Before I get to my submission, I want to thank you for your help with my Mistform Ultimus Commander deck that I submitted to you a while ago. The changes you made really had a positive impact on the way the deck played.
Now, continuing with my tradition of playing outside-the-box generals, I built a colorless deck commanded by Kozilek, Butcher of Truth. The deck is a lot of fun in that I can throw out a turn 3 or 4 Kozilek pretty consistently. If he is killed, he is usually easy enough to cast again on the next turn since I net four cards every time he is cast.
The problem with the deck and the reason I am submitting it today is because it doesn't perform well in multiplayer, which I prefer to play because it is typically more fun and much more unpredictable. Because Koz is such a beast, he draws an awful lot of hate, and games typically feel more like Archenemy or 3v1 than a normal. I have tried to go tutorless in most of my decks (this one only has Eye of Ugin and Expedition Map), but due to the limitations of a colorless deck, I have considered adding more here. Here is the list as the deck is now:
Eye of Ugin
SpellsNot of This World
All Is Dust
Cards I love:
Trading Post - Too much awesome here; great utility.
Pristine Talisman - I end up gaining a ton of life from this, which serves as a nice buffer in multiplayer.
Not of This World - Great for keeping the Koz-man in play.
Strionic Resonator - Drawing eight and annihilating eight is awesome.
Cards I could do without:
Blightsteel Colossus - I always feel like a jerk when I see this card in the deck.
I feel like the deck needs more haste and answers when in multiplayer. I appreciate your help and look forward to your advice for this deck.
- Jether Todd
I think the central problem is what you're intending to do before you've even sat down at the table. You say you've built your deck for the purpose of playing a very fast Kozilek and trying to run the table with him, but ultimately that's not a very fun thing to do. Can you blame your opponents for having a twitch response and trying to hate you right out of the game when a single swing from your commander (which you're trying to make as hasty as possible) causes someone to sacrifice their entire board and stop playing the game right then and there?
I can't blame them, and I doubt any of my readers can either—we say we want to play good games of Magic when we come to play Commander, win or lose, and a game in which we lost because someone didn't get the memo and caused you to sac your board so you were never in the game is the exact definition of the opposite of that. You were featured once already for a fun deck you came up with—here's the link to the article about your Mistform Ultimus deck—and now we need to stage an intervention.
I built a colorless deck once following the exact same logic you did. While there are drawbacks to having all colorless cards and thus some severe limitations of what you can and cannot interact with, the boost of power that comes from unleashing your commander is bound to make that all worthwhile. Of course, I was being a jerk and playing His Noodly Goodness, Emrakul, as the commander at the helm of my colorless monstrosity—you're already playing more fair by not taking extra turns, letting people kill your commander sometimes, and not flying over immediately for some annihilator 6 beatings.
I was also paying fifteen instead of ten, so there was no reasonable way to try to build the deck to deploy my commander as fast as possible, and that made up for the fact that if my commander got even so much as cast, you were going to find yourself in an uncomfortable spot. That deck was good, though not the most interesting one I've ever played by a longshot, and it taught me that while Emrakul was a good card, it was not so threatening a commander that it was unforgiveable. More importantly, it taught my opponents that as well—it is one mighty-looking monster, but it still has to deploy in a timely fashion and thus is ultimately fair. Fifteen is a whole lot of mana.
Ten is a lot less, and because of this your intentions are not chivalrous. Popping Kozilek to draw four cards is awesome, but annihilating someone's board early in the game is decidedly not. The hate you're drawing is justified and hard earned, so if you want to play more satisfying games, we don't need to up the arms race by putting more haste-granting effects in the deck. We need to scale back on the arms race by making Kozilek a late game advantage machine, not an early game threat. As an early game threat, he justifiably causes people to pack up their footballs and go home, which means the ones who will even still play with you are doing so with crosshairs on your forehead and justifiably so. The hate you have found swinging your way has been earned, and the solution is to build more interactivity, not seek out additional ways to reduce the games to mere goldfishing.
