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By: Lythand, Aaron Duvall
Sep 02 2010 8:42am
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Welcome to my next installment of Commander, a one hundred singleton multiplayer format built around a dedicated legend known as your commander. If you haven’t read my first two articles in this series, I suggest you do. They can be found HERE and HERE.

In my last article I went briefly over the format rules and reasons why Commander may be appealing to you. In this article I want to talk about deck building suggestions.

Fist off I want to acknowledge that this is by no means a definitive way to build Commander Decks, but simply a guidelines to help you get started.
 
Let’s start from the beginning. The commander deck is a deck of 100 cards including a legendary creature known as your commander. The colors of the deck must coincide with the casting colors of the commander.
 
There are two ways to build a commander deck.
Thraximundar.

 

The first way to build a Commander deck is to find cards you may want to play around. For example, maybe you would like to make a zombie deck with reanimation. You decide on a few cards like Rise from the Grave, Living Death and Patriarch's Bidding. You begin to realize the potential of the deck and start to wonder if you will bring unwanted attention. Next you add Lightning Bolt, Earthquake, and Burst Lightning to take out attacking or troublesome creatures. Finally you want a way to protect you big spells and add Counterspell and Mana Leak. You have built a red, blue and black deck. You are in need of a general that will fit those colors and will work well with the theme of the deck. The first legend that comes to mind is Thraximundar. He is a legend that supports the colors of your deck and is a zombie. He also works well with the reanimation theme. In this scenario you are building a deck with the cards you like, and then you are looking for a general that fits the colors and/or the theme of the rest of the deck.

 
Some people feel that building your deck, then adding the commander, cheats you out of a fundamental of building a commander deck. Your commander is a very important element of your deck. Since it is literally at your call when ever you have the mana to cast it, some people believe that method two of building a commander deck is the better way to go, selecting a commander and then building the deck around it. Suppose you want to build a deck around Rafiq of the Many. Well you know right away that you are restricted to the colors of blue, green and white. Next you want to choose cards that work well with Rafiq, and take advantage of his abilities to give double strike and exalted. Looking in the color restrictions of Rafiq, cards like Battlegrace Angel, Giltspire Avenger, and Finest Hour fit very well. You need removal so cards like Day of Judgment, Wrath of God, and Path to Exile work great. Finally you may have a desire for some counter magic so adding cards like Counterspell, Negate, and Mana Leak might be of importance to you. You started with a general, and built the deck from there. This method in my opinion is a better way of building the deck. It will help to keep the deck focused on a particular strategy that works with your commander. In the previous method you were just adding cards and then finding a color coordinated general. Basically you were making a Good Stuff deck. Rafiq of the Many
 
One thing you need to keep in mind when choosing a commander, and that’s how his presence will impact the game. Some commanders have a greater influence on how your opponents will interact with you. A commander like Akroma, Angel of Wrath may be a little less innocuous compared to Sen Triplets. One of the first things I do when start a game is to examine all the commanders and their abilities. Some commanders telegraph what the deck may do. That may influence who I consider the greater threat. Kresh the Bloodbraided tells me that my opponent has a deck built around making players sacrifice their creatures, and there is probably an underlying reanimation theme to the deck. Darien, King of Kjeldor tells me the deck is an aggro white deck based around soldiers. Be wary of what signals your commander might give off. Choosing the right commander can be an art form all on it’s on.
 
Akroma, Angel of Wrath Sen Triplets Kresh the Bloodbraided
 
Before you choose cards for your deck, you want to consider what the focus of the deck is going to be. Do you go Combo, Agro, Control, or a hybrid of these three? Choosing the right cards for your strategy is important. In my experience straight up Agro decks usually do not work. It usually requires a hybrid. One reason is the life cushion you start with. Forty life is usually plenty to set up a combo or a situation where you can bounce back from an aggressive player. Remember Commander is multiplayer. If you come out of the gates strong and aggressive towards one player, the other two players will see this as a threat and the game quickly becomes three on one. So if you want an aggressive strategy, be ready to defend yourself from three opponents ganging up on you.
 
