Defending the Commander Social Contract

Category: Staples

Two Takes on Tiny Leaders: Revisited

Alex: It’s been nearly two years since Dave & I wrote an article about Tiny Leader bursting into our hearts and mind. A lot has happened in two years since the inception, can you give our readers a quick recap of what Tiny Leader is?

Dave: Tiny Leaders WAS (I Guess for some people still is) this variant format of our favorite Magic variant format, EDH. Basically the same deckbuilding rules and restrictions applie, except no card can cost more than three mana mana, you start with 25 life, and decks are 50 cards instead of 100 (like 49 plus a general).

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A Ghost of a Collection – Building Your Collection in EDH and Magic

A while ago I wrote about the current cost of Magic and some things to watch out for.  I hate to just complain about an issue without working on a solution. So today I want to talk about building your collection, and how you can mitigate some of the costs and still play what you want. Over the past 20+ years I have learned that building your collection is really a three-part process: planning, acquisition, and liquidation.


blueprints-ss-1920This is the stage that is most important and we generally don’t spend enough time with it, and if we do spend enough time planning it we don’t adhere to it. I mean how many times have you walked into a store or started a trade and then your eye catches something and now you’re the proud new owner of a card you didn’t need. I break planning down to three parts: format, staples and decks.

First and foremost you have to decide what formats you want to play, as each format has certain cards you will want to have. On top of formats, how many decks do you want to have? I choose one Old School (93/94, because that is when I started), two Legacy, Two Modern, and eight EDH decks (down from 28!). I won’t cover Standard, because admittedly my process is not as efficient for a rotating format. Though you might change how many decks and maybe even what formats you want to play in, this step will still help you plan to get to your initial goal.

Staples is the key to being able to either switch decks or update a deck for the metagame. The perfect example of this for someone wanting to play blue and black in Modern and Legacy would be Polluted Delta. This will cover me if I am playing only one of the two colors or both, and no matter what deck I play it will have this in it. Just be careful you don’t fall into having no deck in mind, and just getting every black card possible. Still, a staple will be a card you should be able to get out of for around the cost you have put in, if not more.

Last, decks are the final part to the planning piece, but maybe the most important part of the process. If you break it down, the decks I listed above only equal 1475 cards, and quite a bit of them are lands. Here’s how I go about evaluating decks in the non-EDH formats I listed above. Start by proxying a deck and play the shit out of it. When I first got into Modern I jumped around between decks, and often lost value. All said and done I went through eight different Modern decks before deciding on the two that I wanted. (By the way, they are the decks I always lean towards.)

Don’t make the mistake I did. Find the deck you really like before you start buying. EDH is a bit more complicated but fairly similar. We change our decks a bit more, but cards like Command Tower and Sol Ring tend to find themselves in a few decks along the way. Find the color combinations you enjoy and get at least the staple lands as a base to work from. Again, create a list before you start buying cards or you will have a bunch you don’t use.


a465Acquisition has to be one of the funnest parts of the game. Between buying and trading, this is one piece that draws people in. So many people say it, not many people listen to it, but I still have to put it out there. DON’T BUY SEALED PRODUCT! Sealed product is almost always a loss, I opened a box of Modern Masters 2 (retail $240) and I average $1.58 per pack, losing $8.42 per pack. Instead, buying singles would have gotten me every card I wanted and kept a few bucks in my pocket. Buying singles ensures you get exactly the cards you need, and it eliminates a bunch of cards sitting in a box you have no intention of using.

Buying singles still takes some planning as you can easily spend more than what the card is really worth. One of the best times to purchase a single is a few weeks after a Standard rotation, although that has become quite interesting with the rotation changes lately. Watch out for buying cards the weekend of PT’s and GP’s as crads often spike and dealers often cancel orders. You can also watch for cards that are over-hyped as when they correct it’s often lower than they are worth. Presales can often be good for EDH cards as SCG proved with $.50 blade of selves presales. I look at a set as it is spoiled and determine if it is a card I would need for a deck, then buy presale if I find it under priced, or add it to my list if I feel it will be cheaper later.

