I recently put together a Commander deck featuring Ruhan of the Fomori. I take a lot of time to build decks, so I tend to be somewhat invested in them. One of the first times I sat down to play, one of my opponents, upon seeing Ruhan as my general, announced, "Oh, the Ruhan deck."
I’ve heard this phrasing several times. "The Kaervek deck." "The Zur deck." "The Captain Sisay deck." "The Ghave deck." So many people seem to believe that there is only one deck for each commander. Commander is a variant that is designed to encourage variety; decks must be larger than the standard sixty-card deck. You can only use one copy of each card (excluding basic lands) in your deck instead of four. Commander decks should—almost by definition—offer more variation than most other formats, yet hearing about "the Ruhan deck" is commonplace.
I decided I wanted to know if this really is true. Is there really only a single version of a deck for each legend in Magic? I decided to ask several people to make a Commander deck using the same leader. I could compare the resulting decks to see if there really was a single deck for each one.
I looked at various legends in Magic to determine one that I thought would limit the options for a Commander deck. Since I doubted there was only one deck, I wanted to make it as difficult as possible for the deck-builders involved to build different decks, so picking a one-dimensional commander is probably the best way to do that. In the end, I chose Ruhan of the Fomori. He is fairly one-dimensional in that he is pretty much a Hulk-smash, table-flipping, attack-attack-attack kind of commander. Admittedly, he is a three-colored commander, so there are more options that way, but I figured he would still work.
Oh, and my Ruhan deck has been getting pounded repeatedly, and I was looking for some help.I sent out my request for help to various writers across the internets, and I received five responses! Five responses would give me plenty of information to work with to determine how much variety there is in Commander deck-building.
Before I go into my biased interpretation of my unscientific results, I want to introduce the writers in question and give you a better understanding of how each writer approached my request for help.
Bennie Smith from StarCitygames was the first to post. It happened that Bennie had recently built a Ruhan deck and wanted to share it with the community. Jack LaCroix, co-host of podcasts Monday Night Magic and Horde of Notions and writer for manadeprived.com and his blog the Bitter Better Man was the next to step up. Rather than suggest his own version of the deck, he suggested significant changes to improve the deck.
Several GatheringMagic writers also took up the call. Brandon Isleib came through with Can Ruhandle It? He made efforts to keep to my original build—replacing some cards with others—rather than creating his own deck. Robby Rothe, with Riders of Ruhan, was next up. Robby took my description of my Ruhan deck (a Voltron-style build) and opted to stay within that style. Finally, Daryl Bockett followed up with Ruhanning on your Parade, a ground-up build for Ruhan.
I then had five decklists and my original decklist. What to do with all this raw data?
- Remove all the lands from the decklists. While there are specialty lands in each deck, I figured that the mana base for each deck would be tailored to fit the deck in question. If someone chose to alter the color percentages from what I originally had, it will produce a different base. Also, Jack and Brandon basically used my list of lands with almost no changes, so I felt that including the lands would skew the results.
- I put the remainder of the decklists into separate columns in a spreadsheet with the deck-builder’s initials in the column next to it. I pasted all of the decks into one column with everyone’s initials next to their card choices, and then sorted the cards. This grouped identical picks together, making it easier to spot same selections in different decks.
- I highlighted the similar picks in various colors to show which cards appeared most often. When the card appeared in two decks, I marked it in green, when it appeared in three decks, I marked it in yellow, and when it appeared in four or more decks, I marked it in red. I should note that I did not include my deck when adding the highlights. Since some of the decks were based on my deck, it seemed incorrect to say both writers chose that card since it may simply be a case when the writer had no issue with my choice. If two writers both left a card I selected for my deck in their decks, I highlighted the card. If they both wanted it in, that should be enough to suggest it should be in.
