Hey folks! We’re back for some more Commander knowledge. It’s Pro Tour: Return to Ravnica Theme Week on the mothership, which means… well, not a lot for us. I know some of you are hoping this will lead me to talk about competitive Commander decks, which is almost what I’m going to do.

I’ve played a lot of variant formats in my life, as I think I’ve mentioned in the past, and many of them don’t work with Commander. This variant I’m about to present you with, however, is an actual Commander variant: Pauper Commander!

I don’t know who came up with the idea for this format. It might have been someone online or someone in the CFB offices. Regardless, I’ll be taking a few liberties with the original rules that I think improve them. What I do know, though, is that the format is really fun. The rules are simple, based on those of Commander. The format is designed to be played 1v1, which is why I think it appealed to the competitive types in the business. You can, of course, play it in multiplayer, and if you do, there will be tweaks along the way that will let you do that. Here’s how it works:

- Players may choose any uncommon creature as their Commander. When I say “uncommon,” I mean the card must have been printed as an uncommon at some point ever.

- Decks are built with commons only. Again, this means a card must have been printed at this rarity at least once.

- Each player has 30 life. (Obviously in multiplayer you would revert to 40.)

- A player who takes 16 or more combat damage from a single Commander loses the game. (Banned as Commanders: [card]Shriekmaw[/card], [card]Murderous Redcap[/card], [card]Psychatog[/card], [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card], [card]Eternal Witness[/card], and [card]Invisible Stalker[/card].)

I feel like we had something else banned, but I’m not remembering what it was. Note that the rule about your Commander being an uncommon creature is hard and fast—I initially wanted my Commander to be [card]Cavern Harpy[/card], but since it’s not an uncommon, it can’t be a Commander in this format.

A few quick notes about this format in general and how it plays, before we get into talking about decklists:

Aggro is for real in this format! Commanders like [card]Woolly Thoctar[/card], [card]Watchwolf[/card], and similar are a thing, and you have to be able to deal with that when you build your deck.
The color identity rule in Commander means cards like [card]Esper Battlemage[/card] make really interesting (and good) Commanders.

Combo is also a thing in this format, especially if your Commander gets involved. I’ll get specific about this in a minute.

[card]Ulamog's Crusher[/card] seems to be one of the premier finishers. Annihilator is ridiculous.

Ramp is still important, but it’s refreshing that it’s not as insane as it is in regular-style Commander. Signets, [card]Rampant Growth[/card] effects, and the like are pretty great.

A special note about combo: my friend Brent built an [card]Izzet Guildmage[/card] deck that had a sweet infinite combo in it. It turns out that if you splice a [card]Desperate Ritual[/card] onto a [card]Lava Spike[/card] and then copy that Spike over and over again with Izzet Guildmage, you can just blast your opponent for as much damage as you want. It takes a bit of work, and you have to survive and keep your Guildmage in play, but if you can do it, you’re likely to win.

The first deck I built in this format was a [card]Goblin Recruiter[/card] deck. I’m not sure if Recruiter is bannable as a Commander, but it’s definitely close—being able to stack my deck and ensure that I draw gas for the rest of the game is pretty insane, and being able to do it multiple times (since there are plenty of ways to sacrifice the Recruiter) is even more insane. The deck is currently undefeated, but it’s pretty boring (pile of Goblins, burn spells), so I won’t bother you with the list.

Instead, since it’s Pro Tour: Return to Ravnica Theme Week, I figure we can pick an awesome uncommon creature from Return to Ravnica and build a deck with it! We did a Selesnya deck recently, so we’ll stay away from that, and our next theme week is Azorius week, so we’ll skip that as well. Let’s give this one a shot:

Korozda Guildmage

[draft]Korozda Guildmage[/draft]

Not only does Korozda Guildmage give things intimidate (possibly including itself for awesome Commander damage shenanigans), but it also makes piles of tokens in response to removal spells. Let’s get to work finding awesome cards to put in this deck, focusing on Return to Ravnica and, of course, the original Ravnica for some thematic Golgari-style inspiration! We’ll also be visiting Apocalypse, so get out that time machine and get ready to throw down with this enemy-color monstrosity.

