As an adult with a job (several - I'm doing one of them now!) who just buys what he wants for himself, I'm no fun for my relatives to shop for around the Holidays. I find it profoundly uncomfortable asking for things and even indicating what I want when someone asks point blank. I don't enjoy the process at all. I'd much rather give than receive, personally. My wife has no compunction about throwing things in a wishlist on a site like Amazon and allowing people to select from that. I used to put the Commander precons in there this time of year, but with them coming out so far ahead of the Holidays, I don't wait anymore and I just buy them myself. My relatives bought me Holiday gift sets a few times until I asked them to stop, which just made their job harder. Shopping for people isn't supposed to be an ordeal, and my particularity was becoming a chore. This got me thinking about making lists and checking them twice and I realized that I'm going to build a bunch of 75% decks next year and even though I don't know anything about the Commanders, there are a few constants that we can rely on. Would it be possible to put together a 75% wish list? Would doing so help an outsider understand the format a little better? Was I going to save time by putting the 24 cards in no particular order rather than waste time ranking them? Yes to all of those questions!
24 is a good number to ask for because it can fill up an advent calendar, you could get 3 cards a night for Hanukkah or you could just open all 24 cards at once if you don't observe a winter holiday with a numerical-based gift tradition. I call that last one the "Netflix model". Whatever you observe around the end of the year, have a safe and prosperous season. Let's rip into these picks, shall we?
Thada Adel, Acquisitor
I am not a fan of Mono-Blue decks or I would run a Thada deck for the sheer audacity of swinging early and often. Islandwalk means it's better against people running Blue and therefore more likely to be up to antisocial shenanigans. That doesn't mean you need to focus the Sphinx tribal player for playing Blue, but it does mean that Blue players are up to something more often than not and Thada is better when they play Blue. That's what I call scaling to their power level. Steal their rocks, use them against them, hurt the Blue player more - what is more 75% than that?
This is a card I wish I had been about from day 1. Very early in developing the 75% theory, I realized it was miserable to Armageddon everyone and not win right away. I wanted to slow other players down but not stop them from doing anything at all. What I found was that making their permanents come into play tapped did exactly what I wanted and nothing I didn't. You don't frost their lands but their rocks come into play tapped, slowing those explosive turns where players chain mana rocks to a standstill but not hindering a normal turn of land rock go. You also stop Splinter Twin esque combos, and you can extort to boot. This goes in almost every White deck I build. This is how I keep players in line with the table and it works beautifully.
Stealing their permanents is how we like to hurt them and put ourselves ahead. When you steal one of their creatures, it's a +2 swing in your favor in the zero-sum game called "having creatures out" which is not a good name for the game and I'm going to work on it. Being able to get additional utility from dead creatures, their or yours, is a very creative way to use their creature and deprive them of it, but it's better when there is an ETB ability. Playing Control Magic on Acidic Slime is not great, but vatting one up and going to machine gun town? Sign me up. Being able to swap for a better creature later is just gravy. There's a lot to love here.
This is a card I have only recently begun to use a lot and I love it. I don't play Red a ton, but when I do, I am usually in some sort of artifact-heavy build. You can steal a Sol Ring, a Panharmonicon or a Blightsteel Colossus. Whatever they bring to the party, you go home with. That's scalability, baby! This is easy to kill and expensive but it's also such an absurdly powerful and useful ability that I'm half considering building a deck with Aladdin as my commander. Once you steal about 4 or 5 rocks, it's pretty trivial to suit him up with Umbral Mantle and go ham on their end step. Is that a good deck? Nah. It's probably a little weak for a 75% table. But I'll try anything once.
Helm of Possession
This is a great way to steal creatures in any color and it's a sac outlet to boot. This is criminally underplayed to the extent that it took me a few years of playing Commander to run across it myself and I played a lot during that block. I'll give myself a break because there was no commander in 1998 but for someone who swears by Vedalken Shackles, I should have been all over a card like this that doesn't care how big the creature is or how Blue your deck is. This should be in your 75% deck-building arsenal.
