I thought the Ruhan experiment that a few of us Commander writers joined in was a fun one. I consciously didn’t look at other lists so that my list wasn’t tainted by other ideas. Ironically, that’s sort of the purpose of the Internet and writing about Magic: to share ideas and concepts. We all put out lists that all had different aspects to it, and that proves it’s possible to build different decks all with the same Commander. If it were to happen again (and I hope it does), it would be harder to construct a decklist the Commander of which is more linear—such as Ezuri, Renegade Leader. “Hey, we’re building Elf decks! Let’s see how many of the same Elves we can cram in there.”
But there was another aspect of the experiment that I wanted to touch on. The deck that I built was a Voltron-style deck in which, if you remember, it’s all about making my commander awesome and swinging with it. There are two main ways to build up a Voltron commander: Auras and Equipment. Because there is such a small pool of cards to draw from, you’re going to find some repeating cards in decklists. It’s a hard thing to do, but it’s natural.
I mean, the first time I saw Geist of Saint Traft, I only thought of one card:
When I pulled one about a month ago, I knew that I had to build a deck around it. No, you’re not seeing that decklist today, so don’t get all excited. The issue is that building Geist of Saint Traft wasn’t going to be my only Voltron deck:
All three of these are in my Highlander Collective, err, collection. (We’ll get back to that after Avacyn Restored.) Anybody notice anything else about those cards? Yeah, they’re all white. Much like the color of everyone’s favorite Power Ranger, white tends to have all of the better Voltron commanders. This is a strange quirk for the color since it’s supposed to be a one-of-all mentality but is really lucking out with this army-of-one concept.
And what has happened is that the better Voltron enablers are in the color of white. It makes sense to a degree: White is known to use artifacts and enchantments to its advantage and rules-making governance. But when you have a select few good cards in a color that all vie for the same style of deck, you’re going to end up with repeats that everyone wants to have in decks. It’s a little bit of a problem for me since I like to have my decks varied, but when four of them are of the same archetype, it’s a little hard to make them unique.
Depending on whether I want to go Aura or Equipment means there are different cards for that type of deck. It’s obvious that Uril and Kemba are the respective Aura/Equipment builds, but when it comes to a commander like Geist of Saint Traft, you could go either way. There are benefits both ways: Auras can be more powerful, but if you keep casting your commander, Equipment can keep reattaching to the commander.
It’s key to figure out what exactly you want to do when constructing your own Voltron. You need to pick out Auras and Equipment that makes sense with the deck, and that means you need to cross out certain cards. I tend to avoid cards that only boost power and toughness unless it is by a large amount. We have three classic examples here:
Looking at these, you’ll see two that are variable while one is static. With Blessing, you know that you’ll receive a constant +2/+2, +3/+3, +5/+5. I don’t find any of those particularly exciting—especially if you have a five-colored Commander out there, it seems like there are things that you can do that are better. Now, Empyrial Armor and Bonehoard are different as they are not static, which plays out in two ways: One, doing something like drawing cards or killing creatures can alter combat math; and two, you can receive more than a +5/+5 bonus. Obviously, these are both suited for different types of decks. I don’t know many R/W decks that would want Empyrial Armor since they’re not going to be drawing cards. But if you put the armor in a blue deck, suddenly drawing cards is among the easiest things to do. On the other hand, killing more and more creatures (something that blue doesn’t do all that well that R/W does), can make Bonehoard be a +20/+20 that instantly changes games.
Take a look at what your commander does or even at what the focus of the deck is. Even though Equipment like Mage Slayer is good (it’s not combat damage, so it’s not considered commander damage), it doesn’t belong in a R/G deck that doesn’t attack. Cards that don’t add trample or evasion or game-changing effects should be heavily debated if you’re wanting to include them in a deck. Other times, you’ll find cute effects that will seem like fun but that don’t really do anything. If you’re not abusing +1/+1 counters in your deck, why do you have Blade of the Bloodchief?
