[Editors Note: Due to the Commandercast recording session running long (next Monday, enjoy when all of the writers of commandercast join William and Calvin  to talk about CMDR 2013), Nole was unable to put out an article this week. He will be back in two weeks for another edition of (Social) Contract from Below. In the mean time, enjoy another article by Kirsin Koch. If you like his stuff, be sure to leave a comment in the comments below.]

Redditor 956Wulfe (http://www.reddit.com/user/956Wulfe) recently posted (http://www.reddit.com/r/EDH/comments/1o1anv/lgs_t2_edh_challenge/) regarding a local game store’s hosted Standard Commander Challenge and asked for deck building advice. Cassidy Silver last dealt with this type of deck building challenge when Scars of Mirrodin block was legal with a Glissa the Traitor deck (http://magic.tcgplayer.com/db/article.asp?ID=10184). It’s an interesting challenge and inspires exploration of the idea further for a variety of reasons.

A play group may wish to try this format for any number of reasons.  Cassidy Silver noted long ago that Standard Commander decks are a good way to depower any gaming group that has evolved into an arms race. Limiting deck construction to Standard allows deeper exploration of lesser-played card interactions. If a playgroup is trying to incorporate newer players without access to as many card or players on a budget, Standard Commander encourages a more level footing between the various players in the group. A Standard Commander format also has about the same power level as the Commander 2013 product encouraging interaction with that product.

Deck Building Considerations

Tutors

There are a few notable observations to make regarding the Return to Ravnica/Gatecrash/Dragon’s Maze/Magic 2014/Theros card pool. First, the current Standard Commander format like many New World Order designed Standard environments has a minimal number of tutors, reducing the consistency that Eternal Commander can engender. Of all the available tutors, only black’s Diabolic Tutor is unconditional. If a combo deck actually existed in Standard, the lack of tutors in a singleton format makes combo decks ever more unlikely and aggro, control, and midrange strategies de facto archetypes. The list of available tutors currently in Standard are:

Black (unconditional):
Diabolic Tutor

Green (funtionally basic landcyling):

Gatecreeper Vine

Lay of the Land

Seek the Horizon

 

Izzet (three low-casting cost instants):

Firemind’s Foresight

 

Golgari (creature only):

Jarad’s Orders

 

Artifact

Ring of Three Wishes

Traveler’s Amulet

Any player building for a Return to Ravnica/Gatecrash/Dragon’s Maze/Magic 2014/Theros Standard Commander challenge should automatically that each opponent will be running Ring of Three Wishes. It’s comparable to a slightly more expensive Jayemdae Tome for decks lacking card draw and is an obvious, extremely strong multiple use tutor, especially for control and acceleration decks. Lastly, Traveler’s Amulet functions as a basic landcycling spell for all decks.

Mana Acceleration

Next, mana acceleration decks must have a strong green component. Outside of Chromatic Lantern, Darksteel Ingot, guild Cluestones, guild Keyrunes, and Opaline Unicorn, non-green Standard Commander decks have no further options. Green decks can utilize up to twelve additional mana accelerants and/or mana fixers which include:

Axebane Guardian

Elvish Mystic

Gyre Sage

Into the Wilds

Karametra’s Acolyte

Mana Bloom

Manaweft Sliver

Ordeal of Nylea

Sylvan Caryatid

Verdant Haven

Voyaging Satyr

Deathrite Shaman

Obviously Nylea, Selesnya, Simic, Golgari, and Gruul decks will have a very specific advantage over other Standard Commander decks. In addition to these possible green cards, don’t be surprised if every deck runs a copy of Burnished Hart as a colorless substitute of Ranger’s Path to accelerate or fix mana. Most mono-colored decks will also try to squeeze in Chromatic Lantern and Darksteel Ingot for additional mana reach. All the guild-colored decks will run the appropriate guild Cluestone and Keyrune for additional card draw and battlefield body.

 

Card Advantage

Most importantly, card draw/advantage is heavily regulated to blue, black, and green, putting white, red, and Boros decks at quite a disadvantage. Izzet also has a superior amount of card draw with Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius as a Commander and Mercurial Chemister in the deck.  Mercurial Chemister is a creature that has been showing up more often in Grixis Eternal Commander decks and has proven its worth to both repeatedly draw cards and remove creatures. Simic similarly has lots of options for card draw with Prime Speaker Zegana being a Commander, but is less abusable than Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius. (Red is not included on this list because few of the cards offer complete card advantage.)

