First things first—I want to say something to the person who submitted this abomination of a Sharuum the Hegemon deck I'm going to feature below.
Thanks. Thanks a whole bunch. It's like you've read my writing and specifically set out to craft a list that would cause me to suffer a brain hemorrhage just reading through it. I've had to spend hours of my life this past week sifting through this pile to find some redeeming qualities to keep, all the while knowing I'm likely jettisoning so much of it that I could wallpaper the spare bedroom of my house and still have leftovers to use as drink coasters.
Seriously...who builds junk like this?
I'm not pulling any punches today. You deserve this. I'm going to be way more critical than I usually am. I'm going to be so thorough in my examination that I should probably be wearing rubber gloves. I'm going to show you why your deck is rubbish.
I'm going to make an example out of you.
And to top it all off, I'm not even giving you the usual $20 store credit to StarCityGames.com. You'll get nothing, and you'll like it.
... Okay, that was harsh. To be fair, though, I can get away with it.
It's my own deck.
I don't honestly hate this deck. In fact, I played it as is for a long time. I'm sure there are those of you reading this that have this list built more or less and really enjoy it, and I'm not knocking it or you here. In the right metagame, it's a good fit, and I have no problem with that at all.
Really, I just wanted the chance to tell myself off. Different strokes, right?
I do have the luxury of knowing a bit about the owner, though, and I can tell you that this list is both a terrible fit for him and for his usual metagame. That is the core of the discussion today.
But before we get down to brass tacks, I want to talk a little bit about what's happening here and why. Otherwise, this is just kind of weird.
Author, Meet Soapbox. Soapbox, Author.
I got started on some of the reader submissions for Dear Azami this week when I hit a bit of a wall. I've been experiencing some less-than-stellar game outcomes lately, and it has literally been grinding my creative output to a halt. I had to do something to break out of the funk I was in, so I started rereading some of the stuff I've written over the last year here at StarCityGames.com. I've had a blast writing Dear Azami with my co-writer Sean, doing what I can to provide ample long-winded stories, questionable card choices, and humor (often at my own expense) to offset Sean's masterful analysis and rock-solid card selection sensibilities. I may be speaking for him, but I think we make a pretty darn good team.
The core of this is due to a shared belief in the fundamentals of what makes this format so incredible. While we often come at things from very different angles, the essence of our Commander moral compasses point more or less in the same direction. We both enjoy playing good cards, we both like mining the archives for some off-the-wall choices, and, most importantly, we both tend to shun the use of infinite combos in everyday games.
When I write a Dear Azami article, I always like to write about a specific topic as I work on a deck. I know the old "teach a man to fish" line is a bit played, but there's truth in it. There's a bit of me and my belief system in each deck I finish up. I don't often get to cut straight to the chase and just talk about theory or community issues, though, and I wanted to try to do that for a change.
Usually, this is no big deal, but as I said, I've been on a string of games lately that have left me wanting. Great games that come crashing to a halt at the hands of a giant Exsanguinate or a kicked Rite of Replication targeting Avenger of Zendikar. Again, I respect that this might be your thing and may even be epic, but it leaves me feeling unfulfilled. Robbed, even. Angry? Maybe.
Things just seem to be escalating in Commander-land, so I wanted to leave behind the usual game plan and just look at what has been going wrong for me. The problem is that I couldn't quite see the angle in all of this until I stumbled on my introductory article and my old Sharuum list.
For reference, here's the list:
Again, it isn't a bad deck. (Okay, it is a bit outdated, but we're talking "bad" as in "nice deck, jerk!" not "bad" as in "the 0-2 drop bracket called and they want their cards back.") The core of what I have here is a fairly strong (and fairly typical, if I'm really honest) Esper combo-control list. It has the requisite infinite combo components, acceleration to get there quickly, and removal and countermeasures to protect the journey.
The reason I attacked myself for playing it above is simple: it's the wrong deck for the wrong player at the wrong time.
I Heard You Like Soapboxes, Dawg, so I Put a Soapbox on Your Soapbox.
The problem with the timing is simple; when I built this deck, I was just getting into Commander. My initial understanding of the format was that I could play the craziest stuff I wanted to and people would let me get away with it. For a lot of new players, this usually ends up with splashy combos like Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Pestermite or Mind Over Matter and Temple Bell. These seem like the sort of things that are "awesome" and "splashy" and "signature plays" for a format like this, right?
