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CommandFests are back! After two years of shutdown due to the pandemic, nothing screams “returning to normalcy” than the return of one of the most popular Magic events ever created. Fun times will be had by all who attend, and I suspect these events will break records in attendance. It’ll truly be a boon for the paper side of Magic.
Of course, I don’t personally play much Commander. Sure, I have a couple decks, but everyone knows my heart lies in the collectibility of the older cards from Magic’s early days. Given a choice, I’d prefer playing a fun Old School or A/B 40 (i.e. Alpha / Beta decks with 40 cards) over Commander. Or more recently, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Limited on Arena, and I’ve absolutely loved the Tinkerer’s Cube.
But just because I don’t play much Commander doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it as a format. I do own three Commander decks, and I’ll occasionally dust them off to battle against either my son or an online friend. My modus operandi when playing Commander? It’s not winning, that’s for sure. It’s not even to accomplish some synergistic combination of cards.
Nope, instead my M.O. in Commander is to play a bunch of goofy throwback cards to try and make games a little more whimsical. This week I’ll share highlights from each of my decks in the hopes of inspiring others to jam a few more quirky cards in their decks.
Deck 1: Diaochan, Artful Beauty
I remember hearing a while back that mono red was the least popular Commander color or color combination. I’m not too surprised, given that playing only red cards can feel rather linear and boring at times. Unless, that is, you jam some wacky cards in the 99.
First off, I love Diaochan, Artful Beauty because of its throwback nature (going back to Portal: Three Kingdoms) and its multiplayer applications. I can tap her to destroy an opponent's creature, and then choose a different opponent to pick a new creature to also destroy. Politics will ensue.
In fact, I generally view this Commander deck as my multiplayer deck, mostly because of Diaochan and because the deck can’t survive a 1v1 dynamic—it’s far too slow and clunky.
So if this deck is too slow to win, and is about multiplayer shenanigans, I need to make sure I include some cards to spice up a game of Magic. Something like Thundermare, a rare from Weatherlight that taps all other creatures when it enters the battlefield. In a 1v1 game this gets in five damage at best. But if there’s a third player, then whoever goes next has an option to alpha strike an opponent of their choice!
Then to introduce some card selection, I include Teferi's Puzzle Box. Other players combine this card with effects that reward you when people draw cards. That’s too intense for me—I just like the idea of seeing most cards in my deck in a game.
One of my absolute favorite cards is Portcullis, which I include in any Commander deck I build. You could argue it falls on the “fun police” side of the line. But it’s a fragile artifact so it usually doesn’t last long. There are some game scenarios, however, where multiple players prefer keeping this card around—that’s when the politics get really interesting!
Another artifact I love casting is Sands of Time. Without reading the card, do you know what it does? I can barely keep track and I play the card! Basically, for each player’s untap instead of the usual process of untapping everything, each player untaps whatever was tapped and taps whatever was untapped. This was a lot more powerful back when mana burn was a thing, because now every player can just tap all their lands right before the start of their turn. But it does make creature attacking a bit awkward.
For more shenanigans, I also play Elkin Lair (gotta love Enchant Worlds) as a way of “forcing action” from each player. It’s also useful at disrupting reactionary spells such as Counterspells. Invasion Plans is also a fun way to disrupt a multiplayer game, effectively forcing all creatures to block and allowing the attacking player to choose how blockers are assigned. I like to alpha strike at an opponent with this card and then force all their creatures to block my 1/1, allowing all my dragons and the like to get through unhindered.
Lastly, I want to shout out two sorceries: one makes for a fun mini-game and one is a bit… less popular. The former is Illicit Auction, which allows players to bid life to take over any creature in play. This can create quite the political situation in a multiplayer game. The latter is Apocalypse. I know I know, this card is a hard reset to the game and many would deem that un-fun. But I need to remind you that this deck is slow and clunky—a hard reset could be the only way for me to live long enough to cast some of the aforementioned fun cards. It’s not as bad as, say, cycling Decree of Annihilation during combat when my opponent is attacking me for lethal…
Deck 2: Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
The other Commander deck I currently have built is mono blue. This deck can hold its own a little better in a less-than-competitive 1v1 game. It's a list I put a little more effort and thought into. However, there are still some limitations to the deck.
While mono blue has more tools for dealing with spells as they’re being cast, they do have a tough time dealing with threats on a permanent basis. Bouncing a card only gets so far, and if something slips past my counterspells (I only play a handful in the deck because they’re not as fun), then I really need to get creative.
Luckily, creativity is what attracts me in Commander and I’ve been resourceful in this regard. For example, Sunken Hope is an enchantment I like to play to force players to bounce a creature to their hand every turn. This is potent when combining with a card that has a come into play trigger.
If things really get out of hand, I fall back on either Evacuation or Whelming Wave to return all creatures back to their owners’ hands. I particularly like Evacuation for being an instant, and a throwback to Stronghold. If all else fails, one of my favorite ways of dealing with an intimidating board state is to summon Ixidron, which is probably one of my top five favorite creatures in Magic.
Usually when this creature from Time Spiral hits the battlefield, my opponent reads the card and then asks me, “How do I flip the creatures back over?” to which I respond nonchalantly, “Just pay their morph cost.” And if they don’t have one, then they’re stuck as face down 2/2’s! I may not be able to tuck commanders with Hinder anymore, but I can still turn them face down!
Like with my mono red deck, this deck has some fun enchantments as well. I like to use Precognition as the OG fateseal effect, allowing me to influence what my opponent will draw each turn. Then I add Psychic Battle to introduce randomness. If I had a way of controlling what’s on top of my deck, it would make for a spicy combo—unfortunately, I don’t really plan that thoroughly so it just makes for some randomness. Lastly, I include one of my all time favorite enchantments: Shimmer.
Have you ever faced this card before? It can be quite the nuisance! For good measure, I also include a copy of Political Trickery for land trading. I have been tempted to include Sorrow's Path in the deck so I can trade it to my opponent, and then use Twiddle effects to tap the land. As I wrote in my piece about oddities from Magic's past, Sorrow's Path is notorious for being practically pointless, but nothing is too clunky for my decks!
Deck 3 & Wrapping It Up
I did mention that I had three Commander decks, but I only went into detail on two above. Technically I have one other—a preconstructed deck I received as a gift from my daughter for Christmas. The deck is called “Eleven Empire” and it sports Lathril, Blade of the Elves as the general.
I must admit, these preconstructed Commander decks are well-oiled machines. By now, Wizards of the Coast knows what makes a Commander deck tick, and they make sure to include all important pieces in this elf-themed deck. After playing with it just a couple times, I could immediately sense its synergy—this deck would likely destroy my other two decks due to the consistency. But honestly, after winning a few games with it against my son, I quickly grew bored of the deck. Consistency is nice, but it also leads to games that feel very similar.
That’s why I stick to my own suboptimal creations. They may not win, but they include fun, swingy cards that make every game feel a little different.
Recently, I started thinking of modifying my mono red deck to include black, and maybe make it centralized around a sacrifice theme with Judith, the Scourge Diva at the helm. I play Rakdos Sacrifice in Historic (because I don’t have wild cards to build anything else) and the deck hasn’t gone too stale on me after a couple years. And I feel like I can temper its power level to make sure it still balances fun and whimsy against competitiveness, finding the balance I find most enjoyable in a game.
I need a new project, too. Something to motivate me to buy, sell, and trade cards to maintain my interest in the game. We’ll see if I get around to it. Maybe I can even prioritize building the deck so I have something worth playing at CommandFest in Indianapolis this July. It’s not likely I’ll be able to make it, but stranger things have happened.