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The Thesis Enchantment



The entire 75% project has been, since day 1, an attempt on my part to figure out why I build the way I build and try to glean lessons for trying to build the same way that others can learn. Some of my habits reveal an underlying philosophical belief of mine and with some investigation, I can explain why that belief informs how I build all of my 75% decks. Some of my habits are just a result of my personal biases and my tendency to play pet cards and strategies. I've been playing Commander for almost a decade and I still discover things about myself all the time. Having spent the entire time documenting my thoughts for everyone to read has made me think about the decisions I make quite a bit, and building a lot of landfall decks this year has made me get very granular in my thinking about landfall decks if I'm going to come up with any new insights between them. It turns out this was incredibly good because thinking that much about Simic landfall so often caused me to have what I consider a pretty significant breakthrough.

I wrote two articles that were only mostly about a new commander, but which were also in response to a trend I'm seeing: people don't run enough lands, especially in landfall decks. I wrote "You Don't Run Enough Lands" and "You Don't Run Enough Lands Part 2" earlier this year about Kianne and Gretchen Titchwillow respectively and it caused me to completely re-center my thinking about quite a few of my decks. I started seeing my decks as Burgeoning-Based rather than Exploration-based which made me look at how and when I got a landfall trigger completely differently. With so many ways to turn a land drop into more cards in Simic, running too many lands wasn't a liability and using cards like Sakura-Tribe Scout and Walking Atlas on top of the eponymous Burgeoning meant I could make landfall triggers on their turn, something Exploration and Birds of Paradise can't do for me. I started running any and all bouncelands available to me and ran lots of ways to return lands to my hand. None of this is new at all - landfall has been played using these cards and techniques since the ability was first introduced. What changed, though, is prioritizing cards that work best if I got an early Burgeoning or Sakura-Tribe Scout and got it to stick. Cutting cards like Azusa and Nature's Lore seemed reckless at first, but as I began to build from Burgeoning out, I realized that even in games where I never drew a Burgeoning, the cards in the deck all synergized with each other because they were selected on the basis of how well they worked with Burgeoning. There are many ways to build an Omnath, Locus of Creation deck, but my specific approach was to get landfall triggers on their turns so I could gain 16 life a turn cycle and potentially deal everyone 4 damage on each turn so I don't have to keep figuring out how to blink my commander. I thought I was learning a lesson about how much land to run in Commander but it turns out I was only half right.

The lesson I learned was that we need to run enough lands to really benefit from Burgeoning and a deck full of cards that played nice with Burgeoning. I still think people don't run enough lands, but I think the lesson is more than that - the lesson is that Burgeoning is the signature card in that Omnath deck and building around it helped me select every single card for the deck, from the mana rocks I was able to cut to the cards like Mana Breach I was able to use to break parity. Mana Breach is a nasty card that often hurts the person who plays it, but in this deck specifically, it slowed them down a bit, let me re-buy landfall triggers with lands I already played and let me ensure they would give me Burgeoning triggers by bouncing their lands. Mana Breach is a nasty card and it's not right for a lot of decks, but it slotted right into the deck without any real changes needing to be made because a deck built around Burgeoning is optimized for Mana Breach in a way that a deck built around Exploration wouldn't be. Do yourself a favor and re-read this article where I go into more depth about the distinction between those two cards. If you're interested in watching me do a deck tech on Omnath, I recorded one in-person at the world-famous RIW hobbies in Livonia, Michigan. Having the breakthrough where I realized that Burgeoning was the "thesis" of that deck was an important realization, but it turns out that it was only part of the picture because all of my decks have a thesis Enchantment.

A thesis sentence or statement encapsulates the overall point of a discussion or argument, and like a thesis statement is the point of a written piece, a thesis Enchantment is the main point of the deck. Astute players will be able to figure out a lot about how a deck is built given just the commander and the Enchantment, provided that Enchantment is worth building around and has enough interactions with the rest of the deck. While it's true that just jamming an Enchantment into the deck because it synergizes well with your commander is good, a card like that makes a poor thesis for a deck. You can add a March of the Machines to an Eloise deck because it has the power to end the game, but the rest of the deck needn't synergize with March of the Machines, and if it doesn't, it's not a March of the Machines deck. If you dig down a bit, you'll find another Enchantment in the deck, usually, that sums up how that deck is built. Maybe it's a Bastion of Remembrance deck, or a Grave Pact deck or a Mechanized Production deck. A lot of Eloise decks run all 4 of those Enchantments, but even a cursory look at the deck reveals which of those Enchantments unlocks the rest of the deck. Not all decks have them, but all of mine do, and it was something I did without ever thinking about it.

