The Commander Clash Decks to Choose If You Want to Win

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Wizards has announced a good idea: pitting players against each other using recent sealed Commander pre-cons. There are 11 decks in total to choose from, and they all have a chance. But which decks, if any, have a way better chance? Since the announcement, I've been playing sealed pods on SpellTable, and I believe there are two or three top contenders. Let's find out why they are the strongest options if you are seeking the win.

But First: A Comment and Some Ground Rules

Why are the starter decks not allowed for this event? In another baffling move, Wizards just keeps doing patently unreasonable things. How is it not a slam-dunk to allow your new players to participate in an event centered around sealed decks?

Yes, I understand that this is an in-world, story driven event. Alright, well, here's what Wizards says about that story: "The Phyrexians left devastation in their wake and permanently altered the Multiverse. The planes are riddled with strange, new Omenpaths—unpredictable gateways that provoke chaos and clashes between legendary characters."

Furthermore, they also say: "This event is the perfect fit for your Commander community and for players new to the format. Commander Decks are designed to play right out of the box, giving you the unique opportunity to introduce new players to Commander."

So at this event which spans the multiverse, where legendary characters from all over are clashing, which is supposedly for new players, the new-player-friendly starter decks are not allowed? These decks came out after the Dominaria United decks and at the same time as the Brothers' War decks. If I were an event organizer, I would allow players to use the starter decks if they wanted.

Additionally, five of the decks have cards that say "When you do Planechase stuff…." There is no indication that Planechase is part of this event. While rules are meant to be house-ruled, I think it's a safe assumption that there will be no Planechase element. I think it would be more fun to mix in Planechase but that would reward the newest decks with one better card. Overpowered? Probably not. Fun? Likely. But on a pure power level basis, the decks must be rated as standing on their own without outside help.

The Single Most Important Feature

It's board wipes! Virtually every one of these decks have decent engines that will create a massive amount of value. However, there are multiple wipes in every single deck. Building a large board state is not enough to seal the deal. It is extremely likely you must prevent, survive, or recover from one or more wipes to win a pod.

Most of the decks have lackluster protection and poor post wipe recovery. Here is a short count of wipes or anti-wipe tech in each deck. For any boarderline cards, for example, destroy all creatures that cost two mana or less, I would consider that more of a "plus," or card that generates some advantage. I only count cards that will kill 99% of creatures in play as a wipe.

Protection means giving your creatures indestructible or phasing or countering the wipe in question, and recovery means that after a complete wipe, you can rapidly achieve a new board state with just one card. There are precious few counters in the available decks, so virtually every spell is guaranteed to resolve. It's no wonder, then, that the decks with the highest-impact spells rate admirably.

Rebellion Rising: Four wipes, three protection, four plus recovery = 11+

Painbow: Five plus wipes, two recovery = 7+

Tinker Time: Two plus wipes, one protection, two plus recovery = 5+

Urza's Iron Alliance: Three plus wipes, one protection = 4+

Growing Threat: Three plus wipes, one protection = 4+

Cavalry Charge: Two plus wipes, one protection, one recovery = 4+

Divine Convocation: Two plus wipes, one recovery, one plus protection = 4+

Corrupting Influence: Three plus wipes = 3+

Legends Legacy: Two wipes, one protection = 3

Mishra's Burnished Banner: Two wipes = 2

Call For Backup: Zero plus wipe, one plus protection = 1+

There you have it: a breakdown and scoring of what I believe to be the single largest factor in determining these game outcomes. This shows that most of the decks are on the same, rough playing field, but there are also two very clear standouts.

Of course, board wipes are not the only thing that matters; we must also talk about diplomacy and game theory.

Avoiding a Three Versus One

Drawing table aggression is a huge mistake, especially when we're talking about pre-constructed decks. These decks have minimal tutors but all have some removal. You do not want that removal pointed at your stuff because getting set back even a little will severely impact your chances to win.

Strategically, this means that a couple of the decks like Corrupting Influence and Call For Backup are at risk of being on the receiving end of the entire table. Why? Because of how they work.