 

Blue (draw spells, draw triggers, and repeatable scrying):

Bident of Thassa

Divination

Inspiration

Jace, Architect of Thought

Jace, Memory Adept

Opportunity

Ordeal of Thassa

Prescient Sphinx

Prognostic Sphinx

Scroll Thief

Stealer of Secrets

Thassa’s Emissary

Thassa, God of the Sea

Windreader Sphinx

 

Black (frequently costs additional life or another resource):

Liliana of the Dark Realms

Altar’s Reap

Blood Scrivener

Dark Prophecy

Erebos, God of the Dead

Read the Bones

Underworld Connections

 

Green (conditionally dependent on creatures or lands):

Garruk’s Horde

Garruk, Caller of Beasts

Nylea’s Presence

Seek the Horizon

Warriors’ Lesson

 

Azorious:

Isperia, Supreme Judge

Righteous Authority

Sphinx’s Revelation

 

Orzhov (conditional and slow):

Triad of Fates

 

Dimir (mostly conditional or slow):

Bane Alley Broker

Coerced Confession

Notion Thief

Pilfered Plans

Soul Ransom

Whispering Madness

 

Izzet:

Blast of Genius

Mercurial Chemister

Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius

Steam Augury

Thoughtflare

 

Simic (conditional on +1/+1 counters or functionally cycling):

Bred for the Hunt

Give//Take

Prime Speaker Zegana

Unexpected Results

Urban Evolution

Zameck Guildmage

 

Golgari (repeatable, conditional scrying):

Reaper of the Wilds

 

Artifact (repeatable scrying):
Witches’ Eye

Witches’ Eye is possibly one of the most interestingly innocuous cards available to a Standard Commander deck. For the sorcery speed cost of {2} and tapping a creature, a player could scry repeatedly regardless of deck color during their turn. This is as close to Crystal Ball a deck pilot will find in this environment outside of Thassa, God of the Sea and Crystal Ball is often called a “poor player’s Sensei’s Divining Top” by budget Commander players.

 

Creature Removal

Lastly, creature removal will be most likely one of the most difficult aspects of a Standard Commander challenge. This format is missing many of the more-efficient, non-conditional, flexible, and instant speed staples and board wipes available in the Eternal card pool. Mass creature removal is mostly the domain of white and blue making Azorious the most obvious creature and board control guild.  A list of possible removal and board wipes in Standard Commander looks like this, but is not a conclusive list:

 

White:

Angelic Edict

Angel of Serenity

Banisher Priest

Celestial Flare

Elspeth, Sun’s Champion

Luminate Primordial

Spear of Heliod

Planar Cleansing

Trostani’s Judgment

 

Blue:

Ætherize

Colossal Whale

Curse of Swine

Cyclonic Rift

Rapid Hybridization

Sea God’s Revenge

Voyage’s End

 

Black:

Assassin’s Strike

Doom Blade

Grisly Spectacle

Hero’s Downfall

Keepsake Gorgon

Launch Party

Liturgy of Blood

Shadowborn Demon

Sip of Hemlock

Ultimate Price

 

Red:
[card]Anger of the Gods[/card

Azorious:

Azorious Charm

Detention Sphere

Supreme Verdict

 

Orzhov:

Ashen Rider

High Priest of Penance

Merciless Eviction

Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts

Triad of Fates

Boros:

Chained to the Rocks

 

Selesnya:
Selesnya Charm

 

Dimir:

Far//Away

 

Simic:

Simic Charm

 

Rakdos:

Dreadbore

 

Golgari:

Gaze of Granite

Putrefy

Vraska the Unseen

 

Colorless:

Ratchet Bomb

Volatile Rig

 

Mana Base

Mono-colored decks in a Standard Commander format are quite limited in the number of utility lands and dual lands available. Two of the three types of dual lands, ten guild gates and five scrying Temples, enter the battlefield tapped, further reducing the speed of non-green decks. The third type, shocklands, allow the expected flexibility with loss of life, but have no sterotypical fetchlands to pair with them.  The remaining utility lands that are applicable to the format are:

Encroaching Wastes

Grove of the Guardian

Mutavault

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

Rogue’s Passage

Shimmering Grotto

Thespian’s Stage

Transguild Promenade

Unknown Shores

A player using Encroaching Wastes has the ability to knock an opponent out of a crucial color or utility land at the right time. So reasonably assume every deck will be running Encroaching Wastes. This presumption is why Standard Commander brewers will probably want avoid running Shimmering Grotto, Thespian’s Stage, Transguild Promenade, and Unknown Shores. Additionally, Shimmering Grotto and Unknown Shores are simply inefficient to use and are unfetchable with Burnished Hart, making them even less desirable. Basic lands are less flexible, but they’re much less complicated in this narrower card pool.

Summation

Notably, Standard Commander is currently missing many stereotypical “enters the battlefield” creatures, exceptionally strong Equipment, and graveyard value recursion. For instance, there is currently no no targeted instant speed removal for white, counterspells with “draw a card” text in blue, artifact manipulation for red, and Acidic Slime for green. The Gatecrash Primordial cycle should also have an even larger impact on longer games than they already do due to slower games and lack of efficient board control cards. Additionally, the mana base of each deck will be impacted with the limitation of dual lands and decks run an increased risk of mana problems.

One of the issues that Standard Commander players–particularly players that power down from Eternal or Modern Standard to this format–will notice noncreature cards are more problematic or impactful without the ability to answer those threats. The Theros indestructible Gods will be glaring for players’ inability to react outside of Angelic Edict, Fade into Antiquity, Council of the Absolute, and Merciless Eviction or counterspells.  Once a Theros God makes it into play, the legendary permanent will continually impact the game until its over.

Interestingly, this block has some really unexpected synergies that will be quite entertaining for Johnny type players and harken back to Limited drafting strategies.  Trading Post allows you to recycle Vial of Poison.  Bubbling Cauldron turns your creatures into 4/4 Angels with Angelic Accord.