Every deck starts with a plan, but sometimes our natural inclination to be massive screw-ups gets the best of us. We could have started with a pretty great list, but a series of many small tweaks and changes over a period of time have ruined something fundamental that was making the deck work, or the deck could have just been bad to begin with, and we never figured out what the problems were. Either way, there often comes a time when a deck just gets laughably bad and the builder needs to take action to fix that, and that could mean anything from subtle adjustments here and there to tearing it down and starting all over again. I don’t know if “Fix That Deck!” will become a regular feature here, but I do know it’s a common enough experience among all players and deckbuilders that it has some potential.
When I first got into the Commander format (still known as EDH at the time), I decided to go in relatively hard. My very first deck was a Scion of the Ur-Dragon build, focused on rolling up with the namesake as often as possible and casting cool dragons when he was otherwise indisposed. The format was a blast, and I looked forward to building my next deck, waiting for inspiration to strike me. Whether for good or bad, I ended up participating in and hearing anecdotes of several Commander games where players weren’t as interested in what I felt was the “normal” back-and-forth rhythm of the game, hiding behind protective wards and various utility creatures and repeatedly wiping the board until the game eventually ended in someone’s infinite combo. I found these experiences frustrating, and started thinking about a way to make players stay engaged in the interactive and combative side of Magic – what I see as the “real” game – whether they wanted to or not. Fumiko the Lowblood is a card that had been moving between a couple of my decks for several years, but was currently taking a break in my trade binder. She immediately struck me as the perfect choice for a Commander who could really keep control and combo players off-balance and not bother aggro players much at all. Knowing that a fair amount of aggression would understandably be directed my way, I dug deep into many of the strange and useful defensive creatures and effects available to my Commander’s color identity, and I felt pretty clever for it.
The deck was rampantly un-good. I won’t waste space posting the initial decklist here (Commander lists take up a lot of scroll-time, and are a real pain to link up), but you can go to the revision history of the deck on Tapped Out to see the first build and subsequent changes. Yeah, I had a few quirky dragons and several creatures with good firebreathing effects to hand out damage, but there were a ton of cards that just didn’t do very much at all. I had lots of trouble making any progress during the course of a game, the threats I had weren’t good enough to overcome the mass of non-threats, and many cards just didn’t work out to be as good as I thought they would be. I aired my concerns on Tapped Out, with my friends, and in an episode of the podcast. The feedback I got was very helpful, especially one particularly well-written piece of tough love from a listener. I went back and forth many times between feeling highly appreciative and personally offended at the tone and content of that post, but the listener was absolutely right: I had built a non-red deck with all red cards, and the result was appropriately dumb and terrible. I took much of the advice, and made a great many changes for the better, but still ran into problems. After getting annoyed during recent games with some of the same old issues coming up, I decided to take another hard look at the deck.
When it came down to it, the two major problems in the deck’s structure that were still holding it back were the inclusion of cards that were purely defensive, and the inclusion of cards that had a dual defensive/offensive nature but whose non-defensive uses just weren’t useful enough.
Purely Defensive Cards
I need cards that do something, rather than just sit there and stop other things from happening (the type of play I built this deck to discourage). There were still a number of purely defensive walls left in the deck, having made the cut because I felt they were the top examples of what my color identity could accomplish in terms of defensive creatures, some even going so far as to be inappropriate, based on the modern understanding of the color wheel. These included AEther Membrane (bounce block), Living Wall (easy regenerating), Wall of Earth (extremely cheap toughness), Wall of Heat (same, plus power), and Wall of Stone (same, minus power). All of them are really great walls, but that’s it. None of them perform a single proactive function, so they need to go if I’m really going to reform this deck. The other remaining purely defensive card was Urza’s Armor (hit me, I don’t care), which really hurt to cut, but I had to stay dedicated to the fix.
Cards that Aren’t Useful Enough
There were also several “cute” ideas left in the deck for effects I thought would work well with the theme. Cute deck ideas are rarely ever good ideas, and these cards didn’t break any barriers. Regardless of how useful they looked on paper, they just didn’t work out to be practical or notable in any real games they showed up in. Cards in this category included Accorder’s Shield (attack and block with no worries), Chaosphere (just to mess with people), Fiery Fall (removal and Valakut support), Rage Nimbus (I think I’ve only activated it once, ever), Snow Fortress (less than once), and Strandwalker (yay spider time). Dumping these to make room for better cards can only help me.
Basalt Monolith was also cut from the deck, but not because it wasn’t good. It’s because I wanted to set it aside for a Sharuum the Hegemon Commander deck I’m planning. I promise any infinite combos that end up in the deck will be purely accidental. (Hey, that sounds awfully familiar – Chewie)
So what should I use to replace passive and lame cards? Aggressive and good cards, of course! I’ll just address them alphabetically in the discussions below.
Aggressive and Proactive Cards
Now I’m not talking about suddenly loading up on the most vicious and cutthroat creatures and effects available to the deck. What I want are cards that can run around and punch people, but are still in touch with the fun spirit of the deck. For example, it’s not too difficult to dump artifact mana into Eron the Relentless‘ casting cost and have enough red mana available to attack and regenerate. Grand Melee serves as an extra copy of Fumiko’s most important ability, with the added twist that players can’t just skip blocking and take the damage if they don’t want their untapped creatures getting involved. Hero of Oxid Ridge will improve my attackers, and also gets annoying chump blockers out of my way. If I can get up to the mana required to cast Pathrazer of Ulamog, he turns into a terrifying and incredibly hard to block attacker who can really put someone on the back foot. Reckless Charge can make almost any creature a terrifying attacker, and it’s a single card that can be used twice, which is especially good for a Commander deck that doesn’t have a lot of ways to draw cards. Slith Firewalker can start running up on people before the game really even begins, and he’s the perfect kind of attacker to have if there aren’t any blockers available. Tuktuk the Explorer can go back and forth and annoy opponents, and is really nice to have if someone feels the need to wipe the board.
Card that are Just Good
Any other support cards I choose have to be worthy of the deck and the fixes I’m making. I can’t just add in more things that only amount to more “hey, that’s kind of funny” types of effects. Yes, Battle Rampart is a wall, but it probably won’t be blocking very often for how useful its ability is. A suggestion I’ve gotten multiple times for this deck is Insurrection, and considering this is a red deck that would rather win by attacking, it’s high time it got added to the list. Lightning Greaves is a Commander staple that has somehow eluded this deck all this time, and I decided to remedy that. With creatures running around and getting into trouble in combat, I think Rockslide Elemental is a cheap way to build a very scary creature, but he’s the one card in this group that will require the most monitoring for true usefulness. Sword of Vengeance is a great way to make an attacker and blocker that mean business, and it’s not very mana-intensive at all.
Thran Dynamo is the replacement for the Monolith. I think that’s a decent trade.
So here’s the full decklist after the changes, hopefully for the better. Let me know what you think about it in the comments here and on the Tapped Out page. As of publication, I haven’t played any actual games with it, but I’m feeling very comfortable with the updates and very optimistic as well. It looks like we’re finally ready to get in there and throw some elbows.
Fumiko the Lowblood
Contested War Zone
Maze of Ith
Rocky Tar Pit
Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep
Temple of the False God
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Akroma, Angel of Fury
Eron the Relentless
Hero of Oxid Ridge
Homura, Human Ascendant
Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs
Lord of Shatterskull Pass
Pathrazer of Ulamog
Tuktuk the Explorer
Heart of Ramos
Slice and Dice
Stone Idol Trap
Sword of Vengeance
Have fun, guys.