You Don’t Mess with the Ruhan

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.

Ruhan of the Fomori
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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 ThrullDBGwafa Hazid, ProfiteerBSRemember the FallenBI
AbsorbDBGwafa Hazid, ProfiteerJLReturn to DustDB
AbsorbJLHanna, Ship's NavigatorJLReveillarkBS
AbsorbRRHanna, Ship's NavigatorBIReverberateJL
Academy RectorRRHanna, Ship's NavigatorRRRighteous CauseRR
AcquireBIHellkite ChargerBSScourge of the NobilisRR
Adamaro, First to DesireDBHelm of KaldraBSScuttlemuttBI
AftershockDBHinderRRScuttlemuttBS
Aggravated AssaultBSHindering LightRRSecond SunriseJL
Akroma, Angel of FuryBIIcefallDBSensei's Divining TopJL
Akroma's VengeanceRRIlluminateBISensei's Divining TopBI
Angelic DestinyRRIncendiary CommandDBSensei's Divining TopBS
Angel's GraceBSInfernoDBShield of KaldraBS
AngerBSInferno TitanRRSkullclampBS
AngerDBIngot ChewerDBSol RingBI
AngerJLIntimidation BoltJLSol RingBS
Argentum ArmorRRInto the CoreDBSol RingJL
Auriok SteelshaperBSIridescent AngelBISol RingRR
Austere CommandBSIzzet SignetBISovereigns of Lost AlaraRR
Austere CommandDBIzzet SignetDBSpellskiteBS
Avatar of SlaughterBIJodah's AvengerBISpirit en-DalBI
Azorius SignetBIJotun GruntBIStalking VengeanceDB
Azorius SignetDBJourneyer's KiteBSStandard BearerBS
Basilisk CollarBSKargan DragonlordBISteel of the GodheadJL
Basilisk CollarJLKargan DragonlordJLSteel of the GodheadRR
Battlegrace AngelRRKarmic GuideBSSteelshaper ApprenticeJL
Bladed PinionsBIKeiga, the Tide StarBIStinkdrinker DaredevilRR
Bladed PinionsJLKeiga, the Tide StarJLStonecloakerDB
Blazing ShoalJLKeldon VandalsJLStoneforge MysticBI
Bloodfire ColossusDBKismetRRStoneforge MysticBS
Bloodmark MentorJLKithkin ArmorJLStoneforge MysticJL
Boldwyr IntimidatorRRKor SanctifiersRRStonehewer GiantBI
BonehoardJLKusari-GamaBIStonehewer GiantBS
Boros Fury-ShieldBIKusari-GamaBSStonehewer GiantJL
Boros SignetBILaccolith RigBIStonehewer GiantRR
Boros SignetBSLeonin AbunasBSStonehewer GiantDB
Boros SignetDBLeonin ShikariBSSudden ImpactBS
Brion StoutarmBILeonin ShikariDBSuffocating BlastDB
Brion StoutarmJLLightning AngelBISun TitanRR
Candles of LengJLLightning GreavesBISunforgerBS
CataclysmRRLightning GreavesDBSunforgerDB
Cerebral EruptionRRLightning GreavesJLSunforgerJL
Champion's HelmBILightning HelixDBSwiftfoot BootsBI
Champion's HelmRRLong-Term PlansBISwiftfoot BootsBS
Chaos WarpBSLoxodon WarhammerBISwiftfoot BootsJL
Chaos WarpJLLoxodon WarhammerBSSword of Feast and FamineBS
Chaos WarpRRLoxodon WarhammerJLSword of KaldraBS
Charmbreaker DevilsDBMagma GiantRRSword of VengeanceBI
Concerted EffortBIMagnetic WebRRSword of VengeanceDB
Cradle of VitalityRRMagus of the ArenaRRSwords to PlowsharesDB
Crater HellionDBMana-Charged DragonDBSwords to PlowsharesRR
Cryptic CommandRRManic VandalDBTahngarth, Talruum HeroBI
Crystal ShardBSMartyr's BondRRTaj-Nar SwordsmithBI
Crystal ShardRRMask of MemoryJLTaj-Nar SwordsmithJL
