The Commander 2013 pre-constructed decks are now available for purchase.  Many of you will be tempted to play these decks right of the box.  It’s an admirable thought and if you are just playing them against each other (or the original precons) it will be a good time.  If you try and run these things next to real Commander decks, be prepared to lose – a lot.

If you want to play these with a normal group as quickly as possible, fear not – while they may play like a steaming pile of cardboard out of the box, they are actually not far off of being mildly playable.  With a little rooting around your trade binder and the common/uncommons piles you either own (or your local gaming store has to offer), you can get these to the bare minimum running level for a Commander deck.

Cards for Every Deck

While some of the advice that can be given for these decks will be specifically targeted, there is a running theme of inefficiencies throughout the collection.  If you target these first, your newly purchased decks will start showing signs of life in no time.

The land bases for these decks are a great improvement over the last precons, but still a bit of a mess.  Most commander decks don’t need 40+ lands in them.  Your curve shouldn’t be so high that you need five or more mana to cast relevant spells in your deck.  Outside of Evasive Maneuvers, the land bases are all bloated.  Cut them down to between 37 and 39, and have more cards in hand to play.

In addition, take out anything that requires additional mana to create colored mana; I’m looking at you, Opal Palace and Transguild Promenade.  These lands are terrible and net you -1 mana to use.  Instead, dig around for the thousands of Vivid lands nearby and put in every one you can.  If for some reason you can’t find Vivid lands, look for Terramorphic Expanse or really any uncommon dual land.  On that note, these decks have partial cycles of lands from the Ravnica blocks.  Just go ahead and finish off the cycles from the store draft fodder.  Your mana base should quickly be leaner and meaner.

While we’re talking about mana, let me mention ramp.

Play more of it.

These decks have just enough to not quite give you what you need.  Also, green-base decks don’t need artifact ramp.  Green ramp can do any color fixing, and isn’t blown up nearly as easily as the artifacts are.  Outside of playing big artifact ramp in Deveri to make it nearly free to cast, stick with your Rampant Growths, Cultivates and Explosive Vegetations when you have the option.  For the two decks without green in them, finish off the artifact cycles they already tease you with.  Guild ramp artifacts are easy to find and surprisingly effective, even for 3 mana.

Eternal Bargain

First thing – unless you are dead set against combos, throw in Exquisite Blood and the new Vizkopa Guildmage.  Oloro is the best Commander possible for the combo, and you already have the other half in the deck.  Dedicated combo decks can be oppressive, I suppose; however, in a deck that will initially have a hard time winning, a combo like this could pull off the upset.

On the same note, try to trade for or buy a Words of Worship.  They added Well of Lost Dreams, but forgot to put in the other half of the crazy engine.   The deck really has one-half of a lot of different combos, so any that you can complete will help you out.

I would recommend swapping out any creature you don’t like or that doesn’t do anything, such as Ajani Pridemate.  A creature has to be massive in order to justify being played just for its sheer size, like Serra Avatar or Blightsteel Colossus.  You want creatures that do something aside from ‘get larger’ and ‘swing for damage’.  I would also recommend just throwing away Darksteel Mutation and most of the Curses.  In the place of all of these I would recommend playing additional removal and counterspells.  Whatever you can get your hands on will work until you can sit down and decide what you really want to do with the deck.

Nature of the Beast

This is a simple deck with a simple plan.  It’s a ramp deck. So, swap out the do-nothing creatures in the deck for ones in your binder you like, and find room for ramp spells.  It’s awkward how little mana ramp is available in a deck that wants as much as possible. You will also want to change your mana base to include much more basics and only have dual lands that can make green mana.  Make no mistake, Naya is Gwr and the wr is lower-case for a reason.

If you have mana doublers like Vorinclex, Mana Reflection, and the like, play them here.  This is a deck that could actually win by only playing lands, ramp and the commander, who is removal and a win con wrapped together.  If you are going to put finishers in the deck, make sure they scale up as your mana does; ‘X’ spells are your best bet to accomplishing this.  As with most Naya decks, I also recommend swapping sorceries and enchantments for creatures with the same effect whenever possible.  This will allow you to have more synergy with the colors, your commander and is overall a good idea for card advantage.

Power Hungry

Mana hungry green decks are a popular theme this time around.  Sadly, so is inappropriately using mana rocks.  The ramp advice I gave for Nature of the Beast applies here as well.  The real issue with the deck is that the creature base is made of fail.  You really want to have more ways to make lots and lots of creatures or have creatures you can sacrifice repeatedly, and the deck doesn’t have much of that.  More so than any other deck, you should be playing creatures over everything else; this deck was made to play Anger and Genesis.  Any utility creatures and recursion effects you can find to shove into this will help you out.  Even your ramp should be creature-based (and specifically enters the battlefield effects) if possible.

It also wouldn’t hurt if you could find more ways to sacrifice creatures for a benefit, or benefit from sacrificing creatures.  This is one of those perfect situations to start setting up a Birthing Pod-style deck.

Mind Seize

This is my least favorite deck of all right out of the box.  It’s hard to recommend anything but a full teardown and rebuild on this monstrosity.  Maybe there is a plan here, but I’m honestly not seeing it.  I would start replacing as many pieces as you can with Judo elements and just try and play off of everyone else deck as much as possible.  Like Nature of the Beast you want a lot of mana, but sadly you don’t have the same access to ramp.  I would go ahead and put in as many mana rocks as you feel comfortable with, and also add a few sac outlets, because unlike Nature of the Beast your Commander doesn’t have a way to kill itself.

In other words, mess with the deck as much as possible as soon as possible.

Evasive Maneuvers

On the opposite end of the spectrum from Mind Seize is Evasive Maneuvers.  This deck is basically playable as soon as you open it.  There are a few do-nothing cards that can be replaced with utility creatures, and I stand by switching out the artifact ramp for Rampant Growth effects.  As a whole, the deck is refreshingly well-thought out for a Commander deck, and you just need to choose a direction to go with the deck for the long term.

.      .     .     .     .

Whatever you do, don’t dwell on these initial fixes too much.  This is advice to get you through your first few weeks with your deck.  After that you can focus more on upgrading them and making them your own.

-Sean
@SwordsToPlow