Deciding which legendary creature to head a new Commander deck can be the most important choice of deck construction. It sets the tone of the deck. It limits the colors. So how do you decide? Below are some suggestions on how to decide and an explanation on how I’ve selected mine.
New set, new choices
A very popular choice, our friends at Wizards of the Coast, are constantly making new Magic products. The vast majority of these give us new legendary creatures to build around. These new options can show off new mechanics, provide variety in archetypes, or might just resonate with you. These choices can be relatively available because the new set is being opened for draft and Standard.
There are two downsides to this being your driving force: the cost and frequency. First would be the cost, if the new card has any hype behind it for any competitive format the cost goes way up. Sometimes you have to wait for rotation even if you think it’d be a sweet deck to build around (I’m looking at you Archangel Avacyn). The second possible downside is frequency. If it’s a new card that excites you, it probably excites others too. After a new legend comes out there can be an explosion of building the new deck. You may see three or more people at your LGS all playing the same deck. This explosion can also drive up prices of the cards that synergize well. Just be aware.
Look at what I opened!
Another popular choice. Cracking a sweet card at a prerelease, draft, or from the random pack you got at your LGS is exciting. Did it play well in your limited event? This may push you to see what it can do in Commander, I know it does me. Run with it.
But what are the downsides? There are three that I see immediately. The first is if you have the surrounding pieces available (or at all). The support cards are often in other decks, lands especially, and you have to cannibalize pieces from old decks to build to a build a new one. This can make the deck in question expensive. The second issue is cost. Wait a minute cowboy I opened the card, how is cost a factor? Glad you asked. If the card has hype around it, especially in the current Standard, it probably has a higher price tag. This makes selling/trading it for the hyped price and picking it back up post rotation tempting. I try not to do this. Mainly because I’d rather play with it now than sell it, but it’s an option. The last downside relates to what the card was designed for. Sometimes a card that’s great in a limited setting is less than stellar in Commander. Still can’t hurt to try.
I want to win and this card is powerful
Okay. If you’re in a competitive meta, this is especially true. I think there’s more to Commander than winning and playing powerful cards, but even I believe winning is fun. Go for what drives you, but own it when you sit down outside your meta. Your deck may just be jammed with good stuff, but if this is how you like to play more power to you.
I just play it for the colors
Boo. Moving on.
The card does cool things
It probably does. Magic has been around for a long time and there are cards that do some ridiculous things. The game is supposed to be fun. If you think you can do something fun/different/crazy with it, go for it (and tell me about it). In my opinion this is one of the two main reasons that makes a Commander deck. It keeps games fun and different from game to game. You many need to combat stigma, generally defined by Jason Alt as the Rafiq Problem (explained here and here), but it can be done.
It means something to me
Emotional attachment is a thing. This is the other main reason, in my opinion, to build a deck. Stories about why a card or deck means something to you stick with me. I am always interested in these. They make games, and Magic in general, mean more. Sure you’re probably playing with cards that aren’t optimal, but if winning is your primary goal I’d look three categories above.
Check this art out!
Sweet! This has been a driving force to me lately. Magic has a large ascetic quality to it and you want to play with cards you like to look at. Many people already do this with their basic land choices, why not your Commander or the 99? Probably because the cards aren’t suited for your playstyle, are weak, or you don’t’ want to deal with the Rafiq problem. If this your driving force, maybe build an artist tribal deck or try out Vintage Artist Constructed.
I just like it
The card may or may not be good, but there’s just something about it. These cards turn into pet cards that just want to jam in whatever deck you can. I see this most often with dragons. The fact that a card is a dragon or that it’s blue elevates it into people’s minds. Can’t argue with this logic, but I hope you can find out what about the card you actively like. If you can figure it out, you can replicate it.
How did I pick mine? I’ve got two decks together and two more on my mind’s table (we moved and I don’t have a physical table I can keep my collection sprawled all over). The first is Lorthos, the Tidemaker. This is a card that means something to me. I originally built it because my son, then under one, had a few octopus toys he enjoyed playing with. I’ve had the deck together for years now and it’s become my signature deck. The second I referenced last week, is Sedris, the Traitor King. He does things I like to do. He’s a reanimator general that facilitates me cheating things into play.
The two on my table are harder to nail down. Momir Vig, Simic Visionary and Leovold, Emissary of Trest are duking it out for a spot. Both cards are just because of the art. Victor Adame crushed it with the new Momir. I don’t know if the device in his left hand is measuring the frog thing or about to stab it, but there’s so much about the art that I like. I’m hoping to make GP Atlanta this year and get him to sign my copy. Magali Villeneuve made Leo look like a mob boss or major bond villain. I think it’s awesome. He also gives me access to black for Toshiro Umezawa and Silumgar, the Drifting Death which both have card art I’m fond of. Neither card fits my play style well, but the art on both makes me happy.
The other deck is all about Grenzo, Havoc Raiser. I’ve been sold on Grenzo since Bennie Smith’s Uncle Grenzo article in 2014. I still call him, Grenzo not Bennie, Uncle Grenzo. The original is in Sedris and is something I enjoy dumping mana in even if I hit all lands. Back to the anti-Santa. He’s card advantage in mono-red. That’s filling a huge hole in mono-red’s game. I still haven’t decided if I want to keep the deck pure Grenzo or add colors (Iroas, Rith, Queen Marchesa, or Sliver Queen). Whichever way I go I’m getting aggressive with tokens and hopefully making the most of the new havoc raiser.
Why did you pick your commanders? Did it morph over time? I hope it makes you at least think about your choice the next time you build a deck. Have an opinion on which way I should go with my new decks? I’m curious what you think. You can always find me on Twitter @KyleCCarson. Until next week, happy brewing.