My three priorities for Commander and why creatures are my favourite card type!

Hi all. Today I’ll be bringing you something very different from the usual scoop on competitive Magic events. Some, but not all, will know that I actually play Commander every now and then. In fact, I’ve actually been playing it for well over ten years, just on-and-off and as something secondary to playing in competitive events.

For me, multiplayer Commander is an opportunity for downtime. It gives me the chance to chill out with some of my friends who aren’t as active on the competitive scene, or indeed meet new people in what I consider a relaxed setting. If you were hoping for the spikiest technology or ruthless tactics for that kind of affair, I’m sorry I’ll be disappointing you.

The way I approach deck design and gameplay for such occasions is vastly different to tournament Magic and I’m hoping that in sharing this, there’s some ideas or inspiration for Commander fans far and wide. In this article I’m going to share the deck I play and go over my approach to deckbuilding and gameplay, which is probably a little different to how most people play it.

My deck – Commander: The Mimeoplasm

I’ve provided a link to my deck on which opens in a new tab as you might want to have it open for the next bit of the article and this will save you scrolling.

Lands (42)
Alchemist’s Refuge
Blighted Fen
Blighted Woodland
Bojuka Bog
Breeding Pool
Creeping Tar Pit
Endless Sands
Fetid Pools
Field of Ruin
Halimar Depths
Lumbering Falls
Misty Rainforest
Mosswort Bridge
Overgrown Tomb
Polluted Delta
Reliquary Tower
Scavenger Grounds
Sunken Hollow
Temple of Deceit
Temple of Malady
Temple of Mystery
Thespian’s Stage
Tropical Island
Underground Sea
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Verdant Catacombs
Watery Grave

Creatures (57)
Acidic Slime
Altered Ego
Baleful Strix
Bane of Progress
Baloth Null
Body Double
Brutalizer Exarch
Cavern Harpy
Clever Impersonator
Coiling Oracle
Courser of Kruphix
Demon of Dark Schemes
Duskwatch Recruiter
Entomber Exarch
Eternal Witness
Evil Twin
Farhaven Elf
Glen Elendra Archmage
Gonti, Lord of Luxury
Hostage Taker
Jadelight Ranger
Liliana, Heretical Healer
Mercurial Pretender
Meteor Golem
Mystic Snake
Oracle of Mul Daya
Phantasmal Image
Phyrexian Metamorph
Progenitor Mimic
Psychic Symbiont
Puppeteer Clique
Raven Familiar
Ravenous Chupacabra
Reclamation Sage
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Scourge of Fleets
Sea Gate Oracle
Solemn Simulacrum
Stunt Double
Tatyova, Benthic Druid
Tireless Tracker
Scavenging Ooze
The Scarab God
Ulvenwald Hydra
Venser, Shaper Savant
Vesuvan Shapeshifter
Vizier of Many Faces
Vizier of the Menagerie
Voidmage Husher
Wood Elves
World Breaker
Yavimaya Elder
Yavimaya Granger

Your deck looks expensive! I thought this format was casual?!

I have some expensive lands in my deck. Underground Sea, Tropical Island and Bayou are not cheap, but you don’t really need them to make the deck work. I’m playing these cards because I just happen to be lucky enough to already own them (I’ve played a few Legacy tournaments over the years). There are several, much cheaper alternatives that could be used such as ‘Painlands’ (e.g. Underground River), Guildgates (e.g. Simic Guildgate), ‘Buddy lands’ (e.g. Woodland Cemetery) – I just happen to have access to the old-school options. While I don’t consider them essential components, they do enable Wood Elves to put more blue and black mana into play. A similar argument can be made for Misty Rainforest, Polluted Delta and Verdant Catacombs. They can be replaced by Evolving Wilds, Terramorphic Expanse and Panoramas (e.g. Bant Panorama) from Shards of Alara.

Why am I only playing creatures and lands?

This is a deckbuilding challenge I have set myself. I generally always play a lot of creatures as I find them fun and useful. They’re the most interactive kinds of cards given that they usually have their own rules text, plus the ability to attack and block. It’s true that creature removal is extremely abundant in Commander, but if you have 50-60 of them in your deck, battlefield presence is unlikely to be a problem most of the time. Originally, I think I designed a ‘mostly creatures’ deck with a couple of non-creature spells that tutored for creatures, which was probably ‘more powerful’ or ‘more consistent’. However, I just decided that cutting a few cards to achieve the deckbuilding challenge and attempt to have the same amount, if not more, fun would be a bigger payoff in the long-run.

If you’re only playing creatures, why aren’t you at least playing more ‘good’ creatures?

