All’s Fair In Love And Commander

Erik Tiernan’s girlfriend needed some Commander help! She knew what kind of Magic she enjoyed, she knew what she wanted to get out of her games, but she didn’t have the means to get there. See the excellent list that Erik gifted her! Ever helped a friend or partner get their Commander game on?

SCG Regionals August 6!

After I culled my Commander Herd, I started building again. I’ve said this format is a brewer’s paradise, and that is entirely true. If you ever feel like competitive Magic isn’t scratching your deckbuilding itch? Join us! Commander has more card slots, more freedom, more everything! There are always new things to try, old cards to revisit, and new strategies to play. And sometimes, it is going back into a comfort zone and just having fun playing Magic.

My local game store has been getting better at Commander, which is great! But it means I have to work harder to find a table that wants to play silly things like Pirates and Sea Monsters with Ramirez DiPietro, or my Kathari Remnant Pauper (Voltron killing someone with a 0/1 is a glorious feeling), or Sekki, Seasons’ Guide Spirits and Arcane spells.

But for me, that is easy. For my girlfriend, Liz, things have been a little trickier. She was playing Atarka, World Render. Then she branched out to my Yasova Dragonclaw and Meren of Clan Nel Toth decks. But she wanted her own deck, one that matched her playstyle better.

Building her deck would be easy, but that would be cheating her too. Liz’s playstyle is to sabotage people if she cannot win. She plays well and to win, but if things go horribly wrong for her, she is taking someone down with her.

In a game like Super Smash Bros. she is the player who will jump off the edge to deny an opponent a kill. In Ticket to Ride she will start grabbing all the yellow cards so you cannot connect Portland to Helena. As the default target in my group, she often picks me to take down.

Her favorite story involves alpha striking me with Atarka, World Render and a couple of Dragons to kill me; she leaves out the part where the next player untapped Derevi, Empyrial Tactician with a bunch of Swords of X and Y to kill her and win. If she killed the Derevi player first, she would have won because I had no way to stop her Dragons in time. Her retort is that I died first and it’s a moral victory.

Her Deck, Her Way

I started by suggesting potential commanders for Liz. She lit up at the thought of Sen Triplets, making it the biggest winner in all the land. The goal for the deck is to get Sen Triplets out and and start stealing goodies. After Liz confirmed the way it worked, she asked about counterspells. If she targets my Damia, Sage of Stone or Dragonlord Ojutai deck with Sen Triplets, she doesn’t even need to take a card to be safe from Counterspell. That settled any remaining doubt she had about the commander.

Since Liz lacks my encyclopedic knowledge of Magic cards, we basically played Twenty Questions to get a handle on the deck’s goals. We hit a few major points:

1. She doesn’t like counterspells because she wants to be social and kind of chill out when it isn’t her turn.

2. She wants the deck to function if others have jank for her to steal.

3. She wants to play Mindslaver and Worst Fears. (I’m pretty sure her laugh after reading those cards and telling me that she was going to make me a puppet is best described as a cackle.)

3a. I will not allow her to build a deck with a Mindslaver lock; people should get to play.

4. She wants ways to get other colors of mana in case her opponents didn’t have land in hand.

With those points in mind, I went through my collection and handed her a huge pile of cards. Liz got rid of cards she didn’t like. And we repeated the process of her pulling out cards she didn’t like or keeping only her favorites several times to pare the deck down. Then I walked her through the manabase and asked her about certain lands she may want. One of the best experiences about this process was watching Liz get better at card evaluation, pick up Magic slang, and start recognizing synergies without any input from me. For example, I explained shocklands (Hallowed Fountain) and painlands (Adarkar Wastes); the next day she was asking how to classify City of Brass, Mana Confluence, and Tarnished Citadel.

After a long time of paring down the list and a quick time of adding mana rocks and lands, she ended up with the following list.


The basics and many nonbasics are there to make the deck run; shocks and painlands are good but not exciting to talk about. But some nonbasics are in here that I normally would never suggest. Exotic Orchard is an all-star in this deck and highly underrated in most decks. In most three-color decks this will be, at least, an untapped two-color land. Sometimes this is a second Command Tower. But when Sen Triplets or another effect lets you use cards outside a commander’s color identity, Exotic Orchard is a perfect tool. You can always get the colors from an opponent to cast their cards. City of Brass, Mana Confluence, and Tarnished Citadel work the same way. They get you the colors you need, when you need them. You just have to pay a bit.

Other lands enter the battlefield tapped to generate some extra colors; the Vivid cycle from Lorwyn is an example. Vivid Meadow, Vivid Marsh, and Vivid Creek are all in this deck and are handy for fixing mana and for getting colors Sen Triplets cannot normally run. Rupture Spire asks a lot upfront with a mana and entering tapped, but for the rest of the game there is no drawback for making colors. Shimmering Grotto and Unstable Frontier are mechanically different but do the same thing of filtering mana into a color currently unavailable.

Mirrodin’s Core is a filter that needs to charge up, but it can add counters whenever there is spare mana, so that later in the game Liz might have three or four counters and never need to worry about an opponent not having a land in hand to steal.

The mana rocks help the deck run. A few can turn into cards later in the game, but these are all workhorse cards. The only exciting ones are the three pictured.

Darksteel Ingot is incredibly hard to remove and almost never worth it for an opponent, and all the while it makes whatever color is needed. Spectral Searchlight is handy for fixing colors and making a friend. I hate politics in games, but Liz loves it. She also likes that, when someone really needs to cast a sweeper, she can help out if it helps her too.