Without realizing it, I had linked a commander with an Enchantment I wanted to build around very early in the process and built the deck out from there. You don't have to build this way to make a 75% deck and it's possible I don't do this every time since it's only just now becoming clear to me that this is even a concept that exists let alone a rule of mine. All that said, it's fairly easy to see how centering the deck around a thesis Enchantment can make the rest of the deck fall into place. Again, this is not a card we need to tutor for and which the deck cannot function without, but it is a card that you'd like the deck to be built around. Never drawing a Cryptolith Rite in a tokens deck is disappointing, but if the rest of the deck is set up to go wide rather than focusing on a smaller number of larger creatures, you'll be able to win with the mana you ended up drawing since the cards you did draw are optimized for a deck that goes wide. A thesis Enchantment isn't a card that makes you play differently once it's drawn, it's a card you play the whole deck in service of. Your tokens deck probably contains Parallel Lives and Cathars' Crusade but if you had Cryptolith Rite in mind when you designed the deck, the payoffs you have when you draw it (or Citanul Hierophants or Song of Freyalise) are unlocked and the deck can really shine.

I'd like to demonstrate how one Enchantment can make you go down a completely different build path than you might have otherwise and might lead to you making some very interesting choices based on your adherence to the strategy the thesis Enchantment demands. We'll start with a commander that a lot of people are talking about lately given the popularity of Zombies, especially the decaying ones made by Wilhelt which could generate a lot of "when a Zombie dies" triggers.

Daryl, Hunter of Walkers

There are a lot of ways to build a Daryl deck, but the second you make the choice that you want to play Aether Flash to kill the tokens you make, the rest of the deck seems to just materialize.

Aether Flash

Aether Flash is going to kill small creatures that you play, so it's a bad idea to include "nonbo" cards like Avenger of Zendikar, but you might want to run cards you wouldn't run otherwise, like Ranging Raptors, a card I'm positive you have to look up. Whether or not you ever get an Aether Flash, you've still made a choice about cards to include and exclude on the basis of you wanting to have Aether Flash in play as many games as possible because it does the most work with your commander. You add Ripjaw Raptor and Pyrohemia and take out Llanowar Elves and Wood Elves. Are Wood Elves THAT bad when you don't have Aether Flash out? Well, no, but why would you ever want to run a card that you're unhappy to draw when the deck is doing what it wants to be doing? Indeed, the stock Daryl list runs dinosaurs and other creatures you're happy to see take ETB damage from Aether Flash and eschews cards that will be dead draws with the Enchantment in play like Burnished Hart. Once you decide to build around Aether Flash, a card that could end up drawing you three cards a turn and clearing your opponents' boards, the rest of the deck falls into place.

Take a look through your decks. Odds are good that most or all of them have an Enchantment that you're built around whether you realize it or not. Black Market or Grave Pact in Korvold. Mechanized Production in Brudiclad. Thousand-Year Storm in Kykar. I don't know how I made roughly five Squirrel Nest/Opposition decks in this series without it occurring to me sooner that I wanted some decks to be "Opposition" decks, but now that I realize that about how I build, thinking about an Enchantment that pairs well with the commander as being a second build-around is going to lead to even more clutch inclusions that may end up being huge innovations. Who knows? I might even want to go back through some of my existing decks and juggle some cards around in light of the printing of powerful new Enchantments like Druid Class or The Meathook Massacre. This isn't the only way to build and it's likely not the only or even the best way to build a 75% deck, but identifying an unconscious habit and doing the unconscious behavior on purpose is how we grow as deck-builders. That does it for me this week, readers, join me next week for the thesis Enchantment method put into practice. Until next time!

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