In my last article I shared several Commander decks I have been playing around with for a while. These decks had one thing in common: they all play blue. All three of the decks looked somewhat similar to one another (though each play quite differently) and the reason is that I tend to use templates when I'm working on new decks. In this case I used a "blue shell" that included:
- Preordain Ponder Brainstorm – For consistency fixing your draws.
- Compulsive Research Careful Consideration Fact or Fiction – For card draw that can also put specific cards in your graveyard (like Genesis Anger a giant Reanimation target etc.).
- Future Sight – An elegant card draw engine.
- Bribery – A versatile tool that can get you a discounted creature.
- Snapcaster Mage – A Regrowth with legs. Why should it be any less ubiquitous in blue Commander decks that play Vintage spells than it is in Standard?
- Phantasmal Image – If the rule is to play creatures with "comes into play" abilities to get some value even if they're removed the Image gets you the same value cheaper.
- Body Double – Another great creature that gives you a lot of options often at less expense than the actual creature you're copying.
- Force of Will Pact of Negation Desertion Spelljack Cryptic Command – My counterspell suite of choice. I also sometimes add Hinder and Spell Crumple if there's room since both cards can get rid of a commander for quite a while. The other counterspells are either free to stop some game-breaking spell while your tapped out or to take control of said game-breaking spell for yourself. Well except for Cryptic Command which is just an awesome card (originally conceived of by Swiss R&D in 1891—and that's a fact!).
Generally speaking I'll start with those cards when building a blue deck. And if I'm actually looking to win at Commander my first rule is to play blue. Don't dis my Spiky tendencies; I LOVE my blue cards! If Commander is about having fun for all parties please allow me the excitement of playing Bribery on a Primeval Titan or Spelljacking an Omniscience (I've always been called a know-it-all)!
But even still I don't always play blue…
I set out to prove to my playgroup that I don't need a counterspell crutch when I built this deck:
- 1 Duplicant
- 1 Moriok Replica
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Academy Rector
- 1 Angel of Despair
- 1 Archon of Justice
- 1 Auramancer
- 1 Knight of the White Orchid
- 1 Kor Cartographer
- 1 Monk Idealist
- 1 Phyrexian Rager
- 1 Puppeteer Clique
- 1 Shriekmaw
- 1 Skeletal Vampire
- 1 Stoneforge Mystic
- 1 Sun Titan
- 1 Ghost Council of Orzhova
- 1 Darksteel Ingot
- 1 Fellwar Stone
- 1 Mind Stone
- 1 Mind's Eye
- 1 Nihil Spellbomb
- 1 Orzhov Signet
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Sword of Light and Shadow
- 1 Attrition
- 1 Aura of Silence
- 1 Debtors' Knell
- 1 Enslave
- 1 Faith's Fetters
- 1 Grave Pact
- 1 Land Tax
- 1 Marshal's Anthem
- 1 Martyr's Bond
- 1 Necromancy
- 1 Necropotence
- 1 Phyrexian Arena
- 1 Phyrexian Reclamation
- 1 Promise of Bunrei
- 1 Seal of Cleansing
- 1 Seal of Doom
- 1 Condemn
- 1 Mortify
- 1 Path to Exile
- 1 Slaughter Pact
- 1 Swords to Plowshares
- 1 Beacon Of Unrest
- 1 Consuming Vapors
- 1 Damnation
- 1 Death Grasp
- 1 Decree of Justice
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 1 Diabolic Tutor
- 1 Kirtar's Wrath
- 1 Martial Coup
- 1 Phyrexian Rebirth
- 1 Promise of Power
- 1 Rout
- 1 Vindicate
- 1 Wrath of God
- 1 Bitterblossom
Now I'll say right off that I don't think this deck is as overtly powerful as the three decks from my last article. It can't counter spells and it doesn't have any infinite combos. You can't just brute force your opponents behind a handful of cards (usually) but it also doesn't draw the kind of heat in multiplayer that Sharuum or The Mimeoplasm (or Islands) do.
Card drawing in non-blue decks can be tricky but Mind's Eye and Phyrexian Arena for example can do a passable job. Necropotence is just as fantastic as ever. Phyrexian Reclamation can bring back creatures that draw you cards or that net you some other kind of card advantage. You can do a lot of damage to yourself so cards like Death's Grasp and Sword of Light and Shadow can help recoup needed life points. Plus many of these cards serve a double purpose. Death's Grasp gets rid of a pesky creature and Sword of Light and Shadow helps keep your hand full so you always have stuff to do.
