Whoops. I’ve done it again.
I was trying to hang a picture up in the bathroom, and I must have slipped and hit my head on the edge of the sink. When I came to, I found I had gotten irritated with the format (or at least my interaction with it as of late) and torn apart all of my decks. Again.
SKYDIVING WITHOUT A PARACHUTE
It will come as no surprise to anyone who reads GeneralDamageControl.com regularly, but I do this a lot – usually once or twice a year. I’m like the daylight savings time of Commander. (“Did I read he ripped his collection apart again? Shit…that reminds me – don’t forget to set the clocks back this weekend…”) It’s a combination of a metagame that I’m at constant odds with (read anything I’ve posted in the last few years for details there) and a revolving door of deck ideas that seem like a great idea in theory and end up sucking once built – Ezuri, Claw of Progress Arcbound Graft-O-Rama saw one lousy game before getting tossed in the trash.
Sometimes, it’s proof of concept that makes me instantly bored with a deck – my recent Phage the Untouchable killed itself in the first game I played with it, and then in the second game went like this:
- Play Endless Whispers. Whistle innocently.
- Play Command Beacon. Phage to my hand. (I point out the window and say, “What on Earth is THAT?!?!?!” before activating.)
- Untap, play Miren, the Moaning Well. Play Phage. Sacrifice Phage. Move to my end step, and kill the guy to my right.
- Next turn, play Torpor Orb. Play Swiftfoot Boots. Play Phage. Tap Rogue’s Passage. Dome the guy to my right. The last player at the table [/card]Strip Mine[/card]s Passage in response.
- Untap, raw-dog Whispersilk Cloak off of the top.
…And I’m spent. Grabbed the brass ring, and it’s all downhill from here.
In any case, once too many of these reasons (real or imagined) to kill off a deck completely stack up in my head, I tend to grow disillusioned and blow out the entire quiver. Baby, meet bath water.
THE ROOT OF ALL (MY) EVIL
I’m a deck-builder at heart. If it wasn’t for the process of brewing ideas, tuning lists, accumulating hard-to-get cards and sleeving up the perfect 99, I would have given up playing Commander a long time ago. In my heart of hearts, I’m a spike wrapped in a casual player, coated tip to tail in a terrible player. I get the rules. (Most of them.) I understand complex interactions and I get tactics. I ‘Top at the end of your turn, and I ask you to let me know when you’re moving to your attack step. I retain priority. I bluff blue mana. I look like I really know what I’m doing.
However, one of the reasons that I think Commander is so appealing to me is that, despite all of my game knowledge, I still suck when it comes to sitting down and shuffling up. I’ve punted more competitive plays than I can count. I’m not big on playing under pressure, and I don’t like being held to strict rules enforcement. I like take-backs and relaxed attitudes. I’ve been known to tilt-scoop to players that try to rules-lawyer me at Prereleases, because I know my anger is going to cause me to dump the games anyway.
But I like the order of competitive formats. I like good decks. Hell, I’ll absolutely admit to cribbing ideas – and sometimes entire lists – from other players, because I know they’ll work. I like combos. I like power plays. I like broken interactions. I like the tight controlling synergy of Legacy Grixis Delver. I love the feel of opening on a turn-one Goblin Charbelcher kill in Vintage.
These things are next-level, and I’m drawn to them big-time.
And yet, all of this is why I am a strict Commander player. I know…makes no sense. The thing is, I don’t really like who I am when I get competitive and angry. I don’t like getting worked up over a game that’s supposed to be fun. Commander allows me to take off the hardcore hat and get comfortable, and that’s huge. I need that in order to stay engaged and sane at the same time.
But it means that I resign myself to bad plays, because…well, because I can’t escape the mistakes I make. And because of that, there’s a tight balance between the time I spend playing, the decks that I play, and the building and brewing process.
This is why I have a few-thousand cards loosely piled up right now where once there were sleeved decks.
THE BLUEPRINT (FOR THE TIME BEING)
I could go on ad nauseam about why I do what I do, and a few of you might keep reading. At the end of the day, though, I want to be an example. This format – or any format, for that matter – will get you down at some point. That’s life. It’s all about how you dig back out that defines your love and respect and interest in the game. I’m here to say that it’s okay to give up on things for a bit if they feel off. Walk away. Sell your cards, or stick them in the closet. Without perspective, you’re still going to get pissed when you lose to an infinite combo or some bullshit cookie-cutter Meren of Clan Nel Toth deck, or even just a pre-con with a few cards switched out and a better draw. You’re still going to stand in a parking lot at 11pm on a work night after a bad game, complaining about how no-one gets ‘the right way’ to step to Commander (and by that, I mean ‘Cut the shit with the all-progressing your deck strategy at the expense of playing removal’.)
