I’ve been a big fan of your articles for a while now and have gotten countless ideas from the card advice you give. I have a few Commander decks now, but I keep moving back to try to fix up my favorite: Glissa, the Traitor. I started cooking this up while my roommate was obsessing over Darksteel, and I really loved the idea of piles of Arcbound/artifact creatures and tokens and a lot of counter interaction. I tend to favor aggro style decks, so here’s what I’ve got:
Commander: Glissa, the Traitor
Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger
Please let me know what you think I can do!
I like to pick the strange ones, so when you send me a Glissa deck like this one (instead of a Mindslaver-lock combo deck, as they inevitably turn into…) I perk my ears up and pay attention. Artifact-themed decks are very interesting to me, though ones that are ‘pure’ colorless are not, so finding a solid artifact-based theme to work with in another way that ties in these elements interests me greatly. Arcbound creatures and Doubling Season is not something I’ve seen tried yet, and focusing Glissa as a card advantage engine rather than a broken recursion engine intrigues me enough to want to see where this is going.
Starting off with just balancing the deck, you’re heavy on lands and have too many equipment that don’t have a big enough impact, so we need to remedy both of these things. I like to start with the mana base, and yours could use a few cheap tools to get you the right colors more efficiently while also shaving down the numbers; 39 is just too much for a deck with generally low mana costs involved. Since you’re positioned as an aggressive deck, running out of cards is a problem you can anticipate coming up, so even minor modifications that account for this tendency are worth having so the deck can grind harder. Cycling lands are great at that, and you have one. I’d like to see the full number you can potentially access added to the deck.
The Mana Base
Two of these will be moved over to other sections; we’re shaving lands, not necessarily mana generating effects, so I’d caution against getting nervous at this point. You’ll end up with more access to mana, actually, just fewer physical lands in the deck all told.
Inkmoth Nexus — You have a +1/+1 counter and modular theme going, as well as significant equipment packages and some proliferate going on. It’s cheesy to poison someone out in massive style; it’s not cheesy to have an Inkmoth Nexus do all the heavy lifting or squeak in for a poison early and eventually proliferate someone out. Poison is a respectable mechanism if and only if you aren’t abusing it and undermining the opponents’ experience of the game by killing them in this way faster or non-interactively. This is the only poison-mechanic card we’ll be adding to the deck, and it adds strategic elements without causing an unpleasant experience by default.
Grim Backwoods — A nice on-color land that can potentially provide a dose of card advantage, especially given that you have so many artifact creatures that Glissa can return. The really awesome part to me is that you have so many modular creatures that this can act as a combat trick, and between changing critter size at leisure and getting card advantage out of it, the card really suggests itself strongly for your deck.
Blasted Landscape — Cycling lands are good when you have low color requirements, and other than the pretty harsh color requirements for Glissa if you’re going to play her on turn 3, colorless lands don’t hurt you; most of your spells are colorless. Cycling lands will help you still have action when the game gets grindy, and planning for that happening in your aggro deck is just a necessary dose of reality in the Commander format.
Jund Panorama — Low-cost color fixing sounds like the order of the day, and Jund Panorama is like a third copy of Terramorphic Expanse that happens to potentially offer to come into play untapped when needed. Since we’re about to add both Terramorphic Expanse and Evolving Wilds, the one Panorama that works with your enemy-color deck is going to work very nicely as well and should be included.
Polluted Mire — The second black cycling land to further flesh out your access to this cycle.
Llanowar Wastes — Our search for low-price mana fixing takes us here next. While I am normally not a giant fan of painlands in Commander and play them fairly begrudgingly, since colorless mana is actually fully enabled and entirely useful to your deck by intentional design, here it’s at its best.
Twilight Mire — A little bit pricey, by comparison, but worth seeking outâ€”it really fixes Glissa’s complicated mana cost very nicely Â while still being considerably less on the wallet than a more fetchland/dual land mana base would be. If this is the high point in card prices that I’m suggesting, I’m entirely comfortable with that as a potential budget point since your deck does have occasional dashes of high-cost items like Doubling Season.