Of course your commander itself can help keep your life points stable as well as being very resilient to any kind of removal and a sizeable body. Not to mention you can take advantage of its faux vigilance by attacking and then sacrificing something to bring it back untapped at the end of the turn. You have plenty of tokens to sacrifice to keep the Ghost Council on board and plenty of sweepers of your own for it to dodge. Because you're not playing blue yourself and the deck abuses Ghost Council so efficiently you're particularly vulnerable to Spell Crumple and Hinder but Ghost Council dodges most everything else. You can't have everything.
How the deck works: Well you have plenty of answers to creatures maybe too many depending on your group's play style and a fair amount of answers to anything else. Does one of your opponents use graveyard recursion? You have Nihil Spellbomb and Bojuka Bog both of which lose you very little in terms of opportunity cost because of their double function: Spellbomb as a cantrip and Bojuka Bog as a land. What if one of your opponents has an enchantment or artifact that's causing you problems? Aura of Silence Seal of Cleansing or Vindicate can get the job done.
The deck sometimes suffers from not having the right answer at the right time a problem that plagues non-blue decks more than most but you have plenty of cards your opponents need answers to as well. Grave Pact + Ghost Council will keep you safe though it will encourage your opponents to forge alliances in order to get their creatures to stick. Martyr's Bond is a step above even that giving you the ability to blow up things every time you sacrifice a Mind Stone Spellbomb Seal or Aura of Silence. You also have several engines that will keep your hand full of goodies and help you keep the pressure on: Phyrexian Reclamation Sword of Light and Shadow Skullclamp Necropotence Land Tax Mind's Eye etc.
In one-on-one games Bitterblossom Stoneforge Mystic and Necropotence are probably your greatest assets but those cards are no slouch in multiplayer either. Multiplayers are eventually won by huge armies of creatures sometimes pumped by Sorin emblems or Marshal's Anthem. The biggest weaknesses of the deck are that it can't stop certain combos and it ramps to its bigger plays slower than green decks. Even so I win with this deck a lot and think it's a good strong choice for a Commander deck that isn't completely unfair.
Nobody is afraid of the turn 4 Kor Cartographer! (But they SHOULD be! Mwahahaha!)
(Actually they shouldn't be. I just wanted to sound sinister.)
Other Possibilities: I toyed with Serra Ascendant Divinity of Pride and Felidar Sovereign for a lifelink subtheme but they just didn't pan out for me. Still they're not bad cards and it wasn't a bad idea so it's possible you might have better luck. Creatures leave the mortal coil far too often in the groups I play with to not get something from them when they enter or exit the battlefield.
Back in the Saddle Update
When I came back from my hiatus I wrote this article about getting back into Magic after a break. I'm pleased to report that things have been going smoothly (it's just like riding a bike!). I've been playing and winning a lot of Commander games and I've been catching up my Standard collection by trading and drafting frequently as I suggested.
In my first sanctioned draft I went 3-1. We were drafting M13 and I ended up in B/R. I thought after a few good white picks early on that I might wind up B/W Exalted but the white dried up quickly in pack 2. Consequently I ended up not deciding what my second color was going to be until pack 3 and my hesitation cost me a Searing Spear. My one loss was to a very fast Mono Red deck in two games straight. In the first I kept a sketchy hand with Magmaquake and hoped to just sweep his early creatures and then go over the top. However his multiple Mogg Flunkies hand proved too fast for me. The other game was a rather unexciting mulligan-into-mana-screw-and-futilely-struggle-as-I-wait-to-die sort of game.
In the next draft I went 4-0 with this deck:
- 1 Primal Clay
- 1 Arms Dealer
- 1 Bladetusk Boar
- 3 Bloodthrone Vampire
- 1 Crimson Muckwader
- 1 Duskmantle Prowler
- 2 Fire Elemental
- 1 Goblin Arsonist
- 1 Mogg Flunkies
- 2 Ravenous Rats
- 2 Tormented Soul
It's not that I was forcing R/B or anything. I just think blue and green are really shallow in M13 whereas the other colors seem to support more drafters at a table. I obviously ended up with a pretty good deck. I sent and received good signals (though I did keep the Sublime Archangel I opened in pack 2 just 'cause).
