I am writing to get some help with my Riku of Two Reflections deck. The goal of this deck is to be the one I hand to new players or players new to Commander to give them the ideas about the cool and over the top shenanigans that make Commander so great. But the deck seems to run flat. I believe I need a bit more ramp and some card draw to make sure the deck doesn't stall before getting Riku and copying things left and right. Right now the deck feels clunky; it always needs to wait a turn or two around the midgame for something to do.
The plan I intend to tell people borrowing the deck is this:
Step 1: Ramp hard—more mana is better.
Step 2: Cast Riku.
Step 3: Start playing things and duplicating them via Riku.
Since this is intended to be an introductory deck, I want most of the action to happen during the Riku player's turn. Multiplayer games are hard enough for new players; I don't want them to be stressing out during other people's turns.
Some cards that should probably go:
Amass the Components
Thank you for helping me bring in more players,
Long before Wizards of the Coast changed the face of Elder Dragon Highlander forever with a new name and a set of Commander precons designed to give new players an introduction to the format in one self-contained package, there was My First EDH.
If you don't get the reference, chances are that is because you fit the main demographic of a Magic: The Gathering player. You're probably fourteen to 24 years old. If you're old enough, Barack Obama has been on every presidential ballot you've ever voted with. You saw Star Wars in the theater when it was first released, except it had Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman in it and not Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher.
Tl;dr: You're not an old man like I am.
With that in mind, let's start here.
30 seconds of your life you'll never get back, eh?
For those of you who haven't sworn off of reading Dear Azami at this point, that was the hellish soundtrack to my Saturday mornings as a youth. I had that stupid jingle stuck in my head for the better part of twenty years.
It turns out that I'm not alone. My cowriter Patrick (also known as "Mr. P") at GeneralDamageControl.com also shares Worlds Apart in Amherst, Massachusetts as our home store and regular Wednesday night Commander league location. Patrick is a bit of a deckbuilding overachiever; he regularly brings all 37 of his active decks with him to the shop, and he has taken apart more lists than I've ever built.
As Commander started to take off at the shop a few years ago, we would regularly have people take an interest in the games we played on Wednesday evenings. Inevitably, some of them would ask questions about Commander. Why are the decks so big? What's up with everyone starting with a card face-up on the table? If we did our jobs right, some of these players eventually would ask if they could borrow a deck to try a game out. I'm happy to say that more than one of those players is still a part of the regular weekly group, so we must be doing something right.
Anyway, since Patrick was the one with the bag full of decks, he was usually the person who would do the deck lending. The only real problem was that as an advanced player, Patrick's decks were tailored to a higher level of gaming, and more than one player came back after a less-than-satisfying game more confused than excited.
Before long, Patrick decided that he'd put together a deck to loan out to new players. It would embrace certain ideals that newer players often find exciting (big creatures! splashy cards! getting into the Red Zone!) and tone down some of the more confusing elements (complex decision trees! Lots of Tutors!) in order to present a deck to a new player that would deliver a good representation of what Commander is about.
Tolsimir Wolfblood, also known as My First EDH, was born.
. . . . .
Erik, I'm glad to see you're continuing on with the proud tradition of ushering new players into our format. It's really easy to get caught up in metagaming your playgroups and tuning your decks to the bleeding edge with the craziest off-the-wall tech and long-forgotten card choices and forget that you had to start somewhere yourself. It's also a bit poetic that you've chosen a commander from one of the precons to make a deck for new players to experience the format with. (Or maybe it isn't. Let's face it—the precons had some solid cards for existing Commander players, but the decks themselves weren't exactly all that strong. I'd almost be willing to bet that there are more unopened copies out there right now than there are intact ones being played in stock form.)
I think you've started in a good direction. The color combination offers a good selection of mana acceleration, card draw, and splashy effects, and Riku as a commander provides a really strong place to start. (Maybe too strong; I'd be prepared to warn the players you hand this deck to that more experienced players will be wary of the power level of the deck based on Riku's track record.) His activated abilities provide a great source of virtual card advantage, and copy effects are one of the highest-profile cornerstones of the format.
You've done a good job selecting cards for addition here—perhaps too good. I tend to be far more forgiving of "good stuff" in a new player's deck, as these are often the most exciting cards and are likely to be at the center of "epic" plays that will draw in a player for the long run. Still, I think there's a line between loading the deck with cards that will enhance a new player's experiences and just throwing staples at them; while you're close here, I think you've stepped a little bit over the line, so that's an area I'll be looking to tune a bit.