Finally, Coalition Relic is a powerhouse in this deck. The charge counter and tapping for any color provide a really easy way to generate two red or two green. This little gem also fixes the mana for Liz’s deck normally and it can generate different colors in a single turn. One of the best cards she has stolen with Sen Triplets is a Savage Ventmaw that she cast using Coalition Relic to get the needed colors.

It may seem like there are too many mana rocks, considering how much the deck can steal from opponents, but Sen Triplets is a known threat and the deck needs to be able to win without any help. Plus, when an opponent loses the game, their stuff leaves the game; Johnny can kill Spike so that Liz is only left with Timmy’s critters.


Liz likes that her opponents have great cards. With some of these, she can have those great cards too! The basics like Control Magic, Acquire, Telemin Performance, and Confiscate are present. They do great work. Annex helps ramp and get the mana of an opponent’s colors.

Blatant Thievery is a blue Insurrection. You get fewer things, but you get them forever. Sphinx Ambassador drives people crazy, since they are almost certainly getting the card wrong. Enslave steals a creature and deals some damage. Adarkar Valkyrie and Extract from Darkness take cards from the graveyard. Okay, Adarkar Valkyrie targets a card before it dies, but the principle is the same.

Clone and Punishment

Liz didn’t want a ton of Clones, but she did like a few. Evil Twin was one of the first cards put into the deck. Clever Impersonator made her light up after realizing it can copy anything. She has even used it to copy my Garruk, Apex Predator and immediately destroy mine. The table cheered, she fist-pumped, I put my favorite planeswalker in the graveyard. Gigantoplasm and Duplicant copy with some upside. Duplicant is removal (not technically a Clone but close enough). Gigantoplasm lets Liz pull a Rita Repulsa and “Make my monster grow!”

Then she sprinkled in cards that hurt everyone or let her steal something really cool. Memory Plunder can be anything at instant speed, Planeswalker’s Mischief is complicated in wording but lets her cast spells out of an opponent’s hand, and Seer’s Vision helps set up the Sen Triplets’ effect.

Psychosis Crawler drains the whole table and Sire of Stagnation gets her extra cards and exiles an opponent’s topdeck every time someone plays a land. Thief of Blood steals all the counters, Void Winnower so that we literally can’t even, Angelic Arbiter to add restrictions, and Seht’s Tiger to completely shut down an attack or other source of damage from an opponent. The deathtouch twins of Baleful Strix and Fathom Feeder gain a little value and get in the way of big scary things. Ob Nixiliis, Unshackled adds pressure and just waits for someone to forget about it. Then boom, they lose ten life and have to sacrifice a creature.

Target Player Gets Wrecked

These are Liz’s favorite cards. Sadistic Sacrament does cause a bit of analysis paralysis from the many, many choices, but often this will be cast in the late-game and just make a player scoop. Liz grabs all the cards that she thinks will beat her. Or she waits and thumbs through the deck. The rest of the table starts making calls about what to pull, what is the worst card to see from the deck, what we expect to be there. You get the picture, right?

Well, since Liz doesn’t know decks in the same capacity that some of the veteran players do, we end up giving her a greatest hits list so that she can shop for all their best cards and throw them away. If this resolves against a hard control deck it is a beating. They often only have a handful of threats, and taking fifteen means all of them and some of their best remaining answers.

Magister Sphinx should read, “When Magister Sphinx enters the battlefield, target player loses the game before his or her next turn.” Even better (worse?) is when she clones it and takes out multiple players in short order.

Worst Fears and Mindslaver let her concoct all sorts of dastardly plans. She gets to take a turn for someone and they becoming an unwilling ally. She is also pretty good at finding a way to wreck their battlefield or get them killed. She controlled a turn of my Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and took it from a healthy life total to dying to Bitterblossom on my upkeep in one turn.

The Rest

The rest of the deck is spot removal, sweepers, and a couple of cards that just help the deck win, like Steel Hellkite or Exsanguinate. There isn’t too much to explain here. Liz is pretty good at using her opponent’s cheap removal to get rid of their own threats or another opponent’s threat. Sometimes she even tries to make an ally from it. “I can cast your removal spell; I just need you to tutor it.”

The Lesson

She adores this deck. Sometimes she misses the aggression of Atarka, World Render, but overall Liz loves that she doesn’t have a huge target on her back (she got very good with the Dragons), and when Sen Triplets is gone, most people think the deck has lost its power. Watching her skills develop with a deck that matches her playstyle is great. She is learning how to hold back with a sweeper and use it at the best moment, like sandbagging a Plague Wind for over five turns to use it after Magister of Worth brought all creatures back from the graveyard. She won that game.

The important takeaway is the structure for this build. If you are helping a less experienced Commander player, a pile of awesome cards is one of the best starting places. But before you dive into deckbuilding with a Commander newbie, take the time to get a feel for their playstyle and their desires for the deck. Handing someone the one-drop Edric, Spymaster of Trest deck that can run over a whole table with extra turns can make someone disengage from the format because they wanted to play with Giants or Dragons or Sunforger or Skullclamp.

If a player loves what they are playing, they will have more fun winning or losing than if they dislike their deck. So take that extra few minutes to play Twenty Questions, come up with a plan, and then start pulling the cards that do not fit that plan. If your new player loves their deck, there is a much greater chance they will love this format.

How do you help someone build? What do you do to focus on fun? Do you need to draw a line, like not running a Mindslaver lock to take all the turns?

SCG Regionals August 6!