This entry is part 14 of 23 in the series Savor That Commander Flavor

By William aka BlueRam

“It is not a goal, but a process—the process of creating the perfect Phyrexia.”

-Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur

I get plenty of emails from my readers asking me how to make flavorful decks. Of course when I  say “plenty”, I really mean one guy who asked me for my opinion on a deck he was trying to throw together. Unfortunately, with a full-time job and a full-time school schedule, I haven’t been able to get back to that guy with proper input, and I’m definitely not sending a half-assed one (but I WILL get back you as soon as I can). So for now, I’m going to give some general advice about how I go about building my decks and how I pick cards to cut and such.

Last week I gave a you a narrative about the “contract” that I made with Damia, as well as the general basis for the deck that I made for her. The overall theme that I was going for was that of “knowledge is the ultimate power”, and I supported that theme with cards that were built around Omniscience, like extra draw effects and ramp effects to hard cast it.

But unlike the story where I walk off the plane with a plan already laid out, the actual process is just that, a process. Today, I’m going to break down how I went about making the deck and provide some more insight to my own personal deck building strategy. It also gives me a chance to draw some comparisons with the narrative to help those who don’t quite get what I was trying to say.

Step One: Start with a Cool Card, Then Postulate

The inspiration for the deck is the same as it was in the narrative. I was trying to figure out a fun way to use Omniscience without cheating it into play with Academy Rector, or abusing it some way.

I feel the need to note that there’s a difference between the great synergy that Omniscience gives Damia and the other “has to be cast to work” creatures in the deck versus the enabling of broken combos that make everyone at the table groan. I’ve found that for the build I use, Omniscience is a VERY powerful card but it’s in no way a game clincher. I’ve lost games that I’ve played Omniscience in. Your experiences probably vary though, so that’s all I’ll say on that particular subject.

Of course, there was a problem that I was looking at with Omniscience from the get go. There was always the chance that it was going to get banned before I got the chance to play with it as often as I wanted to. If I was going to build a deck around Omniscience, then I needed to build a deck that wanted to use it, but could live without it as well.

So, just as I was in the narrative, I was looking to finish collecting the Commander product legends that came out last summer. I figured that I would build a deck for each of the wedge’s at some point. I didn’t want to play The Mimeoplasm because it seemed like most everyone I’d met had a Mimeo deck at some point or another. I was actually much more interested in Damia, though for reasons that had nothing to do with Omniscience. Originally, I was trying to think of a way to build some sort of wizard tribal deck that would include Vela the Night-Clad. At some point, common sense kicked in and the idea to combine Damia’s amazing draw power with Omniscience took hold.

Step Two: Figure Out What You Want to Do

I had my spark. Now, I just needed to fan it a little. A few months ago I saw a video for Edric, Spymaster of Trest that featured nothing but ramp and draw. I knew I wanted something similar. I wanted to ramp as many lands as possible. If I used a bunch of one-shot ramp effects like Kodama’s Reach and Ranger’s Path, then that’d empty my hand enough to maximize Damia’s draw ability.

Since I was already ramping out for a pair of expensive cards, I decided to go ahead and include other huge spells. Omniscience would give me the single scariest board state ever with the humongous monstrosities that I would drop, but I wanted them to be good enough to have a big impact if I had to hardcast them instead.

Step Three: Find Everything You Might Use, Then Turn Them Into a Huge-Ass Stack of Cards

So I outlined my plan of “ramp, refill my hand, then play beasties”. With that in mind, I started tearing through the thousands of cards I keep around for new decks to use, starting with the legendaries I keep in a small “No-Trade” binder.

I started stacking every, and any, legendary that fit into Damia’s colors. Of course I threw in some of the better support legends like Edric, Glissa, the Traitor, Braids, Conjurer Adept, and Azusa, Lost but Seeking, but I was also grabbing Iname as One and Vorosh, the Hunter if that gives you any idea of what I’ll grab for the preliminary deck building. I give every legendary a chance the first time around.

Discard effects like Saproling Cluster were thrown in too, since the idea of asking my opponents if they wanted to make a token every turn seemed like a fun annoyance that I could work in.

I also made sure to add in every form of creature ramp I had available. Fertilid, Silkwing Scout, and Dawntreader Elk were all recruited for try-outs. With them came the idea to use Havengul Lich for constant value.

Speaking of value, I rarely let the chance to use Deadeye Navigator pass me by. With the mana I was hoping to have, I saw a chance to abuse his flickering for even more value. Pairing him with Coiling Oracle, Archaeomancer, or, God forbid, Acidic Slime was something I’d been dying to do for the longest time. This led to me grabbing every ETB card I had.

Having Glissa in the deck meant that I could get some more uses out of artifacts that would ramp lands for me. With Azusa (and the Oracle of Mul Daya for good measure), it wouldn’t matter if they went to my hand or not.  This is where Wayfarer’s Bauble and Armillary Sphere come into play. Spellbombs and Moriok Replica were also added in for good measure.

Of course, all of these extra ramp and value combos only used basic lands. This lead to the decision to use the cheapest mana-base I’ve ever used: Thirty-two basics, with just two utility lands (Alchemist’s Refuge and Grim Backwoods), and all three bounce-lands. With so many basics available, this opened the doors for Boundless Realms. Being able to double my mana in a way that most other three-color decks couldn’t seemed like a great way to compensate for the lack of “staple” ramp that Damia would be missing as I ransacked my stacks of dollar rares.

