I’ve got plans for 21 different Commander decks.
Sure, not all of them are built yet, but one of my favorite parts of the Commander format is building and retooling decks. I’ve put together plenty of decks only to tear them apart later (maybe I should be doing this on MTGO).
Exploring how decks change between sets is something that’s fascinating and I don’t see on many Commander sites (Let me know if I’m wrong). I’m looking to do something different with my decks and track what the changes are. I think we can learn a lot from ourselves and the format if we chronicle the metamorphosis of our Commander decks.
Each of my Commander decks has a different version number, starting with 1.0 for the first set I work at catalog on them; i.e, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger 1.0 was started in Battle for Zendikar. Since this is a new process, most of the decks will be versions 1.0, I have several built from Battle for Zendikar and Commander 2015 that are versions 1.0. With so many decks, it makes it awkward to constantly work on the same ones over. So to make things fair between the decks, every time a new set is released I put them in a random order and I’ll work on them as I can. Except this time I chose my Ulamog deck because of the complete turnover of the deck.
(Instead of linking every single card here, I suggest you use browser extensions if you want to see what the cards are if you’re unfamiliar with them. The website AutocardAnywhere.com has links to the most popular browsers.)
There’s the adage of “If you pull a foil Commander, you have to build a deck around them.” So after pulling a foil Japanese Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger (#Humblebrag) I knew what had to be done. However, I didn’t know what direction the deck should go. Ulamog is a big honking Eldrazi that wants to smash face. With all of my Commander decks, I like to do something different with each one of them (they can have the same cards, but each has a different goal of winning). Ulamog was my first colorless Commander, I thought I would try out a hybrid Artifact/Eldrazi deck and see how it went.
It’s not, how you say, ideal. There were a few problems when I put together the deck as there were some ideas that were fleshed out while others just went half-way. When I first put together decks it either goes rather well and I know I’m on the right path or the deck is a complete disaster as it’s trying to do too many things. Ulamog fell into the second camp. I’m a Johnny/Spike which, for the uninitiated, means I like to build wacky decks and want to win on my own terms, but I still like to win. My builds will be more efficient than not, but there are some cards that one can easily get rid of if they’re looking for a more “competitive” 99.
Here’s a look at Ulamog 1.0 (BFZ)
(Tappedout.com link that opens in a new window)
I had hoped that Oath of the Gatewatch had some cards as at the moment it was a patchwork deck just to but something together. Not only did this deck get its new Commander in Kozilek (I gush about it in my Legendary Creature OGW review), but it now has more of an identity than before. This 1.0 version has a hybrid artifact/Eldrazi mix that’s pretty awkward to mess around with. Several cards stand out as mistakes to put in here.
Goal of the Deck
This deck, as it was constructed, just didn’t have a goal of doing anything. Ramp into a big creature and swing was, I guess, the main objective. There were some artifacts to protect and control the board until a big honking Eldrazi or Myr Battlesphere lands on the battlefield. It’s not earth shattering, but it’s a viable tactic. Attacking with a 10/10 indestructible Commander can be fun but if I was looking to ramp quickly, I wasn’t doing the deck justice by committing to the concept full term. Plus, a card with Annihilator (such as the original Ulamog) would effect the board quicker than exiling 20 cards in the library. All in all, the deck just was.
The Myr subtheme
Commander is one of the only formats that I think I could get something like Myr Incubator to work. It’s a fun card that you can go for the all out win with Myr Battlesphere. But I didn’t commit to the Myr theme enough to fully justify pushing for the Myr Incubator to go off (43 artifacts sounds like a good number, but there was a complete lack of searching for the artifact so it was a complete gamble if/when I was going to get it). Myr Turbine could get Myr Battlesphere but waiting 5 turns (if none of them were used as blockers) to maybe deal 9 damage on the 6th turn after being cast just seems too slow. It’s fun and cute and maybe just better in a dedicated Myr multiplayer deck which is where it might go. Myr Retriever, Myr Welder, and Shimmer Myr can do enough without relying on other Myr and they might stay.
Not Enough Support
Then there are cards the seem like they would fit great into a picture but just fell flat. Scarecrone is good but not enough artifact creatures to abuse it (is it good with just Junk Diver and Myr Retriver?). Chief of the Foundries looses its luster once Myr Incubator and Myr Turbine are gone (not enough artifact creatures, again). I love Deathless Behemoth’s Raise Dead ability, but only have 1 card that produces Eldrazi Scions (Spawning Bed). Thousand-Year Elixir just sits there with just three creatures with activated abilities. Unwinding Clock untaps my mana producing artifacts on my opponent’s turn where I really can’t cast anything due to the few colorless instants; a single Winding Canyons that wouldn’t be tutuored up first wasn’t a great excuse to keep it in there.
