This entry is part 7 of 9 in the series Line in the Sand

Posted by ‘BRIONNE’ aka ‘FORK OF DOOM’

Note: Since this month is Audience Appreciation, I went to Twitter to ask for inspiration. I received some great ideas, so expect to see more of these reader-suggested topics in the future. This month’s article suggested by Taylor Eubank (@tceubank): “people building/playing decks outside their comfort zones and its merits/detractions”

When it comes to Commander, there are two types of comfort zones: playgroups, and the decks you play. Assuming I am somewhat indicative of the average Commander player, I have a few decks that I tune regularly, and a small group of friends that I play with. Some players might feel that venturing outside this comfort zone is not worth the trouble. This is something that has to be decided on an individual basis, but I think there is a lot to be gained by trying new things. That being said, I think that playing decks you love with people whose company you enjoy just might be one of the most important things about Magic.

I got my first taste of building decks outside my comfort zone when I started helping other people with their decks. My personal style tends toward midrange, although I have a soft spot for control decks as well. I will take a fair deck with high levels of synergy over a deck that does broken stuff any day. But the more decks my playgroup built, the more varied the archetypes I played against became. Back when it was still EDH, and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and Tolarian Academy were unbanned, I knew how to blow up dudes and get rid of problem permanents, but not much more than that. What did I know about voltron, LD, combo, or control/prison decks that made you want to bang your head against a wall? So when people came to me for help building and tuning these decks, I had to start doing some research. I read forums, I spent embarrassingly long amounts of time combing Gatherer for tech (it was a very special day when I first saw Ruination). The result was that I now know a lot more about Commander cards, more so than if I had only been looking for cards for my own decks. I have discovered that helping to build all these different decks is very enjoyable. I have to put myself in the mindset of an archetype that I’m not used to playing, which has in turn made my own decks better. If you know how a deck works, you know its weaknesses and can exploit them. I haven’t just helped other people with their decks, I have built some decks outside my comfort zone. Many of them (such as Nicol Bolas control) haven’t lasted because they were simply too different from my play style for me the truly enjoy them. Others, such as Azusa, are different enough to entertain me, but still close enough to what I normally play to make the cut. All in all, playing and building decks outside of your comfort zone is a great way to improve your deckbuilding skills and to keep things interesting.

On the down side of this argument is Sharuum.  Just as I have a weakness for bad cards, I also have a weakness for good cards. It is this horrible affliction that led me to build the combo monstrosity that is Sharuum the Hegemon. This deck goes against everything that defines me as a player. It was a blatant net-deck, with only about six slots being changed in the final list. It is unfair. It is unfun to play against (for the average player). It is a completely linear deck that seeks to the same endgame, every game. It is a combo deck.

Combo Sharuum  (She’s a Dirty, Dirty Girl)
Dark Confidant
Disciple of the Vault
Grand Abolisher
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Phyrexian Metamorph
Tezzeret the Seeker
Thopter Assembly
Trinket Mage
Ad Nauseam
Azorius Signet
Bitter Ordeal
Chrome Mox
Coalition Relic
Crucible of Worlds
Cryptic Command
Demonic Tutor
Dimir Signet
Enlightened Tutor
Fact or Fiction
Frantic Search
Hanna’s Custody
Lim-Dul’s Vault
Lion’s Eye Diamond
Lotus Bloom
Lotus Petal
Mana Crypt
Mana Vault
Memory Jar
Mox Diamond
Mox Opal
Muddle the Mixture
Mystical Tutor
Orzhov Signet
Pact of Negation
Phyrexian Arena
Scroll Rack
Sculpting Steel
Sensei’s Divining Top
Sol Ring
Spell Crumple
Sword of the Meek
Tainted Pact
Talisman of Dominance
Talisman of Progress
Thopter Foundry
Time Sieve
Transmute Artifact
Vampiric Tutor
Yawgmoth’s Will
Academy Ruins
Ancient Den
Ancient Tomb
Bojuka Bog
Buried Ruin
Celestial Colonnade
Cephalid Coliseum
City of Brass
Command Tower
Fetid Heath
Flooded Strand
Godless Shrine
Hallowed Fountain
Marsh Flats
Misty Rainforest
Mystic Gate
Reliquary Tower
Scalding Tarn
Seat of the Synod
Snow-Covered Island
Snow-Covered Plains
Snow-Covered Swamp
Strip Mine
Sunken Ruins
Underground Sea
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Vault of Whispers
Verdant Catacombs
Watery Grave
Windswept Heath

But it just looked so efficient and broken. It had so many good cards that I had never played, like Yawgmoth’s Will. So against my better judgement, I decided to build it. I sold $100 worth of standard stuff and cleaned out my binders to put it together. I have played one game with it, and couldn’t even pilot it competently. I haven’t written it off yet; it is still sitting on the bookshelf with my other decks. The sad truth is that the deck is not only outside of my comfort zone, but that of my playgroup. If I should decide to take the deck apart, I will be left with a lot of narrow, specific cards that I have no use for, some of them fairly valuable. That is the worst part about building decks outside of your comfort zone—in the likely event that you don’t like them, you are left with a lot of cards you don’t need.

The second comfort zone is playgroups. I am very bad about not wanting to play outside this comfort zone. New players, however, mean variety. Meeting new people is good. If anything, at least it helps dispel the stereotype that Magic players are all awkward, antisocial nerds. One of my favorite things about playing around people you don’t normally play with is that they probably have some new tech. Even with the internet pervading so much of Commander, tech can still be found the old fashioned way. You also play against a new variety of decks. Seeing the same old decks day after day gets very predictable.

As I’ve discussed in previous articles, my playgroups has a ridiculously intricate, unspoken set of expectations associated with a game of Commander (aka a Gentleman’s Agreement). This means that I often find myself being pulled outside my comfort zone at large events.  Playing with people who have different expectations from a game of EDH can lead to culture shock.  Not to mention that there is the danger of running into the occasional rude player.  Luckily these jerks are hugely outnumbered by all the awesome people who play this format.

All in all, I think that the best solution is probably a little bit of both. Having a core group of players and predictable decks is irreplaceable, but spicing things up can be equally important. Assuming you have the resources, it can be a good experience to build and play a deck you normally wouldn’t, even if it’s just for a few months. I’ve tried it, and although several have been taken apart in frustration, one of them has stayed around. And as for playing with new people, there really is no excuse not to. Just don’t get in any unmarked white vans with them, no matter what shiny new tech they offer you.

Series Navigation<< Line in the Sand 07 – Female Magic Players and CommanderLine in the Sand 09 – Landscaping with Azusa >>