Well this is certainly interesting!
Welcome to the most meta version of Dear Azamito date, everyone. It looks like the plan for this episode is to take things internal for the week. After all, what kind of a person would I be if I denied a call for help from my cowriter, brother in all things Commander deck doctor, and one of the main people responsible for getting me this gig to begin with?
Yup . . . today we’re going to give Sean a makeover! (Er, that didn’t really sound nearly as cool as it did in my head. Not so good with the ol’ taglines apparently.)
Gen Con, Vacation, and Getting Back to Real Life
First things first, I want to give Sean, Cedric, and the SCG crew a hearty thanks for giving me a break over the past few weeks. I was able to take a much-needed vacation from my day job and spend some quality family and friends time. The house has never looked better, my son has never been happier to not be in daycare (sorry about this week buddy; the YMCA isn’t all that bad), I’ve got a tan, and I actually got out and about as well.
Part of the plan for this whole vacation was to fly out to Indianapolis to meet up with my close friends at Gen Con 2013. Four straight days (and nights) of gaming, good food, good company, and great experiences is something anyone reading this should plan to do at least one time in your life. There’s simply nothing like it.
My experience was pretty fantastic this year. We flew in late Wednesday night, and after hitting will call at midnight to get our badges, we found our hotel, only to be told that it was overbooked for the night despite our reservations. Long story short, they comped us a room at another hotel that was way nicer than ours, gave us car service, and offered a few days of free breakfast to make up for it (not to mention a wine basket in the room the following night to make up for the apparent hassle).
The gaming was incredible as always. I tried to stay pretty Commander-centric in my exploits, playing in several of the “Swiss Commander” events that, new to this year, used a “points” system to award wins instead of the typical “eliminate everyone as fast as possible” plan.
The first event I played was a bit of an anomaly. I played my Prime Speaker Zegana list designed specifically to handle the combo decks that ran rampant last year. I managed to keep one five-color Omniscience / Enter the Infinite / Laboratory Maniac deck in check through an early Force of Will and ample Tormod’s Crypt / Academy Ruins shenanigans, only to fall to the Zur the Enchanter player to my immediate left and only after he tried to resolve Gifts Ungiven. (Quick show of hands—anyone else ever have to call a judge during a Commander game before?)
After he was appropriately scolded and told to remove the card from his deck, game play resumed; unfortunately, there’s only so much you can do when you run short on counterspells and blow your mana on an Oblivion Stone and a Tormod’s Crypt recursion for fifty or so cards from his deck, only to see him untap and find his Palinchron, Mind Over Matter, Sensei’s Divining Top, and Future Sight in the next turn.
I’m pretty sure he took the event down. Prize support was revealed to be a relatively small allotment of M14 packs, and I’m sure this was the reason combo disappeared from the events for the rest of the weekend. Not enough EV or some such thing; in any case, I managed to fail to find green mana in the second game, promptly got eaten alive by tokens from a Trostani deck, and dropped from the event to go find some foils in the dealer hall.
My second event was equally interesting. Again with Prime Speaker, I managed to win the first round after playing Gather Specimens in response to a Dragonmaster Outcast from the Kaalia of the Vast player to my right, only to follow up with a Commandeer to grab a Doubling Season from the Trostani player to my left.
In the second round, I lost to . . .
. . . wait for it . . .
. . . Vow of Malice. The Kaalia player dropped it on a Hamletback Goliath across the table from me, and I hear intimidate is pretty good against G/U on a 34/34 creature.
And here I thought the Vows were kind of janky. Who knew?
I went with Kresh for the final event of the convention and promptly lost round 1 to (shocker) another Zur player, who assembled all the right components and followed it up with Rule of Law to lock the table down. Revenge was extracted in game 2, however, when he tossed a Claustrophobia effect on Kresh but still let him grow to epic proportions. It turns out that playing Blasphemous Act to pump Kresh to 72/72 is pretty fantastic when you then draw into Flesh // Blood and follow that with Charnelhoard Wurm to keep the beats coming.