Buying collections can be by far one of the best value deals you can find. I have often found that players who are leaving the game want to get rid of everything at once, and that leads to them giving up value for convenience. When I buy sets I tend not to look towards the cards I want, but instead the cards I don’t want. I evaluate cards at 30% under TCG low to make sure I can sell them to recover my expense and make money after fees to purchase the cards I want (or trade for). Anytime you are over the 30%, you will be able to get great value and really move your collection forward.

Trading can be hit or miss depending on your area and what others have as trade stock. With Internet prices so available, it’s pretty easy to get even value. That being said, you can often ask for something small thrown in that helps you to build towards your lists. There are also sites like Puca Trade or Deckbox that can help you increase the range of your trading. I personally feel like the issues with those sites make it hard to get what you are looking for without losing a lot of value. They are complex so we won’t dive in, but it’s something to at least look into.


When I talk liquidation I don’t mean selling everything and getting out of the game, I just mean liquidating cards that you won’t play again–cards that have been upgraded to something else or just don’t perform how you’d like them to. Rotating cards out can keep your collection more manageable as well as keep the cost down as you can use those as trades or funds for what you want to play with. The key to this step is to ensure you have really worked the planning step out as you don’t want to be selling cards you will need to get later. Once you know what cards you are looking to acquire, the next step is to make sure you get them at the right cycle. If you are playing EDH and you see a cool card spoiled, you can first check the pre-order price to see if it’s under valued, or you can wait until the price drops. On the flip side, if you open something sweet in a draft, you can sell out when it’s expensive in Standard and buy back in when it rotates.

Closing time

Although this game is and can be expensive, there are ways to keep it more reasonable. The key to that is careful planning and staying focused on your goals, now those can change, but the less they do the cheaper things will be. Proper planning prevents piss poor performance. Now let’s get out there and build some decks!

Until next time this is EDH.Ghost out!

Building For Better Commander Games: Top-Down versus Bottom-Up Building

Kresh the Bloodbraided has been a pet deck of mine for a very long time.  Other than Sharuum the Hegemon, I think this has been the deck that I’ve built more than any other general out there.  It stands to reason that I’ve also given up on it more times than any other as well, and I finally realized my mistake – one that has likely put me in such a bad place game-wise for so long.

Last week, I took a chance and reversed my design preferences, and promptly won four games back-to-back.  But we’ll come back to this in a bit.

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Guest Content – Stapling it Together

I have a staples problem.

I sat down yesterday to put the finishing touches on my new Vorel of the Hull Clade stax deck. I was trying to find the right 63rd card for it, flipping through binders and boxes. Another counter? A ramp-spell? Some sweet, on-theme tech that makes the deck feel special? And then I flipped to the page of my binder reserved for Prophet of Kruphix, and the decision was made for me. I sighed, took out a copy and slid it into the list.

Hi, my name is Nathan Savoy, and I have a problem. (And I’m a guest author this week – but I play in the same shop as Cass and Mr. P, so I’ve heard the Social Contract talk.)

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Black Sheep – Battle Box

seanblacksheepFun in Commander comes from the community where we play. Even though in each individual game we should be trying to win, we serve our community best by being team players. More experienced players we have an obligation to help make sure everyone understands what is going on in a game and has a way to participate. Giving advice helps, but usually it is a delayed kind of help. A player with a weak deck will have to wait until a week or two after getting advice to really be able to implement the suggestions. There is a way to get around this delay.

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GDC Podcast #5: Complainatron 5000 – Kaalia, Goodstuff, and Staples

Check it out. Podcasts two weeks in a row. Woot!

Download GDC Podcast #5 by clicking this little number.

In this edition of Grumpier old men who play EDH, Cass, Sean, and Mr. P discuss EDH, the issue of staples and goodstuff, Kaalia of the Vast, what qualifies as a staple, and silly prices.

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Monday at GDC: Auto-Includes

Top O’ the afternoon, faithful readers.  Welcome to another week at GDC.  What’s the good word?

I’m piecing together the official Sisters creature-less list for your perusal, so be on the lookout for that in the next few days.  I’ll be getting a rare back-to-back weekly appearance this Wednesday at the local LGS for some playtesting, which is the good news; the corresponding bad news is that my permission slip has been signed because I also need to hit up the giant mall nearby to finish up some holiday shopping the same night.  If you’re keeping track, ‘Going to the mall during Christmas shopping crunch time’ ranks somewhere in-between the afore-mentioned ‘Root canal/colonoscopy one/two punch’ and ‘Hey, look at that…your furnace just exploded again!’  Not sure which way at this point…I’m leaning towards the former, but I’ll let you know.