Or maybe I'll just join in. We'll see how it goes.
I can see how this list might fall flat in the midgame, but I don't think it is due to lack of acceleration. I see 38 lands, and a good chunk of mana fixers as well, so that shouldn't be the problem. When you build a deck that has fewer decisions (read: Tutors!) to make, you need to overcompensate a bit by going heavy on the draw. As you also noted, this deck is a bit light in that area, and that can lead to times when opening hands gradually shrink to nothing and topdecks don't deliver enough gas to stay engaged. I'll see what I can do to kick that area up a notch as well.
Finally, I think Patrick has it correct: you want to limit Tutors and decision trees in general for newer players, lest they get overwhelmed and just tank. How many times have you seen a player with a loaned deck cast a Demonic Tutor and then take about ten minutes to go through the deck, trying in frustration to read cards they've never seen before and make sure they're doing the right thing? And how many times have you seen experienced Commander players at the table go icy and start to give attitude to the new player as they're searching, telling them to quit wasting time?
This is a good way to alienate someone trying to decide if Commander is a format for them or not, so with some toning down of staple inclusions, some added card draw, and some "Tutor-proofing," this thing should be ready to go.
Let's dig right in.
I think you did a pretty solid job here. I'm even inclined to leave Exotic Orchard alone; there's so much green in Commander that this should be hitting every time, and blue isn't far behind. I'm also going to applaud and respect your decision to keep the deck budget on the mana base, although shocklands are a pretty easy and relatively inexpensive upgrade due to their inclusion in Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash. If you come across a Stomping Ground or Breeding Pool, snag it on the cheap and toss it in.
Again, with 38 lands and some solid fixers, I feel good about stealing a few slots for some needed utility and a splashy combat effect.
Tolaria West in this deck is nothing but a very overcosted fetchland. If there was a Tormod's Crypt or something in here, maybe. Halimar Depths is at the top of my list of lands that always disappoint me, so this gets the boot as well. For all it does, entering the battlefield tapped just makes it a waste of tempo without a strong enough upside to be worth it. (Bojuka Bog this isn't.)
If you're looking for a land that adds a nice aggressive splash to a deck and will light up a new player's eyes, it's KWR. This deck is flush with big beaters. Making them bigger and all trampley is just awesome.
High Market goes in for two reasons. The second lesson I usually try to impress on a new player is the importance of having a sacrifice outlet for your creatures. (The first lesson? Play graveyard hate.) Nothing is more deflating than hitting that final land drop to play your bomb creature, only to have someone steal it. Or worse, then kill you with it.
After reviewing, I surprised myself by only making five cuts here. (There will be more creatures added further down the list, and for good reason.) These cuts do a little bit of everything for the new player: simplify things, add some solid marquee functionality, and turn things up a notch as well.
OUT: Fierce Empath
This is a cut that speaks to simplifying options. You're not thumbing through the deck to find a creature that you'll have to cast next turn, but instead you're rolling the dice on an instant two-for-one sale instead. Variety like this is the spice that a new player will remember; maybe you get Avenger of Zendikar for free, but maybe it's only Sakura-Tribe Elder. It's pretty exciting to see what happens. (It's important to note that Riku can copy a kicked Thicket Elemental, but the copy won't let you go find another creature since the kicker ability triggers when you play the card, not put it onto the battlefield. Feel free to copy the extra creature from the original copy, though!)
OUT: Inkwell Leviathan
IN: Magmatic Force
Inkwell is an awkward creature. It seems like a bomb when you see it for the first time, but then you realize it's really just a big defensive body with a strangely downscaled power that you can't equip with your Lightning Greaves. Or copy with Riku, for that matter. (Plus, that damn vertical slash in the art near the lighthouse will make you think your foil copy has a scratch on it every single time you see the card regardless of how many times you check it. Super annoying.)
Plus, read the flavor text and tell me this card isn't perfect for the deck. I dare you.
OUT: Oxidda Scrapmelter
Why hit an artifact for four mana when you can hit an artifact or enchantment on a bigger body for just one more?