|Absolver Thrull||DB||Gwafa Hazid, Profiteer||BS||Remember the Fallen||BI|
|Absorb||DB||Gwafa Hazid, Profiteer||JL||Return to Dust||DB|
|Absorb||JL||Hanna, Ship's Navigator||JL||Reveillark||BS|
|Absorb||RR||Hanna, Ship's Navigator||BI||Reverberate||JL|
|Academy Rector||RR||Hanna, Ship's Navigator||RR||Righteous Cause||RR|
|Acquire||BI||Hellkite Charger||BS||Scourge of the Nobilis||RR|
|Adamaro, First to Desire||DB||Helm of Kaldra||BS||Scuttlemutt||BI|
|Aggravated Assault||BS||Hindering Light||RR||Second Sunrise||JL|
|Akroma, Angel of Fury||BI||Icefall||DB||Sensei's Divining Top||JL|
|Akroma's Vengeance||RR||Illuminate||BI||Sensei's Divining Top||BI|
|Angelic Destiny||RR||Incendiary Command||DB||Sensei's Divining Top||BS|
|Angel's Grace||BS||Inferno||DB||Shield of Kaldra||BS|
|Anger||DB||Ingot Chewer||DB||Sol Ring||BI|
|Anger||JL||Intimidation Bolt||JL||Sol Ring||BS|
|Argentum Armor||RR||Into the Core||DB||Sol Ring||JL|
|Auriok Steelshaper||BS||Iridescent Angel||BI||Sol Ring||RR|
|Austere Command||BS||Izzet Signet||BI||Sovereigns of Lost Alara||RR|
|Austere Command||DB||Izzet Signet||DB||Spellskite||BS|
|Avatar of Slaughter||BI||Jodah's Avenger||BI||Spirit en-Dal||BI|
|Azorius Signet||BI||Jotun Grunt||BI||Stalking Vengeance||DB|
|Azorius Signet||DB||Journeyer's Kite||BS||Standard Bearer||BS|
|Basilisk Collar||BS||Kargan Dragonlord||BI||Steel of the Godhead||JL|
|Basilisk Collar||JL||Kargan Dragonlord||JL||Steel of the Godhead||RR|
|Battlegrace Angel||RR||Karmic Guide||BS||Steelshaper Apprentice||JL|
|Bladed Pinions||BI||Keiga, the Tide Star||BI||Stinkdrinker Daredevil||RR|
|Bladed Pinions||JL||Keiga, the Tide Star||JL||Stonecloaker||DB|
|Blazing Shoal||JL||Keldon Vandals||JL||Stoneforge Mystic||BI|
|Bloodfire Colossus||DB||Kismet||RR||Stoneforge Mystic||BS|
|Bloodmark Mentor||JL||Kithkin Armor||JL||Stoneforge Mystic||JL|
|Boldwyr Intimidator||RR||Kor Sanctifiers||RR||Stonehewer Giant||BI|
|Boros Fury-Shield||BI||Kusari-Gama||BS||Stonehewer Giant||JL|
|Boros Signet||BI||Laccolith Rig||BI||Stonehewer Giant||RR|
|Boros Signet||BS||Leonin Abunas||BS||Stonehewer Giant||DB|
|Boros Signet||DB||Leonin Shikari||BS||Sudden Impact||BS|
|Brion Stoutarm||BI||Leonin Shikari||DB||Suffocating Blast||DB|
|Brion Stoutarm||JL||Lightning Angel||BI||Sun Titan||RR|
|Candles of Leng||JL||Lightning Greaves||BI||Sunforger||BS|
|Cerebral Eruption||RR||Lightning Greaves||JL||Sunforger||JL|
|Champion's Helm||BI||Lightning Helix||DB||Swiftfoot Boots||BI|
|Champion's Helm||RR||Long-Term Plans||BI||Swiftfoot Boots||BS|
|Chaos Warp||BS||Loxodon Warhammer||BI||Swiftfoot Boots||JL|
|Chaos Warp||JL||Loxodon Warhammer||BS||Sword of Feast and Famine||BS|
|Chaos Warp||RR||Loxodon Warhammer||JL||Sword of Kaldra||BS|
|Charmbreaker Devils||DB||Magma Giant||RR||Sword of Vengeance||BI|
|Concerted Effort||BI||Magnetic Web||RR||Sword of Vengeance||DB|
|Cradle of Vitality||RR||Magus of the Arena||RR||Swords to Plowshares||DB|
|Crater Hellion||DB||Mana-Charged Dragon||DB||Swords to Plowshares||RR|
|Cryptic Command||RR||Manic Vandal||DB||Tahngarth, Talruum Hero||BI|
|Crystal Shard||BS||Martyr's Bond||RR||Taj-Nar Swordsmith||BI|
|Crystal Shard||RR||Mask of Memory||JL||Taj-Nar Swordsmith||JL|
|Curse of Stalked Prey||RR||Mass Hysteria||DB||Tenza, Godo's Maul||JL|
|Cyclops Gladiator||RR||Master Warcraft||BS||Tenza, Godo's Maul||BI|
|Darksteel Ingot||BS||Mirror Golem||BI||Tenza, Godo's Maul||BS|
|Darksteel Plate||DB||Mistblade Shinobi||DB||Time Stop||BS|
|Dawn Charm||BS||Mnemonic Nexus||BI||Tithe||DB|
|Desolation Giant||RR||Molten Rain||JL||Tormod's Crypt||DB|
