If you haven’t been following Master of Bargains Kristen Gregory’s weekly column detailing ways to maximise your margins in Commander games through smart card choices, I highly recommend tuning in! It’s certainly provided me with some inspiration and tips to improve my own decks and try out new things. Her articles have also got me thinking about the kinds of things I want to make sure I have in my decks. In this article, I’m going to provide a bit of a case study of how I’ve applied some of the themes discussed in her series of articles in my deckbuilding. In doing so, I hope to provide a bit of context to add to the headline messages delivered by each weekly column, as well as showcase some new deck ideas and recount some sweet plays that may provide all you Commander players with yet more food for thought.
Trying out such a varied spread of ideas required me to build new decks. I’ve really enjoyed playing my Sultai “creatures-only deck” and my Archangel Avacyn Boros Legion deck; however, in order to ensure I could test a sufficient range of ideas in a variety of scenarios, new decks were necessary. To this end, I decided I would build five Mono-coloured decks. At the time of writing, there has only been opportunity to construct and play games with three of them, so expect another article of this type in the near future covering how these ideas have been applied in the remaining decks!
Before I introduce the decks, I want to do two things. Firstly, I want to highlight the main themes covered in the weekly budget articles that I will focus on in the rest of the article. Secondly, I want to showcase what I’m calling a core of Colourless All-stars, which you might see make multiple appearances in the three decks.
Themes from the budget articles
The first Commander Budget article homed in on Desert synergies that could be leveraged by including Scavenger Grounds and its friends. Lands with such powerful abilities are effectively spells when you need them to be, but don’t take up a nonland slot in your deck and also contribute to a strong manabase to cast actual spells when their utility is less relevant. The article itself provides a more in-depth take and a rationale for using lands like these to maximise your margins.
While Kristen’s article mainly explores improving your ability to draw extra cards, it’s important to understand that there’s a wider concept of ‘card advantage’ I might refer to frequently, and ‘drawing extra cards’ is only one way to obtain card advantage. Having access to more cards, or ‘keeping the gas going,’ is a fundamental element of deckbuilding in almost all Magic formats, particularly in multiplayer Commander, where games are expected to go a bit longer. Mask of Memory completely stole the show – and for good reason!
Ramp is essentially the ‘Yang’ to the ‘Ying’ of card draw when it comes to Commander fundamentals. Drawing more cards and having more options will only be of limited use to you if your ability to use those options is constrained by your mana, and so having more available is key. It’s very common in multiplayer Commander games for players to concentrate on ‘ramping’ in the first few turns of the game to ‘set up’ their deck’s gameplan. Sword of the Animist had its day in the sun, though many other ways to put extra lands into play also feature in the article.
For when things are getting out of hand, or for times when one player has a commanding position on the battlefield. I go into every game of Commander with the expectation that things are very likely to spiral ‘out of control,’ and more often to my detriment than my benefit. Therefore, spells which remove multiple problematic permanents at once and even the odds are almost essential for any deck. It’s worth noting that some colours are obviously better positioned to utilize boardwipes than others based on their available options. Board wipes and their aftermaths feature in two of Kristen’s articles, both including a range of ideas in all of the five colours to help you: 1. Wipe the board, and 2. Stay ahead when the board is being wiped. For the simplicity of structuring the paragraphs in this article, I’ll list them together.
This is a potential taboo subject in ‘casual Magic.’ However, as the budget article explains, the shrewd use of land destruction can help you deal with opposing troublemakers like Cabal Coffers (especially in combination with Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth) or Gaea’s Cradle. The budget article showcases the ‘Strip Mine family’ of cards as well as a range of spells in each colour to improve your options when attempting to deal with pesky lands.
Colourless All-Stars (CAS)
The following cards contribute to one or more of these themes and make up a core of cards that you’ll see in each of the mono-coloured decks. I’ve also included some cards which contribute to themes not yet covered in our weekly budget column (panic not, there could be a future budget article on these themes in the future!).
