Leveling Up: Commander Deck Comparisons

Commander expert Bennie Smith tests out some new tools to find comparisons between his builds and those of the average player

Grothama, All-Devouring, illustrated by Mark Behm

One of the beautiful things about building a Commander deck is its uniqueness.  There’s nothing wrong with net decking a Commander deck that looks cool to you, but for many folks there is a lot of joy in the process of pulling together a deck list that’s distinctly yours. Even if a large chunk of the cards are the same ones that other decks use because they synergize awesomely with the commander, there’s always room for pet cards and spicy tech that other folks may not have thought of.

Over time you put in the reps, make tweaks, and become an expert on the deck. You get to know most of its lines, its quirks, and its weaknesses. But there’s always something you can discover about your deck if you come at it from a fresh perspective.  The deck database maestros over at Archidekt.com recently rolled out a Deck Comparisons function that lets you bump two decks against each other to see exactly what’s different.  You can read all about it here. When I first checked it out, it occurred to me that I could also use another cool function they have over at EDHREC.com called “Average Deck.”  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any information on exactly how EDHREC figures out an average deck for a particular commander, but my assumption is that it’s made up of cards that show up in most of the decklists.  Using the average deck as a baseline to measure against my own decklist, what can be learned?  Let’s see!

One of my signature Commander decks is built around Grothama, All-Devouring.  A truly weird and unique commander from Battlebond, I was one of the first people to dive in and build the deck (you can read about it here, Fight Me!), and have had a great time tweaking the deck and playing in the four years since. I definitely feel qualified to consider myself an expert at the deck, but I’m quite interested in seeing what else there is to learn about playing Grothama. 

There are 619 decks in the EDHREC deck database, so I used the average deck function to generate a list and saved it into my Archidekt account.  Once there I click on the Compare Deck function:

Once you do that, you’ll have Deck A selected, and you just need to select Deck B:

Now I hit the green Compare Decks button and Boom– we’ve got a comparison!

At the top of the page is a bar that shows how much is exact or similar (in green) and how much isn’t matching at all (in red). For me it’s a 50/50 split.  Below the bar graph is a breakdown of all the actual cards.  First up is “In A, not B” and for me that’s what’s in my Grothama deck that’s not in the EDHREC Grothama average deck:

Blighted Woodland Desert of the Indomitable Dust Bowl Endless Sands Mirrorpool Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers Oran-Rief, the Vastwood Treetop Village Yavimaya Hollow Khalni Ambush Tangled Florahedron War Room Guildless Commons Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth Lair of the Hydra

I’m a huge fan of utility lands so I’m a little surprised more Grothama decks don’t have some of these, especially Blighted Woodland and War Room.  I’ve got Khalni Ambush and Tangled Florahedron in my deck as land slots for early drops that I can pick up later with Guildless Commons and Multani, Yavimaya’s Avatar. Mirrorpool is a pet card of mine that I think is criminally underplayed, but a lot of people get hung up on lands that enter the battlefield tapped. Endless Sands is a neat effect to get Grothama off the battlefield if it has taken damage without taking up a spell slot – when you exile it, just simply move it to the command zone instead.

Glissa Sunseeker Rancor Scavenging Ooze Surrak, the Hunt Caller Tajuru Preserver Force of Vigor Shadowspear

In the utility slots, Force of Vigor and Shadowspear are quite expensive so I understand why it might not be played in all that many decks. I’m not sure why Scavenging Ooze isn’t being played more, it’s a great way to stymie graveyard effects especially in a mono-green deck. Glissa Sunseeker’s free artifact removal and Surrak, the Hunt Caller’s haste ability are both better than some people give them credit for, and they always perform well for me. I’d consider Tajuru Preserver a pet card that I play because I absolutely despise engines that force me to sacrifice creatures or permanents.

Exploration Joraga Treespeaker Magus of the Library Shaman of Forgotten Ways Wall of Roots Wayward Swordtooth Liquimetal Torque Tireless Provisioner

When we get to the ramp section of the cards that are in the average deck but not mine, you’ll see that the average deck ramps way harder than I prefer.  My general philosophy in building Commander decks is to have a moderate amount of ramp and run more lands than the typical deck; in the longer games that I prefer to play, I find that I end up with plenty of lands and in the meantime have plenty of action spells too.  Especially in a mono-green deck where you don’t have to fix your colors, I’d much rather have a Wall of Roots than a Nature’s Lore. I also like the added utility that a cards like Magus of the Library, Shaman of Forgotten Ways and Liquimetal Torque give in your ramp slots.

