This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series Guest Article

By DJ CATCHEM aka CASSIDY
Good people sometimes do bad things.  It’s a fundamental truth in the world we live in, and it carries over completely intact into Commander.  We can argue with each other until we’re all blue in the face on every Magic forum that graces the Internet about how to play this format “correctly” – What cards are unacceptable in a casual environment, which combos are too evil for the regular Wednesday night EDH game, or what generals are too strong and unbalanced to possibly be “fun”.  We can discuss ad nauseum the fact that Kokusho, The Evening Star is unfairly banned while miscreants like Primeval Titan and Consecrated Sphinx are still allowed to roam free.  (For the record, people…there’s a large difference between something that builds a board position, and something that Exsanguinates everyone at once, but there’s a far bigger difference between a one-of in your list of ninety-nine, and your general.  If the Titan or Sphinx were legendary, they’d be ban-worthy for the ease of recursion, and if Kokusho wasn’t legendary, he’d be played widely right now.)

We all like to believe that we’re doing the “right” thing, whatever that is.  That we all value promoting fun over all else.  And I’m sure that’s true, too.  But once in a while, everyone likes to let down their hair.  It’s awfully hard to pass up Blightsteel Colossus or Ulamog with that Bribery, despite swearing up and down that poison and annihilator mechanics aren’t fun to deal with.  (“Hey…he put it in the deck…it’s not my fault!”)  It’s really tough to avoid targeting the Sundering Titan your opponent has in his yard with the Beacon Of Unrest you just ripped, when you know it will seal the win for you.

Sometimes even the nicest players need to go full-on evil for a moment or two.

Which is exactly how I found myself putting together a Venser, Shaper Savant decklist that is the embodiment of nearly everything I find wrong with Commander.

I’m sure I sound like everyone who’s ever gone down this path before when I say that it started rather innocently.  At the time, a perfect confluence of things was happening:

  1. I was liquidating a pair of Legacy decks that I build for Gencon ’11 that never got played, so I had a boatload of credit to blow through.
  2. I was experiencing this completely illogical desire to invest in “iconic staples”.  Figure that one out.
  3. I was in a slump.

Let me explain that last one.  I was returning from the awful experience I had at GenCon in the Commander Constructed event.  I wrote an article about this on StarCityGames, but the quick and dirty summary is that I found myself sitting at a final table of four players, and two of them were playing Erayo lock combo decks.  Competitive goldfishing at its finest, with all the excitement of watching paint dry.  I returned home determined to erase that awful experience from my mind, only to have several weeks in a row of more bad experiences at my local shop.  Some highlights:

  • Slogging through a game against a five-color Turbo-Spell Burst-With-Buyback player.  (“Sakura-Tribe ElderSpell Burst, buyback.  Spellbook?  Spell Burst, buyback.  Didgeridoo?…”)
  • Losing to “That Guy” playing his Geth griefer deck like a total jerk.  (At one point, I attempt to play Eternal Witness to grab some removal.  His response?  “Wait wait WAITAMINUTE…what makes you POSSIBLY believe I’m going to let you do that?  Huh?  HUH???”)
  • The final nail in the coffin was watching a guy gleefully windmill Humility and Lightmine Field onto the table, and follow it with Dovescape, effectively locking everyone out of the game.  Including himself.  

Something inside me snapped.

I had begun to add cards to a shopping cart already.  That ‘iconic staples’ thing I was going for had me adding an Unlimited Timetwister and a English Mana Drain already; while mulling over the recent losses, it suddenly occurred to me that I had the foundation for a serious mono-blue control list staring me in the face that would be the perfect answer to all of the bad things that had happened to me recently.  I wasn’t going to be a victim anymore, dammit!  Before I knew what was happening, my fingers had taken on a life of their own and were gleefully clicking “Add” left and right.  In about ten minutes flat, I was staring dumfounded at the most boring turbo-nothing control list I’d ever seen.

I clicked “Checkout”, and took a blazing-hot shower to scrub off the dirty feeling.  I was one of them.

.   .   .   .   .

The sad truth is that the deck is a powerhouse.  I’ve only played it a few times, and the results have been identical; plenty of dull looks, people drawing a card, sighing and passing the turn, and every announced spell carries the addendum, “…if that’s okay with you?”  The deck behaves as a dedicated control deck should; it allows the right threats to hit the table, helps direct the other players to take each-other out, protects itself, and eventually wins through a core of permission and card advantage.

It’s awful to play, and awful to play against.  To channel Teddy KGB in Rounders, it makes literally everyone feeeehl uuunsayaatisfiied.  (The first time I won with the deck, someone actually quoted that, bad Russian accent and all.)

For the record, it is lovingly referred to at the shop as “Douchebag Blue”.

Let’s look at it component-by-component:

GENERAL

Venser, Shaper Savant

I wanted a general that had an enters-the-battlefield ability that would allow me to shut down a game-breaking spell even if I was somehow left with an empty hand.  You want to see the embodiment of misery?  One-on-one in the endgame, playing off the top of your deck, and your opponent has this sitting in his command zone and a Riptide Lab in play.

