Everybody knows about the good generals. The Maelstrom Wanderers and the Narset, Enlightened Masters. Everybody has a basic plan for dealing with these decks, and you kind of come into a game against them knowing what to expect. There are certain cards that you know to hold countermagic back for, at the expense of letting other bad things through.
These decks are easy to build, and usually easy to pilot, mainly because they tend to be well-known – and they’ve been “solved”. You can look up fifteen Narset lists online, and see only a little variation in them.
Basically, these decks are boring.
But there are other generals out there. Ones that are less played…and usually considered ‘bad’. Ones that are hard to build and pilot, because their very nature restricts them even more than the rules of this format do already. Mono-white generals that depend on mass card draw, like Kiyomaro, First to Stand. Or mono-red decks under Latulla, Keldon Overseer, constantly pitching cards for targeted damage.
I like these decks. I go out of my way to find ways to make them work, and I generally have a blast playing them. While searching for a theme for my articles here, I fell on this and ran it by the group. It was well received internally, and I hope it will be with you, as well.
To get us started, let’s take a look at one of my personal favourite decks in this vein – the aforementioned Latulla, Keldon Overseer.
Mono-red is already hard to play in Commander. It’s restrictive and does not interact well with a lot of non-creature permanents. The ones it does interact with are generally ‘off limits’ – land – or so numerous – artifacts – that it can’t really keep up without devoting itself completely to that angle. With mono-red, you have to identify your goal from the beginning, and build completely toward that goal. You need to go all in, and not hesitate.
Let’s look at Latulla’s ability first. It’s basically a one-target Fireball, but with a pretty steep cost. XR (as you would expect), but you need to tap her, and you need to discard TWO cards. She’s a 3/3 for 3RR on top of that, so she’s not really landing quickly, either. She’s mana-hungry, so you can scale damage with her ability. She wants ways to fill your hand, so you can pitch two to her ability and still have cards to do other things. None of these are things that red is very good at. But they are the two main problems with the deck, and we will address them one at a time.
PROBLEM ONE – MANA
We need to generate a lot of red mana, and do it consistently. We’ll be turning to artifacts for this more than anything, and using the following tools:
Gauntlet of Power
Braid of Fire
There is not a lot here…but it is effective. The Sun, Gauntlet, and Flare all double mana production. Braid of Fire, without mana burn, is phenomenal with instants or instant-speed abilities. Being able to trigger Latulla for ‘free’ during your upkeep is always a good thing.
Also, this is the only time I have ever put Astral Cornucopia in a deck.
In order to help with the mana production, I have attempted to keep the mana curve low in the deck. It is still higher than I would like, but it is necessary – you just need fatties like Balefire Dragon to compete.
PROBLEM TWO – CARD ADVANTAGE
The second problem is accumulating cards in hand, and there are a few solutions to this. One is (obviously) card draw. The second is recursion – making sure the things you pitch can come back to your hand. For card draw, we’ll be leaning on artifacts again, but I have also found some interesting solutions to recursion. Let’s take a look:
[Deck title=Card Draw]
Tower of Fortunes
Wheel of Fortune
Pretty straightforward, really. Some of it draws cards for everyone, and some of it draws just for me. Being friendly is important when you can’t withstand a concentrated assault…or when people start to realize what you’re actually doing.
I took a good look at Latulla’s ability when building her, and realized that I was going to have to find a way to leverage my graveyard. In red, this is not easy – that is definitely in black’s wheelhouse, and green gets some strong support in this area as well. Red – not so much. Red’s philosophy on the colour pie is a little more reckless; you should use your stuff once and forget about it, so recursion is simply not a high priority.
But it is there.
[Deck title=Graveyard Shenanigans]
Hammer of Bogardan
Past in Flames
All of these either directly use my graveyard or bring things out of it. It’s not as controlled or as fancy as you would see in black, but it gets the job done.
On top of this, there are Phoenixes – an identified type of creatures that are exclusively red and recur themselves. The flavour of the creature type lends itself to coming out of the yard, so they’re in.
I know there are a few missing. Flamewake Phoenix and Ashcloud Phoenix are two major standouts that are not included here, but they would be in if my list was current (it is admittedly slightly dated). If I were to build this again, these would be included, and I would absolutely recommend you add them.
Rounding out the deck are ways to either use the extra mana you’re given, or take advantage of the fact that your hand is going to be empty more often than not. Things like Cursed Scroll and Goblin Charbelcher. Supporting cards like Glaring Spotlight and Rings of Brightheart, Furnace of Rath and Koth of the Hammer. Burnished Hart. Homura, Human Ascendant. These cards speak for themselves here, given the constraints, and go a long way towards making the deck a little more robust.
Latulla is, at first glance, a bad general. Even at second or third glance, she’s just not that great. I had to look at her long and hard and really think about how to make her work before I saw how good she could be. She was not intuitive at all, and despite the fact that the game plan is simple – draw cards, pitch them, deal damage – you really need to think hard about every decision, and what to do with every card you draw. The deck can win games pretty handily, but it can also punish you very hard for a small mistake.
It’s fun, plain and simple. It was fun to build, and it is fun to play. I would absolutely encourage you to go through your list of legendary creatures and look at the ones you tend to skip over because they’re objectively bad. Pull them out and look at them. Think hard about what you would need to make them effective, and then just build them. Pick one, put it together. You might be surprised at the results.
What off-the-wall generals have you built, or are planning on building? Let me know what you have found, and what problems you encounter(ed) when putting the decks together. More importantly – let me know what solutions you have found for those problems. This is the true spice of the format!