One of the greatest draws of Commander is the ability to use almost any card ever printed. This is great for players that have built up a collection over years or decades. Not all Commander players have infinite cards or infinite money to spend on this format. While appealing to most, the vast card pool can be daunting and prevent players from adding Commander to their repertoire. But what if the card pool was limited? Every way to play Magic has a restriction on the card pool, with Commander’s being one of the least restrictive.
Self-imposed restrictions can engage the imagination resulting in creative solutions. A singleton deck compiled from only two core sets (Magic 2012 and Magic 2013) and the last two blocks (Scars of Mirrodin and Innistrad) is a reasonable self-imposed restriction, mimicking a situation experienced by new-to-Commander players. This restriction also allows common and uncommon cards a chance to shine in a format often dominated by bomby rares and mythic rares. Format staples like Sol Ring, Lightning Greaves, and Demonic Tutor do not exist in the current Standard. Are there cards that can fit into a deck to fill roles covered by staples? Does a Standard Commander deck maintain a fun Commander experience?
The Great General Search
Some card pool restrictions immediately eliminate the possibility of finding a strong legendary creature. Thankfully, this is not one of those restrictions. There are 1625 cards in Standard, and 29 legendary creatures from that pool. Color choices are limited to mono-color Generals, such as the newest legendary creatures, or six of the ten two-color combinations. The M13 legendary creatures are bright, shiny, and new, but they have been covered recently. Twenty-four options remain, thirteen from Scars of Mirrodin and eleven from Innistrad.
Scars of Mirrodin block
Phyrexian leadership is a distinct possibility. The mono-colored Praetor (Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur, Sheoldred, Whispering One, Urabrask the Hidden, and Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger) cycle from New Phyrexia are effective leaders, especially in a deck focused on “griefing” strategies. By taking pleasure in the misery of others, the praetors and their abilities can be built around, creating decks that few opponents enjoy playing against. Even though Praetor leadership comes with a large increase in power, a steeper price is also part of the package. Four of these five have hefty mana costs, decreasing the number of times they can be reliably cast in a game.
Two other phyrexian possibilities from Scars block are Geth, Lord of the Vault and Glissa, the Traitor. Geth, as a 5/5 Zombie with intimidate can eliminate the opposition single-handedly. By stealing opponent’s equipment, connecting for 21 Commander damage in less than four swings is possible. He can also work as a supporting creature in a blue-black deck, assisting a secondary mill strategy. Glissa, on the other hand, is an aggressive 3/3, first striking, deathtoucher, for three mana. Returning an artifact from your graveyard to your hand any time an opponent’s creature dies will result in a lot of card advantage in Commander games.
The Mirrans, while not successful in fending off the Phyrexian corruption, do have powerful legendary creatures. Not a cycle of cards like the Praetors: Ezuri, Renegade Leader, Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer, Kemba, Kha Regent, Melira, Sylvok Outcast, and Thrun, the Last Troll are all candidates. Ezuri, Renegade Leader, is best in an elf deck, and Innistrad did not bring any elves to the party. Melira and Thrun can lead mono-green good stuff decks but the limited card pool decreases the effectiveness of this option. Similarly, Kemba is as good in a equipment based deck that includes white as she is leading the party. Powerful equipment (Sword of Feast and Famine and Argentum Armor) and equipment enablers (Brass Squire and Puresteel Paladin) increase her versatility. Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer as a two-color deck, would love the assistance of Kemba and her cat tokens. A red-white equipment deck is a viable option.
Infect in Commander is a touchy subject in some playgroups. As an alternate win condition, a competitive poison based deck often brings a big target on Generals such as Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon. Similar to aggressive decks, poison decks often rely on one player needing to beat the rest of the table single-handedly. This is possible but until an opponent hits 10 poison counters, infect creatures have done nothing to help eliminate players. Alternatively, creatures with infect can have a big impact on the board, by either killing or permanently shrinking opposing creatures. Contagion Clasp is one method of turning creatures with poison into a deadly force. Attack each opponent once, keep the infectors back as blockers, while slowly proliferating to victory.
Innistrad block also contributes
twelve eleven potential Generals. Griselbanned is no longer an option. With the tribal sub-theme present in Innistrad, a tribal-monster deck is a feasible option, despite the smaller card pool. Grimgrin, Corpse-Born, and the other Innistrad zombies can make use of the zombies from Scars of Mirrodin. Vampires and Spirits were not as present on Mirrodin, again decreasing the quantity of options for these two tribes. Non-tribal decks are also possible with Olivia Voldaren and Geist of Saint Traft. Both of these red-black and white-blue Generals are strong enough to lead a cohesive deck.
