Building A Commander Deck From The Bottom Up

Most Commander decks are built from the top down around a general, but today Bennie does something different by building a deck from the bottom up with Deadeye Navigator.


While there was a little bit of chatter that Griselbrand needs to be banned in Legacy, the June 20th DCI Banned Announcement said he’s still around to terrorize SCG Legacy Opens for a few months more. However, the big ol’ lovable Demon got an uppercut from nowhere, knocked out of Commander by Sheldon Menery and the Rules Committee.

The second that Griselbrand was spoiled I knew it was too good for Commander, though his "drawback" of only allowing exchange of life for cards in chunks of seven briefly lulled my SCG Commander compatriots Sheldon and Sean McKeown into thinking that maybe he’d be okay for a format full of haymakers. Both seemed to come around to being concerned about the card relatively quickly, with Sean even going so far as to make a disgustingly broken and consistent Griselbrand deck and running it through some Commander pods at a SCG Open Series event to prove the point.

Even so, I was a little bit surprised that Griselbrand didn’t just get banned as a commander rather than getting a boot from the format entirely. Not that I don’t think he deserves banning, but because some people seem to think it’s just his accessibility from the Command Zone that makes him broken. And yes, that makes him even more ridiculous, but even as one of your 99, black has a zillion ways to Tutor and your prime target is going to be Griselbrand—it doesn’t really matter that you’re burning off a Tutor to get him instead of your win condition because you’re going to draw more Tutors and/or win conditions. If he’d been banned as a Commander, I’m fairly certain that the RC would have had to ban him completely down the road, so kudos to them for thinking things through and stopping the madness right here and now.

Though I am a bit sad that I didn’t get a chance to build my "fair" Griselbrand deck…

I was a little surprised that Sundering Titan got the axe. To tell the truth, I’d forgotten the big guy was still legal because I literally could not remember the last time I’d seen him played at a Commander table. The card is so jerky that I think most people self-ban him when building their decks, but I suspect that the printing of Deadeye Navigator makes the Titan way too tempting to the Spikes out there. Being able to fire off both triggers for each 1U you spend is insane…and insanely oppressive, allowing you to dramatically reduce opponents’ mana resources and keep them from being able to play. Pinpoint land destruction is smart and fine in Commander—mass land destruction is jerky and mean.

Which brings us around to the third thing of note:  that the RC is keeping an eye on Worldfire, an expensive red sorcery from M13. Worldfire is the latest in a long line of "reset" cards that tend to be frustrating and annoying as hell in Commander; you spend all this time playing out a game, having fun, trying to execute your plan while stopping others from doing the same, when all of a sudden the game starts over and makes you wonder if you’ve just wasted all that time for nothing. There’s often a couple players who get mana hosed that sit around and can’t do anything but wait for someone to get something together enough to put them out of their misery, if they don’t just scoop in frustration.

That’s why I like Worldfire—setting everyone at one life means that the game is very likely going to end fast. Which means you can all shuffle up and start another game. Most game resets tend to set the game back to turn 0, which is just frustrating, especially if the game has already been a long one. Worldfire sets up a sudden death round with everyone on the razor’s edge! I also like that it helps give some strength to red, a color that is typically a dog in long Commander games. Red can dish out damage like nobody’s business, but when each player starts with 40 life and often starts playing gigantic, undercosted creatures, that’s a lot of toughness and life points to chew through.

But one life point per player? Yeah, I think I can handle that.

Sure, Worldfire is going to be really disgusting in Jhoira decks, but what isn’t disgusting in Jhoira decks? I’ll be happy to see this potent weapon give mono-red Commander decks some much needed muscle to compete with blue and green around the table.


Speaking of Deadeye Navigator, I wanted to write a little bit about bottom-up deckbuilding in Commander. In this singleton format, it is natural to build your decks focused heavily on the legend you pick as your Commander, because that’s one card you can really count on always being available to you. This leads Commander fans to want to build our decks from the top down, starting with the legend and warping the deck to maximize the fun you can have with it.

But sometimes you run across a non-legendary card and just want to do something crazy with it in Commander. Recently, I had that sort of thought with Deadeye Navigator.

When that card was spoiled I knew that he’d be fun paired up with creatures with enters the battlefield abilities (and the few with leaves the battlefield abilities), and I have certainly brewed a fair share of Standard decks featuring him. In Commander, though, there are so many more creatures that want to pair up with Deadeye Navigator you could probably start up a reality TV show called the Magic Bachelor. Will he choose the cuddly Eternal Witness or the mysterious Voidmage Husher? Drahms!

Of course, it doesn’t take long when perusing the list of potential partners to realize that no one can hold a candle to Palinchron and the allure of infinite mana, which then lets you infinitely Blink whatever value creature you’ve got sitting around to kill everyone at the table. Suddenly, I’m not quite as enthused about Deadeye Navigator.

But then I run across some people talking about Deadeye Navigator in Standard, along with another sweet new card from Avacyn Restored: Zealous Conscripts! With infinite potential activations of Zealous Conscripts, you could basically steal every permanent at the table…with haste!