Golgari Rot Farm, Golgari Guildgate, Golgari Signet, Command Tower

[draft]Golgari Rot Farm
Golgari Guildgate
Golgari Signet
Command Tower[/draft]

Some mana fixing never hurts, and this is a great place to start. These are some pretty classic fixers that should be in a G/B deck in this format no matter what.

Rampant Growth, Cultivate, Kodama’s Reach, Mwonvuli Acid-Moss, Reap and Sow

[draft]Rampant Growth
Cultivate
Kodama's Reach
Mwonvuli Acid-Moss
Reap and Sow[/draft]

Here’s some awesome fixing/ramp stuff. This is green/black, and green means we’ll want to be able to cast large things. Make sure you can hit your high drops! Being able to blow up their lands a little bit doesn’t hurt either, and Acid-Moss and Reap and Sow help us with that one. Reap and Sow can go get us a Command Tower, even!

Gatecreeper Vine, Civic Wayfinder, Borderland Ranger, Elves of Deep Shadow, Llanowar Elves, Arbor Elf, Overgrown Battlement, Krosan Tusker, Llanowar Dead, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Yavimaya Elder

[draft]Gatecreeper Vine
Civic Wayfinder
Borderland Ranger
Elves of Deep Shadow
Llanowar Elves
Arbor Elf
Overgrown Battlement
Krosan Tusker
Llanowar Dead
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Yavimaya Elder[/draft]

This is a decent creature-based ramp/fixing package. [card]Sylvan Ranger[/card] didn’t make the cut in this list—it was supplanted by [card]Gatecreeper Vine[/card], who can also go get our [card golgari guildgate]Guildgate[/card]. [card]Krosan Tusker[/card] doubles as a late-game beater should we draw it when we no longer need a lot more land.

Fierce Empath

[draft]Fierce Empath[/draft]

This card is an all-star in this format. It lets us pick and choose which crazy beaters we want to finish the game with. Anything with CMC 6+ is on the menu, so grab [card]Ulamog's Crusher[/card] or [card]Hand of Emrakul[/card] and go crazy! Give one of those creatures intimidate and you’ll be well on your way to winning. You can also go get [card]Krosan Tusker[/card] if you need to find some land.

Ulamog's Crusher, Terrus Wurm, Krosan Tusker, Thundering Tanadon, Moss Kami, Pathbreaker Wurm, Hand of Emrakul, Siege Wurm

[draft]Ulamog's Crusher
Terrus Wurm
Krosan Tusker
Thundering Tanadon
Moss Kami
Pathbreaker Wurm
Hand of Emrakul
Siege Wurm[/draft]

This is our Fierce Empath package. Most are just heavy hitters, but a few get a bit tricky. Krosan Tusker, as I mentioned above, can help you hit your next land drop. Siege Wurm and Thundering Tanadon can both come down on turn 4 after you play the Empath even if you don’t have any acceleration, so if you want to start beating down, this is a good way to do it. Terrus Wurm is a great card to sacrifice to Korozda Guildmage for a pile of Saprolings when it’s about to die, since you can then scavenge it up onto a different nontoken creature and later sacrifice that for even more Saprolings! Note that Moss Kami is strictly better than Giant Warthog because it’s immune to [card]Rend Flesh[/card]. (That started out as a joke and became an actual strategy statement. Weird.)

Drudge Beetle, Korozda Monitor, Sluiceway Scorpion, Terrus Wurm, Shambling Shell

[draft]Drudge Beetle
Korozda Monitor
Sluiceway Scorpion
Terrus Wurm
Shambling Shell[/draft]

Pumping your creatures is pretty great, especially when you can sacrifice them to Korozda Guildmage. These are all also great creatures to sac to the Guildmage, since they do things from the graveyard.

