Commander Concepts: More Ways to Play

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Hello again, friends! Welcome to another installment of Commander Concepts. In following with tradition today’s article topic came by request of a reader. So without further distraction let’s dive into the discussion!

Part of the fun of Commander is the diversity spun into it by restricting each deck to a single copy of any card. This variety is again multiplied by the malleability of the format. A Commander game can be a hectic free-for-all or a methodical team game, but the options do not end there. Team games can be Two-Headed Giant, Emperor, or Star magic. Free-for-all games can be spiced up with multiple active turns, a limited range of influence, or a direction of attack. On top of all that you can add Planechase, Archenemy, Conspiracies, Cantrips, planeswalker commanders, and other house rules. With all these options I would certainly not have enough time to adequately discuss each one so I am going to limit myself to discussing one of the lesser known variations.

Cantrip Magic

Ever wonder why Magic limits powerful mages to the random cards in their hand? We can summon praetors, warp time, and call through the blind eternities to another planeswalker for aid but we almost never even consider casting the same spell twice. Cantrip Magic offers a solution to those awkward observations. Cantrip Magic is a style of play you can add onto any Commander game or Commander variant. To play you simply select a one mana sorcery without {X} in its mana cost that is within your Commander’s color identity and from a modern legal set. This spell is now your cantrip and is placed in the command zone with your commander.

You may cast your cantrip as many times as you want during any of your main phases with a small caveat: it costs an additional {3} to cast. This cost does not increase each time you cast it like your commander does. This cost may seem prohibitive, but the ability to cast an over-costed spell is preferable to being unable to cast one at all. Last but not least, while the card must be from a modern set, it does not have to be modern legal, so [c]Ponder[/c] away!

Almost in compensation for its lack of card draw, cantrips, and small variety of one mana sorceries, white has some extremely potent cantrips. It has artifact themed spells in [c]Ritual of Restoration[/c] and [c]Steelshaper’s Gift[/c]. Alternatively, a deck with [c]Oust[/c] as the cantrip will likely lead to the player drastically cutting removal from their deck and still winning the game anyway.

In addition to the many options for card draw, blue has access to tricky spells like [c]Void Snare[/c] and [c]Distortion Strike[/c] that will allow you to push through damage and take advantage of commanders that like to attack like [c]Zur, the Enchanter[/c] and [c]Thada Adel, Acquisitor[/c]. Blue combo decks can also take advantage of [c]Gitaxian Probe[/c] to check if now is a good time to try to win the game.

Black has access to a versatile list of options. Discard effects abound in black just waiting to tear a hand to pieces. Your graveyard will stay remarkably empty because of [c]Ghoulcaller’s Chant[/c] and friends. Finally black has removal in [c]Deathmark[/c] and [c]Bone Splinters[/c].

Red is also flush with variety. Red has potential removal in [c]Spite of Mogis[/c] and [c]Flame Slash[/c] and some pseudo removal in [c]Blinding Flare[/c]. Token strategies will love [c]Crack the Earth[/c] while decks planning to attack with one big creature will love [c]Assault Strobe[/c]. Red also has multiple artifact removal spells and even a card selection spell in [c]Faithless Looting[/c].

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My personal favorite cantrip

Modern sets have been kind to green’s repertoire of cantrips. It has card selection in [c]Commune with Nature[/c] and [c]Caravan Vigil[/c] and a few card draw spells in the monetarily expensive [c]Glimpse of Nature[/c] and the relatively cheap [c]Irresistible Prey[/c]. Continuing along the vein of [c]Irresistible Prey[/c] we arrive at the straight up removal spell [c]Prey Upon[/c]. Green decks of all kinds can find a cantrip that fits their theme perfectly.

Cantrip magic is skill intensive and fun to play. The knowledge of what cantrip you opponent has access to often leads to interesting battles of wit and thought provoking discussion afterwards. Cantrips can allow you to flesh out themes of your deck and reflect the memorization of simple spells that a planeswalking mind like yours might perform out of necessity or arrive at accidentally. Flavorfully, this game variant is an absolute all-star.

