River Landscape with Horseman and Peasants by Aelbert Cuyp (1658).
Pearl Lake Ancient by Richard Wright.
Are you the kind of player who builds lots and lots of decks?
Are they at a range of power levels?
Do you ever lend out your decks and have that wonderful feeling of rooting for your own commanders even when you're playing against them? You aren't going to throw the game, but if a buddy of yours is borrowing one of your babies, do you enjoy seeing one of your decks do its thing even if someone else is at the wheel?
I've been incredibly lucky over the past year to have found an online playgroup to play with every week. Like any group, we've had our ups and downs. We've probably all had our moments of frustration alongside games where everything went right and the victory was sweet and well fought. I think playing together through a pandemic has turned us from tablemates to something more, even though the two of us in Massachusetts haven't met our three virtual tablemates who are joining us from New York.
We play "theme" games every other week and we rotate through who gets to pick the theme. This past week I got to pick the theme and I had a minor revelation. If I enjoy watching my friends play my decks, what if I had a week where every game was one in which the guys would pick a list out of 12 of my most powerful, or most favorite decks?
The guys would have a week off from having to build a list to meet that week's theme, which might be nice, and they'd also get a chance to have some higher powered games. Most of our games tend to be more casual, but some of the guys occasionally bust out better decks.
I pitched the idea to them and they were up for it, so I got to work figuring out which decks would be in my "dirty dozen".
The Dirty Dozen
I don't have any plans to do the "33" challenge, or "32" challenge, or whatever the challenge is where you make a deck for every possible color combination. I don't want to feel like I shouldn't build some new commander because I already have a deck I love in its colors. I do have an awful lot of decks, though, and lots of them are able to compete at high powered tables.
I left out a few builds that I love but that either were a little too casual (Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma Beast tribal) or a little too oppressive (Aegar, the Freezing Flame damage wrath tribal), and aimed for a range of power levels. The links included below are to my lists on TappedOut.net, so over time those may change from the exact lists I played this past Thursday.
This is a classic turns and combat steps Narset list. If you can get Narset out and swing with her, there's a real chance that you will end up winning the game. It can be a wild ride and a heck of a lot of fun, but you can also hit four lands when she swings or just see Narset countered or simply never hit the field. The list is very much a glass cannon but when she works, you're swinging until there's nobody left to swing at.
This is a heavy combo list with the ability to win off Hermit Druid, Food Chain, Protean Hulk, Thassa's Oracle, and Mike and Trike. You can win early, you can steal a win out of nowhere when you're about to get overrun by aggro decks, but you can also suffer from having a small board presence. The most fun for me is to Traumatize or Tunnel Vision myself and then Splendid Reclamation my lands back onto the field - with Amulet of Vigor out to untap them! The deck has some complex paths to victory, and if the game goes long enough it's hard not to find a way to threaten a win.
This was my old Marwyn deck, now reworked to be able to win in more ways and with Black added to help with tutors. Jarad can kill the table with just Phyrexian Devourer, but you can still push for an infinite mana combo with a mana dork and Umbral Mantle / Sword of the Paruns / Staff of Domination. If things go well, you'll be able to make a ton of mana and if you can put it to use you should be able to threaten a win.
This list is built to make lots of mana and pour it into cards like Torment of Hailfire. If you start with an Urza land, use Golos to get the rest. If you start with Cabal Coffers, use Golos to get Urborg. If you start with Dark Depths, use Golos to get Thespian's Stage. If you're about to get wiped out by an attacking army, flicker Golos to get Glacial Chasm. This deck is surprisingly flexible and if the game goes long enough you should be able to find a wincon even if it's just Landfall triggers to make an army of some sort of tokens.
Goblin Warriors. This Najeela list also has its obligatory combos, but it was built around Goblin Warriors as they are in Red and building in Red would make it easier to always get Najeela out early. True cEDH Najeela lists have very few creatures, but this list is packed with Goblins and with non-Goblin creatures that help a warrior theme. It can be very explosive, with a range of token doublers and lots of ways to take extra (or infinite) turns.
This is a dirty Chulane deck with a casual twist. Not only do you have your obligatory combos, you are also running druid tribal! The dream is to get Gilt Leaf Archdruid and Seedborn Muse out with enough druids to let you tap to steal the lands of each player in turn order as you go around the table. This deck can be surprisingly explosive, given that it is really a druids deck and not a fully tuned Chulane list.
This is a persist combo deck that has multiple levels of redundancy across all parts of the combo. If the game goes long enough there's a very good chance you'll get a sac outlet, a +1/+1 counter source, a persist creature and a payoff onto the field at the same time. If that happens, the combo is very hard to stop because you can just keep going off with the interaction on the stack. This isn't built to even try to play a "fair" game - it's all about assembling those pieces and killing the table all at once. It can be hard to wait for it all to come together, but when it does it sure feels good.
This is a voltron list. Multani gets huge. Draw cards and make him even bigger. You murder folks when you can, and you hope they forget that Shroud will keep them from being able to target him. This deck can knock an opponent out early, but be careful - less players in the game means less cards in hands to make Multani big. It's a tricky line to walk, but when played well and with the right cards, this deck can do amazing, explosive things.
I love the simplicity of playing lots of dragons and swinging them at my opponents. This is fairly well tuned, but is ultimately playing a very fair game - just in the air... with dragons! Lots of dragons!
10 - Ramos, Dragon Engine
This list is built around a convoluted combo that I wrote an article about a few years back, but it can also just murder folks by swinging a huge metal dragon at them. With infect, it's easy to get to one-shot territory, but I usually reserve my Phyresis for a Chandra's Ignition to kill the table. I've found this build to be a lot of fun, and very emblematic of how I like to play the game, but Ramos does have the habit of eating Krosan Grips more often than I'd like.
Aesi is built around landfall and is pretty strong, but my favorite play with this deck is to turn all my lands into creatures to kill the table after a boardwipe. High risk, high reward - you could lose all your lands, but when it works it feels amazing.
12 - Thrasios and Alena
I wanted to include at least one new list and this one is very new. You try to find ways to abuse Thrasios's ability, get more lands, and keep doing it until you've got enough lands to make it effortless to push for a win. That often comes in the form of landfall trigger shenanigans. I've enjoyed it a lot so far and when thinking of what to round out this list with, I realized it had to be included.
My initial plan centered around having 4 players. Our group has had six different participants, but for the past few months we've usually seen four able to join on any given night. I was going to have it be first come, first served, with each player picking four decks and with me going last. It was a good plan until we ended up with five players planning to play that night. We also had one of the regulars suddenly unable to make our first scheduled date. We ended up pushing things out a week. That gave me time to make a new plan.
I considered adding 3 decks to the list, but that would mean my clever name of "Steve's Dirty Dozen" would no longer fit. "Steve's Filthy Fifteen" just doesn't have the same ring, so I ended up deciding to put 12 decks in the center of our virtual Tabletop Simulator table and having players pick a deck before each game.
The only rule was that if a deck won you the game, you had to switch decks. I tried to make sure everyone knew I could help walk them through more complex interactions. When you're not familiar with a deck because it isn't yours and you didn't build it, it can be a pretty tall order to pilot it well in a game.
The decks picked for Game 1 were Narset, Enlightened Master, Muldrotha, the Gravetide, Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord, Multani, Maro-Sorcerer and I was on Ramos, Dragon Engine. I didn't like my chances, because three of the players were on what I consider to be fringe cEDH builds.
The early game was marked by the Narset player getting a turn one Rhystic Study onto the field. A turn or two later I got one out as well and both of us drew a lot of cards. The Narset list runs the kinds of fast mana that can really make it hard for more casual decks to keep up.
