Holiday Gift Guide 2019
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Convertible Commander - Darien, King of Kjeldor


Golden Wish
We commander players are an assorted, interesting lot. We’re competitive, social, fun-loving, achievement-unlocking, goofy, streamlined, and everything else in-between. Some of us are keen to beat a table of highly-tuned decks. Some of us just want to pull off a combo, whether or not it wins. But the thing that ties us together is the format itself — 100 different cards (okay, we get basic lands) and a limited card pool, based on a creature and concepts we choose ourselves. We chose a format with restrictions but high-variance.

We can get around those things. We can run Progenitus and all the tutors we can get our hands on. I suppose there’d be something cool about showing that build off, but it seems to go against the basic premise. As a general rule, we want a different experience each time we shuffle up.

The thing is, even if we build our decks for variance, sometimes it feels like the same things keep happening. The fourth or fifth time you flip Kozilek, the Great Distortion off Jhoira of the Ghitu or play Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite with Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and Kormus Bell on the battlefield, even if you didn’t search for it, it’s just going to feel a bit . . . meh.

Giant Adephage
Which leads me to a new idea. Traditional, 100-card commander decks are great, and there are a ton of places to go to see those decks. Let’s go a little bigger. Let’s build those 100-card decks, but let’s think ahead about designing ways to change our experience — call it an “optionboard.” This optionboard can be any amount of cards, but those cards travel with the deck, and do exactly what it sounds like — they give us options. Some commanders (like today’s) will allow us to radically change how the deck works, like going from aggro to pillow-fort. Others, like Maelstrom Wanderer, are going to give us more specific choices without changing the heart of the deck. With the Wanderer, we’re always going to want to ramp into him and play him as much as possible, but maybe we’ll want to have several different options for cards to try. Hit Avenger of Zendikar the last couple of games? Take it out and add in that Giant Adephage everyone laughs at you for having (watch them stop when it has haste). Some commanders may fall somewhere in between, where we nudge the basic nature of the deck but don’t completely derail it.

It’s not a sideboard, though it might behave like one. If you only have one deck and are playing three games in a new shop with a new group, you may find yourself over- or under-powered. An optionboard allows you to treat it like a sideboard in a Standard deck, where you change according to the meta so the game can be more balanced and fun. More often, though, it gives you an on-site (or at least prepared) option for those times when a change wants to happen, like putting the top down on your convertible.

I still love budgets. I’d rather build cheaper decks and let you spice them up based on your own budget and priorities than start with a price that’s completely unreachable. Recently, we upped the budget for my articles to $100, and we’re going to stick with that — the 100 card deck will cost $100 and the total with the optionboard will be under $125. Plus, there will be ways to keep costs down by picking and choosing from the deck and the board, and it’s always easy to spend more money, if you want. While we’re at it, I’m planning to basically go around the color wheel again with this idea. This time, we’ll add four-color commanders — they’ll be out by the time we get there — but will not worry about it too much. If we go off the schedule, that’s okay.

With all that in mind, let’s start with an old-school, and very cool, commander. If you’ve played against him before, you know what he can do. If you haven’t, meet this guy:

Darien, King of Kjeldor

It seems clear the king of rattlesnakes wants to go wide with tokens. We make it pretty painful for someone to swing at us. They crack, and we make a bunch of dudes so we can crack back with our freshly enlisted soldiers. Excellent. We’ve got the Soul Sisters and their relatives, Healer of the Pride and Angelic Chorus, to help balance some of the life-loss we’ll suffer to make our army. And if our opponents won’t help us out by swinging into us, well, let’s try some masochism.

Daru Warchief
The two most important foundations in any commander deck remain mana and cards. So we’ve got 40 lands, several mana rocks, and a number of ways to draw some extra cards. Our commander isn’t cheap, and we want him out early and probably often, so hitting a mana rock or two will be nothing but good. Turn one Sol Ring into turn two Daru Warchief is a turn three Darien is a wonderful start. (Darien has been Oracled to be a Human Soldier.) Meanwhile, Illuminated Folio and Urza's Blueprints let us use all that mana we’ll be making to draw some extra cards, and Crystal Ball filters nicely. Slate of Ancestry should be used with caution, but if you’re digging for a Soul Sister it can give you a lot of cards. Mentor of the Meek can do great duty here. And because we’ll often have a Soul Sister out, we’ll regularly be gaining life, so Well of Lost Dreams can draw us a bunch of cards; there’s nothing quite so satisfying as floating mana from one of your pain lands, making soldier tokens, and using the mana to activate the Well to draw cards.

