Oh no, not another article about playing casually, for fun! Please, spare us! Trust me, it's not exactly that kind of article. No, this is completely different. Now, to rope you in...
I want to tell a short story about a Dungeons and Dragons group I ran many years. The low-level adventurers had to go find some goblins and mercilessly butcher them, as is fairly commonplace. However, the party's attempt to do so was thwarted by the most unlikely of adversaries. They were all killed by a rope. A magical, enchanted, evil rope? No, a completely mundane, ordinary-in-every-way rope, along with a horrendous amount of bad luck and several rolls of "natural 1."
Ever since that day, I have joked about making a Commander deck with a rope win-con, but there really was not much to work with. Of course, this was just a meme until many years later.
Yes, this might be a sign that Magic has jumped the shark. After many years of nothing, in just a one-year span, they released not one but two rope cards. Speaking of Sharks, you might not believe me, but many years ago we joked about them one day printing a "sky shark" card because of the flavor text on Fighting Drake. Then they printed Shabraz, the Skyshark, who somehow is not a Drake. Flavor fail, but given enough time, they will print anything!
I digress. With twice as much material to work with, I figured it was time to build theRopes. This is the step where focusing the deck to do a thing can be the most difficult part.
Too Many Cooks
Combo deck or aggro? How much value is too much? Which Commander? Luckily, I've built a lot of decks, and have a lot of tricks up my sleeve to make this easier. Obviously, I could lean into the dungeon mechanic of Fifty Feet of Rope to win. However, I was seeing a lot of blue and white cards that just did not have any other appreciable synergy. First and foremost, I do want to win with this deck, because that is the reason it's being built. So while the ropes themselves are very sub-optimal, the rest of the deck is not going to be. What can turn Fifty Feet of Rope into a win?
With a pile of artifact search and copying in blue, it would be fairly trivial to make a bunch of copies of a rope. Certainly Mechanized Production is not an uncommon win-con. Alright, perfect, we have a primary way to win. However, few plans survive contact with a Commander table. What about a back-up plan?
Here's where the choice of commander will define the deck. Luckily, I had both the Saheeli, the Gifted and Mishra, Eminent One pre-cons sitting around, and gee, they had a pile of cards I could run. Furthermore, Mishra turning a rope into an attacking 4/4 with haste opened up another door. Between any of the Saheelis, Polymorphous Rush, Cyberdrive Awakener, Masterful Replication, and Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer, we could make a lot of attacking ropes in any given turn.
With copy cards, mana rocks, tutors, and win-cons all added, I still had plenty of space. You know what that means.
High-Powered Cards, Low-Powered Deck
The biggest reason Dockside Extortionist is crazy powerful is the absurd ramp. It's common to go from two mana to six, seven, or eight on turn two! That can have game-ending consequences. Furthermore, copying Dockside can easily go infinite. But here, because of the deck's plan, I am going to turn my Treasure into ropes.
A bunch of Treasure sitting around for several turns while I search up combo pieces is not strong at all. While it is true that Mechanized Production on Treasure could potentially end games quicker, I'm simply never going to do that because the purpose of this deck is to rope people. That leads me to another extremely powerful and potentially unfair card.
This card is pretty busted. Most Commander decks run a large number of artifacts so the stax element of Karn, the Great Creator is fairly powerful. However, I need a way to recover ropes from exile, particularly Frayling Line which self-exiles. A repeatable board wipe is definitely an alternate way to win by, effectively, tying up the table.
I'm alright with Karn's inclusion because it's on point for maximizing the effect of my cards and not just shutting down other players. Furthermore, you can just pay two mana to keep Fraying Rope going, so it does encourage table interaction, much like Jinxed Choker (a card I had recently seen in play that greatly "encouraged" interaction).
0% of Decks Run These Cards
According to EDREC, incredibly few decks are running any rope card. It's clear that they are bad. However, the exercise of building a deck around particular cards is valuable. It got me thinking about maximizing my thematic interactions, a back up plan, and, still features a straightforward win-con. Simultaneously, it gave me real-world value by finding a use for decks I had lying around.
Storm Crow can be a win-con in strong decks and has been talked about a lot over the years. The idea behind the bird is that a sufficiently powerful deck can win with just about anything. So if at first I cannot win with a deck built to utilize the ropes, I'll do it the other way. Namely, taking a cEDH deck and then jamming the ropes and win-cons into that shell. Either way I've got an interesting deck to bring with me come Commander game night.
This deck is also part of my 2023 resolutions to sleeve up more powerful decks and also to bring "playable, not perfect" decks each week. Utilizing many cards from a couple of pre-cons generates significant time savings.
But How Bad Is It?
I can't imagine Ropes will be anywhere near the bottom of the barrel of Commander decks I have ever tried. In fact, it has more total win-cons and more powerful ones than a lot of the decks I made throughout 2022. The objective would be to get it to be the highest seven or eight in terms of power level that it could achieve. It would be music to my ears if players told me that the Ropes deck is too competitive for the table.
If you want to see a truly "bad" deck, let me direct you to my take on Jedit Ojanen, which utilized the lowest-community-rated cards on Gatherer. It's absolutely terrible, with every effort made to be completely sub-optimal, but playable at every point. My opponent even manages to get Stuffy Doll with Pariah's Shield attached. Here, I'm not trying to optimize for bad; I'm most certainly trying to take these bad cards, but optimize for winning, as many Commander decks try to do. I think my results will far exceed my expectations, but you never know, maybe Ropes just won't cut it. And you thought that was going to be a rope pun? I'm a frayed knot!
Have you ever tried building around a card you knew to be terrible? Or maybe just a personal favorite that left something to be desired on the raw power front? What were your motivations, and how did things work out for you? I'd love to hear your experiences in the comments.