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The Commander Box: Commanderpalooza!

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Before jumping into this week’s article, I want to cover one quick correction: The introduction article’s final poll question was flawed.

As some of you pointed out, the poll didn’t make sense in the context of the question it presented. I forgot to update it from binary to qualitative, and your votes don’t speak to the types of examples you actually wanted (though they definitely implied that some sort of examples should be included). So let’s try this again:


[poll id="96"]


(*Themed modules were featured in this article.)

With that out of the way, it’s time to begin the Commander Box journey. Since you voted for it, we’ll start with what I believe to be the most important part of Commander: the Commanders you want to play.

I’ve broken down the following sections into the five component colors and included a longer section for multicolored picks. The multicolored section is weighted very heavily since multicolored Commanders are generally more exciting to build around, but we’ll get to that later.

The five primary colors will feature approximately two Commanders, but all bets are off when it comes to multicolored. If you want to see a few other Commanders I’m considering for a color, you can find a complete breakdown of every option in this GoogleDoc. (Feel free to make suggestions for improvements as well!)

Purity of Essence

White is a color that I love for support and utility, but that discussion isn’t for today. There are two Commanders I’ve been itching to build decks around, but for two entirely different reasons.

Kemba, Kha Regent

  • Lynchpin to the equipment deck in Commander
  • Produces tokens (an ongoing theme for me)
  • Easy and early to cast

Reya Dawnbringer

  • Rebuy a lost friend on each of my turns
  • Classic “big-mana” slow Commander

Kemba and Reya are on opposite ends of the Commander spectrum. I’d like to try Kemba as an alternative (or supplement) to Rhys as the go-to token deck, and being aggressive with a Voltronesque Kemba who’s suited up for battle is also appealing. White doesn’t have any Overrun machine, as far as I know, but there are plenty of artifacts to help out.

Playing Reya is a very different type of Commander game. Planning for a slow, recursion-supported, Wrath of God¬–backed adventure down the limits of patience is a special recipe I’d like to have on order. Sometimes, I want a quick game with haymakers hitting home repeatedly. Sometimes, I want a four-hour pizza binge with a few local friends. Reya, and other big-mana Commanders, play the latter part well.

Purity of Thought

Blue Commander decks usually fall into two groups: taking all the turns, and taking all the permanents (primarily creatures). Since I generally abhor taking extra turns, my thoughts on Blue revolve around taking control of everything (or at least copying things) and drawing cards. There are three Commanders in whom I’m interested and who follow suit.

Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur

  • Pure hate and Phyrexian power, distilled into a card-advantage machine
  • There are decks and players that deserve nothing less than to be brutalized.

Lorthos, the Tidemaker

  • True big-mana Commander (see Reya Dawnbringer above)
  • Brings infinite Mentos jokes to every table

Uyo, Silent Prophet

  • The only thing sweeter than copying creatures is copying instants and sorceries.
  • People forget that this can copy any instant or sorcery spell, not just the ones that I cast.

The Blue I love is definitely anti-other-players. Stealing stuff usually creates an unpleasant experience. But copying is often encouraged, and, in addition to the usual Blue route, I plan to do it as much as I can. Taking extra turns is a soft ban I place on myself; it isn’t “optimal,” but Commander is less about that than it is about the experience of doing what I want.

Jin-Gataxias needs little introduction, I’m sure, but just to be clear: If I decide to play him, it’s because someone needs his deck thoroughly ravaged. I don’t often feel the compulsion to be unfair or disruptive in Commander, but when that moment comes, this guy will be waiting to be the crown jewel of the deck.

Lorthos is a strange card. While the Mentos cracks will make players smile, pumping 8 mana through him on an attack is no joking matter. The reason that I love Lorthos so much is that this was the first card that Wizards shared with me under a nondisclosure agreement. I have fond memories of digging through cards and crafting a potential Commander deck, an experience which shaped one of my submissions as a potential writer. Kelly Digges, then magicthegathering.com writer and editor, but now member of R&D, took this idea to task for himself. (I guess that counts as a “sick brag” in common Magic slang.) My love for octopi now knows no bounds.

Uyo isn’t what she appears to be. Compared to others, such as Erayo, Soratami Ascendant and Azami, Lady of Scrolls, Uyo seems fairly harmless. But when I sit down and see a five-color control deck or Wort, the Raidmother, getting in on copying their spells usually makes for a much more entertaining game. Every spell, from Decree of Pain to Worldly Tutor, is pretty sweet for a Blue deck to jump in on.