Erayo, Soratami Ascendant

 

At this point you have a commander chosen and you know the build strategy you will use. Now its time to choose the right cards for the deck. It’s important to know that some cards just don’t fit the Commander philosophy well. Cards like Armageddon and Winter Orb might draw some unwanted attention. If you plan to use a combo, try a combo that’s fun to play with, and against. Making a bunch of saproling tokens and then changing them all to dragons with Day of the Dragons, is a lot more fun then playing someone who has Erayo, Soratami Ascendant and Arcane Laboratory. You want to keep the core EDH fundamental in mind when building your deck. EDH and Commander are formats designed to promote social interaction.

Winter Orb
 
One thing I will suggest to a person when building a Commander deck, is to try to select cards that provide you with card advantage. Trying to get card advantage is very important . When I say card advantage, I don’t just mean cards that help you draw, but cards that can do multiple things. Here are some examples. Mold Shambler is a great example of card advantage. It not only serves as a creature, but also as a means to get rid of a troublesome noncreature permanent. Cryptic Command can not only counter a game changing spell, but it can also tap down your opponent’s creatures for a game ending alpha strike. Artifacts like Planar Portal that have the ability to be reused over and over again can get you a lot of mileage. Buyback is a great ability that allows you to put cards back in your hand after they have been cast. Flashback allows you to cast a spell a second time from the graveyard. And of course the draw cards that can be used over and over again. Mikokoro, Center of the Sea, Jayemdae Tome, Treasure Trove, and Looter Il-Kor to name a few. Just remember to choose cards that are more interactive then not. Sitting at a table and watching your opponent play a solitaire game while the rest of you just sigh and watch is boring. Keep that in mind when choosing cards for your deck.
Treasure Trove
 
There is a common misconception for players who never played Commander, and that is there is too much randomness. How can you create a deck with cohesion? And simply put, it’s not hard at all. Take in consideration that there are cards with similar abilities that help you along with your strategy. Let’s take a card like Fog for instance. You are worried about aggro decks and Fog is a great card to hamper that strategy. You can’t have four of them in the deck, so what do you do? You look for cards that work in the same manor as Fog. Safe passage, Haze Frog, Holy Day and Darkness are all examples of Fog like spells.
 
 
 
Your other option for getting the cards you need, is to use tutor spells. Each color has tutors and black probably has the most. One thing I want to point out when using tutors is the attention you will get. There is a stigma behind players who cast Demonic Tutor. Most people see that card as a power card and you instantly paint a target on your head. So if you do play tutors, don’t be greedy with them.
 
 
Another downside to tutors is the amount of time you are wasting to find your card. Commander is a long game already. Sitting there and waiting for a player to search through his deck for the right card can be time consuming. Luckily if you play online, it’s not as bad. However if you are a paper player, the time it takes to look through your deck, and then shuffle can be quite long.
Demonic Tutor
 
When building a commander or EDH deck there are some cards that are almost an auto include into every Commander deck that supports the colors of that card. I want to give some examples of some staples that I use, and cards you may want to consider for your Commander Deck building.
 
Gemstone Mine
 
 
 
Lands
 
 

Solemn Simulacrum

A.K.A. Jens

 
 
 
 
Artifact
 
 
Time Reversal
 
 
 
 
Blue
 

 

 

Path to Exile
 
 
 
 
White
 
 
Brawn
 
 
 
 
Green
 
 
Chain Reaction
 
 
 
 
Red
 
 
Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief
 
 
 
 
Black
 
 
Behemoth Sledge
 
 
 
Multi-Colored
 
This is not a definitive list, but some suggestions. For a more comprehensive list of cards be sure to check out these two article by Leviathan.
 
Conqueror & Commander, Vol. XXII: EDH and Commander Staples
Conqueror & Commander, Vol. XXIII: More EDH and Commander Staples
 
The final thing you want to do is choose the right mana base. Next to your general, mana base is probably the second most important thing you are going to add to your deck. Actually I will say that mana IS the most important thing to put in your deck. Without mana, you can’t cast your spells.
 