Maybe you’ll quit for good. (And maybe that’s okay too. )
What I do is take it back to where I began. I start to build, and remember why I like the game and Commander in general. I set a starting limit, a set of goals, and I build to it before I go anywhere near a gaming table.
Right now, my limit to start is going to be two decks; one relaxed and fun, the other tuned to hang in any kind of game that might pop up. The usual rules apply per my personal guidelines:
- No infinite combos
- Play generals that are off the beaten path, old school, or both.
- Hit a good cross-section of strategies and colors.
- Play decks that push my Commander philosophy – “It’s all about the journey, not the destination.”
Here’s what that looks like right now:
DECK 1: Mishra, Artificer Prodigy
My current signature deck, with all due respect to @SwordsToPlow for really keying me in to it. In fact, here’s how cool Sean and @MDaveCs are:
This was my surprise birthday present this year from these two. In case you’re wondering, the art represents my take on Mishra strategy:
The deck abuses the interaction between Possibility Storm and Mishra to gain serious card advantage; for those of you not in the know, if you have both Storm and Mishra in play and you cast an artifact, you can layer triggers in such a way that you get a free artifact from Possibility Storm, toss the card you initially played under the bottom of your deck, and then use Mishra’s trigger to go get it and play it anyway. Two for the price of one.
Even without Mishra, the deck is designed to make good use of Storm; each card type is represented multiple times, and I try to fine tune the function of the deck based on this. Sorceries are nearly all removal, so that if I need to pop off Damnation, PS is giving me Decree of Pain. Instants are the tutors and card draw – play a Vampiric Tutor, get a Fact or Fiction. Enchantments are mostly all there to facilitate things – see Blood Funnel and Nether Void, and the artifacts are the bread-and-butter. They win the game (via the Fifth Dawn ‘Stations’ combo, or by Darksteel Reactor), and give me a little bit of everything else combined to let me interact with the game. They flip things on edge (Teferi’s Puzzle Box), handle problems (Oblivion Stone), and let me break my own rules (Ice Cauldron) for fun and profit.
It’s not a powerhouse of a deck, but it’s a blast and it creates fun and wild games.
DECK 2: Angus Mackenzie
This is one of the more synergistic decks I’ve ever built and played. Most people are familiar with the ‘Bant Blink’ archetype; my deck focuses on the interaction between Aluren and Man-O’-War to create card and board advantage. The deck stays mostly under a CMC of three for creatures, and aims to completely bend over to Torpor Orb focus on ‘Enters the Battlefield’ triggers to get the job done – Aura Shards, Mentor of the Meek, Wall of Blossoms – basically, I want to get cards cycling in and out and wreaking havoc with the board. Mix in Cloudstone Curio and Equilibrium to supercharge the whole thing.
It protects itself with Mystic Snake and Spike Weaver, and wins with a flurry of tokens from Fable of Wolf and Owl or an alpha strike from a random creature with a ton of Cathars’ Crusade +1/+1 counters on it. It’s a moderate midrange control deck that is designed not to win (really, those win-cons above are pretty seriously weak), but to tell a hell of a narrative as a game unfolds. If I win, I want it to work for it, and find a line based on the twists and turns of the game at hand. I want to tell the story of the time that Arcane Lighthouse let me target a massively over-enchanted Uril, the Miststalker with Gilded Drake to knock off three other players with general damage from a general I don’t own. That’s where I want to be with this format.
(Yeah, yeah. It should be a Roon of the Hidden Realm deck. My dirty little secret is that I keep a copy sleeved up and ready to go it the mood hits me. But see my criteria above – the mood rarely ever does. Legends for life!)
So there it is – my crazy process. But it keeps me coming back. I’m sure that, given a few months, I’ll be back up to thirteen or fourteen decks and well on my way to taking it all back apart.
Why do I put myself through this over an over? It’s simple.
I do all this because I love Magic, I love Commander, and I suck at playing but I still want to keep coming back.
Does that ring a bell for anyone else?