Originality in Deck Building

How important is originality when building a casual Commander deck? The pull, or pressure, to make your deck a unique snowflake filled with ideas no one has thought of can be a very real deck building concern for a Commander player. Things like net decking or the dreaded label of “good stuff” can turn a deck, at least for me, from being something enjoyable to pilot to a deck box that doesn’t get opened. What if instead of being so focused on being original, we instead focused on just having fun?

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Stax in Casual Commander

What do you do when you enjoy stax, but you like to play Commander casually? It’s a hard question. Stax decks, which I’ll define as decks that slow the games down or try to take them away from your opponents, are generally unpopular in casual Commander circles. There are people, like myself, that enjoy playing stax and don’t mind playing against them. The real trick is two fold: knowing how much to slow the game down and basic communication.

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Commander 2016 – Should Tana Partner?

Commander 2016 has been fully spoiled and it’s time to start brewing. Every Magic website is offering you their opinion on the set and Commander options. So am I, but from the perspective of building Tana. As I mentioned last week Tana the Bloodsower is the legend I’m most excited about. She isn’t incredibly powerful, but I think she’ll be a lot of fun. You can see what my plan for Tana is here. The short is Voltron elements, other token producers, and cards that take advantage of Tana’s crop. The big question I have with Tana is, if I should take advantage of her Partner mechanic. Legends with Partner seem to be weaker than most Commander choices because you can have two of them. The problem is I don’t know if any of them work for me. My thoughts below.

Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker (W/U)

I originally wrote off Ishai. He doesn’t seem to line up with building a token army and doesn’t take advantage of tokens. However, he looks like he’ll be very good at dealing Commander damage and taking advantage of the Voltron elements to knock someone out in one big swing. Adding both white and blue would give me a large swath of cards, but adding both colors will make the mana base shakier. I don’t think I will go with bird, but it’s something to consider.

Silas Renn, Seeker Adept (U/B)

Silas follows much of the same pros and cons as Ishai. The main difference is that Silas pushes me to artifact based Voltron elements and offers a recursive element to them. I still don’t think adding two colors is worth it based on what I want to do. If the build turns out to be very artifact heavy Silas will get another look, but that looks doubtful at this point.

Vial Smasher the Fierce (B/R)

I think that Vial Smasher is one of the worst options based on what I want to do. She doesn’t take advantage of any of the three main themes I want to focus on, but instead provides random damage to opponents. Maybe if the deck will really wants a black splash Vial Smasher will be better option, but this is again doubtful.

Tana, the Bloodsower (R/G)

She’s the main thrust of the deck and who we’re looking to find a partner for her.

Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa (W/G)

The Sidar provides a strong option, but also deck building problems. Kondo aligns with the token element of the Tana deck by providing an evasion element of all of the Saprolings and Tana as well if I don’t suit her up with static power boosts. Not boosting Tana’s power will reduce the number of tokens I get, but the deck could focus on double strike instead of boosting power. Kondo also adds just white to the deck. White brings in Recuiter of the Guard to find Grenzo, Havoc Raiser and other utility elements. White adds Elspeth, Sun’s Champion for more token production. To top it off there are solid white removal options in Aura Shards, Path to Exile, and Austere Command.

There are two real problems with adding white. The first is that I have to seriously consider if the deck is just a worse Rith, the Awakener deck. Rith does a lot of what Tana would do for the deck, but is also a dragon. Being a worse version of another deck isn’t a deal breaker in Commander, but it is something to wrestle with in your mind. The second problem is in deck building slots. White adds the highest number of cards I would want to use. This sounds like wonderful thing. However, adding white would require very disciplined deck building to keep the deck from slipping into a generic good stuff Naya deck, and I’d like to try the MagriniSplash Theory” (Go take a quick read). All that said, Kondo provides an option to seriously consider.

Ravos, Soultender (W/B)

Ravos is the first option that would turn the deck into four color to seriously look at. Most of the cards I’d like to add to Tana are in white or black, Ravos pumps all my creatures (which both builds up Tana and her Saproling crops), and he provides the occasional recursive element. I also own most of the mana base I would want to use so the mana would actually be decent despite being four colors. The main issue with Ravos is in my own deck building discipline and if I’ll be able to force myself to stay theme despite all of the options available. The biggest card that Ravos offers, that the three color options don’t is:  Ghave, Guru of Spores the true king of Saprolings. All in all Ravos provides a solid option.

