Commander Deck Madness!

This week Bennie talks about four insane Commander decks that took part in the big Commander tournament this past weekend at Richmond Comix.

In articles about Standard or other Constructed formats, there will often be a fair number of decklists, especially articles going over a particular tournament or metagame. Articles on Commander tend to focus on one particular deck because the decks are so large and it’s a singleton format so going over the deck takes up a lot of space.

Today I’m blowing that convention out of the water and throwing a bunch of Commander decks at you courtesy of the big Commander tournament this past weekend! I’ve had some people request that I post updates to decks I’ve written about in the past, so I’ll be presenting the deck I played and the deck my roommate played, both updates to previous decks I’ve shared. I would have probably made it to the final table if I hadn’t made a dumb mistake, while my roommate took down his pod and made it to the final table. The decks are insane!

I’ll also be sharing a sick, super-fast mono-green aggro deck that made it to the final table and presenting the twisted work of art that won the whole thing. These two decks are quite different from anything that I would build, so I figured they might make for some red meat for those of you who enjoy a different style of Commander than I offer up. How’s that sound?

First up, the deck I decided to play. Going into Saturday, I had two choices I was kicking around. One was my "Bennie’s Greatest Hits" deck that has, almost literally, every single one of my favorite Magic cards in it. The commander is Doran, the Siege Tower, and I initially wrote about it in All My Faves in One Deck!  I’ve tweaked and updated it a bit to make it a little more vicious for tournament play.

The other deck was my Vorel of the Hull Clade deck, which I wrote about in Never Trust The Simic! I decided to go with Vorel with some tweaks to make it a little better for tournament play because I thought it was ultimately just a little more vicious than Doran. Here’s the list:

Vorel of the Hull Clade
Bennie Smith
Test deck on 08-18-2013

Notable updates:

1. Strionic Resonator! While this deck leans heavily on activated abilities, there are enough triggered abilities to make this totally worthwhile.

2. The addition of new cards Scavenging Ooze and Kalonian Hydra, which play perfectly with the "double the counters" theme.

3. Progenitor Mimic is just a powerful card in Commander and could possibly get even sillier with Doubling Season and Strionic Resonator.

4. Many more counterspells – Quite a few people were shocked to see me play multiple counterspells throughout the game. I even had my old friend Jay Delazier stop our game a moment so he could snap a pic of me casting Cryptic Command ("Bennie Smith playing the bluest of blue counterspells? I’ve gotta get a picture!").

For those who haven’t read the original write-up on this deck, I originally conceived of it to use Vorel of the Hull Clade to abuse Magistrate’s Scepter, hoping to get enough counters on it so that doubling it each turn will let me keep taking extra turns as often as I want. I added Blue Sun’s Zenith to this version just to have a credible kill condition once that board state had been achieved. Of course, there are plenty of other sick things that can happen in the deck once Vorel and some of the other cards get working.

In the first pod with me was Tommy playing Jaya Ballard, Task Mage; Bear playing Phelddagrif; and David playing Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord. I immediately put David high on my threat list since I’m fully aware of the amount of life loss Jarad can toss around with the right sized creature.

I got a strange draw with three Islands, a Darksteel Ingot, a Remand, an Arcane Denial, and a Time Stop. As a green mage, I have to admit the draw made me a little dizzy, but since I did have a source of green mana and some permission to buy time, I went ahead and kept it. I drew two more Islands before a Forest showed up, but I did play a turn 4 Forgotten Ancient to get the party started.

Tommy played Jaya Ballard on the table, which made the Tamiyo, the Moon Sage and Glen Elendra Archmage in my hand feel a little awkward. Lucky for me, he attacked someone with her, so I played Tamiyo and tapped Jaya down, but Tamiyo’s ultimate certainly put a big target on her head. I played an Inexorable Tide and crossed my fingers that I might be able to pull off the ultimate, but Tommy played an Inferno Titan, bolting Tamiyo, and then attacked me the following turn, hurling another bolt at Tamiyo and finishing her off. Luckily I had a blocker that was big enough to block and kill the Titan.

At this point I still had a pretty sweet board. I had Forgotten Ancient, Vorel the Hull Clade, Murkfiend Liege, and Experiment Kraj. I’d thrown a +1/+1 counter on Bear’s Archivist so I could draw a card each turn ("Hey, I doubled his power and toughness for you!").