40 is the new 24. This is a good rule of thumb to start with. Just remember for every two nonland sources of mana you have, you can remove one land. 40 land is just guideline to start with. Just like an competitive constructed deck, you may need to tweak that based on your mana curve and how ell you think the deck works. 40 lands may seem excessive. One thing you don’t want to do is miss land drops and be stuck at four or five land. A lot of your spells will cost six or more mana. Hitting six or more of your land drops 90% of the time is important. Like I said 40 is a guideline. If you find that is too much, then feel free to remove some. I have had effective EDH decks that just run 34 lands. Play around with it.
 
One thing you want to be careful with when adding land to the deck, is non mana or colorless mana producing lands. Having too many can hamper the deck. I sometimes count these lands as spells rather then mana sources. In mono colored decks, this isn’t too much of an issue. The problems start when you are building decks with three colors or more. You may be putting lands into play, but if 5 of them are colorless and one is a forest, you’re not casting that Eternal Witness anytime soon.
 
 
So to sum things up, building a Commander deck takes some thought. Mana selection and card selection is very important, as well as the play style you want to use. Choosing the right legendary creature to be your commander is important. And finally the way you want to build your deck is important. You can start by selecting a commander, and building down from there, or you select your cards and add a commander later. Either way you are going to have fun doing so.
 
Join me in my next article as I go over some game play strategy and I get into the “Social Contract”.
 
Until Next time, Be kind to your fellow players, and remember to have fun.

 

32 Comments

40 is NOT 24, that's why by Westane at Thu, 09/02/2010 - 09:19
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5

40 is NOT 24, that's why they're different @#%&ing NUMBERS!

Sorry, couldn't ignore a Lewis Black joke when I see one XD Good article.

Every time I've played by Xaoslegend at Thu, 09/02/2010 - 10:51
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Every time I've played commander I wind up finishing the game two hours later and I'm like, "Whoa where did my two hours go?" anyhow certianly a great format, my favorite edh deck is my Savra, Queen of the Golgari deck that can lock all 3 of my opponents out of creatures for the rest of the game.

See, that's actually my big by Westane at Thu, 09/02/2010 - 10:55
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See, that's actually my big issue with Commander. I have a lot of fun playing EDH at a table with people whether I know them or not. The game is fluid, there's conversation (and alcohol!) and I have a good time.

On MTGO it feels like an endless clickfest between phase changes and triggers and what-have-you, and turns feel like they're taking foooooooreeeeeeeeeverrrrrrrr. Maybe it's just me being impatient, but it's a real turn off for me.

as much as i love commander by ShardFenix at Thu, 09/02/2010 - 11:11
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as much as i love commander the turns do take forever....i've done a few commander videos and its crazy how a game that took two hours play can be shown on a replay in 20-30 minutes.

Hmm by Lythand at Thu, 09/02/2010 - 13:11
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"...my favorite edh deck is my Savra, Queen of the Golgari deck that can lock all 3 of my opponents out of creatures for the rest of the game."

I would have to see how this plays out. Just reading it, some might say "douchebaggery". It also depends on your play group. Online, I probably wouldn't play something like that, but the online players are a little more spikier then EDH players.

Well I hope it wasn't a by Xaoslegend at Thu, 09/02/2010 - 13:38
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Well I hope it wasn't a "douchey" deck. Some of the other players I've played on there had far stronger decks and mine wasnt reliant on expensive cards at all. I think I won 1/3 4 player games I played and it seemed like online people were mostly doing what they could to win. Mind you I haven't played a ton of the format was just looking for something fun to do online and it was the first deck idea that came to mind.

Xaoslegend-

No biggie by Lythand at Thu, 09/02/2010 - 15:26
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It's no big deal. Everyone's interprutation is different. It goes back to the arguement of "what is casual". If you start to get a lot of flack for it, maybe consider changing it up.

And thanks for being a player of commander

Nice overview on deck by Leviathan at Thu, 09/02/2010 - 12:30
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5

Nice overview on deck building. Hits the highlights for sure.

