This entry is part 13 of 14 in the series Decksplanations

Grandpa (Eric)

By Eric, AKA Grandpa Growth

Over the last month we have examined how to build more consistent decks. Consistency is extremely important, but it is only half of the puzzle. The other half is power. Consistency + Power = A Good Deck. If you consistently have the most powerful deck in the game, you are going to be favored to win. Now that we have finished our exploration of consistency, let’s begin discussing how to construct decks with higher power levels. Starting with Durability.

Let’s begin with a quote.


“When we build, let us think that we build for ever [sic]. ”

John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture



What is durability?


The ability to resist certain answers. The more types of answers a card resists, the better. Here are some examples of different types of durability.


If we assume that your opponent(s) play a standard distribution of the best answers in the format, then we can easily hone in on which types of durability are most important and which don’t matter quite as much (I’m looking at you Misthollow). With this knowledge you can select your cards to effectively render large portions of opposing decks inoperable. It gets much easier to win if more of your opponent’s draws are irrelevant.


This doesn’t just apply to the interaction between threats and removal. In fact, I want to focus on that last example. In terms of durability, Darksteel Citadel is the most durable land in the game. It resists more removal than any other card of its type. Dakmor Salvage notwithstanding, why do we care about the durability of our mana base? Hold on to your butts, I am about to give you the single greatest advantage in durability. This will take your decks from paper mache to Fallout Vault in no time.


Ramp Harder

Noble Hierarch is great. It is so much better than Llanowar Elves in almost every way. Almost. Every way except for one. It is not any more durable. Everything that stops Llanowar, stops Hierarch. Both of these are better than just having another land in hand, because it can accelerate you along your curve. Better, but not by much. That added value comes at the cost of added vulnerability. Mana dorks can be answered by simple removal spells and they tend to get swept away very easily. They present an opportunity for the opponent to get ahead on cards and simultaneously attack your mana base with a well-placed Wrath of God. They can use a single card to deplete your resources on two axes. This is the single biggest mistake that I see players make when constructing their Commander decks.


Stop playing mana dorks…Grandpa, are you off your meds? No. It is the truth; I don’t play any of them and if you want to increase the durability of your decks neither will you. Board sweepers are by far the most common and most problematic type of removal in the format. If your deck is exposed to this risk you need to change things immediately. You should have a good idea of what the typical removal suite looks like in your local metagame. Choose cards for your deck that resist the answers that you commonly see. Limiting your opponent’s’ ability to interact with your cards will give them fits and give you a psychological and strategic advantage.


Once you are on board with the plan to cut virtually all mana-producing creatures, you will need to find suitable replacements. I recommend using ramp cards that take lands out of your deck and put them directly into play. This has two main benefits. First, lands are much less likely to be destroyed in any way. Land destruction, particularly mass land destruction, is unpopular in most playgroups. Use this to your advantage! You will avoid lots of headaches simply by playing cards that your opponent is not equipped to interact with. Secondly, the act of taking a land out of your deck means that you can’t draw it later. This ‘thinning’ effect can greatly enhance your odds of drawing less irrelevant lands late in the game. It is not trivial to get 5-to-6 extra lands out of your deck throughout the course of a normal game. A 5% lower chance of drawing a blank is a HUGE advantage.


Rampant Growth/Kodama’s Reach-style effects are vastly preferred, but if you must use something else, go for effects that allow you to put additional lands into play like Exploration. This maintains the durability. After all, if they blow up your Exploration more than a turn or two later, you will have already gotten most of the juice out of it anyway. Sadly, it doesn’t produce that thinning effect that we desire.


There is a second option that functions in almost exactly the opposite way. Cards like Expedition Map will thin out your deck slightly, but don’t accelerate your mana. Depending on your deck, this could be a deal breaker. Durability is important, but speed is important, too. Almost every Commander deck has some amount of mana acceleration. Fast mana is an important building block to reach the over-the-top plays that make Commander so much fun.


Some artifact mana sources are mandatory staples, like Sol Ring, but few can match that power level. Only use second-rate artifact mana sources as a fallback position in decks that don’t have access to green. Even then, use them sparingly. Artifacts are less fragile than creatures, but can still be dealt with easily and Oblivion Stone exists in some metagames. Try to stay as durable as possible. Darksteel Ingot has been putting the team on its back since the early days of EDH.


In short: Ramp harder. Ramp smarter…by ramping harder. And when I say harder I don’t mean with more emphasis or energy. I mean with more durability.