Purity of Death

Black is often an amazing color for Commander. Recursion, removal, and trading life for cards are all hallmarks of the color, and Black Commanders follow suit.

Sheoldred, Whispering One

  • Big-mana Commander meets classic recursion engine
  • Creating a consistent sacrifice effect for your opponents is powerful.

Geth, Lord of the Vault

  • Unblockable against many popular Commanders
  • Rebuying others’ creatures is always a fantastic idea.

Sheoldred, like Jin-Gitaxias, does not “play nice” with other players. Getting to go full-value every turn on one of my creatures while I grind away at my opponents’ creatures is obviously an enviable position. While she’s certainly not as offensive as Jin, she does promise tantalizing power that grows with the number of players.

Geth, on the other hand, isn’t as immediately offensive. I have some serious work ahead of me if I plan to maximize his recursion ability, and “turning on” powerful effects like The Mimeoplasm and Living Death is a dangerous game to play. Fortunately, I live in the danger zone.

Purity of Passion

I’ve had several discussions with numerous players about how viable, or not, Red is as a color for Commander. The actual answer is somewhere in between “awesome” and “awful,” and I hope to discover just which one it’s closer to.

Akroma, Angel of Fury

  • Coming down as a morph wouldn’t surprise anyone, but does make it easier to cast.
  • The inability of a counterspell to stop her from coming back can be useful.

Urabrask the Hidden

  • Slow down opponents while speeding our beats up? Yes!
  • Disrupts some unusual and nefarious combinations

I like Red Akroma a lot. I’m part of the Magic minority who really enjoyed Planar Chaos, and seeing “alternate but flavorful” counterparts to classic cards in other colors is exciting for me. Being able to morph into play early, play off of a powerful piece of equipment, or be an unstoppable threat later on is a nice set of features for any Commander to carry.

Just like in the current Standard, Urabrask plays his part as a utility baddie very well. Making opponents’ pieces come into play tapped can really put a damper on some plans. Tokens with Akroma's Memorial are no longer as abusable. Creatures with Haste still have to wait a turn. There are fewer blockers jumping in the way, whether at instant speed or otherwise. Paired with other disruptive cards, I could see Urabrask championing against more combo-oriented decks.

Purity of Life

My favorite color of all for Commander is Green. Luckily for me, then, that Green is considered to be one of the more powerful colors to run. With some of the best creatures, excellent recursion, plenty of mana-ramping, and disruptive elements to boot, about the only thing Green can’t do well is kill creatures (something that artifacts can cover well).

Kamahl, Fist of Krosa

  • Make mana. Make dudes. Make dudes huge. Hulk smash!
  • Like White, Green can pump out tokens. Kamahl pairs nicely there.

Thrun, the Last Troll

  • This guy sticks it to Blue decks in Legacy. I can get behind that.
  • Being efficient makes it easier to go with a more aggressive route than to go with the ever-present ramp-and-grind.

Contrary to populist propaganda, being Green is easy in Commander. Kamahl is a prime example of the ease of tapping Forests. The number of kill-you-from-nowhere-after-ramping-for-ten-turns endgames I’ve seen, and have helped create, is absurd. Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it all the same.

Thrun is a bit trickier. Unlike Kamahl and a host of other options, he doesn’t one-shot you out of nowhere. Being resistant to most forms of stoppage (counterspells and Swords to Plowshares) helps create the case for a much fairer-feeling Green. Plodding along with our regenerating hero is appealing in a whole different set of ways.

An Impure World

Multicolored creatures represent the lion’s share of Commander options. It only makes sense; why just limit yourself to one color when you can have two or more? However, multiple colors create tension in choosing cards. It’s very rare that a multicolored creature asks for only a few cards from a component color.

Kresh the Bloodbraided / Darigaaz, the Igniter

  • Jund good-stuff includes steal effects, sacrifice outlets, and recursion.
  • Kresh was my first Commander, and is due a facelift treatment.

Kresh is my all-time favorite Commander. While he’s a popular choice overall, I really enjoy the steal-attack-sac modus operandi, and playing a good-stuff deck can be reassuringly relaxing. Always having some answer available somewhere in the deck made me feel at ease even in the face of disgusting horror and abuse. (Occasionally, it would be the Kresh deck itself causing the horror or abuse.)

Darigaaz serves as an alternative Commander who brings some desirable evasion to the table. Same great deck, tweaked offensive approach.

