Well, it’s January. For many people, that means breaking old habits and perhaps even starting some new ones. While I was looking back over the articles I wrote in 2017, I noticed a theme—I talk a lot about what I see other people doing, and give them advice on what they should be doing. I do this because I feel I have a lot of things to say about Commander and the Commander community, and I love helping people and sharing my knowledge and experience.
For the month of January, I’m going to be talking a little bit more about myself as a deckbuilder (part 1), pilot (part 2), and writer (part 3) and exploring some of the things I can do better.
Today, to kick off this three-part series, we’re going to talk about deckbuilding resolutions!
Some Good Things
Before I launch into the giant list of things I think I can do better, I want to reflect on the things I think I did well in 2017.
Early in the year, I built a Meren deck.
Meren is actually pretty fun. It’s generally a grindy, controlly deck that snowballs out of control. It can win either by being the only one at the table with cards in hand and permanents on the field, or by an unnecessarily complicated Protean Hulk line that I’ve been meaning to smooth out. I pull this out at stronger casual tables, and as a loaner to people that want to play competitive games with me.
I feel like I’ve been doing a pretty good job exploring lower-tier competitive stuff. I’m really curious about Azorius, but haven’t found a build that suits me yet. In 2017 I tried Bruna, but there are some interesting new WU generals that are worth testing.
I was—and am—so excited to have the opportunity to play Momir Vig Hackball. This is a list that’s been developed by TappedOut users AverageDragon and sickrobot, who are also regulars on the CompetitiveEDH subreddit and Discord channels. At the moment, this is my favourite example of creative brewing at the top-end of the format. Every once in awhile you’ll see a deck like this one break through and actually have the potential to do something unique, resilient, and worthwhile. If you’re looking for a Simic combo deck I really can’t recommend this one enough.
Building and Critiquing
I updated my Nin primer after Kaladesh block in early 2017, which contained some really important pieces for artifact-based combo decks. I’m probably due for another update, but there aren’t any major changes on the horizon so it’s not a huge priority for me at the moment. Keeping my primer updated is something that I think is really important, because I find that a lot of people looking for advice start by searching, and if they don’t find anything recent they’ll either get discouraged or ask questions that they don’t realize have already been answered.
One thing that’s really close to my heart is the idea that deckbuilding advice should be friendly. I’ve been going out of my way for the past year or two to call out to people who put effort into thinking about their decks and asking good questions, and contributing to their threads the best I can. I encourage you all to do the same—if you see something good about someone’s post, upvote it, then comment with some words of encouragement! If you’re an expert on the subject matter, toss down a few thoughts when you get some free time. If you know an expert on the subject matter, tag them in the thread so they can do the same!
Some Bad Things
When I was reviewing the Rivals of Ixalan spoilers, I realized that I haven’t really added anything of value to any of my existing decks from a set since Kaladesh brought me a windfall of artifact goodies. This is an issue because I feel like I’m losing touch with the format, and I have to read a lot more cards than I’d like while playing.
With as much of a splash as this deck made when partners were released, I really don’t have an awful lot of experience playing with or against them. A lot of people told me that Nin and Oona were essentially obsolete when Thrasios landed, and I’ve mostly disagreed with them. I see one of Nin’s major strengths as the ability to lean on non-basic land hate to shut down multicolour decks with greedy mana bases. In this light, I saw Nin as getting more effective as the meta skewed towards 4C combo builds. Over the past year and a bit, I think this was mostly borne out because we’re seeing quite a few two-coloured draw-go control decks like Nin pop up.
There were a few points in 2017 when I thought about adding a colour and changing generals, but every time the conclusion that I came to was there wasn’t a good reason to play URX when Thrasios was an option.
I’m somewhat disappointed that I didn’t take those opportunities to actually build and explore Thrasios as an archetype, and as a result I feel unfamiliar with the lines and signals that Thrasios pilots might be sending me in games. Overall this makes me a less-effective control player.
I netdecked Cobblepott’s Bruna Stax list. I was really excited about playing it, because I liked the idea of symmetrically shutting down everyone’s ability to cast spells. I still really love the idea of the deck, but it’s a little too one-dimensional for my tastes. Without a consistent way to draw and tutor for cards, you’re basically just watching the game play out and ending it if your opponents manage to stymie each other. Coming from piloting a control deck, I felt way too helpless while I was playing this deck.
