Hey yo. Thanks for coming back for another look at my musings on Commander. Last time I took you through some of the more entertaining combos in my Garza Zol deck. This time we’ll look at the whole deck, explain some of the choices and talk about how the deck plays. As always I am more than open to suggestions for improvement, but bear in mind that I’m stingy and won’t break the bank for something like Jace the Wallet Slayer. Without further ado, let’s jump in!
[card]Act of Treason[/card] – A hilarious target for Radiate in addition to being a fun way to annoy people who play with Omnath. I hate Omnath.
[card]Æther Adept[/card] – I think I may have cast this ONCE. Bouncing a critter is good in general terms but when I want to copy, steal or otherwise abuse creatures on the board, is bouncing them really that valuable? Wait, yes. Never mind.
[card]Æther Membrane[/card] – I love this card in the early game. The RR in the cost is a little annoying but the ability to bounce anything it blocks is essential when I’m trying to build up my mana base. It’s also a virtual Moat since people hate being Time Walked. Replaying your creature every other turn gets annoying in a hurry.
[card]Ancestral Vision[/card] – It draws you 3 cards for U…eventually. Nuff said.
[card]Armillary Sphere[/card] – Fixing and ramp. When your key combo costs 14 and one of your secondary costs 9, they’re kinda important.
[card]Assassinate[/card] – The best thing about Assassinate in Commander is that, unlike in 2-player, killing something doesn’t mean you got smacked once. You can watch some poor schmuck get hit with Kozilek and then blast it before you get hammered.
[card]Augury Owl[/card] – It’s just scry, nothing much to see here. Until you suit it up with a certain enchantment that is. Oh, and Rite of Replicating this is pretty funny.
[card]Avatar of Woe[/card] – Almost an auto-include in any black Commander deck. If you aren’t casting this for BB, you’re doing it wrong. Oh, and tap to kill almost everything seems pretty good.
[card]Blackcleave Cliffs[/card] – Land good. Mana good. Cast spells better.
[card]Bogardan Hellkite[/card] – Apart from being a big fat flyer that kills another big fat dude when it hits, it also has flash and fits the deck’s theme of underplayed, strong and expensive cards that people don’t expect. I should call it the Spanish Inquisition deck: the deck has surprise (flash), fear (on Avatar of Woe) and nice red uniforms.
[card]Brink of Disaster[/card] – Go on, tap it. I dare you. I don’t see this played very often but every time I’ve played it I’ve saved the board from something gross. Like Omnath. I hate Omnath.
[card]Call to Mind[/card] – Most of the time this retrieves Radiate after I Radiate something one of the other guys played. The best play I pulled with it was Act of Treason on Primeval Titan, Call to Mind, Act of Treason on Baloth Woodcrasher, and attack for a bunch.
[card]Cerebral Eruption[/card] – I included this card after playing it in Scars draft because it can be a complete wrecking ball. In Commander it’s even worse: hitting an Eldrazi, a Decree, a Storm Herd or anything along those lines is a one-man Wrath of God with a Fireball attachment. Seems good.
[card]Clutch of the Undercity[/card] – I spoke about this one last week because of the game-winning combo with Radiate. Having said that, I do not think it is a bad card on its own. If we agree that bounce is good, then bounce with a slap in the face is even better.
[card]Consuming Vapors[/card] – Auto-include. Kills a pair of dudes and gains you some life in the process, with the advantage of being able to force a sacrifice from two different players if you want to.
[card]Corrupt[/card] – Why is this in a deck with a mere (or should that be mire?) 10 swamps? Well, because there’s always some assbasket playing Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. Wait, what? It’s in this deck too? Oh, right. Umm…Radiate for the win?
[card]Counsel of the Soratami[/card] – Let’s draw 2 cards! Card draw is generally seen as inoffensive on cards like this. It’s when you play stuff like Mind’s Eye that you draw a big bull’s eye on your head. Like Colin Farrell in Daredevil, only without sucking. One-shot two-card draw good, 4 cards each time around the table is far better and thus far less diplomatic.
[card]Crumbling Necropolis[/card] – These tri-lands really make the painlands from Ice Age and Tempest seem like shite, huh?
[card]Dark Temper[/card] – Such an underrated card. A lot of the permanents in the deck are black, which allows you to kill stuff more often than not. It has the added benefit of not being restricted to non-black creatures. This card is on the bubble and may end up being yanked.