Speaking of Shackles, decks that don't have a ton of creatures to sac to Helm are likely to have a lot of Islands so this is a great pairing. Use early and often and don't be afraid to get a little rough with their creature during combat and take something else no one likes smashing their new creature into their old one, so this is a bit of a combat deterrent to boot. Love this card.
Gonti, Lord of Luxury
This is what convinced me I would enjoy playing with an Aladdin deck. Playing with their cards means you sometimes have to get creative and put together a winning strategy with cards from different decks. This is pure power level scaling - you are stuck playing with what they've got. Playing with Gonti is a different kind of Magic. If you've never experienced it, I suggest you give it a shot. If you won't play a Gonti deck, you at least owe it to yourself to swing by the 95' MTG booth at a Magic Fest and ask Douglas Johnson if you can shuffle his. Bring gloves.
The deck is all damaged cards that people have sold to him for cheap over the years. The Demonic Tutor is Alpha, the Mana Crypt has Sharpie tally marks for every time he won or lost a coin flip and the only sleeved card is Gonti themself.
Helm of the Host
The first time I attached this to a creature at the prerelease, I knew this was the kind of thing I wanted to be doing all of the time. Stealing a creature with an ETB ability is disappointing sometimes, and if you blink it, you lose it. What's the solution? Get a "blink" every turn, and keep a few bodies while you're at it. Whether you're throwing this on your Acidic Slime or their Mulldrifter, you're going to get some value. If the game requires you to throw it on Godo, Bandit Warlord so the game can end, well, you can do that, too.
Rise of the Dark Realms
If stealing a creature is good, stealing every creature is better. This is a Black Insurrection, and if you don't win the game, you were trying to lose. This incentivizes you to run removal, mill people, be reckless in combat, goad people into attacking each other, Wrath the board and when they refill it, Wrath again. This rewards Black for playing Black and I love it. This is a little pricey but the Holidays are a time for giving and if no one gives, treat yourself. You're worth it.
Phyrexian Altar/Ashnod's Altar
I love to "threaten" creatures as well as outright steal them because some color combinations do that best. I am also a bad neighbor and I don't return creatures in the same condition they were when I borrowed them, though, and I prefer to strap their creature to an Altar and rend them into useful mana rather than send them back to their owner to be used against me. I also just like being able to sac my own stuff sometimes and I really like mana, and this gives me that. This should be in a lot of your decks, and it should be in more 75% decks than other decks in my view because you're borrowing and stealing creatures a lot more often.
Revel in Riches
I have a strong affinity for cards that say "You win the game" and the good ones are more fun than the bad ones. This, like Rise of the Dark Realms, rewards Black for doing things Black should be doing anyway. Grave Pact effects to encourage them to sac creatures as recklessly as you do are very controversial but Revel seems to stick in players' craws less for some reason. There is spot removal, there are board sweepers, there is combat and there are even other ways to get Treasure tokens. You'll get a lot of use out of Revel and you'll also make yourself the Archenemy when you run this out, so enjoy that!
Pattern of Rebirth
I am not the biggest fan of tutors in a 75% deck because they very often seem to be just second copies of a card and I think that makes decks more linear, more homogenous and less exciting. If you are using spells like this like a Toolbox card, though, this card be very fun, and the extra work it takes makes me feel better about running it. This is the kind of tutor I prefer in a 75% deck if you have to run something.
I love cards that stop players from executing their plan but still allow them to do things. Players drawing a card, looking at it, playing nothing and passing is miserable and frustrating. Players unable to do their degenerate things but still being able to play lands and creatures is frustrating but in a "you're not letting me win the game" way. Stopping players from doing anything at all is antisocial. Stopping them from executing their exact vision is literally how we win.
The first time you hit someone in the fact and scoop up three mana rocks and a Solemn Simulacrum, you'll wonder how you ever got by without Hellkite Tyrant. It steals their stuff, prevents them from winning, has to attack and says "you win the game" on it - this is one of the most 75% creatures ever devised.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and sometimes you don't have to take a permanent away from someone to get the benefit of it for yourself. This is an incredibly versatile card and has won a number of games on the basis of its ability to be as high-powered as something someone else played. It's only as good as their deck and that's what we want.
