Welcome to the Erin and Brandon Show! Today, the two biggest Magic celebrities who show up in this article, Erin Campbell and Brandon Isleib (right), will walk you through a collaborative introduction to Commander/EDH. Along the way, there will be laughing, tearing up with joy, tearing up bits of paper, and sarcastic uses of exclamation marks! As always, Brandon’s comments are with a B and Erin’s comments are with an E [for awesomE.]
Part 1: Why We Play
E: Every night at FNM, between the second and third rounds, someone will undoubtedly come around with a little spiral notebook and ask you one simple question.
For the longest time, I would reply with “No.” I did take part in one or two after-hours EDH games with a borrowed deck, but I didn’t feel that I enjoyed it enough to devote resources towards building my own deck. It wasn’t until I was in Seattle playing with my good friends Mike and Tifa that I started to really understand why Commander was so popular and why I needed to start playing it a bit more.
Commander, like trading, is a way to get to know people. It’s a way to let down the guard you might throw up before an event and maintain afterward that keeps people from seeing the real you. It’s a time to let your hair down and not be consumed with winning or “The Ideal Play”. It gives you the chance to bond with others over your shared love of underplayed cards from the past — or cards you’ve never seen played at all.
B: Total agreement here. People talk about Legacy and Modern like there’s every kind of strategy available. Yeah — if you only like cards under five mana! Multiplayer gives you interactions, corner cases, and strategies you can’t play anywhere else, and that depth of interaction is both a reason to play and a guiding principle for deckbuilding. With more than two players involved, you’re statistically going to win less than half the time, so there’s no point worrying about it. And when you let go of that and focus on good plays, cool cards, and fun people, Magic takes on some aspects that tournaments just can’t provide.
E: Being someone with the means to not have to pay for cards and who doesn’t need to trade anymore, I was already depriving myself of one potential way to hang out with my FNM peers on a more personal level. By abstaining from Commander I started to feel like I was becoming aloof, or at least like I was being perceived that way.
B: I became a loofah once, and I was perceived that way. When I was 13, I was the model for the card Walking Sponge. Don’t even think about trampling when I’m around.
E: Riiight. Anyway, I don’t want people to think that I’m only coming around because of the competitive aspect of Magic or the chance to win prizes. I do enjoy simply playing the game, so I decided that participating in Commander would convey the point to others and to myself.
B: Stick around for after the contrived and unnecessary break, when we’ll talk about …
*mic cuts off*
Part 2: What We Play
E: Welcome back! As I was saying, once I knew that I wanted to have my own Commander deck, I started to think about choosing a commander for it. The commander really is the focal point of the deck. It determines what colors you can play, what sets to pull cards from to complete your deck (if your commander has abilities like ninjutsu that are unique to a certain block, for example), and can even give people an impression of how much of a threat you’ll be.
I didn’t want a commander that was obviously dangerous. I wanted a deck that would work like a slow burn and that would have a game plan that you wouldn’t necessarily see coming; even if you did, I could play around it and have a “plan B” or even “C.” It was also important to me that my deck not entirely revolve around my commander.
B: Someone should make a spinny tray that you can put your deck on so it can revolve around your commander. Like a lazy susan for decks. And you could motorize it so that your deck is just slowly rotating around your commander and it looks distracting and neat, like when flying creatures in Duels of the Planeswalkers do that glimmering hovery thing.
E: No they shouldn’t.
B: When I have one, I’ll be the toast of the town.
E: You’ll get buttered and eaten?
E: *Unplugs B’s mic* Being someone who plays a lot of removal in my Standard deck, I tend to anticipate that my creatures will be dying at any time. I didn’t want to have someone deal with my commander in some way, and then watch as my deck falls apart. It needed to be able to survive without it.
After perusing Gatherer and thinking back on my Commander experiences with friends in Seattle, I chose Omnath, Locus of Mana as my commander. Going into this, I knew that Omnath had a bad reputation as a commander that people were known for going overboard with. It is a commander that people tend to use in the most grandiose way possible, which goes against my initial feeling that I wanted something more subtle. I felt like Omnath’s static ability was really novel, and that it could be used to fuel a lot of little synergies instead of just one big one (i.e. make Omnath huge and send him after people). This tied into my plan of having a deck that helped by my commander while being functional without it. With these things in mind, I reached out to B for help in making this deck possible.
B: When building this to E’s specifications and approximate budget — “$$” if it were a restaurant review (and yes, I actually asked that) — I had to balance several things in particular, as this was E’s first Commander deck and possibly only one for awhile:
- Give enough replay value. You can throw in tutors until the cows come home, but not only will tutors fail to hasten the cows, they won’t always make game play more interesting. It can be coherent varied.
- Do a couple things very well. You can’t put everything in a deck; otherwise, you don’t know what types of things you’ll draw and you can’t plan your turns around anything. If your deck is good at some useful things, though, opponents will be happy to keep you alive when you share a common enemy.
- Take cards from across Magic’s history. If you’re playing a format where you get to pick from any set, then the most fun will come from leveraging just that. Alpha, Legends, Fallen Empires, The Dark, and Homelands all show up in this deck, along with cards from 20 years later. Yeva, Nature’s Herald can flash in a Gaea’s Liege or a Whippoorwill. Who doesn’t have fun with that?
