Competitive Commander Archetypes: Update Part I

Are you a Quiet Speculation member?

If not, now is a perfect time to join up! Our powerful tools, breaking-news analysis, and exclusive Discord channel will make sure you stay up to date and ahead of the curve.

A while ago I wrote about the Top 6 Competitive Archetypes in Commander. Since then we've had several sets come out, including Mirrodin Besieged, New Phyrexia, Magic 2012, and the new Magic: The Gathering Commander decks. So, it's time to update the old lists with new cards. For each decklist I'll itemize "New Toys", Old Hats, and post up fresh decklist to try. Remember, these are one-on-one decklists, and as such may not work as well in multiplayer play (though they should do alright).

Zur, The Enchanter
Zur, The Enchanter has been a pretty finely tuned deck for a while. The deck is simply so good at what it does, and does it so fast, that any changes can compromise the deck more than improve it. However there are some options.
New Toys

  • Phyresis: Poison kills are seen as pretty cheap by a lot of Commander players, but a win is a win. This takes the damage you need to inflict with Zur down to just 10, which is pretty quick however you look at it. The difficulty is that is just so fast that do you really need to use it?
  • Glistening Oil: Again, grants infect, but is also a pseudo-removal spell. However the speed is so slow that you'll rarely make an impact with it.
  • Personal Sanctuary: One-sided effects are generally interesting in Commander. This works nicely with Earthquake effects, but the main thing Zur would want is for it to negate the downside of Necropotence, which it doesn't. As such it doesn't do much for this archtype.
  • Phyrexian Unlife: I can see a lot of blowouts coming for people who try to run this card. Drawing 40 cards with Necropotence, then having Phyrexian Unlife killed with a Krosan Grip. 0 life? Good Game. Zur doesn't need to take these kinds of risks.
  • Psychic Surgery: Now here is a card I can get behind. It neutralises the 1-mana tutor spells that form the core of every competitive Commander deck, and it does so for 2 mana. It brings a downside to every fetchland activation your opponents try, and the best thing is that it exiles the cards so they're rarely coming back (no Eldrazi for you!). I think it deserves a place.
  • Spirit Mantle: Protection from creatures is an interesting effect and well worth considering, especially if we can give Zur vigilance, as he becomes an unblockable, impassable killing machine. We might try to find a spot.
  • Swiftfoot Boots: The new Lightning Greaves, they cost an extra mana to wear but mean we can cast our auras directly onto Zur without fearing removal. They definitely make it into the deck.
  • Command Tower: The perfect Commander mana fixing card, this land will make it into every deck that isn't mono-coloured.
  • Vow of Duty: If your opponents are playing a great deal of Control Magic effects, this might be a tempting option, as it prevents you from being attacked by your own Zur, or can be used to semi-lock down an opponent’s creature. However, in one-on-one I don't think it's strong enough to knock out anything we already have in-deck.

Old Hats

  • Voltaic Key: Although it's cute with Mana Crypt and Mana Vault, it's just not doing enough in this deck. It has synergy with two cards out of 100 in the deck and that's simply not enough. Out it goes.
  • Luminarch Ascension: Primarily for multiplayer play, in all other cases it's just too slow. This deck is tuned for one-on-one play, so lets keep it that way (and make it better).
  • Dismiss: I love the card advantage this brings, but the idea of tucking an opponent's commander with Spell Crumple as our second Hinder is just too tempting. As such this is the counterspell to go. It's a touch choice as well.

New List
My old list had a terrible mana base, basically because I didn't have all the right lands on MtGO, and I tend to post the lists I play. Here's a better manabase. It might be one or two lands short, but what to cut?

Note that the Flickerform is in the deck due to Diplomatic Immunity not being available on MtGO. If you can play Diplomatic Immunity instead, I'd recommend that over Flickerform.

Zur the Enchanter

Azami, Lady of Scrolls
There are a lot of different Azami, Lady of Scroll builds. Some win by stroking an opponent out, some win by finding the right Combo package efficiently and quickly, some win by milling opponents. Either way, you're looking for Wizards to fill out Blue's third-favourite tribe and new counterspells. Here are some options.
New Toys