CREATURES

Keiga, The Tide Star
Memnarch
Gilded Drake
Thada Adel, Aquisitor
Sower Of Temptation
Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
Stormtide Leviathan
Phyrexian Metamorph
Consecrated Sphinx
Sphinx of Uthuun
Arcanis, the Omnipotent
Azure Mage
Guile
Trinket Mage
Mnemonic Wall
Solemn Simulacrum
Tidespout Tyrant
Duplicant
Temporal Adept
Draining Whelk
Glen Elendra Archmage
Ertai, Wizard Adept
Voidmage Prodigy

The deck runs a wizard sub-theme, for no other reason than to gain a ton of additional counterspells out of Voidmage Prodigy.  You also have the joys of losing all of your permanents slowly to Memnarch, or the old “Gilded Drake, take your dude, bounce it.” bait-and switch.  Tidespout Tyrant adds to that misery chain fantastically, and Guile is a brutal beating with the large number of ways this deck has to counter things.  Sprinkle on some card draw and some tutor options, and you’re on the way to ruining lives.

COUNTERS

Cryptic Command
Mana Drain
Hinder
Spell Crumple
Overwhelming Intellect
Desertion
Spelljack
Time Stop

No real surprises here.  I basically slotted the strongest counters this format offers.  There’s no Force Of Will, mostly because I want my counters to generate some additional advantage.  Time Stop is a blast, by the way.

STEAL/CONTROL

Blatant Thievery
Commandeer
Confiscate
Dominate
Gather Specimens
Knowledge Exploitation
Mimic Vat
Take Possession
Reins Of Power
Evacuation
Crystal Shard
Distorting Wake
Capsize
Equilibrium

The real problem with a mono-blue do-nothing list is that it has a hard time finishing the game.  I went heavier on control effects to reflect this.  I tend to favor spells like Dominate and Blatant Thievery that work at sorcery-speed and don’t fold to Disenchant effects as a result.  I did include the dastardly Capsize, but I just couldn’t pull the trigger on the buyback counters.  My evil only goes so far.

Knowledge Exploitation is usually an MVP, since it finds things like Austere Command to deal with problems like enchantments and artifacts this deck has trouble with.  

Evacuation keeps the board clear, and Crystal Shard lets me get back in with Venser or Drake shenanigans.  Good times(?)    

REMOVAL

Oblivion Stone

With so many counters and bounce options, there’s just no real need to pack too much actual removal.  O-Stone recurs with Academy Ruins for extra value.

ACCELERATION

Darksteel Ingot
Coalition Relic
Sol Ring
Expedition Map
Sapphire Medallion

No real surprises here, either.  Some staples, and a way to find my utility lands.  The low costs of the deck mean it doesn’t need much to get off the ground, so these more-than suffice.  

DRAW/TUTOR

Timetwister
Blue Sun’s Zenith
Rhystic Study
Fact Or Fiction
Sensei’s Divining Top
Jace Beleren
Mystic Remora
Muddle The Mixture
Mystical Tutor
Recall

Again, just a good selection of strong options.  Instant-speed draw, mana costs spread out to create a strong curve, and powerhouse staples like Rhystic Study that bury opponents under a landslide of card advantage.  

I will point out Recall – this card is unbelievably overlooked in Commander across the board.  People should play this card more.  Even in decks that don’t suck.

A FEW EXTRA TRICKS

Rite Of Replication
Time Warp

I don’t need to really say much here.  Rite is a standard these days, and the deck can recur Time Warp if it needs to.  Still awake?

LANDS

Riptide Lab
Academy Ruins
Reliquary Tower
Winding Canyons
Strip Mine
Vesuva
Minamo, School At Waters’ Edge
Temple Of The False God
21 x Island
Halimar Depths
Miren, The Moaning Well
High Market
Mystifying Maze
Terrain Generator
Tolaria West

A fairly standard and expected suite here.  The real bulk of the heavy lifting falls to the aforementioned Riptide lab and Academy Ruins, with some tutor ability in Tolaria West,  and some board management with the staples: sac outlets in Miren and High Market, Strip Mine, Mystifying Maze (over Maze Of Ith because it taps for 1), and Winding Canyons to get instant value from my creatures.

Moving forward, I’m working on a few additions.  Bribery is a glaring omission, and since people love the Annihilator mechanic, I really need to fit in Kozilek and Ulamog to gain some finishing capabilities.  I’m not terribly sure Dark Ascension offers much here, but I’m dying to find a way to use Counterbore somewhere, so I may give that a spin.

In all seriousness, I’m not sure why this deck still exists.  I made it in a fit of blind hypocrisy, planning on utilizing it to stop people from doing degenerate un-fun things by grinding the game to a boring, un-fun halt.  For those of you who have played with me before or read my blog, you’ll know that this strategy is about as far away from my standard beliefs about the game as you can get.  (I suppose I could add in Mindslaver and some mass land destruction and complete the trifecta…)  

Still, it stands as an exercise in design, and I can absolutely say I learned quite a bit from the build.  (What not to build, first and foremost…)  To be fair, there are some fun cards in here, but they’re simply overshadowed by the tone the deck sets.  Make no mistake…it’s not fun in any way, shape, or form, and that’s what I consider anathema to what Commander should be about.  Use at your own risk.  Or don’t use it at all, as I plan not to.  (Better yet!)

Unless that jerk with the Geth list shows up again, anyway.  I just might need to teach him a lesson.  That’s not a bad thing, is it?

Is it?

– DJ

Cassidy is an EDH blogger, laying down fire at GeneralDamageControl.com twice weekly. However, he’s known to venture beyond that website’s wall, including Commander-related forums. Now, he has unleahed his thoughts on CommanderCast with this guest article. If you like what you’re seeing here (and really, why wouldn’t you?), you can see the entirety of his works or get his contact information on his home site!

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