However, having said all those good things about it, I have to mention a couple downsides. Without group discussion of which cantrips are boring or repetitive, a game can sometimes dredge on and become a hassle to finish. A game where you are playing against an opponent with cantrips like [c]Oust[/c] or [c]Void Snare[/c] can be insufferable if you are not putting tokens onto the battlefield over and over. Decks of specific colors also run into problems selecting a cantrip. White has significantly less diversity and quantity of Cantrips and neither white nor red have cantrips which explicitly draw you a card. Despite these problems Cantrip Magic is a fresh and entertaining variant to sprinkle into your commander night.

That’s it for my article on Cantrip magic. What is on the plate for my next article? What kind of commander related topics do you want to see on your screen? Should I write about another Commander variant or discuss some house rules? You decide.

Commander Concepts: Get Your Free Cards Here!

Abzan-Beastmaster-FNM-artwork

In a previous article I gave some options for which article I should write next. The comment sections has spoken and this is the article you asked for. You wanted an article about getting card advantage from your opponents’ decks. I aim to please so let’s get started!

We all build our decks with our opponents’ decks in mind. We do this even without knowing we are doing it. For example if someone in your group has an [c]Edric, Spymaster of Trest[/c] deck and someone else has a [c]Krenko, Mob Boss[/c] deck then you know right away that a slow, crawling, casual [c]Dakkon Blackblade[/c] deck is not a great idea. I am not bringing this up to talk about deck speed however; I want to talk about my favorite topic: card advantage!

You are probably thinking that you can’t get card advantage out of your opponents’ deck. I am writing to tell you that you can get more than card advantage from your opponents’ decks, but also deck space! How?!

One way to get card advantage from your opponents’ decks is to play cards that will be guaranteed to be good in your deck or playgroup. Having useless cards in your hand is card disadvantage. A second way is to play cards that destroy or nullify cards or strategies your opponents play. A third way is to cast spells which force your opponents to spend their resources on another player. I will talk about all of these topics but first I need to mention an important tool. That tool is knowledge.

In order to get card advantage from your opponents you have to know what is in your opponents’ decks. This concept is as important as knowing your own deck. You do not need perfect information on their decks but a working knowledge will do you wonders.

Why do you want to know about their decks? Because you need to know what you can play more of and what you can play less of. Knowing that, we will start with walking through multiple different deck types and how to get card advantage from each of them.

CONTROL HEAVY PLAYGROUP

There are so many different kinds of control decks in commander so I am going to simplify this issue into two decks. In one corner we have decks which play a lot of counterspells, and in the other corner we have decks that play a lot of removal. Combined this covers the vast majority of control decks you will encounter in commander.

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Save the sphinxes! Ever notice how few sphinxes are in a Magic world? We need a multiverse-wide ban on Sphinx poaching.

My playgroup often has control heavy games that seem to have more removal than permanents to blow up. The nigh uncountable number of [c]Wrath of God[/c] effects and [c]Disenchant[/c] effects make permanents feel more like sorceries. It is almost unbelievable how close to reality that last comparison actually is. However, these control decks play few counterspells since they are so much worse in commander.

So how do you get card advantage out of this? Playing few permanents and resilient ones makes the control player’s removal useless against you. This decision both frees up deck slots and nullifies their cards granting you virtual card advantage. Eventually those same useless cards will be spent on your other opponents’ permanents. Now that your opponents are blowing each other’s’ stuff up you get even more card advantage!

This all means you have turned your opponents’ removal into your own removal. You now have both your removal spells and the control player’s removal in your deck. If you added up all the removal spells you will probably find there is a couple cards too many. Knowing that fact you can easily start cutting some from your own deck. This notion may sound ridiculous but I have tested it and it works consistently.

Now you have freed up a lot of deck space cutting vulnerable permanents and dead removal and need to find cards to replace them. What do you fill it with to beat those control decks? The simplest thing to add is more cards which your opponents must answer.

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Kamahl? Check. Random creatures? Check. Tons of mana? Check. Opponents willing to watch me do the math? Nope, already shuffling ….