The Jarad player got out an early Sword of the Paruns and Priest of Titania and was able to make infinite mana. His only problem was that he didn't have anywhere to put it. That can happen with an elfball deck, and it happened in this game. Not to be outdone, the Muldrotha player was able to get Food Chain onto the field, but never hit the key combo pieces that would make infinite mana and set up a possible win.
I was able to cast Ramos in this game, but my Rhystic Study hadn't drawn me into anything that would let me make a serious push to do much of anything. I couldn't complain, though. The Multani player gambled by starting with 6 forests and a Beast Whisperer and didn't draw into much of anything either. I felt bad for him, but that deck got a chance to shine later in the evening.
What happens when Narset, Enlightened Master gets a couple of turns to try to swing and hit fun stuff off the top of their library? Horrible things happen. Narset did hit the table, and Narset did swing. There were a few attacks where the player on Narset hit two or three lands, so it wasn't just one swing for the (eventual) win. That Rhystic Study made it hard to delay the inevitable, and the deck I expected to win was able to get big, get unblockable, and swing into enough steps and turns to get the job done.
The most interesting thing about the game was watching my friends make choices with my decks that I wouldn't have made. I have the habit of holding onto combo pieces so they're not exposed to removal but they were just playing stuff out with less reservation. My decks tend to be lighter on boardwipes, but they do run removal and interaction.
The Narset player enjoyed the game but admitted that he'd probably not enjoy playing a deck like that very often. It's a very silly deck, but also not fun for the other players at the table. It's probably to his credit that he didn't come away from the experience wanting to go build his own Narset turns and steps deck.
For Game 2, the Multani player decided not to change decks. The Narset player switched to Lathliss. The Muldrotha player switched to Ramos. The Jarad player switched to Najeela. I think everyone's deck for this game was chosen by someone else because I was given Golos.
This game was dominated by the deck that did next to nothing in Game 1. Multani not only hit the field, but was set up with a Taunting Elf so he was going to be able to kill - or try to kill - pretty much anyone he wanted. The Multani player is the kind of guy who is more interested in everyone having fun than in crushing his opponents. Mutani can absolutely crush someone, especially at a 5-player table where there are more cards in players' hands.
The Najeela player got a decent board out and I think they were close to being able to loop into infinite turns. The Ramos deck didn't do a heck of a lot, and the Lathliss deck ended up not looking too scary in the mid game and benefiting from flying under the radar so to speak.
The turning point of the game was probably when I was able to get a way to flicker a creature at the end of turn and used Golos to fetch up Glacial Chasm because everyone else was looking pretty scary. That forced the players, all a bit unfamiliar with their decks, to focus on each other. None of my lists do much in the way of land removal, so Glacial Chasm was going to be a problem.
My favorite play of the game was probably seeing Multani use Rishkar's Expertise to draw around twenty-five cards and become a 50/50 or some such nonsense. I love doing that with Multani, and after a pretty miserable Game 1 I was happy to see that deck do dumb stuff.
I have to admit that the late game details were a bit fuzzy for me. I was chillin' behind my Glacial Chasm and just hoping nobody drew into an Acidic Slime. I reached out to one of the guys and got a little help. He reminded me that this game ended in one cycle. The Ramos player killed the Multani player, which freed up the Lathliss player to kill the Najeela and Ramos players, but they had no way to get plast Glacial Chasm.
I ended up getting Cabal Coffers and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth out and was able to a Torment of Hailfire for 11. The Lathliss player was at 1 life. He and I were the only ones left and that Golos deck can really stall out the end of a game for a long time so we decided to move on to Game 3. I would have been able to get out Thespian's Stage to deal with my Glacial Chasm's cumulative upkeep so the Lathliss player conceded.
I'm very confident I would have drawn into a win against Mono-Red dragons, but without playing it out you never really know. I really wanted to get a third game in and it was early enough that it made more sense to stop rather than draw out the end game to the eventual conclusion.