All in all, it was a wonderful time.
While I’m at it:
Other Things I Learned at Gen Con 2013
– I’m not a fan of M14 as far as Limited goes. M13 was an absolute blast for 1v1 and 2HG drafts, and M14 seems to be a little flat in comparison, especially during the latter. There were way too many times over the weekend where we were hard-pressed to find two playables in the first pack passed to us.
– Ascension is a blast, and the new expansion (Darkness Unleashed) is killer.
– It’s really hard to keep to a pair of carry-on bags for the return flight when you buy Ascension and the new expansion box sets.
– I’m nearing total regression to my youth after also picking up a copy of the new Shadowrun Fifth Edition rulebook.
– Harry & Izzy’s remains at the top of the list of mainstays while in Indy. The food, the wine, the atmosphere . . . even the bread brought to the table is amazing.
– Although haters be damned, I still have a soft place in my heart for P.F. Chang’s (or more correctly, the Long Island Iced Teas there).
– Being a New England Patriots fan in a hostile city has gotten much easier since the signing of Tim Tebow. We were nearly buying rounds for Colts fans and vice-versa once we all discovered we were heckling the same person.
– StarCityGames.com maintains a “Heavily Played” display case section at events like this. My god, did I spend a lot of money there. (I’m particularly happy about an Unlimited Forcefield that came home with me in not-terrible shape for $55.)
– If for any reason you schedule a flight and it has a layover in Newark, walk instead.
-You meet some pretty cool people at Gen Con:
Meanwhile, Back at Dear Azami HQ . . .
Okay, Sean. Let’s see what we can do. We need to get you back in the game.
Right off the bat, the biggest issue I personally see is that you say you’re struggling with the theme of this deck and it’s packed pretty heavily with “good stuff” inclusions. That’s diluting things and stealing slots that should be used to push your main strategy forward instead.
I’d be looking to skip out on the cards that are just there because they’re good cards if they don’t have a solid functional place in the deck. An obvious example of this in your deck is Cabal Coffers. Is your deck a mono-black thing that will naturally have enough swamps to make this supportable? No. Does it have any thematic connection to what you are trying to build? Not really. I don’t mind Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth in black decks that can get some degree of mana fixing or make Maze of Ith tap for one while also giving you license to go nuts with Swampwalking creatures, but here it’s just there to make Coffers work. Worse yet, with no real way to make good use of the mana, you’re just daring people to make early use of their Strip Mines.
I see tons of cards that seem to have been included simply because they are approved “Commander staples.” Kokusho and Sylvan Primordial are powerhouses, but neither really has any thematic connection to milling or counter manipulation. What about Counterbalance and Constant Mists? The former seems pretty bad in this format, and the latter is causing you to gum up the works with supporting cards like Crucible of Worlds and Life From The Loam. Cards like these make your deck better to be sure, but they don’t connect at all to your theme, which means that your deck is more about playing good cards than it is about the theme you have identified.
You want a card that deals with milling and counters? Run Grindclock! Sure, Grindclock is not a stereotypically good card, but it’s on-theme and precisely the sort of card that makes Commander awesome. No one cares about that game that you won by pairing Sylvan Primordial and Deadeye Navigator; when you win a game by proliferating a Grindclock to deck someone, then you’ll have a story to tell.
People don’t run “good stuff” cards in Standard or Legacy because they don’t push the deck strategy forward. It’s easy to forget that the same rules apply to Commander. Make a deck that eschews obvious picks for focused synergy, and the guy across the table playing these cards will be scratching his head and wondering why he lost to your superior build.
There’s a solid foundation here for sure; you obviously know your stuff. I’m going to go section by section to get to the bottom of things.
