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Good Day, Commander! Set the Course!

TL;WSIR?

(Too long, why should I read?)

I have no idea what lured you here.

Maybe it was my profile picture with the savage beast on it. Or the dog to its left.

Maybe you like to check out new writers from time to time, as well as the chance to bash them in the comments if they suck.

Or maybe you just like to read some more about Magic Online Commander, the best format available on Magic Online at the moment.

Whatever drew your attention, here’s a few reasons why you should stay and read.

Magic Online Commander 1v1 really has a lot to offer:

Fun

You like Black Lotus, you say? Then you haven’t lived until you chain Selvala, Heart of the Wilds into Phyrexian Dreadnought. And that’s just one of the many interactions this format has to offer. If you liked Frank Karsten’s article about roughly 9,000 creatures hitting the battlefield, then you will find a home, and plenty of nostalgia, in Commander.

Time

I’m working full time and have 2 kids (that’s what ex-Pros do unless they get shipped to Curacao). That doesn’t exactly leave me with lots of time for Magic, though I have to admit that Online Leagues improved that quite a bit already.

And then there’s Commander. Less time per round, and you only play one game per match. I’m playing blue, and half of my matches take less than 10 minutes. That’s a full League during midday nap.

Profit

There’s a lot of affordable budget decks around. Payouts in Online Leagues are very flat, so getting used to a deck and playing it from time to time pays off, without a risk of drowning in entry fees. Without having any idea of the format, I bought my deck for 120 tickets right after they released the format, milked that cow, and beefed her up with a 80% win percentage until she was worth around 300 tix. Then I ended up 2nd in the first Format Challenge Tournament (that concludes the brags in this article, I promise).

Relevance

Why should you even bother playing a format that’s irrelevant on a competitive level? Well, the 1v1 Commander story doesn’t stop online. This kid is just about to learn to walk. Commander is a perfect GP format. Why? Shorter Rounds, magical Christmasland for card stores, it introduces kitchen table players with their beloved format into the tournament scene, and it’s the perfect setup to highlight old cards (since no one cares about Amonkhet Constructed playables anyway). And many more reasons. My prediction: 1v1 Commander GPs starting in 2018. MOCS too.

A Whole New World

I like exploring. I like battlecruising (see title).

Whenever a new format comes out, I love to brainstorm around new ideas. Sometimes I come up with something completely new, but often I pick up existing ideas and try to squeeze the best out of it.

baral,

I started with a budget version of Baral, which I found in a forum and modified a bit (at first, I didn’t understand why Nagging Thoughts should be in a deck like this). The only really expensive card I bought for the deck was Force of Will, which was so incredibly good in this deck—and the format overall—that it was worth every penny.

Budget decks are a huge part of the Magic Online metagame at the moment. You can easily build a competitive deck for 100 tix, as long as you stay mono-colored and skip on the funky mana bases. You can get a quick overview of the metagame by just looking at some 5-0 samples at the Wizards page.

Baral seems to be the most played deck at the moment. I played the following list at the Format Challenge Tournament.

Commander: Baral, Chief of Compliance

Other than that, you come across mono-green ramp builds, Nissa being their favorite Commander, but there were also Titania and Selvala decks. For those with a big purse or a well established MTGO account, there’s the multicolored decks: Tasigur, Leovold, Breya, and Vial Smasher being the most popular. If you’re frowning about Vial Smasher, let me tell you this—partner Commanders are great. They essentially give you access to whatever colors you want to play, as well as an additional card in your starting hand. Free value!

And that’s about it, for the most part. They all lived happily ever after—until…

May 24Strip Mine, Treasure Cruise, and Dig Through Time are banned.

I was a bit disappointed by the bannings. I think the Strip Mine banning was very important in order to generate a healthy and diverse format. But Cruise and Dig are just a drop in the bucket. Sure, they are good, but they’re very replaceable. Baral can just Intuition or Quiet Speculation for Deep Analysis, Flash of Insight, and Think Twice, for a similar effect. Tasigur decks throw their spare graveyard cards into the maw of its hungry Commander. If they wanted to hurt blue, they should have banned Force of Will, Counterspell, and Fact or Fiction too.

To round out the status quo, let’s look at the pillars of the format:

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Good

Blue: Back when I was young, blue was the most popular color in Magic. We haven’t seen lots of blue powerhouses lately, but we do keep the golden memories of the good old days in our hearts. And in our trade binders. If you’re familiar with Legacy or Vintage, you know that library manipulation, countermagic, and card draw is a powerful combination. The same is true here in Commander. Blue also offers two very pricey Commanders with high impact: Baral and baby Jace.

