With the end of PPTQs and RPTQs, Commander is now becoming the format I play most regularly in paper. It’s true that competitive Magic is still a big part of why I play Magic and, in the absence of regular local competitive events, I get my fix for that at the moment by mostly playing Standard and Limited on MTGArena. Some time has passed since I last wrote about 100 card decks, so that’s what I’m revisiting today. I have continued to play Boros, led by Archangel Avacyn, but have changed up some of the cards since 2018. In this article, I’ll discuss the evolution of some of the deck’s new components, and I’m also going to introduce you to three more decks currently played by friends to provide some context and examples of the gribbly monsters that deal me combat damage and the broken combos that turn my tactics upside-down on a regular basis. I’ll then briefly comment on Avacyn’s plan for navigating the perils of rival forces in battle. Let’s dive in.
Imperial Recruiter and Recruiter of the Guard: These cards are great inclusions in my deck as they fit the deck’s theme and aims very well. For instance, they help me find Mindclaw Shaman, Dire Fleet Daredevil, and Dualcaster Mage, which means fun happens more consistently! In addition, they can help me find a utility creature to suit any crisis that needs averting.
Palace Jailer, Meteor Golem, and Tyrant of Discord: I decided the deck needed a touch more removal so I added these cards. The first two do the job quite reliably (the Monarchy also adds another interesting dimension to games). The Tyrant is a more recent addition and is much less reliable despite technically being ‘removal’. Having said this, it is already adding more fun and challenge while randomly removing permanents, so it makes the cut for now.
New Real Estate
The Deserts: I took a leaf out of fellow Master Kristen Gregory’s book and added a Scavenger Grounds. I didn’t stop there though; she set me on a bit of a brainwave. Low damage burn spells and cards like Charge give up a lot of spell-slot equity, but situations will come up where you want to make your combat step that little bit better or burn out an opponent who you can’t touch with any of your other spells. Getting multiple desert usages by adding Shefet Dunes, Ramunap Ruins, and Endless Sands was too much to pass up. Click here to read Kristen’s full article!
Chaos Wand: This card is fast turning my ‘jokey trinity’ of Dualcaster Mage, Mindclaw Shaman, and Dire Fleet Daredevil into a ‘blundershop quartet,’ as it’s becoming a real favourite of mine. Now I can make use of my opponent’s effects direct from their own library (in addition to the stack, hand, and graveyard) and the results have been rather fun. In addition, you can be efficient and spikey with it if you want! For example, activating it targetting the monoblue ‘Counterspell deck’ when the green stompy deck is casting a ‘must counter’ spell can sometimes provide an unforeseen way out of a lethal situation!
Smothering Tithe: Upon seeing this card being printed in Ravnica Allegiance, I did my best to obtain a foil one! It’s a real game-changer given my colours aren’t the best at ramping and it also randomly synergizes with my Treasure Map and Inventors’ Fair! If you’re playing any white deck without green, I highly recommend this card be included in your deck.
So, armed with new toys, Avacyn is ready for battle. Let’s see who and what we’re up against!
Example Commander pod
For this section, I asked my friends Sherelle, Joe, and Lily about their decks and why they like Commander. We play regularly at an LGS as part of a larger Commander community. A typical evening consists of multiple games played by randomly determined pods. We switch the players round into different random pods as matches finish.
Omnath, Locus of Mana (Sherelle)
What do you like most about playing Commander?
Commander is a format with so many options and freedom abound – no rotation and a small ban list mean that we can do pretty much anything! As we play multiplayer, games normally go on longer. This means that there’s much more opportunity to cast spells with higher mana costs, which in my opinion tend to be the most fun!
What’s the focus of your deck?
My deck is based around getting massive creatures out as fast as possible, so my first few turns are usually spent Mana ramping and setting up to deploy large monsters and big effects. My deck’s strength is derived from the size/power of its creatures!
What works well against your deck?
Aerial assault is quite effective against me as I have only a few ways to defend against flyers. The lack of creature removal in green also means I have even fewer ways to clear the battlefield or remove a threat (I usually am the threat!). I often have to rely on my opponents to deal with these types of issues… or just try and trample over everyone else first!
What do you like most about playing Commander?
One of the reasons I love Magic is for the cool characters and amazing art. If there’s a character I like in the game, I can build a Commander deck around them without having to worry about it under-performing in a competitive environment. I really like playing Commander itself because it’s very conducive to a social environment through casual and multiplayer format play. This has allowed me to meet most of my now closest friends! In addition, Commander attracts many different kinds of people, so when you play you meet people you’d never have gotten to know otherwise.
What do you think the deck’s greatest strength is?
My deck’s greatest strength is its ability to play massive, impactful spells for free! Pretty much any time Jeleva attacks, the game has the potential to turn in my favour – and this is before I’ve even started tapping my lands for spells like everyone else! Added to this, I’ve put in a lot of effects that impact the game randomly and ways to use my opponents’ resources. This creates the potential for vastly different effects to happen each game which can make things unpredictable for my opponents and keeps things interesting and fresh.
What do you think the deck’s greatest weakness is?
The deck somewhat relies on Jeleva herself, so if she is countered, removed, or otherwise dealt with before she can attack, I lose a lot of momentum. Ten-Mana spells are fun, but having to pay the proper mana cost for them all the time can make my deck clunky and inefficient. I don’t have a lot of creatures in the deck either, so if I haven’t managed to obtain any through my many random and game-warping effects, I pretty much always lose combat phases. Hard.
Meren of Clan Nel Toth (Lily)
What do you like most about playing Commander?