OUT: Roil Elemental
Good lord, does Roil Elemental drive me nuts. I get that the ability is a pretty strong one, but why is it attached to such a weak body? Does anyone have any luck sticking this thing ever? It might as well read "3UUU: Pass the turn. Nothing to see here."
Metamorph plays an important instructive role instead. The "legendary rule" is one of the only good ways to deal with hexproof or shrouded commanders, and anyone who has had to deal with an Uril, the Miststalker enchanted with Shield of the Oversoul knows this by heart. It doesn't hurt that Metamorph has great flexibility as well; maybe you're getting an early Sol Ring, or maybe you're copying Duplicant or Sylvan Primordial.
OUT: Walking Atlas
No, I don't think Sylvan is broken. No, it's not on the same plane of existence as Primeval Titan, either. And no, it doesn't need to be banned.
What it does do is give a newer player an instantly recognizable battlecruiser-style card that he or she may already know, and it offers this deck two strong effects as well. You may love this card or you may hate it, but it's just the kind of thing a new Commander convert wants to tell a story about resolving.
No disrespect to Walking Atlas, but man is it outclassed here. More importantly, I think it's better to have something that goes out and finds lands instead of just letting you play ones you already have.
Now we're getting to the interesting stuff. There's a lot to talk about here.
I'm completely with you on Reaction. I always hear about the person who gets to untap after the guy who plays Avenger of Zendikar for seventeen tokens with no haste and draws into this, but I'm the person who untaps with this in hand after the fourth creature to hit the board behind Kresh the Bloodbraided, Lord of Extinction, and Hamletback Goliath is Kozilek, Butcher of Truth.
And if we're going to make some tokens, let's do so while gaining some utility…
This deck supports Radius easily with the good selection of large bodies, and it never fails to do what I want it to as far as removal goes. (Yeah, yeah…terrible topdeck. I know. Can't win 'em all.)
Mutation is a heck of a lot cheaper than Goblin Offensive, and it gets rid of a problem artifact at the same time. This is a good teaching card as well in my experience; 99 times out of 100, I'll take one token over a handful if it means my opponent loses their Skullclamp.
Urban Evolution is a functional upgrade for Amass; while it costs one extra mana, it also offers a solid three-card advantage and works to fill in a little bit of the space we lost in getting rid of Walking Atlas. This is worth the extra cost in this deck.
I'm not sure that Fabricate is worth the slot. It finds the only true mass removal the deck has (Oblivion Stone), but the options after that fall off pretty rapidly. Instead, we get Primal Command: a skill card that is equal parts removal, life-gain, recursion, graveyard hate, and creature Tutor. That's way more utility than Fabricate can offer in this list.
Last but not least, there's Guided Passage. Okay, so it's a little janky; it essentially says "search your library for the three worst cards in the deck." Still, it offers a taste of everything, and it does so a turn before Skyshroud Claim does. Tons of fun to copy with Riku as well; five mana for six permanents is a pretty good deal.
OUT: Search for Tomorrow
Without the expensive-yet-precision duals/shocks/fetches mana base, this deck really wants other ways to fix mana. Chromatic Lantern is one of the best, and it allows for some other changes I wasn't quite keen on until I figured this inclusion out. Stay tuned…
OUT: Nature's Spiral
I don't dislike Nature's Spiral, but I did want to fit in a piece of solid graveyard hate. Relic is the go to for me in this category.
In related news, it's also selling for three bucks. A recent and reprinted common. Talk about Commander affecting secondary market card pricing, folks. Wow.
OUT: Death by Dragons
This is the change I alluded to before in the creatures section. I like the concept of the political cards that came out of the precons, but in practice they just seem to fall flat, especially with more experienced players. I've also personally witnessed an overly excited new player cast this card with a grin on his face at a five-player table, only to trade his Dragon in combat with the player to his immediate left and take ten extra damage from the other two players and then get focused on by the person who didn't get a Dragon from the spell. Pretty sure that this isn't what R&D had in mind with these things.
Instead of giving other players creatures, Lurking Predators lets other players give you creatures. This card is a little overplayed to be sure, but it gets a ton of hype and certainly has a strong hand in defining the format. Much like Thicket Elemental, there's a certain level of excitement that comes from the reveal, and it does do a good job of filtering unwanted cards to the bottom of your library as well. This feels like a good fit.
