Last week, I introduced two of my Commander decks: my Knights list, and my Four-Color Blink deck. Today, I’m back with the other two: an Oloro deck that substitutes boring stuff like winning a game of Magic with fun stuff like messing with everyone else’s business and setting people against each other, and a Zacama deck that is one of the most straightforward Commander decks in existence.
Again, a couple of quick notes about my Commander play group that will contextualize these lists: we tend to play generally underpowered decks, in the grand scheme of things (except Larry, whose mind-bogglingly vast collection means does whatever he wants, which is usually unfairly targeting me), with house bans on cards like Sol Ring as well as obnoxious infinite combos.
I also haven’t poured a huge amount of money into the manabases of these lists, as I don’t think you get a very good return on your investment. In my experience of Commander, the difference between Tropical Island and Woodland Stream isn’t really all that high. That’s not to say you can’t, should you choose to pick one of these lists up–I’m just trying to be upfront that they’re not, by any means, optimally-built.
Power Level: Very Low
Like more or less every Commander player in existence, I built an Oloro lifegain deck, thinking it would be terrific fun. It’s not. It sucks; don’t do it. After I’d had enough of losing to commander damage while having seven hundred life, I decided to pivot away from lifegain and instead build a completely different deck. I always enjoyed both the flavor and the gameplay of Conspiracy, and so decided to go deep on both the monarch mechanic as well as voting.
The result is a deck that doesn’t really seek to win the game, necessarily, but rather enhance the playing experience of your opponents by creating and fermenting grudges, influencing political decision-making, and setting people against each other. I don’t like kingmaking, and the card choices in this deck reflect that–I’m much more interested in just fanning the flames of dissent between players, and generally just stirring up conflict.
Oloro, Ageless Ascetic EDH
Commander: Oloro, Ageless Ascetic
1 Thorn of the Black Rose 1 Custodi Lich 1 Marchesa’s Decree 1 Protector of the Crown 1 Palace Sentinels 1 Palace Jailer 1 Knights of the Black Rose 1 Keeper of Keys 1 Bite of the Black Rose 1 Plea for Power 1 Brago’s Representative 1 Tyrant’s Choice 1 Illusion of Choice 1 Custodi Squire 1 Capital Punishment 1 Split Decision 1 Ballot Broker 1 Expropriate 1 Lieutenants of the Guard 1 Coercive Portal 1 Magister of Worth 1 Messenger Jays 1 Grudge Keeper 1 Council’s Judgment 1 Curse of Vitality 1 Curse of Verbosity 1 Curse of Disturbance 1 Intellectual Offering 1 Benevolent Offering 1 Infernal Offering 1 Cruel Entertainment 1 Perplexing Chimera 1 Choice of Damnations 1 Dawnbreak Reclaimer 1 Worst Fears 1 Tempt with Reflections 1 Tempt with Immortality 1 Merciless Eviction 1 Supreme Verdict 1 Utter End 1 Vindicate 1 Anguished Unmaking 1 Render Silent 1 Decree of Pain 1 Cyclonic Rift 1 Swords to Plowshares 1 Austere Command 1 Day of Judgment 1 Wrath of God 1 Crawlspace 1 Ghostly Prison 1 Propaganda 1 Arguel’s Blood Fast 1 Phyrexian Arena 1 Sphinx’s Revelation 1 Solemn Simulacrum 1 Azorius Signet 1 Dimir Signet 1 Orzhov Signet 1 Commander’s Sphere 1 Fellwar Stone 1 Shambling Vent 1 Esper Panorama 1 Throne of the High City 1 Vault of the Archangel 1 Terramorphic Expanse 1 Evolving Wilds 1 Command Tower 1 Exotic Orchard 1 Arcane Sanctum 1 Scoured Barrens 1 Tranquil Cove 1 Dismal Backwater 1 Temple of Enlightenment 1 Temple of Silence 1 Temple of Deceit 1 Glacial Fortress 1 Isolated Chapel 1 Drowned Catacomb 1 Hallowed Fountain 1 Godless Shrine 1 Watery Grave 6 Swamp (339) 6 Plains (331) 5 Island (335)
Between the monarchy and Oloro’s life buffer, this deck pulls together a lot of resources that allow you to get away with a gameplan that is, frankly, nowhere near as powerful as what others will doubtless be doing. This list is good at seizing and holding onto the monarchy, and with plenty of other incidental lifegain, you should never be wanting for cards or extra life.
Another other key component of the deck is the voting mechanic. Outside of the extremely obnoxious Expropriate, all the voting cards are just good honest fun, where you can trade off favors or promises with people to your advantage. A lot of the “gameplay” also happens off the table itself–you’ve got to be wheeling and dealing constantly, talking, persuading, chiding, provoking, misdirecting. If you’re a very vocal player, this deck is perfect for you.
Additionally, there’s a bunch of cards designed to just mess with the table dynamic. The cycle of offerings and curses allows you to reward or punish those who are aiding or stymying your machinations, while cards like Choice of Damnations and Worst Fears are brilliant fun. I don’t think there’s a more accurately named card than Cruel Entertainment, by the way.