There are only four mono-colored legends from Innistrad: Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Avacyn, Angel of Hope, and Mikaeus (both Mikaeus, the Lunarch and Mikaeus, the Unhallowed). Three of these are white-aligned, and the other is black. Thalia has the most obvious build around potential. Like Gaddock Teeg, she can wreak havoc on creature-light decks. However, she is much stronger when not restricted to such a small card pool. In a Limited card pool, all four of these can easily slot into a deck with the appropriate color identity.
The last group of possibilites are Avacyn’s Angels. These three two-color cards are comparable to the Praetors. The casting cost of these decrease the likelihood of multiple appearances, but when they stick there is an immediate impact on the game.
Similarly, Gisela, Blade of Goldnight would work well with the other red-white Commander Jor Kadeen. Doubling the damage dealt by equipped creatures increases the potential payoff from the mana investment.
Sigarda, Host of Herons, is the only green-white legendary creature in standard. Her ability, preventing forced sacrifices, on a body with hexproof could be another great start to a deck.
And the winner is …
In order to maximize the already limited card pool, a two-color Commander will pilot this Standard Commander deck. Taking this into account with the previous discussion the finalists are: Geist of Saint Traft, Glissa, the Traitor, Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer, Grimgrin, Corpse-Born, and Sigarda, Host of Herons. To make these decks feel like strong decks using Standard playable cards, instead of weak decks restricted to the last two years of cards, Grimgrin and Sigarda are both cut. Avacyn Restored boosted playables in red-white decks, making them strong, especially with a human or soldier sub-theme. White-blue decks consistently have strong finishes in Standard, boosting a Bruna/Saint Traft deck’s potential. But the potential card advantage provided by a tailor made Glissa deck, allows the Traitor to steal the victory.
Standard BG Artifacts
Mirrodin being a metal-based plane increases the viability of using and abusing Glissa’s triggered ability. Cheap efficient artifacts that can be sacrificed, recurred, and replayed will give the aggressive Glissa a mid and late game plan. Solemn Simulacrum, Ichor Wellspring, Blazing Torch, and Grimoire of the Dead gain exponential value when played more than once per game. The innocuous Blazing Torch is a great example. Late in the game it is more than a two mana Shock. It can kill two toughness creatures, triggering Glissa, returning it to your hand. Repeat as desired.
Equipment also provides the deck another strong avenue to victory. The three swords and Moonsilver Spear are examples of equipment abilities worth the mana to cast and equip. But other equipment can serve a supportive role in Glissa’s deck. Infiltration Lens often puts opponents in lose-lose situations, when equipped to Glissa. An opponent’s choice is often, block the 3/3, first strike, deathtouch creature, resulting in a creature dying and Glissa returning an artifact, and drawing two cards or take at least three points of Commander damage. A power-pumping piece of equipment, like Piston Sledge, makes this an even tougher choice for opponents.
Culling Dais, Rusted Slasher, and Piston Sledge are artifacts that enable Glissa’s ability, in a different way. Sacrifice outlets for artifacts will keep the graveyard well stocked. Creature removal spells are frequent in Commander games. Both mass removal and spot removal will trigger Glissa. Losing a board of creatures is less daunting, when it also results in a hand refilled of artifacts.
Artifacts do not have to be cheap or equipment to gain value with Glissa. Popular artifacts like Pristine Talisman, Spine of Ish Sah, Akroma’s Memorial, and Wurmcoil Engine can all be played with Glissa. Spine of Ish Sah also skips the graveyard, returning straight to your hand when destroyed. Allowing the seven mana artifact to be played again and destroy pesky planeswalkers, enchantments, creatures, or even lands.
The Traitor herself is a great source of card advantage. Costing only three mana to cast for her first appearance, she will frequently be cast at least four times per game. This cheap mana cost is not to be forgotten. The card advantage engine provided by the elf zombie is only applicable when she is on the battlefield. Protective equipment like Darksteel Plate and Mask of Avacyn help keep her on the board despite the repetitive board sweepers mentioned earlier.
As this is a Standard based-deck, and Glissa has become compleated, a select few creatures with infect were strongly considered. Contagion Clasp and/or Contagion Engine can provide a mana sink in the mid and late portions of stalled out games. This proliferating pair gains value if destroyed, recurred by Glissa, and recast spreading -1/-1 counters on more creatures just by entering the battlefield. But in order to streamline the deck, all cards with infect were removed from the list. These cuts left valuable openings for creatures and artifacts that will each have a bigger impact individually.
Creatures preferred by Glissa tend to be metallic in nature, but both black and green creatures will aid in her victories. Carnifex Demon, Reaper from the Abyss, and Farbog Boneflinger will each trigger Glissa. Due to the board impacting effect of each these creatures, and creatures like them, artifacts in the graveyard will not stay there long enough to rust. The included creature that needs to prove he is worth the card slot is Splinterfright. By self-milling two cards every turn, he is able to increase the options Glissa will choose from. There are twenty-seven artifacts in the deck and twenty-five creatures (five are artifact creatures). Due to his increasing Glissa’s choices, Splinterfright does not always have to be a large creature to act as a formidable threat.
