A few weeks ago, I committed to trying out a number of ideas (as suggested in an article series written by Master of Bargains, Kristen Gregory) in some new Commander decks. So far I’ve had some fun running riot with them in a mono-white, mono-blue and mono-green deck, and this article completes the cycle by showcasing decks in the remaining colours (Black and Red).
To quickly recap, we’ll be looking at the following themes which are covered more generally here but are discussed in far more detail in Kristen’s articles:
- Utility lands: Click here to read ‘Maximising your margins’
- Card draw: Click here to read ‘Drawing cards is good’
- Ramp: Click here to read ‘Y’all got any more of those land cards?’
- Boardwipes 1: Click here to read ‘Long live the board wipe’
- Boardwipes 2: Click here to read ‘Getting ahead after a board wipe’
- Land Destruction: Click here to read ‘my puns have Plateaued’
There were two articles on boardwipes, but for convenience, we’ll lump them together under as a single theme in this article.
These represent some (but not all) of the key things we might want to think about in relation to Commander, particularly when it comes to deck construction. In this format games often go long, multiple players are involved, and almost anything goes. Before we even begin to think about who you might need to attack or what specific cards you want to play, it’s useful to have these themes in mind if you want to ensure your decks survive (or contribute to) the wake of chaos/nonsense that is ‘a game of multiplayer Commander’.
As we’ll be looking at things through a similar lens as the previous article, those who have read the first instalment with probably recognise some of the things we discuss here. As this is effectively the second-half of a ‘two-parter,” it’ll consequently be a bit thinner on the detail concerning some of the more general concepts. Please click here to read the previous article.
Bolstering the Colourless All Stars (CAS)
I’ve since added the following cards to the colourless arsenal that we’re including (in varying amounts) in each of the five decks.
Detection Tower: It’s important to accept that cards like Lightning Greaves and Swiftfoot Boots are played heavily in the format, regardless of our own views on them (I’m not personally a fan of running them myself). They are often used to protect seriously powerful creatures from being thwarted, and the haste they provides also helps to ensure they get to throw their weight around in combat and that they can tap to activate any abilities they might have the turn they hit the board. Access to a way to disrupt this on a land allows us to relieve the table of any hexproof threats, not just those suited up with a sparkly set of boots. This becomes especially important when those problematic creatures are inclined to swing at us.
Skysovereign, Consul Flagship: This is a bit of a blessing for the Mono-green deck, which is low on removal in general and lacks any kind of airforce. In addition, the blue deck doesn’t have many convenient way to remove pesky creatures with low toughness without expending something disproportionate like a Cyclonic Rift or Scourge of Fleets.
Golden Guardian: This is another card that transforms into a utility land. Its condition for transforming is, admittedly, a bit ‘fiddly,’ as we need to keep up two mana and have another (likely) ‘expendible’ creature hanging around to allow it to become Gold-Forge Garrison. Having said this, for now, I think it would be interesting for us to try and unlock the potential of repeated token production and find out if it is worth it. For now, it’s only featuring in the red and black decks. The main reason for this is that the other decks have more ways to ramp mana and defend themselves (a 4/4 blocker is no slouch, right?)
Mono Black – Gonti, Lord of Luxury
One note before we start…. Gonti could contribute to all of these categories if we manage to exile opposing spells that happen to provide the relevant function.
Complimenting the usual brigade of CAS lands we have a few lands that provide additional removal and utility in Cabal Pit, Blighted Fen, Ifnir Deadlands (which combos with our existing Desert synergy), Bojuka Bog, and Memorial to Folly. We’ve eschewed Cabal Coffers but kept Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth to maximise the value our Corrupt and Tendrils of Corruption provide and help ensure our All-Stars don’t prevent us from casting our coloured spells effectively.
In terms of raw card draw we have Bloodgift Demon, Liliana’s Contract, Midnight Reaper, and Arguel’s Blood Fast. There’s only actually two demons in the deck, but maybe Gonti can play one or two and maybe we can reanimate someone else’s to achieve victory using the Contract. A lot of the deck’s card advantage comes from creature recursion and the value provided by their triggered abilities when they enter the battlefield.
Not really a strength of most mono-black decks, especially considering we have avoided the Cabal Coffers + Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth combination. We rely heavily on the CAS cards, perhaps due to the inherent weaknesses of this portion of the colour pie combined with my negligence or choice not to include some of the more highly-regarded options available in Black. This is where cards like Solemn Simulacrum, Burnished Hart, and some of the transforming Ixalan cards really become All-Stars.