[card]Darkslick Shores[/card] – I’m not sure yet if I prefer the M11 or the Scars duals. I’ve drawn both when I’d have preferred the other so it’s not really clear yet.
[card]Deep-Sea Kraken[/card] – Suspending this is generally a winning proposition IF you can defend yourself from the inevitable onslaught. A 6/6 unblockable that gets closer the more your opponents cast is a big neon sign saying “ATTACK HERE!” But that’s half the fun!
[card]Diabolic Tutor[/card] – Fetch Radiate! Fetch Rite of Replication! Fetch Urborg!
[card]Diminish[/card] – Mark my words: you will love this card in Commander. 1U to nullify any attacker (and make it trade with your Augury Owl) is awesome, basically blue creature kill.
It also makes Omnath die when he attacks for 98. I hate Omnath. Oh, and Radiate.
[card]Dimir Aqueduct[/card] – I love Karoo lands, especially against nonsense like Quicksilver Fountain. People who play that card need to be dropkicked in the junk.
[card]Dominating Licid[/card] – Pulled this in a random Tempest block draft and realized that it was MADE for my Spanish Inquisition deck (yeah, that name has totally caught on…). It steals stuff, it lets you give stuff back and steal different stuff at will and it’s underused. It does telegraph your plan a bit and it will die quickly, but that’s one less kill spell for your Echo Mage. ZOMG foreshadowing!
[card]Doom Blade[/card] – One of black’s best kill spells ever. It has the nonblack restriction but then most black kill spells do.
[card]Dread Return[/card] – Definitely on the bubble. There are so few creatures in my deck that I rarely have a good target for this. When Echo Mage hits play though, he needs to stay there. This helps.
[card]Dreadship Reef[/card] – Storage lands enable 14-mana ludicrous combos.
[card]Dreamstone Hedron[/card] – I don’t think I’ve ever used the card-draw ability on this. That tells me I need to get a Sol Ring.
[card]Echo Mage[/card] – One of my favourite cards in the set. Yes it can copy the same things that Radiate copies for slightly-less-awesome-but-still-fabulous fun, but he can also copy stuff like Exsanguinate, Reins of Power and Wild Evocation. Best play ever with Echo Mage? Copying Radiate. Twice.
[card]Echoing Truth[/card] – A weird choice in Commander, you say? Not really. Rhys the Redeemed, Thelon of Havenwood decks, kicked Rites of Replication…pretty much any token strategy rolls over to this. 1U to bounce isn’t bad anyway.
[card]Elder Mastery[/card] – How do you make a really scary Augury Owl? Make him Nicol Bolas, Augury Owl. Sure it’s pricy, but so is the whole deck. Having a random enchantment in here that makes any dude into a killer beast of doom is an enjoyable way to surprise everyone. Our chief weapon is surprise!
[card]Elixir of Immortality[/card] – Gimme back my bullets. Random Skynyrd references rule.
[card]Enslave[/card] – So if we’re stealing stuff, everyone will feel safe if I have no blue untapped right? I mean, all the theft stuff is blue isn’t it? Well there’s Evangelize but that’s white. BAM! Enslave mafakka! Then to add insult to injury you ping the owner for 1 life per turn. It’s like a bully stealing your lunch money, buying a baseball bat, beating you with it and then jabbing you in the ribs with it daily.
[card]Exsanguinate[/card] – If you’re in black you really need to be playing this in Commander. It’s not often that you’ll be able to cast it for the win (even with Gauntlet of Power) but it will cause a large life swing and those are always fun. Well, if you cause them they are.
[card]Foresee[/card] – Card draw + Scry = good. Duh.
[card]Garza Zol, Plague Queen[/card] – Oh Captain my Captain! This might not surprise you but I have never killed anyone with general damage from Garza. What she does do is come out and hit right away (our chief weapon is surpri…wait I used that one already), either drawing you a card or getting bigger. Win/win.
[card]Gather Specimens[/card] – I’ve only cast it twice, and both times it broke the game like a cheap chair at a PTQ. The first time was in response to an opposing Storm Herd with Coat of Arms in play. The second was in response to my own Living End. Decree of Justice would be another nice one, but unfortunately casting it in response to a massive Genesis Wave won’t help, as putting the creatures into play is voluntary on the Wave.
[card]Gauntlet of Power[/card] – You always set this to black. Why is that? Well when Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth hits you’ll be glad you did.
[card]Gemstone Mine[/card] – Might have to take this out if I can get a better multiland. I need more consistency with my manabase.
