The Commander format was conceived as a way to give Johnnies and Timmies their days in the sun. It’s accomplished that task admirably, especially on the Timmy-pleasing front, but it has one major limitation for Johnny.
Commander is a singleton format. That means that when you find a cool interaction, such as Bloodghast with Perilous Forays, it’s nearly impossible to build around. That might not seem like such a big deal. After all, you can always build around more general interaction, such as tokens with sacrifice outlets and Martyr's Bond/Grave Pact/Butcher of Malakir/Savra, Queen of the Golgari. But it’s difficult to find combinations with enough redundancy to be consistent, and at heart, Johnny doesn’t care about the actual card interactions. Johnny cares about expressing his creativity.
I’m here to tell you that the landscape is not as barren as it might look. There are a lot of interesting cards that you can make work in unexpected ways, but it’s not always easy to find them among the game’s thirteen thousand others. Today, I hope to offer some inspiration.
Inspiration by Izzy
Making use of a card nobody’s ever considered before is fun, but often, they’re too easily “solved.” While you’ve probably never seen Anaba Spirit Crafter before, you’re likely to use it the same way that anyone else would. The one way to be sure to find a difficult puzzle is to find a card that people have considered but have dismissed as unplayable. That means the obvious route isn’t a fruitful one.
So, maybe things aren’t quite as cut and dry as they seem. There are written-off cards just waiting to be used; how do we pick?
Restrictions Breed Creativity
If you read Making Magic, you’ve probably heard this phrase a million times. It doesn’t just apply to game design.
Remember those thirteen thousand cards I mentioned? Fewer than five hundred of them can be chosen as your commander, and I for one don’t want to choose a commander who doesn’t complement my strategy. That stance starts to be a problem when you recognize that a large chunk of those legends aren’t very good at synergizing.
With all of that in mind, I want to reclaim as many of these legendary creatures for playability as possible. Let’s start with one that “doesn’t do anything in Commander.”
Mishra doesn’t seem terribly potent with a bunch of singletons, does he? Luckily, looks can be deceiving.
If I asked you what Mishra, Artificer Prodigy does, you’d probably reply with something like, “He finds a second copy of your artifacts from your hand, library, or graveyard.”
That’s close, but it’s also wrong.
Mishra doesn’t care about your artifacts, he cares about artifacts you cast. What’s the difference?
Your opponents bring all sorts of great artifacts to the table, and given that they’re colorless, you can make sure to play your own copies of most of the popular ones.
If the original spell were to somehow end up in your graveyard before this triggered ability resolves, you could put it straight onto the battlefield. How might that happen? Well, I guess you could try to Counterlash your own spells, but it’ll also come up when triggered abilities counter your artifacts.
This part’s particularly easy to miss because we usually mentally compartmentalize it with tutoring. But giving every artifact you cast the ability to shuffle your deck can actually be pretty important after your Praetor's Grasp leaves you with two of these:
Putting It All Together
All of these capabilities lend themselves pretty well to the sort of artifact-centric deck you might expect. You have a bunch of mana rocks, some big creatures, and a few answers. Combined with the Mishra-specific cards and a few that reward you for keeping a high artifact count, it might end up looking something like this:
I’m not one to build a Commander deck without exciting things to do, so given the lack of a game recap in this article, I thought I’d better include a few highlights.
- Use Blood Funnel and Vedalken Archmage along with Mishra to cast ten or twelve artifacts in a single turn.
- Playing against a Sharuum the Hegemon, use Knowledge Pool to cast Mirrorworks and Cranial Plating, finding your own. Then, equip all eight Cranial Platings to your favorite prodigal artificer.
- Cast Hellkite Igniter. Activate it six times. What? I really like giving my creatures ludicrous amounts of power, okay?
But this deck is about more than just gameplay. It’s about making an idea into reality in the first place. It’s about changing how you look at problems.
In order to surmount the daunting task of deck-building, you need to break down the problem you’re presented with.
Trying to build around a card? Carefully examine all of the things that it does, and look for effects that interact with those things.
You want to build around a keyword or other mechanic? Find the mechanical overlap between the cards, and look for individual cards that benefit from that sort of effect.
You want to beat a specific strategy? Either find a game plan that opponents can’t stop or something that stops their game plans; then, use that element as the basic mechanic to build around with the above strategy.
Breakthrough by Gary Ruddell
Whatever the case, the important thing is breaking the problem up into smaller ones. If you could just stare at the problem and come up with a complete solution, it wouldn’t be much of a problem in the first place!
I hope this explanation of how I build wacky decks was amusing—and maybe even helpful—but I’m not sure how easy it is to turn these words into action. Do you want more detail? A step-by-step example? Or would you rather just move on to another topic?