Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.
Recently the awesome “Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musee National Picasso, Paris” exhibit left the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and I
was privileged enough to be able to go and experience it with my kids while it was here. It took two and a half hours to wind through the mass of the man’s work on display, and they had things laid out
chronologically in decade-chunks, letting you experience how his style changed over the years, how he would dabble with an idea over the course of
years until it came to fruition a decade later. It was fascinating, especially with an artist like Picasso, who got really abstract and downright weird
as the years went by.
Are we to paint what’s on the face, what’s inside the face, or what’s behind it?
I thoroughly enjoyed watching the kids—Anna Marie, 10 and Aaron, 8—trying to puzzle out some of the stranger Picassos. One painting in
particular stands out in my memory, a heavily shaded piece with odd shapes difficult to make out in the swirling darkness. Anna Marie stared at it a
few moments and then leaned forward to look at the placard. “Man with a Violin?” she said, incredulous as she looked back at the painting.
I was laughing inside, but I knelt down beside her and pointed out a few shapes… “That looks like the neck of a violin, right? …and
that kinda looks like a man’s nose and eye, right?” Squinting, I think she could see it too, or at least humored me on it.
I’m by no means an art-geek, nor a high-art connoisseur, but something about going to that exhibit left me feeling charged up. It reminded me of
my college days. I started freshman year as an English major, with dreams of being a novelist clouding my good judgment. I much preferred hanging out
with the Art majors; their visual and physical creative expression would just fill up my own creative juices, and I’d dash back to my dorm room,
take up pen and paper, and the words would flow. And besides, the Art chicks were super-hot!
The chief enemy of creativity is “good” sense.
There are tons of different ways to construct a Commander deck, probably as many ways as there are Commander players. I thought it might be interesting
to share how I typically go about doing it in the hopes that you might find some ideas useful in your own deckbuilding endeavors, particularly if
you’re new to the 100-card singleton. When you’ve got a potential card pool as large as Magic’s history and 100 separate slots to
fill, it can be intimidating to figure out an effective process that works for you.
As I was building a new deck recently, for some reason Picasso popped into my mind. For me, building a Commander deck is a lot like an artist producing
a sculpture from a block of stone. I start with an idea or a couple ideas and a stack of cards that I think might make that idea work in a fun and
effective way. The stack of cards is typically much larger than the slots I have available for them, so I have to examine all the cards and slowly trim
individual cards away until a coherent deck eventually emerges.
Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.
I typically pour through my Magic collection (aka “Commander Stock”) a few times a week. Not necessarily my entire Magic
collection—sometimes it’s just a couple boxes in search of a couple particular cards. Sometimes though I go through everything,
and it’s an extremely time-consuming process despite the fact that I can sift through cards at lightning speed; I’ve been playing Magic for 17
years now without pause and without any collection dumping.
Now, at any given point, I’ll typically have 3-4 complete Commander decks, a couple decks that have been partially plundered for other decks, and then
a couple deck idea “nuggets.” These nuggets might be a particular legend, theme, mechanic, or card combination I want to build around.
Whenever I sift through my collection looking for something in particular, I also keep an eye out for stuff I might have missed for my completed
Commander decks, something to re-excite me about the Commander decks that are slowly being torn apart and cannibalized, and cards to add to the deck
idea nuggets. I set these on the ground beside me in stacks, and once I’m done with going through the collection, I’ll take the active deck
stack cards and stick them in the appropriate deck boxes for tweaking (if I don’t have time right now), and the deck idea nugget cards get put in
separate stacks on the end table in my living room. Not the best place to store loose cards, but I’m a bachelor with no social life so
that’s how I roll. I’ve trained the kids to leave that stuff alone.
Eventually these deck idea nugget stacks get big enough that I decide it’s time to go ahead and make a deck out of them. I’m going to walk
you through a recent example, complete with pictures!
Art is not the application of a canon of beauty but what the instinct and the brain can conceive beyond any canon. When we love a woman we don’t
start measuring her limbs.
Remember not too long ago when the Commander Rules Committee changed the rules to allow that handful of legends that were effectively illegal in their
own deck? Cards like Memnarch, Rhys the Exiled, and Bosh, Iron Golem now became legal thanks to a new definition of “color identity.” After
the change, I pulled aside Thelon of Havenwood, a green creature that has a black mana symbol in its text, thus allowing a black and green deck to be
constructed around him. I obviously wanted to build a Thallid/Fungus theme around Thelon, and so my deck idea nugget stack began to grow.
The obvious inclusions: Thelon of Havenwood, Thallid, Utopia Mycon, Tukatongue Thallid, Elvish Farmer, Fungal Bloom, Spore Flower, Thorn Thallid,
Thallid Devourer, Psychotrope Thallid, Thallid Germinator, Sporesower Thallid, Savage Thallid, Chameleon Colossus, Changeling Titan, Doubling Season,
Coat of Arms, Patriarch’s Bidding.