Tymna the Weaver (W/B)

Tymna offers card draw instead of the boosts Ravos gives. She also gives the same pros and cons to adding the colors. I think I’d rather go with Ravos instead of Tymna if I go full WBRG.

Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper (B/G)

I like Ikra. It’s probably the art reminding me of Tasigur, but she does have some merit. Ikra’s Menace can take advantage of the Voltron elements in the deck. Her life gain ability isn’t terrible and could provide just enough to keep the deck going. Black is also a nice color to splash. Black gives me Zulaport Cutthroat, Dictate of Erebos, Deathspore Thallid, the Apex Predator, Necrogensis (and other graveyard hate), and some solid pieces of black removal. Ikra would let me easily splash 5-10 cards with a black cards. The main issue with Ikra is that she isn’t super powerful.

Reyhan, Last of the Abzan (B/G)

I think Reyhan will provide less than Ikra. I could play Reyhan and then sacrifice her to build up Tana, but I don’t know if I want to go that far for just Reyhan. If the deck build goes harder into +1/+1 counters than is currently anticipated Reyhan may shine, but I just don’t see it. Sweet story character though.

Kydele, Chosen of Kruphix (U/G)

I don’t think Kydele works at all for me. She really wants you to be drawing lots of cards to turn that into ramp. Splashing blue definitely helps with the cards draw (more below), but if I wanted to go with a U/G partner I’d go with Thrasios.

Thrasios, Triton Hero (U/G)

Thrasios does not line up with any of the decks three main themes, but is still a partner worth considering. Thrasios offers repeatable card draw, which is nothing to sneeze at. His ability is fairly expensive so he’s not great. I could foresee playing him when my hand is empty and it’s turn 10+ to simply draw two cards. What Thrasios does offer is some solid options to boost the deck. Adding blue offers Well of Ideas, Rhystic Study, Yasova, Shaman of the Great Hunt, and Sarkhan Unbroken. All of these would work well for deck and, like splashing black above, offers the easy ability to add 5-10 cards of blue. Thrasisos himself isn’t exciting, but the cards he offers are good.

Kraum, Ludevic’s Opus (U/R)

Kraum is about the same as Thrasios above, but is also a stick. He has to rely completely on opponents for cards which isn’t the greatest. The good news is opponents have to choose with slowing down their development or giving me cards. I honestly don’t know if I like Thrasios or Kraum better if I wanted to go with a blue splash.

Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist (U/R)

I don’t like Ludevic. He lets my opponents draw cards and isn’t strong enough deterrence from hurting me. Simply not an option in my book.

Akiri, Line-Slinger (W/R)

Akiri offers the great white cards that Kondo offers and pushes me to use a large number of artifacts like Silas. She can get a big Commander damage push if you build around her, but I don’t think I’m willing to devote the resources in this deck to make Akiri shine.

Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder (W/R)

The last of the 15. Bruse is a very good option for Tana. The double strike and lifelink is a real boon. He gives all of the great stuff that white offers. The real problem with Bruse is that he just doesn’t excite me.  Almost everyone I’ve talked to has suggested I go with Bruse so we’ll see.

Wrap Up

So back to the question at hand, do I partner? Currently, I think the answer is no. I have too much indecision and am trying to guess what the deck needs. Instead I plan on playing her solo until I get enough of a sample size to see what the deck actually needs. Is it hurting for card draw, look at Kraum. Does it need removal or life gain, look at Ikra. Need more tokens or does Tana need to hit harder, Bruse is the man. Does the deck need all kinds of help, well there’s Ravos to go full four color. We’ll see if I can find any glaring holes when I get to hard drafting the list. Until next time, happy brewing.

  • Cowboy Kyle

Questions for you: Is there a partner pair that has you jazzed (with or without Tana)? Are you pumped about one of the four color options?

Early Brewing with Tana

Commander spoiler season is upon us. New cards designed specifically for the Commander players are released in large numbers. There are reprints, mechanics, and staples that we will see around the table for years. These are the products that gave us cards like Karador, Daretti, and Nekusaur. This year there is a particular card in the early spoilers that has caught my eye and that’s Tana, the Bloodsower. She isn’t super powerful so I’ll have to work to make her epic (Thanks Bruce for the reminder that epic is better than value). I don’t have a full deck list yet, but below are some of my initial brewing thoughts on where to go with her.

More Tokens

Tana creates tokens based on how much combat damage she deals, so I’ll want to buff her up. Cards like Rancor, Sword of Fire and Ice, and Xenagos, God of Revels all have my eye. There are cards like Kessig Wolf Run and Primal Bellow for temporary power boosts. I also get to use cards like Boartusk Liege and Ulrich which have been sitting around my collection.

