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Needs More Cowbell: Editing Decks


A failing of mine has been with the content of my decks. I get enamored with specific card interactions and build the deck accordingly. Once it is done, I gaze on my masterpiece, excited for the next opportunity I'll have to wreak havoc on my enemies with the perfection that is my unplayed, untested deck.

After a couple of games, the flaws in my "masterpiece" start to become apparent. At this point I do one of two things:

  1. Determine that the deck needs more testing before I officially declare the deck in need of work;
  2. I scribble what I think are the deck's issues on a piece of paper and tuck it into the deck box for the next time I get a chance to do some deck edits.

Now comes the truly shocking part: the deck likely doesn't get updated. Sure, some decks like Grenzo, Dungeon Master or Ol' Buzzbark may finally get an update, but most don't. The piece of paper with proposed changes grows ever more cluttered with suggestions, but nothing happens. With some decks, the deck stops getting played, as it just reminds me of all the issues with the deck every time it gets played.

One example of this is Firesong and Sunspeaker. I built the deck soon after the card was revealed and played it a few times before discovering a few weaknesses. Why don't I give you the list here and you can all recognize the issues and laugh that I didn't spot them when I was building my flawless "masterpiece."

Firesong and Sunspeaker: The Masterpiece | Commander | Bruce Richard

For those of you who don't wish to pour over a deck to find flaws, let me lay them out for you:

1. Firesong and Sunspeaker don't actually cost six mana.

In fact, they cost eight mana. Think about what anyone playing a Firesong and Sunspeaker deck is trying to do. They want to play a big Red direct damage spell that is either an instant or sorcery. If the spell also happens to be White, that is a bonus. Those spells aren't cheap. In fact, most of them have an X in their casting cost, so if you want to play Starstorm, do you want X to be two? If there are ten creatures on the battlefield, that means Starstorm will have done twenty damage and with Firesong and Sunspeaker, that means you'll gain twenty life. This is cute, but wouldn't you rather make X five or more? Suddenly you are looking at fifty damage and a life total that is getting rather hard to take down!

To do this though, you need seven mana. If you are going to do it with the Bovine Clerics out you will either need to have them out from the previous turn or have thirteen mana. Obviously thirteen mana can be a little tricky, so the goal will be to have Firesong and Sunspeaker out from the previous turn. It doesn't take a brilliant mind to see the danger of leaving Firesong and Sunspeaker sitting on a battlefield when their controller untaps. Everyone knows what is coming. This usually means that they are targeted with removal. By the time you have six mana, players have drawn a few cards and someone will have removal at that point. If you put out your commander at this point, you might as well just say that you are going to play them again the next turn for eight, because that is what is going to happen.

This means that for your dastardly (and blatantly obvious) plan to work, you will need to be able to protect Firesong and Sunspeaker for a turn. This will mean Lightning Greaves, Swiftfoot Boots and other similar options will be needed. Thus, Firesong and Sunspeaker actually cost eight mana. Eight mana is an awful lot for your commander. In this deck, you really don't want to play many of your cards until the Cudmunching Duo is on the battlefield or you are giving up a ton of value, so the deck does a lot of sitting around.

2. Needs more cow bell

And by cow bell I mean mana ramp. There is a ton of ramp in the deck, but it just wasn't enough. Even after I bought several Smothering Tithes and put them in every White deck I had, it still wasn't enough. Between the cost of the commander and the cost of the spells, the deck never seemed to have enough mana. I recall one game where I had more than sixteen mana available and passed the turn because it wasn't going to be enough.

3. The deck needs more finish

This is the one that tends to surprise players. There seems to be plenty of spells that do a lot of damage, and there are. Blasphemous Act is regularly a one mana spell that will do over 200 damage in a game and gain over 200 life... and I'll still lose. And no, not to commander damage. To maximize the damage to mana cost ratio, I chose cards that can do damage to multiple targets. Unfortunately, this meant that these cards didn't do damage to opponents. I could wipe the board clear, but I wasn't in a position to win the game. In two different games I relied on my high life total to keep me alive long enough to win with commander damage. This was cool, but not a reliable way to finish games.

Given all of this, it was time to make changes, but rather than make the needed changes, the deck simply sat, unplayed. That changes today!

Firesong and Sunspeaker: Now with More Cowbell | Commander | Bruce Richard

Most of the changes made are relatively obvious. I added more mana ramp and specifically chose much cheaper cards. My ramp was coming later on, so I really wanted to speed it up. Fellwar Stone, Wayfarer's Bauble, and Arcane Signet were easy additions.

I went looking and added three ways to do damage to players. Jaya's Immolating Inferno lets me target my three opponents! With 10 mana, I can do twenty-four damage, gain twenty-four life and hopefully put my opponents on the ropes! The fact that I can only cast it if I have a legendary creature is not even a downside in this deck, since I have no desire to cast it without the Taurine Twins on the battlefield.

Banefire is a bit old-school, but it gets the job done and guarantees it will happen, which is something nice when you are tapping out regularly for a single spell.

Finally, someone played Electrodominance against me and asked if it was in this deck. I was embarrassed to say that it wasn't. Playing Electrodominance where X is eight then allows me to follow up with Jaya's Immolating Inferno for six against three opponents for a total of 26 damage. This card just makes sense, especially in a deck that struggles with mana.

Two other cards I decided to add, mostly because they were new were Deflecting Swat and Double Vision. I do love a cheap Fork and with Firesong and Sunspeaker out, it doesn't get any cheaper. I've seen other Firesong and Sunspeaker decks struggle with damage doublers since it is often a win more card, but I wanted to try it here. It may have to go, but I'm a sucker for new cards!

Pulling cards for these additions wasn't too difficult. I had a note that Serra Avatar and Heartless Hidetsugu just weren't cutting it. Serra Avatar is often just a big creature that gets chump blocked. There has been a time when the Avatar slipped through the Rogue's Passage and did some good work, but a card like that has to have some evasion working for it so you aren't relying on one other card to get drawn for it to do work. Heartless Hidetsugu was one way to bring the life totals low enough to finish players off with direct damage spells like Lightning Helix, but that was only working because they deck was doing enough of anything else. Taking over a hundred points of damage from Hidetsugu in an effort to get my opponent's life totals really low was a dangerous game.

Angelic Accord was also dropped. The deck doesn't gain life regularly, but instead in one big massive rush. Too often I was paying four mana and getting only one Angel, or none at all. That spot could be better utilized.

To make room for the three new direct damage spells I chose the three least effective direct damage spells. I really liked Brightflame as it was a Red and White spell so I would get both effects from Firesong and Sunspeaker, but the mana cost was just too high for something that didn't do any damage to an opponent. Chain Reaction and Mizzium Mortars were two other sorcery speed spells that just didn't offer that finishing blow, so they were dropped as well.

Finally, I pulled Teferi's Protection. Too often it was simply a Fog that delayed my death by one turn. I think it would be far more effective in a deck that relied on a massive creature swing to win. At least that would allow me to drop all pretense of defense and swing with everything. It just didn't work in this deck. And besides, when you play an X spell and leave 3 mana untapped, everyone knows you are holding something!

I hoped this encouraged you to be better about updating your decks. Between the new cards out there for your decks and your better understanding of the deck, I'm sure you can make the alterations needed to shock your opponents with that deck that has been left sitting in your bag of decks for too long!

Bruce Richard


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