinations have more choices, and some available choices aren't the most exciting or reasonable to work with, even the most challenging and unintuitive commanders find interesting homes. Each commander has the potential to excite someone, and as we continue to add more, the potential for pleasure continues to rise.

Commander's called that for good reasons.

Elemental Questions

We're in for a little schedule change with Command Tower next week. I'm going to move out last week's prompt responses one week since next week is time for Magic 2014 previews! What this does give us is a narrow opportunity to run a prompt that won't have responses provided right away.

This time you'll be asking the questions.

Commander, as a format, is managed by the Commander Rules Committee. One of the features promised in my first Command Tower article was interviews with members of the Rules Committee. That time is soon coming.

This week's prompt is simple: If you could ask a Commander Rules Committee two questions, what would they be?

  • Questions should not be dependent upon each other. (That is, each question you submit should be a separate question that could be asked independently, or in any order.)
  • Questions should be short, limited to one sentence.
  • Feedback via email.
  • Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column).

I'll gather a cross-section of questions and begin the process of quizzing our Commander overlords. I hope you're as excited about this as I am.

Join us next week when we look at a very peculiar card in Magic 2014. See you then!

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