The Mimeoplasm

  • Copying other players’ dudes is always nice, but the exile effect keeps things from being too silly.
  • The Blue that I want to add helps cover the obvious Mimeoplasm weakness of requiring creatures to be dead; Control Magic can nab anything that recurs before it can be copied.

He might be the new kid on the block, but he’s got the right stuff. If a dinosaur-arm doesn’t excite you, your heart is blackened and dead. This is probably the most popular of the new Commanders, but the crazy interactions he creates will continue to fascinate and encourage players for years to come. (Including me!)

Oona, Queen of the Fae / Wrexial, the Risen Deep

  • When Blue-based control isn’t enough to bring an unruly table to heel, U/B can get the job done.
  • Milling and graveyard shenanigans play well off of either Commander. I may or may not harbor secret ambitions to play decks that mill opponents.

Both of these Commanders are common choices because they serve their purpose and power very well. Oona mills to make tokens, leaving the graveyard open for attack or abuse. Wrexial is relatively cheap for an “unblockable” fatty who can recycle other players’ spells. Both of these Commanders also play well with the next option.

Garza Zol, Plague Queen

  • Flying, hasty, old-school “Vampire pump,” and card-draw to boot!
  • She’s the classic Grixis Commander I’ve always wanted to build around.

I’ve loved Garza Zol from the day I met her in packs of Coldsnap. When I was introduced to Commander, I was a born-again fledgling player without the deep card library. As I started to fill out my collection, I latched on to Kresh as my multicolored Commander. Today, with an entire box of sorted cards to work with, building around her should be a breeze.

And, by the way, she makes blocking decisions much tougher for opponents. Joy!

Intet, the Dreamer / Riku of Two Reflections

  • Their three component colors create a powerful core of concentrated Commander action.
  • Free or greatly reduced-cost spells are always a welcome addition to decks.

While Intet has been around the block a few times, newcomer Riku is noticeably common at tables, too. It’s no wonder why: Both of these Commanders pack a powerful punch on any board. Intet will kill with Commander damage as you fire off free spells, and Riku has so much explosive potential that even silly things seem stupidly overpowered. (Play and copy a Deranged Hermit, even without the ability to pay for the Echo costs!)

Teneb, the Harvester

Teneb is one of the most classic Commanders in the format. As what was then called EDH exploded in popularity, the fact that Teneb was a source of card advantage (and ported the disruptive grind mentality of the classic Legacy Junk decks) made it a ubiquitous choice. Of course, combo decks evolved from there, but it never shook Teneb as a herald of power and control.

Rhys the Redeemed

Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer / Basandra, Battle Seraph

  • Getting down and dirty in combat can be a total gas!
  • I have a bevy of pimp equipment, and Jor Kadeen seems to align well with extra artifacts.

I happened to have pulled together this deck already, but it was more as a necessity due to not having any other Constructed deck ready to go. Jor and Basandra are two choices that go well together, and I even took a look at building a Basandra-specific deck. Junk may have my heart, but Boros is the soul of my ideas around combat.

Ruhan of the Fomori / Zedruu the Greathearted

  • For a FLIP OUT good time, build Ruhan at R/W/U.
  • Zedruu is a similarly wacky-but-surprising Commander to work with.

Not every deck needs to have room for staples and powerhouse cards. Sometimes, it’s just a pile of cool stuff and the will to throw it to the wind. I love a little randomness and play differentiation, so randomly whacking at others with a cheap beatstick and giving away oddball permanents for incremental benefit are both activities I plan to enjoy someday.

Cromat

  • A catch-all Commander who reads like a freight train of decisions.
  • I don’t always have an expensive mana base, but when I do, it’s for a good reason.

I’m not particularly fond of five-color Commanders because they lend themselves to being just “the ultimate pile of good stuff” rather than something more thematic. Cromat is the exception for me. Unlike other choices (Child of Alara, Horde of Notions, Sliver Queen), Cromat reads like a hot mess, but plays like super-Limited. I can add whatever funky stuff I want, go offensive or defensive, and even just intentionally “durdle around” if I don’t want to do anything. Cromat isn’t a five-color Commander, but a catch-basin for building the wackiest, sketchiest deck I can after building a few other Commanders.

Conclusion

There are certainly more Commanders who can be used, and I even have a dozen or two more set aside for just that potential. (You can check out these and the growing list of cards in this GoogleDoc!) But these choices are the driving factors behind choosing what cards I will add to the Commander Box. I hope you found some of the thoughts behind whom I like, and why, to be enlightening.

Next week will begin our exploration of the cards we’re working with, starting with the enormous multicolored section! See you then!

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