Pro Tour Commander

If there were a Commander Pro Tour, what might the Top 8 look like? Find out by reading this fun article by Danny West!

Disclaimer: This work is intended to be a thought experiment and a fanciful piece of Magic fiction. I in no way endorse Commander as a competitive format.

We’ve spent three long days in a European city that photographs well but has no air conditioning whatsoever, and here we are. Hundreds of playtesting hours with cards no one has ever heard of and thousands more spent perfect-fitting judge foils are over and done with. All that remains is the Sunday stage.

It’s a star-studded inaugural Top 8 for Pro Tour Commander. It seems like only yesterday that the community was crying foul over the introduction of Commander as a competitive format. “It will ruin the purity of the format!” they said. “The price of affordable casual cards will get out of control!” Fortunately, Magic players have goldfish memories, and by the time PTQ season started, we had already—wait what are we talking about? I’m sorry, I was buying Sol Ring on the Internet for $125.

Commander has gone from a complex self-indulgent rules debacle played by huddles of giggly affluent judges to a tried-and-tested tournament format. Despite the continual efforts of a dozen teams at this Pro Tour, a diverse metagame has emerged with no duplicate archetypes appearing in the Top 8. Let’s take a look at our potential champions:

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While mana dorks have traditionally been a little too low impact for such a battlecruiser format, Kibler refused to shy away from them.

“Birthing Pod allows me to sacrifice my inconsequential mana guys like Avacyn’s Pilgrim and Birds of Paradise in order to put some inconsequential two-drops on the field,” Kibler told me earlier. “It’s really important to have cards like Pod or Sylvan Library where you can pay life to get through your crappy creatures so that you can draw other green cards that do less than the blue cards.”

Kibler maintains that a lot of his card choices are irrelevant when it gets right down to it.

“I’ve pretty much made a career of playing whatever I want and winning off of just being better than everyone else. I mean, is Yeva, Nature’s Herald a better card than Bribery or whatever? Is Domri Rade better than Jace? Of course not. But I’m better than you, so eat it.”

All in all, Kibler says the format has a lot to like and he looks forward to playing more of it in the years to come.

“Shuffling in this format takes forever. So like if my opponent mulligans or cracks a fetch land, I have about forty minutes to take pictures of my dog, which I can’t really do in most traditional tournament formats.”

Despite the plethora of shuffling being a positive for Kibler, he had no comment on the controversial decision to disallow Jun’ya Iyanaga entry into the event despite being technically qualified.

Our next Top 8 player is fellow Hall of Famer Patrick Chapin. Chapin elected to play a Grixis Control build that utilizes many of the Commander staples one would expect to see in this sort of archetype. Some of the card choices, however, had players scratching their collective heads.

“My goal is to cast Cruel Ultimatum as many times as humanly possible,” Chapin said. “I wasn’t even going to come to this Pro Tour, but then someone told me Cruel Ultimatum was playable. That’s when I added some of the spell recursion like Call to Mind and Sins of the Past. Sorin Markov and Magister Sphinx ensure that they’re always only two Ultimatums from game over.” Chapin lost only two matches in the Swiss portion of the event, casting Cruel Ultimatum a total of 63 times. And twice more while waiting for a taxi last night outside the venue.

Honestly, I didn’t think much of Patrick telling me Cruel Ultimatum is the best card in his deck until he also declared that the sorcery is his favorite food, the town he was born in, and the best feature of the hotel in which he was staying.

“The buffet downstairs is pretty good, but they close it a little early for my tastes. I’m a late sleeper. Also, Cruel Ultimatum.”

Craig Wescoe, the patron saint of White Weenie strategies, incorporated his comfort zone into his build for this tournament. While most decks take several turns and ramp spells to get into their endgame, Wescoe begins immediately on his second turn. By playing Thalia on turn 2 each game, he can lock an opponent out before they can even get off the ground. Cards like Rishadan Port, Glowrider, and Thorn of Amethyst keep the taxation climbing while small efficient creatures keep the pressure on. To ensure that the opponent doesn’t have time to recover from the initial blockade, Wescoe uses traditional Stax spells like Smokestack and Armageddon to seal the deal.*

Our next entry is Pro Tour Kyoto Top 8 competitor Cedric Phillips. Cedric registered a Krenko list with a lot of subtle twists and turns.

“There’s nothing better than casting Recruiter early and stacking your whole deck. Then you Charbelcher them and win right then and there.”

Phillips has always been in the interest of killing his opponents with both the Goblin tribe and their ridiculous cannon. Getting to use both was too good to resist.