My midrange, token deck led by [c]Kamahl, Fist of Krosa[/c] often had this problem. To compensate I chose to add the cards [c]Tooth and Nail[/c], [c]Craterhoof Behemoth[/c], [c]Genesis Wave[/c], [c]Beastmaster’s Ascension[/c], [c]Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger[/c], [c]Spawnsire[/c], and [c]Regal Force[/c]. All of these cards can, and often will, immediately win me the game. This constantly looming immediacy puts too much pressure on control decks. If the control players falter once against decks full of potent cards like these you will emerge victorious.

cryptic command art

First he tapped one and three blue then he spoke the most villainous words of all, “counter draw.” And the table let out a great sigh of disgust as they once more began to shuffle their cards.

Playing against counterspell heavy control decks is simpler. Do not stop attacking them and convince others to do the same. They cannot counter every creature you cast and they definitely cannot counter every creature that gets cast that game. We all know control decks love to, and need to, draw a lot of cards. If you kill them early you have essentially countered every future spell they would have drawn. Seems like card advantage to me.

AGGRO HEAVY PLAYGROUP

Getting card advantage from aggro decks is nothing like getting it from control decks. But control decks do teach us how to do it. [c]Wrath of God[/c] is card advantage pure and simple and this is the matchup best suited for it.

Some aggro decks use multiple combat steps, tokens, or damage doublers. I am looking at you Aurelia and Krenko. They do not play as many creature cards as some aggro decks so a Wrath effect is often not quite as good as it normally is. [c]Propaganda[/c], [c]Ghostly Prison[/c], and [c]Silent Arbiter[/c] are perfect for these situations. Indestructible blockers and creatures with deathtouch work pretty well too.

All of those aforementioned permanents act as deterrent to the aggro player. If your opponent is not attacking you then they are attacking another player. This means you do not spend resources to beat them or kill their creatures. Therefore your other opponents are spending removal on those bothersome aggro creatures. You know what I call your opponent spending cards to stop another opponent from killing them? I call it “card advantage.” Brilliant name right?

MIDRANGE HEAVY PLAYGROUP

Midrange decks are playing a lot of powerful individual cards. Additionally, many midrange decks have a rather even split among card types. These decks are intentionally designed to be difficult to metagame against and accidentally designed to be difficult for opponents to get card advantage out of. To solve these discussion disturbances I will resort to an ancient discussion technique called “the example.”

patron wizard art

Okay guys, watch out for Grandpa. He has been in a storytelling mood and we don’t want another lecture based on his Kamahl deck.

Many decks, including every one of mine, have a theme or two. Often people think of themes as referring to a creature type. While that idea is correct, a theme also refers to strategies, card types, or even zones that a deck constantly uses and invests in throughout the game. Kamahl is one such midrange deck. It invests in obtaining large quantities of mana, collecting random bodies to give +3/+3 and trample, and replaying powerful cards from the graveyard.

Now you could randomly stab at my graveyard with a card like [c]Leyline of the Void[/c] or you could consider the way the other two themes interact. Most decks are made up of a plethora of moving pieces which combine together like cogs in a machine in order to fulfill a purpose, like winning the game. Most importantly, decks often play similar cards which can be used interchangeably. In the most general of terms my Kamahl deck is made up of both creatures and things to make all of my creatures bigger. Both parts of the deck have to combine in order for it to run smoothly. Disrupt one part and you disrupt the other.

What I am saying is twofold: “I cannot pump up all my creatures if I have none” and “my creatures don’t do much if they are small.” You do not have to stop every card I play, just stop me either from making guys or from pumping them up. Either option nullifies the other. Nullified cards are wasted cards, and wasted cards mean card advantage for you! Disrupt a deck’s theme and you will likely see rest of the deck stumble to function.

THE CONCLUSION

Today we covered a lot. First we covered learning about your opponents’ decks; about who is the beat down and who is the control. We learned to attack counterspell control decks and to convince others to help us. We discovered that cutting removal against removal based control decks can get you deck space and force the control player to spend more of his removal on everyone else. On top of that we learned to play blockers, Wrath effects, and other attacking deterrent against aggro players. We also uncovered that themes in midrange decks often interact and that disrupting one theme can make the other useless. We learned that a wasted card means card advantage for somebody. Finally, we learned that I like examples involving Kamahl way too much, which is probably the most important thing you can take way from this.