Finally, I started digging for all of my counterspells. Not Pact of Negation quality counterspells, but anything that was cheap and would keep people from countering/removing Omniscience or Damia before I could use them. Countersquall and Undermine were still lying around from my Ajani Vs. Nicol Bolas Duel Decks, while Muddle the Mixture and Dispel were plentiful.

When all was said and done, I had what easily amounted to over 200 cards picked out, including the lands.

Step Four: Separate the Wheat from the Chaff

I don’t mean pick out only the good cards, but rather, from the pile you’ve accumulated, start picking out cards that you know you want to play for sure. For me, it was most of the legends I’d picked out, Deadeye Navigator and his ETB friends, and the various draw/ramp/counter effects I wanted.

However, I also had to keep in mind what cards would realistically work with the other cards that I’d picked out. Iname as One doesn’t do anything for me when I don’t have any other spirits I want to cheat into play. Braids, Cabal Minion was in the original stack, but I felt she’d be better in an attrition deck (like Teysa’s token control), rather than Damia’s build. Even some of the counterspells didn’t make the cut. It’s a process I go through three or four times before I can decide what works and what doesn’t on a preliminary basis.

Most of the time, I make cuts based on what just feels right for the deck. A lot of the cards I cut, like Demonic Collusion and Saproling Cluster, didn’t fit into what the rest of the deck wanted to do. Although I was running The Mimeoplasm, graveyard shenanigans weren’t going to be the focus of the deck. I was going to use the graveyard as a resource, yes, but not to the extent that most reanimator decks did.

When cuts were being made, Silkwing Scout and a couple of others got cut in order to make room for some of the larger creatures I wanted to ramp into. They worked well with Havengul Lich, but paying mana to ramp was going to cause me problems if I wanted to combo value off of my zombie wizard, and Fertilid is much better served in a Ghave, Guru of Spores deck where he can refill on counters at any time.

Eventually, tough cuts are made and I’ve got the prototype deck build ready for testing.

Step Five: Test the Waters

My brother’s usually handy to play a quick game of one-on-one, so he’s the one I go to when I’ve got another crazy deck scheme going. Just a game or two gives me the right idea about which one of the border-line cards should be swapped in or out to smooth the deck out.

It also gives me the chance to see what else I can cram in there. Up until then, I hadn’t used an Eldrazi…I immediately made the call to cram in as many as I thought I could get away with. Turns out I could do three with Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre, Kozilek, Butcher of Truth, and Artisan of Kozilek. I am still disappointed that Emrakul is banned, but that’s life.

The next thing I did with Damia was something I’ve only been able to do recently. I finally found a local game store that has a regular meeting time for Commander players. So for the first time, I was able to go and get in several games in a row against people who weren’t as cutthroat as my regular playgroup is. I got in at least five good games in before the store had to close.

Step Six: Analyze and Revise

As I played the games, the strengths and weakness of Damia’s deck came into focus better. She was very good at ramping out, so that part was fine. It drew cards as needed, and the deck also did a good job of protecting her and Omniscience, which I got to play every game except one.

Omniscience…was perfect. It was powerful, but not broken. It helped me win in big ways, but wasn’t an automatic win condition. It won me half of the games I played it in, but I still lost the other games it was played too. But it got disgusting when it was on the board by the time a Dark Revelations for eight resolved.

The goals for the deck were met with much satisfaction, but it still had some problems. I packed the deck full of answers to problem permanents like planeswalkers and enchantments with Acidic Slime and Woodfall Primus. It was also full of Negate-esque counterspells to protect Damia and Omniscience. But I had a big problem taking care of creatures that made it past the two counterspells I had that dealt with creatures.

Putrefy was the only instant I added to directly deals with creatures. But Dark Imposter was added because of another axis he covered.

Right before I went to the LGS, I bought a Birthing Pod with the intent to see if I could create a podding chain similar to what I had in my Jenara deck. Part of what my testing revealed was that I needed to fill some holes. I had 7-drops that I wanted to pod into, but there weren’t any 6-drops that I wanted to pod away. I fixed that by getting a Keiga, the Tide Star. I needed another 3-drop to pod into the four’s, so Dark Imposter filled two roles at once.

I also knew that I wanted a few more clone effects, so I added in…well, Clone. I already had Evil Twin, but I anticipated hexproof or indestructible generals being a problem. For everything else, there was Rite of Replication, which the ramp should help ‘kick’ into overdrive.

Step Seven: Rinse and Repeat Until Satisfied

It’s rare that I get a chance to do what I did and go to a local game store and play for hours on end, especially with the life of a full-time student/employee. When I DO get the chance though, I’ve got to be sure to wring as much information and experience as possible from it.

Damia certainly got the benefit from her extended play testing, and now she’s looking good for the next time I gear up for a game. I wish I could do that with all of my decks, but there are only so many card games and so little time to play them all.

As always, if you have any comments/questions/ideas for articles/etc, feel free to leave some comments down below, tweet my account @BlueRam1409, or send an email to my inbox at Wiehernandez(at)gmail(dot)com. I’m also “BlueRam” on the MTG Salvation forums, if you want to send me a message there. I’ll try to help with decks as best I can, as quickly as I can, but I’ll always have time to just chat or answer a question.

Come back next week, as I celebrate our return to Ravnica with a very special narrative piece.

Until then, I’m going to see if I can squeeze in time to send that reader some proper advice.

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