My playgroup and I are newcomers to the EDH/Commander format, and so far I think it's a really interesting and fun way to play Magic. In another life, I played in a lot of PTQs and Legacy and Vintage tournaments, but, in contrast to this more competitive background, my playgroup is much more casual. I built my first Commander deck by first choosing the colors (RUG) then the commander (Intet). I am not married to Intet and think any of the other RUG options would work too; I just liked the idea of beginning my Elder Dragon Highlander experience with an actual Dragon.
What I have found in the handful of games I have played with my group is that I am playing more "good stuff" cards than most of my group, and a few people don't like that I run infinite combos. I tried to make my deck a little less consistent by taking out the creature Tutors, but the combos remain so I don't know if that change is enough. I could just go through and make swaps for cards that are strictly worse (e.g., Mana Drain --> Counterspell, Jace, TMS --> Jace Beleren, etc.), but I am not sure where a good middle ground is since I like casting powerful spells. Also, the thing about these combos is that I really like the individual pieces of the combos by themselves (who doesn't like a Kiki-Jiki or Deadeye Navigator to get some extra value from ETB effects?), and I am part Johnny, so having some combo is fun for me.
What I am hoping is that you can help me make my deck more focused on fun, less focused on just "good stuff," and more in the spirit of the format. My decklist is below. I would really appreciate hearing what you think!
Maze of Ith
As the final hours of 2012 wind down, I find myself a bit wistful and reflective.
Okay...that's not completely true. I'm pretty much like that all the time. Let me try to explain.
One of the things adults tend to do a bad job of explaining to kids is the concept of nostalgia. This is why, for example, younger people look at me funny when I talk about how there was no Internet when I was in high school or that I was almost done with college when people started using cellphones regularly. They don't understand my adoration for 80's hair metal (who doesn't love Extreme and White Lion?). They tend to get really uncomfortable when I get emotional and tear up during classic movies. (Okay…to be fair, everyone I know gets uncomfortable when I do that. Maybe that's a bad example. And yes, Titanic is absolutely considered a classic.)
The point here is that the older you get, the more experiences you have under your belt to look back on. That's why I chose your list this week, Josh; in reading your submission, you remind me of a younger version of myself.
If you haven't run screaming from your computer by now, you're probably interested in where this is going, so I'll cut to the chase. In a nutshell, it looks like you've started playing Commander in exactly the same manner that I did with the exact same commander and the same type of playgroup. The list you submitted is literally almost identical to the Intet, the Dreamer list I first built, give or take some newer cards that hadn't seen print at that point.
I know I've talked about it a little bit in the past, so the abridged version of my not-so-humble beginnings is as follows:
-I was introduced to the format (we called it "EDH" back then). It seemed like exactly the way I wanted to play Magic: casual and with all of the fun toys I ever wanted to cram into a deck.
-My competitive subconscious had to have a say, and I looked for the first commander (we called them "generals" back in the day) that said "play that card without paying its mana cost" anywhere on it.
-I started building, adding in tons of big creatures and splashy effects. This was exciting!
-I sat down to play some games with my friends. They grew very tired of fun games suddenly ending to the same tired infinite combos every time and asked me to build a different deck. (The request might have been, "Build something fun," but it might have also been, "Make something that doesn't totally suck." That sounds a little more like it.)
This was the point when I finally had The Breakthrough. Almost all Commander players will eventually have it. It's the moment when you finally grasp the two most important concepts the format can teach you:
1. It is not difficult to break Commander. It is far harder to specifically not break it.
2. Running all of the coolest/strongest/most broken cards in the world will not make a lick of difference if they never actually get played.
In essence, my mind finally got that Commander is about the experience of the games and not how quickly I could end them. From that point on, I did my best to build decks that really took that concept to heart, and I haven't looked back since.
What's The Plan, Then?
I'll be completely honest with you; there isn't much out there that hasn't been done already in this format. What I'm planning to do today isn't really breaking new ground for anyone who has played Intet before. I'm sure some experienced eyes will glaze over once I get into the meat of the new direction this deck will be taking. Nonetheless, what I want to do with this article is use it to show you how I fixed something that was fundamentally broken when I was in your shoes. It's the whole "teach a man to fish" theory; if I can show you where I personally started and ended with my Intet deck, it'll open your eyes not only to how to make this deck better but how to make decks in general better.