“Sometimes I storm off with Empty the Warrens and the rituals or Banefire. Sometimes I get a late Koth emblem they can’t outrace. This one guy laughed at me when I played Blood Moon. The next turn I played Goblin King. He isn’t laughing anymore.”

He’s shouting at me because he’s listening to bad pop music on his big headphones. He looks ridiculous.

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Sam Black brought his usual brand of bizarre deckbuilding and sacrifice outlets. The deck is loaded with cheap discard and disruption spells to allow Sam to clear the way for various combos involving creatures that are easy to recur or a left-field enchantment like Barrage of Expendables.

“The deck has a ton of parachutes,” Sam explained. “It’s about having a lot of backup plans depending on what you draw. Sometimes you get a token-generator engine going with Skullclamp or the Solitary Confinement and Squee combo. Sometimes everything fails, but you draw Skithiryx and win anyway.”       

Sam and his team were pretty sure he had made the best deck for the tournament, but as usual nobody but Sam was actually willing to play it.

“Yeah, it’s pretty much unplayable in every regard. But hey, I’m winning with it.”

At this point I shamefully used the term “YOLO” and an unrequited high five ended our correspondence.


Conley Woods' Adun Oakenshield
Danny West
Test deck on 11-24-2013

Conley Woods is one of the most famous deckbuilders in the world. He often finds holes in metagames and uses the element of surprise to great effect.

“My surprise for my opponents this weekend is that they have no lands,” Conley said with a chuckle. “I took a bunch of cards that blow up lands and noncreature permanents and put them together with Eternal Witness and Regrowth. Plus, there’s Plow Under and Stunted Growth. I just want to have as much fun as possible while my opponent sits there. I also have tutoring for the Quillspike combo and some other cute stuff. It’s a pretty big game.”

I asked him about the off-color fetch lands.

“They’re for Lotus Cobra. I like the idea of being able to Violent Ultimatum them or Grave Titan them on turn 3 or 4. It’s a pretty big game.”

I asked him about the cost of his transatlantic flight.

“I paid for a lot of it with miles. They have this room at the airport where you can go in and shower and have a drink or two. You just have to join their Platinum Club or whatever. It’s a pretty big game.”

I asked him if he knew the sum of two and two.

“I know it’s been four for a long time. A few times though to illustrate a point, an artist or author or whatever will say it’s five. Radiohead did it, and it’s an ongoing motif in George Orwell’s 1984. That book is pretty timeless. It’s got a strong message about the perils of government control in media outlets and the danger of privacy loss. It’s a pretty big game.”

Our last championship candidate is one of the purest strictly control players on the planet. Wafo-Tapa is a Worlds finalist and one of the most respected blue mages of all time. Being that he is quite reserved, I was not able to interview him directly but spoke to a friend of his he brought along to interpret his emotions.

“Guillaume really likes his deck,” the stranger told me in a French accent. “He bounces, counters, or destroys his opponent’s creatures. Then he draws lots of cards.”

It occurred to me that there aren’t any win conditions in the deck. The man looked at Wafo-Tapa, who still hadn’t moved.

“Guillaume uses Nephalia Drownyard to win,” he said. “Or Jace. It takes forever.”

Control-oriented players like Ben Stark have championed the Innistrad rare for a long time, but seeing it in this setting brings the idea of drowning slowly to a whole new level.

I suddenly noticed the vanilla and inefficient nature of Wafo-Tapa’s commander.

“Why is he using Sivitri?” I asked.

“He isn’t,” said the translator. “Guillaume doesn’t even know what it is.”   

It’s at this point that Wafo-Tapa’s face began to pale, and he sprinted for the nearest restroom holding his mouth closed. His cheeks were swollen and full of fluid.

“Forgive him,” said the stranger. “The thought of using creatures makes Guillaume very ill.”

And there you have it. Eight talented minds piloting eight decks that showcase the best of what they have to offer the evolving game of Magic. Perhaps in the future we will see the play-by-play of this historic Top 8. What matchup would you like to read about? Which of the decks is the favorite to win? Which player are you rooting for?

Until we meet again . . .

. . .

. . .

I don’t want to write about this again.

. . .

Also, Conley won.

*A vast majority of this list was taken directly from fellow SCG Magic expert, perennial States champion, and White Weenie enthusiast Adam Westnedge, who has spent the last year dialing in his Thalia build. If you’re caught without a Sol Ring on the draw against Thalia, may the force be with you.