You Lika The Juice? Unpacking The Counterpunch Commander Deck

Bennie Smith takes the Ghave, Guru of Spores Commander deck and adds some updates of his own! What are the staples, the gems, and the extras from the deck and what would you replace them with?

Last Friday night, I was off from my part-time job, and I had a dilemma. What I really wanted to do was to drive over to Richmond Comix and play some more Commander. What I really needed to do was get some more stuff unpacked. I’ve been working insane amount of hours at my part-time job to pay for breaking the lease on my apartment so I could move into my house, on top of—of course—packing up the apartment, cleaning the apartment, and then moving everything into the house. I’ve got the essentials unpacked—food, clothes, bed, TV, shower, and Magic cards—but there’s still a ton left to do. I’ve been chipping away at it bit by bit since July 1, but it’s been really slow-going, and all the clutter and not being able to find non-essential things is starting to really get on my nerves.

I knew what I needed to do… but damn, it was Friday night—Magic night!

After much deliberating, my adult side won out, but with a concession from my irresponsible teenaged side—I’d make it a contest of sorts between unpacking boxes and drinking margaritas. A race, if you will, to unpack as many boxes as possible and putting things away until I had enough tequila to stop caring.

Surprisingly enough, after a battle that lasted several hours, the unpacking held its own! I woke up Saturday feeling a little rough around the edges but not unhappy with the progress I’d made. Here’s to progress! *cheers*

One thing I’ve wanted to do with the new Commander decks is to write an article about each, “unpacking” the deck and talking about the cards in each one and how I might go about updating the deck with additional cards. This week I’m going to do Counterpunch, which I think is probably one of the best pick-ups for people new to the format as well as just an all-around fun deck.

Ghave, Guru of Spores is the primary general, and there are a fair number of cards that play nicely with his two abilities, both of which are strong and efficiently costed. Let’s see what we have when we unpack the cards.


These are the cards that nearly any Commander player will be thrilled to have in his card stock to build decks around. The beauty of the five Commander decks is that they are high on the staple count. Once you tire of playing a few games right out of the box and decide to cannibalize them for cards, there is a treasure trove of good stuff here.

Karador, Ghost Chieftain; Teneb, the Harvester

These guys can have decks built around them as Commanders, but they are also just superb “good stuff” creatures that you can feel happy about recruiting for your 99 if your colors support them. Even if you’re not looking to abuse your graveyard, you’ll have good targets through the natural course of the game; in fact, it’s often wise to not lean so hard on graveyard shenanigans because many players pack some pretty devastating graveyard hate that can put a serious dent in your plans.

Scavenging Ooze, Necrogenesis

Speaking of graveyard hate, while these are too mana-intensive to be immediately “devastating” like Tormod’s Crypt or Relic of Progenitus, these two cards are fantastic for more pinpoint graveyard control. The trick of course is not to willy-nilly plunder everyone’s graveyards to add +1/+1 counters or make a few Saprolings; instead, play the hero and use your abilities judiciously, either to save yourself from an attack, or to foil someone trying to set up some over-powered graveyard shenanigans.

Hornet Queen

Personally, I think the queen is a little heavy on the green mana to be in a three-color deck, but I’d consider her a staple for any mono-green or two-color green build. Not only is she good at making tokens (particularly alongside recursion like Genesis or Erratic Portal), but she also provides nice air defense (something often lacking for green) and a way to get an attacker through—who wants to lose a creature to a 1/1 flying Insect with deathtouch? All sorts of instant-speed effects can make it handy to be dealing combat damage to a player. Also, make sure to keep a copy of Arena nearby, particularly if your deck is a bit short of pinpoint creature removal.

Soul Snare, Doom Blade, Mortify

Speaking of pinpoint creature removal, there are lots of good options available in white and black. These three are decent choices to have in your deck—particularly Mortify since it gives you flexibility. One-for-one removal isn’t something you want to load your deck up with in Commander because you have way more threats around the table than you can possibly have single answers for, but having a handful means that, if something really needs to be answered or you’ll die, you at least have an out.

Vow of Malice, Vow of Wildness, Vow of Duty

I really love the cycle of Vows in the Commander decks; they are really well designed. Auras are traditionally pretty lame, but there are certainly some good ways to find and reuse them if you have Auras you want to play with. I just love how these can neutralize threats to you while beefing up those threats for other opponents. Like, how many times have you had to kill something you wanted to keep in play because it was a threat to the big bad at the table, but you ended up having to kill it because if it turned your way you were just dead to it? It’s just a fantastic multiplayer design.

