When I first started playing MTGO, I thought one of the best features was that you don't need more than four of a card. Once you have a card in your collection, you can put it in all your decks. That would make playing Commander online so much easier; I only needed one copy if I was going to run it in five hundred different decks. That made acquiring the cards so much easier. I bought one of the Commander precons and eventually bought From the Vault: Relics. It had a single "foil" Sol Ring.
I would never need another Sol Ring online again.
If I wanted to get a Sol Ring for every paper Commander deck I have or am in the process of building, I'd need fifteen of them. Around $20 (on SCG, since Cool Stuff Inc is sold out of them) apiece, that's $300 for a card that "should" be in every Commander deck. Heaven forbid I'd want the From the Vault one ($22 apiece) or a judge foil ($60) to really pimp out all of my decks. $900 for fifteen copies of one card that I "should" have?
Over the months on MTGO, I've continued to collect one-ofs—cards for certain decks and "staples" for other colors. Starting a new collection once again, I was like a kid in a candy store—so overwhelmed with all the options I was forgetting fun, choice cards from sets, then having to go back to get them. And it was great, and I was having fun.
Until I started building the Commander decks.
I'm not a huge fan of the deck-builder online. It's clunky, and you can't completely customize it by dragging-and-dropping the cards into certain piles; they have to fit the "converted mana cost" or "by color" restrictions that MTGO has set in place. But this isn't the place to gripe about this.
I would select my Commander and then start putting in all the "staples":
And that was just the artifacts. If I went Blue:
Suddenly, that's seventy out of ninety-nine spots that have to be filled due to staples. Minus forty-ish for lands, and that leaves you with thirty left for your deck.
And that's if you don't add another color and its "staples."
What identity does my deck have now? Is this really my deck, or just a deck of great cards in Commander? How can I try out new things if I should play these cards in my deck? It's my deck, and I can cry if I want to.
Maybe "should" is too strong a word. Maybe the phrase needs to be "highly suggested." It's highly suggested you take a look and add Sol Ring to your deck. But why are Sol Ring, Top and Winding Canyons (or any card for that matter) considered "staples"?
Here are the hardest permanents to kill in Commander, from hardest to easiest:
There are fewer options to kill Planeswalkers than creatures. The higher a card you want in your deck is on that list, the less likely that it is going to be tampered with. Each of the colors can only deal with certain things (for the most part):
- White can't handle lands, and Planeswalkers only temporarily.
- Blue can only bounce or steal everything, it can't destroy it.
- Black can't touch artifacts or enchantments, and rarely deals with Planeswalkers.
- Red can't deal with Enchantments.
- Green wishes it could kill creatures.
But what about the three "staples" I keep talking about? Winding Canyons is one of those cards where players think that there are bigger land threats on the table (Volrath's Stronghold, Gaea's Cradle, Academy Ruins), so it might get ignored. Sol Ring just accelerates mana and that's it (which is why the Muse Vessel blog post was so against the card in the first place). And with Top, it's hard to kill since it can be put on top of the library if anything tries to destroy it.
So the argument of "It's either hard to destroy or people ignore it" is a good way to build a Commander deck. That's why I've argued against having cards like Tarmogoyf and even Baneslayer Angel in your deck, since they really don't do anything on their own (yes, a 5/5 flying, First Strike, Lifelinking angel is really good, but I've never put it in my deck and I've never lost to it, because it can be killed rather easily). Building your deck on those principles is never a bad thing, but people will always find an answer to everything.
"Oh, is your deck build around Sygg?"
"Uh, yeah," I said, as I played Underworld Dreams and the Blue player (with Teferi as his Commander) sighed, unable to counter it. Apparently, I had the audacity to try to actually build a deck that worked with my Commander rather than just trying to build a Black/Blue deck full of good stuff. As we continued, I played a Megrim and a Words of Waste, and it was made clear that this deck was build for Sygg (for those interested in the deck, it looks like I'll be talking about it next week).
And for those of you wondering, I do have Sol Ring and Sensei's Divining Top in there. Not because they're good, but because I actually have a ton of effects that need the mana or that care about the top card of my library (Future Sight, Baneful Omen). Oh, and a Trinket Mage, of course. They weren't automatic inclusions; I briefly had them both out of my deck, but they made their way back in. No card is ever safe when I'm working on a Commander deck.
Some cards seem like they'd fall under "highly suggested" for certain decks. For example: It seems pretty obvious that if you're building a deck around Thraximundar and you want to keep it on theme, cards like Grave Pact and Butcher of Malakir might be good inclusions in your deck. I'm not saying they should be, but take a minute and think about adding them in. But, what do I care: it's your deck.
One of the hardest things to do while building or maintaining your Commander deck is getting it to that ninety-nine card limit. There are so many things you want to do with it, so many cards you want to try out and add, so many you-"should"-play-withs to make the deck "work." You don't have to do anything you don't want to do.
However, you don't need to listen to me. If you don't like what I have to say and completely agree that every Commander deck should have certain cards, there's nothing I can do to stop you. Healthy conversation is great in the Magic community, and I don't ever believe that we'll ever come to an agreement on everything, which is a good thing. There is one thing I believe in, however:
No matter what anyone tells you about staples, I still believe that you've got ninety-nine problems . . . but a Commander ain't one.