Premeditated Murder

Posted in Top Decks on May 8, 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.

When adding something new to a Commander deck, choosing what to cut can be the hardest part of the process.


Cutting cards is an infuriating process for me. I already like all the cards in a deck I have built and put them there for a reason to begin with. It's rare that one card is "simply better" than another, so changing one card for a similar one becomes a debate about nuance, circumstances, and pragmatism.

If it sounds like I go in circles over changing cards, that's because I do.

Some of you share in the brutal agony that is this process, while others have no problems slaughtering at will across decks. (Mogis be praised.) This is what you had to share.

Murder, He Wrote

What's the biggest cut to a Commander deck? I don't think it can get bigger than cutting the commander itself, as Bobby explained.

The most depressing card to cut is obviously the commander. It is the heart and soul of any deck, and while the vast majority of the cards stay the same, it feels different.

Rayne, Academy Chancellor led the charge for a long while. The deck began life stealing everything it could, and Rayne was there to draw me cards when people tried to retrieve their things or kill the various Mind Controls.

Rayne, Academy Chancellor
Mind Control

However, this never worked as planned. Rayne never drew me the cards I expected, and as the deck's theme slowly shifted to a big blue beatdown deck with loads of clones, Rayne fell deeper and deeper into irrelevance. It hurt, but when Thassa became available, the commander the deck wanted was there and the one it didn't need was holding the deck back.

The change happened, because while it was Rayne's deck, she was holding it back from being the best it could be.


Bobby's Thassa

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When the leader of your deck naturally fades it seems like a simple solution to just change it out, but there was a reason you started with that as the commander to begin with. The trials (and many errors) of my search for a Boros deck left me frustrated and saddened by the variety of Boros legends I left locked away.

Fortunately, most cuts aren't so dramatic, as John explained:

My favorite decks are constantly evolving ones; the presence of new cards is one reason I'll choose one deck over another when preparing for a game. I've shared this favorite before, but cutting cards means that it isn't *really* the same. The current decklist:

John's Zegana

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You see a number of Theros-block cards included—one answer to the "why" of your question... shiny new cards means something old has to go! On to the specific card-cutting stories:

  1. Enter the Infinite—One of the most recent cuts. Though it combos well with many cards in the deck—it often just wins with Psychosis Crawler in play—it felt too easy and somewhat uncreative. I also felt bad whenever I'd play this with Omniscience, but didn't just win on the spot, because it meant a VERY long turn for me, and that's no fun for anyone else.
Enter the Infinite
Psychosis Crawler
  1. Psychic Spiral/Praetor's Counsel—This deck has two important needs: no maximum hand size and graveyard recycling. Some redundancy is good, but I cut these because I preferred cheaper options. Also, Praetor's Counsel became unplayable with a large graveyard—I needed to be able to draw those cards again, not dump them into my hand.
  2. Forests/Islands—I once ran 42 lands here, which worked well with cards like Nantuko Cultivator and Burgeoning. But when the deck works there's no shortage of lands in my (sizable) hand. Over time, I've frequently made the "easier" decision to cut a land rather than something I was more fond of.
  3. ???—Tomorrow, Journey into Nyx will be on sale at my local game store, and I've got my eye on Kruphix, God of Horizons. I still have absolutely no idea what I'm going to cut in order to make a spot for him!


While I'm personally not a fan of cutting lands for new cards in Commander decks (I like making lots of mana all the time), John's approach is great when you know you have too many to start with. Nobody will argue an Island is more exciting than a God.

Of course, one-for-one changes to improve decks can be easier to identify if building polished Rube Goldberg death machines is what you crave.

My Sliver Queen–based infinite combos deck is seeing...

...Avenger of Zendikar replaced by Hydra Broodmaster.

Avenger of Zendikar
Hydra Broodmaster

Avenger of Zendikar is smaller yet more expensive. Its tokens aren't useful in combat except as chump blockers, whereas Hydra Broodmaster can take advantage of infinite-mana combos. Even if it only spawns a handful of midsized hydras, those still interact with Warstorm Surge and Stalking Vengeance better than the Plants. And while the Avenger does interact with Hell's Caretaker + Intruder Alarm to generate infinite Plants, it's easier to generate the infinite mana for infinite Hydras of infinite size.

...Murkfiend Liege replaced by Kruphix, God of Horizons.

