This entry is part 1 of 23 in the series Savor That Commander Flavor

Hello, my name is William and I’m a big fan of both DailyMTG’s Savor The Flavor column, as well as its former columnist, Doug Beyer. Yup, I’m a Vorthos through and through.

As you can imagine, I was pretty disappointed when Doug packed it in to focus on creating the cards we love so much. I had just started reading his articles as Innistrad was being previewed, so in terms of actually getting to enjoy his column I’ve had limited exposure. However, what little I’ve read has been wonderful, informing me about the flavors of magic, its many worlds, and just why people were suddenly clamoring for an ‘eyeball stat’. I know that Savor The Flavor will be back under a new writer, but you never really forget the first magic writer that hooked you into column reading.

So out of respect for what Doug’s done, I’m naming this column “Savor That Commander Flavor”. I can only hope that my writing is as successful as his was.

But enough fan gushing, let’s talk Commander.

Since this is Savor that Commander Flavor’s maiden voyage, as well as my first attempt to write anything geared to an audience of card game enthusiasts, it seems appropriate to talk about the other firsts that are tied to the game: First booster packs, first decks, first wins and losses, etc. But for me, my biggest first was my first general.

I was pulled into Commander my sophomore year of college, a year after I had started learning how to play magic from scratch. A friend of mine came up and asked if I’d heard of EDH. I hadn’t, and when he explained the basics, I fell head over heels in love.

I’ve always loved legendary creatures, but starting with one from the start and using it as your own personal avatar? I couldn’t build my first deck fast enough.

This was around the time that the Phyrexia vs. Coalition duel decks came out, and so I already had a couple of cards to consider. Rith, the Awakener was a card that I’d been wanting to use for a while. Not only was she (yes, I said SHE) in my three favorite colors, but I also have a fondness for dragons and angels. Rith would let me play both.

But there was one more thing that made Rith special; she made tokens! I’m a big fan of tokens. Nothing makes my day quite like seeing twenty-something odd saproling tokens elbowing each other for space on a crowded cafeteria table, as people panic at my quickly advancing army. Rith was my chance to have everything I loved about magic put into a single deck.

Looking back on it now, it was a pretty basic deck. My collection at the time was quite small and pitiful, so I was using cards that didn’t really help Rith, but looked like they were either really fun to play or were just too big for my casual decks, like Razia, Boros Archangel and Wild Pair. Naturally, I was playing with Rith’s own cards too, using Rith’s Charm and Rith’s Grove. As bad as it was, I still loved playing with it. But more importantly, I loved playing with Rith.

As planeswalkers, we scour the multiverse searching for someone we can trust, someone strong enough that they earn even our respect. We walk the busy streets of Ravnica searching for the guildmasters, or we marvel at the wonders Alara holds as we attempt to ride side-by-side with the noble Rafiq of the Many across the fields of Bant. We dodge Phyrexian scouts as we try to make our way into the great furnace to find the Mirrodin resistance and their leader Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer. As of late, we’ve had a chance to visit Innistrad where many of us have chosen to side with the vampires sired by Olivia Voldaren, while others lead the hordes of zombies with Grimgrin, Corpse-Born. Now we have those who look to gain allies in Sigarda, Host of Herons and Bruna, Light of Alabaster.

When we finally find the one we want to lead our army, we join them in a symbiotic relationship: they lend us their power and we, in turn, use our power and abilities to make them as strong as their potential will allow us to.

Because I got her from the duel decks, I had managed to retrieve Rith from a rift in time not seen since the Time Spiral block. Her age had long since passed. Many creatures far greater than her had stolen the commander scene. Yet, a mighty dragon was still calling to me, and I accepted her cry.

Flash forward to real life, and my first EDH game. My imagination was vividly seeing the players surrounding a large battlefield, with their ‘partners’ standing beside them (or behind them if, like Rith, they happened to be exceptionally large creatures). Rith was roaring for battle, ready to spread her wings and take to the air. It was a thrilling experience that started a craving for commander that I still haven’t been able to satisfy.