- Do the unexpected. Monogreen decks, and Omnath decks particularly, have a couple expected traits based on green’s twin heroes: Sir Rampalot and Sir Bashalot. (Sir Mix-A-Lot was not available; he is rumored to play blue.) Rather than give E the “Basic Omnath Tour” followed by the gift shop mug and postcard, I wanted to take a less obvious path, and she did as well.<
- Have a variety of play toys for Omnath. Yeah, you can make Omnath huge, but that makes opponents nervous, and they tend to kill you as a result. Some midlevel value plays, like Tower of Eons and Tower of Fortunes, stop Omnath from looking so nasty while giving you some use out of the mana if he’s expected to die soon.
E: It’s interesting to note that what is expected can often times be subjective. For example, when B sent me the initial draft of this list, I wondered why certain cards didn’t make the cut — cards like Force of Nature and Thorn Elemental that my opponents would never see coming. I was coming at this from the perspective of someone who mostly plays Standard, where big bombs don’t see a lot of play and can be mighty hard to get rid of. From Brandon’s point of view, as someone who has played a lot of Commander, those were cards that people would anticipate me having and which people would be prepared to deal with. Having B explain that to me really made me glad that I went to him for help, because if I had tried to do this on my own (or tried to get help from inexperienced Commander players), I would have fallen into that trap and the deck probably wouldn’t play as well as it does.
*At this point there’s a Full House-type hug. The audience goes “awww.”*
Here’s the deck:
You Do the ‘Nath
B: One of the easiest ways to save money in Commander is to build around basic lands. This is pretty easy with Omnath — just put in Forests and the best Forest-hungry cards, like Dungrove Elder, Beacon of Creation, and Strata Scythe. (Foratog is literally Forest-hungry, but he could not be coaxed from his buffet.) It’s pretty cheap to buy cards like this, since only decks like these will want them. The same goes with Primal Order, which really punishes fancy mana. Turning a supposed weakness ($0 to buy cool lands) into a strength (all these things that want basic lands) is a valuable deckbuilding skill.
Once you get all that mana, there are plenty of things to do with it. Killing flyers is the big one, as Silklash Spider, Predator, Flagship and friends keep you alive and some of your opponents happy to keep you around, as the following vignette demonstrates:
“It’s a Si-si-si-garda, Host of H-h-h-herons! Whatever shall we do?” said Piglet, sounding as brave as he could while hiding behind Pooh.
“Maybe if we put seven mana into a Silklash Spider, it will not want to be so cross with us,” said Pooh, wondering where he could get all that mana.
And although Eeyore was very, very, completely sure that it would not work, Pooh found some mana and gave it to the Spider, who sent Sigarda away. And the honey pot was a sweet reward for a delightful day.
All that mana turns deadly with Hurricane, Squall Line, and Squallmonger. The funky lifegain cards, like Tower of Eons, Sun Droplet, Soul Conduit, and Elderscale Wurm, are in here to keep you from dying to your own global damage, although lifegain is useful regardless. There’s a secret kill with Omnath and Momentous Fall: If you sacrifice a large Omnath to Momentous Fall, you will gain enough life and probably draw enough cards to find Squall Line and take everybody out. It’s a rare line of play — it isn’t tutorable in this deck — but it’s there all the same.
Since you can advance your board state just by tapping mana, Arboria is in the deck so you can do that without getting attacked. The Towers and Yeva let you play well on opponents’ turns to keep the Arboria shield up. Other fun times include:
- Using Gaea’s Liege to turn an annoying land into just a Forest and then swinging with Jedit Ojanen of Efrava and his forestwalking cats.
- Giving Tree of Redemption a Strata Scythe, exchanging life totals, untapping it with Patron of the Orochi to do it again for lifegain, then sacrificing the Tree to Feed the Pack.
- Pouring mana into a Serene Sunset. If a nasty commander is attacking somebody else, you can use Serene Sunset before blockers are declared to give the blocking player a chance to take the commander down.
I could talk longer about the synergies, but I’ve bored my co-host, who actually has to play the deck. We’ll see how it has gone for E after the break …
Part 3: How It Goes
E: Most people consider a deck to be a success or a failure based on how often it wins or loses. I consider this deck a success because of the reactions from people who found out I was playing it, or that I was playing Commander to begin with. Having a deck that allows me to take part in the after-hours Commander at my LGS lets me hang out with people that can’t make it to FNM — people I wouldn’t know otherwise. It feels great to have those people pick up my deck, thinking they know what’s going to be in it, and seeing unexpected things like Arboria or Kamahl, Fist of Krosa. Seeing cards like those give them a new respect for me for being willing to play them, and for the person who built my deck for putting them in.
B: Multiplayer groups don’t work unless you demonstrate that you want people other than you to have a good time too. Why not pique interest instead of bludgeoning people to death? How you build your deck is partly a reflection of what doors you want to open with people. The more fun your deck is to everybody else, the more fun they can have with you.
E: Well, thanks for stopping by the Erin and Brandon show! On next week’s show, the controversial issue: nuclear fission in a social media-driven society. Until then …
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