The New Divide

Posted in Top Decks on November 14, 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.

All good things come to an end.

Final Judgment | Art by Kev Walker

You spent weeks, months, or years tweaking and adjusting a Commander deck. You found new cards that work best in your deck and nowhere else. You traded for premium and special-art versions of cards just so your favorite plays looked as good as possible.

That was then. Today, the prized treasure that was your Commander deck is now only a memory in your mind and shadows that flicker in some other deck. What happened?

Memory Lapse | Art by Mark Tedin

Connecting the dots between building a magnificent wonder of Commander to a dismantled pile of scraps for other decks is an evolution I wanted to understand. This is what you had to share.

Give Me a Reason to Prove me Wrong

Why do we take decks apart? It's a simple question with variety of answers, the most common of which is the reason I cite the most myself: the deck was too strong and wasn't fun to play anymore.

I recently took apart my Momir Vig Commander deck. I loved the deck, but it was time to take it apart because my meta is pretty casual and it was a brutal, competitive deck that was becoming no fun for my opponents.

Commander is a casual format first and foremost, so it was time to build a more fun deck for my metagame.


The only time I ever dismantled Commander decks in face-to-face Magic was when I knew I could have more fun using the parts to build two or more decks, or if I knew my playgroup was not having fun due to my one particular deck.

After winning three games with my Ghost Council of Orzhova deck, it was apparent that the aversion to counterspells ran too high to build a deck containing twenty sweeper spells, Swallowing Plague, and the Syphon cards. I dismantled the deck and build a black deck and a white deck and everyone was much happier.


Ghost Council of Orzhova
Swallowing Plague

The usual reason I disassemble my Commander decks is of a social nature: they aren't fun! I don't mean they are necessarily unfun when I play them, but rather that they become tiresome to play against. In my world, the group rules all, and if the group doesn't like what I bring to the table then something has to change.

A recent example of this happening was a Sygg, River Cutthroat deck I had built. It was packed with all sorts of thievery mechanics with counterspells and removal for support. It would practically ensure that no one would keep their best thing, and I would mesh together a board state from my opponents. While it was interesting and never the same experience, I found my friends scowling at all of their cards being taken from them all the time.

The fix was simple: I change thievery effects to grabbing things in their graveyard and clones. The counters and kill spells stayed, and now everyone is happy because they get to play their cards and I do as well.


My Commander decks usually come apart for two reasons:

1) The crazy idea I had when I was throwing the monstrosity together isn't nearly good enough to make a cohesive and functional deck. There are only so many times you can lose horribly while trying to assemble all the pieces of a combo only a madman could love.

2) The deck is TOO good. When revealing which commander you'll be using to your play group results in a collective sigh of frustration dripping with the anguish of past beatings, it might be time to retire (or revisit) that heavyweight champ and try something new.


It's a story that plays out every week in many Commander play groups. It's isn't a malicious intent that drives decks to the edge of unpleasantness for opponents: it's the constant desire to improve how your own deck works that pushes the boundary. Then, in the span of a few games, things spiral out of hand. Your deck fires flawlessly and efficiently. It handles every threat pointed its way, and neatly deals with unified resistance. All your work finally pays off with consistent victories, yet the ending is bittersweet and hollow.

Nobody wants to play against that deck again, and suddenly you're in an awkward spot.

Rhys the Redeemed | Art by Steve Prescott

It happened to me with a Rhys the Redeemed deck. Casting a commander on the first turn of every game, efficiently building up mana with ramp spells and artifacts, leveraging protective enchantments to mitigate opponent interference, and the ability to exponentially grow tokens turn after turn led to very stale games: either I quickly stomped to victory or stumbled and, in that moment of weakness, was crushed unceremoniously with the full power of every opponent.

When games become unfun, for you or for opponents, something has to change. Your deck is one place to start. Whether you're reacting to the way current games play out or you're ready to try something new, change is a good thing for Commander.