This means we are going to need to build in some structural changes to go with this philosophical change, as all of this mana acceleration becomes undesirable—it's just making things worse by enabling you to live up to the most threatening dreams possible, and that is pushing us into this unsatisfying quandary where you can't play a real game (because the games you're trying to play are not "real games" for your opponents) instead of making awesome things happen faster. Some things are awesome, so we're keep about half of it, but too many non-awesome things are happening, so we're biasing it such that you're highly unlikely to ever draw so many things that you can play Kozilek too fast.
The Sol Ring into Thran Dynamo into Coalition Relic draws that drop Kozilek so fast it hurts are hurting you, not just your opponents—because to some degree in this game, your opponents are you. The social contract is implicit, not optional, so your lack of regard for whether the game being played is going to be a good one is reaping justice when they all go after you with guns blazing from the start. Without all this fast mana, you're actually just short on lands—you have 34, two of which can't even tap for mana—so we're going to need to cut mana acceleration to play more mana-producing lands instead.
Begin At The Beginning
We start with the mana. We have one land to cut, Lotus Vale, strictly because of how relatively inefficient it is—especially considering you can't use the colored mana and thus from the same set would be able to use Scorched Ruins more effectively to get four mana instead of three. People often tell me they aren't comfortable adding Ravnica bounce lands to their deck because one aggressive Strip Mine sends them the wrong way down tempo alley, and that's just bouncing one land—sacrificing two of them has to be even more tempting when it comes time to pick a target. But most importantly, you just don't really have enough lands to make these worthwhile and consistent and are busy painting a target on your head by playing the same very negative game over and over again.
I think you're aiming to use this with Crucible of Worlds to get ahead, and frankly that's not going to be consistent enough to be worth doing. The Crucible will have to rely on stuff like Buried Ruin and Haunted Fengraf for getting cards back in your hand, tactical access to your Ghost Quarters every turn if you are in a late enough stage of the game where you can do that and still be reasonable about it (pick off utility lands, don't Strip Mine someone out of the game), and is generally fine just by itself given the reasonable incidence with which lands just sometimes die in Commander.
Pulling mana artifacts out of this deck is also key, and I've pulled out ten. Mana Vault, Basalt Monolith, Kyren Toy, Chromatic Lantern, Ur-Golem Eye, Krark-Clan Ironworks, Sisay's Ring, Doubling Cube, Blinkmoth Urn, and Gilded Lotus all get the cut, which still leaves nine mana artifacts to accelerate the game with—just not enough of them to consistently draw so many that Kozilek on turn three or turn four is Plan A. We're going to be able to play more cards that allow a non-Kozilek, interactive game of Commander with these slots, and this will affect your win ratio—but also the innate character of the games you're playing. They'll be more fun and more satisfying because everyone will get to play, which ultimately amplifies the aspect of the game that is most important to me.
Did your deck just do your deck's thing all over someone else's face without you being at its helm mattering, or did you matter? Did you have to make correct plays and important strategic decisions to get the win out of a well-fought game? Boiling Commander down to its essence for me extracts this: I want to win a game where my choices and my decisions mattered, where I didn't have a steamroller set to go from the beginning and it was only by playing correctly and choosing well that the win appeared in the end. I base my card choices off of this guideline, I build my decks at an appropriately competitive power level based on this guideline, and most importantly I am neutering your deck's monomaniacal focus on casting Kozilek quickly based on this guideline.
If it's no fun for them and not satisfying for you, you could've just stayed home, and everyone would've been happier. This is not the hallmark of a good deck.
Adding back in, we'll stick in five more lands:
Ancient Tomb – We take out a fast mana artifact just to add a fast mana land; yes, this is a little bit schizophrenic, I know. But I think we've diluted this just enough in the first place to halt how quickly you play Kozilek; casting your other cards quickly is not nearly as troubling. A fast Karn Liberated might be cool, and accelerating out Kuldotha Forgemaster might create a powerful series of plays that is fun and exciting. The problem with your Eldrazi Commander is that making people sacrifice significant chunks of their board too early in the game is just no good for anyone. Fast mana playing good cards fast is still quite excellent and not something with which I have a considerable problem.
The downside of playing an all-artifact deck is your extreme vulnerability to the wrong half of some mass sweeper spells like Austere Command, and this lets you still play an acceleration effect without having to worry about it disappearing when a sweeper hits, though the pain may add up if you aren't careful—or at least til Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth enters play it will.
