Commander Things I’m Thankful For

With Thanksgiving Day tomorrow in the USA, Sheldon Menery has a lot to be thankful for! You, the reader, are on the list, but there’s plenty more involving Magic, Commander, and the great life that surrounds them!

As many of you know, it’s been quite a bumpy year for me. As the year opened, I started treatment for throat cancer. In July, an unrelated but no less life-threatening infection landed me in the hospital. Medical science, not to mention a great support network of friends and family (which certainly includes the Magic community), helped get me through. A birthday is pretty sweet when you weren’t sure if you were going to see it or not; the same goes for holidays. As we hit Thanksgiving here in the USA, when it’s customary to mention the things we’re thankful for, events of the last year make it seem even more appropriate to talk about all the Commander-related stuff that I appreciate.

The Rest of the RC

This is an easy one, since Scott, Toby, Gavin, and I were friends before the Commander Rules Committee was ever formed. When we meet, it’s never drudgery. We don’t always think alike, which of course is part of what makes us better than the sum of our parts. We have a consistent vision for the format, but each of us approaches in different ways how we might implement that vision. It’s been too long since all four of us have played a game together, but there have been plenty of instances of at least three of us getting together, some of them chronicled on these very pages.

I can’t talk about the RC without being thankful for Toby and Scott helping take care of me when I was recovering from radiation treatment. Toby in particular flew in on two separate occasions when Gretchyn had to go out of town for work a few times; Toby drove me to my daily appointments and even cooked for me. Scott did a great deal to help keep my morale up when my mood was darkest. If those aren’t friends to be thankful for, I don’t know who is.

When we’re together, I’d call our play style “friendly aggressive.” We adhere to the mantra “build casually, play competitively.” I think it’s because we’re all close friends that no one misinterprets any in-game actions. There are no grudges or real retaliations, save for those that make some measure of sense (like “well, you’re killing me, so let me take a parting shot”). There’s a frequent “you killed me last game, so I’m attacking you first this one,” but that’s about as far as it goes. Generally, we simply communicate with each other a great deal—”Hey, why’d you make that play, because it seemed suboptimal” or “I’m not sure I agree with your policework there, Lou.”

Speaking of communicating, we might have an exciting announcement coming soon, so I’ll let you speculate on what that might be.

The Community

It seems like this is an easy target, but I find the Commander community as a whole pretty spectacular. Sure, like any large social group, we have outliers or folks we simply can’t see eye to eye with, but in the trim, I’m pretty happy with my fellow fans of the 100-card decks.

There are plenty of folks with whom what we’ve tried to accomplish over the years resonates, and they’ve given us outstanding support. Although Scott, Toby, and Gavin travel more than I do these days, I still get to hear plenty of stories about epic games in which create a lifetime of memories—which is the point in the first place.

The environment at my local game store is strong. Some twenty-odd players regularly come in for Thursday afternoon and evening open play. Folks there are quite inviting of new players, making sure that if it looks like someone wants to get into a game, they can. What’s best is the idea that the games need to be fun for everyone, so there is discussion of play styles and deck types. Players have learned how to more gently suggest decks which might fit in with the rest of a table or discuss why a particular style might not be in the group’s best interest going forward.

To that end, there’s another League at the shop on Sunday afternoon which is dedicated to the Spikier players, which ends up as the perfect solution because everyone is on board with the type of game they want. There are certainly crossovers between the Thursday and Sunday groups; some players enjoy both styles and so participate in both. I’m all for providing opportunities for everyone to be happy.

As fate would have it, one of my radiation therapists turned out to be a fan of the format. One day when I went in for treatment, I happened to have on an Armada Games polo. We started chatting about how she used to go to the shop to play FNM and sometimes in other Standard events (“I’m definitely a blue mage,” she insisted), but then school got in the way, and she drifted away from playing—the same story lots of people who come and go from the game (and then always come back).

Then she said “…but the most fun I ever had was playing this format called Commander. Have you heard of it?” It was probably the best I felt during those six weeks. I told her a brief version of the format’s story and we became fast friends. She wasn’t there on my last day of treatment, but I left her a signed copy of the only appropriate card: Radiate.

There’s one other member of the Commander community I want to specifically mention—SCG’s own Danny West. Danny, who had an infinitely rougher time of things than I did or can ever imagine, was there for me in the darkest of hours, providing the right kind of light to guide me through. For me, he’s the person who had been down in the hole before and knew the way out. Danny’s not the type of person who seeks much notoriety, but in this he deserves a great deal of recognition. I remain eternally grateful. [Wishing for a flowing fine wine holiday for you, my friend, warrior, brother.—Ed.]