[card]Inkwell Leviathan[/card] – So good. Shroud on a big fat beast is good enough, but islandwalk AND trample? 9 for a 7/11 would be worth playing on its own! Careful though, the shroud means it can’t be targeted by Rite of Replication either.
[card]Island[/card] – Oooh basic land. How exciting.
[card]Khalni Gem[/card] – Despite it being tempo-neutral (it provides 2 mana but bounces two lands) I have found it to be very strong. For some reason I’m not running Halimar Depths (an oversight I can soon correct) but that would be the prime bounce choice.
[card]Last Gasp[/card] – I’ve never actually cast it, but it’s a very strong creature killer that takes out a lot of the more annoying generals.
[card]Lightning Bolt[/card] – R for 3 damage. Seems good. Also seems out of place in the deck, which can be a good thing. When people are reading your board trying to decide what you’re doing, having the odd surprise is a good thing.
[card]Living End[/card] – I COULD play Living Death I suppose, but the suspend works better in this deck with the Gather Specimens combo. I also find that with this suspended people try to off their own creatures before it resolves, which sometimes lets me slip in a few damage before turning the board upside down.
[card]Mimic Vat[/card] – It should be in all of your EDH decks, and if it isn’t then you really need to explore what you’re doing with your lives. Creatures die a lot in Commander, and when that happens you can gank the best one. 3 mana for a hasty Terastodon each turn might be a winning proposition.
[card]Mind Control[/card] – As Scorpion from Mortal Kombat once said…”C’mere!” Why play with counterspells when you can just steal the best creature on the board?
[card]Mountain[/card] – More basic land. Didn’t someone once write a song about standing with you on a mountain?
[card]Mystical Teachings[/card] – Cast it, get Clutch of the Undercity. Flash it back, get Radiate. For why you would want to do that, see my last article.
[card]Obelisk of Grixis[/card] – 3 mana for some mana ramp isn’t a bad deal by any means.
[card]Ovinize[/card] – You can turn any creature into a sheep. For 1U. Not a goat, not merely shrink it to a 1/1 version of itself…a sheep. A 0/1 sheep. I love this card, especially against
[card]Piranha Marsh[/card] – This is coming out as soon as I can draft a dual land from ME4. 1 life to one person is just not good in Commander.
[card]Ponder[/card] – Almost Preordain #2. Just a solid card that lets you dig into your deck…which seems like a plan, right?
[card]Pongify[/card] – OK so it’s not a sheep, but it’s an ape. It’s a 3/3 ape but you can still cast this on anything that is ruining your day: Omnath, Geth or even Sliver Overlord. Bonus points if playing this deck in real life and you make ape noises when casting this.
[card]Preordain[/card] – Ponder #2? I think that circular logic is making my teeth itch. This is good; we know it’s good, so let’s move on.
[card]Radiate[/card] – I don’t understand why this isn’t in every red Commander deck. I spoke at length about the combos this card enables in my last article, but it can also be used to copy things like Giant Growth, Swords to Plowshares, Ancestral Visions…it’s really very versatile and can do insane things to the game state. Next game you play, make note of how many spells are cast that would be nuts with Radiate. It’s like Doubling Season for spells.
[card]Rakdos Carnarium[/card] – Another Karoo land. See above.
[card]Rakdos Signet[/card] – I’m not sure about these Signets any more either, but I don’t think I can replace them with anything but more ramp.
[card]Reiterate[/card] – Fork with buyback is not as offensive as you might think. People don’t like you copying their ramp spells or card draw, but it doesn’t actually HURT them so most players ignore it. With that in mind, try to be smart about which kill/burn spells you copy. That really does draw attention, and not the good kind.
[card]Rise from the Grave[/card] – In Commander, creatures are everywhere. When you have multiple people at 40 life to beat down, creatures are the best way to get there and therefore they tend to get killed a lot. Almost everyone plays some sort of board sweeper to save themselves from a bad start. Rise from the Grave gives you the pick of the dead for a second shot at greatness.
[card]Rite of Replication[/card] – I was on a MTG hiatus when this card came out, but the second I saw it played I fell in love. Five copies of the best creature on the board? I can go for that.
[card]Scroll Thief[/card] – I needed something to play early, and people don’t normally mind getting poked for 1 in the opening rounds. The extra cards you draw can make the difference, especially in terms of making your first few land drops.
