Adding a Personal Touch to Commander Decks

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.

Last weekend something amazing happened: my son and I met up with a new friend and his brother, and the four of us enjoyed a couple of games of Commander! Not only that, but we also seemed to strike the perfect balance across our four decks in terms of power level—not one of our decks ran away with the game. It was beautiful, and I hope to meet up again soon to play some more.

This is important to me because I enjoy playing the format only when I can sleeve up some older, oddball cards for the kicks without getting run over in early turns. Some competitive Commander players tend to do this, but I was fortunate in that my friends were patient and played for fun as well.

Which oddball cards am I referring to? I thought you’d never ask! I currently have three Commander decks built, and this week I’ll share a few fun, lesser-known pet cards I include in them in order to spice up my games without doubling down on power level. Who knows? You may find something quirky enough to try yourself!

Deck 1: Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir (mono blue)
Deck 2: Judith, the Scourge Diva (black-red)
Deck 3: Saheeli, the Gifted (blue red precon with some modifications)

Pet Commander Cards – Teferi

When I first discovered Commander, sometime around 2008, it was still referred to as Elder Dragon Highlander (EDH). My first build was a goofy one that championed Johan as general—it was more for the sake of having a Commander deck built than anything I took all that seriously.

The second deck I built was a mono-red deck that I didn’t really enjoy playing. It has since been taken apart, leaving my third Commander deck ever, Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, as my oldest intact deck.

One-colored decks can lose their luster and replay value at times because they tend to be fairly one-dimensional. In order to keep things interesting, I’ve decided to keep some quirky cards sprinkled throughout the deck to create interesting (or, at least bizarre) in-game situations.

On top of the list is one of my favorites, Psychic Battle. Have you ever seen this card in play before? Before there was a battle card type, there was the OG battle! Personally, I think it’s criminally underplayed.

If you really wanted to exploit this card to the fullest, you could play cards like Soothsaying to manipulate the top of your library at instant speed. If you just want to insert a random mini-game into your Commander games, though, I wouldn’t bother. Just slam the card on the table and enjoy reminding your friends repeatedly about the card’s trigger. You’d be surprised how many times something is targeted in a single game!

While I’m on the theme of enchantments, I’ll throw in Precognition, Sunken Hope, and Adaptive Shimmerer as honorable mentions—all three are in my deck. Precognition gives you some control over what your opponents draw, Sunken Hope creates some interesting interactions with creatures that have "enters the battlefield" (ETB) effects, and Adaptive Shimmerer can really slow down one- or two-colored decks. It's also on the Reserved List and is worth a little bit as a result.

None of them help you much with winning, mind you, but I smile each time I cast them.

Shifting gears, I have two fun artifacts worth considering: Portcullis and Booby Trap. I include Portcullis in multiple Commander decks, and I still think it’s criminally underplayed. In multiplayer games especially, the card creates an interesting tension as players debate destroying the gate or leaving it there to earn more time stabilizing their game plan.

Booby Trap has never been a particularly good card, but it’s a card I remember trying to break in my childhood. Including it is a nod to that memory, but it also combos very well with Precognition!

Legerdemain is another worthwhile inclusion that lets you interfere with opponents’ game plans. Lastly, if you want a way of dealing with other players’ generals without obnoxiously countering them over and over again, you could try playing Ixidron, another one of my favorites.

I laugh each time my opponents inevitably ask, “How do I flip them back over?” I will answer sarcastically, “You pay their morph cost.” Until then, enjoy those 2/2 creatures!

Pet Commander Cards – Judith

This is my most recently built deck, and it’s the first and only deck I’ve ever built with a unified, synergistic strategy in mind. This is a sacrifice-themed deck, modeled after my favorite deck to play in Explorer on Arena. Witch's Oven, A-Cauldron Familiar, and Mayhem Devil all on the battlefield at once creates my “happy place”.

Because it’s more finely tuned, I don’t have as many pet cards within. Rest assured, however, that the couple I do have in the deck are really strange!

First, I’ll mention one of the strangest enchant worlds I’ve ever seen (and arguably one of the strangest accompanying arts to boot): Elkin Lair.

Have you ever seen this card before? It’s a red enchant world from Visions, and believe it or not, it is on the Reserved List! That’s right. We’ll never see this card reprinted again. A real tragedy.

I like this card because it forces action. Players have to play a random card from their hand each turn, or else that card is discarded. The card is particularly adept at neutralizing counterspells, and I always find its effect offbeat and interesting.