Webites, Podcasts, and Social Media Groups

When you have a large fan base dedicated to a pastime, you’re going to get websites, podcasts, and social media groups. Whether they’re discussion boards or sites dedicated to deckbuilding, there are far too many pages to mention—but it would be silly to not mention the very site you’re on at the moment. We’ve been together seventeen years now, from the original Ask the Judge, which later added Feature Friday, to the Commander-centric Embracing the Chaos, and these days, my weekly musings about life in the Commander universe.

Of course, there are the official Commander boards, and I’m thankful that the folks who frequent there display a level of reasonableness and maturity that sets a great standard for online folks everywhere. We don’t even heavily moderate it (although we do a little); we simply let the folks who frequent the boards raise the level of debate. Sure, we have the occasional issue, but for the most part folks carry the spirit of the format with them when they come in.

While there certainly aren’t as many podcasts as websites, there are too many to mention all the good ones. I will say that I’ve had a great time doing the Commanderin’ podcast multiple times. Phil and Sean do a fine job, have a great sense of humor, and always want to talk about high quality booze—so right up my alley. I’m also a fan of The Command Zone (although, ahem, it’s been a while since I’ve been on). Most recently I was on Kitchen Table Magic; I don’t think I’ve ever chatted with a kinder human being than KTM’s Sam Tang. And while it’s not really a podcast, the Commander VS series has sucked me in. In general, I’m more of a reader than a watcher, but those folks always looks like they’re having fun, and fun is what the format is all about.


Long-time readers know I like the foils; you might even say I have a problem. I’m not even sure what started it other than “Ooh, shiny!” but here we are. Most of my 43 currently constructed decks are as foily as they possibly can be. At least my obsession isn’t quite to the point of being unhealthy; I hesitate to spend big bucks on some cards for decks that I play less than others, like the Kaladesh Masterpiece Series Mana Vault or Urza’s Legacy Grim Monolith for my Karn deck. Fortunately, foils from recent sets are for the most part reasonably priced and commonly available. The full art Zendikar Expedition lands (like Sunken Hollow) are personal favorites and, as pimpy lands go, not particularly expensive. The foiling process treats best cards with darker art—Sepulchral Primordial and Decree of Pain stick out in my mind.

Commander-Related Products

I love that Wizards of the Coast is producing Commander-related products for two reasons. First, it simply makes more cards available to us as well as making cards specifically for the format. The great folks from R&D can stretch their legs a little in card design, knowing that they’ll only be available for Eternal formats; if they happen to break something, it doesn’t have that much of an impact on the Pro Play formats. They get to make some mechanical use of the command zone, which they’ve refined nicely over a few sets. They can think specifically about multiplayer games without having to worry about balancing the cards for one-on-one play. In short, they can go the extra mile in helping create the epic games that have gathered us all to Commander in the first place.

If I’m going to ask the folks from R&D for anything for future releases, it would be to go back to five decks instead of four. That way, we can still have a game when one of the folks in our Commander league can’t make it that night. Plus, we wouldn’t need to make the tough decision on who has to sit out one of the Leagues. Sure, a three-player game is better than none, but four and five are the optimal numbers. Since we’re asking for stuff, I’ll also ask for another thing like Commander’s Arsenal with some cool cards not currently available in foil, like Martyr’s Bond, Commander’s Sphere, Sakashima’s Student, and Arcane Lighthouse.

The second great thing about the Commander decks is that they make it easy for new players to get into the format. Even for somewhat experienced Magic players, building a Commander deck can be a daunting proposition. The difficult part doesn’t come from finding enough cards to play, it’s in being able to cut it down to 99. I still remember back in the early days—probably 2005—when I wrote down the exact 100 cards that I wanted to pull, went to the card collection, and came back with somewhere north of 300.

The preconstructed decks are affordable and playable right away. They’re a great starting point, whether you want to update them a card at a time or just take the core of the deck and move off in a different direction. Making the format accessible socially is one of the major factors which led to its initial popularity. The Commander products, especially the decks, are in no small part responsible for Commander’s explosion.

Here’s how much I like the Commander-related products. I just asked my wife to build a series of floating shelves in the game room to display all of them. I pick up an extra one of each on release so that I’ll always have one to play with and one to display (and then I cherry-pick singles, too). And yes, my wife does all the construction projects around here; in fact, her workshop is full of tools (to include a table saw) that my mom gave to her. So I guess I’m also thankful for women who have no use for traditional gender roles.


Let’s be honest: cards are the reason we play Magic. Yeah, we love the structure of the game and all, but when cards do stuff, we love it. Here are my Top 10 cards in Commander that I’m happy I get to play—they may not be the best of the best, but they’re the ones I always enjoy.