BYOA (Bring Your Own Army)

Tana can’t be the only one who brings her own army. Dragon Broodmother, Master of the Wild Hunt, and Freyalise where on my mind went instantly. I want to include some fungi to help make more Saprolings. We can add Mycoloth because he’s good. Pyschotrope Thalid for card draw, Vitaspore Thalid for haste, and of course Thalid. Sure original Thallid isn’t good, but sometimes you have to bring out a card from childhood. Tana feels a home for Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter which is a card I’ve been looking to use after GP Atlanta. Kazuul also fits here as a token creator and a bit of deterrence.

Making Use of Tokens

I want other things to take advantage of the tokens that are created. Yes, I plan on playing Purphoros. Maybe I’ll even use his last ability to pump the team. Goblin Bombardment, Thermopod (it’s a slug!), and Spawning Pit will be my main sacrifice outlets. I may also try Orochi Eggwatcher if I can reliably get her to flip to boost Tana further. I’ll need to find a copy of Perilous Forays to turn the tokens into lands. Grenzo, Havoc Raiser is another card I’ve been itching to use and can turn tokens into Goad triggers or red style card draw.

Partner or Solo

Tana has the Partner mechanic that allows me to have two Commander’s if they both have partner. There’s 15 cards with Partner and it looks like there are two of each enemy color pair and one of each allied color pair. So far (Wednesday morning) I think I’ll solo Tana. This isn’t because I have strong feelings against the Partner mechanic, but I don’t know if any of the options fit well with my vision for the deck. Sidar Kondo would be an option to help get Tana and the tokens through, but I’d have to cut some of the Voltron elements. I do like Ludevic as some card draw and it would give me the ability to run Sarkhan Unbroken (one of my top two favorite planeswalker cards), but I don’t necessarily want to enable my opponents to draw cards. Thrasios, Triton Hero might be another option to splash blue, but he isn’t spoiled yet so I don’t know. Similarly, I think Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper will be G/B which would unlock a black splash. Only time will tell, but I know that I’m at least excited to build with Tana regardless.

Wrap Up

So those are my big plans for Commander 2016 right now. I don’t think I’ll be brewing with any of the four color legends, but maybe Yidris will change that. Do you have any big plans or brewing ideas for Commander 2016? Does Deepglow Skate make you weep for joy or sorrow? What do you think on the mechanics? Let me know what you think. Until next time, happy brewing.

–       Cowboy Kyle

Casual GP and a Hurricane

Hi Everyone. Sorry that posts have been a bit sparser recently, but life and a hurricane will do that. I also want to warn you that this isn’t a normal Commander post, because this last weekend I attended GP Atlanta. Below is the tournament report of a casual with the added spice of Hurricane Matthew.

Many Weeks Ago

I checked the GP schedule and saw that there was a limited Grand Prix in Atlanta. I really enjoy sealed because my capital investment is significantly lower than a constructed event, plus some of my closest Magic friends live in Atlanta. My wife and two small kids (son 3.5 and daughter 1) would stay back in Florida and I’d make the 7.5-hour drive after work on Friday to my friend’s house. As a pure casual player whose only Magic is Commander a few times a month, I never expected to do well. I hoped I’d open some Commander cards, get some cards signed by the artists there, have some laughs with some opponents, go about 4-4 then drop and play Commander (what I wanted to do anyway). The Kaladesh pre-release came and I went a rousing 0-5 (significantly worse than my normal pre-release records) my hope of 4-4 went more to 1-4, but I’m going for Commander so who cares. I’ll just get more time to play Saturday and can leave a little earlier Sunday to get some real sleep, maybe I’ll even help get my kids to bed. It was going to be great.

In Comes Matthew

Hurricane Matthew’s approach to the east coast of Florida, which is where I live, changed things. All forecasts called for total devastation. As northerners who recently moved from Chicagoland to Florida we were spooked, and reports continued to get worse. My wife and I knew we had to get out of the way. On Tuesday night we packed the minivan and we all left Wednesday after work for Atlanta. My quick Magic trip turned into an evacuation with my kids, pets, and important items. With the change of plans I assumed we’d leave Sunday morning instead of the afternoon to make sure the kids got to bed normally. I wasn’t going to make Day 2 anyway.

