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I Could Teach You, But I'd Have to Charge


Bennie Smith writes a very good column about Commander on the free side of StarCityGames. I have been reading for years, and I would say that I lika the juice. Bennie has always been about making Commander fun, and I would say my pursuit of the perfect 75% deck is partially influenced by his philosophy. I have plenty of formats I can play in if I want to be a Spike, but I play Commander to have fun and to sell cards. I think Bennie's weekly offerings are a must-read for anyone who wants to play Commander and have more fun with it.

Demonic Tutor
Why do I bring Bennie up at all? Because he wrote something I don't necessarily agree with in a recent column. I think it's worth reading the whole thing, but in case you would rather read it later, the gist of it was that there are real downsides to playing tutors in Commander, and you can find creative ways to do things like draw extra cards to combat the disadvantage of “going tutorless.” Some of the reasons not to play tutors are that everyone has to wait while you search, it paints a target on you, and it makes you lean very heavily on the specific cards you're tutoring for. Reddit user Lucas pointed out this specific article in response to my first 75% article, and he said that following Bennie's advice to go tutorless was a great way to get your deck in the 75% range. You can play powerful cards, but without ways to go find them exactly when you need them, your deck is going to play more “fair,” and the natural variance of the game is going to help keep you in the 1 ÷ X wins range (X being the number of players, as discussed last week) that I think you should aim for.

I don't disagree with the premise of Bennie's article. Going tutorless is a very good way to keep your deck in the 75% range. A deck with creatures and spells that would put it in the 100% range that can't fetch them reliably or consistently is going to skew toward 75% by virtue of the built-in inconsistency. I think that is an excellent way to think about it, but I think that, although that is sound logic, I tend to approach the problem from the opposite angle. To that end, I submit to you that clever use of tutors can help your deck be the best 75% deck it can be.

Build Up, Not Down

Mayael the Anima
I think if you start with a 100% deck and remove some key cards—tutors in the above example—you will go to about 75%. However, my philosophy is not necessarily to take a $2,000 Commander deck and hobble it with cuts and substitutions until it operates at 75% efficiency and loses often enough to make it fun for everyone. I tend to build from the bottom up, not the top down. To that end, I feel that the first EDH deck I ever built illustrates how my goals have shifted a bit but have always had the same core philosophy even if I didn't know what to call it at the time.

I make a living buying and selling cards among other things. Having recently come into a huge collection of foreign, foil, and foreign foil Commander goodies that I was not going to be able to list on TCGplayer, I decided I should find out where EDH players hung out and go and trade with them. I never wanted to spend any of my money on EDH because I would rather buy cards to sell, not cards to have. Hanging out with EDH players and talking with them about their decks was the beginning of the end for me, though. As I suggested cards that might improve their decks, I started to discover ideas for my own decks, and I ended up trading for most of a deck, finishing it with stuff from the foreign foil collection I was trading away. In one day, I went from EDH supplier to EDH junkie. I was hooked, and filling the deck out with durdly cards seemed okay to me given who the general was.

"The Deck"

  • Commander (0)

Why Tutors?

Crystal Ball
I hadn't even concocted the 75% idea when I built this deck, and it is largely unaltered from its first draft. It's my first deck, but for whatever reason, I prefer playing other decks. Luckily, people who borrow this deck have a lot of fun with it, so I like to have it to lend out, and I will still jam the odd game with it. I agree with Bennie's point that tutors slow the game down, so I took out Sensei's Divining Top almost immediately. Yes, it's good to be able to order the deck when you have an effect like Mayael's, but I was using the Top too often, and it was slowing games down. Crystal Ball is a very poor substitute, but it's way less annoying and way less expensive. I sold the Top and pocketed the money and am much happier for it.

Every deck has that “thing” it wants to do. In this case, it seems that the thing is “cheat something into play with Mayael,” but what I actually really like to do is win the game by putting Bear Umbra on a Hellkite Charger or by having Nature's Will in play with I swing with Charger. I can have infinite attack steps as long as Charger gets through and deals damage (and lives), and it's a lot of fun in the incredibly rare instances when it works out.

You will notice I only have one Eldrazi, and it's one that is very tough to hard-cast. I think if I had taken the start-100%-and-weaken approach, I might have had more Eldrazi since that seems to be what the cool kids do with Mayael, but since I was attempting not to spend any money on the deck and build it through trades and stuff I had lying around, I only have the one. I feel that building up from nothing makes you be a bit more creative and can keep the cost of the deck way down. It That Betrays is fun—not unfair—and he's potent. He stays.

Mirri's Guile
All that out of the way, the tutors are excellent placeholders for the best card in your deck. While assembling a master plan with tutors over a few turns is going to make people nervous, sandbagging a Worldly Tutor with Mayael up can lead to some very potent surprise plays. You don't have to pack your entire deck full of powerful, expensive (money-wise) creatures to make sure you always hit with Mayael if instead you use cards like Crystal Ball, Mirri's Guile, and Sylvan Tutor to improve your luck a bit. Illusionist's Bracers on your commander can't hurt either. When your deck is full of durdles such as Borborygmos and Hoard-Smelter Dragon, you won't hear complaints about how every time you activate your commander you're making the game miserable, which makes this a deck that isn't likely to ruin anyone's fun.

However, you have the tools you need to get the job done, and tutors allow you to find those cards when you need them, allowing the overall power level of the deck to be lower while allowing for strong, explosive plays that make sure you have the ability to pull yourself out of dire situations. A clutch Summoning Trap or Worldly Tutor has put a Platinum Emperion or Platinum Angel into play at very clutch moments and kept me from losing to lethal alpha strikes. Pattern of Rebirth on a Yavimaya Elder is a very silly, fun, and potent way to make sure you can find what you need and dissuade early attacks from ground creatures. Tooth and Nail is a great catchall tutor, and people cheer when they see Mayael throw it on the bottom of the deck but, but they don't complain when you go grab an Angelic Arbiter or Blazing Archon.

Gruul Ragebeast
I think Bennie was right when he said that cutting tutors out of his decks made them more fair and fun. But I also think that what really matters with a tutor is how you use it. Are you making everyone at the table watch you shuffle through ninety cards to find something? Are you giving the impression that you're doing something diabolical? Are you setting yourself up to be blown out by Jester's Cap? Could you accomplish most of the things tutors are doing for you by drawing more cards? If your answer to most of these questions is, “Yes,” I would consider going the tutorless route. But if you like to play games in which you use Mayael to dump big, durdly dudes like Gruul Ragebeast into play and occasionally need a panic button, maybe tutors are the right way to go. It's all about how you use them.

In conclusion, I think I should start compiling a list of principles for a 75% deck that can help us build some in the future. Last week, I talked about how scalable spells are great for keeping things tailored to the current game state, and this week, although we discussed tutors, I think the main takeaway this week is to start with a bad deck and improve it rather than start with a 100% deck and weaken it. So, we have so far:

  • Scalable spells help tailor your cards to the power level of your opponents' decks.
  • Always start weak and improve the deck—never weaken a better deck.

We'll build on this list as weeks go by, and we can hope to have a roadmap that will help us start building new decks!

Special thanks to r/EDH for the users’ input on last week's piece. Is this deck not quite 75% enough? Do you have a deck of your own you think qualifies? Send me some comments, criticisms, and decklists. I welcome all of it. Meet me here next week for another list item, another deck, and more fun.

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