We’re armed with just two cards for this category (although, depending on the content of graveyards, Living Death can be a boardwipe). Kristen’s article mentions Massacre Wurm and Bane of the Living (the latter being more the ‘budget’ option) but I’ve gone somewhere slightly different with Demon of Dark Schemes. It’s activated ability can provide a ton of utility following the initial ‘wrath’ effect. The article actually gave us numerous useful suggestions for this part, and we ended up opting for just Black Sun’s Zenith as it’s reusable. Instead, we’ve decided to include a lot of targeted or ‘spot’ removal attached to creatures, as some board presence is required for ninja-action and our colour plays to returning creatures from the graveyard (or being replayed after Ninjutsu). Between destroy, exile, and sacrifice effects, there’s hopefully enough options to keep creatures under control if needs be. We can also KO opponents with Phthisis if their creature threats are large enough!
Note that Mind Slash allows us to take lands from an opponent’s hand, but obviously it’s easy for this to be ‘too late’ for us! Black is historically a colour that has a reasonably expansive toolset when comes to land destruction. Cards like Befoul, Brink of Disaster, and Choking Sands spring to mind from Kristen’s article, however, we’ve leaned more heavily on the land-based options in our CAS package as we want to get more than just ‘destroy target land’ out of our spell slots.
Mono Red – Daretti, Scrap Savant
I’ll admit that I’ve been looking forward to both the challenge and ‘fun factor’ of building and playing a mono-red deck for multiplayer Commander. However, it was a matter of opportunity through hardship as I found that this one was actually the hardest one to construct and balance of the five decks I built. This is because, without pushing the power levels through the roof with cards like Insurrection, Vicious Shadows, and Stalking Vengeance – or predicating games around striking with Decree of Annihilation or Jokulhaups once the preferred board state has been set up – red actually needs a lot of help to defend itself and keep interacting meaningfully in lengthy games. This is something less powerful cards in other colours are just better at doing. For example, Green can ramp and play bigger or more spells easily; Blue can draw cards and counter spells; White has great defensive cards or cleanse the board effectively; Black can easily kill enemy creatures and use the graveyard as a resource. Red doesn’t naturally have a lot of cards to help it do any of these which stacks the odds against it. Given that the CAS cards help this deck a ton, and also that we will need to perhaps enlist some unpredictability or borrow power from other sources, I decided to theme this one more heavily around those two elements.
“How much damage does a burn spell have to deal to be good in Commander?” We skirt around this query by having our lands play a role in damaging our opponents rather than relying on ‘burn spells.’ Whether it’s direct burn through Ramunap Ruins synergising with the other Deserts or Teetering Peaks and Smoldering Spires making some combats just a little bit better, the tools are definitely there. The original build of this deck did include Bonfire of the Damned both as a boardwipe and a burn spell, but a number of games played before writing this article demonstrated that drawing it ‘at the wrong moment’ (given that we’re heavily incentivized to have it be a Miracle) outweighed the comedy gold it could potentially produce if drawn ‘at the right moment’.
In this regard we rely heavily on becoming the Monarch or gaining control of or copying our opponent’s card draw effects to amass a supply of weapons in hand. For example, Zealous Conscripts or Jeering Instigator could steal an Arcanis the Omnipotent, or we can copy a Sphinx’s Revelation with Dualcaster Mage. Have you ever cast Wild Ricochet on an Expansion // Explosion where X is a significant number? Running these types of cards does mean we have to play quite opportunistically, but isn’t that at least partly in the spirit of a red mage as Garfield intended? While our deck has some, but only a limited stock of artifacts, Daretti can still turn Trash for Treasure via his +2 or -2 abilities, which usually provides us some route (direct or indirect) to card advantage.
Past the support of the CAS cards and copying or borrowing our opponent’s effects, we have Emrakul’s Hatcher and Wily Goblin! We’ve opted for the Goblin over Brazen Freebooter because for that kind of effect we want to be a little more efficient with our mana in order to (for example) also hold up mana for Dualcaster Mage to copy the green player’s Kodama’s Reach. The body size isn’t a huge deal. As you can probably tell by now, ramp isn’t something we’re good at so we need to take our chances when we can.
