Like many of you, when M13 came out I nabbed a couple copies of Diabolic Revelation to add to my Commander stock almost immediately. As I was working on my latest Commander deck (Skullbriar, the Walking Grave), I instinctively reached for Diabolic Revelation along with some other Tutors.
Then I hesitated. Do I really want or need the Tutors?
Vampiric Tutor. Green Sun’s Zenith. Stoneforge Mystic. Treasure Mage. Demonic Tutor. Survival of the Fittest. Intuition. Stonehewer Giant. Chord of Calling. Increasing Ambition. Birthing Pod. Rune-Scarred Demon.
These are some of the most popular Tutor spells in Commander, but they only just scrape the surface of what’s available for deckbuilders who want the ability to go get the card they need or want, whether it’s to answer something an opponent is doing, or to assemble some sort of combo piece to gain an strong advantage, or flat-out win a game. Tutors allow a deck to either diversify or increase consistencyâ€”sometimes bothâ€”and doing so often increases the overall power of our deck. These are the reasons why some of these cards are staples of Constructed tournaments and why some are banned or restricted in older formats.
When building decks for Constructed formats, you are often at odds with the inherent random nature of a card game that limits the number of copies of individual cards in your deck which you then shuffle up and draw off the top. We are drawn to building our decks in such a way as to cut down on the randomness and increase consistency, which is why cards like Ponder and Preordain were such powerhouse staple cards in Standard recently. Tutors offer up the ultimate weapon in fighting randomness.
Commander’s singleton format and 100-card deck size often cause people to instinctively stuff as many Tutor spells into their deck as they possibly can. Sometimes it’s necessaryâ€”perhaps your Commander needs a boost to be really good or you’re trying to assemble some sweet, off-the-wall haymaker play that requires a couple specific cards. Or maybe you’re trying to be a control deck, which is quite the high-wire act in multiplayer where you can’t always rely on pure card drawing to have the right answer in your hand.
But I think all the Tutor power that is readily available for just about every Commander deck you build takes away a bit from the enjoyment of the game. Today I want everyone to take a few minutes to think about letting go of Tutors in Commander or at least minimizing the quantity you use.
The Downside of Tutors
While there are plenty of great reasons to run Tutor effects in your deck, there are some costs to them as well.
It takes time to sift through nearly a hundred-card singleton deck looking for a specific card. And what if the Tutor card you have in your hand is the only play you can make right now but you really don’t need anything in particular? You’re just strolling through your deck, looking for something to strike your fancy. Meanwhile, everyone else around the table is on hold waiting for you to finish up. If you consider everyone plays a couple Tutor effects in the course of a game, that adds up to a significant amount of time that could otherwise be used to actively progress the game.
Everyone knows how powerful Tutoring is, and when people engage in it, their opponents will naturally be worried what sort of shenanigans are coming down the pike. If you’ve naturally drawn a devastating combination of cards no one is the wiser, but if you’ve spent a couple turns searching through your deck, even though your opponent can’t see the cards you’re getting, it’s going to be obvious you’re up to something devious that must be stopped. Each time you Tutor you’re putting a big ol’ bulls-eye on your chest, and that can be quite dangerous if a couple of your opponents move aggressively against you.
Each Tutor card you put in your deck is a card slot that could have been used for something cool instead. I’m sure most of you have had the experience of pulling together cards for your latest Commander deck and then realizing how many cool cards you need to cut to trim down to 100 cards.
Adding Tutors to your deck often leads you down the path of leaning too heavily on a certain combination of cards, which makes you more vulnerable to effects like Jester’s Cap that can poke a giant hole in your plans. Focusing too hard on the consistency that Tutoring gives you also narrows the capabilities of your deck.
Life in a Tutor-Free World
Drawing cards is something that’s nearly as powerful as Tutoring but doesn’t necessarily raise as many red flags with opponents as Tutoring doesâ€”especially if it’s not gross card drawing like Consecrates Sphinx or Griselbrand activations (back before he got the ban-hammer). It’s often hard for us to put one-for-one removal spells in our decks because the urge to play sweepers in multiplayer is strong, and yet sweepers are often too slow to get the job done when an opponent is setting up to win. Adding card draw to your deck lets you play faster and pinpoint answers without feeling like you’re quickly running out of cards against multiple opponents.
Below are some card drawing suggestions for each color, with an eye towards less "obnoxious" cards such as Rhystic Study.