Call it a walk back in time, or a learning opportunity, or "How Intet Got His Groove Back," or "Stop Using Italics So Much!", or whatever you'd like. In the final installment of Dear Azami and on the eve of the coming new year, I'm…
… Er …
Shoot. I forgot where I was going here. That's the other thing they don't tell you when you're young; you think missing a "may" trigger here and there is bad? Wait until you honestly lose your car keys in the freezer.
It's not an "if." It's a "when." Something to look forward to.
Anyway, moving on…
1. The infinite combos in the deck. Your playgroup doesn't like them, and neither did mine. We can do better.
2. The overabundance of "good stuff." It's a natural reaction when getting into Commander for the first time to jam in all of the "best" cards available. In practice, it gets exhausting to do nothing but throw big haymakers all of the time, and the reality is that you're probably actually weakening the deck by robbing it of synergy. We can fix that too.
Here's where I went with the deck when I was in your shoes:
1. Remove the combos. If they're there, you'll use them eventually. It makes no sense to weed out Tutors to try to dilute things. There are some strong pieces that still get to stick around, so you won't feel like the deck has no raw power left. Added bonus: we gain some open slots to fill. That's not always easy.
2. Build around the commander. Intet cares about what's on the top of the deck. There's already a decent amount of solid creatures and spells that would be fantastic to get at a discount, so I want to structure the deck to make sure that Intet gets value when activated every time. As a result, I'm adding the kinds of setup cards that will always get me there. And since I want to play on that theme, I can slot supporting cards that take advantage of the strategy in other ways as well.
Let's start by clearing out some space.
These four are the primary combo enablers. Palinchron is your way to infinite mana through Deadeye Navigator. Deceiver Exarch makes infinite…er…Exarchs with Kiki-Jiki or Splinter Twin, and Time Warp plus Eternal Witness and a way to keep recurring it (sticking it on Mimic Vat, for instance) gives you infinite turns.
Next up are some of the more obvious "good stuff" inclusions. Intuition is the quickest way to assemble a combo in this deck. It goes hand-in-hand really well with All Suns' Dawn in this regard, including that in an Intuition pile effectively reduces the number of cards your opponent gets to choose from to two cards instead of three. Sprinkle in Regrowth or Eternal Witness and you've got a guarantee that you're going to have exactly what you need to win every time. Strong, but cookie-cutter boring in the long run.
Life from the Loam just doesn't seem to make much sense here. There are lands to recur, including land destruction options, fetchlands, and a potential draw engine with the cycling lands (Tranquil Thicket and company.)
Overall, though, this just seems like an odd inclusion. This deck doesn't want to gain incremental advantage by repeatedly dredging away business spells each turn. It wants to just play those spells instead.
Lastly, Karn goes because he doesn't seem to have much of an impact and lacks synergy with the rest of the deck. If your opponents are paying attention, Karn is typically nothing more than a single overcosted exile effect. There are better things to do with this slot that will make more sense.
I pulled the infinite mana production, so the "X" spells are next. Invoke becomes too expensive to leverage properly until the later game. The flexibility can be nice, but it's no longer a game winner, so it goes away to make room for better utility.
Blue Sun's Zenith is cut for similar reasons; while the instant speed and scalable draw is nice (on top of the self-recursion), this deck is not going to have an easy time setting up the steep colored mana requirement this card needs to function. Plus, again, there's no more infinite mana production to fuel it. Zenith becomes much less desirable if the deck it lives in is not a control deck or does not make big mana, and this deck does neither very well at this point.
I have an upgrade in mind for the former that plays much nicer with the new deck mechanics, and the latter is going to make way for some solid additional card draw.
Incidentally, you can see where the deck is headed at this point. Once you no longer have the threat of game-winning combos to rely on at any given time, sitting back and playing incremental control is simply not a good option. This is why Mnemonic Wall and Life from the Loam are making way for more straightforward aggressive choices.
This is a critical distinction. The deck is transforming completely with the changes I'm making, and what used to work when you had the threat of a nuclear warhead in your back pocket no longer does when you're forced to just roll up your sleeves and play fair.
Evacuation is an easy replacement. You probably know where I'm headed here, but in essence, things have gotten a bit stronger in this area as of late.
On the same token, Spin into Myth is getting tossed out as well. There are better answers to opposing commanders than tucking them. Off the top of my head, Ulamog and Kozilek fit the bill. Since the prerequisite suite of 'tuck counters' is in place, this can make room for some real removal.
Grab the Reins is a tough cut for me. I have a long-standing love affair with this card, and I hate to see it go. However, I am comfortable that this deck has the means to cover the bases Grab the Reins usually handles, and what I do notice is that there's nothing to combat graveyard recursion in this list as of right now. That's a huge issue in this format.
