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Build a Bad Deck (That Wins)


I have been playing a lot more Commander on webcam lately because it's fun, people actually let me play with them and I don't have an alternative if I want to play paper Commander right now (I do want that). A lot of those games were streamed and probably exist in some fashion and you could find them if you were so inclined (or you can follow me on Twitter where I'll announce the next time I'll be at it) but I want to talk about a game that didn't see the light of day. Conducted over Discord, it became a comedy of errors very quickly. The issue? I misrepresented a 75% deck.

My Chainer deck has gone through a lot of refinements and I can't decide where to go with it. As a Goblin tribal deck, it feels somewhat underpowered since all I'm really doing is trying to bounce and blink Chainer to be able to cast multiple fair Goblins every turn and I struggle against getting Wrathed and Bojuk'd. As such, the slow, clumsy transition back to a deck where I cast Mindslaver a lot is happening. The deck has a lot of ways to tutor for specific Goblins which always leads me to getting a Goblin Engineer to dump Mindslaver in the yard and Goblin Welder to get it back. It's a real mess. Since the deck is bad, I don't consider it 75% because it struggles to do anything against bad decks let alone good ones. As such, I'm not really playing it anymore until it figures out what it is. I at least had fun when it was a more fun deck, but even then it wasn't 75% because no one wants you to Mindslaver them even though it's hilarious when you take someone's turn, give them a Claws of Gix and make them put those Cabal Coffers of theirs to good use, torching their whole board.

The deck just sat. I didn't come up with 75% deck-building theory so decks could just sit, so when I saw what I thought was an opportunity to get another rep in to try and diagnose what's wrong with the deck, I leapt at it. Two of the participants in the game were planning to use their new Commander 2020 precons and the 3rd was using a tuned precon, which I welcomed. A 75% deck should work just fine against preconstructed decks - you're not going to punish their wonky mana base, win on turn four, or throw anything at them they shouldn't be able to handle. While the preconstructed decks don't have a ton of amazingly flashy rares, they have a lot of synergy and can put together decent attacks if left alone. This Chainer deck was going to excel at leaving them alone.

I left them alone, at first. A lucky turn one Sol Ring turned into a turn three Black Market. It raised some eyebrows. "Precon-tier you say?" I shrugged. Black Market was in Commander 2017, it's a precon card. The Herald of Leshrac that followed raised more eyebrows. Then came Goblin Engineer to throw a Mindslaver in the yard. Then came Mana Echoes. Before I could play my first Goblin and get any mana from Mana Echoes, I was hit with Akroma's Vengeance, lost my entire board and was down to two inconsequential cards in hand. At this point in the game, I was getting a pretty good ribbing every time I played a card. They were right - Mana Echoes, Herald of Leshrac, Mindslaver - these are not precon cards. They're 75% cards, true, but this wasn't really a 75% deck because despite curving out well (the Black Market was very helpful with a sac-based deck on the table) and playing powerful spells, I didn't do anything. I borrowed a few lands for a few turns and dumped my hand then scooped to a Wrath. Worse, though, I misrepresented the deck. Just because your deck does nothing but does it very efficiently doesn't mean it's a precon - I'd argue it's the opposite. A precon uses a lot of synergy between bulk rares and a few key reprints and powerful new cards to win, my deck used $30 cards to do nothing. The deck needs work, but I also need something to play when other people are getting out precons, something that happens every year.

This deck need not be 75%, because if you know everyone is playing precons or precon-tier decks, you don't need a 75% deck that can adapt to everything, you can just play a deck that's perfect for the situation. You won't get this deck out often, but considering I've played dozens of games with new friends this month and hadn't gotten Chainer out, sometimes you have a deck you don't play. I don't like unwrapping a precon and jamming it, but if you play with people who do, why not have something ready?

