Hello everyone, and welcome back to Legit MTG. After a long break I am back to talk about Magic. I promised we would pivot into Commander, and today I want to talk about my current favorite Commander deck. Before we get started I want to mention that I don’t play Commander a lot. Unfortunately I have not taken time out to set up webcam games, nor get a deck for Magic Online. All of my experience with this format has been paper, and in the last 7 years I have probably played as many games of Commander as I have of Modern in 2020 (before the pandemic shut things down). It doesn’t mean I don’t like the format. I do, but don’t have a ton of time available under normal circumstances to play it. With all of that being said let’s dive in.
What is Commander?
Commander is a format where, outside of basic lands, your deck can only contain single copies of cards. Your deck is limited to 100 cards, and one of those cards is set aside in a special zone called the Command Zone. This card you place there is a legendary creature who is essentially the General of your deck. It’s color identity also informs you of what colors are allowed when constructing your deck.
The roots of this format go back to the beginning of Magic’s existence. Looking for a way to play with cards not in their current decks players developed a multi-player casual singleton format they named Highlander (based after the movie). When Legends was released a group of those players broke off to make a variant of the Highlander format based around the Elder Dragons released in Legends, and called the format Elder Dragon Highlander or EDH for short. Over time as more creatures with the Legend type were printed EDH started to allow those cards to be their Generals, later known as Commanders, to be the face of their deck.
Since 2011 when the first launch of brand new preconstructed decks with the product line name Commander were released Wizards of the Coast (WotC) has supported this casual format for players across the globe. Growing from the ranks of the kitchen table to even having its own sections for players to play at events such as MagicFest Commander (formerly known as EDH) is perhaps the most popular way for players to enjoy a game of Magic: the Gathering with their friends.
This popularity has led to new Commander products such as preconstructed decks tied to a new plane with a Standard product, and the upcoming Commander Legends booster draft set being released later this month (so preorder now on Legit MTG!) as well as numerous card designs in product that seemed to be aimed at Commander players.
How do I play Commander?
Commander is played by first choosing the colors you wish to play. This will provide you a choice of Legendary creatures to build your deck around. Unlike traditional (and competitive) formats such as Standard, or Modern, instead of placing a group of good cards together that help achieve the overall goal of winning in Commander you oftentimes build around the Legendary creature that is the face of your Commander deck. For example let’s take a look at a Commander I will eventually want to build.
Grand Arbiter Augustin IV is an Azorius colored Legend from Dissension. While the power and toughness stats for a 4 mana creature don’t look great, what I would use this Legend for is a deck full of counterspells, board wipes, card draw, and planeswalkers. I love Azorius Control based decks, and this one speaks to me so much that it may be the next deck I build (and hope to have ready for when we can play paper events again). It’s color identity in it’s casting cost of blue, and white, indicate that you can only play spells that are mono white, mono blue, or are Azorius colors. Cards such as Esper Charm, for example, can’t be played because they have a third color in black which by rule is not allowed.
Beyond the colored spells you can play artifacts in your deck, and it’s oftentimes advised to do so. Cards such as Azorius Signet and Sol Ring can help provide you mana to cast spells with a larger mana cost while having a response ready to counter any attempt to interact with you. Each turn passes around the table as each spell is cast to make sure everyone has had a chance to respond to a spell being cast, and turns are taken in order clockwise around the table. It may be hard to see everyone’s cards in play when sitting in a 4-layer pod so don’t be afraid to ask questions about a card, or what effects it has on the game.
Commanders can come in any combination of the 5 colors in Magic, or even be colorless. Your choice, and how that choice leads to deck construction can feel somewhat unlimited which while intimidating at first it makes building the decks, and playing them against others some of the most fun one could have playing Magic. Each game is never the same.
Let’s take a look at my current favorite Commander in Breya, Etherium Shaper.
Breya, Etherium Shaper
How the deck works
You want to establish a board full of artifacts that will either produce mana, allow you to swap out artifacts that have lost their use for more powerful ones in hand, remove threats on the board, or combo out to win the game. Use your creatures to protect your artifacts, or help you unbury the artifacts in your graveyard to play them again. This deck can do a lot, and has a few combos in it as well.
Thopter Foundry + Sword of the Meek + Krark-Clan Ironworks
Remember my Tezzerator article from earlier this year? When I was in the process of building that deck for Modern back in the fall of 2016 Breya was released as one of the preconstructed decks for Commander. I immediately was on board as this is something I love executing. With Krark-Clan Ironworks, Sword of the Meek, and Thopter Foundry in play (and at least 1 open mana) you can cause an infinite combo. You start by paying 1 mana to activate Thopter Foundry sacrificing Sword of the Meek. This creates a blue thopter token which when that enters the battlefield triggers Sword of the Meek in your graveyard to enter play equipped to the newly created thopter. Now sacrifice the thopter to Krak-Clan Ironworks to generate 2 colorless mana. Use 1 mana to repeat the first step of sacrificing Sword of the Meek to Thopter Foundry. Rinse, and repeat. Not only do you create an infinite army of 1/1 Thopters, but also gain infinite life.
Combine this infinite combo with Impact Tremors (which causes 1 damage to each opponent when a creature enters play under your control), or Altar of the Brood (which causes each opponent to mill a card when a permanent enters the battlefield under your control) to win the game on the spot if your opponents have no way to interrupt your combo.
