The War Report: Theorycrafting – Commander


In this segment of The War Report, we come back to the topic of Commander. As I mentioned in the last edition, I had only recently discovered this other format so I purchased a Commander 2015 pre-built deck named “Call the Spirits.” It was interesting enough, but after the first round of playtesting I found that there were some cards that felt lacking, and in some cases I had better standard format cards. I also knew that there were new mechanics added with the 2016 pre-built Commander decks, so I picked up “Open Hostility.” Upon playing with those two decks with a regular group game we’ve been having nearly every weekend, it seems that both had room to grow. That’s one of the major benefits to buying the starter decks, as they give you an idea of what you can do, and they you can customize as you see fit (while sidebording the original cards just in case you play someone out of the normal group or against a new deck).

For my first round of improvements, I sorted through my collection of cards and picked out those that I wasn’t using but recognized as being powerful in this new format. When playing Standard, you’ll typically want to keep the mana costs of your cards under 5, and if you do have any 5+ mana cards, they better be game-breaking. This isn’t the case with Commander. Having more health, more cards, Singleton rules, and multiple opponents mean the games are slowed down considerably. Don’t get me wrong, there were games where we had each other whittled down through various means and someone started making killing blows rather quickly. The usual state of the game is much slower than that example, or Standard (probably much slower than Modern and other modes) and that means your mana curve goes up. Essentially there are more mana in the deck, more mana fixing lands/artifacts, and because of the slower ramp up in power distributed across the board you will be able to use cards that cost 5+ mana. In fact, a large percentage of the cards tend to be that much, because games last long enough to have tons of mana to play with. In one game I managed to drop a spell that did 26 damage to another player and heal me for that much — he ended up winning the game too! There are so many other possibilities with this and I have barely begun to scratch the surface.

That said, I decided to put an order in to Troll & Toad. I received my haul today, which was part power cards (rares and mythics that are super nice but hard to procure from packs and cost a few bucks a piece depending on perceived value and strength in the game) that I had on my wish list, and some that were from older sets I haven’t played to this point but would fit into these two Commander decks. Let’s check out what I picked up:


Apparently Emrakul is something of a big deal. I hadn’t heard of him, but I missed the introduction of the Eldrazi (though I have seen some of the newer variants from the Eldritch block). He had some previous versions that were all overpowered and banned from competitive play, and this particular Standard-legal version of him has recently been banned as well. As such, the asking price for this card dropped dramatically and he was a wishlist purchase that is still playable in Commander, so he now has a use! He’s got a crazy ability where you get to play out your turn then play an opponent’s turn for them (hopefully winning you the match or at least causing a good bit of chaos in a multiplayer game). Not to mention being a 13/13 flying trample that has protection from instants. Can’t wait to drop him on the board.


I purchased a Sorin, Grim Nemesis for my Lifegain deck, but it just so happens that he’s a powerful card that would fit into the black/white commander deck. It just so happens that there are multiple versions of him that could potentially do me some good in this other format where the cards are legal to play. This one costs less than Nemesis, but is obviously less powerful. Still, more options on the board and an ability to kill other Planeswalkers is a great utility.


These were the only two versions of this guy that were inexpensive enough to buy. Believe me there were plenty of power cards from throughout the years that I would love to buy, but collecting some of the old stuff is just not going to happen. Apparently there is another set called “Modern Masters” that reprints some decent cards that are Modern legal (something I’m interested in looking into once my current decks start to lose cards from the current rotation) but that’s a tale for another day. This version of Sorin has a nice ult that forces opponents to sacrifice creatures each turn, so yeah more options.


The other Planeswalker I couldn’t resist purchasing. Vraska is a character I hadn’t heard of to this point, but her ultimate ability is phenomenal if used properly. This one has to fit into my 4-color deck, but packs a nasty punch. Dropping 3 1/1 creatures onto the board that will instantly kill a player if they do damage to them? It may be tough to get those 1/1’s to break through, but I’m going to figure out at way to make this viable in the deck. If nothing else, it’s a fuckin’ cool card man.


Another Standard legal pickup, I’m unsure which deck I will use this in. I’m thinking the 2-color deck, but it will fit in either. Regardless, being able to potentially make this creature a 40/40 defender while simultaneously lowering another player’s life total to 13 is just cruel. It’s only getting countered by a counterspell or a direct form of destruction. No puny lightning bolts taking out this guy, no sir.


Another fearsome looking Eldrazi, this guy packs a punch. He leans towards being placed in the 4-color deck because of his cheaper emerge cost, but could still be played viably for 10 mana in the format. A 7/7 trample haste that gives the rest of your creatures +2/+2 and trample? All-in bro.


