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Out of Tune: When Winning isn't Everything in Commander


There are nearly infinite reasons for playing Commander, and just as many criteria that influence deckbuilding. I'll explore a lot of them in future articles but for now I want to focus on one of things I don't take into account when I build a deck or sit down to play a game:


Okay, that may be a bit oversimplified. I'm a competitive dude and there's no denying that winning usually feels better than losing. Sure, I'd be perfectly happy if I won every Commander game I ever played, but I've lost many more games than I've won and I'm still perfectly happy. I don't try to lose, but losing definitely doesn't ruin my day.

For me, building a Commander deck is very personal. I've built decks because the commander, or its color identity, or mechanics intimately resonated with me. I've built decks because they fit nicely with my typical play style, or because they were firmly outside my comfort zone. And sometimes I've built decks because I, a warm-blooded lizard-brained human, found the commander to be a dreamboat.

It is with that in mind that I introduce you to my newest deck, helmed by the resplendently handsome Daxos, Blessed by the Sun.

Daxos, Blessed by the Sun

Mono-White? Really?

Yes, really.

I'm not going to spend this time defending Mono-White as a valid choice for a Commander deck. We all know about White's disadvantages, most especially its (perceived) lack of reliable ramp and card draw. I was well aware of them when I decided to put this deck together. I knew it would be difficult to assemble a consistently successful deck on my budget, which doesn't extend much beyond the cards I already own. I knew this wouldn't be a deck that would win half or more of its games.

I didn't care, and I still don't.

Tuning Down the Band

Take a look at the decklist. I have a hunch that before you even finish reading it, you'll think of five or ten or twenty cards that are "missing".

Aetherflux Reservoir
I can hear you already. "Dave, it's a life gain deck. Where's Aetherflux Reservoir? Shouldn't Felidar Sovereign be here? No Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendant? Approach of the Second Sun?

But seriously, no Aetherflux?"

Those cards, among others, aren't there because I didn't want them there. I made the conscious choice to exclude them. Aetherflux Reservoir is, to me, an increasingly boring win condition. It was so neat when Kaladesh first released - we got to play with the Death Star! I giggled the first few times it took me out of a game.

I've long since stopped giggling. Now that it's been around a while, whenever I play against a life gain deck I fully expect to see Aetherflux Reservoir hit the table. The problem is amplified by the fact that we start Commander games at 40 life; you're almost 80% of the way to killing someone before you ever play your first land. It's become extremely predictable, and extreme predictability is not my jam.

Now, of course, Rule 0 looms large here. If your playgroup is highly competitive, then your life gain deck is much more likely to include Aetherflux Reservoir. My regular playgroup is not at that level - we're firmly in the "we want to play Magic and have fun playing Magic and someone will win, probably, and then we'll play more Magic" camp - so I felt comfortable making the choice to leave it out, along with the other cards that take advantage of starting with 40 life.

In truth, my primary motivation for building this deck the way I did - sans Aetherflux and friends - was to illustrate that it's perfectly acceptable to not tune a deck all the way to its ceiling. It's fine to build a deck that isn't fully optimized, one that doesn't have a guaranteed win condition you can hit more often than not. It's cool to build a deck just because you enjoyed building it and will enjoy playing it. Using this deck to gain arbitrary amounts of life and then using Aetherflux to knock everyone else out of the game may absolutely be fun for you, but would not be enjoyable for me.

We talk a lot about whether Commander is falling victim to power creep. That's a larger discussion for another time, but building a deck like this one is proof that power creep doesn't have to influence each and every deck you build. Of course, if you want to grab Atraxa, Praetor's Voice or Edgar Markov or Urza, Lord High Artificer and power them all the way up, go for it! Alternatively, you can build around those commanders and not tune them to the max. Or you can do what I did - pick an out-of-left-field commander like Daxos, Blessed by the Sun and just do whatever the heck you want with it.

Here Comes the Fun, Doo Doo Doo Doo

Commander is meant to be a fun format. Notice I didn't use descriptors like "casual" or "social", because those terms have become quite loaded. I believe we all play Commander to have fun - and "fun" means different things to each of us.

For some, fun can mean finding new ways to exploit 27 years' worth of cards to break the format with off-the-wall combos. For others, fun is painstakingly assembling their pieces and then landing the final blow, or painstakingly disassembling everything their opponents have done. Fun can mean going for the win on turn two or three, or it can mean hours-long marathons with massive momentum swings and unforgettable moments. Fun is, quite simply, whatever you and your friends decide it is.

I've had fun doing all those things. In this case, I'd been joking for months about the art for Daxos, Blessed by the Sun and so I decided it'd be fun to build a deck around him. As recent commanders go, he's nothing terribly special on his face. He dabbles in two things White already does a lot of - playing creatures and gaining life. So ostensibly it's really basic:

  1. Play lots of creatures
  2. Gain lots of life
  3. ???
  4. Profit

It's the ??? that's the tricky, and fascinating, part of this deck. I omitted Aetherflux Reservoir and other "gain life and you win" cards...but you don't have to. I don't run Idyllic Tutor or Enlightened Tutor, mostly because I can't afford them, but you certainly could. Use one to go find Heliod, Sun-Crowned and you can be in business very quickly. He and his old pal Daxos play very, very well together in this deck.

This deck doesn't have any push-button win conditions. I'm typically hoping to get lots of creatures out, gain lots of life (and in turn make more creatures and/or make them bigger) and then survive long enough to smash my opponents in the face.

You've likely noticed I didn't include Eldrazi Monument or Akroma's Memorial, which probably seem like no-brainers for this deck. Those exclusions are purely for budgetary reasons; when I can afford to snag them, I'll add them. I'm sure there are hundreds of other cards worthy of consideration for a deck like this. Let me know what I've missed - and what you'd do differently if you built this deck. (Just, you know, be nice about it.)

That's the point. This deck, like virtually every deck, can be built in myriad ways. It can be quick and powerful for those who have fun taking down tables in a flash. It could be a Vorthos wonderland, leaning heavily into Theros's flavor and inhabitants and aiming to tell a compelling story through its gameplay. Or it could be what I've made it - a pile of cards that work well together, and which might win me a game someday...all because I thought the commander was handsome.

In my opinion, the greatest thing about Commander - among many great things - is the creativity and personality we're each able to infuse into the format. The decks we choose to build, how and why we put them together, and the way we play them out reflect something about us as individuals and as a whole. We're Commander players. We don't have to worry about "the meta". We don't have to keep up with the Joneses. We can make this format, our decks and our games whatever the heck we want them to be. No one gets to tell us how we build or how we play - that's entirely up to us.

And that's my kind of fun.

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 @daviekumd and check out his Twitch "channel" at twitch.tv/mooks311 .

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