Corrupting Influence is a special case. Spreading poison around the table is what your deck wants to do, and proliferating everyone is massive value. But when you poison three players, making three enemies becomes not worth it. The smarter play is to make friends with one player and proliferate their +1/+1 counters.

Or maybe there is another Corrupting Influence deck at the table? This instantly makes the game an unofficial 2v2, which is a strategy. Of course, once we start talking about teaming up in FFA, it's a different conversation entirely. All decks must be judged on their own, and for that reason Corrupting Influence is at a relative disadvantage.

Call For Backup is similarly not a bad deck. You can quite easily build up a huge damage, double striker that cannot be blocked. This is scary and should trigger threat recognition pretty easily. Plus, you have many attack triggers, so you must attack each turn to maximize value.

The problem here is obvious: you are going to make enemies quickly. At the same time you have little power in terms of wipes, recovery or protection. The deck is relatively all-in. Your best strategy is to single one player out, and kill them while convincing the other two players they should let it happen. It makes sense because they will have one less opponent to worry about.

Best case for them, though, is that both of you expend all your resources weakening each other while not stopping either of the other two players. In this case, you have two other players who were developing their game plan that you now have to kill. How do you do it? Unless they are vastly unlucky, this is an uphill battle I don't think the deck can win most of the time.

What Does Optimal Play Look Like?

It's likely to look a lot like sitting there building a board and appearing non-threatening until you assemble a game-ending advantage. In such an environment, decks with lots of board wipes and recovery mechanics tend to beat decks without. That is what puts both Painbow and Rebellion Rising ahead of the pack.

Painbow has plenty of turns where you cast a mana rock or a ramp spell like Cultivate. Non-threatening, yet advancing the board. Similarly, Rebellion can drop any of their enchants like Assemble the Legion and just sit there, casting their commander and potentially reanimating Otharri, Suns' Glory for only four mana no matter how many times it has died.

Once the table has too much pressure, and a board wipe resolves, Painbow has several value mechanics from Maelstrom Nexus to Jared Carthalion which likely survive wipes and quickly reestablishes a considerable board presence. Furthermore, the deck uses wipes like Iridian Maelstrom, Duneblast, and Time Wipe, which are inherently one-sided.

Rebellion on the other hand has two free anti-wipe spells in Clever Concealment and Flawless Maneuver. On top of that, Roar of Resistance grants haste to tokens, and Rebellion can make a large amount of them at instant speed, which can be more than enough to kill the shields are down.

So Which Deck Is Better?

It's a cliché answer, but it is going to come down to player preference. Let me explain that a little more, though: whichever deck you are more comfortable piloting will trump a deck that might be a little bit stronger.

Rebellion has a lot of extended lines where you can end of turn make a pile of tokens and threaten killing someone while keeping up two free protection spells. The deck definitely has the capability to go from zero to instantly eliminating two players with the right cards like Hexplate Wallbreaker to generate an extra attack step or Adriana, Captain of the Guard giving all your creatures +3/+3. However, this requires planning and excellent play sequencing.

Painbow, on the other hand, generates pure value, huge monsters with great abilities, tons of wipes, and enough modal spells to have the right removal for any situation.

There are two reasons I think Rebellion looks significantly stronger, though. Painbow does not run Sol Ring, and Rebellion does. Because of the heavy commitment to mana symbols, it's not a mistake in deck construction; the colorless mana is a lot less valuable for a five-color deck. Rather, since Painbow has a lot of enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands and Rebellion runs so many two- and three- drops I think it's more consistent and potentially explosive deck.

Of course, that all begs the question of what looks more threatening: playing a tapped land or adding another 2/2 to the table. In either case, skillful play, good timing, diplomacy, and pure luck will all have at least as much of an impact as what deck you run. Most of the decks have a decent shot; I just believe these two are significantly ahead of the curve and a couple of decks are way behind.

Even at this moment, I'm still not sure which deck I'm going to run, but it is definitely an A or B situation, so I will see you there!

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