Colorless — Skullclamp, Howling Mine, Temple Bell, Walking Archive, Mindless Automaton, Otherworldly Atlas, Slate of Ancestry, Solemn Simulacrum, Bargaining Table, Farsight Mask, Memory Jar, Mind’s Eye, Staff of Nin, Urza’s Blueprints; Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
Land — Grim Backwoods, Horizon Canopy; Mikokoro, Center of the Sea; Seaside Haven
Blue — Brainstorm, Whispers of the Muse, Azure Mage, Kami of the Crescent Moon, Vision Skeins, Words of Wisdom, Jace Beleren, Oona’s Grace, Tandem Lookout, Theft of Dreams, Coastal Piracy, Diminishing Returns, Distant Melody, Tezzeret’s Gambit, Aeon Chronicler, Magus of the Jar, Mulldrifter, Time Reversal, Arcanis the Omnipotent, Overwhelming Intellect, Sphinx of the Magosi, Bringer of the Blue Dawn
White — Inheritance, Kor Spiritdancer, Puresteel Paladin, Armistice, Dismantling Blow, Mentor of the Meek, Mesa Enchantress, Survival Cache, Truce, Pursuit of Knowledge
Green — Glimpse of Nature, Argothian Enchantress, Compost, Magus of the Library, Sylvan Library, Enchantress’s Presence, Fecundity, Heartwood Storyteller, Rites of Flourishing, Triumph of Ferocity, Verduran Enchantress, Yavimaya Elder, Greater Good, Harmonize, Nature’s Resurgence, Garruk’s Packleader, Garruk, Primal Hunter, Gilt-Leaf Archdruid, Soul’s Majesty, Collective Unconscious, Grim Flowering, Primordial Sage, Soul of the Harvest, Regal Force
Red — Wheel of Fate, Browbeat, Sensation Gorger, Wheel of Fortune, Reforge the Soul, Knollspine Dragon
Black — Skeletal Scrying, Sign in Blood, Necropotence, Phyrexian Arena, Disciple of Bolas, Graveborn Muse, Greed, Syphon Mind, Bloodgift Demon, Dregs of Sorrow, Necrologia, Promise of Power, Harvester of Souls, Decree of Pain
There are also a bunch of cards that cycle and cantrips that you can use to keep the cards flowing.
One alternative to leaning too heavily on being able to search up a specific card is to add more cards to the deck that do similar things to that card. For instance, if you find you use Tutors to fetch up your Damnation quite a bit, why not instead add Mutilate and Life’s Finale? A quick search of a Magic card database will often show that Wizards has made variations of the card you want to reliably pair up with your Commander or some other affect.
Embrace the Chaos!
There’s a reason why this is Sheldon Menery catchphrase for Commander, and it’s the reason why it’s a singleton format with 100-card decks. One of the joys of playing a Commander deck without Tutors is that each game is going to play out differently, keeping the experience fresh and fun. If you’ve tuned your deck into a machine that kills the same way each game not only will your opponents quickly tire of playing against you, but you’re going to tire of playing it yourself. Do you want to constantly be tearing down your decks and building new ones after only playing a few games? When you’re constantly discovering fun new interactions with your deck each time you play it, you know you’re hitting the sweet spot.
I hope that I’ve given you some food for thought, and that instead of automatically reaching for those tutor cards for your next Commander deck, you might instead take a different approach. There are tons of other ways to build card advantage into your deck outside of raw card drawing too. Feel free to chime in with some of your favorites in the comments below!
StarCityGames.com Open Series: Washington, DC – Epilogue
Before I go, I want to share the M13 Draft event I jumped in after scrubbing out of the Legacy tournament. I’d drafted M13 a couple times before and did the Sealed Prerelease, and since green seemed good I felt like I could certainly use my green instincts and pull together a decent deck. When I opened pack 1 and saw Predatory Rampage, it felt like the Fates were talking to me. I spent the rest of the pack snagging some halfway decent green cards but didn’t really see anything good to lock me into a second color.
Pack 2 showed Serra Avenger, a card I only own one copy of from the last time she was printed. Since I think she could eventually make her way into Constructed sometime after rotation and since there wasn’t anything compelling in the rest of the pack, I went ahead and snagged her, hoping for maybe some white goodies to come my way. I was then passed Stuffy Doll with no other good green or white cards, so I shrugged and took it. The rest of the picks were mostly okay on the green and not too much otherwise. By the end, I figured maybe I could stick with mono-green…if only I could snag more than just the one Timberpack Wolf. Instead I got a 12th pick Boundless Realms.
Pack 3 I opened up Trading Post. Hmm…considering all my love for Trading Post recently, I took it as another sign (and it would be my seventh copy) and snagged it. I figured worst-case scenario I could make a ton of Goats and eventually go nuts with Predatory Rampage. I snagged a Fungal Sprouting to supplement that plan. Then there were some really bad cards floating around that I got really lateâ€”Ranger’s Path, the Boundless Realms I talked about, and Bountiful Harvest to turn all those extra lands into life/time. I could even use the late-pick Jayemdae Tome with all that extra mana to draw gas from the thinned-out deck. That was the theory anyway, so that’s what I built.
- 1 Stuffy Doll
- 1 Deadly Recluse
- 1 Elvish Archdruid
- 1 Sentinel Spider
- 1 Bond Beetle
- 2 Yeva's Forcemage
- 1 Roaring Primadox
- 2 Timberpack Wolf
- 17 Forest
I won the first match against G/W fairly easily following the plan of making a lot of dudes, buying time with Bountiful Harvest and Trading Post, and winning off Predatory Rampage one game (yes, there were around six 3/4 Goats attacking) and getting Roaring Primadox working with Bond Beetle and then Yeva’s Forcemage in the second game.
