Hello and welcome back! Since starting writing at GDC I have been trying to figure out what I want to call my article series. I have found that having a series with a specific title & theme focuses me a little more and helps me produce articles on a fairly regular basis. Until now I haven’t had that, and it has shown with my long stretches without writing. Today, I want to unveil my new series, Delving Deeper! I like to take an issue and explore it through a few different viewpoints. With that in mind let’s hop right into today’s topic!
Earlier this week I was helping a new EDH player tweak a deck, and he asked me what I thought of his deck overall. I said it was a solid collection of powerful cards, which lacked a theme to tie the pieces together. “What do you mean by theme?” he responded. As I started going down a lot of different avenues on what theme is and what role it plays in building and playing EDH, I realized there is no way I could explain all the nuances over Twitter, so I figured why not Delve Deeper!
Before I tackle some of the themes found in Commander decks, I want to spend a few minutes on why themes make their way into Commander and what purpose they serve. Commander is for many, myself included, a format that is more about the journey than about the outcome. Instead of building a deck that focuses on the best 60 cards (100 in EDH), you look for cards that will tell a story. The story can take on many different forms, but every deck can add your signature to a game. Love vampires, or maybe death touch, or maybe snow white and the seven dwarves? Whatever the flavor, you can build it and play it out.
Tribal themes are often the easiest and most common theme builds. Pick your tribe, find all the cards that fit within that tribe, and look for synergies. Many tribes buff themselves, and some of the strong tribes also fill roles within you deck, like creature removal-Noxious Ghoul– evasion-Zombie Master– and even recursion-Lord of the Undead. Cards that not only work with each other but also fill other roles in the deck allow you to play more tribal cards and fewer staples.
In the deck above, 40 cards, nearly half of the deck, carry the Zombie tribal name. Many more cards carry the same flavor, even without being technically part of the tribe. With almost half of the deck being part of the tribe you can bet you will find synergies no matter what cards you draw. This type of a deck truly proves that highly synergistic cards, even though not as strong by themselves, can become very powerful together.
Decks that focus on a flavor first or attempt to tell a story can be amazingly fun to play or play against. These decks can often show off the character of the builder and highlight cards you don’t see often. While these decks focus on filling the hundred with cards that show the story, some of them are powerhouses. Others might give up “winning” because the purpose of the deck is to have a fun and often have an interactive game. Looking back on my years of Commander, some of my favorite games were those I didn’t win (ie. I wasn’t the Last Man Standing.). Instead, they had epic back and forth, and in most cases, at least one of the decks was a flavor deck.
This next deck I want to show off comes from @RogueArtificer on Twitter. The deck is a take on what would happen if the Phyrexians had taken over the Selesnyian guild on the plane of Ravnica after Jace came to them for healing. Just a little Phyrexian Oil gets left behind in this imagined, alternate timeline, and the populating nature of the guild takes over to spread Phyrexia at an alarming rate. Without further ado:
The deck is still very strong and has many of the great EDH powerhouse cards, but so many pieces tell the story. Russel focused on making sure the story was first and foremost and then he tweaked cards to make sure the deck would still play well and be competitive enough that it piloting it would be fun and the deck wouldn’t get knocked out too early. A deck has to hold its own, because it’s not fun to lose all the time.
I look at keyword themed decks as decks that focus either on a keyword or a specific effect. For instance, I have used Damia, Sage of Stone to helm a deck of Deathtouchers. All the creatures had Deathtouch, and most spells dealt with killing off others creatures. The idea was to kill with creature damage and discourage people from sending attacks my way. Years ago, the density of Deathtouchers was limited so the deck’s power level was pretty low, but because of the effect it played well above its power level.
The next deck I want to showcase comes from @HobbesQ on Twitter. While this deck can be described by both the Flavor theme and Keyword theme, it fits a bit better here because it tends to just steal whatever everyone else is doing. Thomas calls this deck “Bolas Clones,” but I prefer to refer to it more affectionately as “Bolas Steals Shit.”
As you can imagine, the deck focus on stealing the creatures and effects that are being played against it, and turns them back against their controllers. The deck is dripping with flavor as Nicol Bolas, an old school general, is an old dragon that plots and plans and uses other people’s plans against them to always be a few steps ahead. It fits in the effect theme with the theft effects, but it also has a strong story that pushes the deck along. This deck is also very strong and can adapt to the power level of the group it’s playing with. If you ever get in a game with Dr. Hobbes, make sure to kill him first. Trust me he is the threat!
Wrap it up!
This is just a small glance into the Commander deck themes, and the categories I have listed are far from exhaustive. I hope I’ve demonstrated the fun a thematic deck can be in EDH. I also hope it gives you some ideas on the next great deck you could build a little differently than the normal net deck you can find online. Embrace the flavor aspect of the game, if you haven’t already; it’s a huge part of the game and can freshen things up and make games even more interesting!
As always feel free to argue with me in the comments. I always love a great discussion!
Until Next time this is EDH.Ghost, out!