Last of all I want to let you, the readers, to help me pick out what my next topic is about. I could go deep on the topic of the different zones of magic and how to manage them, or I could talk about the strategy surrounding permanents. Let me know below. I do also post this to my local Magic groups’ Facebook page so their input is included as well.

Lines in the Sand: Commander Rules Updates

time reversal Commander rules have been updated. Sam delves into the changes and their implications.

Ladies and gents, the world has changed. We have received an update from the commander Rules Committee. This is technical talk time.

The rules for commanders getting put into your library or into your hand now have an added replacement effect which you may apply. This replacement effect allows you to put the commander in the command zone instead of either of those places. Additionally, you still get to choose where your commander goes regardless of who controls it when either of these things happen.

In the end, who does this update help? Who is the target audience? What does it mean for those besides the target audience? Answers are at the ready.

hallowed burial card spell crumple card chaos warp card

This update strategically benefits everyone who needs access to their commander at all times.

Combo commanders like [c]Zur, the Enchanter[/c], [c]Maralen of the Mornsong[/c], and [c]Sharuum the Hegemon[/c] heavily benefit from this change as their ability to win hinges on having their commander available. Aggressive decks like [c]Krenko, Mob Boss[/c] and [c]Aurelia, the Warleader[/c] also love this update. Finally, voltron decks such as [c]Uril, the Miststalker[/c] and [c]Rafiq of the Many[/c] swoon over this change.

I will point out that many of these commanders, and strategies in general, did not need the help. The decks are good enough without the Rules Committee helping them out.

cultural exchange

Making some decks better was not the goal of the change though.

The goal was to make it so players got to play their cards more often. The fact of the matter is that most players are not heavily invested in the Magic community. Most players do not come to shops to play Magic. Most players do not post on forums or decklist websites. Most players do not read articles. Many players already play Commander believing this rule change is how commander has always worked. These players want to play Magic more than they want to win games of magic.

Letting them have access to their commander more often accomplishes this goal.

With this knowledge in mind it makes perfect sense to implement this change. As someone who does all of the above community interactions however, I think this change will negatively impact my play group and many others.

What can playgroups who do not feel bad about shuffling a problematic commander do to compensate for the loss of such a simple and elegant solution?

The answer is simple; you can do almost nothing to replace these answers. Magic has very few solutions which will get around this. Some colors literally have no replacements for the cards they lost. Cards which could fill this gap include: [c]Lignify[/c], [c]Song of the Dryads[/c], [c]Control Magic[/c], and [c]Arrest[/c].

These may not be great solutions but if your group really needs answers to problem commanders these may be the best you can get.

Players can do a few things about the games themselves however. The players can talk about how competitive they want the upcoming game to be. My group has both very casual decks, like Tribal Sphinxes and Skip My Own Turns, and also has competitive decks like Zur and Krenko. We discuss competitiveness of the next game every time we play. This is easy for us as we collectively have around 15 decks to choose from every game night.

allied strategiesIf all else fails and your group starts to get less fun you have one last bastion of hope, your words. Talk to your friends if the playgroup becomes less fun for you. Magic is a hobby after all and it is supposed to be fun and relaxing, not just competitive and challenging. Communication saves play groups.

Today, I sign off with a quote from my cousin Matt concerning the Rules Committee and their job of accommodating both casual and competitive players:

“The problem with Commander is that it encompasses so much of Magic. There are thousands of plays that are arguably degenerate, and no real way to distinguish what ‘crosses the line.’ They can’t draw their line in the sand without dramatically changing the game.”

See ya next week!

Dragons of Tarkir Commander Set Review

DRAGONS! Dragons! Dragons! Dragons! Dergons! Dargons! Dagons! Mehrunes Dagon? Skyrim? Skyrim has dragons! Welcome to ADHD: the Gathering!

“Original Dragon.”

shivan dragon

First off, Magic is a game of many formats. Most sets these days are designed for the most played formats: sealed and standard. Therefore most cards are not designed for commander. I won’t go over every card, but I will chat about the ones that look fun or powerful or ones that I believe will probably let you down.

