The Kitchen Table #415: From Toolkit To Commander #2

Abe narrates the second part of his journey from Toolkit to Commander, in which he went to a FNM M14 draft and traded into a passable Commander deck.

Have you ever wondered what you could do with a Deckbuilder’s Toolkit? I mean, it just has some deck stock you probably already have and four booster packs. Except for perhaps the pretty deck box, why even bother with it?

A few weeks ago I picked up last year’s Toolkit and opened it. I came up with the idea of trading the cards I opened into a legitimate Commander deck. Of course, no actual commanders were in the toolkit—it was bereft of any legendary cards at all.

So I opened it up and pondered the trade possibilities, which I chronicled in my article last week. As you can see, I have a few good cards already, such as Oblivion Ring, Acidic Slime, and Murder. My best two colors are white and green. I like my blue over my black, but both are useful if needed. My red, despite a bit of burn, is lousy. I want to trade out of all of it. I opened five rares from four booster packs—two from Innistrad because I nabbed a rare flip card. I have Ludevic’s Test Subject, Omniscience, Kessig Wolf Run, Predator Ooze, and Reforge the Soul. What can I do with these five rares?

I’m on a mission to translate these cards into Commander-speak.

So I went down to my local card store here in Ypsilanti, MI. I arrived about an hour early for FNM, which should give me time to trade with folks that had cards. I also could trade for the M14 cards that were opened for the draft that intrigued me. That was my plan, and it really worked.

After I arrived, I knew my first goal was to find a legendary creature to be my commander. After looking around for a good ten minutes, I realized that I would need to head to the store itself.

Stores want good trades, so I traded them my Kessig Wolf Run for Teneb, the Harvester. This is a win for them because they had no Wolf Runs in stock but had a bunch of Tenebs. Teneb is a very respectable general and will look quite well as a reliable six-drop. Even though I lost money on this trade, it gave me the focus I needed. I am black, white, and green, so I can also look for Golgari, Selesnya, and Orzhov cards from Return to Ravnica block.

As I planned last week, I needed to trade that Omniscience. I found the perfect partner. He had just taken apart some decks, so he had some deck stock with him that was not in sleeves. He was sort of interested in the Omni, and I needed two major things: beef and mana. I have a three-color deck, and that has mana needs. The creatures I opened were on the weak side, so I needed to acquire some creatures of size. I traded the Omniscience for:

Mana Cylix, Golgari Guildgate, Selesnya Guildgate, Orzhov Guildgate, Terramorphic Expanse, Rupture Spire, Transguild Promenade, Behemoth Sledge, Garruk’s Horde, Deathless Angel, Victory’s Herald, Engulfing Slagwurm, and Vengeful Archon.

If you look on SCG for prices, he made out. All of the rares clock in at $0.49, save the $1.49 Deathless Angel. Yet the quality here is unbelievable. I made out with six playable mana-assisting lands, a Mana Cylix, a useful bit of equipment, and five large quality beaters. That’s a nice combination of cards—every single one will make the cut in my deck.

After waving goodbye to any hope of playing blue, I added blue to my trade section. My next trade was a foil Gather the Townsfolk and Jace’s Phantasm for several leftovers from drafts in RTR block. I snagged an Obzedat’s Aid, Gaze of Granite, Sin Collector, Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage, and Treasury Thrull. The Thrull, Gaze, Aid clock in at roughly $1.75, and the Collector and G-M are just uncommons that add another $0.75 to the deal. I grabbed $2.50 in cards and gave up $2.50 on the Phantasm and $0.75 on the foil. So I lost the foil in trade value. But what I gained was another injection of strong into my deck. If you’ll recall from last week, my G/W section had a small but powerful token creature section, and the Vitu-Ghazi G-M fits that nicely. Adding a sweeping removal and reanimation spell are nice, and Collector is a solid enough body for the early game.

I found a guy who was building a burn deck and needed some burn cards for it. He pulled out my two Pillar of Flames, Searing Spear, and Brimstone Volley. All of those have value, so I snagged a Doom Blade, Bramblecrush, Elvish Mystic, Gatecreeper Vine, Sporemound, and Trostani’s Judgment. The Vine is powerful in a deck with Gates, and the Mystic is another mana accelerant. Doom Blade and Judgment are solid one-for-one removal spells, and the Judgment can populate as well. Sporemound spits out some Saproling tokens as needed, and Bramblecrush is a good emergency spell to handle anything from a planeswalker to a land to the typical artifact or enchantment.