We’ll start right off by trimming out the Cabal Coffers and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth I mentioned above. This deck is fine without them. From there, I want to save you some cash by trimming some of the off-color fetchlands you’ve included: Scalding Tarn, Bloodstained Mire, Wooded Foothills, and Marsh Flats. This is a green deck, and as such it doesn’t need to be overrun with land-based mana fixers. There are spells that do the job just as well (or better), and this will let us get back to a higher basic land count too.
After all, what if someone resolves Ruination? (C’mon, that was worth a grin, right?)
(As an aside and to be completely transparent, this is one area of Commander deckbuilding that I have a strange moral stance on. In my eyes, a card like Marsh Flats doesn’t fit the theme of the deck because there are no Plains in The Mimeoplasm’s cost. The added benefit here is that people won’t automatically think they need a $600 pile of lands for every deck, and experience tells me that it will function just fine without them.)
Also, the madness just has to stop. Sean, I’m your friend here—put down the Winding Canyons! (Don’t forget to tip your waitress, folks.)
In return, I’ll give you the filter lands (Twilight Mire, Sunken Ruins, and Flooded Grove), as well as one Island, Forest, and Swamp. The Canyons slot goes to Rogue’s Passage; you’ve got some big creatures that don’t evade naturally, and I may add another one or two while I’m at it. Let’s make sure they can get in there.
There’s not much that I would do in this area. I do want to pull the Crucible of Worlds since as I said the interaction seems to be pretty centered on Constant Mists. (I get that the cycling lands are a thing too, but we’re talking a pretty closet case interaction that may or may not be worth it.) I’m also getting rid of the Mana Crypt. I get that Sol Ring is good and that two Sol Rings is theoretically better; when I build in green, though, I try to maximize effects that put lands into play to prevent blowouts at the hands of sweepers that eat artifacts. This isn’t a deck that needs to get off the ground in a hurry anyway.
Going back in one of the slots is—you guessed it—Grindclock. The other slot is going to Strionic Resonator. I’ll admit that I was a little cold to Resonator at first. I didn’t get what everyone was freaking out about. However, after a team trios event at Gen Con that put me in a black deck featuring three Blightcasters and the requisite Bogbrew Witch / Festering Newt / Bubbling Cauldron combo, I’ve changed my tune. This deck has Eternal Witness and Consuming Aberration among many other triggered abilities, so this will give you plenty of value in the long run.
Surprisingly, I find myself agreeing with a good portion of your includes here too. You’ve got Doubling Season and Inexorable Tide to push your two themes, and you’ve got planeswalkers to get tricky with the counters. I’m down with that. You’ve got a good amount of your bases covered in the utility department, so I’m going to focus on areas where I feel you’re heavy on effects in order to give you some more on-theme options.
I want to cut some out-of-place dead weight, such as Counterbalance. Counter-Top is a thing, but in this format you’re way too likely to blank when someone tries to play Phthisis. Constant Mists is going to go as well; we axed the Crucible, and man does this card just grind games to a halt.
Actually, I think I’ll cut Life From The Loam while I’m at it too. Same rules apply. (This is where the cycling lands get hurt the most, but I think this deck does okay without that interaction in general.)
On the counterspell front, Arcane Denial gets the axe for being the worst of the bunch. If you really wanted the early counter, this should be Force of Will, and you’ve got a good selection of mid to late game counters that are just better. Soul Manipulation gains points for utility and rarity, but I want better on-theme utility in the deck instead of a creature regrowth effect.
With those slots, I’ll add Clockspinning (the only other card other than Hex Parasite that removes any type of counter from a given permanent and a fun instant-speed trick to boot) and Mesmeric Orb to give this deck a decent shot in the arm as far as milling goes. While we’re at it, we might as well go for the throat and add Traumatize, right?
Soul Manipulation gets replaced with Fuel for the Cause to give you an extra proliferate source, and a deck like this wants to have Black Sun’s Zenith like you read about in the sweeper department, so it takes the last vacated slot.
This is where I’m putting in some work.
First, the cuts:
– Hermit Druid. Meh. I’m not sure what this is doing to begin with, as you’re not comboing out with it (thank goodness) and it runs a real risk of milling off far too many things that you can’t easily get back.