I'll share a quick play-by-play of each round. It might seem odd that there were four rounds but our store doesn't just pair people inside their pods. We actually got enough people to do more rounds but our drafts in the middle of the week are capped at four rounds due to time constraints.
Round 1 vs. B/G
Game 1 I played Arsonist Krenko's Command and creature creature creature. With his slow start he was dead on turn 5.
I killed everything he played until he dropped Duskdale Wurm in game 2. Then I Mark of Mutinied it and he was insta-dead.
Round 2 vs. G/W
In the first game he got me to one life with a Primal Huntbeast equipped with a Ring of Kalonia. I was stuck on four lands for several turns desperately hoping to draw my fifth in time. The turn before he ticked his creature up to 7/7 I finally managed to draw a land and play my Fire Elemental. With the other two creatures I had it was just enough to stabilize. Then as he tried to deal the last point to me I continued playing the five-drops I'd been holding.
I found myself racing a Primal Huntbeast equipped with a Ring again in the final game. I absorbed some damage with a Crimson Muckwader but on the final turn I double blocked to prevent a Titanic Growth blowout. Then I attacked with just a Tormented Soul praying he wouldn't Fog for just one point (I'd seen a Fog earlier in the match). When he didn't Fog I played a land and Volcanic Geysered him a turn before he could finish me off. His last card in hand? Fog. GG!
Round 3 vs. G/W/U
Game 1 he got a Rancored Artic Aven attacking for five points of flying trample lifelink damage and I quickly succumbed.
He got the Aven again in game 2 but didn't pay to give it lifelink one turn. Instead he Pacified my Bladetusk Boar and played a Centaur Courser. Unfortunately for him he miscalculated my Bloodthrone Vampire's lethality and blocked something else.
He mulled to a five-card hand containing four land and Centaur Courser for game 3. I curved out perfectly and got Arms Dealer. Afterwards he said that maybe he should've mulled to four but we discussed it and I asked him what he would hope to get out of a four-card hand. One land three spells and be able to cast nothing? Two land two spells and really need that third land? Or three land one spell and be in pretty much the same situation only down another card? He agreed that the five-card hand probably did give him the best odds even if they were still pretty bad.
Round 4 vs. G/W
He got mana flooded and I got Arms Dealer in the first game.
It was a pretty good night but the most satisfying part was watching a B/R player sleeve up a Zombie Goliath after telling me that Fire Elemental was no good. It's not his fault; I'm sure he had to play the Zombie Goliath after passing on all those Fire Elementals! In all seriousness I'm not very happy to pay five mana for something that dies to all the Searing Spears in the room. Fire Elemental may be no Serra Angel but it gets the job done!
(I also learned to respect those Primal Huntbeasts as I kept looking helplessly at my hand full of removal.)
Well after a couple of drafts it was time for our Standard FNM and my deck preferences after not having played in a Standard tournament for several months were quickly narrowed down to U/W Delver a Birthing Pod variant or Infect.
U/W Delver was my first choice. I love U/W and the deck seems to be everywhere online. However after playing it a bit I decided it wasn't what I wanted to go with. I was reminded of a quote from Anchorman: "60% of the time it works ALL the time…" I wasn't going along with the hype that seemed to suggest that Delver is favored in every matchup if it is played in some kind of ideal way. Sometimes it's just best to admit that we're human beings and not Deep Blue computers. I don't like the many close matchups that Delver has and my inexperience with the format lately was unlikely to let me take advantage of the few percentage points of edge that the deck might have.
At the other end of the spectrum was Infect a deck that seemed a lot more straightforward to pilot. Maybe it's not favored in as many matchups as Delver but I think that in the matchups where it is favored it is more favored. For example what does the Wolf Run Blue deck do against it?
Sadly by the time I had played a bunch of matches with Delver and Infect I didn't have time to practice with Birthing Pod at all but that was fine as I felt that the Infect deck was completely stupid and unfair which is what I look to play when I'm competing.
I played this version by Nick Marriot who took it to a second place finish at the SCG Standard Open in Kansas City:
I love the deck's mix of cards especially its five flavors of Phyrexian spells. Free spell mechanics always wind up so broken!
