Commander Tech #1: Hanging on to the magic.

For those times when you feel like playing battlecruiser Magic.

I was really reluctant to do a commander article because I only play the format very casually.   I feel like a lot of commander players like the idea of a “fun and casual” format, but they try and optimize it for THEIR game so much that it turns into a min/max format unintentionally.  I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but I see and hear a lot of commander players pretend that the format is still fun and unstructured when it very clearly has been structured for years.

One of the running themes I’ve noticed in the commander community is that I almost never see any deviation from what is the “best” way to play certain commanders and archetypes. The people who optimize their decks in such a way are often the same people who will talk about how “constructed formats are boring because it’s always the same decks bashing into each other,” but from my experience with commander, that mentality is prevalent there as well.

For me, commander has always been about taking something ordinary and doing something out of the ordinary with it.  My first commander deck was my take on [mtg_card]Sygg, River Guide[/mtg_card].  When you ask people what they see when they look at Sygg, a vast majority are going to tell you that he’s good for tribal Merfolk.  When I saw Sygg, I saw a creature that was almost unblockable and could carry Swords of X and Y VERY well, so that’s where I ran with him.  The deck was basically creatureless aside from creatures that tutored for equipment, and when I played the deck people were always very shocked because it simply wasn’t what they expected when they saw the card.

The problem I have now when I sit down to play a game of commander is that I can identify every strategy that’s going to take place long before anybody even resolves their mulligans.  If you see Omnath, chances are you’re going to watch a guy play ramp spells until something degenerate happens.  If you see Animar, you’re likely to see someone puke out creatures.  Narset is probably going to end up with some guy taking every turn in the game.  Nin is going to give you trust issues with your hand.

Obviously there are commanders that are meant to be played a certain way, and many of them have very polarizing identities associated with them, (it’s pretty obvious how you’re supposed to play cards like Marath and Omnath for instance) but it’s pretty rare that I ever see commanders with less defined roles get any attention.  Those are the ones I want to talk about in this article, because those are the guys that interest me when I think about building a commander deck.

Shu Yun is a really cool card for a lot of different reasons.  He’s a Jeskai commander for starters, which was a color combination that was previously lacking in decent commanders to choose from.  He also has basically no deckbuilding restrictions associated with playing him.  While a lot of commanders lend themselves to building a very linear deck, Shu Yun has a ton of different roads he could go down.  He has a ton of potential as a megatron commander.  He can play degenerate combo because of his color identity.  He has tons of potential as a control commander due to having access to all of the board wiping and countermagic colors…

One of the ways I would personally play him is pseudo-control.  During Scars/Innistrad standard, there was a deck called HippoBlade that played a bunch of maindeck board wipes, and it’s “creatures” were all things that started out as artifacts and animated into creatures.  Just off of the top of my head, Shu Yun has access to all of the following board wipes: [mtg_card]Bonfire of the Damned[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Day of Judgement[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Supreme Verdict[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Wrath of God[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Cyclonic Rift[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Aetherspouts[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Slagstorm[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Terminus[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]End Hostilities[/mtg_card]…and those are just the ones I can think of in the heat of the moment.

As far as your creatures go, you have tons of options.  You have all three of your Keyrunes and Monuments, as well as things like [mtg_card]Chimeric Staff[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Chimeric Mass[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Haunted Plate Mail[/mtg_card], etc.  You can also play a suite of indestructible creatures, some of the obvious powerhouses being [mtg_card]Avacyn, Angel of Hope[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Keranos, God of Storms[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Iroas, God of Victory[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Heliod, God of the Sun[/mtg_card], etc…

Of course, that’s just my take on the deck.  Like I mentioned previously, the beauty of Shu Yun is that he’s so open-ended and can be built in so many different ways.  Maybe I haven’t seen a lot of him yet because he’s a newer card, so in time I expect that someone will probably “break” him too, but I hope it isn’t in a way I would expect.

Molimo is a card that has been around for EVER, and I never get to see anybody play him as a commander even though he is a really awesome beater.  I imagine that Molimo doesn’t see a ton of play because Omnath exists, but the two cards aren’t exactly the same.  While Omnath is just trying to hoard mana, Molimo wants you to play actual lands.  He doesn’t care what those lands do, so he allows for a lot of shenanigans with cards like [mtg_card]Boundless Realms[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Crucible of Worlds[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Scapeshift[/mtg_card], etc.  He also plays well with [mtg_card]Nissa, Vastwood Seer[/mtg_card] and has fun with things like [mtg_card]Liege of the Tangle[/mtg_card].

So you can go on the “lands” plan, which basically revolves around things like [mtg_card]Strip Mine[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Ghost Quarter[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Tectonic Edge[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Winding Canyons[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]High Market[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Maze of Ith[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Yavimaya Hollow[/mtg_card], etc and just having a large portion of your lands being spells.

Then, of course, you have your obvious “play a bunch of my lands really fast and then cast my commander” plan, which is likely to revolve around cards like [mtg_card]Exploration[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Cultivate[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Rampant Growth[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Khalni Heart Expedition[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Boundless Realms[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Explosive Vegetation[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Skyshroud Claim[/mtg_card] and [mtg_card]Howl of the Night Pack[/mtg_card].

I think Molimo is a great deck for people who are still new to commander as a format because while it does have a semi-linear gameplan, it functions on the very fundamentals of Magic: The Gathering; play your lands and play your spells.  I had this deck built as a way to introduce new players to not just commander as a format, but Magic in general, because it’s just fun to cast gigantic spells and have lots of lands when your understanding of the game is still a bit elementary.  While I think a lot of people just buy new players preconstructed commander decks and shove them into their first few games, those decks can be overwhelming to new players because they have a lot of mechanics and things that they do.  Molimo cuts a lot of the away and just gets you to play Magic.  Even as an advanced Magic player, I find cards like this appeal to me because they remind me that not everything in this game has to be complicated.  There are times where you just play your dudes and smash, and that’s okay too.

In closing, I think commander has become a very structured environment, and while I won’t say creativity is dead, I feel like people could use a reminder to step out of the bubble and try some things that may be off of the beaten path.  I plan on writing a few more of these just to point out some sweet commanders that might pique the interest of the curious.

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