Now THAT is an epic haymaker, no? While it would be annoying as hell to play against a deck that consistently did this all the time, I think most opponents would think it was pretty cool when I pulled it off the first time.

So how do I go about pulling it off the first time? I know I want Deadeye Navigator, Palinchron (or maybe Peregrine Drake if I want to be a little less jerky), and Zealous Conscripts. So that puts me in red/blue…

Of course, it’s hard not to look at Deadeye Navigator and not be pulled in the direction of green and all the insane value creatures green gives you in Commander. Green also gives you lots of ways to Tutor for creatures, which should increase the ability to pull off the three-creature combo. My plan of course is to ditch all these Tutors once I pull off the one game where I steal everyone’s permanents, which will make it much less likely to happen again.

But that one game… It’ll be epic!

So we’ve got the green, blue, and red wedge, which limits our Commander choices to just three. Since we’re going to be leaning strongly towards value creatures—along with some spells to Tutor for creatures—that screams Riku of Two Reflections to me. That’s actually a pretty sweet choice since people tend to focus a lot of pinpoint creature destruction Riku’s way, which will make it easier to Deadeye Navigator when he brings his boat to shore.

With the key cards in mind and a commander selected, here are the cards I’ve picked to round out the deck.

Value Creatures ("Mulldrifters"):  Riftsweeper, Augury Owl, Wall of Blossoms, Eternal Witness, Whirlpool Warrior, Sea Gate Oracle, Carven Caryatid, Loaming Shaman, Ondu Giant, Voidmage Husher; Venser, Shaper Savant; Mystic Snake, Sakashima the Impostor, Phyrexian Metamorph, Mulldrifter, Acidic Slime, Haze Frog, Zealous Conscripts, Izzet Chronarch, Deadwood Treefolk, Duplicant, Draining Whelk, Palinchron, Avenger of Zendikar, Woodfall Primus

A Deadeye Navigator/Riku deck is all about value creatures, so I’ve loaded up with them here. Ondu Giant is here to fix mana and combine with Avenger of Zendikar. Special shout out to Jay Delazier for reminding me about Haze Frog!

Creature Protection:  Nim Deathmantle, Spellskite, Lightning Greaves, Vexing Shusher, Vedalken Orrery, Spellbreaker Behemoth, Cauldron of Souls, Alchemist’s Refuge, Winding Canyons

The combo that you want to assemble is made of all creatures, so you want ways to protect them from harm as well as ways to run them into play when your opponents aren’t expecting it. I was particularly pleased to stumble back across Spellbreaker Behemoth since Deadeye Navigator has five power.

Creature Tutors (temporary):  Survival of the Fittest, Fauna Shaman, Summoner’s Pact, Chord of Calling, Birthing Pod, Defense of the Heart, Tooth and Nail

I’ve really loaded up on the creature Tutors, but only until I pull off my desired haymaker play. Once I do that I’ll be replacing all these to make the deck more fun and random.

Mana Acceleration:  Sol Ring, Mana Vault, Fellwar Stone, Bloom Tender, Darksteel Ingot, Scuttlemutt, Coalition Relic

Pretty much the standard stuff; a little bit extra due to how mana hungry Deadeye Navigator can get.

Good Stuff:  Sensei’s Divining Top, Skullclamp, Arcane Denial, Tribute to the Wild, Twincast, Sylvan Library, Trygon Predator, Krosan Grip, Deathrender, Seedborn Muse, Urabrask the Hidden, Soul of the Harvest, Deadeye Navigator; Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger

Lots of good stuff here. I think Deathrender might be a decent way to sneak in one of the key creatures to surprise people. Seedborn Muse is just insane alongside Deadeye Navigator, with Alchemist’s Refuge just taking it over the top (a scenario you might remember me talking about last week).

Here’s the deck with lands added:

There are all kinds of ways to make the deck much more cutthroat with the infinite mana provided from Palinchron, but like I said, my main goal here is to pull off the "all your base are belong to us" haymaker and check that off my bucket list. After that I’ll remove the green tutors, Palinchron, and the creature-based counterspells since that is super-obnoxious with Deadeye Navigator.

I might also swap out Riku and replace with Maelstrom Wanderer (same wedge colors) and add in Etherium-Horn Sorcerer, Bloodbraid Elf, and Shardless Agent just to have some cascading fun. Even though creatures with cascade don’t combo with Deadeye Navigator, with so many value cards they’re bound to just be great to spin out there and see what crops up.

So what cards do you like pairing up with Deadeye Navigator? What are the coolest plays you’ve pulled off with it?

And what do you think of the bannings and Worldfire being put on the watch list?

Take care,


starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com

Make sure to follow my Twitter feed (@blairwitchgreen). I check it often so feel free to send me feedback, ideas, and random thoughts. I’ve also created a Facebook page where I’ll be posting up deck ideas and will happily discuss Magic, life, or anything else you want to talk about!

New to Commander?
If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:

My current Commander decks (and links to decklists):

Previous Commander decks currently on hiatus: