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 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 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
Aftershock DB Hinder RR Scuttlemutt BS
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 BS Inferno Titan RR Skullclamp 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
Bonehoard JL Kusari-Gama BI Stonehewer Giant BS
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
Cataclysm RR Lightning Greaves DB Sunforger DB
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:

Total in one deck Total in two decks Total in three decks Total in four decks Total in five decks Total different cards
163 32 16 3 1 215
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.


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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