Gilt-Leaf Palace — While it won’t be entering play untapped and thus is sorely ironic with an Elf as your commander, it’s low price and solid color fixing even if it is just an enemy-color Invasion dual. You’d play more than the one if you had access to multiples of this cycle. Since it has been repeated for allied colors more than once with minor flourishes but never for enemy colors at all, you’ll have to settle for the quirky one and not sweat the irony.
Moving on, usually I turn to artifacts next, but since that is a major theme of your deck it’s not a small deal. Keeping with the intention of building purposefully towards the larger changes, we’ll look at your colored spells next since you have so few of them. In this particular case, you’re too heavily focused on enchantments (especially creature buffs) so we’re going to poke around lightly here for utility more than anything else.
Dismember — As awesome as this removal is in 60-card decks, it’s not so hot in 99s. -5/-5 doesn’t kill Titan-sized creatures, which are about the staple size of a reasonable creature, so the option to save mana by spending between one and three is not nearly as important as being an affordable price that hits a reasonable number of targets. I’d rather pay the full retail price of this spell and make sure something is actually dead, and nowadays that’s actually an option with no negotiation whatsoever.
Rancor — Just another creature buff, even if it is quite a nice creature buff. It’s not hard for this card to disappear on youâ€”any removal spell that works as an instant will do it at a disadvantage to yourselfâ€”so we’ll keep the focus to equipment if we want to have creature buffs that keep giving after the initial creature dies.
Gift of the Deity — This is clearly just intended to be put on your commander and run into a fight impressively, and thus can be replaced more neatly with something that works with your commander and potentially other cards as well. We’ll be rebalancing your equipment later on, so we’ll just cut this and note that the cool intentions that came with it will find another home.
Painful Quandary — This is a grind card, and while I approve of grind cards in general, you said this was not specifically a grind deck. It’s off-theme for what you’re trying to accomplish, even if it is a good card, so I’d rather focus on grinding via yourself gaining card advantage rather than potentially triggering an opponent to lose card advantage and/or life.
Beacon of Unrest — A pure ‘good stuff’ addition, with no synergy to your deck as-is.
One card is moved over to fill out another section, which gives us four replacements.
Go for the Throat — Another spot removal spell; this one is affordable and its weakness to artifact critters should likely miss most of the cards opponents will actually play in Commander. A solid pinpoint removal spell for pushing home your aggressive rush or potentially acting defensively as need be.
Phyrexian Arena — If we’re going to reach for staples, we should be playing the ones that will always do the right thing for your deck. In this case, that means Phyrexian Arenaâ€”the form of card advantage we’ll always see as good is yourself drawing additional cards, and Arena accomplishes this neatly in a nonthreatening manner. It’s not a very interesting card and doesn’t intersect with your themes, but it does support your themes working well in the first place.
All Is Dust — While a pricey card by relative comparison to the quarter commons I otherwise am aiming to suggest, the synergistic benefits here are huge. So many of your creatures are left alone by this and so many permanents on your side of the board entirely untouched that All Is Dust kicks the opponents back to the Stone Age and lets you finish them off at almost no loss to your side of the board. That it clears blockers before an attack is just one of those cute twists of fate that we’ll also take since so many of your potential attackers are colorless critters.
Moving next to the creature section, we have some tinkering to do before we can call it done. In this case, it’s mostly focusing on staying on-theme and cutting the lowest of the low ends in order to recognize that Commander as a format is not one in which one-mana 1/1s are impactful during the attack phase.
Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger — Looking at the deck, it’s designed more to build its own heavy hitters than to draw them. Additionally, you’re not built to really use a lot of mana, so doubling your mana doesn’t really accomplish anything. Also, as the only card affecting your opponents’ mana base, it draws a lot of hate that otherwise won’t be pointed your way while effectively being off-topic for what you’re trying to do.
Engulfing Slagwurm — ‘Destroy a creature’ is highly thematic for what you’re trying to do, but something big and dumb to bludgeon your opponents with is not something you’re trying to reach for. Do you really want to cast a 7/7 to stay back on defense? If so, that’s awesome, but given that you defined your deck as an aggressive deck this is the wrong tool for the job.