Second thing I want to say is that I will mention [c]Scion of the Ur-Dragon[/c] a LOT. I know many builds exist from casual to [c]Hermit Druid[/c] combo and I have played against many different ones. All I will say about the style you should play is: have fun with your deck.

[c]Dragonlord Dromoka[/c]: Elder dragons are back with a vengeance! This dragon is adept at protecting you and just swinging for damage. Her ability to sop your opponents from messing with you makes her a very viable commander. Even if you do not like her that much I think you should give at least one of these Elder Dragons a chance considering they are the reason this format exists. So give it a try for new old times’ sake. Or is it old new times’ sake. So confused.

[c]Dragonlord Ojutai[/c]: Flying card selection is amazing. This guy is as majestic as they get. Attack for damage to draw cards. Everything is awesome about this card. Commander quality for sure.

[c]Dragonlord Kolaghan[/c]: Look, we all know his paragraph of text at the bottom of the card is irrelevant in commander, but he is [c]Fervor[/c] on a flier. That is powerful. Most every equipment makes him a three shot in the commander damage department too. Scion decks looking to cast [c]Living Death[/c] might like him too. Might.

[c]Dragonlord Atarka[/c]: [c]Bogardan Hellkite[/c] with +3/+3, trample, and a sweet set of antlers for one less mana! She can attack for 24 commander damage in three turns. Definitely a lethal damsel. She is large and in charge. Clears the skies and invokes fears. Did I mention the sweet antlers?

[c]Dromoka’s Command[/c]: Many modes on each of these commands. I will talk about all of them at once. They are extremely versatile cards that can often be two for ones. Commander has a lot of weird scenarios so even the cheaper, more specific ones will likely come up. People do play the single colored commands that I think are not very good so regardless of what I think of the power of some of these, I know they can and should see play on versatility alone.

[c]Ruthless Deathfang[/c]: So great with [c]Grimgrin, Corpse-Born[/c]. Just a cheaper [c]Butcher of Malakir[/c] in that kind of deck.

[c]Duress[/c]: I know it has been printed before, but she looks so angry… No she did not make me mention this card. Please… she roared SO loudly. Just play the card before she roars at me again.

[c]Clone Legion[/c]: Much less powerful than Rite of Replication. I know it looks better, but it is not as good at exploiting enters the battlefield abilities.

[c]Risen Executioner[/c]: It is a lord, but…he costs so much to recast from the graveyard. I guess at least you have the option. Regardless a lord is a lord. All hail tribal!

[c]Surrak, the Hunt Caller[/c]: Too small, play Kamahl. I still believe [c]Kamahl, Fist of Krosa[/c] is the best way to go about aggressive green. Looks cool, but will probably be a flop.

[c]Deathbringer Regent[/c]: [c]Reiver Demon[/c] supplement. The dragon is much better in black heavy play groups.

[c]Blessed Reincarnation[/c]: Fun polymorph/removal effect.

[c]Berserker’s Onslaught[/c]: Hey Philip! Put this in Aurelia. Seriously. Quad damage. This is a very potent card in aggressive decks. Not as good if most of your creatures only have one power, but good nonetheless.

[c]Explosive Vegetation[/c]: Hey! New commander players! Play this card!

[c]Illusory Gains[/c]: Every chaos player should know about this card. Embrace the Chaos!

[c]Living Lore[/c]: Weird card. Looks like fun. It has some combos with reanimation spells.

[c]Foul Renewal[/c]: Value train. Combos well with [c]Chancellor of the Spires[/c].

[c]Volcanic Vision[/c]: Target Plague Wind. Win. Perfect for a powerful late game control deck like [c]Nicol Bolas[/c]. That is where I am putting the first one I get.

[c]Sight of the Scalelords[/c]: Not [c]Craterhoof Behemoth[/c], but Craterhoof costs a lot of cash and only happens once. Will I play it in my green decks? No. Would I blame you for it? No.

