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We Make Our Own Fun

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I played a game of Commander the other day. It started like many other games. With my trusty Daxos, Blessed by the Sun - Hot Daxos - deck in tow, I started with a Soul Warden on turn one and began gaining life right away. Despite my repeated insistence that the deck doesn't weaponize the life gain - no Aetherflux Reservoir, no Felidar Sovereign - I quickly found myself becoming the archenemy. Before long, I wound up with a pair of pretty nasty curses on me at the same time:

Overwhelming Splendor
Curse of Death's Hold

So, everything died. My Soul Warden and my Regna, the Redeemer and my beloved Hot Daxos... all deceased. Two turns in a row I had to just draw and pass; there was no point in casting any creatures and I had no way to remove the curses.

You might think I'm describing a miserable, terrible, horrible, no good, very bad game. It was actually some of the must fun I've had playing Commander in a long time.

Spin or Solve

In this space I've often described building Commander decks as an exercise in puzzle solving, and it is. But it's easy to forget that playing our decks is a puzzle-solving exercise, too. We brew, we goldfish, and we think we know exactly how our decks will play every single time we sit down at the table.

Of course, that's not how it works.

Commander decks are often described in terms of how linear they are - that is, how short and direct the distance is between drawing our opening hand and winning the game. My Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest deck is quite linear - cast things, sacrifice them, make my opponents sacrifice things, make Mazirek very large, swing, profit. Hot Daxos is far less linear. Every game is unique. Sometimes I gain a lot of life very quickly, others don't work out quite that way. I've had games where I had a battlefield brimming with creatures by turn four, and I've had games where Daxos stood alone for turn after turn. I had a game where I ended up at somewhere north of 2,000 life and won, and a game where I had nearly 300 life and lost to damage from my own stolen Commander.

Our decks almost never run completely on rails, and even when they do, three other people each have chance after chance to derail them. It's what happens in between the simple, straightforward wins and mana-screwed losses that uncovers the true fun of Commander.

I'm a game show fanatic, and Wheel of Fortune is one of my all-time favorites. I'm good with words - hence the writing of the article - and I'm good at figuring things out from context. And, perhaps most importantly, I harbor an undying love for and devotion to Vanna White and I would absolutely take a bullet for her.

Hrm. Anyway.

If you've ever watched Wheel you know we can't help but play along. Every once in a while, a puzzle is revealed and we guess the answer right away. But more often than not, we need more time to figure it out. We need the players to spin a few times, fill in some letters, before we can put it all together.

That, in truth, is how most Commander games go. We might get off to a fast, great start only to be totally stymied a short time later. So, we have to spin until we can solve. In the case of the Overwhelming Splendor/Curse of Death's Hold lock, I got some help; the opponent who controlled them had Ardenn, Intrepid Archaeologist as one of his commanders. Once he decided that I'd been sufficiently chastened and someone else had become a more pressing threat, he used Ardenn's ability to scoot those curses over to a different player. He did, however, still have a Curse of Misfortunes in play, which would allow him to keep tutoring up nasty curses turn after turn. But it was fine. I had some room to maneuver again. I drew.

Big smile. I'd like to solve the puzzle, Pat:

Council's Judgment

The following transpired thusly:

Me: I'm voting for Overwhelming Splendor:

Curse player: Sigh. Overwhelming Splendor:

Me: OK, now the two of you [remaining players] need to vote for Curse of Misfortunes.

Them: Cool!

Bonus Round

I did eventually win the game, but that really couldn't matter less. That was the bonus round - a nice extra prize, but not the end-all-be-all. The real victory was the fun we had solving the puzzle put before us. It wasn't a quick, easy solve - none of us was in Blue, so no Cyclonic Rift was coming to save us. For a Mono-White deck, Hot Daxos doesn't have a ton of enchantment removal. There just wasn't a simple fix.

That's what made it so much fun.

The curse player, piloting the deck for the first time, got to prove that his idea worked - and it very much did! The rest of us got to wriggle out from underneath his deck - and we did! Sure, there may have been some salt from some corners of the table...ok, fine, *I* got a little salty for a while. But once I stopped sulking and decided to play the game that was in front of me as opposed to the game I wished was in front of me, I had more fun than I could have guessed.

That's the key to making our own fun in Commander. We may think we know how a deck will perform or how any given game will unfold, but things rarely go exactly the way we think they will. And, if we're being honest, having a deck perform exactly the same way every single time is... boring. For me. I like variance. I like not knowing what's going to happen when I shuffle up. If I wanted to play a format where my decks always did exactly the same thing I'd play... shudder... Standard.

Wheel of Fortune wouldn't still be on the air if contestants were solving every puzzle right off the bat. That's no fun. The fun is in the spinning, the guessing, the Bankrupts - Overwhelming Splendor - and then finally, having everything needed to solve the puzzle.

Think about that next time you play Commander.

Dave is a Commander player currently residing in Reno, NV. When he's not badly misplaying his decks, he works as a personal trainer. You can bother him on Twitter and check out his Twitch channel.

Hot Daxos | Commander | Dave Kosin

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