I'm not usually one to cut too deeply into mana production, but I do need a few extra slots to add in some of the new toys I have in mind. I am going to upgrade Farseek with another improved mana fixer, but I'm pretty comfortable that the deck has enough mana accelerators to cover all bases properly, so STE and the Elves are making way for some added utility in both Tutors and enters the battlefield effects.
The last few nonland slots are just small realignments. Body Double is going to be replaced with a cheaper and more interesting take on the Clone effect that is already a big role-player in this deck, plain and simple. I also never seem to be able to realize much value out of Frost Titan in Commander (despite many, many attempts), so he's getting yanked for a replacement that pulls double duty as both card draw and removal.
And finally, the lands. In order:
-Expensive card filtering that doesn't let you stack the top of your deck.
-Off-color fetchlands are a personal no-no.
-Storage lands are slow and provide diminishing returns.
-… Life from the Loam. (Did I mention that yet?)
-What's better than a basic Forest? Something that produces all three colors of the colors you need.
Okay, there's our blank slate. It's time to make this thing work.
Mirri's Guile is one of the easiest to utilize; it doesn't have the card draw that Top does, but a free activation once a turn to guarantee the three cards on the top of the library are in correct order for Intet to play is well worth the ridiculously cheap entry price.
Soothsaying is the dark horse of the bunch, but again it comes down as early as turn one and can scale to meet needs. The ability to dig deeper than any other option in the deck is what really pushes it out there, and the shuffle effect combined with it can allow this card alone to singlehandedly plow through your entire deck for the right answer or threat.
Predict and Mystical Tutor are the tricks up your sleeve. With the utility cards and removal included in this list, it becomes pretty essential to have the keys to the toolbox, and Mystical Tutor provides any of them at instant speed.
On the other end of the spectrum, Predict is a great way to take advantage of these deck manipulators in order to gain some cheap extra draw. It cantrips in a pinch (which isn't terrible) and can target your opponents too. Save it until the guy across the table activates his Top to draw a card for maximum hilarity.
Finally, there's Scroll Rack. This is arguably the king of the bunch, with only Jace being cheaper to activate but not nearly as inexpensive to cast or able to dig as deeply. With Scroll Rack, you're essentially playing with two hands at all times, and the ability to switch back and forth and order cards with impunity is unparalleled in this deck.
This is a value trio designed to take advantage of the cards that manage the setup.
This deck is packed with big creatures (and a high creature count), so Lurking Predators should provide a ton of value. Just remember that your Eldrazi know the difference between being cast and being put on to the battlefield.
Djinn of Wishes is really nothing more than Intet Jr. While it has a finite number of activations, it does come down a little sooner and with a lesser color requirement, and it doesn't need to make contact with an opponent to activate. (Nor does it need haste!)
Finally, Heed the Mists is the draw spell that replaces Blue Sun's Zenith. Again, in this deck it has a huge potential for drawing more cards than you can legally keep in your hand after your cleanup step, and it interacts very favorably with your Eldrazi to act as a Gaea's Blessing in addition to drawing you ten or twelve cards in the process.
Some graveyard recursion is in order.
Noxious Revival gets the Regrowth slot. Usually, Regrowth is the better choice, but in this case, Revival plays far more roles. At instant speed and without a need for actual mana, it can put the correct threat or answer from your graveyard on top of your library just in time for Intet to play it for free at the end of a successful attack. In a pinch, it also acts as graveyard hate; your opponent is going to draw into the card very soon, but sometimes the difference between having a turn to figure things out and having to manage a Reanimated Avacyn, Angel of Hope or Jin-Gitaxis, Core Augur makes all the difference in the world.
Codex Shredder is another addition to the Trinket Mage suite. Here, we gain the dual utility of a Regrowth or the option of clearing away unwanted cards from the top of your library. This is a great option to have on tap.
Three creature replacements that add some solid options to your deck.
From the graveyard targeting of Body Double, we go to the straight Clone option of Sakashima's Student. With the rampant graveyard hate in my metagame, I'll take this card any day over Body Double, and the surprise ninjutsu entrance is an effect that gets underutilized in Commander yet it never ceases to make an impact in the games I've seen it used in.
Plus, it stays a Ninja. Ninja Woodfall Primus? Ninja Stormtide Leviathan? Ninja Krosan Cloudscraper? Kind of awesome.