The other pet card I play in this deck is the sorcery Illicit Auction.

This card has exactly two printings: Mirage and Sixth Edition; it remains obscure and underappreciated. In a one-on-one match, I’m less excited about the card. Creating a bidding war amongst a pod of four players, however, can make for a fun subgame.

Pet Commander Cards – Saheeli

I acquired the Exquisite Invention Commander deck from a friend last year and decided to make it my third deck. As built, the list didn’t have any personal touches—this is one of my issues with preconstructed Commander decks. Without throwing in some quirky cards, they just don’t sufficiently reflect me as a player.

To save a few bucks, I ended up selling the most expensive cards from this precon and replaced them with less powerful, but (in my opinion) more interesting cards.

Right off the bat, I added Portcullis—it remains one of my favorites. After that, I went through my anemic trade binder and pulled out red and blue cards that looked at least remotely interesting.

For example, Jhoira, Ageless Innovator seems playable in a deck themed around artifacts, so why not give it a shot? I also had a copy of Chaos Dragon sitting in my binder, seeing no play whatsoever. The requirement to attack combined with the d20 roll to identify who can be attacked strikes a chord with my style. It’s akin to another mini-subgame dynamic within a broader match of Commander.

I opened a copy of Fire // Ice recently from a pack of Modern Horizons 2. Rather than wallow in frustration for opening a bulk rare in my $6 booster pack, I decided to make use of the card—what better place than a blue-red Commander deck? The same goes for Kairi, the Swirling Sky. I opened this mythic rare from a pack of Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty and decided to give it a shuffle in the deck. It’s basically a bulk mythic, so I might as well try playing it!

Last, but not least, I have one throwback card from when I was a casual player through and through. I remember reading about this card back in 2007 and getting really excited about it. My two closest friends (at the time) and I each cracked open a booster box of Planar Chaos the weekend the set came out, and when we each opened our copy of this card we considered it a win!

The card I refer to is none other than Torchling.

It turned out this card was not in the same galaxy as its predecessor, Morphling, but that didn’t matter to us. The throwback of the card, the familiar artwork, and the iconic nature of the card all contributed to what we loved so much about Planar Chaos.

For the past few years, the card had been sitting in my trade binder—no one wants the card, it has no real value anymore, and it’s not good enough to see competitive play. I’m excited to give it a home again.

Wrapping It Up

If your number one goal is to win a game of Commander when you play, we probably won’t be evenly matched. My decks do things, and they can win, but they aren’t optimized to do so. Instead, I love to leverage Commander as the format that allows me to play quirky, off-the-beaten-path cards that resonate with me as a player. These usually aren’t great cards, but they're the ones I have the most fun playing with.

In all honesty, this is what attracted me to Magic as a game over 25 years ago. The fact that each player can find the style of gameplay that mirrors their personality most, and then build decks tailored to experience that style of gameplay, is one of the best characteristics of this game. It’s what got me excited about playing Magic back in 1997, and it is what continues to excite me about the Commander format in 2023.

Many Commander players take things to the next level and play a finely tuned deck geared to win quickly and definitively. Fortunately, this doesn’t define every Commander player, and I’m blessed to have found a new friend who is willing to play games for fun’s sake. Hopefully, we can battle again soon, because this could inspire me to build new quirky decks, giving me a reason to remain engaged in this hobby for years to come.

Avatar photo

Sigmund Ausfresser

Sigmund first started playing Magic when Visions was the newest set, back in 1997. Things were simpler back then. After playing casual Magic for about ten years, he tried his hand at competitive play. It took about two years before Sigmund starting taking down drafts. Since then, he moved his focus towards Legacy and MTG finance. Now that he's married and works full-time, Sigmund enjoys the game by reading up on trends and using this knowledge in buying/selling cards.

View More By Sigmund Ausfresser

Posted in Casual, Commander, FinanceTagged , , , , , , , , ,

Have you joined the Quiet Speculation Discord?

If you haven't, you're leaving value on the table! Join our community of experts, enthusiasts, entertainers, and educators and enjoy exclusive podcasts, questions asked and answered, trades, sales, and everything else Discord has to offer.

Want to create content with Quiet Speculation?

All you need to succeed is a passion for Magic: The Gathering, and the ability to write coherently. Share your knowledge of MTG and how you leverage it to win games, get value from your cards – or even turn a profit.

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.

Quiet Speculation