Commander Musings

When I first heard of Elder Dragon Highlander (EDH), I thought this format sounded really cool. It was so attractive to me because when I’m deck-building, there are always more cards I want to include than can really be squeezed into a deck. This is due in part to my desire to put in all the thematically relevant cards (I build quite a few ‘tribal’ decks). Also, I like synergy, so I try to put in everything that synergizes. All of this means that a 100-card singleton format would be ideal, especially for a guy who often only buys one copy of an expensive rare (by my standards – but remember, nothing more than $4).

And then I started reading articles about the format. These articles made it clear that there were certain cards that ALWAYS go into an EDH deck: Umezawa’s Jitte, Sensei’s Divining Top, Sol Ring, etc. Well, that’s lame. I’m not opposed to winning or even trying to win, but it’s obvious that if I ever tried to play EDH with anyone outside my home, that I would get crushed by the min-maxers, and probably foil Japanese copies of the min-max cards! And now Wizards of the Coast has announced that it is going to print cards specifically for this format—and at this point I will start calling it Commander, since that seems to be the wave of the future. This can’t be good for a casual format. Commander tournaments are no doubt on the horizon. New commanders definitely are.

That’s fine, really. Different formats are for different people, and if Wizards designed everything for a player like me, they’d probably be broke. Things like cube drafting hold absolutely no interest for me at all, but I can see how some people would be really excited by it. This just means that I have to tweak the format to fit my needs and interests – something I’m always happy to do.

I’ve already adapted the Commander idea to my planeswalker decks. One of the problems with the Duel Decks is that the decks are centered around a planeswalker or some other card that you really want to see every game. Let me put it this way: You don’t buy the Elspeth Duel Deck so you can play with a Catapult Master. My original solution was just to slam 3 proxy copies into the deck to give you a more reasonable chance of drawing the star card in a game. But the Commander solution seems even better. Put the planeswalker in the command zone and play it like a commander. It is so fun playing a Chandra deck knowing you’ll always start with Chandra in your opening hand. It also means you can build the deck around her abilities. If the planeswalker dies, then it goes back to the command zone, and you cast it again for one more mana. If things get out of control, you can always limit it to four castings total, but it hasn’t been a problem so far.

But if I want to have the ‘real’ (OK, ‘pseudo-real’, since apparently I’m not actually interested in the ‘real’) commander experience, what shall I do? I could just develop my own banned list (after all, the real banned list has Coalition Victory in it :-(), but my wallet serves essentially the same purpose anyway. 🙂 Still, I’d say that you play a 100-card singleton format because you want to experience more variance than a 60-card 4-of tuned deck, so you just shouldn’t play with tutors. Period. You want to get to your best card? Pack some more card draw! I think fetchlands (not that I own many of those) or land-fetching elves could be OK: thinning a large deck seems like a fair and reasonable strategy, and lands are a bit different in nature than spells (although that seems to be changing in some recent sets). I’ll limit my changes to that for now, and see how it plays out.

So, for my first Commander (revised) deck, I think I’ll build a Vampire deck. I’ve tried building a 60-card version, but there are so many cool vampires out there, not to mention other thematically appropriate cards (Vampire’s Bite, Go for the Throat, etc.), that it just feels wrong to cut cards out. The choice of commander comes down to three choices, although all of them cost a little more than I would ideally like (since I’d like to get the commander out early and often, just like voting in Chicago):

All of them have the potential to be insane against other decks, and since the deck is mono-black, some removal is even dead against your commander (Terror / Doom Blade, e.g.). Once Anowon is out, your opponent(s) will be losing a creature every turn. That seems good. Of course the Evincar makes it pretty tough for any non-black weenie strategy to survive, but I don’t know if that is even a viable strategy in Commander (revised). I like Drana, though, because she is a win condition all on her own, which you always have access to, once you get to 5 mana (plus I do have a foil version of her – Pimp my deck!). But thematic issues do matter, so I think the obvious choice has to be Anowon. Drana and the Evincar will still be in the deck, though!

I’ve got a bunch of cool vampires, and now that I’m working on this deck, I’ll look to acquire some of the ones I’m missing, although I may wait for Zendikar block to rotate to see if prices go down on the some of the Standard staples. New Phyrexia did offer us Chancellor of the Dross, which seems pretty cool, although unlikely to use its first ability in this format. Plus, Innistrad looks like it may have more vampires.

Obviously missing from the deck will be the more expensive vampires, which, if Vampire Nocturnus is any indication, may not come down in price even after rotating: Vampire Nocturnus ($11.99), Bloodghast ($6.99), Kalastria Highborn ($4.99), Sanguine Bond ($6.99), Mephidross Vampire ($6.99), and Nirkana Revenant ($4.99)

There are a few vampires that I won’t include, such as Vampire Lacerator, which doesn’t seem so good when your opponents start at 40 life, or Bleak Coven Vampires, since I don’t plan to play many artifacts in this deck.  I would have included a Diabolic Tutor, if I hadn’t banned tutors—he is on my deckbox at least 🙂


As a follow up, I have now made the first draft of my Anowon deck, although I haven’t yet played it (I need to make another Commander deck, I guess). And sadly, my Diabolic Tutor box doesn’t fit 100 sleeved cards 😦

Then, I found this Commander Primer article by Benny Smith. Reading it, my first thought was “yeah, only needing one rare is one of the reasons I am attracted to playing Commander.” Then I read about choosing a commander and I came to an interesting realization: I have more Spike in me than I would have thought. The reason Anowon is a bad Commander choice is because of the very reason I chose him: It’s a great choice to fight against almost any other (non-Vampire) deck; it’s also the very reason I’m a bit turned off of Commander: the multi-player politics. Anowon will cause my opponents so much grief that they are all likely to gang up against me, since everyone else at the table will have at least that one thing in common. And that’s what bothers me about multi-player… I understand and appreciate the random factor in a game like Magic, but you can still deckbuild to improve your odds. But you can’t really control how other people choose to react to you or your deck (and I’m not the kind of guy who can or even wants to try to manipulate people’s minds or moods – to me, that’s a different game).

I guess my problem is that I am very competitive if I get into a competition, and I want to win, but I HATE losing even more than I like winning (this has been a problem for me going back to my little league days, actually). So, I tend to avoid the losing by just not getting into the competition in the first place, especially if I know the odds are against me winning. I know, this is just a personal issue I need to work out, but it makes it very frustrating to play a game like Magic competitively, since even the best players lose a LOT of games. Luis Scott-Vargas seems to me to be a pretty good Magic player, and I’m sure he has an overall positive win percentage in competitive matches, but how many ProTours has he actually won? And how many has he lost? If that guy loses games, matches, and tournaments ALL THE TIME, what hope is there for me? Think about the fact that even the year Ted Williams batted .406 in the Major Leagues, he was getting out (i.e. losing) 60% of the time!

There were few things more frustrating than my original multi-player group that I learned Magic with. They were all great guys and good friends, and I liked learning to play Magic with them and the fun little tournaments we would organize. But, it was so frustrating playing against a couple of guys I am sure are just much smarter than I am, and a couple of guys who had invested in better cards than I was ever going to have. Sure, the idea of beating the expensive cards with my cheaper cards was attractive, but think about how much I would have to lose just to beat him once. So, perhaps another hallmark of the “super casual” is a desire to avoid losing at all costs by only playing games where absolutely nothing is on the line (or all the decks in the competition are actually yours) 🙂


For now, then, my deck is a Drana deck – she seems useful in delivering Commander damage, and hopefully looks a little less threatening.


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