For our third game, the Najeela player had to drop out. The Ramos player switched to Chulane. The Lathliss player switched to my Temur Landfall deck with Thrasios, Triton Hero and Alena, Kessig Trapper in the Command Zone. The Multani player decided to switch to Muldrotha for this final game. I ended the evening on Aesi, Tyrant of Gyre Strait.
This game saw some really interesting stuff happen on the Muldrotha player's board. They hit an early Emergent Ultimatum and decided to go get Consecrated Sphinx, Vampiric Tutor, and Grim Tutor. We put the Sphinx in the graveyard and let him keep the tutors.
I'm pretty sure he was really just trying to have fun with the deck because there were several points in the game where Muldrotha probably could have pushed for a win. He was able to get Hermit Druid on the field with Laboratory Maniac out and also got Protean Hulk out. Both of those situations mean victory when you know what you're doing with that list, but I think my buddy just wasn't in the mood to try to push for a combo win. He was really just having fun doing weird stuff.
The Temur Landfall player played that game as a control deck, not really advancing their board other than ramp. They reminded me that they did help to prevent the Muldrotha player from comboing off until he ran out of interaction and decided to stop trying to win. When the Muldrotha player eventually popped Protean Hulk, he had already milled himself so much that there were no creatures left in their library. It was a weird Muldrotha game to be sure.
This game saw one of my decks jump through a hoop that I've never managed to jump it through. The Chulane player was able to get lots of Druids onto the field, play Gilt-Leaf Archdruid and then steal all of my lands. I had a lot of lands - I was playing Aesi and had just put 10 onto my battlefield with Reshape the Earth. I also had 44 Scute Swarms, but those got wiped away with a Chulane boardwipe. That pretty much removed me from the game. It's pretty hard to bounce back from having 18 or 19 lands and several dozen creatures and then having nothing in either of those columns.
I was so distracted by the Muldrotha craziness and then by the Druids doing horrible Druid things to us that I don't remember much about what the Temur Landfall deck did. I was poised to be able to do some crazy stuff with all of my lands if I had been able to keep them. I think I had been hoping to turn them into 2/2 creatures and then swing with an Overwhelming Stampede or something like that.
This was definitely the game where folks seemed to notice the lower number of boardwipes in my decks, though the Chulane deck did play a wrath on their road to victory. I think they also managed to get Seedborn Muse out and stole everyone's lands on that final turn cycle.
I ended up with a few interesting takeaways from this night of Commander. The first was that it was REALLY fun to see my friends play my decks. I would highly recommend trying this out with your playgroup if you've got a couple of dozen decks across a range of power levels. I expect you'll learn a lot and have a blast.
I also got a good reminder that I should at least think about running more boardwipes and more land removal. Both are important in high powered metas. Running more wraths can also result in longer games, and while I don't want my games to be super short I also don't want them to be three or four hours long. I like playing a few games with a few different decks over the course of an evening and that gets a lot harder if the board is being wiped every few turns.
Playing someone else's deck is something I don't do very often, so I have to hand it to all the guys in my TTS playgroup for taking up this really unique challenge. Some of my decks are very straightforward, like Lathliss, but some are really complicated like Muldrotha. I think everyone had fun. It was great to see a deck like Multani have a no-show game and then bounce back to have a very impactful game. It was also fun to see Muldrotha piloted in a very whimsical way and to see my Chulane list live the dream of stealing everyone's lands!
I'll be jumping back into Strixhaven again this Thursday. I hope you enjoyed this walk through one of the most interesting nights of Commander I've had in a very long time. Not all of my decks got played and not all of them lived up to their potential, but it was a fantastic experiment and one I'd recommend you try out if you've got enough decks in your own personal Commander library.
If you got this far, I'd love to hear which of my decks you would have picked. Have you ever piloted a tuned Narset list? Do you like complex combo builds or would you have gone for a more straightforward deck? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks for reading and I'll see you back here in a few days with a look at Felisa, Fang of Silverquill.