Aura Shards, Tribute to the Wild

These are the kind of removal spells that are great multiplayer staples, letting you handle multiple threats with a single spell. Aura Shards is the best one since most of the time you’ll have plenty of creatures to put into play over the course of several turns—note that the Shards triggers not on a creature spell but the creatures coming into play, so cards that make tokens are perfect with Aura Shards (hello, Ghave, Guru of Spores!). Also note that any opponent who plays artifacts or enchantments (i.e. any opponent period) will need to destroy Aura Shards as soon as they can, so don’t bank on keeping this around for any length of time. In other words, make sure you use it sooner rather than later.

Tribute to the Wild is a much less precise instrument that will often miss what needs to die, but it will typically provide some raw card advantage with no downside to you other than some disgruntled opponents.

Syphon Flesh

Pretty much just like Tribute to the Wild in terms of a blunt and less precise card-advantage engine, though making a handful of token creatures can be particularly handy with cards like Aura Shards.

Sakura-Tribe Elder, Yavimaya Elder, Cultivate

Green makes an excellent base for multicolor decks, especially if you don’t happen to have a thousand dollars to spend on out-of-print dual lands and fetches. Sakura-Tribe Elder and Cultivate provide some nice acceleration without relying on artifacts, a good thing sometimes… like when staring down an Oblivion Stone on the table. Yavimaya Elder provides some incredible raw card advantage.

Spike Feeder

Commander is stuffed to the gills with really good three-drops, and you will sometimes find yourself cutting Spike Feeder from your 99… but sometimes you won’t. He’s not excitement incarnate, but he’s a Good Man, providing you with some life if you need it or a timely +1/+1 boost on any creature, not just your own. If your deck cares about +1/+1 counters (like Ghave, Guru of Spores) then his stock rises considerably.

Shriekmaw, Dark Hatchling

I keep these in a stack alongside my Bone Shredders—these creature-based removal spells are just high-quality cards that should go in just about any black deck. They’re not too heavy on black mana, and they give you a body with a free removal spell attached. Unless I have removal in other colors as well, I’ll also usually pair these up with Distorting Lens and Scuttlemutt to make sure I can destroy black creatures as well.

Skullclamp, Lightning Greaves

Tier 1 Commander Equipment, bar none. Very few are the Commander decks that don’t want these highly efficient and useful pieces of Equipment.

Sol Ring

Sol Ring goes in every Commander deck.”—Monty Ashley, Wizards of the Coast

It’s hard to argue with that!

Darksteel Ingot, Golgari Signet, Orzhov Signet, Selesnya Signet

Darksteel Ingot is one of the premier color-fixing and accelerating cards in Commander, and I was a bit surprised it was only put in three of the decks. Even so, there’s enough in circulation now thanks to being in most of the Commander decks that if you need a couple it’s very reasonable. The Signets are some of the best two-mana color-fixing accelerants around.


High quality card-drawing in a color that doesn’t get it very often. An always-welcome addition to any green deck.

Command Tower

The very best color-fixing land ever printed… for just this format. Goes in any multicolor Commander deck; you’ll want to collect as many of these as you want to have multicolor Commander decks built at any moment.

Rupture Spire, Selesnya Sanctuary, Golgari Rot Farm, Orzhov Basilica

I consider these some of the best affordable color-fixing lands in Commander, with the lone drawback of costing you some tempo when you play them. Rupture Spire rewards that drawback by providing pain-free mana of any color, while the Ravnica bouncelands let you squeeze additional virtual lands into the single land slot. However, there are some Commander playgroups that play a very cutthroat style, and these sorts of lands are like catnip to those players, who won’t be able to resist pouncing with pinpoint land destruction and pressing that temporary advantage to try and take you out. I’d say most Commander players would find that sort of play distasteful and will generally save LD for specific threats like Gaea’s Cradle, Maze of Ith, and Cabal Coffers, but be aware that your mileage may vary depending on where you play.