Dross Scorpion — You’re not really taking advantage of the untap effect in that most of your artifacts are equipment and your artifact creatures for the most part lack tap abilities to take advantage of. Since it isn’t contributing anything to your overarching plan of action, it’s just a fragile creature that’s a little clunky.
Falkenrath Noble — Just another good card addition, which doesn’t really have a lot of contribution to the rest of the deck. It’s got nothing to do with counters or artifacts and merely applies a ‘tax’ to opponents’ actions. It kind of fits the aggression level theme in that it can finish off a vulnerable opponent who might want to drop a board wipe effect, but it doesn’t actually fit any of the interlocking pieces you otherwise are putting together.
Predator Ooze — While there is a counter theme going on and this is hard on the counter theme, fact of the matter is since this is not an artifact creature it doesn’t actually interact with the counter theme. It’s a cool card, but not necessarily one for this deck; its biggest asset is being indestructible, and that’s not enough to really keep me interested.
Hovermyr — Itty-bitty creature committee needs an upgrade. I know it flies and has vigilance, but really, we can do better than that.
Arcbound Stinger — 1/1s with effectively no ability of note and modular fit the modular theme, but don’t actual count as pieces of cardboard that an opponent will have to care about.
Masticore — This isn’t clearly and directly on-theme as far as the proliferation of +1/+1 counters is concerned, but it is quite excellent with Glissa in play. Two mana to kill a token and Regrowth the artifact of your choice is quite a deal, and with a Masticore online you can expect not to really notice the downside of discarding cards since your supply of cards will replenish through use. If that is a problem, let the ‘Core go and use Glissa to get it back later.
Duplicant — This deck lacks sufficient removal to punch through defensive threats or really any ability to play defensively on its own at all. Duplicant works on both of those while providing another threat, and while it’s a bit of a boring commander staple, it’s less boring given that it also intersects with Glissa. Exiling isn’t perfect as far as Glissa is concernedâ€”you won’t buy back a Duplicant then use it to buy back something elseâ€”but it does effectively answer problems you would otherwise stumble on.
Sylvok Replica — Recurring removal option thanks to Glissa, this covers your need to handle various permanents quite neatly. The 1/3 body isn’t great for beating down, but neither was the Arcbound Worker that was sitting in its slot, so it’ll live.
Moriok Replica — Glissa buying back card advantage effects is something this deck has been lacking, and Moriok Replica assists with that while still providing a warm body. Moriok Replica also works very nicely with a few other cards in the deck like Minion Reflector, Mirrorworks, and especially Mimic Vat, and at the worst will block and turn into two new cards.
Mindless Automaton — More interesting synergy with Glissa. In this case, creatures dying turn directly into +1/+1 counters on the Automaton, and given there’s a strong +1/+1 counter theme this is very cool to work with. It also is another card advantage effect to go with Glissa; the hope is to build in enough of them you’ll draw one naturally since this deck is not really using any of black or green’s Tutoring power and it is pretty awesome at receiving a gift of modular counters that have been worked up. The exchange rate between counters and cards may not be terribly efficient, but that it allows there to be an exchange rate at all is pretty awesome.
Steel Overseer — You’re an artifact creature deck with a +1/+1 counter theme. I am simply including the silent Steel Overseer I must have assumed was there all along, because the obviousness of it was so obvious that I, too, missed it on the first pass through your deck based solely on the assumption that you must have one already in your deck. Pumping the team’s good for aggro builds in general, and in this case since the +1/+1 counters are something you will continually reuse, it is especially dangerous.
Solemn Simulacrum — Boring and trite in Commander to the point where Sheldon uses this space in deck after deck to discuss sports, movies, and starlets in bikinis. I’ll simply note here that Glissa will let you get extra bonus mileage out of Solemn for free, and it’s yet another way to convert an opposing creature dying into a card in your hand.
Arcbound Reclaimer — The heavy-on-the-Arcbound theme is very engaging and exciting to me, but 1/1s that didn’t really do anything were getting me down. Arcbound Reclaimer is larger, which means more counters to keep within the recycling loop as you move them from one Arcbound thingamajig to another. It also has some additionally useful textâ€”it converts +1/+1 counters into recursion effects, which should help build in redundancy of utility for those games when Glissa gets tucked by Hinder or Oblation.