Dust Bowl – Another land-destruction land, this is added over Encroaching Wastes because once we're paying that kind of mana, we might as well take the card that gives you the option to repeat this later if you want to.
Mishra's Factory – You liked this sort of effect enough to add Mutavault and both Nexuses to your deck, so I figured another cheap man land might be to your liking. You don't have a lot of compelling Equipment to use with it—no Sword of X and Y, where X and Y are both broken—but it will still do effective work improving the quality of your Loxodon Warhammer, which will be more relevant now that you're not trying to staple it onto an Eldrazi your opponents justifiably have a twitch reflex toward killing.
Ghost Town – Land destruction happens sometimes. Cassidy recently wrote about an Obliterate happy deck, and some people play in that particularly rough room. You're well set to weather a room like that with your fast-mana artifacts allowing a possible bounce back, but it never hurts to have a land able to return to your hand to rebuild with. This is somewhere around the 20th or 25th colorless land I'd think to add to a deck just for its utility, but considering you have 38 colorless lands to work with, it makes the cut.
Phyrexia's Core – You have an artifact or two that you can profitably sacrifice, the most notable being Spine of Ish Sah. Phyrexia's Core gives you a sacrifice tool your other lands don't cover because they all sacrifice creatures, not artifacts. It's only a minor theme and thus only a minor improvement, but when you're running only colorless nonbasics, you have a lot of leeway for frivolous corner cases like this one.
This leaves six slots unfilled, and all are moving to the creature section of the deck, as will two more cuts. The best way to not have the deck be Kozilek's one-man show is to try killing people with a couple of other creatures once in a while, and we're going to fill that section out nicely while we're at it.
Where Does He Get All Those Wonderful Toys?
Moving on to the artifacts themselves, we're short on fast mana and thus short on immediate impact. We need some card advantage effects to get us from Point A to Point B, where Kozilek starts getting cast and those four cards help get you to the point where you'll be able to recast him once he dies. Without fast mana sufficient to make that turn 4, we're aiming for more like turn 7, and you need something worthwhile to do in the meantime as well as to pull you through a grindy game (i.e., what to do when your artifacts don't all live forever—sweepers happen). We want a bit more defense and enough draw manipulation to make sure you see at least one card advantage effect over the course of a normal game, so we're going to be fine-tuning until the deck gets into the place we want it.
We have a few cuts to make still:
Ratchet Bomb – When you need to kill things on the board, this is going to be slow and too narrowly pinpointed to reasonably answer the problem.
Tormod's Crypt – It's easy to justify Relic of Progenitus since drawing a card pays back the resource that mattered to you. Tormod's Crypt doesn't draw a card, so it's just getting cut. We haven't demonstrated you need to be able to answer an opponent's graveyard in so specific a fashion as this at the investment of a card to do this narrowly. Yes, this is the format where graveyards are just where you put your hand temporarily sometimes, but focusing on what you're doing instead of playing a hoser that may only be of utility sometimes is the better place to be building towards.
Helm of Awakening – I don't quite consider this "fast mana" since it has a universal effect, but I don't think that effect is benefitting you, so it is getting cut as well.
Semblance Anvil – Too much cardboard invested in too little gain, especially since this will never even contribute to casting your commander (and thus pay you back by putting cards back in your hand). Both this card and the Helm are trying too hard.
Unwinding Clock – If this card were Seedborn Muse for your deck, I'd understand, but as it is, frankly, it's not. While it may let you do more, you're still constrained by your lands, and I think Clock of Omens and Voltaic Key are going to multiply the individual effects that you really want to rely on instead.
Fireshrieker – I agree that trying to get double strike wasn't really working for you, and cutting this reflects that fact.
Swiftfoot Boots – We've reduced some of the focus of the deck that required as much haste as possible, and thus we're cutting the duplicate Equipment card that granted that effect in favor of keeping the one that has a free equip cost. Hexproof is better than shroud, but free is better than not free.
Two more slots get left out and move over to the creature section, meaning that we have a total of just five additions to make here. This gives us eight slots total moving over to your creature cards as we rebalance the deck to better use the combat phase in non-Kozilek attacks. After all, we're focusing on Kozilek for card draw and end game, not for triggering annihilator every time you attack someone and starting that as fast as humanly possible. Some other beatdown creatures will be appropriate, preferably things that can hit hard without painting a bulls-eye on your head like the nasty annihilator mechanic tends to.