Black: Black offers cheap disruption in the form of discard, the best tutor effects, and decent removal. Removal has the disadvantage of being dead in certain matchups in other formats, but in Commander, you always find a decent target for it (unless you’re playing against Geist of Saint Traft or Ojutai). Combine this with “life for goodies” effects, which are obviously strong with 30 life, and you get a great color.

Green: First, I had green on my “bad” list. But be careful who you call ugly in middle school. Green decks are very popular on Magic Online. I had two reasons to dislike green. First, they don’t interact well with Polymorph, being the trump card of the most popular deck of the metagame. You can easily hate away blue as a color with Cavern of Souls, Prowling Serpopard, Carpet of Flowers, and so on, but you still fall to Big Daddy Cool.

Second, they lack blue library manipulation and black tutors, both of which are glue holding together shaky draws. With green, you can just draw all of your fatties or all of your ramp spells. Your Commander can sort of hold this range together, but you will have to take more mulligans overall than with blue or black decks. And mulligans in a 1-game match hurt a lot!

They can, however, exploit their commander the best—they always have enough mana to even pay an extra 6 mana for them. And with Nissa, you get an upgraded flip version of your Commander for your trouble. Besides Emrakul, green also has the best and fastest threats in the format.

The Bad

Red: Red suffers from the 30 life clause. Sure, it still has some control cards and Splinter Twin/Kiki, but these just don’t shine their brightest in a format full of counters, spot removal, and discard. And the fast Zurgo decks just don’t have a good matchup (besides Leovold, maybe) at the moment, since green overwhelms them, Tasigur with his big butt is just too much to attack through, and Baral often has enough time to stick with counter protection to stabilize.

White: White has Stoneforge Mystic and Swords to Plowshares. It can be a nice support color. But there’s just not enough tools to make a Death and Taxes style deck work in Commander. It also suffers from a lack of tools that smooth your draw, as well as some good spells to interact with your opponent’s plan. More bannings could definitely make white great again.

The Ugly

Tutors: The format is based around limiting players to 1 copy per card. And then they allow tutors, giving you around 4 virtual copies of every silver bullet in the format. That doesn’t feel right. Also, it keeps lots of decks off the tables. Black having tutors for Damnation single-handily destroys White Weenie, tribal decks, and creature synergy overall. Easy access to Cavern of Souls hurts blue decks (which is fine at the moment since there’s just too many of them) in a way that seems unhealthy. Baral having multiple Polymorphs is just a joke. Which leads me to:

 

Polymorph/Emrakul: Magic’s supposed to be fun, optimally for both players. This combination is merely unbeatable for green decks and is on a completely different power level than any other threat in the format. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of this 1-card combo, you know what I’m talking about.

 

Wasteland/Crucible of Worlds/Life from the Loam: At least they removed Strip Mine, which weakened the engine significantly. Still, with the tutors around, this engine works against the interactivity of the game since you can just lock some opponents out of the game.

Tasigur: The only reason this guy isn’t the top played Commander is the fact that his mana base is very expensive. Other than that, he’s probably the best around.

You pay very little for a huge body with a nice ability attached to it, and he doesn’t suffer the extra cost penalty when he dies. In a grindy deck like this, you actually don’t care about Tasigur getting killed or countered. Banning Cruise and Dig doesn’t fix this problem—it makes it even worse since your graveyard resources won’t go elsewhere anyway.

If I were the one to wield the ban hammer, I would banish these ugly engines.

I wouldn’t expect anything about the format to change after the recent bannings. And I expect some new bannings soon enough.

Here’s my updated Baral list:

Commander: Baral, Chief of Compliance

My changes were:

Islands instead of fetches: Without Cruise and Dig, they’re not as important anymore. They still interact well with Brainstorm, Jace, and Ponder, but Scrying Sheets won’t find them.

 

Ancient Tomb instead of Strip Mine: I should have included Ancient Tomb earlier. I try to keep my colorless mana sources to a minimum, but Tomb is just so good in the polymorph turns.

 

Personal Tutor instead of Treasure Cruise:

With green decks on the rise, another possibility for turn-3 Polymorph is just gold. Against most other decks, you can just loot it away with Baral.

 

Blue Sun’s Zenith for Dig Through Time:

I always felt like 2 X-draw spells (Pull and Stroke) were enough to support your late-game needs. Still, this is a fine alternative in the card draw department.

That’s going to do it for today! Feel free to ask in the comments if you want to know more about card choices in my deck, more thoughts on the format, or good advice on how to raise your children and dogs.

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