We’ve gone for a slightly more substantial package of instant-speed action in this category through Starstorm, and we’re giving ourselves the chance to instantly wipe a board of X/1 tokens for three mana by cycling Slice and Dice. Admittedly we may have committed a Blasphemous Act by not including it in our deck (as Kristen’s article recommends this, admittedly, much more efficient option), but this is likely a difference in taste. The disadvantages of holding up tons of mana can potentially be outweighed by the ability to be unpredictable, or to simply interact at the opportune moment. However, you could say our greedier replacement for Blasphemous Act or Hour of Devastation is Star of Extinction. Yes we have to pay two or six mana more and that 13 damage will kill most creatures that would also die to being dealt 20, but the ability to basically destroy planeswalkers (ok, Hour can do that too!) AND take problematic lands like Maze of Ith can potentially be worth the extra mana! Just be careful, however, as if the opponent creates an invalid target for the land-destroying portion of the spell (for example, by using Strip Mine on their own land) the entire spell will be countered, including all that damage-based goodness. Vandalblast has also been included to keep forces of powerful artifacts in check. It’s easy to see us being questionably ‘high risk-high reward’ with our choice of board wipes, and we’re also arguably being quite inefficient but I’ll go so far as claiming that wiping out dangerous boards is something our deck doesn’t want! This is because we gain a lot of momentum by ‘borrowing’ our opponents’ powerful creatures – so sometimes we actually want them to stick around. Risky business indeed! This is why we employ Greater Gargadon and Goblin Bombardment to combine with this approach to promote ‘theft’ to ‘removal’.
This is something we are supposed to actually be decent at! Aside from the Star of Extinction we’ve included Avalanche Riders and Invader Parasite to put a stop to utility lands that are great against us. Parasite can potentially kill opponents if we take a basic land, but it’s mainly being played to stop those who can recur lands well in spite of their destruction. For example, some decks led by Muldrotha, the Gravetide can infinitely recur things like Glacial Chasm at their convenience. Note, if we need to keep an opponent off something like Maze of Ith for a turn, Zealous Conscripts and Word of Seizing can gain control of these temporarily. To boot, our CAS cards from the ‘Strip Mine family’ also support us.
This isn’t a key theme in any of Kristen’s articles (yet) but it’s worth us spending a few words on to make some points about this with respect to our red deck. A lot of the cards that ‘borrow’ a creature in this deck are deliberately Instants rather than Sorceries. This is to provide more defensive options for the deck to complement its regular aggressive playstyle – we can steal creatures to gain blockers! Most of the sorcery speed options are slightly more powerful for their mana cost or are straight-up more efficient, but the flexibility of instant speed helps a lot in a deck which is normally struggling to defend itself. Additionally, effects like that of Reveillark or ‘combos’ involving creatures can be more easily disrupted with access to instant speed responses. For instance, in a recent game, an entwined Grab the Reins was used to disrupt an opponent’s combo by stealing their Quillspike at the right moment and dealing 30,000,000 damage to them in the process.
Hopefully, this article has contextually demonstrated how some of the deckbuilding approaches detailed in Kristen’s articles can be implemented when building your Commander deck (especially if it’s mono-black or mono-red deck!). Conversely, it may also have provided a bit of rationale for any deviations from Kristen’s advice. I’ll reiterate that I’m confident in the strength and value of her suggestions, she is the Master of Bargains afterall! Therefore most of these twists and turns were made based on differences in personal taste, or where the strategic context of wanting to either steal our opponents’ permanents or pretend certain creatures might be ninjas has compelled us to choose card options that play to these plans more, but are less efficient in general. I hope it has provided you with some more deckbuilding ideas!
I have nothing specific to reveal at the time of writing, but I will be going to Magic Fest London where I’ll be playing War of the Spark Limited in the main event. I’ll also be looking to foil out some of these new decks I’ve built and play some Commander myself! Further adrift I’m going to Magic Fest Barcelona to play some Modern!
You can find me on Facebook and Twitter @Chris54154, feel free to hit me up with any of your thoughts! In addition to Magic Fest London later this month (and Barcelona in the summer), can also find me at other large competitive events like Mythic Championship Qualifiers and Axion Now’s Mega Modern and Legacy Masters throughout the year in the UK.
As always, thanks for reading, good luck, and have fun in your next game of Commander!