IN: Reins of Power
Insurrection is a card that I've personally put to rest. It's big, expensive, and flashy and has an incredibly strong effect. The reality that most of us understand is that it basically just ends the game when it resolves. I want to avoid pseudo one-card combos that can lead to bad feelings and attitude from other players, so this card goes away.
Reins of Power, on the other hand, is a taste of Insurrection without going overboard. Since it only allows you to take creatures from one player and since this deck is creature-heavy to begin with, it won't be as unbalancing as Insurrection is. It allows for a little high-level play. Do I wait until my creatures are dead and use it as a one-sided Insurrection? Do I use it to steal creatures from one player to block another player and effectively Wrath both sides? Is it just a Fog that saves me for another turn?
Big fan of this card.
This section is going to see the biggest realignment for skill reasons. There's at least one core offender that just shouldn't be in the hands of a new player and some potential buyback shenanigans that I'd like to put a stop to as well.
IN: Moment's Peace
If there's one card that proves the whole "with great power comes great responsibility" adage, it's Radiate. Without fail, there's always a new player who manages to have this card in hand when someone else plays Vindicate or Capsize. It's like telling a two-year-old not to touch something; the overwhelming urge to do exactly what you shouldn't seems mentally and physically impossible to overcome in these situations.
Moment's Peace instead offers a "gotcha!" card. For some reason, Commander players never seem to see Fog effects coming, and this opens up the possibility for some epic swings that new players will enjoy. Like Reins of Power, you can save yourself, protect some critical creatures, or help another player to strategically avoid elimination. The flashback ability then provides a solid rattlesnake to prevent people from hassling you, at least until they can figure a way around it.
OUT: Pit Fight
IN: Beast Within
This is another logical swap. In this deck, Pit Fight has the potential to be solid removal, but it does come at the potential cost of one of your own creatures…not to mention that it doesn't help if you don't have any.
Beast Within gives you the flexibility to handle any permanent you need to instead, and the Beast token is usually a non-issue. You might event get a two-for-one after you take it out in combat with a bigger creature.
I know that this deck isn't built to abuse it, but I'd rather remove the urge to sit back and bounce-buyback-bounce turn after turn completely. It's occasionally a saving grace and more likely just annoying to everyone involved. (Who really enjoys hanging on by the skin of their teeth via the same recurred card over and over anyway?) Besides, this deck is flush with removal at this point, so I don't think Capsize will be missed.
The deck still needs more draw, and with the inclusion of Chromatic Lantern, I'm happy to add BSZ to the mix. Repeatable, scalable draw is a perfect fit here. End of story.
OUT: Wild Ricochet
IN: Mystic Snake
This cut hurts. I've sung its graces in the past and love it to pieces, but it is skill-intensive. There's a question of what can and can't be targeted which always ends up confusing newer players. Revealing a trick up your sleeve only to be informed that you can't redirect a Tidings is pretty deflating, after all.
Instead, I wanted to get at least a single counterspell into the list. I'm not advocating turning this deck into a control list, but sometimes you need to say no to things, be it a Wrath of God that wipes your board or an opposing Insurrection. It's good to pack protection.
Not much to see here, folks…
OUT: Simic Signet
IN: Darksteel Ingot
I'm in agreement with cutting the Signet. Out goes the limited and fragile mana fixer and in comes the industry-standard version that gives you anything you need and doesn't get wiped away when someone plays Akroma's Vengeance.
OUT: Whispersilk Cloak
IN: Darksteel Plate
This change is really due to my own experience with Riku as a commander. Man, do people like to kill Riku off as fast as possible. It's just not something that sticks often without serious protection, and since we want this deck to be about utilizing him as much as possible, Darksteel Plate makes far more sense in this slot. It's easily worth giving up the unblockability of the Cloak.
Really, I wanted to get a few extra creatures in here and also make sure you don't blow yourself out with Back to Nature. Or it could be again that I dislike the political cards, so the Vows had to go. Read into it however you want to…
OUT: Bear Umbra
IN: Murkfiend Liege
Since this deck is designed specifically to be light on instants, Bear Umbra doesn't really do much other than offer a bit of protection. (I guess this changes with the inclusion of Blue Sun's Zenith, but not too much.) Since we have Darksteel Plate now, the protection is covered.