The second match I won against a U/B mill deck by having a fast double Timberpack Wolf into Forcemage and Ring of Kalonia with Prey Upon to wreck his defenses. Game 2 I played a turn 2 Ground Seal that apparently randomly wrecked a couple cards in his hand, and since he’d already had to mulligan once he just didn’t have anything to do.
The third match against G/R was tougher. My opponent had the air of someone who’s good, knows he’s probably better than all his opponents, and is in a hurry to finish up the draft, take his packs, and go home. He wasn’t overtly rude, but his body language, expressions, and sighs indicated his great annoyance that I wouldn’t roll over and let him finish winning.
I mulled to six and he went first, curving out fast and finishing me off with burn. The second game I had to mulligan again but managed to sculpt a turn to bring things into my favor by waiting until turn 4 to play Forcemage (my first creature) and then Prey Upon to munch on his Bladetusk Boar. Next turn I equipped the Ring to it, and the following turn I drew and played Stuffy Doll to slow him down. A few turns later, with Forcemage sporting two +1/+1 counters, I drew Predatory Rampage and swung, wrecking his side of the board and dealing damage to him in the process. I ended up winning, and we went to the third and deciding game.
He came out fast again, but I was able to stabilize a bit. I had a Forcemage on the table with a Ring on it but just one counter, and I’d drawn "the land plan" with Ranger’s Path, Bountiful Harvest, and Boundless Realms. The trick was to keep from dying long enough to get a crap-ton of lands into play and gain a ton of life to give me time to draw some gas. I drew Jayemdae Tome to help with the plan. So I went ahead and did it, dropping down into the single digits when the Tome showed me Sentinel Spider.
I paused and thought a moment. I felt my opponent growing more and more irritated and impatient. The safe play was to go ahead and play Bountiful Harvest to put me safely out of harm’s way for the turn, but I knew it would viewed as a stupid stalling play by my opponent. On the other hand, I could play the Spider, which would be bigger than the 3/3 he had in play and might very well stop him from attacking that turn. The Spider would help me win faster and would play nicely with Fungal Sprouting or Prey Upon should I draw them. I decided on the more aggressive play in order to try and speed the match to conclusion and cast the Spider.
My opponent attacked into the Spider, and I had to assume he had some combat trick to take it out. I looked at my life total, and if I took the hit I would have gone to four. If I blocked and lost my Spider, I’d be right back to where I was last turn, so I take the hit.
My opponent played Chandra’s Fury and finished me, and then I was the idiot he always knew I was. I totally had that match if I’d just played the game my deck was designed to play and had not rushed. Ah well, live and learn.
Afterwards, I looked over my card pool and realized I likely could have splashed red for a few cards that would have been worlds better than the green filler and the "land plan" I was on. I think this would likely be a better configuration:
-1 Ground Seal, -1 Ranger’s Path, -1 Bountiful Harvest, -1 Boundless Realms, -7 Forest
+1 Farseek, +1 Canyon Minotaur, +1 Chandra’s Fury, +1 Cleaver Riot, +7 Mountain
What do you think?
starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com
Make sure to follow my Twitter feed (@blairwitchgreen). I check it often so feel free to send me feedback, ideas, and random thoughts. I’ve also created a Facebook page where I’ll be posting up deck ideas and will happily discuss Magic, life, or anything else you want to talk about!
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:
- Commander Primer Part 1 (Why play Commander? Rules Overview, Picking your Commander)
- Commander Primer Part 2 (Mana Requirements, Randomness, Card Advantage)
- Commander Primer Part 3Â (Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
- Commander Starter Kits 1 (kick start your allied two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 2 (kick start your enemy two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 3 (kick start your shard three-color decks for $25)
My current Commander decks (and links to decklists):
- Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis (evil and Spike-ish)
- Yeva, Nature’s Herald (living at instant speed)
- Johan (Cat Breath of the Infinite)
- Riku of Two Reflections (steal all permanents with Deadeye Navigator + Zealous Conscripts)
- Phelddagrif (Mean Hippo)
- Sigarda, Host of Herons (Equipment-centric Voltron)
- Bruna, Light of Alabaster (Aura-centric Voltron)
- Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind (Chuck’s somewhat vicious deck)
Previous Commander decks currently on hiatus:
- Ruhan of the Fomori (lots of equipment and infinite attack steps)
- Phage the Untouchable (actually casting Phage from Command Zone!)
- Ghave, Guru of Spores (Melira Combo)
- Glissa, the Traitor (undying artifacts!)
- Grimgrin, Corpse-Born (Necrotic Ooze Combo)
- Damia, Sage of Stone (Ice Cauldron shenanigans)
- Geist of Saint Traft (Voltron-ish)
- Glissa Sunseeker (death to artifacts!)
- Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo’ Myrs)
- Thelon of Havenwood (Campfire Spores)
- Melira, Sylvok Outcast (combo killa)
- Konda, Lord of Eiganjo (The Indestructibles)
- Vorosh, the Hunter (proliferaTION)
- Progenitus (Fist of Suns and Bringers)
- Savra, Queen of the Golgari (Demons)
- Uril, the Miststalker (my "more competitive" deck)