The Kitchen Table: Crappy Commander

Looking for a fun way to spice up Commander night? Then check out Abe’s Just Two Stars Commander, a variant where you have to play with poorly rated cards.

Have you ever thought about what a Commander deck would look like if you exclusively used bad cards? Or perhaps you’ve gotten a little bored with the same old Commander decks day after day week in and week out. Well, no worries because there is a way to shake things up and open up a brand-new slate of cards for your Commander fix.

I was thinking about possible variants that would work well with Commander—what would be a good match to the requirements of 100 cards and one copy of each card and so forth. Then I remembered the old format Just One Star. This format required cards to have one star rankings in Inquest magazine.

That’s a long time ago, but we have a similar ranking system of cards today. I realized that we could make a fun Commander format based around Gatherer rankings. I swung over and checked out various rankings for the format. After a bit of research, I uncovered the best numbers to use to restrict the deck choices but still allow a lot of flexibility in building decks. So here is the format!

Just Two Stars Commander

1). Other than nonbasic lands, every card in the deck must clock in at two stars or lower on the Gatherer community rankings. (You can find those rankings here. There are more than 1000 cards, so there’s a good selection of crap to choose from.)

2). Your commander cannot have more than three stars on the Gatherer community ranking. (60+ choices are listed here.)

I looked at the legendary creatures at the two-star mark, and we had few monocolored options—three colors do not have a single monocolored option that is ranked two stars or less. We did have a lot of choices for friendly color combinations (Gruul, Rakdos, Azorius, Selesnya, and Dimir). Then I moved to investigate the 2.5 option. The monocolored choices at 2.5 were still limited, with some colors having just one. I looked at 2.75 too to keep things real. You begin to get some enemy-color generals, a five-color one, and a few more monocolored options. Once more I headed to three stars, and the additional generals were not appreciably nastier or anything and more options opened up. So we are sticking there.

Three stars gives you five legendary mono-red creatures, nine mono-black, five mono-white, three mono-green, and four mono-blue. We also have Naya (Palladia-Mors), five-color (Karona, False God), Bant (Ragnar), Golgari (Iname as One), and Esper (Chromium) in case you want to get out of the many allied-color combinations.

I checked out the legendary creatures above three stars to see about increasing our options, but the power level ramped too quickly for the flavor of the format. You are adding cards like Sun Ce, Young Conquerer; Maga, Traitor to Mortals; Kresh the Bloodbraided; and so forth. I would be fine if you wanted to run a legendary creature in the 3.0-3.5 range if it felt like one at a lower level, such as Ramirez DePietro; Telim’Tor (who clocks in at 3.016 anyway); General Jarkeld (at 3.011); Hakim, Loreweaver; and so on.

I wish I could get to a power level that would enable legendary creatures with all abilities, but that can’t happen. For example, take Izzet. We have just six Izzet-colored legendary creatures to build around. Most are above four stars, and Nin, the Pain Artist clocks in at 3.9. Only Tibor and Lumia at 3.693 is anywhere near our consideration. We have seven Orzhov-colored legendary creatures, and all are in the 3.8 to 4.0 range. Simic’s five all clock in above four stars. Boros has nine options, and most range from the 3.8 level to the 4.0s—the lowest is Agrus Kos, Wojek Veteran at 3.719.

It’s just hard to push the enemy colors because few legendary creatures with those colors are ranked poorly and they’d rule the environment. Can you imagine this format with Selena, Dark Angel as a reliable five-drop? Or Simic’s lowest-ranked Momir Vig, Visionary as it’s legendary? There just aren’t a lot of options, so three stars is a real threshold.

Anyway, I built a sample deck for you below using Azorius. Wanna see?

I know that when some people see this decklist their eyes are going to bleed. "This is not Commander!" they’ll shout. Some others will see this and their hearts will burst with joy at an unusual deckbuilding project. Everybody has a different view of what Commander and EDH mean. This variant of Commander is for those who are looking for something different. I doubt any of the cards on this list (save for Island and Plains) were played in your last Commander night around the kitchen table! (I have played exactly five of these cards ever in a Commander deck, and two of those were my in Toolkit to Commander project.)

A few cards can have different community ratings based on which set they are in. For example, Misfortune’s Gain has a rating of 1.80 for the P3K version but 2.674 for the Master’s Edition one. To be fair, these are in different environments, so people may have different views of them for Limited and such. As long as the card shows up in the Gatherer search, it’s usable for deck construction. (Sometimes I think Gatherer ratings are odd. For example, Inspiration has been in a lot of sets, but every version hits higher than 3.0. That’s a high ranking. Touch of Brilliance, which is just a sorcery version of Inspiration, clocks in at 1.5 to 1.8 depending on the version. Is it really that much of a drop just because it went to a sorcery?)