At the time, however, I was on the way out of competitive Magic. I was starting a family of my own and no longer had the time or the means to play Standard or Legacy. My gaming time was suddenly a precious commodity, so I wanted to make it count when I had it.
What I realized was that I found myself with a bunch of like-minded individuals and none of us particularly liked it when games just ended with a combo. We started to realize that we wanted to play Commander, not spend time grumbling and shuffling and being surly. A tuned Sharuum combo deck was the exact opposite of what I should have been playing. I should have been playing Dakkon Blackblade or tribal Minotaurs or something silly like that instead.
That sensibility is something I still carry with me in what I write, build, and play. Well, not the tribal Minotaurs part, but the idea that I want to enjoy playing games, not ending them.
This is functionally why I'm the wrong player for a deck like this as. Some Commander players love this sort of thing. I'm a student of the game and appreciate solid synergy when I see it, but I know that I'm not interested in playing cutthroat games between competitive players with highly tuned decks. I have no business piloting something like this because it just doesn't fit me. It's not the right deck. What I'm coming to realize is that I need to understand and respect that for myself in the same way that I need to understand and respect that it might be the right deck for another person or another playgroup.
Again, different strokes.
Now, since Dear Azami readers come from all walks of Commander and I want to respect that, I think this is as good a place as any to throw out the keynote statement for the format. That's right…I'm in a saucy mood, so I'm issuing the (Un)Official Commander Golden Rule:
Play what you want to. Be true to your own sensibilities, whatever they are, and make no apologies for what you play. Don't let anyone tell you what you think is wrong, even if that somebody is me, or a member of the Commander Rules Committee, or even Richard Garfield himself. Find the people you like playing with and who like playing with you and don't look back. Have fun.
Okay…now that that's out of the way, here's what you came for. Let's show…er…me who's boss here.
Identifying the Problems
This is going to be the easiest section I ever write. As a player, I personally dislike infinite combos and cards that are included in decks just because they're "good cards," not because they fit. As Wizards of the Coast prints more and more of these types of cards (hello, Primordial cycle!), I personally find it more important than ever to strive to play cards that fit a theme and a purpose.
If you like hardcore combo, I wouldn't do much more than update this deck with the cards that have come out in the last few years or so. (And yes…if you've got a Sharuum deck like this, I would like to see the list. I won't want to play it or play against it, but I'm all for looking under the hood.)
If you're me (or a close reasonable facsimile), you would pull out the cards that enable combos and the cards that are here just for the sake of being good in order to make room for cards that are more synergistic and aimed at making the deck run like a top for the entirety of any given game.
Let's tackle this one card at a time.
OUT – Glassdust Hulk
This is a good beater, but it was something I threw in the deck to take advantage of the Sharuum / Sculpting Steel combo while still trying to remain "fair." (It only kills one player at a time and requires an attack step, after all.) Since Sculpting Steel is too synergistic with the deck, the finishers need to go instead.
IN – Sharding Sphinx
A beater for a beater. Sharding Sphinx is a well-positioned threat in this deck; it seems unassuming but has the ability to get out of hand really quickly. I also have a giant pile of Thopter tokens collecting dust that I'd like to put to good use. Two birds, one stone.
OUT – Sundering Titan
It turns out that this got banned since I last sleeved this deck up. It was never very fun to begin with anyway, especially in a deck that can sacrifice and recur it repeatedly. I'm not sad to see this go.
IN – Darksteel Colossus
The reigning heavyweight of artifact beaters (assuming that you're not crazy about one-shot poison kills.)
OUT – Disciple of the Vault
This is the poster child for the Sharuum combo win. It's likely the most obvious cut in the deck, as it just isn't very good if it isn't winning the game on the spot.
IN – Steel Hellkite
A little extra removal never hurts, and this removal is strapped to a potentially game-ending threat. (How many of you ever remember that it has Firebreathing? Yeah…me either.)