Scarecrone — Another redundancy effect, Scarecrone can recur artifact creatures (though at a significant cost) and thus helps make everything work just that little bit better in those longer, more grindy games you can expect to have to play more often than not. This is also using one open slot from the spell department to just add an additional body so that you can avoid running out of steam.
Moving on to the artifacts, we’re going to trim some equipment and change a few of the other ones around because the focus needs to be efficiency and balance. There are currently too many generic pump effects in the spell slots and cards that work only if your commander is online and do nothing else otherwiseâ€”Nemesis Mask, I’m looking at you. The things that work neatly with your commander should do other things as well, and that’s something to be modified around as a general concept because dead draws are death to aggressive decks.
Sword of Kaldra — While it’s a large buff to the creature, it’s not terribly efficient, and Glissa already has deathtouch. The things that would die to the Sword but not to Glissa otherwise are very small, and if the size buff is all we were thinking of we can do better for cheaper. Bonehoard would cover a larger size buff while providing a creature at the same time and still cost half as much to equip, but as it is I’m not completely sold that this is how you want to be assembling your power-ups. We’ll just cut the Sword for now and contemplate the rest as we add back in.
Nemesis Mask — Only good with Glissa attacking since there otherwise is not a lot of overlap with deathtouch or similar abilities besides the Acidic Slime getting to work. If all you’re adding is a lure effect, we have to question if that’s what the deck actually wants; if we’re just adding the ability “Tap: destroy target creature” to Glissa, there are better ways to do that.
Whispersilk Cloak — One of my least favorite cards in Commander, and sort of a pet peeve given how standard it is to see in most decks. This deck plays fine without heavily protecting Glissa and can take advantage of the fact that she’s still affordable after several times being cast out of the command zone, so relying on a lot of ways to protect her from spot removal is unnecessary. Darksteel Plate will do most of the needed work, and Swiftfoot Boots is much preferred since it grants hexproof instead of shroud. There would be nothing sadder than losing your modular counters because the recipient could not be targeted at that particular moment.
Quietus Spike — I’m simply not sold on the idea that this is doing very much for you in this deck. If you’re trying to force the opponent to block because this could siphon off as many as 20 life points by connecting, you can do better than this for forcing your opponent to block; if you’re hoping to actually connect for those big swings, I question the realism of that expectation.
Horned Helm — Too small of an effect for what it asks of you: a draw step. Giving trample and a minor size boost does almost nothing at all, so I’m going to skip past it entirely.
Ring of Kalonia — While this is especially cool because it gives in +1/+1 counters, there are so few green creatures that this is basically a worse Horned Helm unless and until you can put it on Glissa herself. The same problems then come up once again in that counters on non-artifact creatures don’t stay within the recycling chain and are instead lost when the critter (inevitably) dies, so this is really just a blank draw.
Akroma’s Memorial — It’s a pretty spiffy creature buff, and a nice global one at that. It doesn’t, however, add to power (so we’d have to consider if this is the desired effect or Eldrazi Monument might be better for what you’re working to accomplish), it does cost a whole ton of mana, and seven is way at the top of anything you can really expect to hit in a timely fashion. Since there’s no immediate attack benefit the turn you play it besides maybe flying and a bit of protection, this is a lot to invest in your future without even dealing an extra damage out of the deal, so I don’t think this is really fitting this deck even if it is ‘a good card.’
Unwinding Clock — Untapping every turn is an option you could have if you wanted it, and this limited form that only untaps your artifacts grants some not-so-large creatures vigilance and lets you potentially retrigger Mimic Vat. It doesn’t actually interact very synergistically with most of your cards and thus is cut.
Thran Dynamo — Getting to a lot of mana doesn’t really accomplish anything in and of itself, especially since we cut the heavy cost hitters and Akroma’s Memorial. If this could be replaced with something that fit the plan of the deck more purposefully, it ought to be, and there is a synergistic replacement that both does what this does and has additional options as well.
Manalith — If this was the effect we wanted, either Coalition Relic or Darksteel Ingot would be preferable at making mana, and even Vessel of Endless Rest would provide the same effect while also including a small dose of graveyard disruption to the mix. As it is, I’m just not sold on wanting it at all.