Round 1 vs. Mono-Green Infect
Game 1 I started off poorly with a mull to five on the draw with no turn 1 plays to match his first turn Glistener Elf. I was on the back foot the rest of the three-turn long game…
In the second game I was able to Green Sun's Zenith for Melira to slow him down considerably and win from there.
Game 3 I played turn 2 Spellskite and protected it until I could get in for enough damage with my infect creatures to win the match.
Round 2 vs. G/R Werewolves
I was on the play and got a very fast kill in the first game. There was nothing his deck (or most decks) could've done to stop me.
I thought he was playing a ramp deck because game 1 was over so fast. Consequently I boarded wrong and got overrun with creatures in game 2.
For game 3 I brought in Spellskite as I should've done in the game before. I drew two in my opening hand and didn't have a very aggressive start but kept figuring Spellskite could protect me from his creatures long enough for me to deal the ten poison damage. This strategy turned out to be spot on.
Round 3 vs. Mono-Green Infect (I guess the deck was popular that night!)
I was on the play for game 1 and got a turn 1 Glistener Elf which is half the battle right there. He had to mull to five into a pretty slow and mediocre hand. It was over before it started.
Game 2 I got a turn 2 Spellskite which he tried to Dismember three times in the next couple of turns all to no avail because I protected it like my life depended on it (because it probably did!). Poison creatures traded until I came out ahead.
I should probably talk about sideboarding for the Infect mirror for a second since that might be a common occurrence at tournaments especially since the deck is one of the cheapest ones to build right now.
You obviously want Spellskites and Melira as well as Dismembers and Mental Misstep. Viridian Corrupter is a bit slow in the matchup but it often comes down to being able to get rid of Spellskite or not as well as who has the last creature since your pumps won't save creatures from infect damage. I only boarded one Corrupter against the first person since I didn't think he had Spellskites but I think bringing in the full four makes sense. Since that's a lot of cards to bring in practically your whole sideboard in fact what do you take out?
I took out four Wild Defiance for being too slow and four Titanic Growth because it is only ever good on an unblocked creature and then only if they don't have Spellskite or Dismember. Rancor is a bit better than Titanic Growth here but I still don't like it. It can be redirected to Spellskite or you can run into the awkward situation of having no creatures to put it on. It can be countered with Mental Misstep. So I'm not a huge fan of it here. That leaves two cards and I think Gitaxian Probe makes the most sense because you often can either figure out what's in their hand or it honestly won't matter.
If your opponent doesn't bring in Spellskite then you can afford to board fewer Corrupters but I don't think that's a realistic scenario. And even though pumps aren't the best here Mutagenic Growth has to stay in because it's free and Gut Shot exists. Occasionally you can save a Spellskite from a Dismember also.
So that being said…
Round 4 vs. U/W Control
I had a hand full of pump in game 1 and just needed a creature to stick but he killed a few of them and had the cards to stop a few more. From Gitaxian Probe I saw: Gideon Jura Tamiyo the Moon Sage and Day of Judgment. It looked like it was game over…but he tapped out and played Tamiyo. What's this? I thought. An opening?
Next turn I dealt about fourteen poison damage.
Obviously either Day of Judgment or Gideon would've been a better play there. I personally would've cast the Day first. Maybe I wouldn't even draw another creature next turn. If he played Gideon I could kill it even though my hand would be down on pump spells afterwards.
Game 2 he got Spellskite into play but I just attacked into it with Glistener Elf on the ground while Inkmoth Nexus flew over in the air. This continued for several turns before he finally Ghost Quartered my Nexus. Meanwhile he had been stopping my other creatures but I'd still managed to get eight poison on him. He cast Think Twice a few times for some reason not playing the Pristine Talisman he had in hand. On the final turn of the game he couldn't stop my Viridian Corrupter. He ended the game at five mana with a Terminus in hand.
Round 5 vs. Wolf Run Blue
I played my wife Jamie in the last round so we just intentionally drew to lock up first and second place.
It feels so good to be back. I had really missed playing. The next step is to hit up some PTQs and try to qualify for the Pro Tour again. I won't be up for a lot of traveling right off but there's a PTQ right here in my neck of the woods in November that I'm sure I'll attend. I hope to see some of you there!
(I might even bring the new Commander deck I'm working on!)