Tommy attacked me with his Jaya Ballard, Task Mage equipped with Deathrender. Since I had a few blockers bigger than Jaya’s 4/4, I figured he must have some giant creature in his hand he wanted to put into play bad enough to let Jaya go to the graveyard rather than the command zone. I pondered for a few seconds whether I cared if he did that or not and decide that I was curious enough to want to see what it was gonna be. So I blocked with my Forgotten Ancient and said, "Okay, let’s see what you got!" 

Tommy showed me by casting Blazing Shoal, pitching Bloodfire Colossus. This turned Jaya into a 12/4 creature. Then he cast Fatal Frenzy, doubling her power to 24/4 and giving her trample. My blocker was big enough for the trampled damage not to be lethal at 21 points of commander damage, so he cast Reiterate with buyback copying Fatal Frenzy, making her 48/4 and with enough mana to cast Reiterate again to make her 96/4 just for style points.

Okay, this is no longer fun and games—this is my life! Luckily for me, this particular turn I’d kept enough mana up to cast Time Stop; for some reason my spider senses had told me I ought to keep that option open, and thankfully I was able to put a stop to the shenanigans. So when Reiterate with buyback was put on the stack, I went ahead and ended the turn.

Lethal Jaya


I was actually pretty stoked about getting rid of that Reiterate because I knew it was there when he’d copied one of my early attempts to counter something and countering my counter with it (with buyback). So naturally I’d drawn a Cryptic Command and Plasm Capture, two great cards that are tricky when you’ve got to work around someone’s Reiterate (with buyback!).

On Bear’s turn, he cast Hoverguard Sweepers, bouncing my Forgotten Ancient and one of David’s creatures back into our hands. On David’s turn, he cast Gaze of Granite for nine, sweeping the board of everything but Hoverguard Sweepers. Hmm, suddenly my board didn’t look so hot. Still, I had a full grip from Experiment Kraj / Archivist draw and replayed Forgotten Ancient and another creature to the board along with the Inkmoth Nexus I’d just drawn. Hmmm . . .

Post-Gaze, everyone played a bunch of spells to rebuild their board, and Forgotten Ancient got pretty big. I cast Progenitor Mimic copying the Hoverguard Sweepers, which just seemed insane given enough turns. David cast something big—I can’t remember what it was—but I cast Cryptic Command to counter it and tapped down his team. My plan was to move some counters from Forgotten Ancient over to Inkmoth Nexus, making it big enough to kill David, and move the rest over to Progenitor Mimic / Hoverguard, which would be just big enough to kill Tommy through the air.

As soon as I went for my attack I realized my error. Richmond Comix has a house rule that it takes fifteen poison counters to kill someone with poison in Commander rather than ten, and Inkmoth Nexus now needed two hits to kill David. I cursed myself for being so dumb to forget the house rule, but David pointed out that if I’d moved fourteen counters to the Nexus I wouldn’t have enough to kill Tommy. While that was true, I was much more concerned with David killing us all with Jarad at this stage of the game than I was concerned with Tommy’s deck, especially after that devastating Time Stop had exiled all those cards.

Tommy made a play to save himself, playing his lone remaining card; he flashed in Bogardan Hellkite as a blocker, forcing me to burn off my lone remaining counterspell Plasm Capture. I killed Tommy, but it was bittersweet since David was still very much a threat.

I ended my turn, and Bear thought long and hard, saying something about "I’m not sure who I want to take out now." What the heck? I looked at his board and noticed Suture Priest, Phelddagrif, Gaea’s Cradle, Ley Druid, and a fair number of creatures. Oh crap—he can give someone a bunch of Hippos and drain their life! Between the end of my turn and his turn, he handed me 22 Hippos and drained me for 22 but left me alive for another turn. "Crap, did the math wrong," he lamented.

On David’s turn, he cast Green Sun’s Zenith for five, fetched up Lord of Extinction, played Jarad, sacked the Lord, and killed me and Bear to earn a seat at the final table.


Meanwhile, my roommate Chuck took down his pod playing my Rakdos, Lord of Riots deck. I wrote about it in Christmas Riot originally, but then I tweaked it for the Modern Commander tournament back in March. This time, though, it was back to anything goes, and this is what I gave to Chuck to battle with:

Rakdos, Lord of Riots
Chuck Myers
Test deck on 08-18-2013

Notable updates:

1. Strionic Resonator! Actually not—I took it out because I wasn’t sure Chuck wanted to mess around with that card. When I talked to him about it, his eyes kinda glazed over. But you definitely want Strionic Resonator in here.