Friday – Day 0

One of my friends, Ken, from SLANDER (there YouTube and Twitter) and I got to the GP after 7. I got to meet rk post, Noah Bradley, and Victor Adame Minguez. They were great. I got them to sign a few cards and talk about their art. Then it was time to head to the Command Zone that Star City Games has set out. It’s a set of tables set out for casual play. Big fan of this, no more worrying about a side event kicking you out of a game or trying to locate Commander players. I got to play Lorthos and got some cheers from a passerby when I played Flood. A second cheer came up when Flood ate a removal spell for being too good on the table.

Saturday – Day 1

I wanted to get on rk post’s 9AM que for altering cards so Ken and I got to the GP before 8 to deck build. I opened my pool and low and behold there was a Chandra, Torch of Defiance staring back at me. Sweet! Too bad there wasn’t anything else decent in my pool in red or any kid of fixing. Ended up leaving her in the board and going with a W/G deck with Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter. After deck construction I ran over to rk post and asked him to alter my Lorthos, the Tidemaker to Hank from Finding Dori. Ended up being the last one he’d take Saturday.

The deck proved strong and consistent. Before I knew it I was 6-1. I couldn’t believe it. Had to call my wife and apologize for playing well and now we wouldn’t be able to leave early Sunday morning. Ended up losing the last two rounds, but the change for required record meant I could still play in Day 2 at 6-3. This was my second GP and my first Day 2. I was blown away. Ms. Pasihri was an all-star. She was fun to play and could break a stalled board state. I might just build a Commander deck around her for the memories, but if not she’ll end up in the 99 of something. Swung back to rk post and picked up Lorthos. I don’t know how he can do such good work at a very affordable price.

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Overall, I was very pleased with Day 1. I got to meet a ton of fun people, share stories about Magic, and check to see how everyone’s homes were doing with Hurricane Matthew beating up the coast. My home was okay. The quick jag east and weakening Thursday night meant we got little damage instead of losing everything. Some of my opponents over both days were not as fortunate.

The last thing to focus on in Day 1 was the judging. Magic judges are wonderful. Every judge I interacted with was kind, considerate, knowledgeable, and polite. One judge in particular, Justin Rix, did something I was incredibly thankful for. At one point I had to call a judge to clarify I could make the play I wanted to. The call was handled professionally, but I could afterwards that my opponent was unhappy with the outcome. I asked him if everything was alright and he responded that he was and that “I don’t want to Jew you out of it or anything, but I thought it went the other way.” I stopped for a second and let him know that I didn’t appreciate comments like that. He quickly apologized and the game continued. Quite suddenly the judge was back, but this time squatting beside my opponent. He’d heard his comment and explained that words can hurt and that we all have be careful about what we say, even if it’s in jest. My opponent apologized again, but was given an official warning. The judge could have kept walking. He could have ignored it, but he didn’t. He helped make sure that Magic is a place for everyone. Thank you sir.

Sunday – Day 2

So I don’t draft regularly. I’ll watch draft recordings of various formats, preferably cube, but I’ve drafted twice this calendar year. One was a friend’s Commander Cube before we moved and the second was a Conspiracy draft at Gen Con that Mason Talley (@AlliDoIsEDH) organized. I was sure it’d be a quick 0-2 and I could leave with no shot at cashing the event. I was wrong again. Ended up 2-1. At 8-4 I might still have a shot to cast. The highlights of draft one, outside my three opponents, were another Chandra (I got to play this one) and a Thriving Ibex that was stamped with a sheep.

Draft two went well, but not as well. I was able to win game one on the back of triple Self-Assemblers. Round 14, the penultimate round, didn’t go my way. I ended up losing to Daniel Rost 2-1, but they were some of the best games all weekend. We both agreed we were there to have fun. Winning would be great as some potential money was on the line, but we got to joke and converse the whole time. Good luck in Hawaii Daniel.

Wrap Up

This was not the weekend I expected. I only played two games of Commander at the GP, ended up 286th, was close to potentially cashing my 2nd GP, never got to meet Terese Nielson, and got home with the whole family at 3:30AM instead of before 8PM. I don’t think I’d change any of it. I may be a casual player who plays Commander maybe twice a month, but I got to keep playing with a purpose long into Day 2. You may be a causal Commander player, but that doesn’t mean you’re bad at Magic. Sure you’ll find players better than you, but learn from your losses (especially at the kitchen table) and get better. I hope if a GP comes near you, especially if it’s limited, you go. Until next week, happy brewing.

  • Cowboy Kyle

P.S. If you have any ideas for Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter or suggestions of what would be best to put her in, let me know.