Scour from Existence can also exile lands, but it’s obviously being played for other reasons.
In this section, I’ll share the decks I’ve built using the themes discussed above. Each embodies the fundamental aspects of their colour identities and feature the CAS cards. While justifications for every card in the list would make for a horribly lengthy article (and I want to save our Editor some sanity), I’m instead going to focus in on some (but not all) of the cards in each deck that address the aforementioned themes, and I’ll also highlight where I’ve significantly deviated from said themes, often due to a matter of differing taste (or simply the fact that I’m not building on a budget).
Mono-Green – Nissa, Vastwood Seer
Desert of the Indomitable and Hashep Oasis allow us to pump our creatures by +3/+3 and combine with Scavenger Grounds when graveyard hate is required. Given the inclusion of Ramunap Excavator in the deck, there’s scope for multiple uses of each. It’s a shame my Commander isn’t the best at combat, otherwise the Oasis synergy could have provided a real win condition! Khalni Garden and Treetop Village marginally build on the deck’s offensive and defensive capabilities without using up a nonland slot.
I’m likely to rely most on Beast Whisperer, Tireless Tracker, and Shamanic Revelation in games where I need to keep the foot firmly on the gas. I’d like to also mention that while not quite ‘card draw icons,’ some creatures like Foul Emissary, Duskwatch Recruiter, and Nessian Game Warden are very effective at making sure the deck doesn’t run dry.
This is one of the things you’d expect a mono green Commander deck to do well. I must confess, I really don’t like playing cards like Rampant Growth, Kodama’s Reach, or even Explosive Vegetation. They do their job well, but I like to get even more out of my cards! While it’s not their primary role to chump block that 21/21 Omnath, Locus of Mana or pressure a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria that’s low on loyalty, cards like Sakura-Tribe Elder, Wood Elves, and Farhaven Elf can actually do these things if they need to, as well as being functional ‘ramp spells.’ They can also be recurred or ‘found’ with some of the above cards in the ‘card draw’ paragraph or Green Sun’s Zenith. Ok, you’ve caught me, I do have an Hour of Promise in my deck, which can’t attack or block or be tutored for, but given it can get ANY two lands, and I have the chance to live the dream of making some zombies, I’ve decided to try it out!
In one of the games I’ve played with the deck, I did feel like I got a flavour win when Nissa, Vastwood Seer picked up the Sword of the Animist and charged into what seemed like certain death against a bunch of large creatures with deathtouch. Her doom was certain, but the sword trigger got the seventh land allowing her to ignite her spark and become Nissa, Sage Animist. In this deck, I think the sword is more a myth than a hit. Being green, the deck has plenty of ways to ramp, so Sword feels more like ‘flavour fun’ in this deck than anything else.
Not exactly a strength of mono green decks. As well as All is Dust, I’ve included Hurricane as a way to stamp out pesky flyers, or ‘burn’ opponents out of the game. I would play Whiptongue Hydra, but I don’t yet own one. It’s true I could have bolstered the CAS package with something like Oblivion Stone, however, my overriding feeling is that I’d like to just accept green is rubbish at destroying creatures and capitalise on being a creature-centric deck, embracing the challenge of leaving dealing with problematic creatures to the other players at the table. In terms of Artifacts and Enchantments, Bane of Progress and Creeping Corrosion are the main ways the deck has to ‘Mass Naturalize’.
This deck runs Acidic Slime, Brutalizer Exarch, and World Breaker as its main ways to deal with troublesome lands, supported by the CAS cards. These all double up as Naturalize effects with legs (and arms! And weird… Ooze… tentacles?). Exarch is particularly useful as it can ‘tutor’ for a creature when the table is devoid of any high-priority noncreature threats.