[c]Sarkhan’s Triumph[/c]: Great card for [c]Kaalia of the Vast[/c] or just a casual dragons deck.

[c]Dragon Whisperer[/c]: Big dude attack opponent. Big dude make more big dudes.

[c]Damnable Pact[/c]: Extremely potent draw spell. This may not be Necropotence, but it is way more likely to resolve. This can also kill an opponent. This sweet draw spell should be an auto include for any mono black commander other than [c]Erebos, God of the Dead[/c].

[c]Zephyr Scribe[/c]: Here we have another powerful card selection tool from the Jeskai clan. This guy will be awesome every time you cast him. It is going straight into my Nicol Bolas Deck.

[c]Hedonist’s Trove[/c]: Because of how lands work in commander you will never be able to cast spells that are not in your commanders’ color profile. I recommend against putting this in a mono black list. Otherwise, it looks like a lot of fun.

[c]Dragon Tempest[/c]: All hail Scion of the Ur-Dragon. This is a sweet card for any red flier’s deck. [c]Kaalia of the Vast[/c] is going to use this to great effect.

[c]Radiant Purge[/c]: Great removal that will always have a target.

[c]Blood-Chin Fanatic[/c]: Hey Kresh players! [c]Kresh, the Bloodbraided[/c] is a Warrior! Three mana 3/3 with a built in fling for Kresh? Sounds awesome!

[c]Shaman of the Forgotten Ways[/c]: He taps to cast [c]Biorhythm[/c]. [c]Biorhythm[/c] is banned. Do not spend much cash on this guy because I sense a fall of the Ban Hammer. But hey, until then it should be fun to kill people like commander players of old did.

[c]Profound Journey[/c]: I have no idea how good this is. I suspect it will probably not be as good as [c]Sun Titan[/c] but that is a pretty high bar. I really do not know. Art is pretty though.

[c]Sidisi, Undead Vizier[/c]: I do not like open ended tutors in my decks. Repeatable ones are the worst offenders in my opinion because I like diverse games. That said, this card is very good and will play well in zombie strategies and control strategies. Sweet with [c]Trading Post[/c] due to the cheap creatures to sacrifice. Goats vs. Zombies is a great name for the next hit video game. Just saying. Just. Saying.

narset-love

“*Swoon!*”

[c]Narset Transcendant[/c]: Absolutely god tier planeswalker for commander control decks. Starts with six loyalty, draws cards better than [c]Domri Rade[/c] does in devoted strategies, and let’s not forget how absurd Rebound is. She is just so powerful. Also, I have a new favorite artist. Sorry Raymond Swanland.

sarkhan-unbroken

“Deal with it!”

[c]Sarkhan Unbroken[/c]: First, a brief aside… Look, I know he time traveled, but that does not constitute making a character blue. Karn is still colorless! Back to the card. Holy cheese bagels batman! This guy just straight up draws cards! Narset suddenly looks a little feebler. Whatever deck you put this in will love it. I do not feel the need to justify this guy. He is just SO good! He also makes 4/4 fliers? “Mom? Are they allowed to make magic cards this good? They are? Dang.” All my decks suddenly feel like they have a five-drop shaped hole in them. This is so unsettlingly good. Did I mention this card is good?

[c]Haven of the Spirit Dragon[/c]: [c]Scion of the Ur-Dragon[/c] and [c]Kaalia of the Vast[/c]. Nuff said.

Well that wraps up my set review! Hope you guys enjoyed it! Got some different opinions about the cards I mentioned? Post them below! Think I should have mentioned a card? Say so below! See ya next week!

Commander Concepts: What’s In a Card?

sheoldred whispering one

Welcome to my first article of Commander Concepts!

My name is Samuel, but you gorgeous gents and gals can call me Sam. I am a Magic player who loves powerful cards, but I love something else even more: card interactions! I have one goal for this column. I want to share what I have learned about Commander with the community. But I would love to learn from you guys too so feel free to post your ideas in the comments below. Also, at the end of each article I am going to give the readers the option to choose the topic of my next article. With my introduction out of the way let’s dive in!