Curse of Stalked PreyRRMass HysteriaDBTenza, Godo's MaulJL
Cyclops GladiatorRRMaster WarcraftBSTenza, Godo's MaulBI
Darksteel IngotBSMirror GolemBITenza, Godo's MaulBS
Darksteel PlateDBMistblade ShinobiDBTime StopBS
Dawn CharmBSMnemonic NexusBITitheDB
Desolation GiantRRMolten RainJLTormod's CryptDB
DetritivoreRRMomentary BlinkBSTrailblazer's BootsJL
Dispeller's CapsuleBSMother of RunesBITrailblazer's BootsBI
Divine ReckoningRRMother of RunesBSTrailblazer's BootsBS
Dominus of FealtyBIMother of RunesJLTrepanation BladeJL
Dominus of FealtyJLNim DeathmantleBITrepanation BladeRR
Double CleaveDBNim DeathmantleBSTrinket MageBS
Double NegativeJLNim DeathmantleJLTrue ConvictionJL
Drift of PhantasmsBINim DeathmantleDBTsabo's WebDB
Duergar Hedge-MageDBNin, the Pain ArtistBITwilight ShepherdDB
Earnest FellowshipBINin, the Pain ArtistJLUmezawa's JitteRR
Eldrazi ConscriptionRRNinja of the Deep HoursDBValorBI
Elixir of ImmortalityBSNinja of the Deep HoursRRValorJL
Empyrial ArmorRROblationBSVanish into MemoryBI
Enlightened TutorRROblationJLVedalken PlotterJL
Ethereal UsherBIOblationRRVenser, Shaper SavantRR
Expedition MapBSOblivion RingBIViashino HereticDB
Fact or FictionRROblivion RingJLVicious ShadowsDB
Fatal FrenzyDBObsidian Battle-AxeRRVictory's HeraldJL
Fellwar StoneBSOona's GraceBSVolt ChargeJL
Fight to the DeathDBOpal TitanBIVow of FlightDB
Fight to the DeathJLOrim's ThunderDBVow of LightningDB
FlingDBPath to ExileBIWalking ArchiveBI
Fool's DemiseDBPath to ExileBSWall of DenialBI
Frost TitanRRPath to ExileDBWall of DenialJL
Giant HarbingerDBPath to ExileJLWar Priest of ThunDB
Giant HarbingerRRPemmin's AuraRRWaves of AggressionBS
GloryBSPhyrexian MetamorphRRWaves of AggressionRR
Goblin RuinblasterJLPillageJLWheel of FortuneDB
Godo, Bandit WarlordBIPowerstone MinefieldRRWhispersilk CloakBI
Godo, Bandit WarlordBSPrice of ProgressDBWild ResearchRR
Godo, Bandit WarlordJLPrice of ProgressJLWild RicochetBS
Godo, Bandit WarlordRRPristine AngelBIWild RicochetJL
Gorilla ShamanBIPropagandaRRWild RicochetRR
Gorilla ShamanJLPsychotic FuryDBWindfallDB
Grab the ReinsDBPuresteel PaladinBSWonderBI
Grand AbolisherBSQuest for the Holy RelicBSWonderJL
Gratuitous ViolenceBIRebuff the WickedBSWorld at WarBI
Gustcloak SaviorBIReiterateJLWorld at WarJL
Relic of ProgenitusDBWrath of GodRR

In an effort to make this easier to understand, I broke it down into a table that points us in the right direction:

Total in one deckTotal in two decksTotal in three decksTotal in four decksTotal in five decksTotal different cards
163321631215
75.81%14.88%7.44%1.40%0.47%100%

Sol Ring
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.

None.

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.

Bruce Richard




P.S. So, what did I do to improve my own Ruhan list?

"Don’t Mess with the Ruhan!"

Commander (1)
Creatures (26)
Spells (39)
Lands (36)
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