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A Year in Commander


Landscape with the Rest on the Flight to Egypt by Claude Lorrain (1666).

Rosemane Centaur by Nils Hamm.

As 2018 winds down I’ve got my first full year of writing on to look back upon. I haven’t built and played every single deck I’ve written about, but I’ve built and played an awful lot of them. Some didn’t last more than a few games before I pulled them apart. Some have become favorites that I love to play and expect to keep tweaking and playing for years to come.

In today’s Commanderruminations column I’m going to go over some of my favorite decks from the past year. I’ll try to relate what they’ve been like to play, how effective they’ve been, and how much my actual list changed from the one I wrote about. I’ll also include links to the columns from earlier in the year so you can dig in deeper if my description leaves you wanting more.

The Close Calls

Before I leap into my top five decks of the past year, I want to touch upon three decks I’ve written about and played that I love but that didn’t make the cut.

Xantcha, Sleeper Agent
Ramos, Dragon Engine
Najeela, the Blade-Blossom

My Xantcha, Sleeper Agent is just stuffed to the gills with dirty combo wincons. The basic idea is that all you need to do is give Xantcha to someone, make infinite mana, and then when you kill them with Xantcha triggers you’ll probably draw into a wincon. If you don’t there are sacrifice outlets and ways to give her to other opponents. It’s a pretty filthy deck and I even got someone to flip me the “double bird” salute one time when I won a game with “Mike & Trike” (Mikaeus, the Unhallowed and Triskelion).

My casual bent and general dislike for those kinds of wincons is probably what keeps me from putting this list into my Top 5. In principle there’s nothing wrong with any kind of wincon, but the negative reactions you get when you combo off make me not enjoy them as much. I wrote about Xantcha back in late August.

The second close call that almost made my Top 5 was my Ramos, Dragon Engine storm list. I can’t seem to go more than a few months without writing about a Ramos deck, It’s remarkable how easy it is to storm off with Ramos acting as a mana battery to power you through your turn.

Thousand-Year Storm is like “easy mode” for a storm deck but that’s OK. It’s a powerful card in the right deck and my Ramos deck is definitely the right deck. I dislike seeing everyone start to scoop up their cards because you’re starting to storm off and they’re sure you’ve got the win, so that’s probably what keeps this out of my Top 5. It’s not your optimal Storm commander but I love Ramos and I’ve enjoyed this version a lot. I wrote about Ramos twice this year, and the article about my Storm build was in October.

The last deck I love to play but can’t include in my Top 5 is my current build for Najeela, the Blade-Blossom. When I wrote about Najeela back in June, I had created a Maze's End 5-color Warriors deck. It had a bunch of the combo pieces Najeela loves, but it wasn’t the right place to put a Maze's End wincon, even with its support cards.

I’ve since rebuilt my Najeela deck as a Goblin Warriors deck with a mana base that leans heavily toward Red. The result feels easier on the colors and every bit as nasty and dangerous as a Najeela deck should feel. My Maze's End package found its way into an O-Kagachi, Vengeful Kami deck that I also very much enjoy. I’m not including Najeela in my Top 5 because I didn’t actually write about my “Dead Red Najeela” build and my Maze's End Najeela list wasn’t even good enough to keep together.

I’ve won games with Xantcha, Ramos, Najeela and even O-Kagachi over the past year, but winning isn’t everything. This list is about my favorite decks from 2018, and while I care about being competitive I also care about having fun.

5. Rith, the Awakener

You might wonder why an old card like Rith, the Awakener would be on my list. I had Rith in my Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa / Tana, the Bloodsower deck for quite a while just as a random flyer that might make saprolings for me. Rith rarely even hit the field when I played that deck. For some reason I eventually pulled Rith out and something possessed me to try building a deck around her.

Rith, the Awakener
Celestial Dawn
Divine Visitation

Rith’s ability to create saprolings is a combat damage trigger, which means that Rith is fantastic with double-strike. The fact that Rith cares about the colors of permanents on the field means I can play a weird old card like Celestial Dawn to turn all my permanents White and maximize the number of Saprolings Rith creates. It also means I can play awesome stuff like Impact Tremors and Purphoros, God of the Forge to bring the pain and Divine Visitation to make 4/4 Angels with flying and vigilance instead of Saprolings.

The EDH League I run had a month in which we had a theme bonus for commanders in pre-modern card frames. Rith qualified, and his ability to create pretty huge board states helped me earn a ton of points in the games in which I played him. It feels good to swing, name a color and make a cute little army of Green Saprolings. It feels amazing to swing with double-strike, name a color, make a cute little army of Green Saprolings, then name Green, and make a huge army of Saprolings. It feels pretty clever and if they don’t boardwipe and you can drop a Coat of Arms and swing for the win, it feels fantastic.