Side note: Not all of your Commander decks have to be streamlined and be of “Pro” quality, and it’s all right to do fun, silly things with them. If you want a tribal Treefolk deck that uses Feed the Pack and Master of the Hunt, no one should stop you. This is only for advice to make your deck more powerful and synergistic causing it to play better, with “better” being the subjective word. Play Commander for fun.
Let’s get back to the enablers of this Voltron archetype. As I stated before, all of the best ones are in white. Here they are:
You can tell there is going to be some overlap with these cards since there are only so many of them. The only card that’s in both is Enlightened Tutor, which can top-deck tutor any artifact or enchantment, but we’ll include their respective subtypes here for today. Of the Equipment tutors, the worst ones are the Steelshaper Apprentice and Taj-Nar Swordsmith only because you feel as though you’re losing so much when you use them.
Steelshaper Apprentice is a much cheaper alternative to Stoneforge Mystic ( $.59 to $8.50 at the time of this article’s publish date), but the cost of not only losing your guy by returning him to your hand, having it cost more, and hoping that he doesn’t die before your next turn is worth that extra $8. I also guess that sneaking in the Equipment at the end of turn also counts toward that $8 as well.
As for Auras you have the usual rogue’s lineup, but then a few curious ones as well. Auratouched Mage is one that I didn’t throw into the Ruhan deck only because it’s already in several others of mine. For , you can have a 13/13 body with trample and annihilator 2 (Eldrazi Conscription). Seems pretty good to me. I have both of those in my Rafiq deck, along with a Simic Guildmage, and a 14/14 trampling annihilator 2 with double strike seems fun to me. (And yes, Sovereigns of Lost Alara is sleeved in there as well.) The other oddball is Tallowisp, but if you ever played Ghost Dad in Alara block, you know that it can be quite powerful. In fact, there are three non-Kamigawa legendary Spirits that you can abuse with Tallowisp:
Do with that what you want. (Hint: Really think about it.)
The real key here is that there are sixteen white tutors that work for Voltron commanders, so you are going to get overlap when looking at decklists and creating your own. This also means that getting your hands on some of these cards is going to be a little more difficult. Stoneforge Mystic is $8.50 (it was $25 before bannings), and Stonehewer Giant is around $5, but did you know that Steelshaper's Gift is also around $5? Yes, this card is the same price as an Eternal Witness that has been printed three times to Steelshaper’s only printing in Fifth Dawn.
There will always be more Equipment and Auras to be printed as well as more commanders that beg to be used in a Voltron-style deck, so these cards will always be good. At no time has any of these cards been powerful enough to warrant a banning in Commander, so they continue to be great pickups in trades if you can find them. I’m not saying horde them—they could be reprinted at any time (besides Academy Rector), but don’t be surprised to see these in decklist after decklist, and they are always in demand.
Some Assembly Required
Now all you need to do is choose which Equipment and Auras work well in your deck. That is no easy task, but I hope to make it a bit easier for you. What follows is a list that I follow when I’m building a deck for the first time. Here are the basic Equipment and Auras that I look through before doing a full search through magiccards.info. This is not list of staples at all, but it’s merely one to get my ideas flowing when I start deciding what direction I want the deck to head. This only lists cards that help out with a Voltron-style deck. Some decks obviously want other Equipment or Auras. (Blade of the Bloodchief goes well in a Ghave, Guru of Spores deck, but not in an Azusa, Lost but Seeking deck.)
I hope this has given you a great start when it comes to Voltron commanders. Even though you have some of the same starting pieces, when trying to maximize the consistency of your deck, you can still find a great variety between builds. The Ruhan experiment should prove just that.
Next time . . . well, let’s talk about Avacyn Restored, Return to Ravnica, and what commanders we’ve seen and what we might come to expect. Until then, I hope you build your Voltron the way you want to—even if it’s with all pink Power Rangers.