Oblivion Stone – Sometimes you need to wipe the board, and those times you'd prefer to be able to miss your key cards if possible. Oblivion Stone will do the job Ratchet Bomb was intended to do and do it considerably more effectively.
Temporal Aperture, Serum Tank – You need some more card advantage effects to go with all your fast mana, and both of these will work nicely at that task. Serum Tank gets another counter (and thus draws another card) every time an artifact comes up, so everything but your lands, Karn, and anything Eldrazi will trigger to recharge the Tank and draw you another card.
Temporal Aperture asks for more mana per use but gives that back by offering a rebate every time you hit a spell, as casting the spell is included in the upfront cost. It's an awful lot of mana to pay for another land, but it's awesome when you get a free Ulamog or Akroma's Memorial when you spin the Wheel of Fish. Just remember to use the Aperture before you play your land for the turn because revealing a land off the top and then being forced to draw it on your next turn is a truly sad state of affairs; this is an old-school trick we haven't really needed to have practiced in over a decade.
Nim Deathmantle – You have a minor creature sacrifice theme, and otherwise are just generally concerned about keeping a board presence so that you aren't punished for, well, playing fair. You have a few lands that let you sacrifice a creature at will, which lets you rebuy whatever you want for four mana with Nim Deathmantle. We're going to build some more into this theme because we want more recursion over the course of a normal game but also because we want to turn your disappointment over Myr Battlesphere upside down. With a Deathmantle and a sacrifice outlet, the Battlesphere goes from awesome-sounding do-nothing to potential token-generating monstrosity. This can be especially profitable if you get a trigger off of it that is worth a card itself, like Duplicant's removal effect or perhaps the regrowth effect that your Junk Diver offers.
Pyxis of Pandemonium – This is a new card that looks bad on the face of things because, well, it shares equally and who wants to do that? When you get one card but "team: my opponents" gets three cards, you end up behind. Where we start to pull ahead comes from the fact that your deck is almost entirely permanents—except for your Tribal Eldrazi spells, a card of yours tucked away by Pyxis of Pandemonium is guaranteed to come into play off of its effect, while your opponents' cards may be stranded instants and sorceries. Everyone's going to get lands with some random (normal) distribution, but your mono-permanents deck is going to hit every other time, unlike your opponents who will start missing in significant quantity.
Enough cards under the Pyxis will start to clearly benefit you instead of your opponents, especially if you stagger it so that you're first to attack with the shiny new cards. When you're the first person attacking, you're happy pretty much no matter what troubles turn up on the opponents' side of Pandora's box.
We have eight slots here left from other sections, and I'm going to make two more cuts before we fill them, giving us ten slots to fill altogether. We want to reasonably expect to kill our opponents with the creatures you do play, but we also want some leaves-play or enters-play abilities to go with your recursive effects and definitely need bit more defense now that we've made the deck considerably less focused on just running the table with Kozilek.
Blightsteel Colossus – Is this card fun still? Better question—has it ever been fun? I think people would rather you annihilator them than poison them out with a fast Blightsteel Colossus, and they really don't want the former, so the option of the latter is just going to be super negative in the games it happens. We don't want to get caught in a negative feedback loop—we're backing out of one already with fast Kozilek as it is—so this needs to get swapped for a more reasonable kill card that doesn't do it all in one hit.
Thopter Assembly – This didn't seem like it really did much of anything for you, especially considering that you listed this as one of the things that felt semi-random about the deck. We're going to cut this for a slightly similar card that allows you to focus that token generation more pointedly towards accomplishing something instead of being a random add-on to your beefy flier.
Darksteel Colossus – Minus one mana, minus infect. We still liked the big indestructible monster with trample part of this card; we just didn't like the card's propensity for ending someone's game prematurely. This will do the job well, as it actually cares about your opponent's life total; life gain and other defenses that might get thrown up over the course of a game will remain relevant instead of just folding to the one-hit killer that was formerly Blightsteel Colossus in this deck.