I wrote about Rith way back in June. My list has changed a bit since then. I added Divine Visitation, for example, removed Night Soil, but I’m mostly playing the same list as I wrote about back then.

What do I love about this deck?

When it really goes off, your board state is just overwhelming. I lost a 3 player game once after making over 60 Saprolings when an opponent cast Fumigate and then used Aetherflux Reservoir to kill the table and I wasn’t even mad. Well, maybe a little, but if I’m going to lose a game I’d rather have a crazy boardstate before I go than do nothing worth remembering.

I also love the realization that comes over your opponents when they realize what will happen when you swing with double-strike and pay your combat trigger twice. The Green Saproling tokens you made after your first combat damage trigger can be included when you count permanents after paying for your second trigger. Of course, you have to choose Green on that second trigger if you want to count those Saprolings, but barring an opponent having an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite on the field, it works well and always feels good.

4. Marwyn the Nurturer

If Rith is a fun, casual deck, Marwyn, the Nurturer is fun and quite competitive. While Rith wants to do disgusting things, it’s ultimately a fair deck. Marwyn wants you to make infinite mana as quickly as possible and pour that mana into one of many mana sinks that will let you win the game. Lots of casual players view that kind of combo wincon as not being particularly “fair”, even if it is perfectly legal in the format.

Marwyn, the Nurturer
Staff of Domination
Coat of Arms

The basic plan is to play a “big mana” dork like Marwyn, Priest of Titania, Karametra's Acolyte or Gyre Sage, play an enabler like Staff of Domination, Sword of the Paruns or Umbral Mantle, and turn that infinite mana into a win. While the deck isn’t quite at the level of Selvala BroStorm, it’s surprisingly resilient and benefits from having redundancy in the big mana dork slot.

I recently picked up my first Gaea's Cradle and this is the deck that I put it in because huge mana is still great even if it isn’t infinite. You can win games by pouring mana from Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx into Gelatinous Genesis to create a giant Ooze army. I’ve won games when an opponent thought it would be smart to drop a Coat of Arms. You don’t have to go infinite to win with this deck. My Marwyn deck is probably my most successful deck in terms of wins and losses from the past year. At one point it was winning about two-thirds of its games, maybe even three quarters.

I wrote about the deck back in May, a week after using her to crush two tables in the last week of April and capture the top point total for our league in the past week of the month. Check out the article.

Marwyn can hang with the big boys, though being in one color does limit her ability to throw out answers to problem creatures. I’m always hesitant to call any deck of mine “cEDH” but this is one of two in today’s list that might be close.

So what do I love about this deck?

It was the first really strong decklist I put up on CoolStuffInc and it won a lot of games right out of the gate. I didn’t look up similar decks when I put it together so it really felt like my own creation. You almost always have a chance to win the game, and sometimes that can be nice.

I also love its resiliency. Turn Marwyn into a bug with Darksteel Mutation? No problem. I’ll try to dig until I get to Priest of Titania or Karametra's Acolyte. Use Krosan Grip on my Staff of Domination? I’ll go off with Umbral Mantle. Are all my combo pieces missing in action? I can still win with huge, non-infinite mana in a number of different ways. It’s not a perfect deck by a long shot, but there’s a feeling of inevitability if the game goes long enough.

3. Lathliss, Dragon Queen

Marwyn might be a fundamentally unfair deck, at least from the perspective of players who dislike infinite combos and want long durdly games where victory is won in the (non-infinite) trenches. If Marwyn is seen by some as “unfair”, Lathliss, Dragon Queen is about as fair as you can get without just giving up any chance to win.

Lathliss, Dragon Queen
Extraplanar Lens

While Lathliss doesn’t combo, she can make a pretty impressive dragon army in an alarmingly short amount of time. If you can make extra mana with Nykthos, Extraplanar Lens, or Caged Sun, and if you can get out helper artifacts like Panharmonicon and Strionic Resonator, it’s hard not to win games.

Unlike the next deck on my list, there’s nothing particularly subtle or complicated about Lathliss. You ramp. You hope to stay under the radar in the early game. You play Lathliss. You play some dragons and make some more dragons. You make a bunch of mana, pour it into Lathliss’ ability to pump your dragons and you kill the biggest threat at the table who doesn’t have an army of flying blockers.