10. Solemn Simulacrum: Sure, it’s a staple, but there it is every time, just plugging away, providing solid value. A land, a chump block, and a card. Don’t even need recursion. Of course, if you have it, even better.

9. Duplicant: Like Solemn Simulacrum, it’s unspectacular but always provides most excellent value.

8. Possibility Storm: I’m not much on chaos cards, but it seems like Possibility Storm always provides the wildest results. There are a few other cards which are ugly with it (like Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir), but that only ruins the fun if someone does it on purpose.

7. Reins of Power: “Hey, can I borrow your team for a minute?” Fun both when you have no creatures and when you have a bunch of them—in the worst case, at least you get yours back untapped.

6. Sepulchral Primordial: I’m an unrepentant fan of graveyard recursion. The black Primordial is another which has led to more than a few insane plays over the years, especially when someone has Clones in the graveyard.

5. Lord of Extinction: You can’t play it without shouting “Boom Tube!” because it’s always a giant beating.

4. Seedguide Ash: Folks still haven’t come around to the value of this beauty. It doesn’t provide early initial ramp; it instead powers you through those middle turns. Bonus value because it can get any Forest card, to include dual lands.

3. Sudden Spoiling: The number of blowouts Sudden Spoiling has provided is at this point too high to count. Obvious combo is with Massacre Wurm, but the card is so much more than that one trick.

2. Equal Treatment: The card with the best social message also turns out to be a fine one to play. It’s a kind of Fog which can also protect your face from spells. And it draws a card. Best play of all time with Equal Treatment was killing someone who was at two with a 1/1.

1. Living Death: It’s been my favorite card since it came out all those years ago. Nothing has usurped it.

Non-Commander Stuff

There’s also a bunch of non-Commander stuff to be thankful for. In no particular order: cats, wine, Skyrim, The Good Place, aged gouda, Shakespeare, Rush, Netflix, Witcher 3, Out of the Park Baseball, sumatriptan, Amazon Prime, Stranger Things, Dream Theater, ghost pepper sauce, Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, Shun knives, dire wolves, Ars Magica, Ray Donovan, calendula oil, Five Guys Burger and Fries, the Italian language, rye whiskey, Bojack Horseman, oatmeal raisin cookies, crossword puzzles, simple syrup, recliners, original art, spearmint, real Philly cheesesteaks, Queensryche, David Halberstam’s The Summer of ’49, habaneros, bread pudding, and always, the great people I’m surrounded with in life. If I were pick my best skill, it would be “choosing friends.” That’s plenty to be thankful for.

This week’s Deck Without Comment is Saskia the Unyielding.

Saskia the Unyielding
Sheldon Menery
Test deck on 12-08-2016
Magic Card Back

Check out our comprehensive Deck List Database for lists of all my decks:


Purple Hippos and Maro Sorcerers; Kresh Into the Red Zone; Halloween with Karador; Dreaming of Intet; You Did This to Yourself.



Heliod, God of Enchantments; Thassa, God of Merfolk; Erebos and the Halls Of The Dead; Forge of Purphoros; Nylea of the Woodland Realm; Karn Evil No. 9.


Lavinia Blinks; Obzedat, Ghost Killer; Aurelia Goes to War; Trostani and Her Angels; Lazav, Shapeshifting Mastermind; Zegana and a Dice Bag; Rakdos Reimagined; Glissa, Glissa; Ruric Thar and His Beastly Fight Club; Gisa and Geralf Together Forever.

Shards and Wedges

Adun’s Toolbox; Angry, Angry Dinos; Animar’s Swarm; Ikra and Kydele; Karrthus, Who Rains Fire From The Sky; Demons of Kaalia; Merieke’s Esper Dragons; Nath of the Value Leaf; Rith’s Tokens; The Mill-Meoplasm; The Altar of Thraximundar; The Threat of Yasova; Zombies of Tresserhorn.


Yidris: Money for Nothing, Cards for Free; Saskia Unyielding; Breya Reshaped; Kynaios and Tiro.


Children of a Greater God.


Tana and Kydele; Ikra and Kydele.


Animar Do-Over; Glissa Do-Over; Karador Do-Over; Karador Version 3; Karrthus Do-Over; Kresh Do-Over; Steam-Powered Merieke Do-Over; Lord of Tresserhorn Do-Over; Mimeoplasm Do-Over; Phelddagrif Do-Over; Rith Do-Over; Ruhan Do-Over.

If you’d like to follow the adventures of my Monday Night RPG group (in a campaign that’s been alive since 1987) which is just beginning the saga The Lost Cities of Nevinor, ask for an invitation to the Facebook group “Sheldon Menery’s Monday Night Gamers.”