Mono-white – Archangel Avacyn
Shefet Dunes allows me to improve my combat steps through desert synergy, as there’s a high number of creatures in the deck with flying, including Avacyn herself. One thing worth noting is that Avacyn, the Purifier requires four attack steps minimum to take down an opponent with Commander damage, but the Dunes (and Rustic Clachan) reduce this to three. I’ve also added some lands that have single-use effects to provide some marginal gain or repeatable effects to help grind through longer games. Unfortunately, Sun Titan is my only way to recur lands in the deck, so I’ll have to use these powers wisely or sparingly (or both!).
There aren’t many white cards in the deck that draw me cards, other than maybe Palace Jailer, but that’s being played primarily for its ability to remove creatures. This deck relies a lot more on other forms of card advantage to accrue/maintain a supply of cards over time, rather than specific cards to provide a temporary boost. I must confess, this is how I generally prefer to play games of multiplayer Commander, more as a marathon than a sprint.
When you consider that the power of Knight of the White Orchid, Kor Cartographer, and the newly-printed Smothering Tithe is bolstered by the CAS package, the deck can ramp almost as much and as efficiently as a Green deck! I like Sword of the Animist in this deck because there are a lot of fliers which allows me to fetch lands without risking my creatures. It also lets me elevate Avacyn, the Purifier to seven power! Smothering Tithe is a bit of a ‘must kill’ for your opponents. I’m having my fun with it at the moment, but it may soon become one of those cards I just refuse to include in multiplayer Commander decks. It almost always gets out of hand!
This is something white is well positioned to do. We have Cleansing Nova, Sunblast Angel, and Myojin of Cleansing Fire as basic creature-based board wipes, each providing a bit more utility by being able to attack, block, or be more easily recurred. The Dusk half of Dusk // Dawn can potentially refill our hand later on, and on some boards can be a Plague Wind. In the second budget article covering boardwipes, there was a comparison between Angel of the Dire Hour and Settle the Wreckage. You’ll see I’ve opted for the ‘lower value’ or ‘worse’ option here, but this is more likely due to differences in my personal taste – and I’m not fussed about being ‘wrong’ here – I just find four mana to be much more manageable (and slightly less obvious) to hold up than seven. Yes, I’ll end up giving my opponents some lands and won’t have a recurrable 5/4, but the jig is up when that 5/4 trick has been seen before!
I’m not really an Armageddon kind of player. I’ve played Cataclysm exactly once before and could only minimise the amount of social currency I burned by ending the game really quickly. I personally don’t mind spells like these being cast, but I choose not to cast them myself. I’ve merely stuck with the CAS package for this one, so not having many ways to interrupt Cabal Coffers + Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth or Gaea’s Cradle is definitely a weak spot.
Mono-blue – Nezahal, Primal Tide
So my Desert synergy here is most likely going to be fuelling Scavenger Grounds, but Ipnu Rivulet does give me an option to increase my wins through Psychic Spiral! While not strictly a Wizards deck or Artifact deck, I expect Riptide Laboratory and Academy Ruins to be relevant every now and then. The latter can really assist in recurring the CAS cards should there be a need.
We’re supposed to be good at this, and with Opportunity, Search for Azcanta, and Blue Sun’s Zenith (and the Elder Dino themselves) we’re off to a flying start! I’ve supported these bigger hitters with more marginal effects like Mulldrifter, Raven Familiar, and Sea Gate Oracle. The deck is full of Clone effects so I can make use of my opponent’s creatures that might let me draw even more cards! Clones are great, and with great versatility comes great variety – if your opponent’s creatures are really powerful, you get to use them too!
Other than transforming Search for Azcanta, the deck relies fairly heavily on using Clone effects to copy our opponents’ ramp creatures and the CAS package (remember, the Ixalan Artifacts transform into extra lands too!). The card draw helps us reliably hit our land drops, but that’s not really ‘ramp’ per se.
All is Dust is supported by Scourge of Fleets and Cyclonic Rift. Kederekt Leviathan is a more holistic solution to problematic boards than the Scourge; however, when I want to turn the tables and close out a game, the Scourge hitting only my opponent’s creatures helps Nezehal to get in three times for the kill!