Gyruda, Doom of Depths
Instead of working like the opposite of a precon (flashy, powerful spells that ultimately don't do much except make you do nothing a few turns early) I want to build the best deck I can with lower-power cards, relying more on synergy. Precon decks tend to be so focused on being built around a mechanic or two that they become sort of boring and linear (Hence my Xyris deck's untimely demise). I don't want to jam a linear deck like a precon, but I do want to adopt some of their deck-building tools to come up with a deck that's going to line up with those decks. This year's precon decks have a large number of decks that go all-in on growing a big commander, whether you're mutating, stacking counters on Kalamax or putting counters on a flying shark. The Mardu deck goes wide a lot, and that's something to be aware of, but if we can disrupt one big creature (perhaps by stealing it?) we can use very un-flashy cards to get the job done. We should look to Ikoria for a commander rather than focusing on Commander 2020 and I think I found the exact one I'm looking for in Gyruda, Doom of Depths. Spot removal in the form of Doom Blades and Boomerangs can help stave off the giant creatures our opponents will likely build and cards like Propaganda and Aetherize will save us from the toke decks and go-wide Mardu strategies. If you look at years past, having the same cards for a big Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle or Nylea's Colossus and also being able to defend against a swarm of cheap Madness creatures seems prudent. We can use our commander to take some of their cards and use them against them, the perfect way to scale against a precon. Lastly, we're going to put Gyruda in the command zone so we can play any CMC we want.

We'll include the kind of spells that are typically included in precons by including cards that were already in a precon wherever possible. Black Market is fine but Mana Echoes and Phyrexian Altar probably need to sit this one out. Luckily, we have access to some very good removal, good countermagic, solid card draw and a few creature swiping spells including a few you don't see often such as Enslave. The result will be a deck that's specifically designed to thwart the precons from the last few years all while using cards that wouldn't be amiss in any precon. This is going to be a fun exercise, so let's dig in.

Gyruda, Doom of Precons | Commander | Jason Alt

Diluvian Primordial
With a high number of cards that are clearly precon-tier because they actually appeared in precons, a lot of ways to steal their cards and plenty of ways to shut off Hexproof to make sure you can snatch up that glorious pile of mutate creatures with a hexproof creature somewhere in there, this deck has a lot to love. I have used Deadeye Navigator in conjunction with cards like Jace's Mindseeker and Diluvian Primordial before and the high mana cost of a lot of these creatures coupled with their high power level should ensure you don't get too far ahead too quickly. You won't scare anyone with your early turns but your late turns will seal their fate.

The Average CMC is pretty high and while I wanted to cut expensive creatures, there were too many good ones. I recommend looking at cards like Acquire, Praetor's Grasp, or Master Thief to make use of their mana rocks to give them the old twofer treatment. Making them lose a mana rock and gaining one yourself is a two mana-rock swing in your favor which is why stealing things from them is so potent. Our mana curve is quite high and if any of these creatures don't impact the board the way they should, there is probably a three or four mana creature that should be in that slot.

I ran less removal than I thought I was going to because I like the Clone effects more. It makes for a fun experience to Clone their stuff and take over the board by having the best creatures, but if you find you want some more removal, Go For The Throat-tier cards are probably the best bet. If I am going to steal their creatures, I want to be countering sweepers, not playing them. This is why cards like Aetherize are better than cards like Devastation Tide. Add an Aetherspouts if you want another card like this - it doesn't punish you by giving back your ill-gotten gains but it does punish whoever had the sheer, unmitigated temerity to attack you when you're just over here playing a precon-tier deck of all things.

Your deck's capabilities are much less important than the perception and if you play powerful cards that give you a ton of mana but ultimately don't let you do anything to the board, you're going to draw heat you can't handle. No one likes to get focused. Instead, play a deck like this against precons. It's way more fun, you get to play with new cards without having to buy them and you can be sure people will be able to deal with what you use against them. This deck works against the precons from any year and if you tune it, be mindful of the kind of cards you're putting in. Bribery would make this deck better, but it wouldn't make it more fun to play against with a precon. Besides, who said cards from precons have to be bad? True-Name Nemesis, Baleful Strix, Teferi's Protection - some of the most powerful cards in Magic's History came in a preconstructed deck. Above all, don't make the mistakes I did - misrepresenting how it would *feel* to play against your deck, and mistaking a deck that did nothing three turns early because of Black Market for a deck that wasn't 75% and therefore was casual. Next time I'll be ready, and I hope you will, too. Until next time!

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