Mercurial Chemister brings up the rear. Once he's online, the card advantage he provides for the cost is really had to beat anywhere this side of Arcanis the Omnipotent, and Arcanis can't shoot an Artisan of Kozilek at an opposing problem creature in a pinch. (Again, I love the interaction with Ulamog and Kozilek!)
The upgrades to the removal suite. Rift is the new and improved Evacuation if you haven't had the fortune to play it already (or the misfortune of facing it down from an opponent who proceeds to pop off a Wheel of Fortune effect immediately afterward…)
Disaster Radius in this deck is probably as good as straight removal gets. Like Cyclonic Rift, it clears out only your opponents' creatures, leaving a clear path for your own army to get in for some serious damage. And with all of the giant beaters already invited to the party, there's not going to be an issue finding something to make this a true one-sided Wrath of God.
You made note of the enjoyment you get out of abusing enters the battlefield effects from your creatures, and Crystal Shard is another strong way to make that happen. You'll also get the occasional enjoyment of watching what happens when an opponent forgets you have it in play and taps completely out for a huge creature.
Relic is the Grab the Reins replacement I mentioned earlier. I know… I'm not crazy about it either, but I can see this deck having some serious issues with graveyard recursion now that it can't just win straight out with a combo. This is a must-have inclusion.
Farseek finds you one basic land that isn't a Forest and puts it into play on turn two. Explosive Vegetation is going to take a little longer, but the extra land and lack of restriction is well worth the time.
And finally (as far as spells go), Beacon is your combo-free replacement for Time Warp. True, it costs a bit more than Warp, but they both cost 2U as far as Intet is concerned. And while you can't engage in recursion tomfoolery here, the fact that it shuffles back into your library when played means that Intet can hit it again…and again…and again.
And you won't feel guilty playing it either, which is a nice bonus.
Again, in order:
-Intet needs to deal combat damage to an opponent to be able to activate, right?
-A little haste on tap to back up Anger. Also, affectionately known in these parts as "Pancakes House."
-Another source of library shuffling is going to always be a welcome addition to the deck. If only it were easier to find two red permanents…
-Oh…never mind. There they are.
-I'm sincerely hoping this doesn't need an explanation at this point…
-Cheap and easy protection for your key creatures.
-Tech! It's a blue Karoo and another way to clear out the chaff from the top of your deck.
-And finally, because it's Command Tower.
The Finished List
This is where we end up:
- 1 Duplicant
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Wurmcoil Engine
- 1 Anger
- 1 Artisan of Kozilek
- 1 Bogardan Hellkite
- 1 Brutalizer Exarch
- 1 Coiling Oracle
- 1 Consecrated Sphinx
- 1 Deadeye Navigator
- 1 Djinn of Wishes
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Fierce Empath
- 1 Flametongue Kavu
- 1 Indrik Stomphowler
- 1 Inferno Titan
- 1 Mercurial Chemister
- 1 Mulldrifter
- 1 Oracle of Mul Daya
- 1 Phantasmal Image
- 1 Sakashima's Student
- 1 Sphinx of Uthuun
- 1 Terastodon
- 1 Trinket Mage
- 1 Yavimaya Elder
- 1 Zealous Conscripts
- 1 Intet, the Dreamer
- 1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
- 1 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
- 1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
- 6 Forest
- 4 Island
- 4 Mountain
- 1 Alchemist's Refuge
- 1 Breeding Pool
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Halimar Depths
- 1 Hinterland Harbor
- 1 Kessig Wolf Run
- 1 Madblind Mountain
- 1 Maze of Ith
- 1 Misty Rainforest
- 1 Raging Ravine
- 1 Reliquary Tower
- 1 Rogue's Passage
- 1 Rootbound Crag
- 1 Scalding Tarn
- 1 Soldevi Excavations
- 1 Steam Vents
- 1 Strip Mine
- 1 Sulfur Falls
- 1 Temple of the False God
- 1 Tropical Island
- 1 Volcanic Island
- 1 Hall of the Bandit Lord
- 1 Kher Keep
- 1 Yavimaya Hollow
- 1 Codex Shredder
- 1 Crystal Shard
- 1 Expedition Map
- 1 Mimic Vat
- 1 Relic of Progenitus
- 1 Scroll Rack
- 1 Sensei's Divining Top
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Lurking Predators
- 1 Mirri's Guile
- 1 Soothsaying
- 1 Sylvan Library
- 1 Beast Within
- 1 Cryptic Command
- 1 Cyclonic Rift
- 1 Fact or Fiction
- 1 Hinder
- 1 Mana Drain
- 1 Mystical Tutor
- 1 Noxious Revival
- 1 Predict
- 1 Spell Crumple
- 1 Beacon Of Tomorrows
- 1 Cultivate
- 1 Disaster Radius
- 1 Explosive Vegetation
- 1 Heed the Mists
- 1 Kodama's Reach
- 1 Nature's Lore
- 1 Rite of Replication
- 1 Skyshroud Claim
This is, in essence, how I managed to solve my Intet problem. Gone are the infinite combos that ruined the play experience of the rest of the group. Gone are a pile of "good stuff" cards that may have had some kick in a vacuum but didn't really serve a purpose in the deck past that.
