Fighting Homogeneity

Hello folks! I hope you are having a great time today. Let’s talk about your Commander decks and metagame. Think about your decks. Thinks about the people’s decks you often play against at your Magic Night. Keep that in mind as we talk about over-homogeneity in Commander and ways to deal with it.

The goal of today’s article is to be a bit of an action plan for you that puts into practice some of the issues I noticed in my manifesto last year on the growing homogeneity of Magic, especially as it relates to Commander.

Consider Commander:

Why is a casual-only format, that has:

  1. More cards legal than any other format
  2. A Highlander “there can be only one” restriction for the cards used
  3. An exact 100 card deck size

Why is this format finding a decreasing cardpool being used? Why is it we see an inverse relationship between the numbers of cards printed and the fewer cards played? Wouldn’t it work the other way? Shouldn’t a game with as many playing pieces as Magic have a much higher number of them seeing ongoing and regular play?

Check out my article for why, as well as the loss of other examples of homogeneity in the game now.

One of my theories for this behavior is the Decision Making method of Satisficing, which is a way to settle on the first thing that works, when a Rational Decision Making process would be too cumbersome. I talk about that in more detail above, but it’s pretty easy to see how players just Satisfice on the first card that works, rather than invest time in a different or better card.

If that’s the case, then we can’t repair the issue with printing more cards. We already have enough cards. If Magic as a game ended today and you played the game for ten years on a weekly basis with the existing card pool, there would still be thousands of cards you haven’t seen and never knew existed.

I feel like we’re past the point of card fatigue. I have played or used an overwhelming majority of the cards, but I was introduced into the game when there were only a handful of cards, and slowly learned more as they were released. I played in prereleases and drafts and more and encountered them over and over again. I couldn’t imagine voluntarily picking up a game as complex as this game and at the same time having more than 17,000 unique game pieces!

Sol Ring
So, we need ways to fight against the increasing homogeneity of the game that aren’t relying on certain cards to be printed.

There are a few ideas that popped into my mind ever since, and some I have tried to a lot of success. I’d love to give you a few ideas I had, and then ask you to share any ideas that you might have as well!

Please note this is not for everyone. Some players are fine running a Commander deck that looks like everyone else’s. It works. It wins. It’s fine. Everyone is different! And that’s okay. If your creature list is filled with Eternal Witness, Mulldrifter, Deadeye Navigator, Consecrated Sphinx and Solemn Simulacrum; and your artifacts with Lightning Greaves, Sol Ring, and such, that’s fine. You can have a deck of Commander’s Greatest Hits for your colors and move on.

But what if you want something more? Something new? Something cheap? Where do you start? And what does that look like?

Great question!

And that’s where this article steps in!

Here are three ways I have come up with to help increase the diversity of Commander cards, including two I’ve been doing already.

Build Over Time

Most longtime players probably have, at one point in time or another, taken a sealed deck of some sort and then cracked it and played it. And then we think, “hmmm . . . ” and wonder about how to change the deck. That has always worked as a good tool to make a deck your own, and the benefit of taking a deck and slowly changing it over time as you encounter more cards or your card collection grows is pretty cool. Did you see someone play a great card last night that you never heard of before and you’d love to try out in your deck? Great!

The Commander decks are a great place to put this into practice. I’ve done this before in a lot of places, but it’s been ages. Would it still work?

I grabbed a cheap Commander deck. I didn’t want to lock myself into a tribe, so I steered clear of the Commander 2017 product. I did the reprint of Evasive Maneuvers from Commander Anthology instead, which is pretty cheap with its Derevi, Empyreal Tactician. And it worked really well. It does come with some Commander stalwarts in the box already like Sol Ring, Command Tower, Acidic Slime, Krosan Grip, etc. Not too many though and it has tons of room to grow.

And then I gave myself three modification house rules for my Evasive Maneuvers rebuild in real life.

  1. I cannot add in more than one card/week.
  2. I cannot add in fewer than one card/week.
  3. That card must cost $1 or less when added.

And that’s it! The deck has this nice, slow organic growth to it that has worked, and I haven’t taken it to a broken Derevi Experience with expensive tempo problems like Stasis or Winter Orb. By keeping it cheap and weekly, I have slowly modified and strengthened my deck with cool new cards.

Derevi, Empyrial Tactician
I have to admit I have a problem with card entry to a lot of my decks. For example, take my Commander decks. Now in my normal real-life Commander decks, I use them like a lot of folks. When a new set comes out, I’ll take a look over my existing decks, and then grab the cards from that set that work better, and then modify an existing deck with the new cards, and move on. And that’s understandable.

But then for the rest of the time my decks are closed for business. I am not open to idea of adding cards, but why not? It’s good to play this game with a sense of openness about your deck!

Did somebody play an awesome spell or dork against you that works well? Great! Get a copy and toss it in!

Did you see a great card in the card binder at your local gaming store that’s on sale for a quarter and a perfect fit for your deck? Great! Buy a copy and toss it in!

Did you see a card in a friend’s trade binder that would just make your deck sing? Great! Trade for a copy and toss it in!

Did you draft a card for your deck that would play rather nicely with your deck? Great! Take that copy and toss it in!

That’s the beauty of this game!

I think being more open about the idea of a deck as something that organically grows over time is one that can prove to be great at slowly building decks that differ from one another.