This card is two fold. I wanted to drop it into my mono-black Standard deck, and also wanted to throw him into one of the commander decks. He’s a 5/5 flyer that forces discard and can potentially 1 shot weenies. He goes along with the theme of the mono-black, where the creatures are all Aetherborn or Demon, as does the Demon of Dark Schemes I’m thinking of pairing with him once I make these changes to the Commander decks.


This one is Standard legal but I’m going to use it for Commander. If played when you have little to no cards, it’s a great trade to get some options.


This guy is brand new, and though my 4-color deck doesn’t use any sort of energy, he can use it himself and probably should before removal gets him. Still, a 7/7 trample is hard to avoid, and if used with a token deck (which mine happens to be) he could potentially get a huge swing in on his 2nd turn out, if he doesn’t get destroyed first.


Moving on from Mythics, here’s a pretty sweet Rare that will beef up one of these decks nicely. Despite the fact that you’ll use many more high mana cost cards in Commander, you still need a few low cost ones, though they usually have to stand out from the crowd. I feel this one does. Whenever it becomes target of a spell or ability, it goes into exile. You get to play it again on your next turn (if you choose) from exile. A 3/3 for 3 mana that comes back every turn? Yes please.


Part of the Collective series (each new set has something like this, where it will thematically tie in with each color and have a different version; see the “expertise” line from Aether Revolt), this card is just a nice form of removal for a decent price and worth slotting into the 4-color deck.


This is the current series similar to the one I explained above. I already had a copy of Yahenni’s Expertise, but I figured another couldn’t hurt. Most of these cards I purchase can be played in multiple decks. It won’t kill off much in Commander, save for most commanders themselves and token creatures. The real benefit is being able to drop a 3 cost card for free (like that Eternal Scourge from earlier).


Another one of the expertise cards, but for my 4-color deck, which typically has out quite a few creatures allowing for some nice card draw, along with dropping a 5 mana cost card for free. That’s gonna be nice.


And finally, the only uncommon that I picked up this time around. This card is going to come in handy. See, the guys I play with have access to a bunch of cards in their collections, as they hadn’t sold off old ones or forgotten the hobby like I did. As such, they tend to have some cool cards that don’t exist anymore or at least have a new variant that is effectively the same but worse in some way. This one will help even the odds, as quite a few awesome cards end up in graveyards, and I can throw them right onto the battlefield for only 5 mana. Perfect for commander.

So I think I’ve made some decent improvements. I will have to get back to playtesting to see how well these cards perform. All in all I think I have been most successful during the game nights we’ve had recently. I know last night I played 3 rounds and won two. Last weekend I believe we played 2 and I won one. Perhaps I’ve broken even. Either way, I’m loving this game and I’m glad to be back into it.

4 thoughts on “The War Report: Theorycrafting – Commander

  1. When I read about M:TG I really wish they had a good online app for it – I tried downloading the one for Android and you can’t even see the board. I enjoy Hearthstone, but wish there was some more complexity and a bit less pay to win.. M:TG looks to scratch that itch but I don’t have access (or time) to get face to face to play, except with my 11 year old and the decks he has.


    • Well the 11 year old could still be fun to play against. I got lucky, meeting someone my age who plays, who also knew others that play. I never played Magic Online, but the Duels game isn’t all that great.


  2. @isey Totally agree mate. The big thing with M:TG for me isn’t necessarily the face to face. To be truly great at a collectible card game, you need a solid group of at least 4 players. By playing repeatedly against your friends, you try out new things, see _their_ new “things” and generally learn to be a better player.

    Once you’ve mastered your group of four, you move on to Friday Night Magic, or whatever it is they call it these days. That’s where you find out how shitty your ideas were. Each of you learn new things from the larger group and repeat the process.

    Its a natural evolution that I miss. I’ve played a few CCGs competitively, even placing in the top 8 of a regionals for Legend of the Five Rings (slightly different but not entirely dissimilar styled game). That was my crowning achievement. Then once all of my playgroup realized I’d become a little too scary to play against… everything fell apart.

    I was really excited for HEX because it eliminated the need to have any of the above. The problem is, I hate the financial randomness of it all. I don’t like opening packs, hoping to get something I can use, or at least make back the value of my pack.

    The new style that I really really really really love is the Living Card Games from Fantasy Flight Games. When you buy this box, you get all of the cards in the set. No need to chase down rares or random singles. You get it all. Every expansion that comes out also comes with every card in it. Its financially bearable (though they do come out with 3-4 expansions a year typically). I just wish THIS style of game would make it to an internet-playable form. I’d be all aboard immediately.


    • One of my playgroup plays magic duels on his tablet. It’s on Steam but I just didn’t really care for it. I find the game loses its appeal when it’s not played face to face. I played Hearthstone for a while but it was ruined by RNG cards. I was accepting of its digital nature but it still lost appeal. This isn’t to say Magic can’t, this is my 3rd return to the game.


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