Nihil Spellbomb and Tormod’s Crypt, are the two forms of graveyard hate in this deck. Both can be brought back by Glissa to prevent any dredge decks from getting out of hand. Grafdigger’s Cage is a third option that could be added to wreck flashback, Birthing Pod, or dredge decks. Graveyard hate goes both ways. Glissa is using the artifacts in the graveyard as a resource. There will be times when an opponent eliminates that resource. Thankfully, most opponents are not as willing to use graveyard removal spells on a Wellspring (either version) or a Blazing Torch.
Glissa's New Outfit
Magical Christmas Land …
This deck can have explosive starts. Playing Glissa, the Traitor on turn three, while not guaranteed, is definitely possible. Especially by playing either Ichor Wellspring or Mycosynth Wellspring on turn two. Turn four Phyrexia’s Core or Piston Sledge will start the card advantage quickly. Sacrifice the Wellspring, and the opponent will face the previously discussed choice: start the Commander damage clock, or block (resulting in the return of the sacrificed Wellspring to be cast and sacrificed again). If Glissa kills a creature, a four-card advantage has occurred. The instants and sorceries included focus on killing opposing creatures.
… And Other Presents
Despite limiting the deck to cards in Standard, there are still a number of choices that can increase the potency of this deck. Unlike other decks where one card can be easily traded for a replacement, this deck can have drastic changes to the play style by swapping groups of three or four cards.
Mana acceleration or mana ramp is one of green’s greatest strengths in Commander. While Primeval Titan is included, sorcery based mana ramping was not. The potential to recur artifacts like Traveler’s Amulet and Mycosynth Wellspring exceeded cards like Rampant Growth and Ranger’s Path without including unnecessary risk. The Amulet was also cut to keep the land fetching Wellspring. For two colorless mana both artifacts will search for a basic land. Both put the land into your hand, but the Wellspring will repeat the search when it moves from the battlefield to the graveyard. Traveler’s Amulet is able to sacrifice itself, but the number of artifact sac outlets in the deck provides Mycosynth Wellspring the opportunity to have a bigger impact over the course of a game. Both the Amulet for Wellspring and the addition of Caravan Vigil, Farseek, or Rampant Growth are changes if worried about mana.
As mentioned earlier, adding creatures with infect and artifacts that proliferate give the deck an alternate win condition. If this direction is a more desired route, multiple options are available: Contagion Clasp, Contagion Engine, Decimator Web, Phyrexian Crusader, Phyrexian Hydra, Grafted Exoskeleton, Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon, Spread the Sickness, Throne of Geth, and Triumph of the Hordes. These ten cards give the deck a must be dealt with feel without being all-in for infect.
Equipment in Commander decks is valuable, often swinging a late game and determining the victor. There are a few pieces of equipment that did not make the final list but are strong enough to be considered.
- Moonsilver Spear can be particularly potent in this deck. Giving other (non-Glissa) creatures first strike, and creating a 4/4 flying Angel with every attack, could give this deck extra reach. The repeatable creation of 4/4 flying Angel tokens can help quickly rebuild after a mass removal spell.
- Swiftfoot Boots is strong as it mimics the classic Lightning Greaves. Glissa is cheap to cast. This makes her easier to return if spot removal, that the hexproof ability would have prevented, is used to kill her. The reason this did not make the cut is another hexproof inducer, Mask of Avacyn. While more expensive to equip, the boost in power and toughness is often more valuable than haste.
- Argentum Armor can be a game breaker, but there is a twelve-mana investment required before any effect will be seen. If this deck had an infect theme or sub-theme, Armor turns a lot of infectors into one-shot kills. If the deck had a stronger equipment theme, adding cards like Brass Squire, the mana investment is cut in half. But as the deck currently stands, the liability of getting blown out by a Smelt or Creeping Corrosion is too great to include this costly equipment.
- Sword of War and Peace and Sword of Body and Mind are both aggressively costed. Pumping power and toughness by two each will affect how long players allow Glissa and other deadly creatures to remain unblocked. Similar to Infiltration Lens, the choice between block and lose a creature (giving Glissa an artifact), or take a large life swing and the effect of the involved Sword will not be easy.
Until rotation in October this deck will make use of the biggest card pool possible in Standard. Return to Ravnica will bring with it the exodus of Scars block and Magic 2012 Core Set. With it will come new potential Generals (including Magic’s 500th legendary creature), new planeswalkers, an increase in multicolored cards, and some valuable real estate. This fall will also see the release of the next Commander product, Commander’s Arsenal. But both of those releases are down the road. And right now Glissa is strong enough and ready to face any Commander old or new.
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