Vivid Grove, Vivid Marsh, Vivid Meadow

These have similar drawbacks to the lands above, with the additional problem of running out of off-colored capability after a couple uses (though you can add proliferate cards to the mix to help with that problem nowadays). If you have a Reflecting Pool you can add to your deck, these lands’ value goes up quite a bit. My rule of thumb with these—play them if you have a lot of multicolor spells to cast, but use alternate color-fixing if you’ve got a bunch of colored activated abilities.

Tranquil Thicket, Secluded Steppe, Barren Moor

I personally don’t use cycling lands too much because I always seem to draw them when I need to play them instead of cycling, in which case they are generally pretty bad. However, if you’re playing things like Life from the Loam or Crucible of Worlds, the utility goes up dramatically. Other people swear by them. Regardless, it’s good to have these in your toolbox.


These are also cards that nearly any Commander player will be glad to have available in their card pool to build decks from, though I think the cards are too narrow to be considered “staples.”

Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter

This guy makes a great general to build around, and he’s actually pretty decent working with Ghave’s themes. However, I find him a bit color-heavy in the deck’s off-colors to play unless I’m running all the dual lands, Ravnica duals, and a good number of fetchlands to minimize color-screw. Besides, he’s badass enough to want to make him Commander—just look at that Vampire! Flying, lifelink, getting huge, killing stuff.

Chorus of the Conclave

I often forget about this card myself, but in the right deck—good amount of mana, cares about +1/+1 counters—her benefits are quite nice. And look—she works nicely with Ghave, doesn’t she? Plus with green being one of the most popular colors in Commander the forestwalk ability is a very nice bonus!

Storm Herd

Yes, it’s a very expensive card that I so rarely have the guts to play, but if you’ve got the mana, this card is usually a gigantic game-changer. One memorable early EDH game, I remember a friend playing this card and pretty much going to decimate us with it, and I luckily had Time Stop to end his turn.

Time Stop. Don’t leave home without it.

Alliance of Arms

The Join Forces cards are definitely some interesting ones, and I think they’re much more interesting if you’re playing Vedalken Orrery and cast them at the end of your opponent’s turn. The trick is to encourage your opponents to want to pay at least a little something into the join while being able to still handle the advantage the spell gives your opponent. For instance, don’t put this in your Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite deck and expect anyone to contribute to the cause, but if you’re simply hiding behind a Windborn Muse you might get some people to chip in some mana for chump blockers.

Acorn Catapult

This is an adorably cute card that’s also pretty useful if you keep it in mind when you’re building your deck. It probably won’t make the cut in my updated Ghave list, but it won’t forever be a benchwarmer. It’s going to be particularly fun in decks where you can ping your own creatures for profit—alongside cards like Stuffy Doll, Sprouting Phytohydra, and a certain awesome Fungus Lizard…


Fists of Ironwood, Selesnya Guildmage, Golgari Guildmage, Selesnya Evangel, Monk Realist, Deadly Recluse, Aquastrand Spider, Afterlife, Footbottom Feast, Attrition, Oblivion Ring, Awakening Zone, Vampire Nighthawk, Spawnwrithe, Fertilid, Nantuko Husk, Sigil Captain, Penumbra Spider, Squallmonger, Bestial Menace, Hex, Cobra Trap, Nemesis Trap, Hour of Reckoning, Death Mutation, Symbiotic Wurm, Celestial Force, Evolving Wilds, Temple of the False God

I was originally going to call this “the chaff,” as in what’s left behind once you harvest the usuables from the deck, but honestly, in Commander, just about any card can make the cut in the right circumstances. Perhaps the card plays into the theme you’re building around (in the case of Ghave, a lot of these do play nicely with his abilities), or perhaps you’re going for style points. If you kill people with hordes of Spawnwrithe tokens, for instance, you will rack up some serious style points. At any rate, just divide these up by color and put them away but don’t forget about them—they may end up going very well in some new deck idea down the road.

If you want to know more about why certain cards ended up in one of these categories feel free to ask me in the forums, and I’ll explain my reasoning.


