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Simic Musical Chairs in Commander

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A Wild Scene by Thomas Cole (1831).

Skitter Eel by Mathias Kollros.

A few months ago, I came achingly close to building a Selesnya deck designed to allow me to swap around various commanders based upon the power level I wanted to play at. The idea was that I could play Karametra, God of Harvests if I wanted to ramp, Sigarda, Host of Herons if I was up against a force-sacrifice deck or just wanted a hexproof voltron threat. I could play Torens, Fist of the Angels if I wanted to go wide. You get the idea.

It was a tempting vision, but I decided that each of my possible commanders had a distinct enough goal that I'd end up losing any hope of having a synergistic EDH deck. Instead of being able to do lots of things well with a variety of commanders, I thought I'd find myself doing everything poorly and feeling unsatisfied with how the deck would perform.

The idea wasn't a novel one. It's been done before, but my plan was inspired by a deck played by one of the guys in the casual EDH League I run every Saturday out of NexGen Comics in Pelham, New Hampshire. In the past I've enjoyed being able to put the spotlight on some of the best players from my local meta who have interesting approaches to the game.

Today I'd like to share that deck with you.

Meet Edmund Berte

By running an EDH League for so many years, I've had the chance to play with a lot of players. NexGen Comics reopened last summer when COVID restrictions loosened up and we were able to restart our League on a new July - June schedule, there was a definite shift in our meta. Some players who used to play at the store regularly just never came back. I know one who sold out of Magic, and I'm sure others were just hesitant to play in person. While we lost some old players, we also picked up a bunch of new players.

One group of friends who became part of our little Commander community came to us from playing Pokemon. It's not uncommon for a group of new players to show up all at once - Commander is a game that's more fun with friends. This particular group had some very accomplished local Pokemon players, one of whom even reached Worlds in 2015, and they all proved to be very capable EDH players.

Edmund Berte probably isn't the most competitive player in this group of friends, but the deck I'm going to share with you today didn't catch my eye because of how powerful or fast it is. Edmund can win his share of games, but he isn't playing just to win games. From my first game with him it was clear to me that Edmund was as interested in my own enjoyment of the game as in his own, and he genuinely just wanted everyone to have a good time. In casual EDH, that is the kind of quality that you learn to treasure in the members of your playgroup.

Edmund's first foray into Commander was with an Arahbo, Roar of the World precon deck. He got into the game drafting with his buddies when Dominaria came out in 2018. The EDH bug hit him hard enough that he went from that one precon to now having 8-10 playable Commander decks of varying power levels.

If a player's favorite deck is an insight into who they are and how they approach the game, it's worth noting that today's deck is not Edmund's favorite. That would be a mono-Red chaos deck led by Zurzoth, Chaos Rider. Both Zurzoth and this deck do a good job of flying under the radar. Edmund is a capable enough player to be able to build and pilot an aggro deck, but he seems to enjoy being more reactive than aggressive and would rather just hang out and play with his buddies than be focusing about who he's going to knock out of the game first.

Slimy Inspiration

My idea of building a Selesnya deck that could swap any of a half dozen Green/White legendary creatures into the command zone never really came together. It's possible my problem was that I was simply looking at the wrong color combination. The inspiration for Edmund's deck actually came out of an Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle deck that he had put together a few years ago. The list was designed to be able to combo off using Freed From the Real, but after a while he realized that hitting the same combo again and again got a little boring and his tablemates weren't enjoying the games in which he'd win that way.

Slogurk, the Overslime

When Edmund saw Slogurk, he was inspired to do something about the Simic deck that had lost its luster. Filling up a lands-matters Simic deck with fetch lands and focusing on landfall and graveyard interaction was an intriguing idea. His meta already had a Tatyova deck, and something just drew him to Slogurk.

Wizards of the Coast has a real habit of printing Blue/Green cards that let you play (or recur) lands and let you draw cards. Since those are two of the most powerful things you can do, it didn't take long for Edmund to realize that he could load his Slogurk deck up with a bunch of other powerful legendary creatures that would play into his landfall / land recursion theme.

These creatures all play a role in this deck, but they also represent different possible commanders that he could run the deck under in place of Slogurk.

Aesi, Tyrant of Gyre Strait
Tatyova, Benthic Druid
Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath

Aesi, Tyrant of Gyre Strait and Tatyova, Benthic Druid need no introduction. Play a land and draw a card. If you're Tatyova, you also gain life. What's not to love? Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath also gives you life, card draw, and the chance to play more lands, but his ability is tied to entering the battlefield or attacking.

Any of these four Simic commanders would be great landfall options to lead an EDH deck, but as more and more Simic legendary creatures got printed, Edmund realized they could all live in the house that Slogurk built.

Zimone, Quandrix Prodigy
Gretchen Titchwillow
Thrasios, Triton Hero

Zimone, Quandrix Prodigy and Gretchen Titchwillow both feel like more reasonable Simic value cards, each requiring payment to do the thing that Aesi and Tatyova just give you for playing a land. They may be worse, but they still represent the kind of value that puts Simic near the top of color pairings.

Thrasios, Triton Hero is a cEDH powerhouse, but in this deck it simply represents an outlet for big mana and a seventh possible legendary creature the deck can use in the command zone. Edmund does run Kodama of the East Tree in this list, and the deck is set up to be able to hit infinite landfall triggers, but he told me that he always runs Thrasios by himself as the Commander.

Musical Chairs

Rather than picking the best commander for an EDH pod to see if he can give himself the best chance of winning - Edmund does something relatively unexpected. He will usually have the table randomly choose which commander he'll play for that game.

