Commander 2017 previews start this week and I am stoked to see what goodies we get. Whatever type of EDH you play, there are always sweet cards for a variety of formats printed in the supplemental Commander products. In case you forgot, here are just a few examples:
Being more geared toward tribal synergies, I would surmise that these Commander decks would lean to the casual side of things. This would be a huge 180-degree swing from the 2016 Commander product that contained the “spikiest” cards yet. I believe these annual products are some of the best Wizards produces each year, and I highly recommend picking one up if you haven’t already.
So with tribal decks on the way, today is a good day to talk about power and efficiency in 1v1 Commander.
So what do I mean when I talk about power in 1v1 Commander? In my first article on CFB, I wrote down some tips I had for the format, one of which was: “Have your spells be efficient and powerful, or dig you into spells that are efficient and powerful.”
Recently, Wizards came down hard on cantrips. Ponder, Preordain, and Brainstorm were all extremely efficient at what they did, and there’s no shortage of powerful spells to go dig up. So what’s the solution? Play more powerful cards and secondhand cantrips to fill out your deck. You want each draw in your deck to pull you closer to victory. It can be tough to evaluate whether a card is powerful enough or worthy of a spot. Hopefully, I can help you discern that better.
Let’s go with some examples. Let’s say you are playing a Breya, Etherium Shaper deck. Your deck is full of control elements like counterspells, removal, and discard spells. You also have some prison/lock pieces and a boatload of artifacts. As you are looking around for possible inclusions, you see this card:
Cool card, right? It sees play in Modern and is quite strong in the Affinity deck. It costs 3 mana, so it comes down on the curve before Breya and is immediately pumped up by an additional 3 when you resolve her on turn 4. Additionally, Master of Etherium pumps up Breya and her Thopter tokens to put a faster clock on the opponent. So why don’t you see Master of Etherium in any competitive Breya builds? Because the card isn’t powerful enough.
Master of Etherium is part undercosted beater, part win-more card—one that contributes well to a game that is already in your favor. Winning a game where you are already advantaged will be the manifest outcome the majority of the time. Cards that function at their best only in the situations you’re advantaged are redundant.
Master of Etherium‘s effect is efficient for its cost, but it doesn’t provide value to a control deck’s game plan. Will there be games where you can plop this guy on the table, slam Breya on turn 4 and beat your opponent to death in a few turn? Yes. But they will be the minority of games. Similarly, if you threw a playset of Cryptic Commands in your Modern Affinity deck, there would be a couple games where you cast it for value and win a close game. It doesn’t make it the best overall winning strategy.
It may take some discipline and practice playing the format to realize a card like Spell Snare or Miscalculation is better suited for a Breya deck than something like Master of Etherium, Etherium Sculptor, or Vedalken Engineer.
It may seem like I am beating a dead horse when I talk about including powerful and efficient spells in your deck, but in practice it can be difficult to make sure your deck is operating at 100%.
Let’s look at another example:
Here are 3 mono-green generals you are deciding between for 1v1 Commander. You want to pick the one who will lead your army to victory the most consistently. Can you guess my pick?
Of the 3 generals above, my favorite is Azusa, Lost but Seeking. I love playing decks packed with awesome lands and synergies, and an Azusa deck reminds me of my favorite Legacy deck, R/G Lands. But Azusa would not be my pick.
Selvala, Heart of the Wilds would. All 3 of these decks suffer from a similar weakness—they are susceptible to removal of their general. Without the general in play, these dedicated green decks would have issues closing most games. So what does Selvala provide that the others don’t? Free wins.
Selvala, Heart of the Wilds may look like a ramp deck at first glance, but it is actually a combo deck at… heart? Sorry. I love how the deck can pivot between the two game plans depending on the matchup and the opponent’s draw to find its most likely path to victory. Combined with a 5-power-or-greater creature, all it takes is an untap effect like Umbral Mantle or Staff of Domination to go infinite. Making infinite mana is far better than making lots of mana. Seems obvious, right? But it is a crucial strategy in 1v1 Commander.
To further illustrate this point, we need to take a look at what the vast majority of people do in casual EDH. If we look at a typical Ezuri, Renegade Leader Elf deck, I see players playing with cards like this:
When you could be playing cards like this:
Do you see the difference? The first batch of cards merely pumps or takes advantage of your tribal synergy. It’s a type of reward for the strategy you’ve chosen to employ. What is that reward? +1/+1? Lots of counters? Extra tokens? Well, let’s look at the second batch of cards.
The second batch of cards will usually win the game in short order. Wirewood Channeler is sometimes overlooked since it is worse than Priest of Titania and Elvish Archdruid. Most decks already play those 2 Elves, but the Channeler provides an additional way to combo off.
Sword of the Paruns is often overlooked because it is worse than Staff of Domination and Umbral Mantle when it comes to making infinite mana with an Elf that adds 4+ mana with 1 activation. But it is almost as effective, and bettering the chance of drawing an insta-win would benefit the deck.
Lastly, Sylvan Tutor is overlooked for being worse than Worldly Tutor, Survival of the Fittest, and Green Sun’s Zenith. But it should be in most Elf decks in addition to those other spells as an additional way to tutor up a combo piece. Not all Elves are created equal.
So what’s the lesson here? When it comes to 1v1 Commander, you want your deck to be as competitive as possible by trimming the fat, and playing the leanest and most powerful spells you can. Fill your deck with tutors and additional ways to find combo pieces or silver bullets. Even control decks should be taking advantage of multiple tutors.
Many players have pet cards. Commander is the format many players go to to express themselves and to have fun. Sometimes they build decks containing cards they can’t play in other formats because they aren’t competitively viable. But for those who wish to take their 1v1 EDH game to the highest level, I suggest removing pet cards if they don’t perform.
Sometimes pet cards are the weakest card in your deck when you look at the many times it is drawn. But under the right circumstances, in one out of ten times you draw it, it crushes the opponent. If you insist on playing cards like this, there is one other workaround.
Play generals with built-in card advantage or utility.
This may seem obvious, and in fact most generals fall into this category. If you look at all the top performing decks in 1v1 EDH, the generals at the helm do provide large advantages on their own. So let’s say you like playing a particular pet card. You could play a general like Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy or The Locust God that have a built-in looting effect. This allows you to discard suboptimal cards in a given situation without being down on card advantage.
If you enjoy playing ramp spells and big flashy plays, choose a general that takes advantage of such effects. Something like Maelstrom Wanderer would be perfect because cascading twice every time you cast it gives you excellent payoff for those ramp spells even through counterspells. Plus, your general is immune to many of the common removal spells of the format because allowing you to recast your Wanderer is so disastrous for the opponent.
So in conclusion, play what you like and enjoy in 1v1 EDH, but never sacrifice power and efficiency. There are ways to have your cake and eat it too, but know that there will always be a trade-off of some percentage points. Get out there, go play, and find the beauty in playing a tuned and refined deck list.
I hope you enjoyed this article and stay tuned for some sweet Commander goodness with the new set just around the corner. How do you define power and efficiency? Do you have a pet card or general you just can’t get enough of? Let me know in the comments. Until next time, may you never have to shuffle on your Ponders.