About a month back, user “tedv” opened up a topic of discussion on the Official EDH Forum about deck-construction staples he called “Slaves to Staples: The 200-Card Deck Design Theory“.  It has blossomed into a great discussion about the idea of ‘auto-includes’, and how they influence deck design one way or the other.  Are there cards that belong in every deck that can support the color requirements?  Do cards like Sol Ring belong in decks that run a strategy that doesn’t utilize the card, or is it good enough to belong in spite of strategy?  How do auto-includes affect theme-deck construction?

I spent a chunk of my weekend working on fine-tuning my Kresh and Intet lists and trying to narrow down a design direction for my upcoming Angus Mackenzie list, so this topic came to mind this morning.  I decided to take a look at my lists to figure out what my go-to crutches are…

1. Darksteel Ingot

This is the biggest offender out of everything, appearing in all eleven of my current lists.  It’s no secret that I prefer green decks primarily because of the mana ramp/fixing; I was a little surprised that even my green lists include Ingot every time.  The key is a mix of indestructible mana fixing as well as ramp that works in any color.  (Embarassingly, it even shows up in my Venser and Radiant mono-color lists.)

2. Primeval Titan

Yeah…I know.  It’s about as innovative as opening your eyes and breathing.  Ironically, this card only made the list after I dis-assembled my mono-green Omnath list, which didn’t want mana creatures that weren’t elves or druids (or both.)  As an aside, it’s kind of telling that I feel like I need to apologize for including this card in my lists these days, but it’s still way too good to pass up.

Hand in hand…

3. Sol Ring

That answers that for me.  I have it in all eleven current decks as well.  Again, I wanted to play Llanowar Elves in Omnath on turn one, so that list was the first and last deck to date I’ve made that does not run Sol Ring.  I guess it is hard to get out from under a crutch.

4. Rhystic Study

Rhystic slowly managed to steal the thunder away from Mind’s Eye over the past year or so in my decks.  This card is in every blue list I run at this point; the combo of passive card draw and the cheap cost means you’re virtually guaranteed to gain some positive card value out of this thing if it comes down early.

As an aside, I think R&D should come up with a valid way to template verbal casting costs; we all know this thing should actually read as follows:

“Ask “How much are you paying for that?: draw a card whenever an opponent casts a spell unless that player pays 1.”

5. Decree Of Pain

The absolute gold standard as far as black removal goes.  The card draw means that you could run this in a mono-black thrull token deck, and it’d still be good. 

Fun trivia fact: I’ve cycled this card exactly once.  Ever.        

6 & 7.  Woodfall Primus and Acidic Slime

These came as a surprise to me.  I wouldn’t have been shocked to see one or the other in every green list I have, but as of today, they’re both in every single deck.  I guess it has come to pass that way because of the increased reliance I’m seeing on game-breaking enchantments in my local meta.  That, and I keep coming across reasonably-priced copies of Survival Of The Fittest, and I’m completely reinforcing this topic’s stereotype by essentially making the same deck over and over. 

The real lesson learned today is that I need to run more “Make DJ A Decklist Because He’s Terrible!” contests, apparently…

8. In The Web Of War

Dammit, Patrick.  This one is completely your fault.  If there’s red in the casting cost of my general, this is in there.  Stupid Super-Haste…

9. Cauldron Dance

I realize that this isn’t exactly a splashable card, but it is now and will forever be in every deck I make in red/black.  I could make a theme-deck called, “Cards That Aren’t Cauldron Dance”, and I’d still break my own rule and slide it in.  Absolutely a perfect storm of reanimation, combat tricks, cheating casting costs, regrowth…this card does it all, and at instant speed for a very reasonable cost. 


There are some other egrigious offenders that come close to making the cut here, such as Solemn Simulacrum, Rite Of Replication, and Gather Specimens, but nothing else quite seems to show up to every party possible.  I guess I am a true creature of habit after all.

What are your must-haves?


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