I decided a long time ago that ‘auto-includes’ like Sol Ring, Demonic Tutor, Cyclonic Rift, Praetor’s Counsel, Boundless Realms, Rise of the Dark Realms or Time Stretch simply make deckbuilding a lot less interesting! The same is the case for creature cards like Craterhoof Behemoth, Avenger of Zendikar, Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur, Sheoldred, Whispering One, Lighthouse Chronologist, Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger and Rune-Scarred Demon – cards that are almost a ‘shoe-in’ if you’re playing these colours.

It could quite easily be argued that I’m bringing a knife to a gunfight. The deck likely could be improved further with some choice non-creature spells and even some of the creature spells in the deck aren’t as good as they could be. While this may be true, I’d like to put forward and explain three ideas that are very much at the heart of my approach to playing Commander, and manifested in this deck. Throughout, I’ll be using cards from my deck as well as the imaginary scenario of four players A, B, C and D playing a multiplayer game to help with articulation.

1. Don’t be too threatening

We’ve seen or heard it so often that it’s now a strong consensus-wisdom. Player B builds a battlefield presence that is fiercer than A’s, C’s or D’s, so A, C and D band together to stop B from winning the game, eliminating B. The powers of B’s deck are very unlikely to overcome that of the other three decks, which each get to use their mana and attack B every turn cycle. Therefore, it would seem that ‘appearing to be the threat’ is pretty much a ‘death sentence’, or if not, at least is likely going to cause multiple players to put you in their crosshairs.

One clear tactic to try and avoid this is to hold onto your powerful cards as long as possible. However, if this reduces you to deliberately ‘doing nothing’ (or very little) turn after turn, then there are likely consequences such as ‘falling too far behind’ or being unable to defend yourself should an opponent unleash a devastating move on you. You can immediately see that employing this tactic could often create a dilemma – play spells and look threatening, or play nothing/very little and fall behind. Below are a couple of ways my deck tries to address it.

Low power mode

The low number (depending on how much you agree with me) of egregious cards in the deck means that it straightaway minimises the potential to be called out as ‘the threat’. Few cards ‘need’ to be held onto, which increases the likelihood of being able to continue to play spells and progress my gameplan, without making my opponents sweat too much about it! Farhaven Elf, Sea Gate Oracle and Solemn Simulacrum are three of many cards in my deck that allow me to continue playing without offending the table too much.

Remember, I have my own personal estimation of what is and isn’t a ‘powerful’ or ‘egregious’ card based on my own experience playing the game. This may differ to yours. It may be worth letting you know that I’ve played against a lot of very powerful decks, so if you are part of a local group of players who are maybe just starting out and haven’t yet got access to powerful cards, you might need to tailor the principles relating to ‘power-level’ to the context of your group.

Attack of the Clones

You’ll notice there are a LOT of Clone effects in my deck. While not strictly a ‘clone-themed’ deck, this is a deliberate design move. Clones provide flexibility being able to generally copy any creature on the battlefield, whether it’s one of my own utility creatures to keep pace with the game, or a stronger creature from my opponent to defend myself effectively. I can also copy very powerful cards that my opponents play, this likely means that you can match their strength and defend myself, but it’s often difficult to be construed as more threatening than them.

2. Damage limitation

Whether it’s permanents destroyed, cards discarded, cards exiled from my graveyard, spells countered, many things in conflict to my gameplan will occur naturally any time I play. Some of these will be deliberate, but there will also be occasions where I suffer casualties as a result of player actions not specifically meant for me. For example: I control two 1/1/s while player C understandably casts Supreme Verdict to get rid of 20 3/3 beast tokens with which player D is threatening to attack her. I inevitably need to commit resources which will be adversely affected during the game, so I need to make sure the loss of invested resource doesn’t set me back too far, otherwise I’ll be neutralised very quickly. Below are three examples of how my deck avoids or stays reslient to the damaging effects of common in-game actions.

Wrath of God effects

When creature board-wipes occur, I’ve probably already regained the value of the resources I’ve just committed given that most creatures I’m playing generate instant value or interact straight away with triggered abilities. In addition, creatures can quite easily be recurred in this deck with Baloth Null or Cavern Harpy and I’ve often got a handful of new ones to deploy! (The key is to not be emotionally attached to any of them).

Purify effects

The deck plays two artifacts and one enchantment, which all often generate value before they meet their end. It’s safe to say that unlike player A who has already committed a Sol Ring, Boros Signet Signet, Worn Powerstone and Luminarch Ascension to the board, I probably won’t be suffering a great deal as a result of Player C’s Fracturing Gust or Akroma’s Vengeance.

