Welcome back everyone, and I hope the holidays are treating you well. Personally, I’m trying my best to enjoy them through the miserable weather in Upstate New York, which has relegated me to many many hours indoors with my Xbox. Fortunately, I asked for Xbox games this year, and my family obliged. Blessings in disguise, etc.
Last time, we discussed the Commander staples in colorless, blue, green, and black. I’ll be getting to the remaining colors, as well as multicolor in a moment, but first I’d like to address a few of the comments from the last article.
Many of you were saying that by creating a list of staples, I’m taking the fun out of deckbuilding in Commander. That in a three color deck, if you use ten of each of these cards, along with a basic manabase, you’re only looking at 20 cards (or fewer) that are available to use as customization. While this can be true, it’s absolutely not the intent of this list. Yes, there are decks around that are comprised of a bunch of powerful cards that are trying to suck the fun out by winning every game. Some of them play a lot of these cards. That does not mean that by listing them, I’m creating a cheat sheet for Spike to come ruin your home games. The intent of this list is to give those players who are just getting into Commander an idea of what kinds of cards work. I’ve logged hundreds, probably thousands of hours in Commander, and I’m using that experience to help those who aren’t interested in digging through gatherer sorted by color to try and come up with something that resembles a deck. It also gives them an idea of the kind of cards they can expect their opponents to play, to give them some preparation before jumping headfirst into making mistakes based on inexperience.
The second comment that seemed to be a common thread had to do (either directly or indirectly) with the price of the cards I’d listed in my staples. There are a few responses to this. First, good cards are good cards. Yes, Jace is an expensive addition to your pool of playables. No, this is not a bad thing. If you don’t want to play with it, then don’t. It’s not going to make your day any worse for not having access to one card out of 100. To illustrate this point, I’ll mention that while I’m playing my set of Sensei’s Divining Tops in my Legacy deck, I often run a 99 card Commander deck, and never notice the difference. By its nature, Commander is intended to be a format where your games have a certain amount of variance. Good cards like Jace are both powerful and allow you to minimize an amount of that variance by seeing more cards, but they are easily replaced by other options, and aren’t so overpowered that seeing one across the table means instant death. As far as cards like Jace, Overwhelming Forces, Imperial Seal, etc., are concerned, feel free to not play them, and don’t consider it a sacrifice in deck strength to do so. Not every deck plays every one of these cards. That’s the entire point.
On the other hand, if you really want to experience what the deck feels like with every card you want to play, discuss the idea of using proxies with your play group. My own group has a rather liberal policy themselves – we generally play with entire decks made up of printed slips of paper before we invest any time or money into building. That’s not to say we don’t eventually get the cards – more of us have decks entirely foiled out than paper decks at this point – but there’s nothing wrong with testing a card or two out before you drop a bunch of money on it. The Cube we’re most likely to use is 750 cards that are 100% proxied, to cut our costs for creating the cube down to nearly zero. It also means there is less emotional attachment to cards that are no longer pulling their weight. Irrational as it may be, you’re much less likely to cut a foil card from your deck than a proxy.
Alright, since the majority of the comments were positive, I’ll leave it at that. Thanks for letting me know what you thought of the last list, and keep the comments coming! On to the rest of the staples!
White has a few excellent abilities that are present in other colors, but at which White excels. It’s kind of become the “we do it too” color, delving into counterspells, cantrips, token making, artifact/enchantment removal, and mass destruction. Here are some ideas of the kind of things you can do with white cards.
One for one, or slightly better, these spells are necessary to keep pace with your opponents’ early game. Cards like Swords and Path are obviously great at cutting off recursion engines. The others are simply efficient ways to answer problematic permanents. Oust is a relatively new addition that gets added for the same reason as Oblation – the ability to put a general into the library.
BLOW. STUFF. UP. That’s what these are for. White has arguably the best sweepers in the game, and the players choosing a white base are not lacking in options for which to play. Austere Command in particular can be devastating if modes are chosen properly, and has a tendency to take at least one player completely out of the game. Martial Coup has the added bonus of making you the only player with guys in play. Hallowed Burial and Final Judgment negate graveyard shenanigans, although Burial has the added bonus of putting generals out of reach.
Some play groups frown on Armageddon effects, and consider them to be unfun. It’s up to your group to decide if these fall within the allowable limits of your competition level, or if they’re outside your social agreements.
Yes, I understand the can of worms that statement opens. I’ll say this – I don’t particularly enjoy Armageddon effects in casual play. There has been a large amount of even heated debate in our group on whether or not land destruction is something we’re interested in allowing. Right now, we’re adhering strictly to the banned list on mtgCommander.net, but there were times when we’ve decided to disallow the effects.
These, along with a number of similar non-creature spells, are the goods. White has a number of strong planeswalkers, and a number of taxing effects that can slow your opponents down drastically. Speaking of taxing, Land Tax is excellent in Commander, providing a constant flow of card advantage for those able to translate the lands into real cards through effects like Scroll Rack, or even by simply ensuring you hit land drops. This is the one format where Tax is both legal and relevant, so its no surprise to see it in many base white (or even marginally white) lists.
This card gets its own section. Decree is the best at doing something white is very, very strong in – creating a plethora of tokens. There are a bunch of cards that do this – Mobilization, Kjeldoran Outpost, etc, but Decree’s uncounterablilty, instant speed, and cantrip secure it as by far the strongest. Many white decks have an underlying theme of either Soldiers, tokens, or both and can point to this card as a major reason why.