Staff of Nin deserves special mention, because it does two things for us. First, we get an extra, free card per turn. It also does a single damage to a single target every turn, so we can aim it at ourselves, doing one damage and making one soldier. This explains cards like City of Brass, Nomad Stadium, and our all-star, Tarnished Citadel. We tap that land for mana and make three soldiers! That’s awesome.

Mass Calcify
We have some White Wrath of God-style effects, some of which we should be able to tailor to our board like the wonderful Mass Calcify and Hour of Reckoning. Fell the Mighty is good, too, because we can target a soldier and kill everything larger, or we can target Darien and kill an army of angels on another side. Swords to Plowshares, Oblivion Ring, and Banishing Light are all targeted removal, and Return to Dust and Soltari Visionary handle non-creature threats. Proclamation of Rebirth will get us back a dead sister.

The rest of the deck supports the soldiers in various ways. The cards do damage to us so we can make more soldiers (Acorn Catapult), care when a creature enters the battlefield (Cathars' Crusade), buff our dudes (Spear of Heliod, Marshal's Anthem), make more soldiers (Elspeth, Sun's Champion), or bring those important life gain cards back if an opponent decides to put them in our graveyard (Sun Titan, Marshal's Anthem).

We have some sweet cards to run interference, too, with Thalia, Heretic Cathar, Blind Obedience, and especially Arena of the Ancients, which does yeoman duty with many strategies which rely on an attacking commander and doesn’t care about hexproof or shroud. Arena will seriously cripple an opposing Geist of Saint Traft or Molimo, Maru-Sorcerer Deck. And some of the soldiers do splendid work by themselves — Catapult Master and fifteen soldiers can exile three opposing monsters with an ability which does not suffer from summoning sickness, and Intrepid Hero can be very . . . heroic.

The Jade Monolith is also an interesting card available for political purposes to save an opponent’s creature, but it is not usually advisable to take extra commander damage with it.

There are some fun cards one could add to this deck with more money. Ancient Tomb would be amazing, and Auriok Champion would be another sister. Reveillark can be Proclamation number two, saving a lot of heartache if the only sister we’ve got is in the ‘yard. As often happens in budget decks, some extra money in the lands, including Myriad Landscape and Tectonic Edge, would be useful.

But here are the cards we’re going to pack with the deck.


This batch gives a much more aggressive deck less likely to sit back on its rattlesnake regent, and provides the delight of playing Urborg in a Mono-White deck; pair it with Karma, make soldiers and watch everybody else suffer. This bunches the mass-damage spells of Angel's Trumpet and the combination of Urborg and Karma into one group, but you could move just the Trumpet or the combo to the main deck if you like. Nomads' Assembly would punish players who don’t run enough mass removal. Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendant should flip immediately and changes the game’s complexion dramatically. True Conviction for Cathars' Crusade?Archetype of Courage for Sun Titan? Odric doesn’t play well with Arena of the Ancients, but it’s your deck. It doesn’t have to match themes or ideas, it can just be something different. It can power up or tune down.

I’m very curious about your thoughts on this experiment. Ideas and criticisms are welcome in the comments or via e-mail (you can reach me at markwischkaemper@gmail.com.

I also really want ideas for decks you’d like to see with this approach. Do you have a deck that’s just getting boring? Or maybe a friend does and you’d like to suggest some cards to swap around to make it more fun for everyone? Anything you’ve ever wanted to see work? I’d love this to be more of a community-driving project, so please reach out!

Finally, I’d love to hear if anyone is already doing something like this. Do you have experience with carrying around a card or two or 20 with a deck so you have options as you sit down? Why? Has it worked out?

I look forward to going down this road!

Total cost (including optionboard): $120.33

Total cost (without optionboard): $99.15

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