Riftwing Cloudskate and Venser, Shaper Savant complement the CAS package. While not hard answers to problematic lands, sometimes turning them off for a turn can make the difference. For example, if the opponent has already played a land and has more than seven cards in hand, returning Reliquary Tower to their hand in their end step with Venser can be brutal. I’m also considering adding Annex to the deck (which also ramps too)!
I didn’t play Mask of Memory
I don’t dispute the card is good at what it does, and I agree with the well-made points in the budget article. However, I’m personally not a fan. In fact, I’m not really a fan of equipment generally. This mainly stems from my desire to engage in combats only when really necessary and as sparingly as possible. Most equipment slants you towards doing the opposite and makes your creatures (and you) look more threatening. Yes, I’m running Dowsing Dagger in some of the decks, but this requires only a single combat step to provide some benefit, and the payoff of it transforming into Lost Vale is often going to be worth the political backlash of attacking someone. In addition, the mask requires you to actually connect with an opponent before you can start drawing extra cards, something someone with no blockers could prevent with removal. Compare this to Sword of the Animist, which only requires you to attack. Opponents might be ok with you running your 2/3 into their 0/4 or ‘suiciding’ a creature into their blockers, but as soon as you threaten their health total they become far more apprehensive, regardless of how large the dent in their life total would be.
Land destruction is important
I really would like to echo the importance of the messages raised in Kristen’s articles. Striking the balance between running enough answers to lands and running too many is more of an art than a science – make sure to avoid becoming a land destruction fiend to prevent the loss of all your social currency. In a recent game I played, my fellow Master of Bargains Kristen Gregory found her strategy of suiting up an angel with multiple pieces of equipment very much at the mercy of a Spires of Orazca and Kor Haven controlled by the other players when she didn’t manage to draw into her own land destruction cards. This is an example of another situation in which land destruction comes in handy (so I don’t have to keep shaming Coffers + Urborg). I’d posit that the easiest way to ensure you have a suitable number of answers to opponent’s lands (at least in most decks – maybe not a five colour deck) would be to include some members of the ‘Strip Mine family’ in your land base. I personally opt for Tectonic Edge, Field of Ruin, and Ghost Quarter. Strip Mine and Wasteland themselves are obviously way more efficient, but the option to fix your own colours and help the table out by ramping everyone in the case of Field of Ruin keeps things interesting. If I somehow set up a bit of a loop in the green or blue decks, Tectonic Edge keeps me more honest than it’s ‘bigger brothers’ would.
I don’t like ‘mana rocks’ in this format
As I touched on in the budget article, mana rocks are a good way to accelerate your mana but are far more fragile. I personally avoid them when building my decks – to me their fragility outweighs their advantages. They take up valuable spell slots in your 99 (or more likely 59, as you should usually run around 40 lands… right?) and they often just get caught in the crossfire of that Bane of Progress or Cleansing Nova that needed to happen to stop a certain player from stealing the game. You’ll see that I run very few (if any) mana rocks in most of my Commander decks – not even Sol Ring! I prefer to try and hit my land drops each turn instead.
Hopefully, I’ve managed to demonstrate how the approaches detailed in Monday’s articles can be implemented in an effective way when building your Commander deck. Thanks for sticking with me, as it was a pretty long one – I hope it has provided you with some more deckbuilding ideas!
In my article next week, I’m going to revisit competitive Standard as I talk in more depth about the decks I’ve been playing.
Then, slightly further into the future, and as mentioned earlier in this article, I’m going to conduct a similar exercise to today’s with a mono-black and mono-red deck. The colourless all-stars will be back, possibly with some new additions, and the budget article series may bring more themes into which I will tap.
You can find me on Facebook and Twitter @Chris54154, feel free to hit me up with any of your thoughts! I’ll also be at 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!