Choosing Durable Threats

It isn’t all about protecting your mana base from removal. Your win conditions should, of course, be durable, too. The best way to minimize the impact of removal spells in-game is to prepare ahead of time. The key is to make interacting with your threats awkward. Force opponents to come up with multiple exotic types of removal, multiple removal spells of the same type, or simply never present a threat that they can remove. Be strategic. Water travels along the path of least resistance. Sometimes that means weaving around. Sometimes that means spilling straight over the dam.


The following is a list of different types of answers listed in descending order by the frequency with which they are commonly played in Commander (in my experience). Each is accompanied by some strategies to minimize your exposure to that type of removal. Note: I am going to ignore discard and counterspells for today. Defeating counter-heavy decks is a discussion that merits its own article.


    1. Black/White/Colorless Sweepers: Few of these effects exile, most destroy. Recursive threats that can return from graveyard should be able to grind out this type of removal. This is a brute force solution, but you can often find ways to add value each time your threats enter and leave the battlefield. A second, more elegant solution is to play fewer permanents than your opponent. Sweeping the board to kill a single threat is often costly and inconvenient, especially if they have invested more resources onto the battlefield than you have.
    2. Spot Removal that Destroys: Generally black or green. The most abundant and most overused type of removal. Despite being worse than sweepers and exile effects, this type of answer still sees a ton of play. Anything that is good against sweepers is likely also good against this type of card, with the added additions of protection from X and Shroud-style abilities. At worst, trading 1-for-1 isn’t so bad. I often find the best way to overcome spot removal is to use threats that generate extra value, like the ‘Titan’ cycle. ‘Army in a can’ effects like Siege-gang Commander can stress opposing supplies of spot removal or force the use of a higher value sweeper to deal with just one card. Accumulating an advantage through these types of interactions is a quick path to victory.
    3. Spot removal that exiles: Generally white. This is the premium spot removal. In an ideal deck, this type of effect would make up all of your spot removal. Fortunately, most players aren’t that savvy. Unfortunately, there isn’t a much better way to gain an advantage on this type of removal in construction. Use the same strategies from #2. In-game, try to get information about your opponent’s hand using effects like Duress. Find out what type of threat matches up best against their current removal options and pilot your deck to take advantage of that information. If you read my previous article on access, you shouldn’t have much trouble searching through your deck.
    4. Removal that deals damage or reduces toughness: Red’s spot removal and sweepers both tend to rely on dealing damage, which is decidedly worse than just about any other kind of removal. Generally, if you are resistant to ANY of the above types of removal, you will also be resistant to this. Expensive creatures usually have high toughness. That is enough of a barrier to make me turn away from playing removal in this category, but many people still do. You will overcome these effects very naturally by using the other strategies in this list.
    5. More Exotic Fare: Chainer’s Edict, Control Magic, Chaos Warp, etc. This is a diverse group, but they are unified by one thing: people usually only have a few copies of these type of effects, IF ANY. If there are only a few copies of a certain type of exotic removal floating around your metagame, ignore them. Focus on other areas that will matter more often. If someone has gone overboard and made exotic removal a core theme of their deck, even better! A single Homeward Path can render an entire deck full of control effects obsolete. Springjack Pasture can do the same to edicts. Again, don’t worry about it unless it happens frequently, but if it does happen, assembling a Trinket Mage into Expedition Map package will solve 80% of these problems.



Final Thoughts

  • With regards to ramp: As always, smaller and more efficient is the way to go. Boundless Realms is sweet, but if you never get off the ground it won’t help you win.
  • Remember to take note of what specific answer cards are typically played against you. You need to select your cards and construct your deck with this information in mind. A threat that is resistant to removal isn’t helpful unless it resist the right type of removal.
  • If your opponent has a diverse array of answers, the best way around might be to go through. You can stress an opponent to come up with multiple different answer cards of a niche type by playing a suite of cards that are all vulnerable to only one type of removal. Multiple Indestructible threats, for example, could overload the opponent’s limited amount of exiling removal.
  • One of the best ways to make your deck durable is to compete on an unconventional axis. Storm combo and Dredge are different enough from the average deck that they often require sideboard tech to defeat.


Durability is an idea that we can apply to nearly all levels of our Magic game: what decks you choose, what cards or strategies you include in those decks, how you shape and choose your lines of play, and how you prepare for and respond to the mental challenges the game presents.


Decksplanations is all about sharing my deckbuilding philosophy. If you want to change how you behave, you must change how you think. The same is true of your decks. My goal is you give you the foundation to analyze and improve your decks. In each article I will share one idea that shapes how I approach creating a new deck.

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