Also, over time I’ve found that Grothama draws a lot of cards, so something like Exploration and Wayward Swordtooth get you a bunch of extra land drops, which is awesome when you end up needing to recast your commander several times in a game.

Elvish Visionary Guardian Project Skullclamp Tireless Tracker Llanowar Visionary Toski, Bearer of Secrets In Search of Greatness Battle Mammoth Timeless Witness Werewolf Pack Leader Ranger Class Augur of Autumn

These are examples of what I prefer to play over too many ramp spells—I’d rather have cantrips and small ball card draw to ensure I make my land drops every single turn while drawing and playing cards that develop my battlefield. Ranger Class and Augur of Autumn are two of my favorite cards from last year, letting you play cards from your library rather than out of your hand for some nice virtual card draw.

Multani, Yavimaya’s Avatar Questing Beast Elder Gargaroth Ashaya, Soul of the Wild Old-Growth Troll

These cards I consider alternate threat cards that can draw out pinpoint removal to give Grothama a bigger chance of sticking around the battlefield long enough to get the action rolling. I’m also a big fan of Multani, Yavimaya’s Avatar these days—it a huge late-game threat that’s hard to deal with outside of exile, it lets you pick up spell lands you’ve played as lands early, and don’t underestimate the reach ability in the new world of potent Dragons and Angels we live in.

Shigeki, Jukai Visionary Kura, the Boundless Sky Spring-Leaf Avenger Titan of Industry Nautiloid Ship Monster Manual Green Slime

I chock these up too new to have made a dent in the average deck calculation. I am constantly tweaking my decks with new cards to change up the play experience, and these are very recent additions. I expect Kura, the Boundless Sky and Titan of Industry to be monogreen staples in the years to come.

Next up is “In B, not A” which are cards that are in the EDHREC average deck but not in my Grothama deck.  This where the level up potential lies, let’s see what I may be overlooking!

Sanctum of Eternity Garruk, Primal Hunter Life’s Legacy Momentous Fall Temur Sabertooth

In the early days of playing Grothama I had a lot of ways in my deck to get Grothama to leave play when I wanted it to, but after playing it for four years, I’ve found you really don’t need to worry about that.  I expect these are the sort of cards that will eventually get cut the longer people play their Grothama deck.

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx Rogue’s Passage

These are fine cards to have in the deck, but I prefer the utility lands I have over these. I’m not sure that my deck tends to “go wide” on green pips to warrant running Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx but I might make a mental note to see if its worth making room for.

Asceticism Brawn Krosan Grip Lightning Greaves Nature’s Claim Nylea, God of the Hunt Rhonas’s Monument Swiftfoot Boots Terastodon Withstand Death

I group these as utility cards, and a few of these are ones that I ran in early incarnations of Grothama. When thinking about how opponents react to Grothama, I worried that they would do thinks like damage Grothama with something and then kill it with pinpoint removal, so I played cards like Asceticism, Swiftfoot Boots and Withstand Death to stop that.  After playing it awhile I found that most opponents don’t want to jump through the hoops to try and squeeze some cards out of my commander—they usually just try to get rid of it if they can. And if they do jump through some hoops to draw cards out of it—then well done, it’s the sort of cool play that makes for memorable games!

Eternal Witness Rishkar’s Expertise Zendikar Resurgent Return of the Wildspeaker Garruk’s Uprising

All of these card draw cards are fine, and I’ve had many of them in earlier versions of the deck.  Most of these are victims of my tweaks over the years to try out newer cards.  I do think I’ll rotate Garruk’s Uprising back in since giving everything trample is a nice throw-in to the card draw.

Impervious Greatwurm Rhonas the Indomitable Spearbreaker Behemoth Stonehoof Chieftain

These inclusions were a bit of a head-scratcher, but I guess they’re here as indestructible threats that can fight with Grothama and live. Rhonas the Indomitable is an interesting choice since it can fight and kill Grothama with its deathtouch ability to draw you five cards, but that’s a little smallball for my tastes. Since the average deck is ramping much harder than I am, it makes sense that they have some expensively costed cards like Impervious Greatwurm and Stonehoof Chieftain. Me, I want to use my late-game mana for recasting Grothama or playing out a bunch of cards that I just drew from Grothama.