White has a multitude of extremely strong legendary creatures that can either singlehandedly win a game, or put it completely out of reach for the opponent. Iona has caused at least one card to hit the banned list (Painter’s Servant), but even without Painter, has the annoying effect of shutting off entire portions of your deck. Felidar Sovereign, due to the starting life total in the format, has a tendency to win games out of nowhere, and is one of the most likely creatures to die before it’s controller can untap with it. Akroma is Akroma. She does everything.
Paired with these legendary guys, you’ll often see cards like these:
Surprisingly, white is nearly as good as black at returning things from your graveyard to play. When these things are giant monsters that swing games around, it’s difficult to keep up with the recursion forever. Loyal Retainers, while carrying a hefty price tag, is at its best in the white Commander deck, with plenty of options for it to commit seppuku.
Along with the Legends, white has a long list of solid non-legendary creatures that can provide all kinds of advantage. Eternal Dragon is basically as close to a must-include as you can get, since it acts as an early game fetchland that gets both Alpha and Ravnica dual lands, and late game becomes a serious threat. Serra Ascendant holds the notable honor of being the only card in the game that was nearly pre-banned in Commander. As a 5/5 Flying Lifelink for 1, it seems basically unbeatable on turn one, and in heads-up play it almost always is, but in a multiplayer format it is often dead before anyone can really be taken out by it, and makes the person who played it the number one threat. Martyr is broken (well, as broken as lifegain can ever be) when paired with cards like Lifeline, and has a tendency to put your life out of reach without an effect like Sorin Markov, or general Damage doing you in.
Another card with its own category. This will make you zero friends, but sometimes its just what you need to do to stay in the game. As this is a format largely comprised of giant creatures running into each other, making your opponents (and yourself) play with a bunch of over-costed Memnites seems like a dirty way to make business. On the other hand, the white deck is the most adept at creating swarms of 1/1 dorks, so it stands to reason you’d like to have them able to win in a fight once in a while.
Red is a complicated color to create a staple list for, as all of the decks that use red are very different, and each thing that red does is very, very separate from other things. For example, I wouldn’t consider running Goblin Recruiter in a deck that isn’t going to run 30+ goblins, but I wouldn’t run a Goblin deck without it. I wouldn’t run Wildfire in every red deck, but there are certain red decks that would consider it an absolute necessity. The one thing I can say without a doubt is that Red’s most well known slice of the color pie – burn – is almost completely irrelevant in Commander, as the high life totals, multiple opponents, and large creatures all combine to make the direct damage plan inefficient. Unless, of course, you’re throwing arbitrarily large valued Fireballs at the table.
One thing red does right is blowing up artifacts. Shatterstorm is one of my all-time favorite cards, and one that hasn’t seen play… well, ever. It’s too bad, really, because it can be devastating against the right deck (cough Affinity cough). More often, you’ll see cards like Chewer and Heretic doing the damage, as they have the added effect of being creatures and attacking when necessary. Heretic in particular is excellent, as it has an effect even when indestructible artifacts are in play.
These two have caused more players to throw their hands in frustration than any other red cards. Punish your opponent for being lazy in building their manabase, and turn all their lands into mush. Very often, these cards have little to no impact on the red mage, but can completely take the opponent out of the game.
These are the end-all, be-all reset buttons. Often, for one reason or another, the red mage will position themselves to be far, far ahead once these type of spells resolve. This usually comes through some sort of personalized “Mana Flare” effect like Gauntlet of Might, or perhaps they’ve just prepared by holding back lands. Once these type of spells hit, it’s often just a matter of time before the red mage mops up the board.
The type of burn that works. These guys have the advantage of being creature removal and threat in one tight package. Whether the damage is repeatable or not, often they can put you ahead far enough to use their bulk to finish an opponent off.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It’s also a heck of a way to get ahead in a game of Magic. When paired with your opponents draw spells or removal, Reiterate can be a card advantage engine alike no other. When targeting a Time Stretch, Wild Ricochet feels like the second coming. These spells get better as your opponents play better spells, so the more competitive your playgroup, the more value you’ll find in these type of effects. Kiki-Jiki and the ilk are obviously more exciting when played on cards like the group above, where strong enters-the-battlefield triggers will create large advantages.
As I said above, red more than any color is completely dependent on the theme or strategy of the deck you’re playing to take the most advantage of what it has to offer. Here’s a list of a mono-red Godo, Bandit Warlord deck piloted by Bryant Cook in our local metagame as an example of a synergistic mono-color build that has a tendency to win more games than it loses. This deck is on the high end of the competition vs. fun scale, so take this list with a heavy dose of salt. I’ve broken this up into several sections for ease of reading, but it’s all one deck.
I’m not even certain the best way to break this down into color combinations, so I’ll run out a list of cards I wouldn’t leave home without, and we can argue about what hasn’t been put on the list till the cows come home. Deep breath, and go…
As well as Crime//Punishment.
Apologies for the long list without explanation, but this was actually a pretty awful list to come up with. I believe I hit most of the major highlights of each color, but intentionally left off all of the legendary creatures, as they’re generally used as generals (no pun intended), and not as often seen in maindecks.
Hopefully, you’ve gotten something out of this pair of articles – whether it be a new idea for a deck, or a new card to put into your existing deck. As Commander begins to take off over the next few months, we can look forward to the list of players bitten by the EDH bug to continue to grow, and they’ll need to start somewhere. Remember, their fun today means your fun tomorrow, and be certain to send them here if they’re looking for ideas.
Next week I’d like to go over my strategy for deciding which general belongs at the head of my deck. If you’ve had any trouble with that, be sure to tune in. Until then, have a great week, and I’ll see you next year! As always, remember – keep your stick on the ice!