Brainspoil

[draft]Brainspoil[/draft]

Brainspoil’s not a bad removal spell, but it’s also a great way to get your [card]Golgari Rotwurm[/card] should you have lots of Saprolings to fire off at your opponent. I couldn’t find more awesome 5-drops to combo with it, sadly. Perhaps you can!

Grim Harvest

[draft]Grim Harvest[/draft]

Not only does this play out of the graveyard (and therefore play well with our dredgers), it’s a repeatable [card]Raise Dead[/card], which helps us win long games where we lose our big creatures to removal. Just don’t forget about it or it’ll be gone!

Grisly Salvage

[draft]Grisly Salvage[/draft]

This deck has enough cards that play out of the graveyard that we can probably include this. Maybe we should pump up the graveyard theme—I’m not 100% sure that we have enough stuff that works with it. What else should we use?

That’s enough chatter—let’s get to the decklist!

Commander: Korozda Guildmage

Creatures:
[card]Arbor Elf[/card]
[card]Borderland Ranger[/card]
[card]Civic Wayfinder[/card]
[card]Drudge Beetle[/card]
[card]Elves of Deep Shadow[/card]
[card]Elvish Skysweeper[/card]
[card]Fierce Empath[/card]
[card]Gatecreeper Vine[/card]
[card]Golgari Rotwurm[/card]
[card]Gravedigger[/card]
[card]Hand of Emrakul[/card]
[card]Korozda Monitor[/card]
[card]Krosan Tusker[/card]
[card]Llanowar Dead[/card]
[card]Llanowar Elves[/card]
[card]Mold Shambler[/card]
[card]Moss Kami[/card]
[card]Nantuko Husk[/card]
[card]Overgrown Battlement[/card]
[card]Pathbreaker Wurm[/card]
[card]Phyrexian Rager[/card]
[card]Sakura-Tribe Elder[/card]
[card]Shambling Shell[/card]
[card]Siege Wurm[/card]
[card]Sluiceway Scorpion[/card]
[card]Stinkweed Imp[/card]
[card]Terrus Wurm[/card]
[card]Thundering Tanadon[/card]
[card]Ulamog's Crusher[/card]
[card]Wickerbough Elder[/card]
[card]Yavimaya Elder[/card]

Enchantments:
[card]Seal of Doom[/card]
[card]Stab Wound[/card]

Artifacts:
[card]Adventuring Gear[/card]
[card]Bonesplitter[/card]
[card]Golgari Signet[/card]
[card]Kitesail[/card]
[card]Leonin Scimitar[/card]
[card]Vulshok Morningstar[/card]

Instants:
[card]Chill to the Bone[/card]
[card]Consume Strength[/card]
[card]Dark Banishing[/card]
[card]Doom Blade[/card]
[card]Grim Harvest[/card]
[card]Grisly Salvage[/card]
[card]Last Gasp[/card]
[card]Murder[/card]
[card]Naturalize[/card]
[card]Relic Crush[/card]
[card]Rend Flesh[/card]
[card]Snuff Out[/card]
[card]Terror[/card]

[card]Sorceries:[/card]
[card]Assasinate[/card]
[card]Befoul[/card]
[card]Bone Splinters[/card]
[card]Brainspoil[/card]
[card]Cultivate[/card]
[card]Kodama's Reach[/card]
[card]Mwonvuli Acid-Moss[/card]
[card]Rampant Growth[/card]
[card]Reap and Sow[/card]
[card]Sign in Blood[/card]

Lands:
17 [card]Forest[/card]
15 [card]Swamp[/card]
[card]Barren Moor[/card]
[card]Command Tower[/card]
[card]Golgari Guildgate[/card]
[card]Golgari Rot Farm[/card]
[card]Tranquil Thicket[/card]

That’s it for today! What cool Pauper Commander decks can you come up with? Shoot me an email at ericlevine@channelfireball.com with your decklist—I’ll spotlight the best submission in my next article. Next week we’re themeless again, so you’ll be subject to my whim. Who knows—I may even talk about competitive Commander! (Remember, the end of the article is where I lie to you!

-Eric Levine
ericlevine@channelfireball.com
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