Elvish Mystic Llanowar Elves Emerald Medallion Karametra’s Acolyte Kodama’s Reach Nature’s Lore Rampant Growth Sakura-Tribe Elder Selvala, Heart of the Wilds Skyshroud Claim Thought Vessel Traverse the Outlands Wood Elves Topiary Stomper

Here’s all that mana ramp I was talking about. There is just way too much for my tastes, especially all the spell-based ramp. The one card that gave me pause is Selvala, Heart of the Wilds which is obviously nutty alongside Grothama. I’m pretty sure I had it in my deck at some point and have no idea my thought process for cutting it, but I’m pretty sure I should add it back to the deck as soon as I dig it up.  Thanks, average deck!

Broodhatch Nantuko Druid’s Call Saber Ants

These cards made me laugh out loud in delight; how could I have overlooked these gems?  Broodhatch Nantuko and Saber Ants attacking and fighting Grothama to generate ten 1/1 insects give the deck a nice go-wide angle that I’ve been overlooking. Even Druid’s Call could be sweet—I envision enchanting my Stuffy Doll with it, attacking someone and fighting Grothama, dealing ten damage to the chosen player’s face and getting ten Squirrels for my trouble. Thanks again, average deck!

Dragon Throne of Tarkir Overwhelming Stampede Pathbreaker Ibex

These are go-wide finishers, and since I don’t currently have much go-wide capability in my deck, it makes sense that I don’t run these. Dragon Throne of Tarkir is particularly inspired!

Sandwurm Convergence

This doesn’t have any obvious synergy in a Grothama deck but shutting down fliers from attacking you is very helpful in our Dragon and Angel infested world these days.  I probably should probably scare up some copies of this to slot into my green decks.

Last but not least are the Exact Match cards common to both decks:

Grothama, All-Devouring

Yep, we have the same commander!

Mosswort Bridge Reliquary Tower Castle Garenbrig Bala Ged Recovery Witch’s Clinic Boseiju, Who Endures

These are all great lands to have in this deck, and I particularly love Witch’s Clinic when Grothama gets to fighting.

Beast Within Heroic Intervention Reclamation Sage Kogla, the Titan Ape Ram Through Tamiyo’s Safekeeping

These are all excellent utility spells for any mono-green deck to find room in their decks for.

Cultivate Sol Ring Tanuki Transplanter

Under our common mana ramp, I was a little surprised to see Tanuki Transplanter, which was a  “techy” new card I wanted to try out. It’s presence in the average deck leads me to think it’s a good choice.

Greater Good Psychosis Crawler The Great Henge

For card draw, Greater Good and The Great Henge are fantastic in a Grothama deck, and Psychosis Crawler is a slam dunk inclusion to turn that card draw into life loss directly to each of my opponents. It’s a nice alternate win condition if your opponent has shut down attacking for damage, especially in conjunction with Shaman of Forgotten Ways’ formidable ability.

Ghalta, Primal Hunger Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma Mossbridge Troll Stuffy Doll Vigor Unnatural Growth

I consider these lynchpin cards that any Grothama deck needs to have for big, spectacular plays and its good to see them also in the average deck.  In particular it’s fun to tap Grothama with Mossbridge Troll to give it +20/+20, attack, and fight Grothama dead to draw 25 cards while hopefully smashing an opponent’s life total. Having a Vigor in play and attacking with a bunch of creatures that fight Grothama also tends to end games.

Even though I’ve been playing Grothama for four years and consider myself an expert, I do think there’s wisdom to be found when comparing my deck to the average from EDHREC. It made me reconsider all the unique cards that I play and justify their place there, and also to consider cards I may be missing out on.  Let me know if you give this a try with your own decks. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to scrounge up Selvala, Druid’s Call and Saber Ants…

Talk to Me

Do me a solid and follow me on Twitter!  I run polls and get conversations started about Commander all the time, so get in on the fun!  You can also find my LinkTree on my profile page there with links to all my content.

I’d also love it if you followed my Twitch channel TheCompleteCommander, where I do Commander, Brawl and sometimes other Magic-related streams when I can.  If you can’t join me live, the videos are available on demand for a few weeks on Twitch, but I also upload them to my YouTube channel.  You can also find the lists for my paper decks over on Archidekt if you want to dig into how I put together my own decks and brews. 

Visit my Decklist Database to see my decklists and the articles where they appeared!


And lastly, I just want to say: let us love each other and stay healthy and happy.