Other People’s Commander Decks: David McDarby’s We Did This To Ourselves

Sheldon Menery highlights a spicy deck from David McDarby! How do you play Commander when your only weapons are your opponents’?

Thada Adel, Acquisitor (Worldwake) – art by Andrew Robinson

David McDarby started his magical journey over a decade ago cosplaying Jace Beleren at Grand Prix, creating Commander VS right here at StarCityGames.com, and doing everything he could to play, judge, and become part of the Magic. That journey has led him to Wizards of the Coast (WotC) where he keeps the lights on as an Operations Administrator, all while dipping his feet into design work assisting Studio X in myriad ways. His most recent turn was a stint on the Commander 2019 Set Design team.

During my time staying out in Seattle and working on Magic design teams, McDarby was one of the folks I ended up hanging around with the most.  He was a regular at Mike Turian Thursday Board Game Night (after which we’d all go out to eat at the same restaurant, where everyone would order the same exact food that they’d ordered last week).  We frequently played Commander together at lunch or in Patrick Jarrett’s league on Friday afternoons, and board games over at Adam Prosak.  He’d also make regular appearances at the LGS where fellow Commander Rules Committee (RC) member Scott Larabee would take me on Tuesdays. 

McDarby (or just Darby; I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone refer to him by his first name) is a Commander player who really gets the format.  He can play at nearly any power level with equal skill, but it’s his attitude that separates him from the crowd.  His approach to the format is the kind that the RC supports and does its best to engender — namely, considering the experiences of everyone who will be playing.  That’s what led him to this deck, which had I not seen it work in person would have gotten my attention simply due to the name.  I’ll let him share some thoughts in his own words.

The catalyst for this deck was to try to make a deck that aligned with the power level of the decks you’re playing with. What better way than to only play cards that allow you to cast Troves of cards from the Hedonists you’re playing with, but in a fun way? I’m not talking Control Magics or the like, but more along the lines of Praetor’s Grasp and Treacherous Urge?

It was initially realized as a Jeleva, Nephalia’s Scourge deck in my foolish attempt to make a deck in every color combination. As I lambasted myself over which Grixis deck to make, I found that my Commander actually increased in consistency, while decreasing the fun of my experience. That’s about as opposite a philosophy as I can imagine in Commander, so it morphed into Lazav, Dimir Mastermind, while sadly missing out on some choice cards like Stolen Strategy and Mindclaw Shaman.

It didn’t stop there. Just like how Lazav has various forms depending on who he’s interacting with, this deck too, takes on a completely different shape depending on what deck it’s playing with. Since this deck’s strategy is its opponents’ strategy, each game is wildly different from the last and Totems aren’t the only things Grinning during its games.

This deck has the highest skill ceiling of any deck I’ve ever built, as you’re not just playing your hand and library, but the hand, library, and graveyard of every player in the game. You must then Exploit that Knowledge to sow Wanderful Chaos upon the game, and use your opponents’ Stolen Goods against them. Or sometimes you just want to give in to your Urges and Acquire the Covetous four Sol Rings.

The true Chest of the Dead Man however lies in the Commander selection. Before the game beings I splay out 30-ish cards face down, and have somebody choose one at random. Little do they know I gave them the choice from almost every Dimir Commander in the game, upon which my diabolical scheme is revealed and their Sanity is Thieved.

Also there’s just tons of Dimir Commanders I wanted to play with, so that’s somethin’.

May your Amalgams always be Thieving, and your Encores always be Thrilling.

Here’s the decklist. You can also check it out on here.

We Did This to Ourselves
David McDarby
Test deck on 06-03-2020
Magic Card Back

Potential Commanders

There’s so much going on here. The first thing would be the choice of a commander. I’d snap-call Nebuchadnezzar just for its old-schooliness, not to mention the unique ability. The card has a very Richard Garfield feel to it. Of course, if swampwalk is likely to ruin your day, you can always choose Ur-Drago. If that’s too efficient for your tastes, you can have McDarby trot out Sivitri Scarzam, one of the few vanilla legendary creatures.

Of course, for hilarity’s sake, I’m going with one of the silver-bordered commanders. Phoebe, Head of S.N.E.A.K. seems riotously funny. Who doesn’t love stealing text boxes? Amping up the hilarity scale is X, which is definitely a card inspired by a Richard Garfield design. It’s without question the best representative for this deck, since it can cast the cards in the opponent’s hand. I’d be happy to sit down at a table with X anytime. In fact, I could probably be talked into building something with it. And no, before anyone asks, we’re not making silver-bordered cards legal. There are nonetheless some of them that I wouldn’t object to someone playing with. X is certainly one of those.

My Ten Favorite Cards in the Deck

As far as the cards go, you know the intention already—play out of the opponents’ decks.  I’m going to highlight ten of them that particularly resonate with me.

10. Puppeteer Clique

Puppeteer Clique

In a list that will contain many underplayed cards, I’ll confess to overplaying Puppeteer Clique. It’s just the kind of effect that I like—Regrowing something from someone’s graveyard and bashing them with it. It has persist, so you can do it a second time. It doesn’t matter if you wait for the battlefield sweeper or use your own sacrifice outlet. It’s a favorite against decks that like to do the same thing—so you can Puppeteer Clique for someone else’s Sepulchral Primordial, which will inevitably get a Clone, copying the Primordial. In short order, most of everyone’s graveyard is on your side of the battlefield. I’d play Puppeteer Clique even if it didn’t exile the target, but I’m not going to complain about the fact that it does.