Some other things that felt like they belonged in the stack: Skullclamp, Culling Dias, Hecatomb, Nullmage Shepherd, Gaea’s Cradle, Leyline of
Vitality, Kaysa, Eldrazi Monument, Akroma’s Memorial, Fecundity, Citanul Hierophants, Slate of Ancestry, Skullmuncher, Collective Unconscious.
I also included G/B “good stuff” or powerful combos that I’d consider adding in if I found the room: Dark Depths, Vampire Hexmage,
Crop Rotation, Expedition Map, Xathrid Demon, Lord of Extinction, Sapling of Colfenor, Gleancrawler, Spiritmonger.
As the entire Scars of Mirrodin block rolled out, I also pulled proliferate and infect cards that would fit into the deck. Proliferate because
I’d already have lots of spore counters all over the place and infect to pair up with proliferate and to also help my make little small Fungus
creatures a bit more threatening. Cards like: Tainted Strike, Grafted Exoskeleton, Triumph of the Hordes, Throne of Geth, Contagion Clasp, Grim
Affliction, Core Prowler, Plaguemaw Beast, Spread the Sickness, and Contagion Engine.
When I’m ready for deckbuilding, I’ll also bring over “stock” Commander cards in the appropriate colors to fill in the holes.
These cards along with the deck idea nugget stack make up the “stone block” out of which I’ll sculpt my attempt at a masterpiece!
The first step here is to lay the deck idea nugget cards out in stacks of five by casting cost from lowest to highest, typically counting lands that
don’t produce mana as “zero” converted mana cost, like so:
Note that I stick Everflowing Chalice at two, since if you draw it in your opening hand, that will typically be what you’ll cast it for. Cards
with kicker or additional costs I’ll slot in where they will typically get played.
I’ll also go ahead and add auto-includes like the Signet, Fellwar Stone, and Journeyer’s Kite. This adds up to 44 cards; if I assume I want
a base 36 land cards, that leaves around 20 more cards to add to the mix. Before I get started, I scan the mana curve, looking for both holes and
bloat. One thing I note is that the five-mana point on the curve is pretty heavily represented already, so as I look to fill out the deck I’m
going to want fill in other points on the curve, particularly lower on the curve.
Low in the curve, I go ahead and add the Dark Depths/Vampire Hexmage combo to add some power to the deck, along with Crop Rotation and Expedition Map
to dig up the Depths and other good lands. I also add in some Equipment to help make the inevitable plethora of 1/1 Saproling tokens a bit more useful
and/or threatening: Basilisk Collar, Skullclamp, Loxodon Warhammer, Sword of Vengeance, Nim Deathmantle, and Bonehoard. I see now that I have the
Deathmantle in the three-slot cards accidentally in the picture, but it’s better to err down on the casting cost! I also added Sylvan Library for
some library selection, Eternal Witness for general awesomeness, Citanul Hierophants to ramp mana… and Krosan Grip, Putrefy, and Maelstrom Pulse
for utility removal.
Higher up on the curve, I notice that I’ve got some five-drops that really want to be added to the deck—Seedborn Muse, Indrik
Stomphowler, and Acidic Slime. This forces me to make some hard cuts to make room. To give Contagion Engine company in the six-mana slot, I add removal
in Duplicant, some recursion with Deadwood Treefolk, and card-drawing with Collective Unconscious. At seven, I add Akroma’s Memorial to make my
Fungus horde even more awesome than they normally would be and, at the top of the curve, Exsanguinate to give another dose of unfair because, honestly,
how scary are a bunch of Fungi and Saprolings going to be, especially if Sir Wraths-a-Lot is at the table? Speaking of which, I probably need to figure
out a way to cut another five for EldraziMonument…
Here’s the deck in list form for cutting and pasting ease…
1 Thelon of Havenwood
1 City of Shadows
1 Dark Depths
1 Basilisk Collar
1 Expedition Map
1 Crop Rotation
1 Tainted Strike
1 Runed Stalactite
1 Tukatongue Thallid
1 Utopia Mycon
1 Everflowing Chalice
1 Golgari Signet
1 Fellwar Stone
1 Journeyer’s Kite
1 Contagion Clasp
1 Throne of Geth
1 Thallid Shell-Dweller
1 Vitaspore Thallid
1 Spore Flower
1 Sylvan Library
1 Culling Dais
1 Vampire Hexmage
1 Nim Deathmantle
1 Fungal Bloom
1 Elvish Farmer
1 Thallid Germinator
1 Psychotrope Thallid
1 Thallid Devourer
1 Thorn Thallid
1 Grim Affliction
1 Loxodon Warhammer
1 Sword of Vengeance
1 Eternal Witness
1 Krosan Grip
1 Maelstrom Pulse
1 Chameleon Colossus
1 Citanul Hierophants
1 Sporesower Thallid
1 Core Prowler
1 Triumph of the Hordes
1 Grafted Exoskeleton
1 Lux Cannon
1 Seedborn Muse
