Greetings everyone! It’s been a little while since I’ve talked deck tech. Part of the problem is that there has been so much new stuff coming out and I have so many Commander projects on the boil that I have been a little stumped with what to build next. Some of these projects are things I am looking forward to springing on the rest of the GDC crew and the general Commander community attending GenCon this year.
As I have alluded to before, I am fairly well known on the Australian Vintage scene as a combo player. The funny thing about the Commander community is that there are two kinds of players we hate: durdly, annoying, take-forever control players, and 1-2-3 whoops I just combo-killed-the-table players. Why do we as a community detest these types of decks and players? I think the answer is fairly straightforward. We market this format that we love as a casual community. We generally have regular playgroups. Some groups may have particular house rules (including points systems such as what our own Uncle Erik has covered in his Playgroup Evolution series). We pour our time into developing a gaming circle where we can enjoy our time gaming. As an early adopter of Magic, I have been playing the game almost as long as it has been available in Australia. I work full time, and I have other social and family commitments. Gaming time is precious. I need to have my fun, as does the rest of my playgroup. As such, while I do advocate the use of some counter magic and a degree of control, and while I am known as a Vintage combo player, I don’t like crossing two-card-monte into my lists. I don’t play the all-Counterspell deck. So what do you do if you don’t like swinging into the red-zone? What do you do if you don’t like windmill slamming fatties on to the board? Me? I like to sling spells.
Feeding the non-redzone-a-tarians
If we’re not windmill slamming a pile of value dudes or turning sideways with some Voltroned up fatties how can we win the game? If we’re not dropping some kind of two card infinite combo like the ever obvious Sharuum the Hedgemon + Sculpting Steel infinite loop finishing with Disciple of the Vault or Bitter Ordeal? Frankly there are plenty of ways, and the best bit about them is that we have to work for our kills. I prefer to work for my kills as it makes the experience that much more satisfying. Let’s look a few of these options:
Big mana X-spells: CMC-X spells are well known finishers. They have made combo decks right back to the very early days of Magic. Some of you may remember encountering the old Channel Fireball decks. From the early days they were a straight play of Mountain, then play and crack Black Lotus for green. Use GG to cast Channel, spend 19 life for 19 mana then cast Fireball with RG and the 19 colourless mana from Channel for the win.
There are plenty of big mana spells that will do the damage that have been produced in 20 years of history. We have the Fireball variants in red, and draw guns like Stroke of Genius in blue, and Exsaguinate in black. There are of course other X spells that will either put a variably large creature or a variably large number of creatures into play.
The problem with these is that they all require enormous mana production to truly go the miles. Big mana spells are generally less desirable payoffs as they are powered by one of two things: some kind of infinite mana generation/filtration combo or the typical big mana ramp.
Rube Goldberg’s playbook: Sometimes it’s fun to cause the occasional infinite loop. In groups that discourage infinite combos they do still sometimes happen. They can be an unexpected, exciting end to the game through discovering unplanned card interactions. On the other hand, while a two or three card infinite loop is easy to drop into play and kill with, a much more complex five, six, or more piece chain of interactions can be rewarding to unload on an unsuspecting group.
You drop innocuous engine pieces disguised as low-value and low-threat cards that combine to form a crazy contraption that does the dirty deed. If you recall playing the children’s board game Mouse Trap you will know what I mean.
Storm and Pseudo-Storm: Storm is arguably one of the most broken mechanics in Magic. The storm ability and derivatives of it reward decks that are able to efficiently play a lot of spells. Storm specifically gives the caster free clones of the spell based on the number of spells slung prior to casting. Popular storm cards include Tendrils of Agony, Grapeshot, and even Brain Freeze. These cards either kill directly through aggregate damage, or in the case of Brain Freeze, through mill.
As for Pseudo-Storm, these are often abilities grafted on a permanent that trigger with the casting of a spell, sometimes restricted to a certain type like instant or sorcery. Quirion Dryad is an example of vertically building pseudo-storm, as are creatures with the Prowess mechanic. Lateral pseudo-storm would include creatures like Young Pyromancer. Whether the pseudo-storm is vertical or lateral, it still counts the number of spells cast and produces more and more creatures or an increasingly large threat for an alpha strike similar to a massive fireball.
Finally, the last variant of Pseudo-Storm is one to which I have referred to before- Fork effects. Forking encompasses any spell or ability clones a spell on the stack. This may include activating abilities of a Riku of the Two Reflections, or cards with Replicate or Conspire. These are often limited to one or two free or cheap clones or have some other kind of limit imposed, either through sheer cost increase or physical limitation.
One Doesn’t Simply Journey to Mordor
I hope I have gotten your brains jingling with the possibilities. You don’t have to jam combo, control, or brainless red-zone decks to get it done in Commander. As you may have concluded, my fortnightly column is going to embark on a deck building exercise. I’d like to take you all on a mental journey on choices and decisions in designing and building a spell-kill deck – one where we’re not strictly aiming to tilt the red zone, though given we’re talking about pseudo-storm and x-spells that can produce dudes, I am not ruling out a red zone kill. We’re going to look at building a multiplayer-grade deck where people who love slinging spells like I do can take these concepts and tune them to be viable so we can all have fun in the journey that is a fun Commander game.
Catch you all next episode,