Some of this deck's commanders are obviously weaker than others, but with a unified theme and strong synergy throughout the 99, the deck is absolutely capable of functioning and being fun to play no matter who is in the command zone. On some level, this is the ultimate expression of the concept of building a commander deck that can function without its commander. It matters who is in the command zone, but only so much - the deck still works regardless of which legendary creature gets picked.

Edmund plays in our Saturday EDH League, and even won the monthly push to get the top point total last August. He told me that every once in a while he does choose which commander to use for this deck for power level reasons. If the EDH league's monthly theme has a theme that fits one of his possible commanders, he'll lean towards playing the deck under that general. If after a week or two of league games, it's clear he doesn't have a good shot at the month's top point total, he'll often adjust his approach and play more for fun during the final weeks. With a growing collection of EDH decks, there's no guarantee "The Simic Deck" will get played each week, but if it does it will most often be run under a randomly chosen commander.

A more competitively minded player might not enjoy getting "stuck" with Zimone or Gretchen for a game, but Edmund has struck me as one of those players who is genuinely more invested in the people than in the competition. The randomness he gets from playing "Musical Chairs" with his commanders is very much a feature, not a bug.

Winning is fun, and we share a love of those moments where you know you've probably got game if only you can make it to your next turn. Edmund also seems like one of those rare players who can be happy for you if you manage to stop his attempt to win, so long as everyone is having a good time. If you knocked him out of a game and he deserved it, he's more likely to give you a congratulatory "well done - you stopped me" than to react negatively. Few of us are immune to the occasional salty moment, but in the games I've played with him I've been impressed with his level-headedness and his positive approach to playing Commander.

How It Wins

This deck isn't an aggro deck and it isn't really a control deck either, though there are a few counterspells and a Cyclonic Rift in the mix. This deck generally wins through combo or through self-mill.

Hedron Crab
Laboratory Maniac
Jace, Wielder of Mysteries

It might seem like a long shot, but with enough land drops, this deck can play the self-mill game using Hedron Crab. This isn't the deck's primary strategy, but when a deck can create infinite landfall triggers, Hedron Crab starts making a whole lot more sense.

Retreat to Coralhelm
Sakura-Tribe Scout
Walking Atlas

With a bounce land like Simic Growth Chamber, Edmund can use Sakura-Tribe Scout or Walking Atlas and Retreat to Coralhelm to go infinite. You tap your landfall dork, play the bounce land, untap the dork with Retreat's landfall trigger, bounce the bounce land using its own trigger to return a land to your hand, and you just keep going. The deck runs a few landfall staples like Scute Swarm, Rampaging Baloths and Roil Elemental so those landfall triggers can let him push for the win.

Beyond landfall, this deck is running a pretty neat infinite turns combo.

Walk the Aeons
Azusa, Lost but Seeking
Ramunap Excavator

Here you leverage Azusa's ability to let you play two additional lands and Ramunap Excavator's ability to let you play lands out of the graveyard so you can pay for Walk the Aeons' buyback cost. If you pull this off, you're going to get as many turns as you feel like taking, letting you win the game in whatever way you like unless an opponent has a way to stop you.

The Simic Deck

This deck was originally just called "The Simic Deck" but my suggestion that it made me think of the childrens' game of "Musical Chairs" seemed to fit the deck nicely. With a number of different combo wincons, not only does this deck give you variety in the command zone, it gives you a decent amount of variety in how your games play out. You're not just always driving towards the exact same destination. The red zone may not be where this deck wants to spend much time (unless you've gone infinite), and it is vulnerable to flyers. I think this deck will do best when it can fly under the radar and just hang out while trying to assemble a wincon. That matches Edmund's style of play pretty well: just hang out, have a good time, hopefully not look too threatening and once in a while maybe "do the thing" and combo off for a win.

The Simic Deck | Commander | Edmund Berte


This list probably can't be tuned up to cEDH levels, but to attempt that would be missing the point. That said, there are definitely improvements Edmund is hoping to make. It is far from perfect, but most EDH decks are by nature works in progress. Edmund told me that eventually he'd love to have 10 viable Simic commanders that all synergize with the deck's general landfall / recursion approach. He isn't just throwing in cards to get to 10, but with each new set he tries to keep an eye out for another potential Simic commander.

Final Thoughts

When asked what other color combinations he might try this same idea with, Edmund admitted that he had thought about that a few times. He agreed with me that Selesnya might not work that well, and that Boros might also be lacking - but that might be as much of a Boros problem as anything.

Gruul might be easiest to build "Musical Chairs" with, as aggro synergizes with aggro pretty well, and if any color combination lends itself to being aggressive, it would be Red/Green. An Orzhov aristocrats version would probably work well, but if he had to pick a guild, Edmund said he'd go with Izzet. There are a lot of interesting legendary creatures in Blue/Red that could support a spellslinger build and give you a fun, playable and entertaining deck with this unique approach to deck-building.

There are a lot of great deck-builders out there and a lot of great Commander tablemates. If I could put a spotlight on all of them, I probably would. For now I'm just happy to be able to share the occasional column about a player and a deck that I found really intriguing and fun to play against. Commander is a challenging game, and building clever, interesting decks isn't easy. I really appreciate when I'm lucky enough to come across one not just online but in the games I play at my local game store.

If you've ever built a "Musical Chairs" deck, or if today's column has inspired you to try such a challenge, let me know in the comments!

I've promised for several weeks that I'll be pivoting to Kamigawa Neon Dynasty, and I think next Monday will finally be the day that I shift gears and get back into exploring new legendary creatures. It's been fun to dive into alters, a deck spotlight and even the ultimate exercise in navel-gazing - last week's "My Signature Spellbook." Now it's time to get back to work.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to writing to you next week from the neon-lit world of Kamigawa!

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