Friday, February 24, 2012

Dead and Dreaming: A Commander Deck for Magic: The Gathering

by Randy

Greetings! Today I wanted to write about Magic: The Gathering, Commander format (rules here). It's a fun multiplayer Magic format that allows for longer, more social games, varied and often thematic decks and interesting interactions. I'm going to talk about the format and also about my first and favorite deck.

Why Commander?

I'm a casual Magic player; it's all kitchen table for me. Though I do get excited about new sets (really looking forward to Avacyn Restored, by the way!), I'm not the guy who buys two cases of boosters going after the newest mythic rare cards. Nor am I going to spend the money necessary to buy these on the secondary market. True, sometimes I may spend up to five bucks on a card every now and then, but that is indeed the exception. And where the Standard and Modern formats thrive on this, and, indeed, the hobby game industry as a whole is supported by this, it's just not for me. And for Commander, it's just not necessary.

The Commander format has players create 100-card decks with no more than one copy of anything but Basic Land cards, and with a Legendary creature as the commander, or general. The general is not shuffled into the deck; it is put in a command zone and may be cast from there at any time. If the general dies, it is put back into the command zone and is immediately castable again (though each death raises the cost by 2 mana). This means that creature is always reliably available, and strategies will develop around that creature.

Theme Decks!

I'm a sucker for thematic decks. And when you are making a large singleton deck, you are able to choose cards based on theme instead of four copies each of the eight "power" cards everyone else is using. Aside from the land cards, a typical Commander deck has about 60-65 unique cards that can be drawn from 19 (and counting!) years of Magic history; that leaves a lot of room to express the theme, and get in the utility cards that make it viable. So... what does a theme deck look like?

Behold... Cthulhu!

Okay, actually Nyarlathotep...

My first and favorite Commander deck is called "Dead & Dreaming", and is Cthulhu-themed (for an explanation of Cthulhu, click here). I got the idea from the card Wrexial, the Risen Deep (very Cthulhu-inspired!) and chose to go with that. I had some initial assistance from my wife Angie, who is far better at building decks than I am. Over the last few months, though, I have made a lot of changes.

The first thing needed for my theme were huge monsters, especially of the alien, godlike or aquatic persuasion. I chose to go with several Eldrazi for this. Eldrazi were introduced in the Rise of the Eldrazi set of the Zendikar block. They tend to be huge and expensive, and usually have the Annhilator keyword (meaning that when they attack, the opponent must sacrifice permanents equal to the Annhilator value before blockers are declared). In addition to Eldrazi, there are also a couple leviathans and a legendary octopus.

Every deck also needs small creatures, so there are plenty there. They provide the cultist and minor beasts role. A lot have utility powers that are useful, such as allowing creatures to become unblockable (Cephalid Pathmage), changing land types (Tidal Warrior), making copies of creatures (Evil Twin) and Infectors (creatures who deal damage as -1/-1 counters to creatures, or Poison counters to players). Most of these carry along the theme, though not all.

As for the rest, the Instants, Sorceries, Artifacts and Enchantments have a lot of horrific effects. Artifact/creature destruction, boardwiping and card drawing are a given. There are some the give Infect, or effectively make little creatures huge. Several Eldrazi tribal spells made it in, most of which create Eldrazi spawn (0/1 creatures that you may sacrifice for colorless mana). In addition, one of my all-time favorite Instant spells is in there: Tainted Strike.

What's so cool about that? Well, it's a very simple card. It is an Instant that costs 1 Black, and gives a creature +1/+0 and Infect. This is a really fun surprise card to throw down. Since Infect is a big mechanic in my deck (Poison counters will eliminate a player; in our group, we have rules that 20, rather than the standard 10, will take out a player). It is always fun to see two other players attacking each other and playing this on one of their guys, either resulting in a creature getting a lot of -1/-1 counters, or the player getting more Poison counters. I have even kept myself from being eliminated by playing this on a creature attacking me, causing it to do its damage as Poison counters and not as life damage. Nifty!

Well, I'll let you look at my deck list. I am not in any way saying that this is especially powerful, or anything at all like that. I am just saying that this is a thematic deck that I have had a great time playing and refining.

My Theme Deck: Dead and Dreaming

Card art from Wrexial, the Risen Deep

Wrexial, the Risen Deep

Jace Beleren
Liliana Vess

Sol Ring
Darksteel Ingot
Dimir Signet
Contagion Engine
Dreamstone Hedron
Everflowing Chalice
Venser's Journal
Quicksilver Amulet
Hedron Matrix
Konda's Banner
Grafted Exoskeleton

Not of This World
Virulent Swipe
Memory Plunder
Undying Evil
Consume the Meek
Tainted Strike
Tragic Slip

Corrupted Conscience
Mind Control
Eldrazi Conscription
Bloodchief Ascension
Snake Cult Initiation
Glistening Oil
Inexorable Tide

Life's Finale
Skittering Invasion
Mass Polymorph
Treasure Hunt
Dead Reckoning
Reduce to Dreams
Diabolic Tutor

Creatures (Small):
Hand of the Praetors
Pawn of Ulamog
Solemn Simulacrum
Hedron Crab
Aether Figment
Kraken Hatchling
Mortician Beetle
Cephalid Pathmage
Hex Parasite
Evil Twin
Tidal Warrior
Guard Gomazoa
Plague Stinger

Creatures (Large):
Wrexial, the Risen Deep
Stormtide Leviathan
Artisan of Kozilek
Kederekt Leviathan
Lorthos, the Tidemaker
Phyrexian Vatmother
Deep-Sea Kraken
Scrapdiver Serpent
It That Betrays
Hand of Emrakul
Pathrazer of Ulamog
Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre

Swamp x 11
Island x 11
Dimir Aqueduct
Eldrazi Temple
Sunken Ruins
Darkslick Shores
Reliquary Tower
Command Tower
Tainted Isle
Dreadship Reef
Haunted Fengraf
Terramorphic Expanse
Eye of Ugin
Jwar Isle Refuge
Halimar Depths

So... that's it, as it is currently. What do you think? What's your favorite commander?


  1. This is the first deck in Commander that I've seen that I don't instantly hate for running Eldrazi

  2. Thanks! I appreciate that. Yeah, decks that run Eldrazi can certainly be brutal.

  3. Wow, I'm way behind on all of this blogging stuff... what better way to start then to comment on a magic deck inspired by the only god I ever found worthy of FEARING?!

    Anyway... dude... Randy... you need to find a card that lets you EAT your own cultists!


  4. Way ahead of you! Eating my own creatures sometimnes definitely figures into my strategy! Thanks, Bodhi!