75% – The Right Tool for the Job

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about how and when and why to build a deck 75%. It’s taking a bit to convey the message that you don’t always want to build every deck 75%, but I am going to keep plugging away at it. The most common opposition I receive regarding the project is people starting their arguments saying, “In my playgroup . . . ” And that’s really the crux, isn’t it? If you play a certain way in your playgroup, build your deck for your playgroup. There’s no need to build a 75% deck if you play with the same people all the time. By all means, tune your deck to your playgroup. 75% decks work well for me because I play with new people all the time. I go to Grands Prix and play with all sorts of groups, ranging from aggro try-hards to people who want me to take a look at their 75% builds and jam a few games to casuals who are seven cards off from a precon and everyone in between. But that isn’t to say I don’t have a few regular, weekly playgroups, and it’s time I addressed what a 75% builder should do in that scenario.

Prophet of Kruphix
The more you build, the more certain decks are going to stick out to you. Some decks you won’t enjoy playing with—I have sold a few complete decks to people who wanted to get into Commander because, at heart, I’m still a finance guy, and old habits die hard. Some decks you will enjoy immensely. The real test is what you end up doing when you pick up a new, flashier version of a card used in multiple decks. When I acquired a Japanese foil Prophet of Kruphix, I took the English foil out of Maelstrom Wanderer and put the Japanese foil in there. The English foil went in Vorel of the Hull Clade, Vorel’s Russian copy went into Riku of Two Reflections, and Riku’s English copy went into the giant box of Prophets I have. If that card gets banned and ends up worth kindling, I’m going to have a really awkward talk with my unborn children about why they don’t have college funds.

If you’d asked me to rank my decks, I may have had to think about it, but my behavior when I shuffle cards around indicates a clear hierarchy. At what point do I not keep Maelstrom Wanderer 75% anymore?

I’ve talked about the fact that I have “juiced” Maelstrom Wanderer a bit. It is my favorite deck to play, but it was almost intoxicating how I wanted to make stronger and stronger plays and make the deck less and less unfair. The thing is that loving to do absurd things with that deck didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the other decks I like to play. I still love to durdle with Riku and make copies of value dudes or do silly Hydra things with Vorel or try to kill everyone with Helix Pinnacle with Kruphix, God of Horizons. I don’t sit there the whole time I’m whiffing with Mayael the Anima thinking, “I wish I were playing Maelstrom Wanderer right now,” just as I thought I might. This led me to the conclusion that I should make Maelstrom Wanderer more powerful and use it on people who deserved that sort of treatment and play my 75% decks with unknown groups and with my regular playgroups whose skill and deck levels vary and where a 75% deck really comes in handy. I have decks specific to each playgroup as well, so why not make Maelstrom Wanderer a little nastier?

So, I did.

Wherever I mentioned that I’d done so, people have asked me about it from time to time. Multiple people have told me they built my exact hundred from the Maelstrom Wanderer article and that they wanted it to be a little spicier. Their playgroups were a little better at dealing with it or they were growing bored playing fair and coming in second. One redditor, /u/puppymagnet, sent me a note that really surprised me.

Hi, last time I built a deck copying yours from the article. You replied and said that you made it stronger. I was wondering if you could tell me what type/which cards once can use to make maelstrom stronger, I am new to MTG and don't know most of the cards, and as I start to find myself in 1v2 or 1v3 situations, the deck often seems not able to keep up. Thanks.

This was a crazy situation to say the least. It seems /u/puppymagnet and his playgroup are all relatively new. In subsequent messages, he elaborated.

It's not that I am losing to a particular deck, it's just that I consistently have to fight off three or four people in any given game because they are all new players, and they cannot judge the board state or threat or what card to play. And one of my friend is very persuasive, resulting in me facing all of them all the time.
So I thought, well, if I have to do this 1v3 or 1v4, I might as well try make the deck so that it can do it.

Remember how I talked about tuning a deck to your playgroup? This is not a situation I anticipated, but it’s someone’s reality, and he asked me for help. I could rattle off some 75% wisdom about helping the rest of the group step their games up so they don’t see him as so much of a threat. I could tell him to steal more of their permanents so they have less to use against him. The reality is that the same things I would tell him for facing a three-on-one apply to people whose playgroups grew spikier such that everyone has better cards, and those players need to compete. There are a lot of reasons to make a deck no longer 75% to tune it to a particular playgroup. Let’s first take a look at what Maelstrom Wanderer looked like when I wrote the article.

Maelstrom Wanderer — Commander | Jason Alt

Commander (1)
Lands (34)
Rocks (16)
Dudes (30)
Spells (19)
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Fond memories indeed. The Izzet Temple hadn’t been announced, I ran Illusionists’ Bracers because I hadn’t fully accounted for how many creatures with relevant abilities I had removed from the deck, and I ran Turn // Burn despite it being terrible with cascade (I talked that up as a feature rather than a bug in the article!). The deck was a little under where a deck can be and still be 75%. I have made significant improvements to it since then.

Maelstrom Wanderer — Commander | Jason Alt

There aren’t a ton of changes, but what I did was add cards that weren’t necessarily in the spirit of 75%. Food Chain is a nasty inclusion to decks like Maelstrom Wanderer’s or my Prossh, Skyraider of Kher deck, wherein Food Chain allows me to go infinite on my turn. I added a Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker combo with Zealous Conscripts so I can auto-win, barring interference with a Tooth and Nail. Conscripts doubles as an actual useful card outside the combo, though the same can’t be said of Pestermite.

Utopia Tree
Cream of the Crop is brutal in decks that cascade, and I find win conditions easily. It’s the closest thing to a tutor I will run. Time Warp is just a stupid card that no one likes to see resolve, but I found it wins games. Rhystic Study and Bribery are those typical Spikey staple cards, although Bribery’s presence doesn’t go amiss in a 75% deck due to its scaling properties. You may recognize this concept from me bringing it up every week. Seedborn Muse and Woodfall Primus are just good, and they’re better than cards like Utopia Tree, which I was playing because the foil looks cool.

Is this good enough to bring you through a three-on-one? I don’t know. It’s not necessarily clear that any build could handle that. You may want to add cards such as Blasphemous Act, Balefire Dragon, and Wildfire to punish everyone for dogpiling you. How about Mystical Tutor for Cyclonic Rift to burn the world down? Honestly, I told /u/puppymagnet that the next time everyone ganged up on him, he should pull out a stack of Archenemy schemes and turn one up during his upkeep to see if they get the message.

Still, if you are being ganged up on—or if your group is very competitive, has tuned decks, and is becoming a challenge—you can always abandon 75% for a deck or two. Put in counterspells, land destruction, tutors—no holds barred. Remember that 75% decks are good because they transfer well between playgroups. They are good for unknown playgroups. They’re not going to feel like a precon against good players, and you’re not going to feel like a monster mowing down casuals. It’s a nice, comfortable compromise. If you feel that you need to go one way or another to not have a bad time, tune accordingly. After all, isn’t Commander about having a good time? Well, there’s that and there’s showing off your Spanish foil Utopia Tree.




That’s it for this week. How about all of you? Have you ever tuned a 75% deck to make sure you’re loaded for bear to take on a stronger playgroup? Have you built fewer playgroup-specific decks since you started building with 75% in mind? Have a deck you want me to take a look at? Hit me up on Twitter, in the comments here, or on reddit. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you all next week with more 75% goodness.


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