We have eleven cards cut, plus two more slots moved over from the mana base, which gives us a total of thirteen holes to be filled in figuring out where to go with this deck. Filling back into it, we’re focusing on finding equipment that works better for the deck’s goals and building up some more card advantage to work with Glissa when she’s online, so several of these cards literally just suggest themselves.
Dreamstone Hedron — Replacing Thran Dynamo with a version of the same card that can either provide mana or cash in for a bunch of cards in hand is well worth the two additional mana. Especially without the higher-cost cards like Vorinclex or Slagwurm to accelerate into, the use of this as a mana accelerant instead of just a means to start spending the expensive costs like flashback and multiple uses of mana-hungry triggers each turn is perfectly adequate. It’s more of a later-game mana card in this usage than a fast ramp effect, and when you start using it for cards and buying it back with Glissa, the deck will start to feel like you’re cheating.
Mind Stone — The same concept on a lesser scale, this will actually serve as a minor accelerant and is a lot less burdensome to draw cards with even if it requires more Glissa triggers to get three cards out of it for the same amount of mana as Dreamstone Hedron. It’s an incredibly simple effect, and one Glissa will take a lot of advantage of just by existing since one of the goals is to build in card advantage elements with enough redundancy to guarantee you’ll just draw one.
Expedition Map — Part color fixing and part nonbasic Tutoring, this will help find that Grim Backwoods or just make sure you hit your colored mana drops in the correct proportions. Add into this the simple fact that it recurs with Glissa, and you have a new avenue for getting up into the higher ranges of mana since the new tax is ‘every time a creature dies, you might just get a land out of it.’ In addition to potentially getting you to the plenty of mana range on the cheap, you get five chances to use it on cycling lands and actually get ‘draw a card’ out of the effect if you’re fine for land drops, giving us yet another way to get cards out of Glissa’s effect on the cheap.
Horizon Spellbomb — This is just a more direct way of doing the same thing clearly at an advantage since you always get the land out of it and a card as well, meaning you get to fix your mana for future development while still adding more gas to your hand. Teensy tiny little effects add up when you can recur them, and Glissa works very well with Spellbomb effects.
Nihil Spellbomb — Graveyard hate is important in Commander, and presently you have just Bojuka Bog and now Expedition Map for Bojuka Bog to work with. If you need to do it twice, well, the Map gets Golgari Rot Farm, and that’s just not enough to stop an opponent who’s actually trying to do something with their graveyard. Nihil Spellbomb works excellently with Glissa just based on being a Spellbomb and will work overtime in any game you draw it to ensure that no opponent can maintain a significant recursion threat while you’re paying attention.
Contagion Clasp, Contagion Engine — Proliferate is a good thing since you are built so very well to capitalize on it, and you’re also light on removal, which both of these will help with to at least some degree. An overlap between something you need to improve and something that amps up your theme to eleven is a great place to be, and I for one have a long and unrequited love for Contagion Clasps that you will now hopefully share with me to some small degree.
Oblivion Stone — Ratchet Bomb was already in your deck because of its powerful synergy with Glissa; destroying creatures and immediately getting back the thing you did it with is very powerful in Commander. Oblivion Stone can potentially let you do this in a more slow-motion fashion since you will want to save your Commander and at least one artifact creature to keep modular counters shifting around in addition to having the emergency reset button on all types of permanents in a pinch. Assuming you’re always getting the better side of an Oblivion Stone, this has all the same upsides Ratchet Bomb does but considerably further reach for wrecking the opposing board.
The last five slots will replace the equipment we’ve pulled out, hopefully in a fashion you likewise find interesting…
Blade of the Bloodchief — You have a deck already focusing on +1/+1 counters and that triggers off of things dying; this is my replacement for the unfortunately ineffective Ring of Kalonia since it will provide counters to any creature at all (not just your commander). It can potentially get quite crazy with your modular-based deck as a Blade of the Bloodchief on Arcbound Ravager is not something I’ve ever seen tried and am excited to consider.
