Catching the Commander Bug
It isn’t a secret that I am a competitive player at heart, a Spike if you will. I enjoy tight, optimal play and powerful optimized decks. Due to our new normal, this has not been an itch that has been easy to scratch. Goblin Traders has been hosting MTG Arena FNM tournament since WOTC suspended in-store play, but there’s something about sitting across from your opponent and the reads and tells that come with it. I wholeheartedly agree that The Gathering is an extremely important aspect of the game as a whole.
So what is a Spike to do when playing competitively isn’t as readily available as it was before? The answer is surprisingly, play Commander. The most popular format in Magic the Gathering.
The competitive crowd is the minority in the Magic community, most just don’t pay attention to this fact. If you are interested in the financial side of MTG, the casual and Commander crowd are what drives the majority of the secondary market. It is a bit of a misnomer to refer to all Commander players as “casuals” as well. Many play highly optimized and powerful decks, capable of wiping a table as early as turn two.
So how did I begin to get into the most widespread format of our favorite game? I was traded, yes that’s right; traded a full Animar, soul of Elementals Commander deck from fellow Goblin Traders writer Lane Johnson (@lanethemain). For a very long time, this was my only foray into the format. Flash forward to the past month (July/August 2020).
Since diving into the format in a more complete capacity, I have completed three decks and currently working on three more. You may be thinking that this is a large number of Commander decks, but these are rookie numbers. Some players maintain upwards of ten to eleven decks.
There is an unofficial power ranking for decks when you sit down to play at a Commander table. The scale goes from one to ten, with ten being the more powerful and optimized version of a given deck. Now I would like to go through my three current decks and discuss my decisions in regards to those decks.
First up is Niv-Mizzet, Parun (glory to the Firemind). What can I say? I’m an Izzet mage through and through, so of course this is the first deck that I fully immersed myself into.
As you can see, I have chosen to go with a “wheels” theme for this build. We get the name “wheels” from the card Wheel of Fortune. Wheels are any spell or effect in Magic that causes you and/or other players to discard or shuffle their hands into their libraries and draw a certain number of cards. The synergy is apparent, so I won’t go into that aspect of the choice too much. This deck is considered a seven on the power ranking scale, only lacking the upgrade of mana rocks to push it to a higher level.
Decks with a theme such as this generally “build themselves”, as there are certain spells in this color combination (blue/red) that are more powerful than many of the other options. Honestly, when I set my mind to this build I went through edhrec.com and added the cards that I really liked or wanted to play in a Niv-Mizzet deck. The only spells that were a necessity for a wheels build were in fact the wheel spells, such as Windfall and Winds of Change. Outside of those few “must-includes”, the spells that comprise the rest of my list were favorite spells from Magic’s past and they conveniently were some of the most powerful as well. I’m looking at you Dockside Extortionist (trust me, it’s busted).
New additions from the most recent sets, Ikoria and Core Set 2021, have given the deck a bit more of a punch. The legendary Rielle, the Everwise from Ikoria mitigates having to discard my hand when cast and resolving my wheel effects. All of the card draw isn’t solely for triggering Niv-Mizzet’s ability and that’s where Ominous Seas comes in. If I can pig a table to death, an arbitrary number of krakens should do the trick. Not to mention that later in the game she can be a massive threat on her own. Teferi’s Ageless Insight from Core Set 2021 sort of superchargers all of my draw spells cause everything that cares about cards being drawn to occur at a much faster pace.
If you enjoy playing an interactive game that ultimately ends with you casting a bunch of spells, drawing a bunch of cards and watching the life draw from your opponents face; Niv-Mizzet, Parun is the Commander for you.
The second deck that I built in this burgeoning journey in the world of Commander, is my Pir, Imaginative Rascal & Toothy, Imaginary Friend partner Commander deck. This deck also sits at a seven on the power ranking scale. That’s right folks, everyone has had an imaginary friend at some point in their life. Whether your friend hails from Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends or from the depths of your own psyche and goes by the name Tyler Durden, we’ve been there.
This little rascal is from the plane of Kylem, where fighters team up with their partners to battle to fame and glory in the arena known as Valor’s Reach. Pir is one of those competitors along with his friend, yes imaginary, Toothy.
I didn’t need to think hard when it came to deciding on what direction to take my build of Pir & Toothy. Pir cares about counters of all sorts and Toothy wants to accumulate as many +1/+1 counters as it can. So if it wasn’t already apparent, I went with a counters theme for this build. I will have to admit that more work went into this build then the previous. There are so many spells and permanents that care or grant counters to other permanents, that I had to weed out the dregs. Primarily, I opted to go with spells and permanents that applied or accumulated counters incidentally. The Simic mechanic from Return to Ravnica, Evolve, is very nice for this. Gyre sage and Fathom Mage are very powerful creatures once they get rolling.
The enchantment card type is way more important in this deck with the likes of Doubling Season, Hardened Scales and Branching Evolution. Each of the aforementioned enchantments perform nearly the same task, increasing the number of counters that are placed on a permanent, just in slightly varying ways. Another card, from an adjacent card type, that cares a great deal about counters of all sorts is The Ozolith from Ikoria. Let me be the first to tell you, from first hand experience, this card will win you games single handedly. It has the power to make any creature that you play to become a must-deal-with threat. The downside of putting counters on a creature is much less of a feel bad, because with The Ozolith you get to keep all of the counters.
One thing that doesn’t regularly see a lot of play in the competitive side of Magic are the alternate win condition cards, such as Laboratory Maniac or Near-Death Experience. I’m not going to talk about Thassa’s Oracle, that one is an outlier. So with that in mind, I turned to Simic Ascendancy. If I’m already going to doubling and tripling counters then why not?
The only downside is that this deck is very mana hungry. Prioritize developing your mana in the early turns of the game if possible. If only this deck had a Black Market effect.
Lastly, we arrive at my most powerful deck. I give you Daniel Oney’s my Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain deck.
Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain is already an inherently powerful Commander without the theme of the deck feeding off of her triggered ability. When you have a deck such as this, that is built to utilize her triggered ability every single turn (sometimes multiple times a turn) the result can be extremely explosive. This deck has the capability to win on turn four, and even turn three with certain opening hands.
I can’t speak too much about the thought that went into the construction of the deck, that would be knowledge better gleaned from its creator Daniel Oney. I can tell you that I am not at all responsible for the damage that this deck may inflict upon a table at a moment's notice.
Okay, in all seriousness; this deck may be powerful, but it’s a blast to play. It has the feel of a Rube Goldberg machine. Each piece of the deck comes together and triggers another piece of the well oiled machine and not knowing how yo