Murkfiend Liege and its ilk are really nice, but Sliver Queen's brood does not take advantage of it, nor does it power any infinite combos. Kruphix, however, helps Sliver Queen produce her brood, which is the core of the deck.

...Archetype of Finality replaced by Dictate of Erebos.

Archetype of Finality
Dictate of Erebos

Giving all my tokens deathtouch was nice, and I'm going to miss the kill-everything combo with Goblin Sharpshooter, but turning every token sacrifice into an Agent of the Fates trigger is hard to pass up. I had not used Grave Pact previously, because of the triple-black mana requirement, but I'm okay with two black for Dictate of Erebos.

...Rage Thrower replaced by Pharika, God of Affliction.

Because it's redundant, fragile, and... Pharika.


Mike's Sliver Queen

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99 Cards

I'm not a fan of polished multiplayer crushers, but some of you are and it makes for easier changes to decks. Knowing that some tools in your piles aren't as useful as others can rank them in an order, so pulling off the bottom one for a new tool to experiment with makes sense—at least, if you're a terrifying mad scientist bent on Commander perfection.

Michael's machinations over Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius are a little different.

Greetings again! Niv-Mizzet sends his regards!

What's that, I mean? Well, bringing up the topic of what cards I've removed from my Commander decks, it seemed a difficult topic to think about, since I really don't keep track of what cards do and don't stick around. But then I realized I DID have previous decklists easily accessible—via past Command Tower articles!

See, about a year ago, you asked for decks using Ravnica legendaries, and my own Niv-Mizzet Deck, "99 Problems but the Attack Phase Izzet One of 'Em," was the featured Izzet deck.

And so I thought, "Wouldn't it be fun to go back and do a direct comparison of how the deck has changed over the past year?"

Michael's "New" Niv-Mizzet

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So what has Niv-Mizzet deemed replaceable over the past year? Here's a direct list for you:

1 Ash Zealot
1 Barbed Shocker
1 Goblin Electromancer
1 Hover Barrier
1 Izzet Staticaster
1 Malignus
1 Burst Lightning
1 Cancel
1 Crusher Zendikon
1 Dragonshift
1 Flame Slash
1 Izzet Keyrune
1 Jace's Erasure
1 Levitation
1 Lightning Prowess
1 Pillar of Flame
1 Reverberate
1 Skullcrack
1 Stolen Goods
1 Street Spasm
1 Turn & Burn
1 Volcanic Geyser
1 Wind Zendikon

I notice two major removals—first, mill cards have fallen by the wayside for the most part, with the likes of Jace's Erasure and Stolen Goods having been chucked out the window. While draining an opponent's deck might be fun (and I'd actually love to build a mill-dedicated Commander deck someday), it's kind of an effort in futility in a deck that's not focused on the strategy, especially with 99 cards per opponent and the possibility of cards showing up and negating the effect entirely.

Jace's Erasure
Stolen Goods

Second, one-off burn cards like Burst Lightning, Pillar of Flame, and Flame Slash have been dropped as well in favor of cards that go off bigger and more often. Often, for cards that do the same basic thing, but BIGGER!

Which, in Commander, is far more appropriate. Especially for an Izzet deck that, thematically, would want to crank things up to 11 anyway. FOR SCIENCE!, of course.


I guess not all scientists are out to dominate the Commander world (but that doesn't mean I'm trusting you lab coat-wearing fiends; I've got my eyes on you!), but evolving decks over time takes more than one series of cuts. I look forward to where decks will go in another year and beyond.

And I hope you do, too.

One-Hit Knockouts

Some changes aren't the manifestation of prolonged thought and careful consideration, and Twitter is the perfect medium for sharing these types of quick hits.






While Twitter is a great way to share a few words about Commander with me, the rewards for email are still bigger.



This week's question is a peace offering to the mad scientists and power-hungry green mages out there: What is your favorite permanent (or permanents) to sneak onto the battlefield?

  • Feedback via email
  • 300-word limit to explain your choice
  • 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, without subtotals by card type (Submissions that don't follow this rule will be ignored.)
  • Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column)

Many of you who adore Forests in Commander are familiar with the power and potency of cards like Genesis Wave and Primal Surge. I want to know what your favorite things to have in your deck for these cards are. They don't have to be green themselves—commanders can have more than one color—but they do have to be sweet. I'm looking forward to what you find and use.

See you then!

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