Land Ho!

Take a look at the five-color Child of Alara Commander deck that Bennie built around Surveyor’s Scope and took to Grand Prix Richmond to try out!

Last week in my recap of Grand Prix Richmond, I mentioned how I was feeling extremely rusty playing competitive Magic, and I plan to take steps to remedy that, starting this week by playing some Friday Night Magic with a Standard deck I’ve cooked up. I’ll be writing about how that went next week, but Commander fans need not worry—I’ll still be very regularly writing about Commander!

I want to talk a little bit about my Commander experiences at the Grand Prix. I never did get a chance to try out the new Commander pods that give out booster packs as prizes instead of store credit and allow players to award their booster pack to the player they think deserves it rather than automatically going to the winner. I thought this was a fantastic change more in keeping with the spirit of the format, but I kept running into people just playing pick-up games of Commander at the open tables of the convention center and would stop to observe, chat with the participants, and sometimes jump in a game or two.

One of the games I ran across left me feeling particularly happy. At the top tables of the Grand Prix late Saturday evening between rounds, a four-player Commander game broke out that included Zach Jesse and Shaheen Soorani. Zach’s a local end boss for tournament Magic and has been playing on and off for years, but he has such a natural talent that he can drop back into the game after a hiatus, pick up a deck with little practice, and make a solid run for first place at any given tournament. When he actually takes the time to practice, well, he wins PTQs and occasionally bigger tournaments like SCG Standard Open: Baltimore 2014. At GP Richmond he went on a tear day 1 with Storm, finishing undefeated on the day.

Recently Zach’s been bitten hard by the Commander bug, and he apparently sucked in a couple other guys at the top tables to play a quick game of Commander, including Uber-Spike Shaheen Soorani. If you read the competitive Magic articles on StarCityGames.com, you are no doubt familiar with Shaheen, who regularly puts up strong performances at high level Magic events.

I knew Zach had gotten into Commander, but I was surprised to see Shaheen with a 100-card deck in front of him. After the initial shock, I was not at all surprised to see that Shaheen had chosen to play Zach’s Sharuum the Hegemon deck. "Shaheen playing Commander?!" I said standing behind him, and he leaned back with a goofy grin and a fist full of card draw and counterspells. "I think this is may be my third time playing Commander," he said. "It’s fun."

Zach was gleefully playing his Ruhan of the Fomori deck, taking great joy in the randomness of his attack step until one of the other players enchanted Ruhan with Prison Term, a painfully more effective way of dealing with a cheap and aggressive Commander than killing it. Zach seemed a little deflated from the development but soldiered on, hoping for a solution that didn’t seem forthcoming as the turns went by . . .

Until that same opponent cast Mulldrifter using its evoke ability. Suddenly Zach sat up straight. "Wait, wait, wait!" he cried, counting his mana and staring at a card in his hand. "I have a response." So with Mulldrifter on the stack, Zach cast Word of Seizing targeting the Prison Term. Since he was now the controller of the card until the end of the turn, when Mulldrifter hit play, he controlled the trigger on Prison Term and moved it over to Mulldrifter, which then sacrificed to its evoke ability, sending the creature and the enchantment to the graveyard.

Ruhan was free again! And I was thoroughly impressed by the line of play, not at all convinced I would have seen that path out of the Prison Term puzzle. I’ve seen Word nab huge creatures, Maze of Ith, and Oblivion Stone, but never a glorified Pacifism! I thought it was a very cool and smart play that you’d never have seen happen in any other format. Even in a casual format like Commander, it pays to watch and learn from the game’s most talented players.

I brought a box with me that had three Commander decks to play—one was Roon of the Hidden Realm (basically Mean Roon, but a little less "mean"); one was Tariel, Reckoner of Souls (which I wrote about in my eBook The Complete Commander); and one was a brand new deck I hadn’t written about yet and wanted to take out for a test drive. I got a chance to do that at the Grand Prix, so I want to share it with you now.

Most of my Commander decks are what I call "top down" designs, inspired by a particular legend as the commander. But sometimes there’s a card or a combo that can be part of the 99 that gets in my head and demands a deck to live in.

For this deck, the card was Surveyor’s Scope from Commander 2013.

When I first saw this card, I thought it was a nifty tool to help Commander players who stall on land early in a game of Commander to be able to "catch up" and get back in the game. But I couldn’t help but ponder why this nifty little card was nerfed by exiling as part of its activation. You don’t see that effect on cards unless there’s some potential for recursive abuse that Wizards R&D wants to nip in the bud. I was trying to envision R&D doing some sort of shenanigans involving sacrificing lands so you can fire off the Scope to put a bunch of more lands into play, somehow getting the Scope back and doing it again.

Should I play Prototype Portal, imprinting Scope on there so I can do it each turn? How could that possibly take over a game of Commander? Landfall triggers spring to mind, but I couldn’t envision anything grossly overpowered compared to anything else in Commander.

So I started a stack—I began with Surveyor’s Scope, and as I was going through my stash of Commander stock making various decks, whenever I ran across some sort of land-related card, I’d pull it and toss it in the stack. About a month ago, a few things became clear. Between Overgrown Estate, Spitting Image and Hammer of Purphoros, I was probably going to build a five-color deck.

