February 05, 2015

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Nothing is eternal, not even Eternal formats. The constant addition of new sets puts Commander in endless flux. While Vintage and Legacy, as well as Modern, generally hinge on what, if anything, is added to or removed from their banned lists, it's the piles of new cards and legendary creatures that make what once was a favorite deck into next week's pile of things for another.



Vivisection | Art by Anthony Francisco


I love the ebb and flow of ideas Commander provides me. Updating, tearing apart, rebuilding, and updating again is something I've done with my Rhys the Redeemed deck over the years, and the number of decks I've taken apart is always a handful behind the number of decks I've created.


It's why I've enjoyed my "junk Commander" decks, such as Surrak Dragonclaw so much. Don't read the word "junk" wrong here: There's nothing wrong with the cards I'm using. It's just my shorthand for, literally, whatever cards I have laying around that I otherwise don't have a practical use for.


When you crack enough packs for Draft and Sealed, you end up with plenty of copies of cards to try new things. Without using my Commander Box, it's a refreshing exercise to be excited about what I'll end up having on hand next.


That's the driving force behind my rapid change of decks. Whatever the new hotness is that rolls in, I get pumped up to try something new. Ripping apart an old deck gives me the tools I want for the new one, alongside a healthy helping of the new stuff. The excitement of plundering a pile of potential can be palpable.


Microphone Commander


My "for the new" reason for taking apart a deck is pragmatic: I need the cards I'm using elsewhere so I go get them. I've also taken decks apart for power-level reasons ("It was too amazing!") and power level reasons ("It just doesn't work."). What can I say other than I'm a fickle man?


Fortunately, many of you shared more reasons to demolish a deck. By now, Andrew has likely exhumed what remains of his Skullbriar, the Walking Grave build:


As of this moment it's not taken apart, but my Skullbriar, the Walking Grave deck is about to get the axe. There are a few reasons for this.



First, it's kind of a repetitive deck. You play Skullbriar on turn two, attack, and spend the rest of the game building him up. My favorite part of Commander is the variety built into games, and this is a deck that just gets boring for me.



Second, I'm a little burned out on black/green. I currently also have a Glissa, the Traitor and The Mimeoplasm decks and used to have an Iname as One deck. Glissa and The Mimeoplasm play with the graveyard, so I don't really need yet another BG graveyard deck. This feeds back into the variety thing.



Third, I need to get my Dragon on. I took apart a Scion of the Ur-Dragon deck last year (again for repetitive plays), and I miss attacking with lots of Dragons. I love both Kolaghan and Atarka, so I'm going to be building a Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund deck so I can use them both. This deck also has black and green in it, so I definitely don't want yet another deck with that combination.



Finally, there are lots of solid staple cards in this deck that would find better homes in other decks. Sharing is caring, and I'm pretty thin on staple black cards as it is. Many of these cards will probably make it to Karrthus anyway.





Andrew's Skullbriar











COMMANDER: Skullbriar, the Walking Grave










99 Cards






















Getting burned out on a deck happens. Playing the same—or at least similar—cards every game is something that should get old after a while. It's why my first Commander deck, based around Kresh the Bloodbraided, took a time out it never really came back from.


Alex's tale about his Grenzo, the Dungeon Warden is cautionary:


The most recent Commander deck that I dismantled was my Grenzo, Dungeon Warden commander. The main idea for the deck was to get Grenzo into play with 6 power (occasionally as early as turn two) and then activate his ability as much as possible. In order to minimize whiffing with a Grenzo activation, the content of the deck was a slightly more than half creatures, all with power 6 or less.




There were two main problems I had with this deck. The first problem was one of variance. I like each game of Commander to feel different, a sentiment which I'm sure is shared by many others. Almost every single creature in the deck was a big dumb beater that didn't distinguish itself much from any of the other big dumb beaters in the deck. Every game I played with Grenzo felt the same. Either I never resolved Grenzo and felt disappointed and salty, or I stuck Grenzo and inundated the board. Despite the initial excitement of flooding the battlefield with huge guys, the deck soon became very boring to play with and to play against.



The second problem was once Grenzo was in play, there was literally no spell in the deck that was better than activating Grenzo. There was no skill required to pilot the deck, and no difficult decision to make. Most of the creatures in the deck were quite expensive and would frequently take a whole turn to cast. Why would I choose to do that when I could pay two mana for a good chance of getting a similarly powerful creature into play? The answer is: I wouldn't. So Grenzo was banished back to the dungeon.