What this slot really wants to be is a way to untap creatures. You want pseudo vigilance and reusability, so Murkfiend fits the role better while also providing some additional size to most of your creatures, which is a nice addition. This could have been Seedborn Muse for the best of both worlds, but I'm sure I don't need to mention how quickly that card draws hate in this format. Murkfiend seems like a good middle ground.
OUT: Heartbeat of Spring
I'm never a big fan of Mana Flare effects. When they really matter is the earlier game, then you're stuck making the investment and letting all the other players reap the benefits before you can untap and enjoy the card. There's usually one player who identifies it as a threat in that timeframe, correct or not, and uses the mana boost to play Acidic Slime before you get to untap once with it in play. Pass.
Fires is not the most interesting replacement in the world, but the reality of things is that another redundant source of haste is never a bad thing. There's not much more to say here.
Actually, don't read into this however you want. I just can't get into these things for the same reason that Death by Dragons never seems like a good idea either. In practice, they just never quite manage to do exactly what you were hoping for socially or politically, so I'm going to use these last two slots to finish up with a few extra pieces of draw and utility I can get good use from.
I think I'd take the Chemister more seriously if he didn't look like John Cleese as the French Soldier taunting King Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Still, I am coming around on him. Usually, card draw on a creature like this is a Looter effect, but Chemister just gives you two cards no questions asked. And like Disaster Radius, there are enough big creatures in here to make the damage ability potentially very relevant.
Finally, Spitting Image brings in a little more creature copy utility to the deck. With the extra card draw and solid land count, Image is the kind of card that I like to have on tap in the late game because it gives you commander removal or a copy of the best creature on the board and ensures that even late land topdecks are not dead draws. This card just doesn't get played enough.
The Finished List
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 1 Anger
- 1 Avenger of Zendikar
- 1 Bloodfire Colossus
- 1 Brawn
- 1 Chancellor of the Spires
- 1 Charmbreaker Devils
- 1 Deadwood Treefolk
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Frost Titan
- 1 Gomazoa
- 1 Indrik Stomphowler
- 1 Izzet Chronarch
- 1 Magmatic Force
- 1 Mercurial Chemister
- 1 Mindclaw Shaman
- 1 Mulldrifter
- 1 Murkfiend Liege
- 1 Mystic Snake
- 1 Ondu Giant
- 1 Pelakka Wurm
- 1 Sakura-Tribe Elder
- 1 Sphinx of Uthuun
- 1 Sylvan Primordial
- 1 Thicket Elemental
- 1 Wonder
- 1 Yavimaya Elder
- 1 Riku of Two Reflections
- 1 Chromatic Lantern
- 1 Darksteel Ingot
- 1 Darksteel Plate
- 1 Gilded Lotus
- 1 Lightning Greaves
- 1 Oblivion Stone
- 1 Relic of Progenitus
- 1 Trailblazer's Boots
- 1 Fires of Yavimaya
- 1 Lurking Predators
- 1 Ancient Grudge
- 1 Artifact Mutation
- 1 Back to Nature
- 1 Beast Within
- 1 Blue Sun's Zenith
- 1 Comet Storm
- 1 Moment's Peace
- 1 Reins of Power
- 1 Squall Line
- 1 Cultivate
- 1 Disaster Radius
- 1 Explosive Vegetation
- 1 Guided Passage
- 1 Hull Breach
- 1 Kodama's Reach
- 1 Mind Spring
- 1 Overwhelming Stampede
- 1 Primal Command
- 1 Recollect
- 1 Sleep
- 1 Spitting Image
- 1 Tidings
- 1 Urban Evolution
Here's the card-by-card price breakdown:
|Blue Sun's Zenith||$0.49|
|Reins of Power||$0.49|
|Fires of Yavimaya||$1.99|
|Kessig Wolf Run||$2.99|
|Relic of Progenitus||$2.99|
That's roughly a $55 investment to polish up everyone's favorite symmetrical artwork commander. Hopefully you've got a tax return on the way; we'll toss you a $20 store credit to StarCityGames.com for being this week's participant here at Dear Azamito help out a bit as well.
There you are, Erik. Again, I'm excited to see you taking on the charge of making something like this for new players to get into the format with. I hope you enjoy some of these changes, and I'd love to hear some feedback on it once it sees some play. This ought to be a great starting point for any player to get a feel for Commander, and I hope it ends up being responsible for some great games, great stories, and, most importantly, some new converts.
See you all in two,
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