Breya, Etherium Shaper + Nim Deathmantle + Ashnod’s Altar (or Krark-Clan Ironworks)
Yes sometimes your Commander can even be part of a combo! When Breya, Etherium Shaper enters the battlefield she brings with her a pair of 1/1 blue thopter tokens. While Nim Deathmantle is an Equipment card it does not have to be equipped to a creature at the start of this combo for this to work. You’ll want to start by having all of these cards in play. Using Ashnod’s Altar (or Krark-Clan Ironworks) you sacrifice one of the thopters gaining 2 colorless mana, then sacrifice Breya for 2 more colorless mana. You will then use the 4 mana you just received to bring Breya back from the graveyard, equipped to Nim Deathmantle, making 2 more blue thopter tokens allowing you to repeat this process. This is a dangerous combo as you are putting your Commander into the graveyard exposing it to possible graveyard removal so you have to be careful. This combo can provide you an infinite number of thopters which, once you name an arbitrarily large number and stop the combo, you can use to generate mana while sacrificing other thopters to Breya’s ability detailing 3 damage to an opponent for each activation. It’s slow, but can work.
Phyrexian Metamorph (or Sculpting Steel) + Sharuum the Hegemon
This combination is a bit easier to execute as it requires only 2 cards, and then a pay off card. With this you want to start with having Sharuum the Hegemon in play. Then cast Phyrexian Metamorph (or Sculpting Steel) choosing to copy Sharuum. The text on Sharuum reads: “When Sharuum the Hegemon enters the battlefield, you may return target artifact card from your graveyard to the battlefield”. Before you can do that you have to choose when Sharuum you want to keep: the original or the copy. Keep the original, the copy will go to your graveyard, then the enters the battlefield ability above will resolve putting the card you just cast back into play causing this combo to happen again.
Thopter Assembly + Time Sieve
Here is another two card combo, and this one doesn’t necessarily require an added card to close out the game, but you’ll probably find it by executing this combo. Start out with Time Sieve in play, and cast Thopter Assembly. Sacrifice 5 other artifacts to take an extra turn (make sure you have no other thopters besides Thopter Assembly in play). Take your next turn by returning Thopter Assembly to your hand making 5 colorless thopter tokens. Play Thopter Assembly again, and sacrifice the tokens to Time Sieve to take another turn.
Eventually you will find cards that can help you win the game, such as the aforementioned Impact Tremors or Altar of the Brood. You could also find pieces for the other combos I listed above, or even find a Hellkite Tyrant to take everyone’s artifacts, and then win the game on your upkeep. Time Sieve could also be paired with the first two combos I mentioned above to take infinite turns as well.
What may be missing?
While this is the deck I have built, and many players build their decks differently, some of you may be curious about a few things that the deck seems to be lacking. Let’s take a further look at a few things I notice myself, and others that you may already be thinking of.
- No fetchlands?
I don’t think the deck needs them. I used to have them in here, however the amount of shuffling I already do with tutor effects such as Fabricate and Trinket Mage were (for me) a lot of shuffling in a casual game of Magic. I am focusing on the synergies with the artifact lands here instead, and trying to run fecthlands along with the artifact lands from Mirrodin seemed like the two were working at cross purposes with each other. So one had to go.
- Where’s the spot removal?
This is a problem I have in general with Commander decks. I want to add more in, but not sure where to place them. With cards coming in Commander Legends this deck will change to add a few more things, but I still want to have a good mix of spot removal, and board wipes. More tinkering will need to be done.
- No dual lands?
I have Hallowed Fountain here. Oh you mean those dual lands. No. I won’t run them, nor will I run any Reserved List card in my Commander decks. No I won’t proxy them either. To me this format is about the cards you purchase, and the spirit behind it is the fun you are supposed to have battling it out against 3 other players. Winning, prizes, and (to an extent) optimal plays aren’t a part of that in my opinion. I will have more about this, and other Magic topics across the game in an upcoming article. If you want to play with Reserved List cards have at it. There are many I have forgotten, and probably still some that I have never seen (or at least seen played).
Is this deck for me?
The answer to this question really depends on your playstyle. I feel as if Commander really leans into wanting the answer to that question before opening its doors to new players. Unlike more traditional formats Commander allows you to play cards that won’t be seen elsewhere, and come up with combinations you can’t while playing another format. This is the beauty of Commander, and part of the reason I am dipping my toes in. However with that said if you like decks based around artifacts, creating infinite combos, and the things that these entail then YES this deck is for you.
You need to be mindful of the hate you can see at the table. Some players downright hate decks that cause infinite combos. Before you build this deck have a conversation with your playgroup (if you have people you regularly play Magic with). This way the experience is not ruined by everyone. However if you only play in pick up groups you find at stores, or after your local Friday Night Magic (FNM) is over, just make sure you inform the players of your Commander, and answer any questions being asked, and answer them honestly but without giving away all of your secrets. An example of this is if you are asked how many tutors you run you can answer the number of them, but not mention specific cards. Part of the fun of this format is finding out what players have chosen for their decks as they play them.
Commander can be a great experience for anyone wanting to play Magic: the Gathering. The tournament scene, or even FNM events at your local store, may not be what someone is looking for. Deck building in this format can spark a lot of imagination, and creation decisions, however if you go overboard with your choices you may become the villain of your playgroup which ruins the fun for everyone. The key to understanding the rules of engagement in a casual format is having a conversation before playing, and having an understanding of how the game will be played out. This could be anything from making sure the decks are balanced, or having a rule that everyone doesn’t gang up on one person because their choice of Commander is disliked. Of all the formats Commander is the one that truly seems to emphasize “the Gathering” part of Magic: the Gathering, and let us hope that continues to be the case in the years to come. Above all else, have fun.
What do you think of the deck? What removal spells should I include? Please let me know by leaving a comment below, and follow me on both Twitter as well as Facebook, and check out The Astrolab Podcast.
As I alluded to near the end of the article the next time I am here I’ll talk about the game as a whole, some changes I feel could be made, and how to make the game better.
TAP MORE MANA!!!
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