Considering your commander starts with twelve power, sticking a Warhammer to Kozilek is a fine answer to opponents with infinite life, and thus you still have "infect" as an option if you truly need it thanks to beefy commander damage. Willfully backing off from the unfun one-shot kill aspect of Blightsteel Colossus for its friendlier, still quite murderous older brother will earn you brownie points you've already deeply spent with this deck.
Colossus of Akros – This has many of the same upsides as Darksteel Colossus—indestructible, huge footprint—with the upside of going monstrous to make a 20/20 trampling attacker. Taking twenty to the chin is a powerful attack but not one people will turn the hate on you for compared to the way you used to kill people with this deck.
Wurmcoil Engine – The life gain will be welcome, as will the resilience to sweeper effects that you will definitely need to weather. The most fun part of this addition comes from the recursion side of the deck we're building up—getting to reuse the effect with Nim Deathmantle and the sacrificial outlet lands—because while Wurmcoil Engine is powerful (but boring), Wurmcoil tokens are interesting and potentially fun since that's not usually the aspect of the card people try to maximize.
Myr Retriever – I'm always big on recurring spent cards, and in this case it will give you back some staying power to make up for the sheer fast bludgeoning power we've cut out of the deck. You have enough cards like Nim Deathmantle, Mirrorworks, and Mimic Vat that offer beneficial ways to spend this and Junk Diver's lives for a profit. We're going to rely on these in order to build back board positions that are more prone towards eroding; after all, they're eroding because we're asking you to, um, play fair, exposing yourself to multiple sweepers over the course of a longer game. The little things have a big effect, so not every creature we add is going to be 10/10 or bigger.
Arcbound Reclaimer – Another way to potentially recur cards, this helps keep your most important cards in play and thus is part of a healthy recursion engine.
Scarecrone – The sacrifice a Scarecrow ability may be laughable here, but tapping to return an artifact creature to play is a powerful ability when you have threats like these. This little Scarecrow will help rebuild your board and keep the threats coming.
Etched Champion – Metalcraft is basically a given in this deck, so its default setting is a Grey Ogre with protection from all colors. Sadly, you can't play Cranial Plating in this deck, so Etched Champion's traditional role of swinging for ten or more is not going to be how it plays in this deck. We're actually adding it as a defensive card, "just" a strong blocker that's more or less indestructible. We've scaled back our offense to the point where we actually have to consider what we're doing for a defense, and Etched Champion helps fill that role.
Silent Arbiter – We're usually going to be swinging with monsters: indestructible trampling Colossi or Kozilek himself. Silent Arbiter is thus playing a defensive role, preventing swarms of attacks coming your way while you crack with a 20/20. It also does a bit of work making sure there's only one blocker, meaning your Colossus is getting trample damage through. I don't really love this particular card, but I recognize when it can do good work.
Pentavus – We've cut Thopter Foundry in favor of Pentavus based largely off of the fact that with enough mana Pentavus becomes a highly effective blocking machine. While two mana just to block something is a bit pricey, spending jus -mana to be able to block something is a pretty good deal when you have to play defensively.
Platinum Emperion – The last of our defensive measures, this puts a reasonably big body into play while also nullifying all attacks coming your way. The combination of a heavy hitter and defensive power is a welcome one because so far all of the defensive countermeasures we've added have been weak on the attack. While you don't see a Platinum Emperion swinging often, this deck's got the right aggressive mindset to do it without being too nervous about a defensive card dying.