2. More pain! I added quite a few more ways in the deck to inflict pain on one or more opponents so you can reliably cast Rakdos. I had a tough time finding old copies of Shivan Gorge, and while looking online I realized StarCityGames.com was selling the From the Vault: Realms version with new artwork and all shiny for just 99 cents and ordered one. If you’re playing Rakdos, definitely get the pimping Shivan Gorge! Leechridden Swamp, Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, even Stensia Bloodhall and Lavaclaw Reaches with enough mana are non-spell ways to sneak in the damage.

And then we’ve got Rakdos Charm, Price of Progress, Goblin Bombardment, Anathemancer, Viashino Heretic, Pyrohemia, Jeska, Warrior Adept, Sulfurous Blast, Crypt Ghast, Staff of Nim—there’s a bunch of stuff in here for that. I really like Bloodgift Demon, which can give you cards until you want to cast Rakdos, and then you can cause someone else to lose life. Magma Phoenix gets in damage one way or the other unless it runs into a chump blocker that can’t kill it.

3. Phyrexian Reclamation is a card I need to run more of; it’s just a great card but is particularly good in this deck since you want to be throwing down huge haymakers for free (Eldrazi, Colossi). Your opponent will want to counter it or kill it, so just pay two life to fetch it back and cast it again.

4. Maga, Traitor to Mortals – It’s possible to really ramp up the life loss totals on your opponents to make casting this guy lethal each time. Bounce it back with Cloudstone Curio, etc.

When Chuck won his pod, it was pointed out to him that he had the ability to win a few turns earlier if he’d been able to see the infinite mana he had available, and when he shared it with me my mouth dropped open—I totally missed it. Here it is: Mana Geyser on the stack with at least seven of your opponents’ lands tapped, target it with Reiterate with buyback, resolve, get seven red mana, and do it again. Chuck had a Pyrohemia in play and the highest life total, so he could have wiped the board immediately.

If you’re playing red, you are (or should be) already playing both Mana Geyser and Reiterate, so keep it in mind.

Earlier in the week there had been some good-natured trash-talking going on the Richmond Magic page on Facebook between Chuck and a young talented local Magician named Nathan Moneymaker, and when both of them made the final table, the trash talking resumed. Nathan had borrowed an insanely fast aggro deck put together by local Commander End Boss Christian Griffin:

Moneymaker proceeded to go off on turn 4, making his Elves large enough to kill one of the players at the table, and sure enough he turned his now big little green men sideways in Chuck’s direction. Chuck thought himself safe behind the normally awesome Sudden Spoiling, but when he cast it Moneymaker called over a judge thinking that the spell wouldn’t change the outcome. Turns out there are these funky layers in the rules that are more familiar to Eternal players that say while the Sudden Spoiling turns all the creatures into vanilla 0/2s until the end of the turn, all the pump effects provided by Ezuri stay in effect, making the attack lethal still. If Chuck wanted to stop the madness, he should have done it at the first Ezuri activation.

After Chuck was eliminated, it was a bit of a slugfest for the remaining guys, but eventually my good buddy Jay Delazier pulled it out with his removal-heavy Dromar deck. Jay won his original pod by decking everyone with Mind Over Matter and Temple Bell, pitching Kozilek, Butcher of Truth to shuffle his graveyard back into his deck. I asked him how he won the final table, but he never answered me. Hopefully he’ll read this and give us a synopsis in the comments below. Here’s his deck:

Jay gave a few thoughts on his deck:

1. The Time Walks aren’t as good as they were when I was running Sen Triplets as the commander. I mostly use them to bait counterspells now.

2. I built this list to be greedy on mana because I’d rather be drawing gas in a tournament setting. I DT and LDV for lands a lot.

3. The deck really wants an Overburden (this also seems amazing for Grand Arbiter). I just didn’t have one available to me before the tournament.

4. I’m guessing that a Rhystic Study would be good here too.

5. That Arcane Sanctum should totally be a Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrubland[/author]. I really need to buy one of those things.

6. There’s supposed to be a Humility in here, but I forgot it the morning of the tournament and didn’t have time to run back to my house to get one.

Okay, I better wrap things up for this week. I hope you enjoyed the FOUR decks presented here; please let me know what you think of them in the comments below.

Have a great weekend!

Take care,


Facebook = Bennie Smith, Writer
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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: