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By: doc_brietz, Edwin Brietz
Jul 28 2014 12:00pm
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Hello All!

  If you have played Commander for any length of time, you are well aware of some of the often used culprits of the format that are the easiest to abuse. And before you say it, "dies to doom blade" is not a reasonable response to why a creature is not bad. However, this does hit on a point: If you are sick and tired of one card making a game degenerate, you have to figure out a way to deal with it. There are options in every color. Not only that, but if you want the problem child gone permanently, you need graveyard removal as well. Usually, instant speed removal will be enough. Putting at least one card in a deck will give you an out (out = a poker term for a possible positive card draw). If you want to hit your outs with consistency, you will either need to up the amounts of them, or use tutors. Not all of us like tutors or can afford them, so redundancy is the key. For example, you play a few matches with a deck that has 1-2 removal spells and you cannot get to them when you need them. You may want to go from 2% of the deck to about 10% (one out of every ten cards being what you want). Before we talk about some of the problems and their solutions, I want to give you a baseline of what I use in the beginning stages for a deck before I start to tinker with selections and mana curves. Note: All selections can be +/- 2 starting out.

  • LANDS: 39, of which at least half are basic type (until you gain more mana fixers and non-basic options)
  • CREATURES: 22, with a mix of reusable or ETB removal, land ramp, and 1-3 bombs or supreme game changers.
  • ARTIFACTS AND ENCHANTMENTS: 10, or 5 of each, plus or minus one or two. I mostly use these as equipment, board sweepers, commander lockdown, and toolbox cards (like board control or card draw) geared towards your weakness or a theme to help the deck. I would maybe have 1 reshuffler and 1 graveyard wipe.
  • INSTANTS AND SORCERIES: 18, half being some sort of removal, with a few of those being sweepers, and the other half being card draw. Yes, card draw and removal is that damn important. Not having stuff to do and/or lands to drop sucks. Not having any sort of a way to deal with a creature sucks.

  As you learn more and feel more comfortable, feel free to change this to whatever. As for planeswalkers, I would only add in what you can afford or what fits the theme. The one good thing about planeswalkers is that they effectively extend your life total by the amount of their loyalty. People tend to over-react when they see them. Use this to your advantage if you are struggling, but otherwise protect your investment if you use them. Some planeswalkers can get downright unruly very quickly if not dealt with. You may want to consider direct damage or specialty spells just for these guys and gals. Enough of the boring deck building jargon and on to the good stuff.

deadeye navigator

Deadeye Navigator - Public enemy number 1A of all things degenerate. Things get out of hand very quickly when this guy hits the board. Blue/green is usually the culprit, as they can ramp, control, draw, counter, and cast stupidly strong creatures to their hearts content. Blue is without a doubt the strongest color in magic. Some of the most broken creatures in recent magic come from the blue/green color pie. You know that whole soulbond thing he does? You can respond to that. Killing deadeye revolves around understanding the stack. Once he comes back into play, he is just a vanilla 5/5. The best way to do this is with Path to Exile, Swords to Plowshares, and the like. Do not wait until this guy gets cozy to kill him, because your OP will usually have 2 mana open to blink him. Anything with an ETB effect is subject to abuse when this guy comes to visit. I would assume that if you see an island on the other side of the board, this guy is partying nearby on his bass boat and is ready to rock. If you have a counterspell, it would be wise to use it on this guy and not the first thing you see. For some reason, counterspells tend to burn a hole in their owners pockets. Don't be that wise! Save your best spells for the best targets.

Prophet of Kruphix

Prophet of Kruphix - Public enemy number 1B, whose card text may as well read, "at the end of all other players turns, take an extra turn." Seeing as the powers that be have made it clear they are not going to ban either of these two, you have to get on board with the fact that this thorn will be in the side of players for quite some time. If you see anyone playing blue/green, you will no doubt see this auto-include {see also, Sol Ring, Island, Forest, Mountain, Plains, and Swamp}. is that bad. So, what can you do? Yes, this lady will die to instant speed removal of all types. You better have your's, and have it right then. Anyone running blue will run what? Counterspell! Next turn is too late. What I sometimes like to do is either steal or copy this gal the first chance I get. Where this lady is, card draw and massive critter engines follow. You will need to reset the battlefield ASAP or hope someone else does. Just to be safe, exile her the first chance you get. Just remember, whatever is in the graveyard can be revived. It is one thing to have abilities like Teferi or Seedborn Muse, but a whole other thing to combine them both and make it cost UG and 3.

Mana VaultMana CryptSol Ring

Mana Vault, Mana Crypt, and Sol Ring - Congratulations! You just won the mana lottery if you have these on turn one. It sucks being 3 turns behind if you don't run green. What to do? Well, mass artifact destruction can be expensive and you don't have that type of time. White, green, and red both have a few options for quick and easy artifact exiling and destruction. You should run them, or removal on a stick (creature based removal via ETB effect) whenever possible. Now, if none of these cards fall in your lap, there are tons of options in the mid-game (turn 5-6) area. I would at least have one of my 99 be some sort of kill all for artifacts, like Vandalblast. Unlike land destruction, don't be afraid to smash these shiny spells like a bull in a china shop. Be wary of late game additions like Gilded LotusCaged Sun, Basalt Monolith, and Gauntlet of Might.

terastodonwoodfall primus

Terastodon and Woodfall Primus - Since the fall of Sylvan Primordial, these 2 are the go-to enablers of mass destruction for green. You will not see mono-green not run either of these or both, and they are both good. I tend to see Terastodon more, as your OP usually loves exchanging elephants for lands. When you can ramp very quickly, why not drop these bombs quickly? The only way to deal with these guys prior to dropping is either a counterspell or something like Torpor Orb and the new Hushwing Griffin. White does have options to deal with land destruction, and there are ways to make things indestructible. Hopefully you can establish a board before these things go off and then rid yourself of them as soon as possible.

Rhystic StudyConsecrated Sphinx

Rhystic Study and Consecrated Sphinx - Remember how I said card draw was that important?

These guys are king of that. With study, the solution is simple, cut off the pipeline very early with enchantment destruction. There are plenty of solutions on a stick or by sorcery to choose from. For the sphinx, it is a little different. The thing is, people will want to clone, steal, and kill then reanimate this guy for what he does. You simply either have to beat him or join him. If you see blue, you will see either or both of these two. This type of creature is one you should save your instant speed removal for. A commander may make life tough for the short while, but this guy will be the one who beats you. I know it is tough to quell the instinct you have to crush every commander you see on sight, but sometimes, you might want  to wait for bigger game.

Sorin MarkovMagister SphinxSerra Ascendant

Sorin Markov and Magister Sphinx - Serra Ascendant - While I feel that the first 2 cards are against the spirit of the format, they are not banned. Yes, they have a CMC of 6 and 7, but they also help keep lifegain decks in check and can end the game. I feel that for this reason, even though I dislike the cards, they are ok for the game. With Sorin, you will want to find cards that destroy or exile noncreature permanents [Oblivion Ring] or direct damage enablers. Usually if Sorin hits the field, your life is 10. No getting around it. As with Magister Sphinx, there are at least options. You can even copy the guy, because turnabout is fair play. Now, Serra Ascendant is a whole other issue, as she is tolerable UNLESS she is cast on turn 1. You should kill this thing with targeted removal / fire ASAP. I hate seeing a 6 to 12 point life swing before I can even react. She is a mean cookie to deal with. You have been warned. I could have included cheap "I win" options such as Felidar Sovereign and Test of Endurance, but you should have someone less than 40 (or 50) by the time those things are cast. This is all the more reason to run removal.

  While I was writing this article, I was skimming along the internet for ideas. I noticed Sean McKeown wrote a great article talking about almost this very thing, except he was debating whether or not cards should be banned or not. Some of the cards I have listed are some of the most debated cards for the ban list that I know of in commander. What works in our format does not always work in other formats. The same goes for what is legal in eternal formats. If I could ban a few cards tomorrow, I would look at 1-2 of the mana rock trio and Prophet. I do not see anything happening to the format anytime soon, unfortunately. I do hope MTGO adds the banned list for Duel Commander to the game sometime soon, as they have a great set-up for the game and a good banned list. You cannot tailor a good banned list for both multi and single player just like you cannot please everyone. I think the format is good for the most part, but I do feel a few cards should be looked at as a whole. If you and your partners and playgroup play by the rules, the first thing you need to do to protect yourself is to simply give yourself options to getting rid of problem cards. You can do this by using card draw, tutors, and removal spells. You can also always extend or reduce the banned list to allow for management of unfun scenarios. I hope you have enjoyed the series so far and I hope to see you again!



I think you hit on the main by Leviathan at Tue, 07/29/2014 - 13:46
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I think you hit on the main issue on your first paragraph: People need to run more answers. And not just mass destruction, but also pinpoint stuff. You need to be able to interact with people starting on turn 3 (Putrefy, Mortify, etc.) at the latest, and the sooner the better (Swords to Plowshares, Nature's Claim, etc.). Too many people run Wrath of Good and Fracturing Gust, and think that they will be fine. But they can't stop fast starts, and then complain about it. I've had 4 player games where I'm the only one casting spells during the first 5 turns, or I'm the only person trying to keep the super ramp guy in check, and it certainly makes a difference. You can't rely on your opponents to help you keep things in control. So people, instead of complaining, add more ways to interact with your opponents.

I think that 1v1 is a completely different beast than multi, but they will never implement the Duel Commander ban list unless it is officially endorsed by the Rules Committee and Sheldon. I don't see that happening ever, because they don't like 1v1. Would make sense for the rest of us though.

On a semi related note I wrote about something similar a long, long time ago:

I am guilty of the same by doc_brietz at Tue, 07/29/2014 - 14:23
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I am guilty of the same issue. People want to play what they want to play and don't like it when people tell them no. Not all colors have great targeted and mass removal. You honestly need a good mix of both. I can understand needing each card to pull its weight, but sometimes you just need a good mix of stuff that would work in single or multiplayer.

I keep shaking my head when by Kumagoro42 at Tue, 07/29/2014 - 17:25
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I keep shaking my head when I'm reminded they banned Sylvan Primordial and let Deadeye Navigator run rampant. In 80+ events of Sunday Commander (as mentioned in the comments for Mikey's podcast), we've never seen the kind of decks that, assumedly, caused the ban of Sylvan Primordial. But I was forced to ban Deadeye Navigator, eventually, because it was just taking over the meta. You don't even need decks with more colors than blue, because Navigator gives you infinite mana with Palinchron/Great Whale, and at that point, in blue, you pretty much have infinite ways to win the game. It was beyond oppressive, and beyond consistent (people would even fetch the Navigator with Ethereal Usher!)

As for the Prophet, she's surely strong and I can see where people who want her banned come from, but she's far from being the absolute key to victory. She helps you win as much as Mana Reflection or Vorinclex do, which means possibly, likely, far from surely. Now, Momir Vig as a commander, that's the real thing. If you have a lot of mana and nothing to play because you couldn't refill your hand, you're in a bad place. With Momir, you just have to pilot the deck well, and Momir will execute your plan for you.

Speaking of which, your recipe for deckbuilding feels like something aimed to Commander newbies (is it?), but then after you've played for a while (especially competitively), you get to a point when you build towards a master plan based on the commander you chose, so you don't "play safe" anymore, by design. If everything in your deck is just either a threat or removal for other people's threats, then every deck will play in the same way. That's one way to play Commander for sure, but IMO it's not the most fulfilling way.

To some degree, Commander is a Vintage/Legacy format (to some degree, it's even more complex and cutthroat). Think of a Dredge deck or a Elfball deck. Those decks don't care about being able to answer other people's game plans. They ARE the ones you should answer to, the ones you should be afraid of. Many Commander builds (I might even say archetypes, it they weren't too many) have the same approach.

Of course, the real, main issue in Commander is that there's not a metagame to base any observation on. Everybody's vision is limited to their own specific experiences, often within specific play groups. Since when I started running Sunday Commander, I came into contact with monstrously powerful things I had never thought about, things that would make my old self shiver and run for cover.