– Venser, Shaper Savant. You’re counter-heavy as it is. He’s got some cool utility, but I think we can do better in that slot.
– Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord. You’re playing Lord of Extinction (who actually fits the deck and needs to stay). People stopped being impressed with that combo about a week after Jarad was spoiled. Don’t be that guy.
– Deadeye Navigator. Another cut on principle. I can’t remember the last time that I head a story start with him that ended in smiling faces. Besides, there’s not much else in here that really works with him specifically that would warrant the include.
– Keiga, the Tide Star. I love Keiga, but this is a bit of an odd include.
– Kokusho, the Evening Star. Again, this isn’t the effect we want here. Kokusho is in no way too broken for the format, but nonetheless games tend to become a “Kokusho hot potato” when it arrives.
– Sylvan Primordial. See Deadeye Navigator above.
– Avenger of Zendikar. Not a token deck. Do not want.
That’s eight more slots to work with. I think that gets me to where I want to be.
I’ll replace your Constant Mists with Spike Weaver, which fits the proliferate theme much better and doesn’t take up two extra functional slots to work properly. Also touching on that theme is Necropolis Regent, which gives you a ton of potential counters to play with and another solid finishing threat.
Speaking of finishers, Bonehoard is your other “cares about graveyards beatstick” that dodges creature removal. Bonus points for sticking that on Lord of Extinction and stuffing the whole mess through Rogue’s Passage (great visual!).
Grim Poppet and Carnifex Demon bolster the removal front nicely, while Necroskitter and Gutter Grime take good advantage of all the carnage that ensues. Last but not least, Djinn of Wishes joins the party to provide hours of endless enjoyment and value with all the proliferation happening. You miss out on the deal flipping lands with it, but any card that lets you ignore timing restrictions and drop Shriekmaw into play in response to an attack is worth a spin in my book.
The Diet Plan
This is the hard part. I count 119 cards in this deck if I did my math right (no guarantees there), so we also need to cut a good chunk of other things to get it down to fighting weight. This isn’t easy, and I know you’ll have some pet cards that you would slot that I wouldn’t, so I’m going to offer a list of potential cuts that I might make to get things closer to legal. These would be cuts that are made against cards that might not be explicitly “good stuffy” but aren’t quite on theme either or are redundant to begin with:
– Grisly Salvage
– Muddle the Mixture
– Deep Analysis
– Makeshift Mannequin
– Jace, Architect of Thought
– Increasing Ambition
– Decree of Silence
– Oracle of Mul Daya
– Kagemaro, First to Suffer
– Prime Speaker Zegana
– Wurmcoil Engine
– Diluvian Primordial
You’re still off by about six cards, so I might personally dip into the tougher territory and hit things that are strong enough to include on their own but are flat utility and don’t specifically drive the goals of the deck (and are otherwise covered in function by other cards.)
– Grim Harvest
That leaves two more cuts to be made. I personally would cut Rise of the Dark Realms first; I understand how good it is in this deck, but it either will be hated out by the guy with the Relic of Progenitus or it will end up just ending the game and becoming the new “oh, Insurrection, right, good play, guy” card. It’s really hard to sneak up with that card.
The final cut is a tossup really, but I think I’d pull Gilder Bairn. You have the effect in Vorel of the Hull Clade without having to figure out how to get it tapped without it dying in combat.