OUT – Memnarch
This is a pure "feel good cut." I know he's relevant, and if I'm honest, I even have a mono-blue Memnarch deck. (No, it's not that deck. I promise.) The thing is that he scares the heck out of everyone and never seems to stick around long enough to make a difference. I may as well play something I can actually use in this slot…
IN – Pentavus
… Like another solid beater. Pentavus is really at home in this deck, providing an endless stream of Pentavites via the recursion of Sharuum and the ability to destroy itself via token creation.
And no, Time Sieve isn't going in.
There isn't much to see here; more or less, I'm just changing out some cards I don't like for ones I've since found I enjoy.
OUT – Vesuva
A fairly easy cut in favor of the new model.
IN – Thespian's Stage
This thing is even better than everyone thought it would be. Last week in my Momir Vig deck, I had it Clone a Breeding Pool, become a Reliquary Tower after finding Rhystic Study, and end the game as a crucial Maze of Ith. If you manage to get your hands on a foil copy, hang on to that sucker. Solid gold.
I've just never really enjoyed Vivid lands. They come in tapped, require counters which make the board messy, and then never seem to really get used to their full potential. Of course, I make too many awful mistakes to play to my full potential as well, so there's that too.
Since this deck and I last met, I've come full circle on the Innistrad/core dual lands. I find they either show up on the first turn (when it doesn't matter if they're tapped or not nine times out of ten) or else they meet the requirements to enter the battlefield untapped. It's that simple. I don't know what my problem was here. These may just as well have been printed twenty years ago and cost a few hundred bucks.
OUT – Crucible of Worlds
This is a pure "good stuff" card in this deck. Sure, it interacts well with fetchlands, but there aren't enough in this deck to really matter. In fact, the land count in general is a little too low anyway.
Another land ups the count to 36, which is pretty much where I'm comfortable at with the solid handful or two of mana rocks and accelerators in here. This is also a great way to pad life totals and make all of those Pentavites and Thopter more relevant.
Moving on, we get to the meat of the deck. There's a lot of room for improvement, as I had some pretty egregious combo enablers and win conditions in the deck to begin with.
OUT – Grim Monolith
For the most part, this card is not very good outside of untap effects and (more to the point) Power Artifact. Even then, it's really only going to be fueling combos, so it's an easy cut for me.
IN – Lightning Greaves
Man, did Swiftfoot Boots lose some serious stock with the printing of Glaring Spotlight or what? In this deck, I don't have much that I'll want to target my creatures with anyway, so this is a nice pickup that will make my creatures way more immediately relevant.
OUT – Lion's Eye Diamond
Another quick way to enable the combos in the deck to get going quickly. There are still some good interactions (Memory Jar springs immediately to mind), but I'm not really going to miss it—especially considering the replacement.
IN – Vedalken Orrery
I can't stop saying good things about cards that let me play the entire game at instant speed. This is old hat to control players out there, but it rings very true—if you can play things on your opponent's end step, you always have the information advantage. Leyline of Anticipation is pretty much my favorite card at the moment, and this accomplishes the same thing while fitting the theme of the deck perfectly.
OUT – Mana Crypt
I'm just going to town on all of the cheap accelerators here. This one I don't particularly feel bad about, though. In my experience, it should be used to power out early wins because if you try to use it fairly as Sol Ring number two, your lousy opponents will blow your mind by calling the coin flip against your favor every single time. Has anyone else managed to single-handedly take themselves from forty life to stone dead with one of these alone, or is it just me?
IN – Expedition Map
I'm slotting in the newest addition to the Trinket Mage package. Well, excluding the afore-mentioned Glaring Spotlight anyway, which isn't really very relevant in this deck to begin with. Map offers the deck a little more in the way of mana fixing, and the ability to grab any land at all with it is very relevant in a deck that has only light access to mana fixing.
OUT – Power Artifact
The play first was this card plus Grim Monolith. Past that, it was likely Memnarch. Maybe even Staff of Domination way back in the day. See the issue here? Still, there just isn't much to use this in conjunction with anymore, so it can go to make some room for better choices.
IN – Inkwell Leviathan
If I'm taking the deck in a direction that is less about combo and more about creatures, this is a great addition. Besides, I've found that island walk is nearly always relevant in my games, and this just one of those creatures that always seems exciting to me. I can't explain it, but I will run it.