Take this fear that "green will kill your lands!", for instance. I see it mentioned often.
Now, I'm a green player. I like to run monogreen. I ramp, I have Terastodon in my decks. But after I ramped, if I fetch Terastodon, that means I'm losing, not that I'm trying to win. If I want to win, I fetch Craterhoof Behemoth, or Ulamog, or I pump everything with Kamahl, or unleash Tooth and Nail. If I fetch Terastodon, it's because there's something on the board that's killing us all. People usually cheer when I do that, because I'm killing the problematic stuff most decks can't easily kill, and in exchange I get a bland vanilla dork that won't make me win (I'll recur it with the Navigator, you say? Why in the hell should I bother doing that when I can do the same with Acidic Slime?). More so, if I get to 8 mana in early turns, should I fetch Terastodon and kill 3 lands of one opponent, with the result of everyone else attacking me, stat? So, maybe we're talking 1v1 here? I feel like we do, because, sure, in 1v1 it's a correct play, but in 4-man, it really isn't. And that's another issue: the Commander debate keeps conflating multiplayer and 1v1, when they're so wildly different, both at the building table and on the battlefield.

In multiplayer, if I wanted to build a deck that kills people's lands, Terastodon is pretty much the last thing I'd think about. What about red's many, many ways to do that en masse, from Impending Disaster to Keldon Firebombers? Or what about just shutting everyone else out of the game with Zur the Enchanter fetching Contamination? (If you see Zur or Momir at a table, and those pilots didn't inescapably win by turn 10, it's because they've built/played them wrong/honestly. That's how nasty they can be). Or what about just white's various Armageddon effects? Of course, Living Lands and Elesh Norn is where the cool kids are at, these days. There are so many WinterOrb.dek variants out there that make you want to bang your head on the table violently and repeatedly. Terastodon? Terastodon is your friend!

Last category: I'm all for banning every card that points to a specific life total instead of referring to "your starting life total", as they're doing since a few years (last example: Resolute Archangel). Maybe those cards aren't overpowered but they're just worded wrong. An even better solution would be changing their Oracle text accordingly.

"You can also always extend or reduce the banned list": Unfortunately, if you're playing MTGO, you can extend it but you can't reduce it. Even if you agree with your play group to, say, unban Primeval Titna, then the client won't let you start a table.

I have played enough to see by doc_brietz at Wed, 07/30/2014 - 00:18
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I have played enough to see how degenerate a sylvan primordial can be. Usually the thing is flickered and cloned beyond belief. I have seen smart players play prophet and end games. A 5 CMC card should not be able to do that and replace 2 cards (teferi and seedborn muse). Multi and Single player are definitely a different game. Not everyone can be pleased. Deadeye is pretty dang bad, I agree. He makes more sense than Sylvan. I did miss a few troublesome cards. The thing is, if your paying a high amount of mana, that card should be able to end the game. My articles are geared towards new players.

Someone who runs a tourney will not learn anything new by reading what I write. My meta and yours are vastly different. When I play, people attack your mana and do flicker nonsense. I do not see a lot of stasis and winter orb stuff. Again, my articles are for all the people in all the forums and chat rooms asking "how do i play EDH?" I fully expect and I hope that my advice gets outgrown and new players play their own deck. As for not playing enough removal, you have to do what feels good for you.

You can't ban everything evil, but you can use a good mix of mass, targeted, and specialized removal. I have seen good decks with MAYBE 5 creatures and everything else be toolbox or removal/draw. To each their own. The thing I do not want to see happen is new players getting crushed and giving up because they get obliterated by the same crap over and over.

It is a noble intent. But my by Kumagoro42 at Wed, 07/30/2014 - 11:28
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It is a noble intent.

But my point was mostly that with Commander, any analysis is hindered by the fact that it doesn't exist a basic Commander meta, since there's no tournaments, no pros, no articles to reference that can be based on anything more than what the guy writing them experienced. The result is that everybody is playing and talking about a different version of Commander, for better or for worse.
(Well, except the 1v1 vs. multiplayer separation. That one should always be clearly stated and kept in mind.)