I wrote about Lathliss back in July and my deck hasn’t changed too much since then. I haven’t yet gotten a Balefire Dragon and I’m still not running Blood Moon, but the list at the link below is a great starting point for a simple, strong, straightforward Mono-Red Dragon deck.

I play a lot of bad decks, but despite the ribbing my friends at NexGen give me, I also play my fair share of good decks. When I sit down at a table with Lathliss, I know that unless someone combos off early, I’ve probably got a shot at a win. I don’t always feel that way with all of my decks, but with Lathliss, I always feel pretty good.

What do I love about this deck?

It’s fundamentally fair, but also potentially overwhelming. When it goes off, there’s never any sense of wanting to apologize for playing yet another dirty combo. You just fly over the top and murder your opponents the old fashioned way.

I also love the simplicity of this deck. The mana is simple. The strategy is simple. Sometimes it’s nice to have a strong deck that you know can compete for the win, but that isn’t going to force you to constantly check to make sure you’re not missing triggers or screwing up a complex interaction.

2. Muldrotha, the Gravetide

If you’re wondering how I can include my Muldrotha article, “Yet Another Muldrotha Deck” in my top 5 list, I can’t really blame you. The list had a bunch of staples for Muldrotha but also some pretty dumb wincons. As it turned out, winning a game with Flamecast Wheel isn’t anywhere near as fulfilling as you might think.

Muldrotha, the Gravetide

When I won that game, Muldrotha wasn’t my only Sultai (ubg) deck. I also had a deck built around The Mimeoplasm that had started off as a voltron / infect reanimator deck and had picked up a Flash Hulk wincon somewhere along the line. The deck was a bit odd, as the most effective way to win had nothing to do with the commander. While I might sometimes kill someone with The Mimeoplasm, it was never a strong enough part of the plan to make me feel good about it. It was far from the best “Mim” deck it could be and it was also far from the best Flash Hulk deck it could be.

Sometime in 2018 I opened up a booster and found a foil Prossh, Skyraider of Kher. I picked up a Food Chain soon after, but I never actually built a Prossh deck. I think I just didn’t want to deal with all of the salt I’d get if the deck worked and worked well. I had that with Narset, and I just enjoy my games more if the table isn’t miserable and cranky about the deck I’m playing.

After I posted my admittedly sub-par Muldrotha list in early July, I wound up mashing The Mimeoplasm and Muldrotha together to try to make a strong, resilient Sultai combo deck. While it worked, the deck didn’t really take off until I added Food Chain, Misthollow Griffin and Eternal Scourge. That combination with Muldrotha can basically let you play your entire deck if you do it right.

With a handful of tutors, none of which are high-end, like Imperial Seal, but which still do the job quite nicely, I’m now able to reliably find something nasty to try to do with my Muldrotha deck. The plan might be to win on the spot, or it might be a fun adventure like using Tunnel Vision to dig to Splendid Reclamation and hoping that it’s close to the bottom of my deck. I might go for a Hermit Druid win or I might try to make infinite mana with Food Chain.

While I’m sure there are ways to make the deck better without even spending thousands of dollars on truly high-end cards, I’ve even been told on TappedOut that my current list is “one of the best Lab Man shells out there”. As they say, I read it on the internet so it must be true.

My good Muldrotha list was tucked into “A Day in the Life” - a long article I wrote in late October about what a day of running my Commander league looks like. Scroll down past the chocolate chip cookie recipe (yes, you read that correctly) and you’ll find it.

What do I love about this deck?

I love putting half of my library into my graveyard and casting Splendid Reclamation to put a ridiculous number of non-basic lands onto the battlefield and I love even more when they untap because of Amulet of Vigor. It’s hard to lose a game after that happens.

I also love the raw power of Food Chain in this list.

Sure, Flash Hulk and Hermit Druid can win games. Being able to make infinite mana, and sacrifice and re-cast Muldrotha each time you want to get another set of permanents out of your graveyard always feels great. The fact that your opponents’ only real answer has to involve exiling Food Chain makes this wincon particularly resilient. Your Food Chain dork, Misthollow Griffin or Eternal Scourge, can be brought back from the graveyard or cast from exile, and you can get Food Chain back from the graveyard just as easily.

1. Multani, Maro-Sorcerer

What? How can Multani be on this list? This isn’t even the Dominaria Multani, it’s the weird old one with shroud! You can’t even target it to give it trample. What’s up with this pick, Steve?

Let me tell you about Multani, Maro-Sorcerer.

Multani, Maro-Sorcerer

Building Multani was like solving a puzzle. That’s what attracted me to Commander deck-building in the first place. As a deck-builder, this format represents an endless series of puzzles to solve.