Alex's Grenzo











COMMANDER: Grenzo, Dungeon Warden























When I talk about building a Commander deck, I usually point to the idea of leveraging a theme. Deck synergy comes from both redundancy (the same types of effects) and consistency (related ideas taking precedence over disparate choices), so, following a theme to its natural conclusion generally puts you in command of a cohesive deck. Fine tuning and adjustments follow from playing.


Alex's story is the opposite side of the theme coin: the danger of taking something to its extreme. Like with all things in life, some moderation is needed to keep any one thing from dominating the rest. Whenever I follow a theme, I leave room for things "just because" and avoid overloading on any particular piece by limiting redundant cards to eight or so at most. It's a little nuance I've found that keeps me out of the trouble Alex ran into with Grenzo, at the obvious cost of limiting the consistency and power of the initial build.


I'm sure you have your own tricks and ticks when it comes to building a deck on the first go. But what happens when you take apart your most beloved deck? Bobby explained how he ended up there with Kemba, Kha Regent:


I keep my decks going. I know plenty of people who take decks apart almost as fast as they build them, and I know people who build and rebuild decks. Over the past year or so you have put a bunch of my decks in your column, and I am happy to report that all of them are still around, fighting the good fight. The "last" deck I took apart may not be apt, because there has been only one.



Kemba, Kha Regent was my first deck. Way back when Scars came out my friends were just getting into the format, and they asked me to join. I resisted until Kemba was spoiled, and then I was in. I splurged on a Sword of Fire and Ice, Stoneforge Mystic, and black-bordered Strip Mine, and I had my first deck.




When our group began, there were no counterspells floating around and removal was light. In this environment, Kemba thrived. The deck quickly became one of the strongest in our group. But as time went on our group changed. Counterspells began to be played and removal increased. Suddenly Kemba was winning less often. I had two more resilient decks at the time, and so Kemba became the deck that came out once in a while only to get steamrolled by Sygg or Glissa. Soon the deck was only there because nothing needed its cards.



Flash forward to 2012; studying abroad had kept me from playing so I had been brewing instead. Bruna, Light of Alabaster was what I wanted to build, but I realized the deck wanted many of the cards in Kemba. I loved that deck, but it just sat in a box never being played. I bit the bullet and retired Kemba. The deck was mostly together until this past November, when I harvested the Equipment in it for Ashling the Pilgrim, so now it sits unplayable.



Here is the list as it was when I took the deck apart. I still toy with trying to bring it back in a completely different way.





Bobby's Kemba











COMMANDER: Kemba, Kha Regent























A big reason decks end up on the chopping block is how preferences and needs change over time. As players and members of playgroups evolve, the themes and interactions that work for them will adjust. Some groups get more competitive, with haymakers, counterspells, and protection. Some groups get funky, and spiral deep into the depths of what Commander can provide.


Bobby's experience isn't unusual. Keeping a deck around long after its use has waned isn't unusual. I think we can also relate to "that special one" we have even though it isn't always the deck we want to use. It takes discipline to recognize a beloved way to play has become just a pile of scrap to pillage.


When was the last time you honestly looked at your decks hidden away on a shelf somewhere?


You'll Rebel to Anything


Just like building decks, taking them apart is a personal process. Whatever your reasons, the one thing you don't need to worry about is being confident in your choice. In the end, you can always rebuild what you once had!


This week's question, again, looks at how the past looks different from the future: Which card or cards turned out far better than you expected in your Commander deck?



  • Feedback via email

  • 300 word limit to explain the cards and reasons

  • Sample decklist or list of cards is requested (does not count against word limit)

  • Decklists should be formatted with one card per line with just a leading number, such as "3 Mountain"—just a space (no "x" or "-") between the number and the card name, without subtotals by card type (Submissions that don't follow this rule will be ignored.)

  • Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column)


Like draft picks in sports or trying a new food you've never encountered before, expectations and reality can be two very different things. I want to know about the best successes you've encountered, with cards that you originally didn't have a great outlook on. Surprise winners are always a fun discovery, and hearing about the best should inspire all of us to reconsider some of the choices we've made in decks.


We need something to do after taking everything apart!


Join us next week when we look at the dynamic duos we just can't do without. See you then!






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