How often do you build a Commander deck and once your list is set, you never change it again. For me this happens a fair amount. It is time consuming to keep up with the ever-changing meta-game, adjusting your decks accordingly. The most common time that you see people adjusting their decks is when they are new. This is certainly important, as you have to have played the deck to see how it works at all, but for many people it ends once they have identified the glaring errors in their new decks and then fix them. It is really important to continually be reviewing your card choices, how your hands and board states are affecting the game, and so on, throughout the life of your deck. You must be vigilant in watching for cards that don’t have enough effect on the board, that can’t stand up to your opponents’ board state, and that sit in your hand without ever being cast. Not only that, you have to constantly be thinking about what cards you need to make the deck better, and not necessarily what cards, but what kinds of effects. If you always have an idea of what you want your deck to be doing, and it’s weaknesses, then you can more easily determine if any given card can fill in any weak spots in your deck.
This past game night I played a few decks and I identified several cards throughout the course of the night that weren’t pulling their weight, as well as identifying weaknesses in my decks that required particular effects or cards in order to make the deck stronger.
In games one and two of the night I played my Rakdos, Lord of Riots deck. I didn’t really bother with trying to identify weaknesses and ways to make this deck better. I realize that this goes against my own advice, but there is one key component to that advice… if the deck won’t be around much longer, then there is no reason to attempt to make it better. In the end I realized that this deck is incredibly linear, and even if I don’t over-extend I tend to run out of gas and have nothing to do other than top-deck. I plan on dismantling the deck, with the intention of replacing it with a Jund deck. Game one had Eric (playing Progenitus) just decimate Doug (playing Ghave, Guru of Spores) and myself. It was over very quickly. Game two added David playing Thraximundar, and had Eric change to Zedruu, the Greathearted. This game was less one-sided, but came down to Zedruu and Ghave, with Zedruu conceding when Ghave dropped a Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter representing a control lock on creatures, and soon, lethal damage.
My opening hand for this game was pretty insane; Phyrexian Metamorph, Vapor Snag, Dimir Aqueduct, Island, Everflowing Chalice, Fieldmist Borderpost, and Darksteel Ingot. On turn one I drop an island and the Borderpost, and proceed to ramp from there. Unfortunately several turns later, a Creeping Corrosion takes out most of my mana base, and a good portion of Dagsson’s board as well. I follow that up with a Tainted Aether trying to keep the creature situation under control. This especially helps against Dagsson who relies on sacrificing creatures to make new ones in an infinite loop. He can’t do that if he has to sacrifice a creature for every one that he puts into play. At this point I’m holding a Hallowed Burial, and Dagsson is on the board doing his thing. I don’t have long until he locks down the board, but I wanted to wait for Karrthus to hit the board before I tuck all the generals. Thrax is also on the board, so this will be particularly devastating if I can pull it off. Sadly, Karrthus is holding back, and I can’t wait any longer, so I tuck all the creatures.
Karrthus and Thrax start to team up against me after that and it isn’t looking good, but I have Phyrexian Metamorph in the graveyard. If I can survive long enough to draw or tutor for Disciple of the Vault, then I have the game won. Daggson is also slowly building towards his combo with a Kuldotha Forgemaster. In the end, Karrthus finishes me off with an Exsanguinate, but he can’t answer the Dagsson combo of Blasting Station and Summoning Station, particularly since they were protected by a Darksteel Forge, and Dagsson wins the game. I had made it a point to mention that Dagsson’s combo was very obviously coming soon. Karrthus’ reply was that he hates Sharuum. Fair enough.
The Sharuum deck was built to have a ton of answers. I don’t have any creatures to protect me so I have to rely on spells. I have a little bit of everything, but not enough of a few things. I seem to not get my card draw and/or tutors when I need to be getting them, or I get those but don’t get my mana rocks or my removal spells. I think I need to make the deck a bit more focused on a few of the things rather than being so diverse. Diversity leads to inconsistency and that is just not acceptable in a combo deck. So, what do I need to win the game? I need my combo. How do I get to my combo? I tutor and draw cards. How do I cast my combo? I need mana and lots of it. How do I keep myself alive? Removal spells to protect me from the opponent’s creatures. In particular, board wipes, as I don’t have any creatures to worry about on my own board. These are the areas that I’m going to focus on, and the other areas in the deck will have to take a back seat. One card in particular in this game stood out as relatively useless, and that was Flusterstorm. It only works on instants and sorceries, and it is conditional on the opponent not having any mana available. Typically this is not a problem for the opponent in a Commander game, especially late in that game.