So with this mixture of artifacts and colorless creatures I just had to sit and wait for the next set. After combing through the new cards, and ones I didn’t use in the first go around, I have a pool of cards that could potentially make it in this new deck.
|Creature (11)||Artifact (6)||Land (6)||Instant (2)|
|Kozilek, the Great Distortion
|Aligned Hedron Network||Crumbling Vestige||Spatial Contortion|
|Deceiver of Form||Defense Grid||Eldrazi Temple||Warping Wail|
|Duplicant||Eldrazi Monument||Miren, the Moaning Well|
|Endbringer||Seer’s Lantern||Ruins of Oran-Rief|
|Hedron Crawler||Tangle Wire||Sea Gate Wreckage|
|Matter Reshaper||Thought Vessel||Wastes|
|Soul of New Phyrexia|
Okay, why Kozilek then?
If you didn’t read my OGW Legendary Creature review, here’s the cliffnotes: he’s versatile. A 10/10 for 10 is on curve enough, especially with Menace, that he can be an attack threat if he wants to be. The casting trigger is pretty sweet too later in the game as I can feel comfortable dumping my hand knowing I can draw multiple cards when I cast him. The “free” counterspell means you can react to what your opponents cast more than any other colorless deck which means you do have actions when it’s not your turn.
What needs to be taken into consideration more than ever is the mana curve of the deck. Commander is a format where more expensive (casting cost wise) cards get played. I won’t know the correct curve to use until I play with the deck for a while and see what spells it has trouble with an their CMC (converted mana cost). I recommend writing down the spells that give you trouble and when the time comes to look at the deck again, see what you need to counter them.
Sure, the Commander doesn’t provide any more endgame focus than before, but I like the Menace ability more than the Indestructible one that Ulamog provides. If Ulamog wasn’t attacking, the Commander was pretty useless; Kozilek can sit back and protect the board as a threat other than itself can do damage to opponents. It’s the mixture of the attacking/control threat I really like.
Our easiest section here we can replace some unneeded lands with all six more useful ones. The four that can add any color were placeholders in a colorless deck (Shimmering Grotto, School of the Unseen, Henge of Ramos and Mirrodin’s Core). Phyrexia’s Core is being replaced by the much more Eldrazi friendly Miren, the Moaning Well. And Seraph Sanctuary does nothing when I don’t have Angels. I know that if some plays Ruination (a “fair” Armageddon effect in Commander), I’m done with the game and I’m okay with that. I always run more non-basics than other people anyway. Should more Wastes be in this deck since it is a Basic Land? I don’t know, and that’s something for testing. Having Wastes does allow me to run my favorite colorless creature that I couldn’t to great effect before, Solemn Simulacrum. I’ve had the odd hand of Wastes/Solmen so adding a second Wastes might be good in the next update.
Change of Focus
Artifacts and Colorless cards were battling against each other in the same deck so I looked at what I could do. I’m not saying I’m removing all of the artifact based cards since a number of artifact based creatures were added into the deck. Cards like Mirrorworks, and Scarecrone have fewer targets but at the moment but I like what they can do.
The deck edged upward in larger casting cost spells as with the addition of Eldrazi Temple shifted the idea to get more Eldrazi into the deck. There can be some benefit of adding more mana acceleration if I was just looking to power out Kozilek or other related Eldrazi but I wanted other cards to shine. Now most of the creatures do something that don’t just rely on other cards in the deck for them to work. There’s still plenty of synergy (My Mindless Automation combo made it in), but the cards left are not just waiting for me to draw a relevant spell to make something happen.
My only complaint about the way the deck works now is that there’s a lack of recursion or bounce in the deck. There’s a number of creatures that have enters the battlefield triggers (along with some cast triggers with the Eldrazi) that this deck doesn’t abuse that well. Erratic Portal might make it into the next version if I can’t shake this feeling of the creatures not being cast only once. Due to the color identity rule I can’t run Mirrodin Block all-star cards like Crystal Shard or Skeleton Shard in this deck that I believe this deck could use.
But now that we’ve got more Eldrazi and with Kozilek as the Commander, this deck can be more versatile with how I can choose play during games. Reality Smasher is a great Aggro card with some “protection” built in while Thought-Knot Seer gives the deck some hand disruption it was missing. Spatial Contortion and Warping Wail make great Instants that previous colorless decks just didn’t have. Matter Reshaper can be a powerful bluff card that your opponent might not want to block or see you blocking with. The openness of this deck is what attracts me to play it. It’s got some of the traditional Artifact control cards in here but not unfun multiplayer Artifact cards like Winter Orb or Smokestack.
This deck isn’t an Eldrazi themed deck which is why there are some notable cards missing from the revised list. Desolation Twin is in both my Brion Stoutarm and Trostani deck and this one just doesn’t need it as much. Eldrazi Mimic just changes the P/T and not the abilities so I don’t think it’s useful in the Commander format. The old Kozilek and Ulamog are missing since I still fear of a world where I get Bribery cast against me. Annihilator can be tough to deal with since I just don’t have the type of the deck to sacrifice to if they get them out early enough. Spawmsire of Ulamog is something that I’ll have to see if I need the mana acceleration after 10 mana since I tend to ignore the second ability in Commander.