[card]Skinrender[/card] – Someone told me once that two-for-ones were good. Killing or shrinking an opposing dude while giving yourself a 3/3 is good in any format, and Commander is no exception.
[card]Sphinx of Jwar Isle[/card] – It’s not bad, but I think I’d rather have Sphinx of Magosi for the card draw. Although then I’d lose shroud. Maybe I should play Conundrum Sphinx for the combo with this. Hard to call the top card wrong when you can look at it.
[card]Stormtide Leviathan[/card] – It dies to a lot of things since its lacking shroud, but an 8/8 is nothing to sniff at. Being essentially unblockable is pretty good too, but shutting down most other attackers is serious power. Be aware that playing this card WILL draw a huge bull’s eye on your face, so make sure you’re ready for a blitzing when you drop ol’ Stormy.
[card]Swamp[/card] – Nothing to see here. Move along.
[card]Terror[/card] – Well it’s another word for fear, which is one of our chief weapons. An iconic black kill spell is always welcome, and I have the full-art promo so I wanted to show it off.
[card]Torchling[/card] – I’m fairly sure I’ve never drawn him/her. The target-changing ability is the best part of this dude, but in a 40-life game this seems less good than other 5cc options. Anyone got any suggestions about replacements?
[card]Traitorous Instinct[/card] – Act of Treason #2, with a bonus. At some point I should explore putting in a couple of sac outlets, just to make cards like this even better.
[card]Treacherous Urge[/card] – One thing about Commander is that people expect to have their shit stolen. As a result they play sac outlets to prevent you from beating them to death with their own shoe.
Casting this cold is good enough, as the plethora of creatures played in this format all but guarantees you’ll hit something. Where it really shines is following a tutor or a bounce spell, ensuring you get something the opponent REALLY wanted to keep. Like a Serra Avatar. Yeah, that happened once.
[card]Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth[/card] – Every black deck should pack this. Having this and Stormtide on the board together can be fairly amusing…unless an opponent is running Wrexial. Hmmm, maybe I should run Wrexial…
[card]Volition Reins[/card] – I don’t know how long I misread this card and presumed it was just an expensive Mind Control, but I know that stopped when someone cast it on my Seismic Assault. Sure you’ll mostly steal creatures with this, but that Debtor’s Knell looks pretty tasty.
[card]Zuran Orb[/card] – I went back and forth over this and Claws of Gix and I think I’m heading back to the Claws side. The 1 life and 1 to activate aren’t as good, but sometimes you need to sac something other than a land.
Putting Me on Tilt
The more I play Commander, the more I realize that some people just can’t let go of the “win at all costs” mentality. Now don’t get me wrong, the idea is still to win when you play Commander, but not at the expense of a fun time. Today’s annoying card is bad as one of the 99 but as a general he’s horrible. I give you:
[card]Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed[/card]
2BB Legendary Creature – Human Soldier (Portal 3 Kingdoms, Masters Edition III)
Horsemanship (This creature can’t be blocked except by creatures with horsemanship.)
Sacrifice Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed: Return target black card from your graveyard to your hand. Activate this ability only during your turn, before attackers are declared.
Like most deadly combo pieces, this guy seems pretty good in a vacuum, getting back something you would prefer not to have lost. Unfortunately, when you combine him with some of the nastier black enchantments (like Lethal Vapors, Grave Pact, The Abyss, Nether Void…) he goes from good to nearly broken. As a General you don’t have to tutor for him, and if you let him go to the graveyard instead of the command zone you don’t have to worry about paying the additional 2 mana each time he dies. It’s not like black has trouble bringing stuff back from the graveyard. Once the black deck has a way to bring this back each turn, you might as well scoop.
That’s all without even looking at the fact that he has horsemanship, which might as well read “unblockable” because there are so few other creatures with it. He rarely attacks but when he does, he’s going to the dome. I’m not against combos in Commander; I’m against decks that prevent you from playing at all. The inimitable Jay Boosh calls it Magicsturbating, and it’s an excellent term. Recurring an enchantment (already hard to destroy) that kills every creature when they come into play is not fun. Well, not for anyone else.
That does it for this installment. I had thought about doing a set preview of Mirrodin Besieged but maybe that’s better left for a time when we have the full set list. I could also do a single-card strategy article, or bring you another deck list. Which would you prefer? As always you can drop me an email at email@example.com, or leave a comment on this article. You can also find me on MTGO as CLSmooth or on Twitter @lansdellicious. Until next time, stay cool.