OUT – Intuition
Combo enabler to the core. There simply is no other reason this is in the deck other than to pick out the remaining combo components necessary to just win at any given time.
At least, that's what was going through my head when I included it the first time…
IN – Conjurer's Closet
Sharuum loves this card. It also creates great utility with Phyrexian Metamorph, Duplicant, and Trinket Mage as well as Magister Sphinx, which is a card I'm not sure I'm quite comfortable running now that I think of it. I guess a deck needs some solid win conditions, though, so I'll allow it for now.
OUT – Mindslaver
This is riding shotgun with Memnarch in the Cards-People-Hate-No-Matter-What-Mobile. I've come around on using it in the right circles since I put it into this deck originally, but it still just tends to make people feel bad, which is not my goal here.
IN – Akroma's Memorial
Sadly, this is primarily in the deck because it's hard to get haste natively in Esper colors. However, the whole thing is pretty bomb-tastic either way, and I wouldn't kick any of the abilities out of bed for eating cookies.
Karn also turns this back into Akroma proper, which is pretty cool when you think about it.
OUT – Nevinyrral's Disk
Because Darksteel Forge is a thing and I don't want to be that guy.
IN – Silent Arbiter
I like to have protection on tap against an army of tokens since they seem to show up in my metagame quite frequently. Taking Forge and Akroma's Memorial into account, it's also likely that my creature will be better than anything it will face down, so Arbiter is really more like a new-and-improved Moat.
OUT – Bitter Ordeal
When Disciple of the Vault just won't do, you can just exile your opponents' entire libraries instead. Just plan to get a running head-start and be out of arm's reach. Or better yet, just play a different card.
IN – Mimic Vat
Not totally innocent of being a "good stuff" card, Vat is nonetheless phenomenal in this deck. Artifact, on-theme, a fantastic rattlesnake, and the possibilities are endless. Offense, defense, removal, recursion, whatever…this card does it all.
OUT – Vindicate
I have a tendency to run Vindicate in every single white/black deck I ever make, and I usually include it without a first or second thought. That's something I'm working on, believe me. It's hard to argue against it as simply a good card because thematically it doesn't have much identity. It just shows up and does its job.
IN – Spine of Ish Sah
This, however, does the same thing while also being an artifact and building in some self-recursion. That reminds me—I need to find room for Phyrexian Priest. That's the kind of synergy I like in a deck; it plays nicely and can turn games around if left alone, but it isn't an instant home run.
OUT – Windfall
I really dislike helping my opponents draw cards. There is a certain amount of offensive capacity in a card like this due to how early it can be played; Windfall (and cards like it, such as Wheel of Fortune) is really a pretty strong mulligan ruiner.
Still, I'd rather just draw cards alone instead of sharing the wealth.
IN – Staff of Nin
This is the card I've been waiting for to add to a deck like this. Howling Mine is so tempting, but it just never seems to do anything but give my opponents the exact cards needed to deal with me at just the right time. The one-sided nature of this card is fantastic, and while the "ping" ability is nothing to write home about, it can be relevant. Worst-case scenario (and I do mean worst), it's a 40-turn clock.
OUT – Rings of Brighthearth
This is another card that I always want to run because it seems to be capable of doing crazy things anytime it hits play.
Then I do play it, and I'm stuck staring at Voltaic Key and nothing else relevant. This deck seems to have pushed things further away from things that work well with this card, so this is probably not the place to give it another try if I'm honestly trying to make it work somewhere.
IN – Elixir of Immortality
One final addition to the Trinks package. A never-ending deck and a moderate amount of life gain seem like a good way to both make it to late game and also have stuff to do upon arrival. I'm never sad to draw Elixir.