I put this in the bad section here because I’m really at a loss when I think about ways I would improve it. It might be something I revisit in the future, but I’m probably more likely to branch out into other Azorius control decks before I take another crack at this one. If any of you out there have any tips, I’d genuinely welcome them.
I haven’t actually built a new casual paper deck recently. In 2017 I built Meren (low-end competitive), Bruna Stax (low-end competitive), and Momir Hackball (not-half-bad competitive). On the casual side of things, the last paper deck I put together was Vial Smasher which was over a year ago. Part of this is because the courses I’m taking right now happen to overlap with Wednesday Night Commander at Fusion Gaming. I really like playing competitive, and I think that my existing decks give me a really good range of options with respect to power level. You can’t have too many, though – right? My staples binder lets me build essentially whatever I want on the cheap, so I really don’t have an excuse beyond “I need to buy new inner sleeves”.
Building and Critiquing
When I build and critique casual decks, I feel like I’m going a little low on land counts. This is probably because I’m working more with competitive decks that are frequently in the 28-32 land range. I took a lot of liberties with my Vial Smasher / Silas Renn CMC matters deck, partially because I wanted to stick to the theme of high-CMC cards, and partially because I didn’t actually have a good way to decide what the land count should actually be. I suspect I’m probably a land or two low unless I add a few more mana rocks. After playing the deck, I know that it needs to hit its 5th mana source to really start humming. I’m running 35 lands at the moment, which, according to my calculations, means I only have a ~50% chance of hitting my 5th land drop on turn 5. Increasing that to 38 lands brings me over 60%, which is still probably a little on the low side. I’ll probably revisit this in 2018 to decide on what I can cut.
Speaking of mana bases, I’m leaning really heavy on mana dorks in my green builds lately. I usually say that I’m not a slave to format staples, but I can feel myself slipping into a pattern of including the same package of Birds of Paradise / Llanowar Elves / Elvish Mystic / Arbor Elf in every green deck I build.
I realized this after getting really excited about Samut, Voice of Dissent a couple weeks ago. After building Meren and Momir, it seems like this suite of mana dorks is getting a real workout.
What To Do?
Here’s the part in the article when I turn all these random thoughts into a deckbuilding road map for 2018. I think I can probably distill all of this into main points:
- Follow Dominaria spoilers and make a list of the cards I want to build around, test, and swap into existing decks. I’ve done this in the past and I know people who do this consistently with every set. I might just be really jaded but I find that most Standard sets (especially recently) don’t get me excited to build or brew, but I think if I do this I’ll probably end up liking some stuff after actually playing with it.
- Build a Thrasios deck from scratch. This one is actually going to be pretty tough, and I’m pretty convinced that my first draft is going to be awful garbage. Being that this is such a popular deck, it’s had the benefit of thousands of hours of review by some incredibly talented deckbuilders. I don’t pretend for a second that what I produce is going to be good, but it will serve as a stepping stone (and maybe a good article or two) to understanding what makes the deck such a juggernaut.
- Explore competitive Azorius strategies a little more. On my list to test are Taigam, Ojutai Master, Grand Arbiter Augustin IV, and Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker. There tends to be a lot of stuff in the lower-tiers of competitive EDH, either because it’s tuned to its theoretical maximum and just isn’t very good, or because it’s a good concept that needs a little work. This one should be a pretty interesting journey.
- Get weird and build some casual decks in paper. For those of you that know me in person, you probably already know that I sometimes get hit by these waves of inspiration that result in quirky, awful, and unique abominations that live on my TappedOut account. In 2018 I plan on actually building a few of these in paper to add them to my gauntlet of casual brews to use on Wednesday nights.
With this series of articles, in my heart of hearts, I’m really hoping to hear from you. First and foremost, I want to hear about your New Year’s Resolutions! Do you have any decks that you really want to work on, any habits you want to kick, or anything you want to learn? Second, I’d love to hear from you if there’s anything you think I can work on! This article focused on deckbuilding, but you might have thought of something I didn’t when it comes to gameplay or content creation that I haven’t yet included in my next two articles, so let me know about those as well! As always, you can hit me up on Reddit or in the comments below.