That leaves us with the following:
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Spike Weaver
- 1 Genesis
- 1 Forgotten Ancient
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Mystic Snake
- 1 Yavimaya Elder
- 1 Trinket Mage
- 1 Draining Whelk
- 1 Mulldrifter
- 1 Shriekmaw
- 1 Grim Poppet
- 1 Necroskitter
- 1 Lord of Extinction
- 1 Djinn of Wishes
- 1 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
- 1 Geth, Lord of the Vault
- 1 Carnifex Demon
- 1 Hex Parasite
- 1 Sheoldred, Whispering One
- 1 Scavenging Ooze
- 1 The Mimeoplasm
- 1 Necropolis Regent
- 1 Consuming Aberration
- 1 Zameck Guildmage
- 1 Sepulchral Primordial
- 1 Vorel of the Hull Clade
- 4 Forest
- 1 Thawing Glaciers
- 1 Reflecting Pool
- 3 Swamp
- 3 Island
- 1 Tranquil Thicket
- 1 Lonely Sandbar
- 1 Barren Moor
- 1 Dimir Aqueduct
- 1 Golgari Rot Farm
- 1 Overgrown Tomb
- 1 Watery Grave
- 1 Breeding Pool
- 1 Simic Growth Chamber
- 1 Tolaria West
- 1 Mosswort Bridge
- 1 Sunken Ruins
- 1 Flooded Grove
- 1 Twilight Mire
- 1 Drowned Catacomb
- 1 Misty Rainforest
- 1 Verdant Catacombs
- 1 Bojuka Bog
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Hinterland Harbor
- 1 Woodland Cemetery
- 1 Nephalia Drownyard
- 1 Alchemist's Refuge
- 1 Rogue's Passage
- 1 Thespian's Stage
- 1 Sensei's Divining Top
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 1 Kodama's Reach
- 1 Traumatize
- 1 Oblivion Stone
- 1 Phyrexian Arena
- 1 Mesmeric Orb
- 1 Mystic Remora
- 1 Tombstone Stairwell
- 1 Altar of Dementia
- 1 Survival of the Fittest
- 1 Phyrexian Reclamation
- 1 Fact or Fiction
- 1 Doubling Season
- 1 Clockspinning
- 1 Cryptic Command
- 1 Expedition Map
- 1 Cultivate
- 1 Contagion Clasp
- 1 Contagion Engine
- 1 Grindclock
- 1 Inexorable Tide
- 1 Mimic Vat
- 1 Bonehoard
- 1 Black Sun's Zenith
- 1 Fuel for the Cause
- 1 Life's Finale
- 1 Gutter Grime
- 1 Cyclonic Rift
- 1 Mind Grind
- 1 Strionic Resonator
Sean, this is going to fit like a new pair of shoes: strange and uncomfortable. There’s an absolute ton of amazing cards that I’ve left on the cutting room floor, and my guess is that your alarm bells are at full tilt right now. (Or you’re sitting reading this and calling me names. That’s fair too.)
I don’t in any way want to pass this off as the “perfect list”; in fact, I’m sure it’s far from it given the likely differences in our playgroups and styles, but that’s the joy of Commander. It doesn’t need to be anything more than something you shuffle up for fun.
Still, I think this is completely playable and reasonably competitive, and more importantly it speaks to sticking to a theme (er, themes plural in this case) and building for coherence of strategy, which is how I like to attack deckbuilding for this format. It may not be your vision of a flagship deck, but it should be a great launching point.
Speaking of, the cost breakdown looks like this:
|Fuel for the Cause||$0.15|
|Djinn of Wishes||$0.49|
|Black Sun’s Zenith||$2.49|
I’m going to hazard a guess and say that you’re probably out of luck on the usual $20 store credit to StarCityGames.com for participation in Dear Azamidue to your employment status here, but feel free to hit up Cedric all the same. (You didn’t hear it from me, but I heard he can be swayed by a stack of unmarked Revised dual lands slipped under the stall in the men’s room.)
In all honesty though, Sean, thanks for the submission. This was fun to work on. (And keep your eyes on the inbox in the near future; I may ask you to return the favor and think I have something right up your alley.)
Thanks for reading, folks! I’ll be back next week to give Sean a bit of a break, so I’ll see you next Tuesday.
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 Steve’s Child of Alara deck or Bez’s Mayael of the Anima deck. Only one deck submission will be chosen per article, but being selected for the next edition of Dear Azami includes 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, or check out his Commander blog GeneralDamageControl.com!