9. Nightveil Specter

Nightveil Specter

The part I like about Nightveil Specter is that you can play the cards later, assuming Nightveil Specter is still on the battlefield.  It flies, it’s an early beater, and the full-colored mana in the cost is rarely an issue. 

8. Geth, Lord of the Vault

Geth, Lord of the Vault

Another card that doesn’t seem to get played that often (EDHRec reports it in about 2% of decks), but there are always things that your opponents have that you’re going to want. One of those things might be whatever you previously killed with Evil Twin, since it was good enough for you to copy and dangerous enough to want to get it away from the other player. Geth milling the targeted player, filling the graveyard with more things to choose from, just sends it into overdrive. It’s a little mana-hungry, so perhaps Cabal Coffers or Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx might be on McDarby’s upgrade path.

7. Dark Impostor

Dark Impostor

Getting the activated abilities of the exiled creature onto Dark Impostor is secondary. The important bit is that the creature gets exiled. Sure, it won’t be around to copy with Evil Twin and friends, but that’s hardly a downside. Note that Dark Impostor doesn’t tap to activate its native ability, it just costs a boat load of mana. That means you have combat tricks available to you, like obtaining an activated ability, thereby getting larger, blocking, then activating the newly-acquired ability. Again, the whole process is mana-intensive, but it’s occasionally going to make the big blowout plays that we’ve all come to know and love.

6. Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni

Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni

One of the first ninjutsu cards, Ink-Eyes has been popular in Commander for a long time.  I’ve certainly played it in situations in which I simply hard cast it and then let its do its thing.  Early in the game, you’ll need some help getting stuff into opponents’ graveyards.  Later, they’ll tend to be full of delicious targets anyway.

5.  Wrexial, the Risen Deep

Wrexial, the Risen Deep

When Worldwake debuted, quite a few people built Wrexial decks.  They’ve waned over time, so it was nice to see the card on the list.  With the built-in landwalks, it’s getting through, and a number of those decks used them a primarily a means of getting commander damage kills, the casting of an instant or sorcery being supplementary.  You could do worse with your six-drops. 

4. Dead Man’s Chest

Dead Man's Chest

Not just for your Pirate decks, Dead Man’s Chest goes into anything that will be able to kill big creatures—which happens with some frequency in most Commander games.  You’ll then have access to a whole pile of cards to fool around with.  It’s also possible to set up someone for getting decked with Dead Man’s Chest, should you put it on something sufficiently huge, like Lord of Extinction or Consuming Aberration.  Obvious combo with Evil Twin

3. Evil Twin

Evil Twin

Evil Twin is a card I find underplayed in the format that already likes to Clone stuff. It’s limited by the fact that it has two colors in its cost, but that hasn’t seemed to slow down Dack’s Duplicate. Is U/B/x less popular than U/R/x? Basically what you’re doing with the card is adding the black mana requirement to the Clone in order to upgrade to the activated ability which can kill a creature with the same name. I’m playing it in my Lazav deck, and it makes me wonder why I hadn’t considered it for the Sultai decks I’ve recently put together. You can pick up the Battlebond foil version for $1.99, making it a great value card.

2. Fallen Shinobi

Fallen Shinobi

A sweet little package all on its own, Fallen Shinobi deals out significant damage for a reasonable cost via its ninjutsu ability.  It’s tough to decide which upside is better.  First, you put back into your hand something that you’re going to cast again for value—like Puppeteer Clique or Oblivion Sower.  Then, you get to exile two cards from the damaged opponent and can cast them for free.  If you think they’re too dangerous to let hang around, you can just leave them exiled.  The card has made its way into my Gisa and Geralf deck because it’s a Zombie, but it would certainly fit any number of other places.  It’ll go into anything where you want to reuse a creature’s enters-the-battlefield trigger, which I’ll confess a weakness for.

1. Thada Adel, Acquisitor

Thada Adel, Acquisitor

Like most of the cards I’m calling out here, this one is inexplicably underplayed in the format (2%). Otherwise known as Sol Ring Hunter, you know that it’ll be a rare Commander game in which Thada Adel can actually get blocked. If you want to play the card and make sure it never gets blocked, add Stormtide Leviathan. Like a number of the other cards in McDarby’s deck, you can choose to play the exiled card (you actually have to pay for it with Thada Adel), but you can also simply let it stay in exile. If you’re out of things that you might want to use in the short term, you can just get rid of stuff that could be painful down the road—like Blightsteel Colossus. The big points award, of course, is to get a Sol Ring from each other player to complete your jewelry set.

This amazing deck might be one that’s difficult to play under current circumstances, in which most paper games are carried out via webcam. In person, it’s like its pilot, fun to sit at a table with. I look forward to meeting back up with McDarby after all this is done to watch the deck do its thing again and again.

Visit my Decklist Database to see my Signature Decks, the Chromatic Project, and more!


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