Generally, I take apart a Commander deck when playing the deck has simply become either too boring to play or I feel like wanting to try something different (because of new legendaries usually). Since I started playing this format, I've built many, many different decks, and I have a few that I will keep built (my nearly foiled-out deck for one), but the rest of my typical six decks I keep are in constant flux. Taking apart a deck can be as fun as putting one together, though; it represents a chance to try something new and different, which is ultimately what this format is all about.


Deconstructing a Commander deck is practically always an arduous, time-consuming process wrapped in a neat bundle of heartache. As you go through your deck, wrenching each card from its comfortable sleeve and ejecting it into the cold, pitiless binder, box, or haphazard pile, you reminisce. "Storm Herd for 97... that was a great day, too bad about the overloaded Cyclonic Rift two turns later," "I populated this Worldspine Wurm's tokens six times against John and Frank," "Mycoloth... you made all my friends hate me. I'll miss you."

You don't take a Commander deck apart for just any reason. You disassemble that piece of your soul because it's time for you to move on, to try something new, to expand your horizons as a player and a person. I very recently said goodbye to my old friend Ghave, but I only did so to bring new friends Kuro and Ulasht into the fold. Ghave's not really gone, he's just exercising his mycoid resilience until I call upon him again.


Storm Herd

My Razia, Boros Archangel deck just wasn't performing the way that I wanted her to. Win or lose, a deck needs to consistently "do its thing."

For exactly the opposite reason, I took apart Darigaaz, the Igniter. It won by ramping into a big Diabolic Revelations and assembling the following: Sporemound; Life and Limb; Prismatic Omen; and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle.

It was funny the first couple of times, but combo decks seldom last for long in my arsenal, once all my friends have seen it go it loses its value.

The main impetus for this frenzy of deconstruction was the same, though—I wanted to build Oros, the Avenger. A few years ago, my friends bought me a Russian pack of Planar Chaos and the legendary Dragon was my rare. I had always wanted to put the deck together, so my two "least performing" decks in those colors got the axe.

Lack of consistent feel, over-consistent game play, and a desire to build new decks are the reasons that I deconstruct.

Thank you for your time,


Moving on to new decks can be a difficult experience. Whether you love your decks, the ideas in your decks, the games you've played with your deck, or even just the way your decks came together, switching things up can feel like a necessary evil. Finding the right balance between old and new is something you'll have to decide for yourself.

Change is a wonderful thing for Commander. With so many random cards and so many choices for what you can play, it's possible to build two decks for the same commander without overlapping anything aside from basic lands. But sometimes you need to crack open older decks not for change or power, but for the only copies of cards you have.

I only take decks apart if I desperately need to scavenge a lot of cards for my other decks and if it isn't fun to play anymore and if I think other people are sick of seeing it. It's quite a strict set of circumstances, but I really dislike taking my decks apart. They're like my babies!


I break down Commander decks when I run out of a number of resources. I have enough deck-box space, Commander-essential cards, and foil and/or full art lands to keep three active Commander decks.

Then I have to decide which deck has been underperforming, unfun for me or others, and/or contains cards the new commander will need.

Of course I have a pet deck that never goes into consideration for breaking down. My "pet" Commander deck is Scion of the Ur-Dragon. Part Dragon tribal, Part gold tribal, and mostly legendary tribal. I built it around the concept of gold cards and domain, so I make use of a gold spells over a monocolor spells where ever I can. To that end, I focus on flavor and flexibility over function and redundancy. I run the majority of gold charm cycles, with only a Izzet and Orzhov guild charms not making the cut.

Using Scion as a tool-box approach for commander combat is very fun. His fluid nature makes him a difficult commander to deal with. If he goes unblocked he's likely to become a legendary dragon like Teneb or Crosis, or even Hellkite Tyrant if the opportunity for artifact theft is there. If they try to kill him with a spell, Quicksilver Dragon and Keiga, the Tide Star turn it to my advantage.