  • Azure Mage: I like the repeated utility of Azure Mage, and it combos nicely with Training Grounds (1U: Draw a card? Sure!), however in a competitive format it feels very, very slow. Worth considering.
  • Jace's Archivist: Jace's Archivist will definitely make the deck. He's just so strong, and so broken, with Mind Over Matter in play, where you can effectively draw a new hand for every blue you have open. He truly enables the mill strategy, if you're unafraid of those nasty Eldrazi.
  • Lord of the Unreal: Kira, Great Glass-Spinner is a Spirit, not an Illusion, which is unfortunate as Azami doesn't play much other than Wizards. If a mono-blue beatdown deck ever becomes viable in Commander, this little Lord should happily make it in.
  • Merfolk Mesmerist: Far, far worse than Jace's Archivist, this guy simply doesn't do enough in the deck. Jace's Archivist provides card advantage, hand disruption, and a viable win condition. Merfolk Mesmerist provides ugly men services for cash on city corners after dark.
  • Mental Misstep: The zero-mana counterspell of choice for one-mana spells, in seriously competitive play this could well be worthwhile as it takes out so many Turn 1 plays, including the most important of all, Sol Ring. Misstepping a Sol Ring must feel like something unbelievable. If that's what you're into.
  • Stoic Rebuttal: Strictly better than Cancel (but let's not argue over that), Commander has so many counterspells that this one's not likely to make it into the deck.
  • Flusterstorm: Note that it only counters instants and sorceries, making it probably worse than Spell Pierce. It does a nice job of protecting you from storm shennanigans for a single mana, and can win the counter-war as well. It'll definitely make it into Erayo, but here I'm not so sure.
  • Riddlekeeper: A nice add for a mill strategy, but it suffers as it's not a Wizard. Unlikely to make it into the deck.
  • Spell Crumple: 'Tuck' effects are brilliant in Commander, and this one is no different. A second Hinder will always be accepted in any competitive deck.
  • Jace, Memory Adept: If you're going to go the mill route, there are worse options than Jace 3.0. At the worst you play him out then start drawing cards. The ultimate is ridiculous with Consecrated Sphinx in play.
  • Consecrated Sphinx: One of the best - if not the best - card drawers in Commander, Sphinx deserves a spot in the deck however it turns out. Left unmolested for a single turn usually means winning the game.
  • Knowledge Pool/Omen Machine: These two cards solidify the Teferi plan by locking your opponents out of the game forever. I think I'd prefer to play Knowledge Pool over Omen Machine, but if your main plan is to slam Teferi then win, you'd probably want both.
  • Sphinx of Uthuun: I'd be all on the double-sphinx plan except for the fact that 7 mana is a lot, no matter how you look at it. The effect is so sweet, however, that it's hard to pass up. And yet, I will...
  • Grindclock: Another card that works nicely with Mind Over Matter, it's hard to see how to build around it without a decent amount of proliferation in the deck. Maybe a build will eventual in the future.

Old Hats
I feel the last Azami list I posted was a little untuned and under-powered, and I'll be adding some stock power into the mix as well (ie Mana Drain, Force of Will and Ertai, Wizard Adept). Here are some of the cards I'd extract.

  • Etherium Sculptor: It's nice to power out faster artifacts, but I think the little artificer is misplaced in this deck. Certainly we can use his slot more effectively.
  • Descendant of Soramaro: To be frank, I'd rather have Scroll Rack. One mana compared to four is huge in a competitive environment, and Scroll Rack is a little less likely to be Wrathed away.
  • Inspired Sprite: The effect is a little too cute, considering the actual number of Wizards we're playing. Even a Merfolk Looter would be better than this guy.
  • Cursecatcher: I like the idea of this guy, but in execution he's never as good as you want. 1 mana is just too easy to play around in Commander.
  • Last Word: It's okay, but we're powering up our counterspells in this build and Last Word can't compete with Mana Drain or Force of Will.
  • Lotus Petal: We simply don't need it.

New List
Here's a new build.

Azami, Lady of Scrolls

Arcum Dagsson
Arcum Dagsson had a swift kick to the baby-makers in the last round of Oracle updates. Essentially, the "turn-off" clause of the Winter Orb text was removed, and now Winter Orb simply reads "Players can't untap more than one land during their untap steps.". As the willful manipulation of Winter Orb was a the heart of the deck, this means Mr. Dagsson has suffered a rather large drop in power level.
However, that is not to say he can't still kick arse. Arcum still relies on artifact mana rather than land mana, and there are few cards that help push the old man over the edge thanks to the latest artifact block. In fact, the main problem with Arcum is now what to include! There are so many options for the old man that we need to seriously unpack them. I've tried to split the discussion of what to include in Arcum vs Sharuum up a little, otherwise it was getting a little repetitive. The main difference is that Arcum wants (a) to lock up the board, and (b) to tutor for non-creature spells. That means that living weapons rise in stock value.