The first question with Multani was how to get damage through with a Commander you can’t target. You can’t use equipment. You can’t easily give him an aura. You have to find ways to give your entire team Trample. You can also swing with one of those pesky ‘lure effect” creatures that forces all of your opponents to block them, letting Multani walk right by and murder your opponent.

The second question with Multani was how to deal with the diminishing returns you’ll see as opponents are removed from the game. His power and toughness are equal to the number of cards in all players’ hands, so as the game goes on, he should get smaller and smaller.

The goal with Multani is both to help your opponents draw cards and to use spells that let you draw cards equal to the greatest power among creatures you control. When you draw fifteen to twenty cards, suddenly having an opponent out of the game isn’t going to affect the size of your Commander quite so much.

It’s also a lot of fun to cast spells like Fungal Sprouting, which is a Sorcery that will create 1/1 Green Saprolings equal to the greatest power among creatures you control. It’s even more fun to follow that up with an Overwhelming Stampede effect so your creatures all get pumped up equal to Multani’s power.

This deck is probably the biggest reason I was able to win my Commander league’s top point total for the month of November, though I only played it in half of my games. The month’s theme was “pre-modern card frame” commanders, and I alternated between my Multani deck and my Rith deck, playing both equally and winning the month in convincing fashion.

I wrote about Multani, Maro-Sorcerer back in March and my list has definitely evolved since then. I’ve added Garruk, Primal Hunter for his card draw ability, thrown in Heroic Intervention, Sylvan Library and a bunch of other Green staples and dropped out some of the more underperforming or overcosted trample enablers. My current list is included in today’s column but you can see the old list in the article from last March.

What do I love about this deck?

It feels great to be able to play a commander who is often able to 1-shot an opponent when he first hits the table. I love the fact that Multani isn’t well known and often an opponent won’t realize how ridiculous he is until it’s too late. I also love doing dumb stuff that works with Multani’s stats. Casting a Traverse the Outlands to put a crazy number of lands onto the field always feels great, as does making Saprolings and drawing cards equal to his power.

While the puzzle of building Multani was fulfilling, it’s just as fulfilling to solve the puzzle of how to navigate your way to a win with a Commander who might be pitifully small when you’ve only got one opponent left. Who do you kill first when you’re hitting like a freight train? How do you fly under the radar and keep folks from just killing you first? Can you make your opponents think they’re safe when on your next turn you’re going to force all of their blockers to block your mana dork so you can murder them with your Commander?

This deck certainly doesn’t will all of its games, and it might be a weaker deck than some of the other ones in my top five of 2018, but there isn’t a deck in my collection that I’m more fond of. It probably won’t ever win a game against true cEDH decks, but most of my games aren’t against cEDH decks and plenty of them last an hour or more.

If I still haven’t sold you on this commander, last May the good folks at the youtube channel MTG Muddstah posted a video in which Multani really shines.

It’s only ten minutes long but it should give you a good idea of what Multani is capable of. You should definitely check it out.

The Decklist

My plan hadn’t been to post a decklist today, but after comparing my original article on Multani with the deck I used to win our Commander League’s November top point total it seems appropriate to include the current list. I usually urge readers to view my lists as starting points from which to build. In this case, that advice still stands, but I think you’d be just fine playing this list in its current form.

Walk Softly | Commander | Stephen Johnson

This list has an average CMC of 3.16, which is fairly low. That is usually an indication that the deck will more easily be able to cast its spells and function efficiently, though decks that cheat mana costs will sometimes have a higher CMC because the list includes big spells that you don’t plan to pay the full cost for.

The most expensive card in the list is Sylvan Library and the full list should only run you a few hundred dollars. For a casual deck that will fly under the radar and give you a pretty entertaining game, that’s not too bad. I would definitely urge you to work from this list over the list I posted earlier this year, as the deck has gotten significantly better over the ensuing months.

Final Thoughts

While this week’s article might have seemed like a retread of old content, I hope there was value in sifting through the dozens of decklists I’ve shared over the past year to give you the best of what I’ve brewed up in 2018.

Not all my brews are strong and not all of them are tasty, but I feel pretty good about the ones I’ve shared with you today. Each in their own way is a fun, interesting list that’s capable of winning its share of games in an appropriately powered meta.

Next week I am hoping to be able to share one of the top decks from my Commander League. We’ve got a Bruna player who has a fantastic build and he’s agreed to sit down for an interview and to let me share his list with you here.

That’s all I’ve got for you today. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next week!