Nim Deathmantle — Mimic Vat is already a card you appreciate for your deck’s long-term staying power, and Nim Deathmantle offers much of the same (with a bonus power boost while we’re at it!). Nim Deathmantle plus extra mana plus any Arcbound board presence will steadily get out of hand, more so if (again) one of those critters happens to have the last name of Ravager. The power of recursion with all of your creatures is worth pursuing, and it’s better to add new unique effects like Nim Deathmantle rather than trying to ‘win more’ with Sundial of the Infinite with the existing effects you already have.
Grappling Hook — The first of your ‘good with Glissa’ equipment, Grappling Hook gives you the ability to force an individual specific blocker to have to get into combat with your first strike and deathtouch monstrosity. It will also credibly pick off opposing creatures when attached to anything you’ve been working to build up, and for when you aren’t aiming to get blocked and use this as combat step pseudo-removal, it still provides double strike and thus can serve as a considerable power boost after you’ve gone through the work of building up a specific threat.
Viridian Longbow — Cute with Glissa in that it adds “Tap: destroy target creature” to her abilities (and that comes with immediate tangible rewards). It’s also perfectly fine at controlling tokens and other small things that get in your way, like the occasional Preacher or Peacekeeper that is interrupting your game plan. While it’s mostly just good with Glissa, it does have some use for slowly and expensively Fireballing an opponent who is down to their last few life points, even if that’s not Plan A.
Thornbite Staff — This, however, is much more credible at that same job; Glissa now has “2: Destroy target creature,” and that can get quite crazy. You can also use this with Scarecrone or Steel Overseer to go a little bit nuts at developing your board position. Thornbite Staff has all sorts of accidentally awesome uses, even ones you can’t predict up front because of adventuring into unknown territories with Mimic Vat, and is much better at trying to control a board of token blockers or deal the last few points to an opponent who is nearing death.
Putting it all together, we get the following:
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Triskelion
- 1 Arcbound Ravager
- 1 Arcbound Overseer
- 1 Duplicant
- 1 Arcbound Slith
- 1 Arcbound Reclaimer
- 1 Arcbound Hybrid
- 1 Arcbound Crusher
- 1 Arcbound Bruiser
- 1 Pentavus
- 1 Mindless Automaton
- 1 Masticore
- 1 Scarecrone
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 1 Steel Overseer
- 1 Wurmcoil Engine
- 1 Steel Hellkite
- 1 Sylvok Replica
- 1 Darksteel Sentinel
- 1 Moriok Replica
- 1 Glissa, the Traitor
- 1 Sheoldred, Whispering One
- 1 Primordial Hydra
- 1 Sensei's Divining Top
- 1 Umezawa's Jitte
- 11 Forest
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Diabolic Tutor
- 1 Grave Pact
- 1 Energy Chamber
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Oblivion Stone
- 1 Phyrexian Arena
- 1 Heartseeker
- 1 Viridian Longbow
- 1 Mind Stone
- 1 Doubling Season
- 1 Putrefy
- 1 Damnation
- 1 Thornbite Staff
- 1 Executioner's Capsule
- 1 Minion Reflector
- 1 Blade of the Bloodchief
- 1 Expedition Map
- 1 Grappling Hook
- 1 All Is Dust
- 1 Dreamstone Hedron
- 1 Contagion Clasp
- 1 Contagion Engine
- 1 Throne of Geth
- 1 Ratchet Bomb
- 1 Horizon Spellbomb
- 1 Mimic Vat
- 1 Nihil Spellbomb
- 1 Nim Deathmantle
- 1 Go for the Throat
- 1 Darksteel Plate
- 1 Mirrorworks
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Swiftfoot Boots
- 1 Grimoire of the Dead
- 1 Feed the Pack
- 1 Increasing Savagery
- 1 Murder
As always, for participating in this week’s “Dear Azami” you’ll be receiving a $20 coupon to StarCityGames.com. I kept this pretty strictly on a budget and came in at $66, and many of the cards are in-print things you might find somewhat readily like a spare Murder or Go for the Throat, or just Commander staples like Solemn Simulacrum that if you don’t already have you’d be well advised to invest in sooner rather than later. Here’s an itemized list of the additions made, for your consideration:
|Blade of the Bloodchief
|Go for the Throat
|All Is Dust
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