I found myself at 65 cards, and I felt this deck needed a 60/40 ratio. So I pulled Ark of Blight (what would I destroy here?), Trap Digger (fun but expensive on lands and mana), Archangel’s Light (who wants the big expensive life-gain cards anyway?), Armistice (no life gain for cards), and finally Steeple Roc.

And thus the deck is complete and ready to rock!

After spending some time with the cards, it seems like there is a paucity of good flyers. Therefore cards like Lumengrid Gargoyle are threats that many decks would likely run. I included some good flyers like Primoc Escapee and Flowstone Thopter as well as many three-powered flyers.

Staying under two stars means we lack a lot of the essential cards that we usually want for our decks. For example, the only obvious exiling removal spell that is here is Last Breath, and I skipped it. There is little in the way of artifact and enchantment removal. Some is awful, such as Frantic Purification, and others limited, like the Daru Sanctifier above.

Note that unless something like Banishment Decree counts we have little in the way of true removal for artifacts in any color other than red. (Red has Bash to Bits, Fissure Vent, Rain of Rust, Molten Frame, Victorious Destruction, and Volcanic Submersion). There’s just Verdigris and Phyrexian Tribute.

Luckily, there is a handful of bad counterspells that still work. Spell Blast, Fall of the Gavel, and Fervent Denial are among those that actually will counter anything. So we have some usefulness with counters.

There’s a lot of bad bounce in the U2 (under two) club. Consider crap like Cut the Earthly Bond. Yuck. Yet despite all of that, we have some solid cards here and there. In have gone some tricks like Fog variants (Endure), bounce (Vacuumelt), and protection (Anoint).

Much of the Equipment in this range is on the expensive side, but there are some useful items here and there in the clutter. In any two-color or more deck, Mana Prism is this format’s Sol Ring. It’s really the only playable mana rock around.

Despite the lack of some utility, I was able to find a pair of graveyard-hosing artifacts in Steamclaw and Graveyard Shovel. They can help fight graveyard abuse, including threshold and Flashback. (There are some decent choices of each, such as Ancestral Tribute and Mystic Visionary). They might not be very good, but that’s what you can roll when you rock the U2 variant.

Again, there are a few cards here in the way back machine that are typically skipped by when browsing cards on Gatherer or SCG’s card search. One is Acidic Dagger. Yes, it costs four mana to play and another four to use. Plus it can only be used before blockers are declared, and if the creature with the Dagger dies, the Dagger goes with it. But there are some fun things in here.

First of all, you can use it on defense before you block to essentially give the creature a form of deathtouch. And if your blocker does not die, then the Dagger stays around to be used again. Also, you can use it to lethal up an attacker and see what your opponent does. They may not want to trade their Lumengrid Gargoyle for your Acidic Dagger and 1/1 token you equipped (See: Voice of the Provinces.) Sure, it’s clunky, but it’s also a little rattlesnake of love in a format light on removal.

Another fun card is Joven’s Tools. Four mana and a tap will make your creature unblockable by anything that is not a wall. I love it in Commander ’95, and it works here too! Note that this was not updated after the creation of defender; a creature that is en-Tooled cannot be blocked by a creature with defender, just by an actual wall, which is few and far between here than in C95. Again, sure it’s an expensive card to play and use, but it can break a stalemate, which seems likely in this format with little good removal of any sort and a serious paucity of sweeping removal.

Tower of Champions also helps break a stalemate. We can enlarge some chump creature when it swings to threaten a large beater and force trades. Trade enough 1/1s for big beasts and you will win that game.

The Hive is also included to help break out of any stalemates that might accrue.

The format has a lot of potential. When I built my deck, there were many cards I chose to ignore that could have gone in. For example, there were about three or four blue Auras that keep a creature tapped down (such as Stasis Cell). I skipped them, but they are legitimate choices. There were some good cheap creatures I skipped. I could have included more of the big sea serpents that can’t attack without an Island on the other side and then used them as a pseudo Moat against nonblue players.

I could have added more cantrips like Force Void, Touch of Invisibility, or Withstand. You could make great arguments for guys such as Glintwing Invoker. I could add vanilla but large legendary creatures like Tobias Andrion. I skipped midrange flyers such as Shinen of Flight’s Wings, Soratami Seer, and Soratami Mirror-Mage. Selfless Exorcist can also aid in fighting against recursion. Segovian Leviathan can Islandwalk a foe to break a stalemate. These were a lot of the decisions that I had to make when building my deck and many others besides.

The format is quirky, but it has the depth necessary to really work. So grab your worst cards and let’s play Magic!

Until later,
Abe Sargent