The Deck Doctor

A popular feature for online writers writing about everything from casual decks to tournament decks was a deck doctor. From magazines to columns on Commander, writers would take a look at a deck submitted by a reader, and then edit it to make it a lot better.

There are a few columns out there, but very few, that still do it. One of the most recent was over at StarCityGames.com called “Dear Azami”. That column featured a number of writers who would review a Commander deck and then modify it with a set limit of dollars. I loved that series, and unfortunately, I think the last edition of it was about 13 months ago in January, 2017. It was a great series! I was a little saddened sometimes by how some writers would just take a deck submitted and then give it a bunch of staples to improve it, but it regularly offered readers new directions to take their decks and new ways to build it. And that was cool.

Thawing Glaciers
It’s hard for us as players to be critical of our own baby due to our emotional connection to it. This is my deck. I made it. But it’s easier for an outsider to rejuvenate it with a fresh check. It’s also a great way to get your deck out of a rut and to expose it to cards you might not have thought of, as they are outside of the normal Commander metagame.

Plus, each metagame is different. Cards I might think of as commonly played might not be in yours. For example, I once recall one of the “Dear Azami” writers missing Thawing Glaciers for a deck it was perfectly suited for. (I think it was Levi Byrne, http://www.starcitygames.com/article/33791_Dear-Azami-Your-Deck-Is-Mine.html) And someone pointed out in the comments how good Thawing Glaciers would be, and Levi agrees, and points out that it’s not something commonly played in his metagame, so he forgot it. (I get it, I do the same thing myself for my decklists and I enjoy it when you point out something that works in one of my decks here.)

Using, not just writers, but friends and people you play against at the card shop and more can be a real help. Post your deck online on a forum or something and ask for ideas to freshen it. And be open to helping others as well.

That’s the value of a deck doctor concept. You can get a new look at your deck with an unguarded view that can really help your deck be something fresh and old.

Self-Limiting Formats

I do think a third tool for fighting homogeneity is having some formats that are self-limiting. Take Commander!

You could . . . 

  1. Pauper Commander
  2. Standard Commander
  3. Bulk Rare Only Commander
  4. Commander ‘95 - Only run cards originally printed up through 1995.
  5. Block Commander (Like Ravnica Block Commander)
  6. Build Your Own Block Commander (Like Tempest + Visions + Avacyn Restored with one first, second, and third set of a Block).
  7. Rainbow Stairwell Commander - http://www.gatheringmagic.com/abesargent-11132017-rainbow-stairwell-commander/
  8. Extended Commander (Use the old rules for Extended)
  9. Two Star Commander (Use cards that have 2 or fewer star ratings by the community on Gatherer)
  10. Junky Foil Commander – (Only use those bad foils you are sitting on for a Commander deck)
  11. Silver Bordered Commander
  12. White Bordered Commander
  13. Multicolored Only Commander
  14. Mono-Colored Only Commander
  15. Draft Reject Commander (Made from the cards left over from drafts from your FNM tournaments)
  16. Commander Precon Only – no edits
  17. Commander Precon with 10 changes
  18. Portal Sets Only (and Starters) Commander
  19. Core Set Only Commander
  20. Junk-in-my-Trade-Binder-That-No-One-Wants Commander
  21. Buck Commander – No card can cost more than a buck
  22. Worst Commander Ever Challenge – You build the worst possible playable Commander deck that’s playable. Then before each game flip a coin. If it’s heads, you play your decks. If it’s tails, pass your deck to the right and play theirs!

You get the idea. I just brainstormed these formats pretty quickly, and many are already formats I’ve written about (like Commander ‘95, Standard Commander, Block Commander, Rainbow Stairwell Commander, Pauper Commander, and such). I know that many of you already are pushing yourself and your decks, thanks! But my hope is that there were still a few cool ideas in here for you to play around with, such as the Commander variant list that goes 22 strong.

Reki, the History of Kamigawa
By self-limiting yourself, you force yourself to have a smaller subset of cards to use to build your deck from, and that allows your creative juices to flow. As Mark Rosewater has stated multiple times in his column, “Restriction breeds creativity.” And it does! I used to have a Commander-only column at SCG, and it was easier to come up with a weekly ongoing article for it than my normal casual-only column. When I can write about any topic in casual-dom, well, it’s hard to come up with good topics that you’ll care about on a weekly basis. But when I have a limited scope? I can line up 20 column topics that work with a simple hour long brainstorm session.

It’s the same with Commander. When you have 15,000 cards to look at, of course you’ll be overwhelmed. Where do you start? What do you do? But if I told you that you had to build a Commander deck around a legendary creature that first appeared in Champions of Kamigawa, then you’d be in business. You’d know where to look and what to do.

A self-limited format allows you to push your deck-building skills!

Conclusion

And those are three quick ideas I had for pushing your Commander decks, two of which I am doing right now with positive results. So what else can you think of to help fight the homogenous feeling of a lot of Commander decks and metagames right now? And are you doing some of these? How are you feeling about Commander’s use of cards right now? I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions!

If you want, you can send a Commander decklist to me and I’ll be happy to choose a few for this column in future articles. I can’t, in good conscience, suggest something as a solution and then not be a part of it if I can. Plus, it’d be an honor to help your deck! My e-mail is euplatious@hotmail.com. Please put “Deck Doctor” somewhere in the title, thanks.


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