Scion of the Ur-Dragon
Keiga, the Tide Star

With all the Dragons in my graveyard, reanimation effects are a must. Bladewing the Risen, Living Death, and Victimize are all-stars in this deck, especially alongside Warstorm Surge and Scourge of Valkas for some back-breaking damage. Kaalia of the Vast, Call to the Kindred, and Riptide Shapeshifter provide ways to cheat out Dragons on the cheap. The Shapeshifter provides double duty alongside Captain Sisay with getting Scion out of the library if he's ever tucked in, in addition to the alternative commander Karona, False God.

The mana base is perhaps the most difficult part to manage; to prevent a heavy green leaning, I use artifacts to provide much of the mana fixing and ramping. However, this difficulty provided me the opportunity to run the Guildgates and Maze's End as a surprise victory condition.

Captain Sisay
Maze's End

Ultimately, the wide range of effects from the 18+ Charms, the toolbox of Dragons and legends that Scion and Captain Sisay provide, and the ever-present threat of reanimation is why I love my Scion Commander deck. It is always staying relevant and in every situation providing the chance for victory by swinging hard with a sky full of Dragons!

I appreciate the time and thought you've given me, Thank you.


Avoiding the need to pillage older decks for cards for newer decks was one of the factors that went into the creation of my Commander Box. While I appreciate that all of the newest preconstructed Commander decks" each include copies of Temple of the False God and Sol Ring, I'm willing to ask myself a harder question: Does this new deck want a card more than some other deck? Our answers will differ and lead to different decisions. Taking apart an older deck can lead to great things. Brett summarized all out reasons well:

In regards to the most recent Command Tower question "When do you decide to take apart a Commander deck, and why?" I have found that I usually take apart a Commander deck for one of three reasons:

1. The Deck isn't Fun

If a deck is either too strong, or not strong enough, or just boring to play.

2. The Deck is Old

When I have had a deck together for a long time and just want to try something new. Different commander, colors, archetype, etc.

3. I Need Cards for a New Deck

With only a finite number of the format staples, I often find it hard to keep more than five decks together at once without too many of them requiring the same cards, especially lands, tutors, and good removal.

Although I may take a deck apart for any reason, I find its good to save the decklist for the future. Although I usually only keep four or five decks built at a time I have around twenty decklists saved, ready to build at a moment's notice (having a Commander Box greatly helps with this process).


And Your Voice Was All I Heard

Before moving on to the question of the week, I did want to point out the opposing angle: keeping decks together can be a good thing too.

Take apart a Commander deck?!? Sacrilege. With a new set coming out every three months tweaking is never done.

That being said, I've had a few decks so long that they've evolved into something completely different. A card here and a card there over time and my first deck, Sedris, the Traitor King, is now a Rakdos, Lord of Riots deck.


Sedris, the Traitor King
Rakdos, Lord of Riots

In answer to your question, I'm afraid I am very bad at taking apart existing Commander decks. This led over time to my 26 current Commander decks before I read your article about a Commander Box.

Now I maintain a Commander Box, and I regularly build and rebuild decks from that. A general rule of thumb is that once I played one game with a deck where my game plan came to full fruition, that deck is up for deconstruction. I keep two decks built from my Commander Box at any given time.

The 26 originals are still all complete, and updated with the release of every new set. It's just too hard to say goodbye...

Kind regards,


While I'm constantly on a quest for some new experience and deck (a trait that lends itself well to writing weekly, I believe!) I know plenty of awesome players who avoid any deck deconstruction. If all the reasons for taking apart older decks read wrong and don't work for you, that's okay too. You aren't alone in looking to keep every deck intact.

Thinking about all the decks I've built and rebuilt led me to wonder which cards aren't finding use in other decks. It seems like a great time to find out which cards you've discovered to be one-hit wonders: Which cards have you really enjoyed in a specific Commander deck, but haven't found a place in any other?

  • Feedback via email
  • 300-word limit to describe the cards and deck(s)
  • Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column)

Whether it's a card from a very specific theme deck or a random common that happened to have incredible synergy with your commander, those oddball gems we find for specific decks are what I'm hoping you'll have to share.

Join us next week when Commander gets a little twisted. See you then!

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