We all know the feeling. Sitting in an uncomfortable chair, hands pulling on your hair as you stare out across a table littered with cards. You have been glaring at these cards with such intensity that you have yet to notice your elbows are starting to ache as they rest upon the solid surface of the table. Your eyes are focused on a Commander deck and you want it to be perfect.

Whether you are looking at a deck you want to make some changes to or finally building your first deck after months of nagging from your friends, the scene changes little. For me it is quite common to have so many cards on the table while building a deck, or tuning one, that I can barely see the table. We have not even mentioned the cards you have thought about trading for or buying! The number of cards to think about can be completely overwhelming at times.

Whether the deck does not look right, play right, or just FEEL right the changes must happen anyway, and I want to help you make those changes.

My goal for today’s article is to help make some of you guys’ tough choices a little bit easier. To do this I want to go over three powerful concepts of card selection and combo crafting. One of these concepts was written about, and named, by Adam Styborski here.

He called it Harmonic Synergy. The other two concepts may have names, but I call them “one card combos” and “zero card combos.” First, let’s talk about what I mean by “combo.” I do not mean every one or zero card combo will instantly win you the game, but some will. What I do mean is that the cards play extremely well together and generally start netting you free card advantage with zero additional work, or very little.

slivers playing poker Not to be confused with Harmonic Slivergy, which is a different beast entirely.

Now that we have that cleared up let’s get an example of a one card combo and start looking at what makes it different from the “two card combos” and “three card combos” we have all heard about. One card combos involves two specific cards. Yes, you read that correctly, two different cards. How does that work? Well it is a one card combo so it only costs you one card from your hand. The second card does not come from your hand so the entire combo only costs you mana and one card. Where does the second card come from? Well in a game of Commander we have these things called … Commanders! They sit in their own game zone where we can cast them whenever we want. If they get put into the graveyard or exile from anywhere you can put them in the command zone instead, at a cost of more mana next time you cast them.

The command zone is like having an extra card in your hand, but it keeps coming back to your hand. It is like starting the game with eight cards in your hand. If during every game of Magic I played with a specific deck I was allowed to start with the same extra card in my hand, I would certainly build my deck around it.

That idea of exploiting consistency in a highly varied, singleton format by making a combo with your commander is exactly what this kind of card combo is trying to accomplish. A perfect example of this kind of one card combo is [c]Sheoldred, Whispering One[/c] and [c]Reaper from the Abyss[/c]. Combined you will normally get to kill about two creatures on each of your opponents’ turn. Sheoldred is always patiently waiting for you to cast her from the command zone so she can kill some creatures. Therefore, she does not cost you a card from your hand. [c]Reaper from the Abyss[/c] is the only card you need to draw, or tutor for, in order to set this combo up. This match made in Phyrexia almost instantly grants free value!

Examples of this kind of combo can be much more devastating than just killing a few creatures. [c]Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon[/c] goes with [c]Lashwrithe[/c] to kill people easily. [c]Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker[/c] has [c]Zealous Conscripts[/c] to instantly win the game. [c]Progenitus[/c] has either [c]Finest Hour[/c] or [c]Rafiq of the Many[/c] to start killing people in one swing.

Not every instance of this kind of one card combo is an instant kill or works perfectly without any additional effort. [c]Teysa, Orzhov Scion[/c] plus [c]Darkest Hour[/c] sets you up to combine the concepts of “card plus commander” and “card plus average draw from my deck” (which we will talk about in a second.) The average [c]Teysa, Orzhov Scion[/c] deck generally has spare creatures or sacrifice outlets lying around to set you up to start exiling every creature your opponents have. If you are thinking that starts to feel like a three or four card combo, then you would be right. The important thing is not about what kind of combo we are discussing, but that you have now got that kind of synergy, or positive interaction, in your deck and in your mind to use when building future decks.