Okay, so I’m going to walk through how I’d go about updating this deck with my own collection. Here are the cards I’d keep from the original build:

1 Aura Shards
1 Chorus of the Conclave
1 Cultivate
1 Dark Hatchling
1 Darksteel Ingot
1 Doom Blade
1 Ghave, Guru of Spores
1 Golgari Signet
1 Harmonize
1 Karador, Ghost Chieftain
1 Lightning Greaves
1 Mortify
1 Necrogenesis
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Orzhov Signet
1 Sakura-Tribe Elder
1 Scavenging Ooze
1 Selesnya Signet
1 Shriekmaw
1 Skullclamp
1 Sol Ring
1 Soul Snare
1 Spike Feeder
1 Syphon Flesh
1 Teneb, the Harvester
1 Tribute to the Wild
1 Vow of Duty
1 Vow of Malice
1 Vow of Wildness
1 Yavimaya Elder
1 Rupture Spire
1 Vivid Grove
1 Vivid Marsh
1 Vivid Meadow
1 Selesnya Sanctuary
1 Orzhov Basilica
1 Golgari Rot Farm
1 Command Tower
8 Plains
8 Swamp
10 Forest

Checking out the mana curve, it looks like I’m in need of some cards for zero, one, two, and four mana so that’s what I’m going to focus on. I’m keeping 30 non-land cards, which leaves me with 31 cards to fill the deck out.

Aura Mutation and Seed Spark are both good removal spells that play right into the Saproling theme.

Utopia Mycon is an innocuous little thing, but being able to cash out Saprolings for mana always proves very useful when something unexpected happens. Mycologist and Elvish Farmer are also good emergency outlets for gaining life and can make people thinking about alpha-striking you think twice.

I’ve got a couple eyebrow-raisers here, but I think they’re worth trying out with Ghave. Primal Cocoon makes perfect sense on a Spike Weaver—when are you ever going to attack or block with that guy anyway? Putting the Cocoon on some creature that has been made irrelevant due to the board state is a nice way to keep Ghave a steady supply of +1/+1 counters. Speaking of which, Sadistic Glee seems to be a great complement to Ghave, who enjoys both sacrificing creatures and having +1/+1 counters to play with. Skullbriar is a good man to dump a bunch of +1/+1 counters on to save for later when the board gets swept away. I’m sad Wizards didn’t reprint Doubling Season for this Commander deck since it fits perfectly, but high demand in the casual market makes this a very pricey card to buy, so if you don’t have one already, I’d recommend replacing it with Plaguemaw Beast since proliferate does a pretty good impression of Doubling Season.

I mentioned Arena above when talking about Hornet Queen, but it’s also a fantastic card when you have a bunch of Saprolings around since you always have cannon fodder to tap down something of your opponent’s. Glare of Subdual and Triumph of the Horde are also great cards with lots of token creatures.

Here’s the final decklist:

The mana curve here is pretty nice at just under three casting cost. I had to cut back on the Swamps and up the Forests in order to account for the heavier emphasis on green in the deck—which is fine, considering that there are some really good early green color-fixing that can pave the way for the other colors.

If you have them, obviously Savannah, Bayou, Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrubland[/author], Temple Garden, Overgrown Tomb, and Godless Shrine would help smooth your mana considerably, and Gaea’s Cradle is always awesome with lots of Saproling capability.

What do you think? What would you do differently?

Random Amusements for the Week

  • The ever-awesome MJ Scott over at GatheringMagic.com had a column this week that hit near and dear to my heart: Magic and booze! Read Mage-Craft Cocktails and be sure to check the comments for my BlairwitchLemonade cocktail recipe.
  • I’m a dice addict, coming off nearly 30 years of playing Dungeons and Dragons, and whenever I go to FNM and forget to bring my dice I leap at the excuse to buy more. Recently I bought some Crystal Caste dice from Richmond Comix that were simply too awesome to ignore—in place of ones they had “D’oh!” printed instead! I’ve been saying “D’oh!” so long it’s my official motto.

doh dice

  • Someone retweeted a link to the latest Durdling Around comic by David Lee (@derfington), Chandra Gets Her Groove Back, which is quite amusing (GruuumRawrrr…). I’m way late to the Durdling Around party but it brought smiles to my face so check it out.
  • For everyone who still has a touch of middle-schooler inside them (and who doesn’t?), check out the amusingly titled blog, Yo Mama The Gathering. The picture captions certainly bring a chuckle…

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend everyone!

Take care,

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 on Magic and life.

I’ve started a blog, it’s not Magic-related but you may find it fun to read and comment on. I update at least once a week so check on it often!

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:

My current Commander decks (and links to decklists):

Previous Commander decks currently on hiatus: