The universe aligned to bring you this article on the 13th of April, a special day for more than one reason. I have always been fascinated by 13 as a number and how it is associated with crummy luck, something that as a Magic player I am all too familiar with. So I set out to build a Commander deck with all number 13s and leave the rest to chance.
The result? A challenging deck to build, acquire, and play that offered a unique experience not only come game time, but also during construction. Top-down deckbuilding in this way can be fun, rewarding, and illuminating. Let's dive into my process and the payoffs I discovered!
How Does This Work?
The wonderful people over at Scryfall have got an amazing tool to help us with this bad luck build. Imagine having to comb through set after set looking for that 13th card; it would take forever! Luckily, with just a couple of pieces of syntax in "number:13 t:legend," we can quickly find all the legendary permanents that are card number 13 in their respective expansions. Here are my top choices for a commander.
Could we even do a mono-colored commander for this deck? Searching with only "number:13" yields a scant 285 total choices, and that's in all five colors. By adding "id:w,u,r," we learn that there are 239 white, blue or red color identity cards to choose from, or just over 80% of all the results. Sorry, green and black! Optimus Prime, Hero // Optimus Prime, Autobot Leader is our lucky winner (and unlucky commander).
Next, there is a handy sorting button for people pressed for time or those lacking inspiration. Why sort by name, or price, when you can sort by EDHREC Rank. Taking a quick look shows me that I won't want for power. Yes, my choices for infinite combos are pretty limited, but there is decent removal in Farewell, Disenchant, Crush Contraband and Angel of Condemnation, along with a bunch of other perfectly usable cards. But what about spicy cards? What about thematic cards? There's more here than I could ever hope for!
On a purely thematic level, I'd be a fool not to include Death or Glory and Misfortune's Gain. A lot of the removal and interaction of the deck is combat-based, and I have a great selection of cards from many different sets, including Grey Knight Paragon straight from the 40k universe. I'm excited to give Mirror Match a try, as it seems like a crazy powerful card even if it's so much mana.
Also, I included Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth just because I can. As it is a colorless land with no color identity, I can safely add it to the deck even though there is no current usage for it. It just seemed like the right thing to do! It is a 13, after all, and giving players black mana can create diplomacy opportunities in rare cases.
I leave Gathering Throng for last because it's a potentially deck-defining card with a Rule 0 adjustment. In the future, I might consider playing exactly 13 copies of the Throng if the deck does not have enough of a distinct identity; however, that would be a large change, and necessitate a lot of rebuilding. Still, it's an idea for the future.
Pricy Printings... How Unlucky
Not just any Divert can go into the deck. Nope, to get that "13," I have to buy the special Amonkhet Invocation printing. Luckily, it's one of the lowest-priced cards of that type, but still not a common card to come by at all.
Elspeth, Knight-Errant can go in, but only the 2014 Modern Event Deck printing. It's budget-breaking but the Kaladesh Invocation of Hangarback Walker is also a choice down the road. I own plenty of copies of Land Tax, including an original Legends print, but not the Renaissance version I will need to acquire.
Making choices and searching out very specific cards is a mini-game all its own, and offers something to look forward to when buying collections and looking for deals.
Breaking the Rules
This is a basic Mountain that happens to be number 13 in the set. Do I mind paying upwards of $20 for a single basic land? I've done sillier things. However, my strict options are limited. What are we to do? Cheat, but only a little. Commander 2011 has a basic Mountain numbered 313 if I want to save a little money.
Unstable basic Islands will set me back a few dollars, but at least it's a really cool land, I already own several, and it is #213, hardly breaking theme!
Two down, but what about our most important basic? Plains is another story entirely, but we can use the same workaround.
While it's not perfect, 130 is still 13 with a zero after it, which is how many games I expect to win with this deck. I found a set of Plains, Mountain, and Island all with set number 132 - then went back and checked other numbers. So I can either use the same number for each land or make a pattern like 131, 132, 133. Options!
Being forced to build under constraints has sparked even more possibilities not only for this deck, but future ones as well, and just as an exercise this has already been vastly worth it. Not only do I have more options for my budget, but also more avenues to build in sub-themes and unique deck building constraints as well.
Turning It Up to 13
Here is where we come full circle. I strongly predict that serialized cards will, eventually, start to creep back up in price for exactly this reason. There is no end to the potential of some crazy numeric themes, and serialized cards open up worlds of possibilities. Given a few super-powerful serialized cards, I can make the deck as strong as I want... for a steep price.
Come On, Wizards...
Full stop: somehow this card is not set number 13.
Wizards of the Coast has continued to manufacture poor quality product, pre-damaged cards, pringled foils, poor writing, and, wrong art attribution. Every month, there's one mistake after another. On top of these repeated failures, they still make absolutely amateur level mistakes when designing cards! To not make this card set number 13? Come on. You can do better, Wizards.
Can I include this card in my deck? I could, but I think it makes more sense to deliberately leave it out as proof the game is going in too many directions, and continues to experience wild quality control issues on multiple levels both big and small. Remember the double downgrade to Hasbro stock? Well, now they are feeling their own lack of quality control and acquiring a new CFO. What did this CFO do for Harley-Davidson? Simplify the product by making fewer product offerings, exactly what Magic needs to do to avoid these continued mistakes.
The Deck List as it Stands
What does the deck do? Well, it establishes board presence with a bevy of expensive permanents and also has a lot of endurance. So many cards grab permanents from the graveyard or flicker things back into play for enters-the-battlefield triggers. That's about half of the deck.
The other half? Lots and lots of removal. So we are either winning on board or it's time to reset the game with a wipe and then start getting permanents back with Death or Glory, Reya Dawnbringer, or Karmic Guide and Eldrazi Displacer.
I think it will hold its own in lower-powered games at the five or six mark. Admittedly, it will indeed rely on good luck to win games a lot of the time. However, I'll continue to be on the lookout for upgrades, and if serialized cards get cheap they'll go directly into the deck. Maybe, one day, even Sol Ring will have a 13 on it.
Maintaining decks like this one gives players like me a reason to look forward to new set releases and to scrutinize every possible angle to optimize a theme. Also, I am going to eventually build a deck where every card is in numerical sequence, and potentially a pi deck... that one is going to get complicated! In any case, I have a ton of new material to work with and will continue building, tinkering, and applying creative thinking to get the most out of build restrictions on every angle.
Do you have a number-based deck? Are you too enthusiastic about math? Which crazy deckbuilding challenges have you tried out? Let me know in the comments!