Next we will discuss Adam’s kind of “combo,” Harmonic Synergy. This is a combo between one card and the rest of your deck. Think of it as a card which has a lot of synergy with your average draw. This is usually the weakest kind of interaction in this article. Let’s look at an example.

sun titan 2

[c]Sun Titan[/c] gets to bring something back from your graveyard pretty often, but if you decided to build a commander deck which is almost exclusively made of instants and sorceries, [c]Sun Titan[/c] is going to be a rather boring 6/6. If your deck has cards like [c]Seal of Cleansing[/c] and [c]Soul Snare[/c] then the [c]Sun Titan[/c] will start to glow a little. Add a couple of cheap creatures into the deck, throw in an [c]Oblivion Ring[/c], drop in a [c]Mind Stone[/c], and plop down a [c]Tormod’s Crypt[/c] and suddenly that [c]Sun Titan[/c] starts to be a pretty brilliant card. You can quickly arrive at a point of critical mass where there are so many cards in your deck that are good by themselves and get better with [c]Sun Titan[/c] that the idea of not including the gold giant seems ludicrous. For a [c]Sun Titan[/c] to be very strong you need your deck to have this critical mass.

There are tons of cards that fall into the same vein as [c]Sun Titan[/c].

Some notable ones of each color are: [c]Birthing Pod[/c], [c]Mnemonic Wall[/c], [c]Deadeye Navigator[/c], [c]Craterhoof Behemoth[/c], [c]Mentor of the Meek[/c], [c]Twilight Drover[/c], [c]Phyrexian Delver[/c], [c]Past in Flames[/c], [c]Thousand-Year Elixir[/c], and [c]Voltaic Key[/c].

Some one card combos may actually just do nothing by themselves, like [c]Voltaic Key[/c], but if your deck is built to support it, then in an average game the card will do something.

These interactions are cool, but I am willing to bet that you want to hear about those “zero card combos” I talked about earlier.

Zero card combos range in function from acting like a wish effect, like [c]Cunning Wish[/c], to a true combo like Sheoldred plus Reaper. The idea of a zero card combo may sound ridiculous, but I believe you probably have seen one at the Magic table already.

For the combo to actually require zero cards we will need to exploit the idea that your commander is virtually always in your hand. You never need to find it or tutor for it so again, it does not cost a card in this math equation. Having your commander in play is not a combo though (unless your commander uses lands like [c]Kamahl, Fist of Krosa[/c].) Most people think a combo needs two cards but what if your commander searched your library for a card?

[c]Scion of the Ur-Dragon[/c] has more zero card combos than most. Simply activating his ability grants you access to cards like: [c]Nicol Bolas[/c] to control peoples’ hands, [c]Dragon Tyrant[/c] to kill people, and [c]Scourge of Kher Ridges[/c] for a free wrath.

Another of those “zero card combo” commanders is [c]Captain Sisay[/c]. She can just tap to get free cards, but that does not make it a combo. Search for [c]Karametra, God of Harvests[/c] and then each creature you cast grants extra value whether you got it from a random draw or tutored for it.

[c]Reki, History of Kamigawa[/c] also functions as a zero card combo when searched for with [c]Captain Sisay[/c]. These commanders have some awesome zero card combos, but no commander that I can think of has more than [c]Zur the Enchanter[/c]. We all know a lot about good old Zur so I do not feel the need to go over his immense arsenal of options.

One card combos for your commander can be tricky to spot. They have a variety of different forms and power levels but they are out there and they are everywhere. They have low deck building costs and immense upside. The simplest way to find them is to find the things that make your commander tick. The things that your commander does best are the things you want to support.

For a simplistic example let us take a look at [c]Borborygmos Enraged[/c]. If he is your commander then you want a way to get lands in your hand. One easy way is to play [c]Life from the Loam[/c]. Another such card for Big ol’ Bor-Bor is [c]Creeping Renaissance[/c]. Either way you have repeatable ways to get value out of your commander which is the whole point of this kind of one card combo.

Some one card combos are more obvious than others and some commanders are incredibly difficult to find a combo piece for. Some simply have zero one card combo pieces. Most have something, though, so if you are having a hard time figuring out a combo piece then feel free to post the name of your commander in the comments below. I will try my best to figure out some combo pieces.

Happy deck-building and happy tuning!

-Sam

P.S. As a sign off of sorts I want to give the readers some options about what kind of article I write next. Should I breakdown one of my decklists or should I talk about getting card advantage out of your opponents’ decklists?