I was finding no love for the Ludevic’s Test Subject I had. So I went back to the store and made them an offer. I would trade it for three commons in their bulk commons section, and they agreed. I used this as an opportunity to snag three commons I needed: Rootborn Defenses, Strider Harness, and Wickerbough Elder. The Elder is both creature and removal, and the Harness is surprisingly good equipment. The Defenses gives me an anti-Wrath trick, which is vital in a deck like mine, plus I can populate.

After the draft was over, I was looking through someone’s cards, and I mentioned that the Liliana’s Reaver he had drafted would be great in my deck. So we traded my Reforge the Soul for it. It works very well. It can make tokens, the deathtouch is nice, and it strips cards. I also grabbed two people and made a couple of minor trades—Aven Squire for Hunt the Weak and Geist Trapper for Solemn Offering. Here I was just massaging my deck in a few places.

So I have my first run of the Teneb deck up and playing in white sleeves. It does have a few cards in it that I don’t like, and I hope to find replacements next week. Let’s take a look at the first run of Toolkit to Commander:

That is the first iteration of the project. The deck does have some issues that I need to work out. For instance, it has mad mana problems. Too many cards cost double (or triple) mana. Most of the mana-searching cards I have are weak. Sure, Ranger’s Path may be great at grabbing two Forests, but outside of dual lands it’s weaker than many other options. Elvish Mystic and Arbor Elf just accelerate my green. I would love some cards that can make any color of mana. In addition to increased card quality, I simply need more mana-fixing cards period. I need cards like Cultivate and Armillary Sphere to assist in this process. I also need more mana lands. Trading for something simple, like Elfhame Palace, would really help. I’m just glad I managed to find a person with the Guildgates and other common land mana fixing!

Another major issue is the lack of depth this deck has. There are some cards that really shouldn’t be on this list. Deadly Allure, Attended Knight, Urgent Exorcism, and Death’s Caress are examples of cards that just aren’t bringing it. I’d love to find better removal and pull Pacifism and Caress for better cards.

I do have a few cards in here I’m excited by. Vile Rebirth is crap in most decks, but here it is my one tool to (sorta) fight reanimation and it makes a 2/2 dork for populating (I don’t want to hurt graveyards overly much with Teneb as my general). I also think Necrobite looks like a fun little surprise to pull out on someone. “Yes, my chump blocker now rocks deathtouch. Oh, and did I mention it regenerates?” I can use it for just one or the other, and it works too.

Ambush Viper is another fun surprise. Just flash it out to block and trade with any attacker. You can also flash it out at the end of someone’s turn and then untap and take your turn. Perhaps you’ll want to swing with your newly minted creature. Or you suspect that having a deathtouch creature in play will force people to attack elsewhere. In fact, you might want to flash it out before someone chooses who to attack with that Eldrazi or other suitably large non-flying pounder. That way you’ll wreck someone else.

We need card drawing. The raw card drawing that green tends to have is just a bit out of my price range for a project like this (such as Harmonize). Black card drawing tends to be a life-for-cards style and I’d love to find something nice, but they also tend to be on the slightly more expensive side of things. I still want some more beef too. I don’t have enough, and I feel like another three-to-five big nasty creatures is key to fighting other decks. I can pull Pathbreaker Wurm and some smaller stuff for the big guys. Many Commander decks have a similar number of big guns, and I need some more to keep up with the Joneses.

I want to target acquisition of recently printed cards that will really upgrade my deck. Some cards I want to gather include Sundering Growth and Phantom General.

I’ll be heading back out to another FNM M14 draft and hope to acquire some of the cards I am missing. Other M14 targets include Congregate, perhaps Celestial Flare and Encroaching Wastes, Lay of the Land, Manaweft Sliver, Shimmering Grotto, and Darksteel Ingot. That would be a nice injection of quality to my deck.

So in one week I traded my Toolkit into a rudimentary Commander deck. I’ll keep working on it and check in with you later. Commander is not as expensive or hard to get into as some think. All I have done is trade (losing value in most of my trades) in order to have a passable Commander deck. At this point, the deck is almost done, and just a little work is needed to massage it to a good state. Teneb just wants a massage.

Whatever starting cards you have, feel encouraged to head out there and start trading. You can make a Commander deck too!

Until later,
Abe Sargent

P.S. I feel like this was a bit too easy because of the Omniscience. I wonder what would have happen if I cracked a recently printed M14 Toolkit and didn’t pull a mythic or crazy rare? How would my deck look then?