This entry is part 6 of 14 in the series Decksplanations

Grandpa (Eric)

By Eric, AKA Grandpa Growth


When I first transitioned over from The General Zone to CommanderCast, I was under a huge time crunch. There was a lot to do and a lot of changes had to be made. We needed to begin working on new projects, get a consistent production schedule together, and start releasing regular content all while dealing with a new environment and new challenges. I responded to this by writing a huge flurry of shorter articles ahead of time that could be posted during the early weeks when we needed content. Now that we are past that crucial period, I want to circle the wagons and address some ideas that popped up during those first few weeks. Starting with the responses to my June 3rd article “Threat Density in Aggressive Decks.” If you didn’t catch it, click the title to check it out and be sure to take a stroll through the comments.


In that section, Kinghonkey talked about an aggressive Commander deck that utilized 65 creatures in its construction. That is a big number and shows that he was deeply committed to getting threats in play and keeping it that way until the game ended one way or another. Uncle Landdrops has an Animar deck that contains literally only creatures and lands. These two are demonstrating that solidarity in design can bring rewards.


This is topical and appropriate because I am starting a series on how to make your decks more powerful. In the coming weeks, I will lay out how to choose the best cards and strategic elements and incorporate them into your decks, but first we need to understand philosophically why this is important so we are going to start at the top with the most subtle, but perhaps most important, concept underlying power: solidarity.  Let’s begin with a quote:


“Greatness is achieved by doubling down on your strengths, not by mitigating weaknesses.” – CGP Grey, “Hello Internet”


I am not saying that you should play creatures and nothing but creatures. Far from it. I am saying that if you are going to make a creature deck, make a freaking creature deck. Go nuts. If you want to have a theme, dedicate to it. Do it right.


You should always strive to do your best. I know your mother told you that when you were young. Be competitive, but compete to be superlative. I believe that you should always present the most powerful iteration of your idea. That is the ultimate purpose of solidarity. We are rallying all of our cards around the idea of producing the best deck we can, no matter how we measure that.


Listen to Your Mother


Don’t just put Mindslaver into your deck. That advice alone should make Mark smile. If you want to go down that road, you should cram everything you can into your deck to help maximize the effectiveness of that card (THAT idea will make him somewhat less happy). If you try to shoehorn too many different ideas into the same deck, you lose focus. Without a clear, singular purpose you can’t achieve consistency. This seems like a good time to talk about this, since I have been discussing how to build for consistency over the last few weeks. Hopefully by now, I’ve shown how consistency makes for great decks.


So, the simple lesson about deckbuilding here is to achieve greatness by focusing on a plan. Now, when I say that, I don’t mean you shouldn’t have multiple routes to victory. You should definitely be able to open up backdoors into winning situations. You don’t always have to win with the same cards or the same combo, but you certainly could. What I am saying is that your deck is built to execute a plan. You should always begin the game with that plan as your first option. If your Plan A isn’t the best plan you have available, IT ISN’T YOUR PLAN A. You may need to reconsider whether utilizing this strategy is actually producing the most wins possible. If you have something better you could be doing, you should cut out the other ‘stuff’ and focus on your deck’s strengths.


Get Some Glue, Stick To The Plan


When I talk about this idea in my playgroup, I am always met with the same cries of resistance. It is called ‘lame,’ ‘boring,’ ‘played out.’ I understand that some people have the need to keep things fresh. They want the format to change and they want their decks to change. They don’t want to feel like their decks have become ‘samey,’ or that they only win with the same few cards that everyone else does.


I can respect that. I am not immune to the desire for the new. However, I do not let that take precedence over my desire to produce a winning deck. I am not going to stop playing the best cards just because they are ‘overplayed.’ Hence why I still have Mindslaver decks. I am going to tune my deck with the goal of achieving the highest win percentage possible, even if that means using cards people don’t like.


This will inevitably become a divisive stance, but I am comfortable with my position and the dialog that grows up around it. Commander is a casual format. It is meant to be a place where everyone can enjoy themselves. I fully endorse that. I would never stand up and say that any particular group is entitled to less fun. At the same time, I aggressively pursue what I consider to be fun. That is the struggle, the journey of producing the perfect deck and playing it perfectly. I want to play against the best competition and win. That is what the competitive spirit is all about.


Many casual gamers have an adverse reaction to this type of thinking. I have met a great number of Commander players who are exhausted by my ‘Type A’ Spike behavior. I have heard it all and it doesn’t bother me. I actually appreciate that people aren’t all the same. I have respect for those differences and do my best to pay attention to social cues. Being a good citizen of my community, in work or in play, is important to me. I don’t always play my most cutthroat decks; sometimes I play new builds that haven’t worked out the kinks. Sometimes I play a deck that you might call ‘just for fun,’ but I still do my best to win. I don’t intentionally misplay. I shuffle up the deck and give it my best shot. The objective of the game is to win. If you are doing something different you aren’t really playing Magic, . you are playing a different game. People will have opinions about using overplayed tech and committing to a singular style and I look forward to reading these thoughts in the comments.


How to Solidify


The first step to solidarity was identifying the thing your deck is best at. The clear second step is to remove those elements from your deck which are not supporting your theme. If you have different, incongruent strategic pillars that are growing in parallel, sometimes the best thing to do is just split them into different decks.


Once you have cut out the distractions from your deck’s Plan A, replace them with support. I recommend using a strong base of access, selection, and velocity to really sell the sizzle on what you are trying to accomplish, but I think I have just about beat that horse to death. Rather than give you list of supporting cards, I am going to highlight a few of the main strategic themes that I find most engaging in Commander decks:


  • Isochron Scepter packages. There are plenty of ways to search for both instants and artifacts and assembling a Silence or Counterspell lock is a convenient win condition.
  • Arcum Dagsson gives me a reason to play Myr. I would never have put these little guys in a more normal deck. It gives me a strong strategic incentive to play cards I don’t normally advocate.
  • Animar, Soul of Elements makes you want to play cards that have very few colored mana symbols. This is weird. Very few cards warp deckbuilding to the same magnitude that Animar does.
  • Mono-Brown decks with Karn, Silver Golem at the helm.
  • I hate playing against Norin the Wary, but I do have to admit that it makes for an interesting deck.
  • I am currently re-investigating the feasibility of a five-color deck that contains every planeswalker. Wish me luck.


It isn’t quite the same as Elf Tribal or Allies Local #207, but it is mechanical undercurrents like these that are present at the genesis of my new decks. These are the types of ideas that I find interesting enough to build around.


Before I go, I want to reiterate a related idea that you can use in deckbuilding. Consider this a bonus.


Draft, Revise, Repeat


When I am assembling the first draft of my deck, it isn’t tight. It is loose on purpose. This is when I experiment with new things. I shoehorn in pet cards, new cards, second-tier tech. My decks start out very casual. This is when I have my fun trying out goofy things or experimenting with ‘hipster’ themes. This phase is important to the process, but doesn’t last long.


I am constantly taking stock of how cards perform. I am surveying changes in the landscape of my local metagame. I am making adjustments after each game I play. And I promise you, the deck isn’t getting worse. I am tightening up all the screws with the intention of taking more wins. That could mean focusing in on core strengths of the deck, targeting specific opportunities in my metagame, improving my individual card choices, or a host of other things. Inevitably this leads all my decks to the same familiar places. They start out full of identity and individuality, but as I’ve said before, they eventually end in some version of Stoneforge Mystic into Batterskull, or whatever. Once I have determined that the only way to further improve a deck is to fall into that same pattern, I know it is time to move on. I have mentioned this concept before, but I detail it again here because I think it bears repeating. I have people in my playgroup who are real ‘spirit of the format’ zealots. They often start out loving my decks and praising them for the use of weird old cards. Eventually though, as my decks develop, the opinions change. That is sort of how I roll; sometimes we can be best friends and agree about everything and sometimes we just can’t get on the same page. I am over here doing my own thing with deckbuilding and I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about how it fits with the expectations of others. I want to constantly improve. If someone doesn’t support that, I think they are actively trying to hobble me. That is just mean…don’t be mean guys.


To review:


Always strive to have the best version of your deck. Regardless of what you are trying to do, make the design choices that will give your deck the best shot at winning. Secondly, it is okay to have fun. In fact, I encourage it; however, once you have a deck put together, start moving towards making it competitive. I start out with a loosely organized mess, transition it into an efficient table-crushing machine, and then start the process all over again. Each iteration is practice that helps me improve upon my methods for deckbuilding. I keep improving so that my skills don’t become stagnant. It all comes back to being superlative. That is why I am writing Decksplanations: to become better.


Decksplanations is all about my opinion and my approach to creating new Commander decks. I like to hear feedback from the community and I appreciate the ideas that I have heard in response to my early articles here on CommanderCast. Shout out to everyone who is reading whether you enjoyed it or not.




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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