1 Savage Thallid
1 Sporoloth Ancient
1 Doubling Season
1 Plaguemaw Beast
1 Indrik Stomphowler
1 Acidic Slime
1 Black Market
1 Patriarch’s Bidding
1 Deadwood Treefolk
1 Collective Unconscious
1 Contagion Engine
1 Akroma’s Memorial
1 Altar of Shadows
1 Karn Liberated
1 Svogthos, the Restless Tomb
1 Tower of the Magistrate
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Gilt-Leaf Palace
1 Golgari Rot Farm
1 Jund Panorama
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1 Treetop Village
1 Gaea’s Cradle
- 1 Seedborn Muse
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Duplicant
- 1 Thorn Thallid
- 1 Thallid
- 1 Elvish Farmer
- 1 Thallid Devourer
- 1 Spore Flower
- 1 Citanul Hierophants
- 1 Indrik Stomphowler
- 1 Savage Thallid
- 1 Sporesower Thallid
- 1 Thallid Germinator
- 1 Thallid Shell-Dweller
- 1 Thelon of Havenwood
- 1 Deadwood Treefolk
- 1 Psychotrope Thallid
- 1 Vitaspore Thallid
- 1 Sporoloth Ancient
- 1 Utopia Mycon
- 1 Chameleon Colossus
- 1 Tukatongue Thallid
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 1 Vampire Hexmage
- 1 Core Prowler
- 1 Plaguemaw Beast
- 1 Sylvan Library
- 1 Journeyer's Kite
- 1 Fellwar Stone
- 1 Conspiracy
- 1 Patriarch's Bidding
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Loxodon Warhammer
- 1 Fungal Bloom
- 1 Altar of Shadows
- 1 Collective Unconscious
- 1 Black Market
- 1 Crop Rotation
- 1 Doubling Season
- 1 Golgari Signet
- 1 Putrefy
- 1 Krosan Grip
- 1 Akroma's Memorial
- 1 Runed Stalactite
- 1 Maelstrom Pulse
- 1 Expedition Map
- 1 Basilisk Collar
- 1 Everflowing Chalice
- 1 Sword of Vengeance
- 1 Contagion Clasp
- 1 Contagion Engine
- 1 Throne of Geth
- 1 Exsanguinate
- 1 Grafted Exoskeleton
- 1 Culling Dais
- 1 Tainted Strike
- 1 Lux Cannon
- 1 Nim Deathmantle
- 1 Bonehoard
- 1 Grim Affliction
- 1 Triumph of the Hordes
Some quick Q&A that I anticipate might come up in the forums:
Q. Where’s the Sol Ring?
A. Although I’m a world-famous columnist for StarCityGames.com (don’t laugh and burst my bubble—I can dream about being world
famous!), I actually don’t have an unlimited supply of Sol Rings. If one of my other decks containing Sol Ring ends up being retired and
cannibalized, one of the Sol Rings might migrate over here.
Q. What about Deathspore Thallid?
A. I distinctly remember pulling that card to put in the deck idea nugget stack, but when I went to build this, he wasn’t in with the others.
What do you expect from an evil Zombie Fungus? When I find him, he’s getting conscripted into the deck.
Q. What about Feral Thallid?
A. For some reason, the few times I did a deep dive through my green stuff, I didn’t run across any copies. I know I have like a thousand copies
of this Fallen Empires gem, and he should be in the mix. Maybe he and Deathspore Thallid ran off to Belize for cross-mana romance?
A. To be honest, I didn’t think about Mindbender Spores until I was typing up this column, so I’ll keep a look out for it the next time I
go through my green stuff. Its ability to spread spores to other creatures goes nicely with proliferate. For the others, Thelon spreads spore counters
around, and I’d like to have them do more on my Fungi than just be glorified +1/+1 counters… though Mycoloth came really close due to the
Q. Speaking of Saprolings…
A. Yeah, I could have gone bonkers on the Saproling theme too (see Doubling Season), but since Thelon doesn’t really give a hoot about his
Thallid byproducts, I decided not to really go there in this build.
So there you have it—how I thrash out Commander masterpieces Picasso-style from formless masses of cards! Hopefully, I’ve given you a few
ideas you can adopt to make your own creations come together easier. What Commander deckbuilding tips and tricks of your own do you find invaluable,
and what gotta-have card did I totally miss for my Thelon deck?
See you in the forums!
If all the ways I have been along were marked on a map and joined up with a line, it might represent a minotaur.
starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com
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 3
(Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
My current Commander decks
(and links to decklists):
- Glissa Sunseeker (death to artifacts!)
- Glissa, the Traitor undying artifacts!)
- Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo’ Myrs)
- Thelon of Havenwood (Campfire Spores)
Previous Commander decks currently on hiatus:
- Konda, Lord of Eiganjo The Indestructibles)
- Vorosh, the Hunter proliferaTION)
Fist of Suns and Bringers
- Savra, Queen of the Golgari Demons)
- Uril, the Miststalker my “more competitive” deck)