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Demonic Tutor
I don’t think that Black, face-down tutors belong in 75% decks. I don’t know if their use necessarily disqualifies the deck from 75% status, but I don’t include them when I build decks, and I discourage their use when asked for deck critiques. I ask the question “Do you find yourself always using them to get the same card?” If you are using your tutor in a boring way, it’s making the deck win too consistently (and in the same way). It’s annoying for the rest of the table to watch as you thumb through your deck looking for one card and not knowing what card it is. Maybe take that Diabolic Tutor out of the deck. Replace it with Greed or maybe even Necropotence. You can still find your win condition, but it will be less consistent.

When we talk about keeping our power level the same while lowering consistency to try and hit the 75% sweet spot, I’m not talking about making the whole deck inconsistent. I’m simply referring to the last turn. If you’re going to mill yourself out and win with a tutored-for Laboratory Maniac every game, you’re going to be consistent in your end game. That’s going to begin to bore you (I mean, I should hope) and that’s the sort of boring inevitability that we like to avoid with a 75% build. If you are less consistent but just as powerful, you’ll likely win with a wider array of conditions and you’ll still win in spectacular ways. I’m not talking about taking out Sol Ring because it makes you have good first turns. Having a deck that consistently puts itself in a position to be able to transition to the end-game and fight for the win is what we aim for.

I was on the Commanderin podcast again last week and Sean and I naturally got into a discussion regarding Black tutors and how he thinks they’re less egregious than cards like Cultivate which don’t grab high quality cards like Demonic Tutor but which set you up to be a few turns ahead of the Black player with no mana ramp. I don’t think we need to rehash the debate in this article, but I will say I like early game consistency a lot and we’re never going to beat a tuned deck if we stumble early. Kodama's Reach may be a staple in Green decks, and it may feel like cheating to players who lack access to land selection spells, but those aren’t the kind of tutors or the kind of consistency we want to avoid. We don’t want the game to end the same way every time but we also don’t want the game to end before it even begins, no one does. But if you are always using your tutor to grab the same win condition, every copy of the tutor is just a fill-in copy of that card. It’s not a toolbox if it’s full of the same hammer over and over, especially if that means you always use a hammer to finish the job irrespective of the situation you’re in.

So if we’re not using tutors but we still want to run a deck that wins with a combination of cards rather than just attacking, what are our options? Here they are as I see it.

  • Draw a ton of cards. At a certain point, this becomes just as inevitable as tutoring and doesn’t solve our problem.
  • Hope to draw the combo pieces. Sometimes this happens less than 1/x games and you don’t always win with the combo, meaning your deck won’t perform like a 75% deck all the time. This is a fine solution for a lot of decks, but not all.
  • Run cards that combo with your commander for the win. That way you only need to draw half of your combo since the other half is in the Command Zone. There aren’t a ton of these that win the game on the spot, however. That would be boring anyway.
  • Run combo pieces that aren’t useless when drawn without the other combo pieces.

Horobi, Death's Wail
That last option seems to refer more to synergy than it does a true “combo” like Triskelion and Mephidross Vampire or Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Zealous Conscripts or Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon and basically any card in the deck. Ooooh so original, playing infect in EDH. Your parents must be so proud of you. Sorry about that, I don’t know what came over me.

Anyway. I wanted to talk about synergy and how you can build with synergy in mind rather than a combination of very specific cards that you can’t do much without (or at the very least you need to pursue another, sometimes radically different win condition while you wait for the combo to pan out). With a synergistic strategy, tutors become irrelevant because every part of the plan works with the other parts to work toward your victory.

For this deck, I wanted to find one that was Black, Mono-Black if possible, to show off the fact that we’re just fine with no tutoring. I also wanted to pick a deck where having your commander survive cranked the deck up to 11 but, where you weren’t entirely useless without the commander in case you couldn’t afford to keep bringing it out. I also wanted some of the synergy cards to do things by themselves but be better in concert with how the deck worked. I’ll be honest, when I set out to do all of this, I expected it to be way harder than it actually was. It turns out the perfect deck already exists.

I really like how this deck turned out. It tends to play a little differently when your commander is out versus when he’s not, and, that’s fascinating to me. Cards in the deck synergize well with your commander but they also do things when he’s not out, albeit very different ones.

When Horobi, Death's Wail is on the battlefield, everything in the deck that targets their creatures will kill those creatures. Since there are so many things that do this, I got to pick cards that synergized with each other and did things if your commander wasn’t out. Some things are in here because they’re hilarious, like Baton of Morale, but those are the first things to cut if you think of something that’s missing. Cute is fun but always go for effective over cute. Still, how funny is it to murder a creature with Squee's Toy?

I wanted to load up on effects that grant shadow to really emphasize the points I tried to make in this article. When Dauthi Trapper isn’t straight murdering some fool, he can make one of your creatures unblockable. How likely is it your opponent also has creatures with Shadow? If your commander is out, he’s a murder machine. If not, he can still make one of your creatures very hard to block. Having cards that synergize with the strategy whether your commander is out or not means even the pieces of the “combo” (Horobi plus anything that targets) can help win you the game if you can’t put the other piece(s) together. There’s no need to tutor for something specific if most of the deck can be used in conjunction with one combo piece to accomplish your aim, they aren’t useless when drawn on their own because they still do something.

Similarly, I could have included a lot of cards like Trip Noose and such, but Erratic Portal does the same thing with Horobi out while also serving as a great advantage engine when he’s not out. You can use portal to rebuy a Gray Merchant of Asphodel, for example. You have a lot of creatures that do things when they come into play and Portal can rebuy their effect or save them from being destroyed when Horobi isn’t out. It’s fun to use the same card in vastly different ways depending on how your board is constructed.

I like this deck a ton. I think there is room for improvement as with all of my decks, which I consider first drafts, but feel free to cut anything you want as long as what you put in contributes to the same end as what you took out. We’re trying to include cards that help you win when used in concert with each other, unless you have Horobi out in which case they are used to destroy your opponents’ boards.

What do we think? Is there an obvious exclusion? Would you have gone down a different build path and included cards that did something else with Horobi in the Command Zone? Got an idea for what you want to see covered next week? Leave it in the comments section. I enjoyed this one because we got to come a little closer to codifying a new concept and potentially getting closer to a new guidelines which we haven’t done in a while. Until next week!

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