As with most Esper decks, there’s a sizable suite of defensive spells–both enchantments like Ghostly Prison as well as sweepers and point removal. The idea is to deflect attention away from yourself as you meddle in the affairs of others, and these cards not only help to diminish your attractiveness as a potential target but also help to manage the board if things get out of control. In particular, these cards are important in staving off pretenders that seek your throne as the monarch.
Zacama, Primal Calamity
Power Level: Medium
Finally, we come to my favorite ramp payoff of all time, Zacama. After all the fun we had with her on Arena Boys, I decided I wanted to romp and stomp with her in Commander. After looking at the sort of lists she heads up on the excellent EDHREC, I decided I didn’t want to follow in the footsteps of others with a tribal Dinosaurs deck or anything like that. I took an entirely different approach.
I love ramp decks, but one of the big problems with them is when you never draw your huge payoff card in time, or you draw big payoffs without setup cards. Alternatively, you can get run over by people with superior board positions if you don’t find ways to manage the battlefield, which ramp decks often find it hard to do while still advancing their gameplan; Wrath of God and Llanowar Elves aren’t a good combo.
With Zacama as your commander, however, you always have access to your top-end payoff card–so why play any others? Why risk never drawing the ’Hoof when you can just guarantee having your hard-hitting heavyweight at the ready 100% of the time? With that in mind, I built a Zacama deck that is more or less just ramp spells, sweepers, and Zacama herself.
Zacama, Primal Calamity EDH
Commander: Zacama, Primal Calamity
1 Nissa’s Renewal 1 Harrow 1 Explosive Vegetation 1 Frontier Guide 1 Nissa’s Pilgrimage 1 Hour of Promise 1 Far Wanderings 1 Skyshroud Claim 1 Cultivate 1 Sylvok Explorer 1 Kodama’s Reach 1 Sakura Tribe-Elder 1 Grow from the Ashes 1 Circuitous Route 1 Boundless Realms 1 Verdant Confluence 1 Solemn Simulacrum 1 Commander’s Sphere 1 Tempt with Discovery 1 Exploration 1 Collective Voyage 1 Edge of Autumn 1 Veteran Explorer 1 Rampant Growth 1 Search for Tomorrow 1 Farseek 1 Austere Command 1 Akroma’s Vengeance 1 Star of Extinction 1 Molten Disaster 1 Marshal Coup 1 Jaya’s Immolating Inferno 1 Wrath of God 1 Hour of Devastation 1 Phyrexian Rebirth 1 Cleansing Nova 1 Kirtar’s Wrath 1 Hour of Revelation 1 Hallowed Burial 1 Urza’s Ruinous Blast 1 Comet Storm 1 Terminus 1 Planar Outburst 1 Day of Judgment 1 Wave of Reckoning 1 Fumigate 1 Blasphemous Act 1 Descend Upon the Sinful 1 Subterranean Tremors 1 Planar Cleansing 1 Beast Within 1 Harmonize 1 Greater Good 1 Sandwurm Convergence 1 Zendikar Resurgent 1 Sylvan Library 1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion 1 Wilderness Reclamation 1 Assemble the Legion 1 Rogue’s Passage 1 Blighted Woodland 1 Kessig Wolf Run 1 Arch of Orazca 11 Forest (347) 11 Mountain (343) 11 Plains (331)
This list is still pretty loose, but it does what it does extremely effectively. You simply don’t need any card other than Zacama to eventually win the game, so we don’t bog down the list with other Commander regulars like Avenger of Zendikar or Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Zacama deals with everything. She kills creatures, Disenchants artifacts and enchantments, and buffers your lifetotal. She attacks planeswalkers and kills opponents very quickly indeed. Plus, she’s free! You only need nine lands, and then can immediately use the untapped lands to bring the board back under control.
Before you get to nine lands, however, you need to take care of business. Ideally, you’re ramping every turn, taking a turn here or there to clear the board as needed. The all-basics mana base means the ramp spells never run out of targets, not to mention you can group your lands in aesthetically-pleasing stacks of three–one of each–for Zacama activations.
There are a few extra win conditions that are entirely unnecessary, but included because I really like them and it’s my deck and you’re not my dad and you can’t tell me what to do. Elspeth technically counts as a sweeper, and I’ve had a soft spot for Assemble the Legion since the days of RTR Standard’s Jeskai Control. Feel free to sub these cards out, however, for more streamlined options.
On a theoretical level, this deck can beat anything. I really like how clean it is, and how it swerves around some of the pitfalls ramp deck by playing a single, always-available payoff supported by ramp spells and sweepers. The biggest problem with the deck right now is a lack of card draw. I’m keen to field suggestions as to how I can beef up the list with more Harmonize-type cards.
A Final Pitch for Commander
If you’ve never played Commander, you’re missing out. You really are. I, like most other competitively-minded players, was very skeptical of the format until I gave it a proper go, and my only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.
Remember when you first started playing Magic, slamming 67-card decks against each other at your mate’s place, drawing before you untap, taking back entire turns because you didn’t realize that one card did that thing? Commander is like that. It’s as close as you can reasonably get to the wonderful days of dizzying possibility that every Magic player experiences when they first start playing the game.
I know this won’t win over everyone, but seriously–don’t knock Commander too hard until you’ve tried it. Chances are you’ve got a half-decent deck waiting to be built from within your collection already, so you’ve got nothing to lose by giving it a shot. Come and join us filthy casuals, down where all the real fun is being had!