Tormod’s Crypt effects

Surely running The Mimeoplasm means that graveyard removal is great against me? It’s sometimes better than nothing, but it has its limitations. There are so many creatures in the deck creating redundancy for important effects that I can often allow something like a Nihil Spellbomb to exile my graveyard and just recur other things that appear in it later on. Being able to recur my own creatures helps give the deck some staying power – but the deck is by no means dependent on it. In addition my Commander can make use of creatures in any graveyard, not just my own.

3. Interacting during games and making them interesting is much more worthwhile than ‘winning’

If I wanted to ‘win’ all the time in this format, I’d definitely be playing more powerful cards like the ones I’ve outlined above. For me, the enjoyment comes from being able to see what others are playing and the game-states they create and interact. My deck is designed almost entirely with this in mind – maximising its chances to meaningfully impact a variety of game-states, which sometimes, but not always, coincides with a path to victory. This is a personal view, not a de facto rule. Playing decks with extremely powerful cards is fine. I just prefer to have as many games as possible that are interactive and promote interesting scenarios and have as few games as possible where I quickly wipe out all opponents with my infinite combo before anything else happens or have multiple players decided I was the threat early on and get taken out having done very little.

What do I mean by ‘interact’? Below are three examples of ways I consider important to be able to interact with opponents during games (the list could go on though). I’ve again applied examples from my deck to demonstrate how it aims to be at least a little resilient to them.

Disenchant effects

I might not be playing many artifacts or enchantments myself, but I can pretty much guarantee that my opponents will be, and some of them are extremely powerful allowing opponents to gain too much advantage too quickly. For example, Mirari’s Wake, Alhammarret’s Archive, Rhystic Study and The Immortal Sun are common examples of why I have plenty of creatures like Acidic Slime and Bane of Progress in my deck.

Dreadbore effects

Your opponents will very likely play creatures that require an answer. For a start, all players are playing a Commander which is almost always a creature. The first ‘creature only’ deck I built was a Blue/Green Momir Vig, Simic Visionary deck. However I quickly realised it lacked enough options to reliably remove creatures. I added black to the mix for cards like Ravenous Chupacabra, Shriekmaw and Demon of Dark Schemes.

Planeswalkers are a bit like versatile artifacts/enchantments which can easily dominate games if unchecked. While some decks have few spells that deal with them, all my spells work to an extent. Meteor Golem can outright deal with them, but the combat phase is my friend here.

Tormod’s Crypt effects (again)

I don’t consider Scavenging Ooze a very flexible card in the format, but this is one thing it does well. Commander provides the potential for a lot of strong graveyard-based synergies, for example decks based around Meren of Clen Nel Toth, Karador, Ghost Chieftan or Glissa, the Traitor. The Mimeoplasm itself also helps a little in this regard too.

It’s not a case of having a huge number of dedicated answers to artifacts and enchantments or graveyard hate. I don’t want to draw them when they don’t apply. Instead, I want to facilitate a high enough likelihood to have them at my disposal when I might need them. The following factors enable this.

Drawing extra cards

The deck has a lot of ways to ‘draw extra cards’ whether it’s a straight-forward Mulldrifter or pseudo card advantage like Courser of Kruphix. This frequently gives you the means to dig for much needed land-drops or the interactive cards you need for various stages in the game.

Hitting land drops

The deck is very good at putting lands into play. For a start, I play 42. The deck doesn’t want to miss land-drops or be too disadvantaged against decks playing Worn Powerstone and other ‘mana rocks’ or cards like Explosive Vegetation. More lands in play provides the opportunity to play multiple spells per turn as early as possible, maximising options to interact. Sakura-Tribe Elder, Yavimaya Grangerand Jadelight Ranger support this need.

Attack of the Clones (again)

Clones add redundancy for any cards in any of the previous five categories and more as long as the current board state is amenable. They also provide ways to interact on the basis of your opponent’s board-state that your own wouldn’t normally. For example, there are no creatures in the deck capable of untapping lands, but if the opponent has a Peregrine Drake on the battlefield, the option is there.

Closing thoughts

You can’t control the decisions other players make, but you can influence the basis on which they might or might not make them and reduce the impact of decided plays that are in conflict with your gameplan. I hope this exploration has provided some inspiration for deck ideas, or at least helped provide some perspectives on how navigating politics between players, maximising your ability to interact and limiting the damage of effects on your resources can lead to a richer gaming experience at the table.

You can find me on Facebook, Twitter (@Chris54154) or at most PPTQs in the North of England, RPTQs, GPs in England and some other large competitive events like Mega Modern and Legacy Masters that arise during the year.

As always, thanks for reading, good luck and have fun in your next game!

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