The games can take a while but it also depends how you play. Playing beatdown means your games are going to be quicker because you are going to win fast or die fast. If you like control, however, be prepared to sit and stay a while.

I find the social aspect changes on a game by game basis. Sometimes you get a lively group, and other times people are there just to play. I find that complimenting an opponents card choice early on will open people up usually. Once the banter gets going things get more I interesting.

Maybe I'm just cynical but by Westane at Thu, 09/02/2010 - 12:51
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Maybe I'm just cynical but I'm often unsure of how to interpret compliments. My I drop my Jace and someone says "Nice Card" I don't know if he's being nice or a douche XD Meh, no I think I am just cynical.

Nope by Lythand at Thu, 09/02/2010 - 13:09
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I can agree with you. Some people are being douches and just say it to be sarcastic.

If it was me youd get the by Paul Leicht at Thu, 09/02/2010 - 13:24
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If it was me youd get the "Ouch, gg" comment as that card invariably wins by itself in most casual games.

Multiplayer is a little different by Lythand at Thu, 09/02/2010 - 15:37
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Multiplayer games are a little different when it comes to Planeswalkers. Yea they are still powerful, but they are a threat and if there are three other guys, they should be ganging up to take out the Planeswalker or the player with him on the board. Planeswalkers to me are not as powerful in Multiplayer and the only one I have had success with is Nicol Bolas, and only because the other players left him alone.

Jace the mind sculptor is the by Paul Leicht at Thu, 09/02/2010 - 16:21
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Jace the mind sculptor is the planeswalker that wins games whether it is 1vs1 or ffa. I agree they should gang up on said user but it seems ffa really only works that way when the players are social enough to care. A lot of the players Ive seen seem to me to be rather shortsighted.

Well I usually don't say by Leviathan at Thu, 09/02/2010 - 14:05
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Well I usually don't say anything about obviously good cards. But when I saw Reassembling Skeleton played that led to a whole conversation about its various uses, what it could and couldn't do, etc. That led to someone making a joke about zombies and it went on.

thank you for pointing out by this isnt the n... at Thu, 09/02/2010 - 13:16
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thank you for pointing out that commander is supposed to be interactive. too many players seem to think its all about combos and screwing over your opps.

depends on what others bring by ShardFenix at Thu, 09/02/2010 - 14:15
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depends on what others bring as far as how douchy i want to be. A lot of my decks have small built in combos that are gamewinning but not the focus. like one guy was being a total douche one game. All he did was cycle cards the whole game and nothing else. So we were all sick of him wasting time. I sacced my Riptide Shapeshifter for Emrakul(only eldrazi) then T&N a Sakashima(copying Em) and a Madrush Cyclops into play. I hit him for 30 with annihilator 12. Then I sacced my emrakul to greater good so the rest of the table didnt kill me immediately. lol

Absolutely by Lythand at Thu, 09/02/2010 - 15:35
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Absolutely. That is what EDH is and Commander should be no different. Sadly not everyone online follows that rule, but I try to make attempts to.

The way i see it, if you want to play combo oriented decks that are geared to just winning, play 100 card singleton.

Or classic and take your by Paul Leicht at Thu, 09/02/2010 - 16:29
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Or classic and take your lumps?

Combo's vs. combo decks by themonkey at Fri, 09/03/2010 - 07:54
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I don't mind opponents who put a combo or two into their deck. I just don't like the players who build decks around putting together one combo. If someone starts tutoring for cards or has a commander that leads to a combo, I usually point it out and gun for them right away. Hopefully the other players follow my lead.

I was actually in a game last night where one player was using a wizard deck. He got the the point where he was drawing lots of cards and taking extra turns. The game was fun until that point. The rest of us just quit because it was boring just waiting for his turns to end. I find the best way to enforce the gentleman's agreement is to just not play with people that you aren't have fun playing against. Just quit and join another game. It makes an even bigger impact when all three opponents quit when they see a certain deck type in play.

Whats up with you bald white by boysrepublic22 at Fri, 09/03/2010 - 00:06
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Whats up with you bald white guys with cats in your pictures?

It's pretty f'n weird. I don't see a damn girlfriend around this place, but I sure as hell see two cats! Distrubing...