Also, it was probably going to be base green to accommodate a lot of green’s mana accelerants and fixing, so I’d want to try to not get too heavy on other colors in my spell selection. Lastly, my stack of cards was actually way too large, especially if I wanted to run a larger than normal number of lands in my deck. So I went about the hard cuts that Commander deckbuilders are all too familiar with and came up with the following.

Land Acceleration

Exploration; Sakura-Tribe Elder; Burgeoning; Surveyor’s Scope; Gaea’s Touch; Azusa, Lost but Seeking; Rites of Flourishing; Druidic Satchel; Oracle of Mul Daya

While the impetus of the deck was Surveyor’s Scope, I soon realized that it’s wasn’t so good as to be a huge focus for the deck, so I went about filling out the deck with other cards that do similar things. To keep green’s land acceleration spells potent, I kept a close eye on my total land count, ending up at fully 50% lands, with three of them Ravnica bounce lands that are each an extra land crammed into one land slot.

Land Tutors

Terramorphic Expanse, Evolving Wilds, Krosan Verge, Crop Rotation, Expedition Map, Life From The Loam, Restore, Crucible of Worlds, Yavimaya Elder, Knight Of The Reliquary, Solemn Simulacrum, Tempt with Discovery, Scapeshift

Even though I was base green, I wanted to make sure I had enough land tutors to assemble all five colors so that I could actually cast my commander. I ended up picking Child of Alara as my commander, in large part because the main theme of my deck—lands—is immune to Child’s mass destruction and I can use the Child for my panic button in case the board state gets too crazy. Of course, historically the problem with Child of Alara decks is that you need to put Child in your graveyard to get the mass destruction trigger and not put it in the command zone. I figured if I need the panic button, I’m fine with Child going to the graveyard and staying there a while. I also wanted a fair number of special land tutors to go get one of my many special lands.

Special Lands

Dark Depths; Diamond Valley; Maze of Ith; Glacial Chasm; Vault of the Archangel; Strip Mine; Vesuva; Kessig Wolf Run; Alchemist’s Refuge; Mikokoro, Center of the Sea; Reliquary Tower; Miren, the Moaning Well; Thespian’s Stage; Opal Palace; Horizon Canopy; Bojuka Bog; Raging Ravine; Grove of the Guardian; Mutavault; Stirring Wildwood; Treetop Village

I selected quite a few special lands, figuring they could give me some toolbox utility (Maze of Ith, Bojuka Bog), beatdown bodies in the man lands, and of course a potent win condition with Dark Depths. In addition to the sweet all-land combo potential alongside Thespian’s Stage, since I’m playing all five colors, I could toss in Vampire Hexmage as well. The little-seen Grove of the Guardian seemed like a perfect fit here too.

Land Matters

Zuran Orb, Lotus Cobra, Constant Mists, Hammer of Purphoros, Overgrown Estate, Emeria Angel, Worm Harvest, Spitting Image, Rubblehulk, Rampaging Baloths, Avenger of Zendikar, Hazezon Tamar

The best of the best "land matters" cards, with lots of fun landfall cards and the two sweetest retrace spells in Worm Harvest and Spitting Image. I like Rubblehulk’s flexibility of being a huge monster or a bloodrush surprise for potentially massive damage. I’ve always liked Hazezon Tamar, but I only just recently realized that if you can kill off Hazezon Tamar before the Sand Warriors appear, they’ll stick around even though he’s gone. I made room for Claws of Gix; Diamond Valley; and Miren, the Moaning Well to ensure ol’ Hazezon doesn’t keep the Sand Warrior army down.

Here’s what I cooked up:

Since I’m playing a five-color deck, I figured I’d go ahead and play Composite Golem, and since I’m playing Composite Golem, I might as well play Nim Deathmantle as well. If I somehow pull those two cards together and have a Legacy Weapon in play, well, the exiling everyone else’s permanents in one fell swoop would certainly make an epic story, especially if it just happened to come together in the course of a game (note the distinct lack of nonland tutors).

The deck played out fairly well over the weekend and did the sort of things I wanted it to do. I consider it much closer to the "fun" end of the spectrum than "high powered," with the most powerful thing it can do fairly consistently being pulling together the Dark Depths + Thespian’s Stage combo. While having a 20/20 flying indestructible monster can be scary, it takes a little bit of time to pull together, and most decks should have some way of dealing with something large, scary, and durable.

One game I attacked a dude with it, and he cast Unexpectedly Absent to "tuck" the token back on top of my deck so it would vanish. But in response another opponent flashed out Phyrexian Metamorph with Alchemist’s Refuge to copy my doomed Marit Lage token first, and then on his turn he cast Time Stretch and attacked me with his own Marit Lage. On subsequent turns he cast Eternal Witness and Time Stretch again to kill everyone with Marit Lage. I felt betrayed, but heck, who am I to try to bend an evil Cthulhu style Avatar to my will?

This deck still feels like a work in progress, and I’m certainly interested to hear any ideas you have in the comments below. Before I go, though, I do want to share a nifty bit of tech from a Commander fan I ran into as I was about to leave the Richmond Convention Center and head home after a long Grand Prix weekend.

He brought up Gamble as a tutor card specifically to recover your commander from being tucked into your deck. I’ve never been a fan of Gamble since the thought of losing the card I was tutoring just drives me nuts, but because of the special commander rules, if your commander gets discarded in the graveyard, you can instead put it in the command zone. So if you have a red commander that’s critical to your deck’s game plan and your playgroup has a fondness for tuck effects, consider tossing a Gamble in your deck.

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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: