Last week, I expressed my displeasure for the concept of weakening a 75% deck because a playgroup is having a tough time beating it. You aren’t really going to end up with a real, functional deck that way, and besides, why not respect your group enough to not treat its members like children? Why not instead trade (or, my favorite, sell) them cards to make their decks better so they have a chance and win more? You solve your problem, you don’t wreck your own deck, and you can pocket some trade value or cash for your trouble. Sounds like a best-case scenario to me.
Last week, we also discussed that when decks struggle, they probably aren’t running enough removal. I suggested some cheap, effective removal spells that you can make stacks of in a box to have to trade or sell out as needed. However, removal isn’t the only thing that a struggling deck needs to get there, and just packing on some removal isn’t going to help players too much if their decks suffer from consistency issues. Today, let’s talk about some ways to make things run a little more smoothly and that are cheap enough cards that you can hang onto multiple copies.
Cultivate — Cultivate and Kodama's Reach are pretty straightforward spells, and they’re pretty much staples. If someone isn’t running these, he or she probably owns them. I keep pretty foil copies on hand so people can upgrade theirs and keep a bunch of spares. I just give these away. Cultivate is not expensive enough to buy-list, and I have a stack, and if someone isn’t running this but would benefit from superlative mana-fixing, just give that person a copy. This smooths the game out so much it’s ridiculous.
Rhystic Study — It’s no secret that I am not a huge fan of mass-card-draw only because I think it tends to make you win the same way every time. If you’re always drawing your whole deck, you’re always winning with the same cards. However, this card does work. This is a card that grows even better in multiplayer games, it can slow the whole table down while players contemplate keeping mana up to keep that player off draws, and in general, it just draws a lot of cards. It can draw as much hate as it does cards, but this is sometimes the boost a U/x deck needs to become consistent.
Soothsaying — I discussed this type of card recently when we discussed good uncommons, and I think this can really turn extra mana into smoothing. Remember that if their decks are struggling, let’s not worry about the rules of 75%, and let’s just help them get up to snuff. I think this is an excellent way to spend spare mana and can really smooth the game out. These are cheap and effective. I recommend this card to players who suffer from bad top-decks.
Solemn Simulacrum — I don’t know how many coma sufferers aren’t aware of the sad robot already, but this is a Commander all-star. If someone can use this, he or she should. This is probably in my top ten Commander cards overall because it does so much work. Every deck can use this versatile artifact, and I love to sacrifice this to Shattergang Brothers’s artifact mode with a Dictate of Erebos. Nothing feels dirtier. It’s pricey to have a ton of copies of this hanging out, but it’s what I do. Most decks can use this and benefit.
Weathered Wayfarer — If you can run this card, you should consider it. If someone is struggling and doesn’t run this card, this could help immensely. This is a great 75% card on top of being able to really smooth draws, and it plays out in a color that doesn’t typically get to do things like that. Well, white has Land Tax, and I guess you can trade someone a Land Tax if you want those kinds of shenanigans happening.
Signets — Signets are perfect cards. I admire the simplicity of signets and how smooth they make the early game. Whenever someone goes Sol Ring into a Signet, the entire table groans like the game is out of reach even though nothing really happened. One of these can radically change the early turns of the game for a deck that’s having trouble, and these are so cheap that I have like twenty of each in my box.
Darksteel Ingot, and that emergency card-draw is relevant far more often than indestructibility was before. Commander's Sphere is a new, excellent card in the same vein. That card-draw is great late game, and the mana is good early. These are two things that inconsistent decks need, and it does both.
Harmonize — A lot of this list is card-draw. That’s for a good reason. Card-draw improves the odds of winning. That’s science. Harmonize is inexpensive enough to keep copies stashed, and taking out a mediocre creature for a spell like this is a no-brainer.
Yavimaya Elder — A lot of these suggestions are creatures that help your mana. There’s a reason for that.
Burnished Hart — This is a card that plays better than it looks. People rave about this card in theirs deck, and its simple effect goes a long way toward smoothing out an awkward mana situation. It even chump-blocks. What’s not to love? Colorless answers are the best answers, so keep a stack of these because they can go in any deck.
Trading Post — This may be bias talking, but there isn’t a single jam you can get in that Trading Post can’t help at least a little bit with. It goes in any deck, and it solves all sorts of problems. It’s a great sac outlet after you Threaten, it draws cards, it makes surprise blockers, it gains life. Give me a bad deck with a Trading Post in play over a mediocre deck without one any day.
Now, obviously, helping someone focus on what he or she wants to do is going to yield the best results, and these suggestions are general cards to have a few copies of in your Commander trade box or binder. A deck that is struggling so badly that you’re considering weakening a 75% deck can benefit from any and all eligible cards on the list. However, what if the person is running a lot of these and still struggling?
I started this series because I think Commander is a social format, and while the point is ultimately to win, if you do so by making someone miserable, it cuts down on the likelihood that the group will stick around. You can berate someone until he or she grows sick of you and concedes, and you can count that a win, too. Is winning because you blew up all of someone’s lands with an Armageddon the same as verbally assaulting someone until he or she gives you the win? No, it’s not, but it may have the same effect in the future, and that’s what I am trying to avoid. The 75% philosophy is about building your own individual deck in the context of a group and making sure that you can win without ruining someone else’s night or having your own night ruined because your deck is totally under-equipped to deal with the group and you end up feeling as though you showed up to a gunfight with a pocket knife.
If someone is struggling and you can take ten minutes to look at his or her deck, make suggestions, trade, sell, or gift that person some cards and help streamline his or her deck a bit, to me, that is the same as building your own deck based on the 75% guidelines. So don’t be afraid to offer some advice and help a player tune up. It could be just as effective as any changes you make to your own deck, and it will have the added benefit of helping someone have a good time even when you’re not around. This is a community format after all.
Next week, I will be back with decklists. The Dragons of Tarkir spoilers are giving me way too many spicy ideas. Until next time!