Putting it all together, we get the following:
- 1 Arcbound Reclaimer
- 1 Colossus of Akros
- 1 Darksteel Colossus
- 1 Duplicant
- 1 Etched Champion
- 1 Junk Diver
- 1 Kuldotha Forgemaster
- 1 Myr Battlesphere
- 1 Myr Retriever
- 1 Pentavus
- 1 Platinum Emperion
- 1 Scarecrone
- 1 Silent Arbiter
- 1 Steel Hellkite
- 1 Wurmcoil Engine
- 1 It That Betrays
- 1 Karn, Silver Golem
- 1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
- 1 Ancient Tomb
- 1 Blinkmoth Nexus
- 1 Buried Ruin
- 1 Cavern of Souls
- 1 Crystal Vein
- 1 Deserted Temple
- 1 Dust Bowl
- 1 Eldrazi Temple
- 1 Ghost Quarter
- 1 Ghost Town
- 1 Haunted Fengraf
- 1 High Market
- 1 Homeward Path
- 1 Inkmoth Nexus
- 1 Maze of Ith
- 1 Mishra's Factory
- 1 Mutavault
- 1 Mystifying Maze
- 1 Petrified Field
- 1 Phyrexia's Core
- 1 Quicksand
- 1 Reliquary Tower
- 1 Rishadan Port
- 1 Rogue's Passage
- 1 Strip Mine
- 1 Tectonic Edge
- 1 Temple of the False God
- 1 Thespian's Stage
- 1 Urza's Mine
- 1 Urza's Power Plant
- 1 Urza's Tower
- 1 Vesuva
- 1 Winding Canyons
- 1 Eye of Ugin
- 1 Hall of the Bandit Lord
- 1 Mikokoro, Center of the Sea
- 1 Miren, the Moaning Well
- 1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
- 1 Clock of Omens
- 1 Coalition Relic
- 1 Crucible of Worlds
- 1 Darksteel Forge
- 1 Darksteel Plate
- 1 Dreamstone Hedron
- 1 Erratic Portal
- 1 Everflowing Chalice
- 1 Expedition Map
- 1 Grim Monolith
- 1 Helm of Possession
- 1 Lightning Greaves
- 1 Loxodon Warhammer
- 1 Memory Jar
- 1 Mimic Vat
- 1 Mind's Eye
- 1 Mirrorworks
- 1 Nim Deathmantle
- 1 Null Brooch
- 1 Oblivion Stone
- 1 Pristine Talisman
- 1 Pyxis of Pandemonium
- 1 Relic of Progenitus
- 1 Sculpting Steel
- 1 Sensei's Divining Top
- 1 Serum Tank
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Spine of Ish Sah
- 1 Staff of Nin
- 1 Strionic Resonator
- 1 Temporal Aperture
- 1 Thran Dynamo
- 1 Torpor Orb
- 1 Trading Post
- 1 Voltaic Key
- 1 Worn Powerstone
- 1 Akroma's Memorial
- 1 Mindslaver
- 1 Mox Opal
- 1 Not of This World
- 1 All Is Dust
As always, for your participation in Dear Azami this week, you will be receiving a $20 coupon to StarCityGames.com. We're at approximately $70 here—a good chunk of which is Oblivion Stone and Wurmcoil Engine, two staples of the format you very likely have anyway if you have a fair chunk of Commander decks at your disposal. This is the second I've seen, and it's reasonable to guess that where there are two Commander decks there are definitely more behind those.
Thus this budget is probably going to end up going mostly to hard to find things rather than specifically expensive things. I doubt you have a Ghost Town and a Temporal Aperture, but that's the joy of coming and dealing with me—you'd be surprised what interesting things appear when you aim to leverage an encyclopedic memory for Magic cards and the fact that you've spent more than half your life spent playing a children's card game.
I wish I could've been more inspired with some of these choices, but this is the colorless cards we're stuck working with here—and it's not the first time I've looked at a colorless commander, either, so there was bound to be some repetition where the overlap occurred. No digging through forgotten Fallen Empire cards to play a card you used for a coaster back in 1997 today sadly.
The price of the cards breaks down as follows:
|Colossus of Akros||$0.49|
|Pyxis of Pandemonium||$0.49|
I'm still up in the air as to what I'm going to work on for the next challenge—I feel like I'm a bit overdue to work on a deck of my own and have some mad ideas brewing just to put a challenge inside of my own skull and pique my curiosity again. Mayhaps those will develop into something interesting; mayhaps Cassidy will decide it's time to turn the tables on me and we'll turn "An Inside Job" into a two-part series; or maybe something new will pique my curiosity. Cass said he was jealous that I got to work on the first God we received, while I was jealous that the Daxos of Meletis deck he got to work on was so flavorfully schizophrenic and fun to work with. Something old, something new, something borrowed, or something blue . . . I guess we'll find out in two weeks' time what strikes my fancy to work on next.
-- Sean McKeown
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 Brian's Daxos of Meletis deck or Rob's Purphoros, God of the Forge deck. Only one deck submission will be chosen per article, but being selected for the next edition of Dear Azami includes not just deck advice but also a $20 coupon to StarCityGames.com!
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