Game number four of the evening saw Doug stick with Karrthus while Eric changed to Krenko, Mob Boss, Dave changed to Ezuri, Renegade Leader, and I changed to Ghave, Guru of Spores. In this game I get a decent start except for a lack of black mana, so I can’t cast my general. Unfortunately for me Ezuri and Krenko decide to team up against me, so I form a shaky alliance with Karrthus. He keeps asking me about my stuff, showing that he’s worried about my board state when he should be worried about the mass of elves and goblins that are about to bombard the both of us. We are able to hold our own tenuously against the onslaught of creatures, and then Karrthus drops a Pestilence Demon, casts Consuming Vapors, and Sheoldred, Whispering One and everyone except him is out of creatures. Ezuri falls shortly after this and is out of the game. I’m able to keep the board fairly clear, but soon enough Karrthus himself hits the board and, powered by an Assault Strobe takes me out. Krenko has run out of steam as well and scoops.
For the final game of the night only I keep my previous general, while Doug switches to The Mimeoplasm, Dave changes to Glissa, the Traitor, and Eric switches back to Progenitus. Most of this game is focused on stopping the poison machine that is being set up by Glissa, the Traitor but she makes a fatal flaw by spreading the poison around the board without having the proliferate in hand to keep the effort moving forward. Both Progenitus and Mimeoplasm get strong starts with early planeswalkers and Time Warps. Creatures are getting out of hand, but I’m able to drop a timely Day of Judgement to get things under control. Progenitus completely shuts Glissa down with a Melira, Sylvok Outcast and she falls shortly after. Eventually, Progenitus himself hits the board and neither Mimeoplasm or I can find an answer in time.
My Ghave deck is very strong. It has a lot of synergy and great interactions. Any one of my synergistic enchantments can be very bad for my opponents, but if I get more than one on the board? Well, it gets ugly very fast. That isn’t to say that the deck is perfect. It has it’s share of weaknesses. It is weak against flyers for example. I’ve tried to mitigate this by including token generators that make 1/1 flying spirits or including things like Akroma’s Memorial or Eldrazi Monument. At this point the main thing I’m on the lookout for is individual cards that just aren’t pulling their weight. As an example, in the last game I was holding a Kessig Cagebreakers in my hand for most of the game and I never cast it. The reason is simple, Ghave is focused on making token creatures, and as a result there aren’t a lot of creatures that end up in my graveyard. Sun Titan actually has a similar weakness in this deck. There just isn’t much in my graveyard to target. I haven’t taken the Titan out of the deck just yet, but he could come out soon. Pack Rat is another card that I thought would be great in the deck. After all, Spawnwrithe is amazing in the deck, and Pack Rat is similar, except he keeps getting bigger and bigger. The problem is that I just don’t have the mana to invest early in the game on the rat. I’ve had him early several times, but he just hits the board and sits there as I spend the mana on other things that I need. Spawnwrithe on the other hand comes down early and can start attacking. He doesn’t need any additional mana to copy himself. There is a lot of removal in this deck as well, but almost nothing that can get rid of something like an Avacyn, Angel of Hope/Sigarda, Host of Herons lock, something that Eric loves to put into any deck with white and green in it. In my Sharuum deck I have both Terminus and Hallowed Burial, so I took Terminus and moved it to the Ghave deck. Now with Gatecrash, Merciless Eviction can also fill that role… the only question is whether Sharuum or Ghave needs it more!
This is just a bit of insight into how I try to keep track of my decks and how they are working within my meta-game. I play them, identify weaknesses of strategy and/or individual cards, and shore up those weaknesses in order to make the deck stronger. Now that Gatecrash is out, and I have a few packs under my belt, I’ll be taking a look at the new cards and seeing if any of them can fill roles in my existing decks, and how they fit into new decks on the horizon. Speaking of which, my Experiment Kraj deck is well under way, and I believe I have all the cards I need from Gatecrash. I just need to whittle down the list by about forty cards, many of which I don’t own, making it easier to cut them. My next post will likely talk about this deck. Also on the horizon are the Jund deck I mentioned earlier, possibly with Kresh, the Bloodbraided at the helm, and a theme deck I hinted at in Idea Log #7.