Previously, I’ve written about the debates surrounding hybrid mana and format staples. This week I’m going to touch upon another such divide which I’ve noted hasn’t garnered as much public attention and debate: how many Commander decks should one build? I know a lot of people who only keep one Commander deck at a time. I, on the other hand, currently have five completed, with another two under construction, and dozens of deck lists in the works. This divide doesn’t fall solely along lines of availability or expendable income; a friend whose collection must be worth at least twice what mine is takes his current Commander deck apart every time he decides to build a new one, and another with an even larger collection has only ever played one Commander. I’m not really sure why they choose to play this way, but I can tell you why I’ve chosen the alternative route.
The first reason is the same one that makes limited so popular: even with six times as many different cards, playing the same ones game after game can get tedious and repetitive. (But we’re working to reduce that, right?) Personally, I burn out quickly. After a full night of gaming with one Commander, I don’t want to touch that deck for at least a week. You might not get tired of your deck as quickly, but somebody else in your playgroup could.
Playing along the same strategic lines might still be enjoyable for you but particularly if your deck is one of the more powerful ones at the table, or does a good job of dictating pacing, other players are going to get fed up with games that feel like repeats. You can work around this issue by making your deck less consistent, but with one deck you’ll have a tough time both keeping it fresh and having your deck play out in a way you enjoy.
Moreover, even a deck that consistently leads to novel games which you enjoy is going to get frustrating to play after a while. Magic is a game of tradeoffs, and every deck you build to be good at one thing will come with a weakness to some other strategy. You’ll encounter that strategy …and you’ll lose.
And the next time …you’ll lose again.
Pretty soon it may start to feel as if it’s impossible to beat, or you may catch yourself thinking that their deck is unfair, or too competitive. It probably isn’t, but if you only run one deck you have no point of reference to gain perspective. You’ll be able to keep having fun if you play different decks. Sure your [card Wort the Raidmother]Wort[/card] deck lost to Mageta the Lion, but he’s not going to have so much luck against the great [card Sapling of Colfenor]Sapling[/card]. Moreover, if you play a lot of different decks your playgroup won’t have the above reaction to your brews. If someone in your group can’t beat one of your Commanders, it won’t be as hard on them if that Commander only represents you for a quarter of your games.
Even beyond immediate effects on gameplay, building a lot of Commander decks can help you grow and evolve as a player. In brewing deck lists, you’ll probably find recurring themes that you build around across Commanders. Maybe, like me, you’ll find that your [card Shirei Shizos Caretaker]Shirei[/card] deck is all about sacrificing creatures with enters-the-battlefield abilities for another use. Your [card Kiki-Jiki Mirror Breaker]Kiki-Jiki[/card] deck is an assortment of 187 creatures you’d like to trigger again. Your Rubinia Soulsinger list is a conglomeration of [card Momentary Blink]blink[/card] effects and [card Sun Titan]Titans[/card]. You might be okay with whatever your tendencies are, but they can lead to a lot of games that resemble one another.
Through identifying these tendencies, you can consciously build your decks to explore new strategies. You might just find something new to enjoy(to the Horizons). Even without uncovering whole new ways of playing the game, by building more decks you’ll have to play more cards and, thusly, gain more exposure. Assuming you aren’t completely disregarding your Commander, you’ll try new types of cards in search of synergy. I would never have played Tombstone Stairwell if I didn’t build a Glissa, the Traitor deck, but doing so opened me up to a whole family of [card Genesis Chamber]board[/card] [card Liege of the Hollows]cloggers[/card].
Beyond just finding new cards, you’ll get to practice incorporating them into decks. The more decks you build and play, the more feedback you get about what works well or poorly in deck design. You’ll improve your ability to build working decks off the bat for Commander, and this practice will help you brew for competitive formats if that’s up your alley. Moreover, playing all of these different strategies will make you more comfortable with different play styles in general. If you’ve always been an aggro player, but you build a [card Teferi Mage of Zhalfir]Teferi[/card] list, you’ll quickly learn to play a more controlling game, and these new skill sets will carry over into other formats. In fact, you’ll be able to try out even more than you’d expect to just from having more decks to improve: while with a single deck you have to make all of your changes at once so that you have something to play, running multiple Commanders lends you the flexibility to get in on the action while you’re in the editing process!
On top of all of the positive implications for your game, investing more in Commander decks will most likely help your wallet. Commander’s growing quite quickly at the moment, and I can only assume that the format’s growth will accelerate with the release of the summer products. This means that the trends you’re already seeing, like [card Minds Eye]Mind’s Eye[/card] going from $1 to $4, will continue, and most of what you invest in Commander cards now will pay you back whenever you take those decks apart. You’ll get to play your cards and make some money off of them rather than having to choose one (Standard) or the other (Binder). Even if you aren’t looking to make a profit, the more Commander decks you’re working on the easier time you’ll have finding cards you want to trade for with whomever is desperate to get their hands on your newly opened Sword of War and Peace.
But the real reason you want Commander cards isn’t to make a profit: you want to play. I bet you’re asking yourself whether I’m going to tell you that you can play with your multiple decks. As insightful as that might be, instead I’m going to tell you that other people can play with your decks. Many a potential Commander inductee is lost because they come up to ask you what you’re doing, you explain yourself, and then they go do something else.
Don’t let them go.
If you have more than one deck, you can lend them out. No matter how much you tell a friend that playing Commander is awesome, nothing will convince them of the fact so readily as playing it themselves. Once you play your first game of Commander it’s easy to get hooked, and the more people you bring into the community the more people you have to play with. I’ve often had games with new Commander players that were four of my decks facing off. While it might not have been the most exciting for me because I know the ins and outs of each of my decks, a few weeks down the line each of the players I’d lent a deck to had constructed their own.
Even if you already have a healthy-sized playgroup, bringing in new players still benefits you. Until fairly recently, Wizards of the Coast didn’t pay any attention to Commander in designing sets, but as the community has grown so too has our spending power. Today, Wizards designs a few cards for Commander in every expansion, and a lot of cards are tweaked with us in mind.
It could still be more.
What if as many cards were designed for Commander as for Standard in a given set? There’s no reason that with a slightly bigger demographic we couldn’t have tipped the scales so that our mythic Living Weapon was an [card Akroma Angel of Wrath]Akroma[/card] instead of a [card Kiyomaro First to Stand]Kiyomaro[/card]. The more people we pull in, the more cool cards we get, and more importantly, the more people get to enjoy this wonderful format we call EDH, er …Commander.
How many decks do you have? What factors have contributed to your decision? Do you plan to build more? Let me know!
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