1) I'm not bald. 2) I've been by Westane at Fri, 09/03/2010 - 01:26
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1) I'm not bald.
2) I've been with my wife for 7 years now.
3) Go forcibly inhale a phallus of mighty girth.

I <3 the internet.

Nothing makes me laugh like a by boysrepublic22 at Fri, 09/03/2010 - 09:05
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Nothing makes me laugh like an agitated bald guy wearing a "cat-hat" telling ME to inhale a "Phallus"! Wow man, what an extensive vocabulary.

Can I call you Pussy Helmet from now on? You look like a pussy, and you are wearing a cat-helmet. I think Pussy-Helmet is a very fitting dually-suggestive nic-name for you. I could have incorporated more recognized medical terminology, but I'm not trying to be cute here. Just sit back, chill out, and quit running your outer Labia.

Peace out Pussy Helmet, and no offense to the other weird guy holding a cat in his arms. I have a cat too, I just don't wear her out in public, like it's some D.O.T. approved "Phallus" inhalation preventative. It's cool that he does though. I know it takes a lot of repetition and training to get animals to do what you want them to.

Dumb ass by Lythand at Fri, 09/03/2010 - 11:35
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Im not bald either. And I have been married for 3 years now. I will refrain from insulting you. Im much better then that.

Well I'm not better than by Westane at Fri, 09/03/2010 - 12:22
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Well I'm not better than that, so just give me the word XD

The bird. by Paul Leicht at Fri, 09/03/2010 - 15:24
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The bird.

Go Ahead by Lythand at Fri, 09/03/2010 - 15:31
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Go ahead Westane. i even give you permission to say what I wanted to say.

I can't now, Paul took it by Westane at Fri, 09/03/2010 - 15:36
Westane's picture

I can't now, Paul took it away.. Now all I see is Peter Griffin singing The Bird... DAMNIT!

Ah well, already told him to suck a fattie and troll seems to have vacated. Go Team Passive Aggression! /jumpinghighfive

LOL by Lythand at Fri, 09/03/2010 - 21:44
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Your funny..lol

1. IMHO, Condemn is mandatory by WiseGreen at Fri, 09/03/2010 - 07:48
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1. IMHO, Condemn is mandatory in any deck with white. It keeps a pesky commander away for at least 2-3 turns, most times.

2. Why is Reliquary Tower so popular? It hinders your mana development and it's effect is pretty marginal (again, IMHO). I'd play an extra dual/multicolored land, even a basic most times, over it.

3. Is Boseiju so needed to be deemed a staple? How often counters show up? Can counters be turned into a consistent strategy in a FFA/Commander game?

4. Sun Droplet is a nice card, but it loses a lot of power as a singleton. If you're playing it and have an artifact theme in your deck, even a minor one, throwing Sculpting Steel and Copy Artifact into the mix never hurts.

The tower shows it's worth by Paul Leicht at Fri, 09/03/2010 - 10:00
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The tower shows it's worth when you end up drawing cards off of Mind's Eye following a Decree of Pain etc. There are enough reasons to run it that people just toss it in as a nonland.

It's definitely worth by themonkey at Fri, 09/03/2010 - 10:57
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It's definitely worth throwing in Reliquary Tower just so you don't have to discard after a good draw spell. It also doesn't hinder mana development much. Usually I have enough sources of colored mana that colorless mana is just fine. And it doesn't enter the battlefield tapped so it won't slow down your tempo like a lot of other non-basic lands.

Boseiju and Tower by Lythand at Fri, 09/03/2010 - 11:40
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I have played enough games where someone is making other draw cards and you end up with too many cards in hand and need to discard. A lot of times I see players play a Spell book of something simular to keep thier extra cards. Tower is better then spell book.

Boseiju helps for spells that need to get through. If you need to play a spell like Plague Wind, or wrath of god and you know someone is playing a counter deck, the Boseiju gurantess it gets through. There are some people including myself that will run a few counterspells to stop the game changing spells. The only way to stop the counters is to have your own counters or use Boseiju.