Eventually, I started working on turning Rith into a proper token deck. I went online and looked at deck lists as well as what other token decks had to offer. It seemed like the possibilities were endless, and they only grew longer as I discovered the thousands of cards that came before me. I finally decided on a build that looked fairly budgeted and started hunting down the cards online.

About this time I started building a couple of other decks as well. Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund is still one of my most potent decks, and currently has the highest winning percentage of any deck I’ve played. With the commander pre-cons coming out at this time, I also had the beginnings of what would become my Kaalia of the Vast deck. But Rith was still my go to girl at the time, and together we continued to take on players who seemed bigger than life.

Of course when I put her on the table, I would get curious glances from the more experienced players. It usually went something like this:

“Why are you using Rith?” they would ask.

“Because she makes tokens,” I would respond, wondering why they would ask such an obvious question.

“But she’s so bad!” they would say half-jokingly. “She has to hit to make tokens, so you’re not going to be making anything when people chump block her.”

“Well she’s also a big dragon that can kill people with general damage,” I’d say, feeling clever for explaining one of her alternate win conditions.

“Ya, but then what’s the point of having a token deck?” they’d ask skeptically.

“Because I like having a lot of tokens on the battlefield, and I can use them as blockers after attacking with Rith.”

“If you want to run tokens, you should be running Hazezon Tamar or Rhys, the Redeemed. It’s a lot easier to make tokens when they’re your general instead of Rith.”

Looking at Rith now, I’d have to agree with that assessment. But back then, it was like I was taking shots for the general I’d hand-picked from across the multiverse, and it smart.

I played a few more games with Rith, but at this point the deck wasn’t performing as well as I wanted it to, and I was having trouble just keeping my favorite dragon on the board. It seemed like anytime I tried to cast her she was either getting spot removed, countered, or ignored all together because one of my opponents had developed such a large board state that whatever she could do wouldn’t be fast enough nor big enough to matter.

Frustrated with the losses, wanting to make a better deck, and disappointed with what I was about to do, I took apart my Rith deck and slipped her back into my private binder.

I still wanted to run tokens, so rebuilt the list as a Ghave, Guru of Spores deck. While this list was very powerful, it was too prone to comboing out and used the tokens as a resource rather than as an army. I stripped out the black and it became what is currently my Rhys deck, just as my friends suggested I do.

I’m having plenty of fun playing with Rhys, but I can’t help but think of Rith whenever I did. Objectively, she was a bad card all around, but I still had an attachment to her. I tried fitting her into any deck I would build afterwards, but she was usually the first card to get cut when I had to trim the list down.

It wasn’t until recently that I finally found a home for Rith in my Mayael the Anima deck. Despite that deck having a predominately elemental theme, I’m happy to say that I’m glad whenever she shows up to bash face, even if she only lasts a turn.

Maybe you can remember the first general you tried to play with. Maybe there was something about that card that got you excited to play commander. In my case, it was about playing large spells and creatures that were otherwise impractical. Maybe you liked the toolboxing ability of a card like Captain Sisay, or maybe your mind was racing with the broken possibilities of Sharuum the Hedgemon. Perhaps you just had a foil Reaper King sitting in your binder for a few years and you thought you’d try him out.

The relationship you have with your general is a mutual understanding: in return for pledging their allegiance to you, you do everything in your power to make them as strong as their potential will allow. However, the partnership probably won’t end well unless you were already experienced, or patient, enough to figure out who was right for you. But even when you’ve parted ways, you still come out having learned a lot about who you are and what you need from your partner to have fun while being successful. I came out of my partnership with Rith a better player, with a better understanding of what sort of environment commander had. If I was going to play cards like Rith, I had to expect an uphill battle in order to win.

These days I’ve got a new girl I hang around with, and you may have heard of her. Next week, I’ll continue my introductory series of flavor talking about Kaalia of the Vast and what your favorite commander says about you.

If you have a story about your first general, comments about the flavor of commander, or just want have a discussion, feel free to leave a comment in the comment section below or shoot an email to Wiehernandez(at)gmail(dot)com . I love hearing about other people’s stories and can’t wait to hear about them.

Until then, may you remember the fondness of old friends.

Series NavigationSavor That Commander Flavor 02 – What’s In a General Part 2 >>