  • Unwinding Clock: Any deck running Winter Orb and relying on artifact mana to get out of a jam will want Unwinding Clock. It seems to have a bad reputation as "not doing enough", but believe me that when it is doing something, it's winning the game, which makes it more than worthwhile.
  • Batterskull: This lad seems like a total bad-ass in a Arcum Dagsson build, to the point of wondering how you could not be running this. Arcum just loves living weapon, and although he can't sac the Germ tokens (a shame), the rest is all gas.
  • Bonehoard: Bonehoard runs a slight second place to Batterskull, but as Arcum will generally see at least one creature hit the graveyard (with more to follow), Bonehoard seems a natural choice. I wouldn't be surprised, in fact, to see a living-weapon based Arcum deck with one of each of the living weapon cards.
  • Caged Sun: Yes another form of the Mirari, Caged Sun is one of those cards that helps send mono-colored decks into overdrive. I love the idea of tutoring this into play on Turn 2 or 3.
  • Crown of Empires/Throne of Empires/Scepter of Empires: A really interesting set of cards. They seem totally underpowered, but Arcum's ability to tutor all three into play seems worthwhile. I can only image what having an active Crown and a Vedalken Shackles in play at the same time feels like.
  • Darksteel Relic: Is there any more broken play in Commander than saccing your Turn 2 Blightsteel Colossus to tutor Darksteel Relic into play? I think not.
  • Druidic Satchel: Druidic Satchel is a strange one, and I keep wondering if it's Constructed worthy. Maybe a home for it can be found in a Commander deck, but I think it adds more value to a Green deck than a Blue one. Something to bear in mind for the future.
  • Ichor Wellspring/Mycosynth Wellspring: It's a pity Arcum has to sacrifice creatures, because otherwise these guys would be perfect. Alas, they are not. Great on Bosh, not so much here.
  • Liquimetal Coating: With this in play Arcum can force any non-shrouded/hexproof creature on the board to be sacrificed, which is a pretty frightening ability. Not sure it's worthy of a slot, however.
  • Mimic Vat: Sacrificing a creature, only to slip it under a Mimic Vat, is just the type of play we want to make, as it provides future gas for Arcum Daggson with zero downside.
  • Myr Welder: It's an interesting and unique ability that also helps us shut down opposing Arcum decks and Sharuum decks. More likely to be a sideboard card, for those that run them.
  • Phyrexian Revoker: In a format where cards are run in the multiples, Phyrexian Revoker is gas. However in a singleton format, much like Meddling Mage, he (she? has anyone asked the Revoker its gender?) loses a lot of power.
  • Precursor Golem: Three dudes for Arcum to sacrifice for the price of one seems... unfair? Unfortunately he's one of these high-risk / high-reward type spells I can't seem to want to play. I just want high reward.
  • Spellskite: I can really get into Spellskite in a prison deck, even though the number of combat tricks and other spells it could get in the way of is limited. It does a nice job of protecting a General from spot removal and costs very little to get out there.
  • Sundial of the Infinite: Dagsum runs Tangle Wire and Smokestack in deck, so Sundial is not completely out of the question.
  • Swiftfoot Boots: We really want Arcum both protect and tapping as early and possible and these little boots certainly help us out. Highly considered, but space is tight and we already have Lightning Greaves.
  • Thopter Assembly: Now here's a lot of Arcum fodder I can get behind. A very real win condition and permanent making machine. A worthy addition to the build.
  • Kuldotha Forgemaster: A second tutor effect in the deck is worthwhile, especially as the Forgemaster can fetch out creatures.
  • Torpor Orb: Torpor Orb is probably a worthwhile addition to the deck, largely because we don't run too many "enters the battlefield" effects.
  • Steel Hellkite: I've included this because it allows blue to remove various difficult permanents it might otherwise had problems dealing with.
  • Hex Parasite: The perfect card for Smokestack builds as it has a very unfair interaction with it. Depending on how your friends play, they might not let you use a card with black phyrexian costs in its activated ability in a mono-coloured deck, so check with your friends first.

Old Hats

  • Icy Manipulator: With the interaction with Winter Orb dead, Icy Manipulator is good, but not great. We're already running the much cheaper Voltaic Key, so we don't particular need this any more.
  • Mind's Desire: The original list I posted included Mind's Desire, but it's on the banned list, so it's going to have to come out.
  • Ornithopter: We have Memnite, and once we start chaining together tutors cards like this become worthless, so I think having only one in the deck is just fine.
  • Time Spiral: We're already running Timetwister, so the heavier mana Time Spiral can come out. The land untapping ability is nice, but not crucial.
  • Contagion Engine: We'll keep in Contagion Clasp but leave out the engine, largely because the deck has very little counter interaction. Tangle Wire and Smokestack are the two most important, but by the time we get the Engine fired up, we're probably already winning. Time might prove me wrong on this one.
  • Silver Myr: We have better ramp than this, and he's so sensitive to removal, that he can go.

New List
Here's a list. Sundial of the Infinite it tempting, but I'd more cards that work well around it to want to play it (eg. Hive Mind/Pact of Negation combo).

Arcum Dagsson

Jhoira of the Ghitu
Jhoira of the Ghitu has a number of new bombs to power out fast, including some of the most ridiculous creatures to see play (such as Jin-Gitaxias, Core Auger). As long as giant creatures that do unfair things are being printed, Jhoira will keep on improving.
New Toys

  • Jin-Gitaxias, Core Auger: One of the most over-the-top creatures ever printed, Jin-Gitaxias is the lovechild of Timetwister and Mind Twist. Getting this out fast means winning, full stop. And that's what Jhoira is best at.
  • Urabrask the Hidden: I kinda like the big lunk in a Jhoira deck, especially hardcast the turn before cards start to come out of suspend. Yes, your cards already have haste, but locking down an opponent's board so your cards can hit is equally important.
  • Blightsteel Colossus: Other than Eldrazi, this is the go-to aggro card for Jhoira. Few cards can deal with it and it can bring the pain very, very fast.
  • Deceiver Exarch: Many blue-red decks like to run the Pestermite/Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker/Splinter Twin combo. This is another piece of the same puzzle, thereby providing even more consistency to a powerful deck.
  • Avatar of Slaughter: It's interesting in multiplayer commander, but I'm not a big fan of effects that are as bad for your as they are for your opponents. I'm afraid I'll be giving it a skip.
  • Chancellor of the Forge: A good end-game card for any token strategy, he just doesn't quite fit the bill for Jhoira.
  • Chancellor of the Spires: I would never, ever, ever use its ability to mill your opponent, because in Commander that's basically giving them free cards. However the enter-the-battlefield effect is pretty sweet, especially when hitting an opponent's Sunder, Time Stretch or Blatant Thievery.
  • Furyborn Hellkite: If we could rely on getting damage through early, we'd be happy playing this. Unfortunately we can't, so the Furborn Hellkite gets a miss.
  • Karn Liberated: Dropping a quick Karn seems like a fine way to end (or restart) a game. Also fits neatly with Jhoira's theme of Exiling cards for effect, if you're into that kind of Vorthosing.
  • Phyrexian Ingester: A second Duplicant is never a problem,
  • Sphinx of Uthuun: Wow, now this is a card Jhoira can get behind. Drop into play, draw 3 or more cards? Fantastic. Quite an efficient beater as well.
  • Homeward Path: The last thing Jhoira needs is to have her fast fat stolen away, and Homeward path is an excellent card to ensure that doesn't happen.
  • Nin, the Pain Artist: An interesting General, included here simply because of the colour combination. Unfortunately she doesn't work all that well with Jhoira, but certainly something to keep in mind.
  • Chaos Warp: This is definitely a card we want to play as we can generally get something of high value when targeting ourselves, or use as instant removal in a pinch.
  • Quicksilver Amulet: As we're playing so many high-mana creature cards, having a another way to power them out fast is extremely useful.

Old Hats

  • Mindwrack Liege: Not as fast as Jhoira herself, even if Jhoira's been killed once already, I think this can be dropped.
  • Deep-Sea Kraken: It's a little slow unless playing multiplayer, and as we're tuning for 1v1 play, we can drop it like a dead dog.
  • Brand: Overtaken by the re-usable Homeward Path.
  • Smoke: It's a nice effect but I think it can go.
  • Akroma, Angel of Fury: She's been taken over by other fatties, and as the only Morph in the deck people will see it coming a mile away. Out.

Here's an updated list. All those high-mana cards make me plotz.
New List

Jhoira of the Ghitu

Join us tomorrow for Part 2!

6 thoughts on “Competitive Commander Archetypes: Update Part I

  1. No mentioning of Myr Turbine for Arcum?
    I wouldn't cut Sliver Myr either.
    And I don't get the comparison between Icy Manipulator and Voltaic Key, since they are 2 different effects.

  2. what to cut from Zur with just three basic lands?! i guess land tax, man!! 34 lands are way less than enough (37'd be perfect, but i guess 35 is the minimum).. by the way, i'm not limiting at that, i'd remove: land tax, mox opal (17 arts is not enough for it), fellwar stone (don't you think is too randomic for competitive play?), mystic remora (expensive and not as good as standstill) and daybreak coronet and i'd probably play: an additional land (probably a tolaria west or a reliquiary tower), weathered wayfarer (great tutor here), a couple signets (at least you know the mana you get from them), standstill and an orim's chant instead of an exclude/dismiss (that seem to me way too slow to me).. my two cents..

Join the conversation

Want Prices?

Browse thousands of prices with the first and most comprehensive MTG Finance tool around.

Trader Tools lists both buylist and retail prices for every MTG card, going back a decade.