I’m a ‘graveyard shenanigans’ player at heart! Having said this, I just really like the variety. I have so many decks with different themes and identities so I get to play all kinds of different strategies, and the non-rotating aspect takes any pressure off having to get new cards and not being allowed to use existing ones. Finally, I love that it’s played in a multiplayer format as it’s something fun to do with friends.
What is the focus of your deck?
My deck is based around creatures with effects that happen when they enter the battlefield (ETB triggers). The deck has many ways to get them into the graveyard and Reanimate them into play (often a much more convenient alternative to having to draw and then cast them from my hand). I also have plenty of effects to make my own creatures die, which allows me to use all the reanimation effects to get multiple uses out of my creatures during the game! Essentially, my graveyard is my biggest strength!
What works well against your deck
Effects that exile the graveyard or prevent me from reanimating my creatures (for example Grafdigger’s Cage or Ground Seal)! I know a lot of people with whom we play regularly include lots of graveyard removal because they know and expect I’ll always have some powerful graveyard synergies in a few of my decks.
Avacyn’s battle plan
Fully understanding the way different decks interplay is a whole article by itself, so for this section, I’m going to summarise the things I think about most with respect to each of the other three decks.
What to watch out for: Sherelle will probably have about 8 mana in play by the time I have four, and if she focuses her attention on me in the early game I could end up taking a lot of combat damage before I can really do anything about it. If I don’t get overwhelmed immediately, I’m actually in reasonable shape to defend myself in combat unless the creatures have trample. To an extent, I have to hope that either her stompy monsters attack other players or she’s sufficiently slowed down by creature removal spells.
Potential paths to victory: If I draw mass creature removal, or better still All is Dust, stabilising – or simply ‘not dying’ is obviously much more likely. Sherelle’s creatures are well-supported by various artifacts and enchantments, so sometimes a timely Disenchant effect can tip the scales against her. I’m lucky enough to have a commander with flying so I can at least make an attempt at doing 21 damage before I hit 0. Finally, I can try and use her more powerful creatures or other spells against her, particularly with cards like Mindclaw Shaman, Dire Fleet Daredevil, Zealous Conscripts, and Mob Rule. Despite the risk of being utterly crushed by big stompy creatures, there is the silver lining that Sherelle will often look a lot more threatening on the battlefield than me, meaning other players might be inclined to help one another to not get flattened… then again, it might not matter anyway!
What to watch out for: This is usually dictated by the spells that Joe can cast via Jeleva and how they might affect me. If Jeleva is threatening to cast cards like Karn’s Temporal Sundering or Worst Fears, and I think Joe can use them to snowball the game out of everyone else’s control, I’ll probably make a huge effort to dispatch Jeleva. In addition, effects that stop me optimising my turns and tricks often do much more harm (to me) than help, so I will likely want to try and answer cards like Timesifter, Hive Mind, or Eye of the Storm as quickly and painlessly as possible! One unusual thing I will need to bear in mind is the timely use of my spells to keep Joe alive. His deck is full of effects that can help to neutralise perilous situations that Sherelle or Lily might set up!
Potential paths to victory: Dualcaster Mage, Dire Fleet Daredevil, Mindclaw Shaman, and Chaos Wand are my favourite cards because I find them inherently fun, but with Joe’s deck at the table, their power levels go through the roof, and I’m almost certainly going to target him with their effects most of the time. Playing against this deck is a very strange balance of not allowing things to get out of hand while making proper use of the resources and effects in a way that benefits me. As mentioned earlier, Joe’s deck isn’t great at blocking, so if we’re not all in his Eternal Dominion already, the combat step is a real way to eliminate him.
What to watch out for: In some ways, Lily’s deck is quite similar to my own. We are both thriving off of incremental value provided by creatures. The difference is that she leverages the power of her Graveyard and operates in a more consistent and proactive way. In some ways, the key is, as she said, in the strength of her Graveyard. Meren provides a consistent source of recursion, and if she can take advantage of this she can dominate the battlefield quite easily.
Potential paths to victory: If I’m honest, I feel that unless her graveyard is shut down (and that will probably require at least two instances of ‘exile your graveyard while it has quite a few useful things in it’) or is unlucky with her draws, I will really need to forge alliances with the other players to stand a chance of not just surviving but winning in any sense against Meren. The cards I mentioned being excellent against Joe can still be effective against her, but to a lesser extent. ‘Stealing’ her instants/sorcery spells will often require me to be in a situation where I can leverage my own graveyard and ‘stealing’ her creatures doesn’t always work, as she has ways to sacrifice them in response and is actually quite well set up to block in the combat step. Hopefully, Sherelle can stomp her down before her necromancy takes over the game!
In this section, I hope to have provided some context for how I might play my deck in different situations, but also allude to something I really like about multiplayer Commander. Through the political interplay between different decks and cards, conventional strategies sometimes take twists and turns, and you often end up using cards/decks in ways different from their original intended uses. For me, this is the one aspect of Commander gameplay that keeps me coming back to the table. I’m lucky to be part of a group who play regularly and very amicably (on the whole). Though I’ve handpicked three decks here, there are many different decks in our playgroup that we could take a look at in the future.
In my next article, I’m going to be giving my take on ‘mind games’ relevant to Commander. I’m a firm believer that, in this format, the cards you put in your deck and the technical play you exhibit in the game is dwarfed by the psychological elements at play, and I hope to provide Commander players with some more interesting things to think about by sharing my perspectives. As you might be able to tell from earlier in the article, I’ve also been trying a range of different ideas suggested by Kristen Gregory in her weekly budget series every Monday, so I’ll likely report back how I found different options worked out in games and in different decks. I’ll then return to writing about more competitive Magic as I try to hit Mythic on MTGArena and attend Magic Fest London the following month!
You can find me on Facebook, Twitter (@Chris54154), Magic Fest London in April, and some other large competitive events like 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!