|Detritivore||RR||Momentary Blink||BS||Trailblazer's Boots||JL|
|Dispeller's Capsule||BS||Mother of Runes||BI||Trailblazer's Boots||BI|
|Divine Reckoning||RR||Mother of Runes||BS||Trailblazer's Boots||BS|
|Dominus of Fealty||BI||Mother of Runes||JL||Trepanation Blade||JL|
|Dominus of Fealty||JL||Nim Deathmantle||BI||Trepanation Blade||RR|
|Double Cleave||DB||Nim Deathmantle||BS||Trinket Mage||BS|
|Double Negative||JL||Nim Deathmantle||JL||True Conviction||JL|
|Drift of Phantasms||BI||Nim Deathmantle||DB||Tsabo's Web||DB|
|Duergar Hedge-Mage||DB||Nin, the Pain Artist||BI||Twilight Shepherd||DB|
|Earnest Fellowship||BI||Nin, the Pain Artist||JL||Umezawa's Jitte||RR|
|Eldrazi Conscription||RR||Ninja of the Deep Hours||DB||Valor||BI|
|Elixir of Immortality||BS||Ninja of the Deep Hours||RR||Valor||JL|
|Empyrial Armor||RR||Oblation||BS||Vanish into Memory||BI|
|Enlightened Tutor||RR||Oblation||JL||Vedalken Plotter||JL|
|Ethereal Usher||BI||Oblation||RR||Venser, Shaper Savant||RR|
|Expedition Map||BS||Oblivion Ring||BI||Viashino Heretic||DB|
|Fact or Fiction||RR||Oblivion Ring||JL||Vicious Shadows||DB|
|Fatal Frenzy||DB||Obsidian Battle-Axe||RR||Victory's Herald||JL|
|Fellwar Stone||BS||Oona's Grace||BS||Volt Charge||JL|
|Fight to the Death||DB||Opal Titan||BI||Vow of Flight||DB|
|Fight to the Death||JL||Orim's Thunder||DB||Vow of Lightning||DB|
|Fling||DB||Path to Exile||BI||Walking Archive||BI|
|Fool's Demise||DB||Path to Exile||BS||Wall of Denial||BI|
|Frost Titan||RR||Path to Exile||DB||Wall of Denial||JL|
|Giant Harbinger||DB||Path to Exile||JL||War Priest of Thun||DB|
|Giant Harbinger||RR||Pemmin's Aura||RR||Waves of Aggression||BS|
|Glory||BS||Phyrexian Metamorph||RR||Waves of Aggression||RR|
|Goblin Ruinblaster||JL||Pillage||JL||Wheel of Fortune||DB|
|Godo, Bandit Warlord||BI||Powerstone Minefield||RR||Whispersilk Cloak||BI|
|Godo, Bandit Warlord||BS||Price of Progress||DB||Wild Research||RR|
|Godo, Bandit Warlord||JL||Price of Progress||JL||Wild Ricochet||BS|
|Godo, Bandit Warlord||RR||Pristine Angel||BI||Wild Ricochet||JL|
|Gorilla Shaman||BI||Propaganda||RR||Wild Ricochet||RR|
|Gorilla Shaman||JL||Psychotic Fury||DB||Windfall||DB|
|Grab the Reins||DB||Puresteel Paladin||BS||Wonder||BI|
|Grand Abolisher||BS||Quest for the Holy Relic||BS||Wonder||JL|
|Gratuitous Violence||BI||Rebuff the Wicked||BS||World at War||BI|
|Gustcloak Savior||BI||Reiterate||JL||World at War||JL|
|Relic of Progenitus||DB||Wrath of God||RR|
In an effort to make this easier to understand, I broke it down into a table that points us in the right direction:
Over 75% of the cards selected are in only one deck. Only 25% of the cards were in at least two versions of the five Ruhan decks. Stonehewer Giant was the only card that was in all five of the decks (and embarrassingly, not in my deck). There were no cards from my deck that appeared in all five versions provided.
|Total in one deck||Total in two decks||Total in three decks||Total in four decks||Total in five decks||Total different cards|
Not Sol Ring or Swords to Plowshares. Not Path to Exile or Nim Deathmantle or even Godo, Bandit Warlord.
These five writers, using a one-dimensional commander, each came up with very different decklists. Most of these writers were even using my deck as a basis to provide a more focused, streamlined deck, and they still produced widely varied results! Given this, if you are one of the people referring to "the Ruhan deck," you might want to think twice. The deck is probably very different than what you expect.
P.S. So, what did I do to improve my own Ruhan list?