Here are the changes to the deck:
|Chief of the Foundry||Crumbling Vestige (OGW)|
|Etched Champion||Eldrazi Temple|
|Henge of Ramos||Endbringer (OGW)|
|Ichor Wellspring||Matter Reshaper (OGW)|
|Mirrodin’s Core||Mindless Automaton|
|Myr Battlesphere||Miren, the Moaning Well|
|Myr Incubator||Reality Smasher (OGW)|
|Myr Turbine||Ruins of Oran-Rief (OGW)|
|Phyrexia’s Core||Sea Gate Wreckage (OGW)|
|Prismatic Lens||Seer’s Lantern (OGW)|
|School of the Unseen||Solemn Simulacrum|
|Seraph Sanctuary||Spatial Contortion (OGW)|
|Shimmer Myr||Thought-Knot Seer (OGW)|
|Shimmering Grotto||Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger|
|Thousand-Year Elixir||Warping Wail (OGW)|
|Unwinding Clock||Wastes (OGW)|
Seventeen cards plus the Commander were changed with this new set making it a 18% change in the deck which is pretty huge. Eleven, plus Commander, cards came from the new set which isn’t surprising this this was a colorless set that benefited a colorless Commander. So unless the Shadows over Innistrad block has an artifact theme, this might be the biggest change that this deck will see for some time. Of course, this being version 1.0, there are some choices where I’m sure just fall flat and need testing and playing to find out the right mixture of cards.
The one area that I want to focus on is how Kozilek plays with his counterspell ability. I’m going to keep track of the CMC of cards played against me that I wish I could counter and see how my deck is doing against that. Yes, there will be plenty of times where I just don’t have the right card in my hand, but it’s better to have the CMC of card needed in my deck than just to be blown away because it’s not there. Planar Portal seems like a card I should watch to help Kozilek along if he needs it in the future.
Kozilek, the Great Distortion 1.0 (OGW)
(Tappedout.com link that opens in a new window)
So this is what I’m interested in seeing. With exception to the lands chosen, the card changes in the deck weren’t meant to produce a one for one exchange. I wasn’t trying to match up casting costs or card type, but what I felt was most benefit the construction of the deck. Here are some stats of the changes.
Some shift in the card type mainly coming from the removal of five Artifacts (Artifact Creatures count as Creatures for these numbers). With focusing less on Artifacts, it makes sense that there’s less of them. Forty Lands might seem a little high but luckily most of those can do something else besides adding mana (four of those removed only filtered colored mana but since we don’t have any cards that take advantage of the new mana producing rules, those were easy choices to remove).
And even with the change of 12 cards, there was very little change in the overall curve of the deck. Matter Reshaper can still hit 66% of the deck (including lands), so it’s a great choice in here. Sanctum of Ugin triggers off of 14% of the deck but if Kozilek gets cast more than once it ups that percentage. The bump of the CMC of the deck is slight and hardly noticeable: 4.39 for Ulamog to 4.47 for Kozilek.
It’s easier to see power and toughness in two separate graphs. This is the printed P/T even though both Endless One and Mindless Automaton enter the battlefield with something other than their printed 0/0. Ulamog’s average P/T is 4.81/4.9 to Kozilek’s 4.83/4.83. Nominal difference, but as we know with creatures, what’s printed in the text box is equally important as well. Size matters not.
I think when we get several versions of the same deck we can see shifts in the numbers. Two sets of data points are enough to draw conclusions. If you want to see more data numbers (changes in the spells CMC for instance), let me know and I’ll provide them next time. I’m reworking my Commander Spreadsheets so I’ll let you know how that goes in a little while.
This was a pretty simple changeover in deck as there wasn’t too many combo/synergistic pieces in the 99. For the next deck I’m working on, I have a hunch that a mind map may be needed to explain all of the interconnections, which is my usual norm. Colorless decks don’t have the widest ranges of style to play but the new Kozilek does open up some possibilities. I still feel there’s improvement needed in the deck but some games need to get under the belt so see how everything runs. I was a little surprised to see the numbers look so similar; 18 cards can change plenty to the deck but it looks like the 11 non-land/Commander cards didn’t move the needle that much.
I like to build my decks on a “this feels right” style that suits my style of play. Trying out cards that just don’t end up working are a part of the Commander life. This is my “first real” attempt at a colorless deck, and one of the few that I don’t completely built around my Commander. Decks in this format are meant to be a living thing that changes and evolves to different versions with more card releases. Nothing is set in stone. If you’re looking for ideas for your own deck, don’t be afraid to steal them from them and expand on the concept.
Thoughts? Complaints? Suggestions? Leave comments below or tweet them to me (@mtgcolorpie).