Here's where I'd be if I still had this deck together, submitted it to myself to have it worked on, and then chose myself as the Dear Azami deck of the week:
- 1 Copper Gnomes
- 1 Darksteel Colossus
- 1 Duplicant
- 1 Etherium Sculptor
- 1 Inkwell Leviathan
- 1 Kuldotha Forgemaster
- 1 Magister Sphinx
- 1 Master Transmuter
- 1 Pentavus
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Sanctum Gargoyle
- 1 Scarecrone
- 1 Sharding Sphinx
- 1 Silent Arbiter
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Steel Hellkite
- 1 Trinket Mage
- 1 Karn, Silver Golem
- 1 Sharuum the Hegemon
- 1 Ancient Den
- 1 Seat of the Synod
- 1 Vault of Whispers
- 1 Island
- 1 Plains
- 1 Swamp
- 1 Ancient Tomb
- 1 Arcane Sanctum
- 1 Bojuka Bog
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Drowned Catacomb
- 1 Evolving Wilds
- 1 Flooded Strand
- 1 Glacial Fortress
- 1 Godless Shrine
- 1 Halimar Depths
- 1 Hallowed Fountain
- 1 High Market
- 1 Isolated Chapel
- 1 Marsh Flats
- 1 Polluted Delta
- 1 Reflecting Pool
- 1 Scrubland
- 1 Strip Mine
- 1 Temple of the False God
- 1 Terramorphic Expanse
- 1 Thespian's Stage
- 1 Tolaria West
- 1 Tundra
- 1 Underground Sea
- 1 Vault of the Archangel
- 1 Watery Grave
- 1 Academy Ruins
- 1 Miren, the Moaning Well
- 1 Phyrexian Tower
- 1 Volrath's Stronghold
- 1 Aether Spellbomb
- 1 Conjurer's Closet
- 1 Crystal Shard
- 1 Darksteel Forge
- 1 Darksteel Ingot
- 1 Dispeller's Capsule
- 1 Elixir of Immortality
- 1 Executioner's Capsule
- 1 Expedition Map
- 1 Gilded Lotus
- 1 Goblin Cannon
- 1 Jester's Cap
- 1 Lightning Greaves
- 1 Lotus Bloom
- 1 Mana Vault
- 1 Memory Jar
- 1 Mimic Vat
- 1 Mirrorworks
- 1 Nihil Spellbomb
- 1 Oblivion Stone
- 1 Sculpting Steel
- 1 Sensei's Divining Top
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Spine of Ish Sah
- 1 Staff of Nin
- 1 Tawnos's Coffin
- 1 Thran Dynamo
- 1 Vedalken Orrery
- 1 Voltaic Key
- 1 Artificer's Intuition
- 1 Rhystic Study
- 1 Enlightened Tutor
- 1 Entomb
- 1 Fact or Fiction
- 1 Frantic Search
- 1 Thirst for Knowledge
- 1 Vampiric Tutor
- 1 Akroma's Memorial
- 1 Mox Opal
- 1 Austere Command
- 1 Careful Study
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 1 Timetwister
- 1 Transmute Artifact
This is the Sharuum deck that I wish I'd started with in the first place. It fits me much better as a player without the combo possibilities, so the broken interactions of Sharuum with Sculpting Steel and/or Phyrexian Metamorph go out the window. I'm left with a deck that instead has some fantastic synergy with itself and some added finishing power to get the job done as well.
It's not going to stand up to a competitive table like it used to, so please keep that in mind if you're looking for something with more teeth to it. But I do guarantee that once you can prove to your playgroup that you aren't doing anything broken anymore, this will be a solid go to deck right up to that point.
Here's what it would cost me to make these changes:
|Elixir of Immortality||$0.49|
|Spine Of Ish-Sah||$0.49|
|Staff of Nin||$0.99|
|Vault of the Archangel||$1.49|
I'm coming out of pocket to the tune of about $60 for these changes. Now, if Sean and I choose your deck for an installment of Dear Azami, you'll receive a $20 store credit to StarCityGames.com.
Unless, you know, you're either Sean or I to begin with.
Thanks again for hanging with me this week as I did things a little differently. It's nice to be able to look at some of the underlying issues and feelings that drive Commander (and myself for that matter) and put them out on the table to examine and discuss. I know that I'm not necessarily speaking for everyone out there with my personal slant on things, and that's fine. The real secret to this format is that it's so great because it has the ability to speak to any kind of player. That's really important.
I'd love to hear from you on this. Where do you stand personally? Which version of my deck speaks to you more? And, as always, what did I miss that should be in the final deck? I'm all ears.
Thanks again, everyone. See you in two.
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 Roni's Lorthos, the Tidemaker deck or Brian's Lazav, Dimir Mastermind 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!