Added are cards that play to the theme of the commander. There's increased synergy through "top of deck matters" additions that make this list far more cohesive. The deck plays more like a tuned instrument rather than a giant, unbalanced hammer. It still has kick and still has powerful cards, but the difference is that the games themselves are far more fun for everyone—myself included.
And at the end of the day, that's really what matters in Commander, isn't it?
What's It Gonna Cost Me?
For participating in this week's Dear Azami, we're giving you a $20 coupon to StarCityGames.com to help put a dent in the total price tag for the changes I've suggested.
All totaled, they ring in at $86.51, more than half of which is tied up in the top four cards on the list. The good news is that Sakashima's Student and Yavimaya Hollow aren't totally critical to the function of the deck. The bad news is that they're the cheaper of the four and the other two both are really important to what the deck does.
I am seeing Revised dual lands and a Mana Drain already on your list, though, so I feel pretty comfortable that you're not going to have a problem getting your hands on this stuff.
If that's not exactly true, I hope the scratch tickets your weird aunt put in your Christmas card were winners…
Here's the breakdown:
|Heed the Mists||$0.25|
|Djinn of Wishes||$0.49|
|Hall of the Bandit Lord||$1.99|
|Relic of Progenitus||$1.99|
|Beacon of Tomorrows||$3.99|
While we're talking about winning the lottery, I'd probably be thinking about working the missing Taiga, Stomping Ground, and Wooded Foothills in here if you find the opportunity. For a mana-hungry three-color deck, these will go a long way. You can make some subtle adjustments to your ramp selections from there, such as slotting in Ranger's Path over Explosive Vegetation to take better advantage of the "Forest" card types.
Have fun with this thing, Josh. I certainly do!
Update: The Decks of Christmas Past
Before I head out for the year, I was able to witness something pretty awesome at my regular Wednesday game a few weeks back that I want to share. I think it nails the spirit of Commander, and it also directly involves a deck that I updated and featured this past year right here on Dear Azami.
While at Gen Con 2012, I put in some work on Tyler's Vaevictis Asmadi "lands matter" decklist.Tyler made an appearance two weeks ago with the deck still completely as I left it and sat down for a game at our table.
He was able to weather a storm from a Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord deck that laid waste to the rest of the players at the table (myself included) via early appearances by Maze of Ith, The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, and Zuran Orb. When the Jarad deck finally went for the win by sacrificing the last available creature it had on the battlefield, Tyler threw a bunch of lands into his Orb to keep his life total at exactly one; this left him alive and with a bare minimum of available resources to make use of on what looked to be a final all-or-nothing turn.
Tapped out but with twenty cards in hand (thanks to Reliquary Tower), fourteen life, and a gigantic Jarad on the battlefield, the Golgari player passed the turn to Tyler. Finding himself staring at a dwindling board with only Seismic Assault and two lands in hand, he untapped and drew.
Beseech the Queen came off the top of his deck.
Tyler thought for a moment, cast Beseech, and went looking through his deck. Halfway through his library, he grinned and revealed this:
Anyway, with that I'm off to celebrate New Year's Eve. I'm sure I can speak for Sean when I say that this year has been a ton of fun for both of us here at Dear Azami, and I'm excitedly looking forward to what 2013 has in store.
Happy holidays, everyone!
Want to submit a deck for consideration to Dear Azami? We're always accepting deck submissions to consider for use in a future article, like Segrus and Dan's Livonya Silone decks or Tony's Radha, Heir to Keld deck. Only one deck submission will be chosen per article, but being selected for the next edition of Dear Azamiincludes not just deck advice but also a $20 coupon to StarCityGames.com!
Email us a deck submission using this link here!
Like what you've seen? Feel free to explore more of "Dear Azami" here!Feel free to follow Sean on Facebook... Sometimes there are extra surprises and bonus content to be found over on his Facebook Fan Page, as well as previews of the next week's column at the end of the week! Follow Cassidy on his Facebook page here or check out his Commander blog here!