Today’s throwback is one I’m a huge fan of.  Commander is such a top-down format that it’s very easy to get lost in flavor and card choices and end up with a deck that is unbalanced, can’t support its own choices, or worse.  After all, there’s nothing more frustrating than pouring hours and hours into a new build, only to show up to EDH night and end up mana-screwed and unable to even get a foot in the game.

Sean looks under the hood here at actual numbers and shares his templating to ensure decks not only look good, but work perfectly as well.

Originally Posted Here – “On Useful Decklists”

Commander players and writers love to post deck lists.  The readers of these lists find themselves tasked with sifting through the noise of a deck.  They hope to find a few gems or mechanics that they can incorporate into their own decks.  The more I think about how authors (including myself) have chosen to present this information, the more I realize that we are doing things completely wrong.  The burden of work should not sit on our loyal readers. Our responsibility as authors is to give you useful information in a way that is as easy to absorb as possible. The following format is my attempt to organize the decklist article to achieve that goal.

Unique deck lists have three major components that define them: the category spread, the theme mechanics, and the critical cards for running the deck.  Just for the sake of an example, I’ll show you the deck I submitted that won the LegitMTG ‘Playing with Synergy’ category in the Dragon Maze Commander competition.  You can see the article for the competition here –

My Deck Construction Template

This is my typical deck template, adjusted for the above theme and with the numbers that deck indicated in brackets.

  • 14-21 Ramp [16]
  • 10-16 Library Manipulation (Tutor, Draw, or Scry) [13]
  • 3-7 Recursion Spells [5]
  • 7-14 Control Spells [11]
  • 9+ Theme Cards [14]
    • 3+ Untap Spells [6]
    • 3+ Game Finishers [3]
    • 3+ Counter Creation [5]
  • 0-5 Extra Turn abilities [3]
  • 36-41 Lands [37]
  • 1 Commander

Theme Mechanics

The deck runs off of cards that put counters on themselves by tapping, and cards that untap other cards.  Most cards in the deck can create counters or untap permanents.

Critical Pieces

Aside from the Commander, Doubling Season and Darksteel Reactor are the heart of the deck.  While nearly every else can be swapped out, those two cards best represent what the deck is trying to do.

At this point in an article, 90% of readers will have received any information that they need to decide if they would enjoy building this kind of deck.  This first section is short so that anyone who reads it and thinks ‘eh, that’s not my cup of tea’ can stop reading.  This is the spoiler section of the article.

The main body of an article will still be the list itself.  As a whole, we authors have not taken prioritized the way readers use decklists, their actual purpose, into consideration.  Nearly 0% of readers will ever copy a deck list card for card. Commander decks are personal and players want to be involved in making choices for what goes into the deck. This means we should be giving them a range of how many cards of a certain type they want to be running and then showing readers more options than slots in a deck.  By giving the readers more examples, we also show what kind of cards they should be looking for so they can flex their personality and creativity and still have a deck that does what it is supposed to.  This also enables them to evaluate new cards for those slots more effectively. For example, consider this section on untap spells:

Category: Untap Spells [3+]

Description: Permanents that allow us to repeatedly untap permanents


The main body of cards will be long, but this format should make it very easy to read and/or skim, and process.  Of the people who have read this far through the article, most will be content with just having a deck list and running it how they see fit.  The last part of a decklist article is reserved for readers who don’t quiet see how all the pieces fit together.  In the past I started articles with this section.  However, I know that many readers scroll down to a decklist and look at it before ever reading the article.  So putting this explanation section at the bottom arranges the article in the way readers naturally prefer to read.  The reader is already acquainted with the deck and we can now explain tactics to anyone interested in that knowledge.

Plan A: The Doomsday Devices

The main win condition for the deck is to charge up a Darksteel Reactor or Helix Pinnacle and win by finishing construction of your doomsday device.

The Darksteel Reactor is straightforward, using Vorel, Doubling Season, CoreTapper, and proliferate shenanigans, the deck tries to turn what was designed to be a 20-turn clock into a two- to five-turn clock. The concept is pretty simple; you use multipliers to reach the 20-counter goal. You want to activate an effect that doubles the counters, then repeat that effect. Coretapper lets you start charging it up before you have it a full turn, and anything that lets you use Vorel multiple times in a turn is worthwhile.

The Helix Pinnacle can’t be directly affected by Vorel, but Vorel is still the batteries for this doomsday device. The deck contains mana ramp and lands that depend on counters to produce more and more mana. From the mana batteries and charge lands to the newer Gyre Sage and Gemstone Array, almost every mana source can either go infinite or go big enough to seriously ramp to the 100-mana goal. Doubling Season can be huge in this case, because when you use counter-based mana to put counters on the Helix Pinnacle, you cut what you would usually need down to 25%.

Plan B: Time Vault

If you can’t find either of your doomsday devices or you get stopped, the deck has a backup plan of creating an infinite turn loop. You have three basic ways of creating this loop:

The Magistrate’s Scepter portion was the easiest add to the deck. All the ways to put 20 counters on Darksteel Reactor make it very easy to get three counters on the Scepter. This is actually the easiest combo to achieve in the deck, even though it isn’t the primary plan.

Magosi, the Waterveil another easy add, because Rings of Brighthearth is very helpful powering up all aspects of the deck. Because most of the activated abilities in the deck aren’t actually mana abilities (even though they lead to more mana), Rings has an absurd number of targets.

Planar Portal is a great card in decks that can create huge amounts of mana. I had added Power Artifact to the deck for a number of combos, and this is part of that package. Currently it can go infinite with Filigree Sages + Doubling Cube; Doubling Season + Gemstone Array; the Portal; Staff of Domination and mana guys; and the usual Monolith targets.

Plan C: Infinite Power and No Responsibility

The final backup plan is to use the abundance of options to create infinite/large amounts of mana to power the creatures up to monstrous sizes and beat face the old-fashioned way. The creatures are mostly for utility, but thanks to some Simic lords and Umbral Mantle, they can be transformed into giants when the need arises.

The main purpose of articles should be to be useful to our readers. Hopefully this decklist-article format can help shape how we talk about decklists going forward to make reading quick and useful.