Relying on stealing their creatures means we don't always have a ton of creatures of our own. Getting a lot of mileage out of our limited number and setting up looping shenanigans with lots of mana is my kind of Magic. This gets overlooked a bit and while this is sometimes the 101st card when I build, a lot of my decks are better for its inclusion.
Why should Green have all the fun? Not only does this give other colors a chance to compete, it encourages the use of Snow Covered lands which opens you up to really interesting cards like Sunstone and Scrying Sheets. If you don't want to live that snow life, open yourself up to the possibility that an opponent will ramp their mana as well, allowing for some political bargaining.
I had a friend who would take my Sol Ring every game. The first time it was cute, the 4th time it was annoying, the 11th time he noticed I had cut Sol Ring from the deck and he had to pick something else. If you want to be like him and get my Ring all day, you can. That's the worst possible use for this card and even then, it's pretty good.
This is the card I had in mind when I wrote the early "It's better to punish our opponents from doing this than it is to stop them from doing things" which I later amended to "than it is to stop them from doing anything." They can do stuff, but it will cost them. It's quite a... what's the word? Conundrum.
The Mirage Mirror of lands, this is my favorite way to have access to Gaea's Cradle, Serra's Sanctum, Cabal Coffers, Hall of the Bandit Lord and Basic Mountain and everything in between. If they play it, you can play it. This should be in every 75% deck. I'll be better about making that point in my articles in 2020.
I don't love counterspells, but if you have to play one in Commander (and you might, someone has to save the table sometimes), it's hard to get more versatile than a card that can counter a Cyclonic Rift or pilfer a Consecrated Sphinx. It's tough to keep 5 up early or mid-game which is why this is so good because it forces you to use it late and sparingly. Later in the game it will have more impact and be more likely to be back-breaking. The five mana cost seems stifling to some people but personally, it taught me to be a more patient and effective Blue player. Pack a few flash creatures so people don't wonder why you never tap out. Or don't, who cares, no one plays around Desertion. Well, in your playgroup, people in mine do.
This is the Black Rise of the Dark Realms. Borrowing a creature is tough - you need to make sure it will have an impact on the one turn you take it, take it from a player who won't retaliate, wait for it to be able to attack effectively and figure out if you have a way to kill it without giving it back. It's a lot simpler to just take every creature and usually just end the game. The best thing about this "You win the game" spell is that if you played a five card combo to get the mana to play this on turn one, it wouldn't do anything. The beauty of Insurrection is that it's best in annoying games that have gone on for far too long, and when you play this, you'll win a lot but it's more often met with sighs of relief than sighs of exasperation at their defeat. This card is a public service.
Stealing a creature is pretty cool. Stealing an artifact or land? Also pretty cool. But what about literally stealing the metaphysical concept of a player's turn? Sound far-fetched? Well, it's not only possible, it usually results in that player making very bad plays with their cards during that turn. Lately when I Mindslaver a player, they decide to sac their entire board to Zuran Orb and Jinxed Idol. It's really weird.
I don't play this enough and the mana cost is basically prohibitive, but it steals lands until there are no more lands to steal and then it dies. Can you beat that? I mean, yes, it's very beatable, this is kind of a bad card. But this is also the kind of thing I want to be doing and if we can't play big, dumb, swipey battlecruiser creatures from a very bad set, why even play Commander?
I'm sure I have missed something obvious but with this list, you can't go wrong. A lot of these cards are in multiple decks of mine and they're doing a lot of work. 75% decks keep the best player in line with the rest of the table until the best player is you and then you try to win. You don't pay to win by having the most expensive cards (not that there's anything wrong with that!) and you don't make newer players feel like they can't keep up or better players like you can't keep up. 75% decks let the game go long enough for everyone to enjoy themselves and have the ability to wrap things up before everyone stops. It's rarely the wrong deck for the table which means you're at home everywhere. With only one article to go in 2019, I'd like to thank everyone for reading this silly column for the last 6 years. With the exception of my children and my podcast, this series is the thing I'm most proud of and I hope you'll join me in 2020. Have a Happy Holiday season if that's your thing and join me next week for the last article I'll write this decade. Until next time!