Several years ago, some co-workers and I took part in a deck building challenge: to build ‘Peasant’ Commander decks that contained no Rare or Mythic Rare cards. This rarity restriction included the Legendary Creatures we were allowed to use as our Commanders. Nowadays all Legendary Creatures are printed at Rare or Mythic Rare, but this was not always the case; during the Kamigawa block there were several Uncommon Legendary Creatures, and way way back in Legends block there were even some at Common. A few of them were decent cards. Most of them were not. My choice? I decided to use Sivitri Scarzam, a 6/4 Black and Blue Human creature for seven mana. She was really quite unimpressive, but she was in the colours I wanted, and there was one available to me for little cost. I picked her up and got started on the deck “Commanding Peasants”:
Considering that this was intended to be used against regular Commander decks, I reasoned that Blue and Black would be good colours to use; the theory was that anything my opponents played would naturally be better than what I had in my deck, so I was best off countering their spells and killing their creatures. I looked through my collection and picked out several “kill spells”, like Doom Blade and Murder, and an assortment of counterspells, like Dissipate and Dissolve, and added them to the deck. The deck was looking like a Blue-Black control deck, using Sivitri Scarzam as my end-game finisher. Whatever threats came up, I would be able to dispatch of them, and I would (ideally) have a clear field for my Commander to attack. Considering the lack of powerful Rare cards, the deck was looking promising.
Now, normally when I’m building a new Commander deck, I start with a general framework of what kind of deck I want to build and pull cards from my collection that fit that idea broadly. Once I have a giant stack to choose from, I will thin things out until I have about right number of cards. To round things out I’ll usually go buy singles of those last few cards to give my deck an extra little kick; cards that go particularly well with the Commander, or that fit the theme very well. As time passes and new sets come out, I will constantly be tinkering my decks, picking up new cards here and there to improve things. For this Peasant Commander deck, however, I gave myself an extra restriction:
“For this Commander deck I am only allowed to use cards that I open in booster packs and cards that I pick in drafts in this deck. I cannot use any cards from preconstructed decks, nor can I buy cards specifically for this deck, aside from my Commander.”
This meant that I would only be working with what I had, which was mostly kill spells and counterspells. This meant that I ended up with a deck that could deal with one threat at a time with relative ease. But, as I gradually discovered over the years, the deck had a glaring weakness: as games went on it became harder and harder to keep creatures off of the battlefield, and multiple threats would start to pile up. Most Commander decks have access to cards like Day of Judgment or Cyclonic Rift that can clear the board of everything, wiping the battlefield of all its threats. Unfortunately for me and my Peasant deck, these effects are only ever printed at Rare of Mythic Rare. I managed to open a few cards that could be used in similar ways, like Aetherize and Breaker of Armies, and while they are a bit awkward to use, they are better than nothing. What occurred to me as I thought about the problem more and more was that something like the old card Massacre, which reduced the toughness of all creatures, might be just the thing for the deck. All creatures getting a penalty to toughness until the end of the turn is an effect that sees print at Uncommon rarity fairly regularly. While several cards have been printed with that effect, there was one in particular that stood out in my mind: Flaying Tendrils.
Flaying Tendrils is a Sorcery from Oath of the Gatewatch that gives all creatures -2/-2 until the end of the turn, but what makes Flaying Tendrils stand out so much more than other Massacre-like cards is that it also makes any creatures that die on the turn it is cast (for any reason) become exiled instead of going to the graveyard. This ability in Commander is surprisingly useful, considering how often the graveyard is used as a resource by players; threats that are sent to the graveyard are often reanimated or brought back to their owner’s hand to be recast later in the game. Because of this, being able to shut down this reanimation strategy by exiling a creature instead of killing it can be invaluable in any game of Commander.
With this in mind, I was becoming more and more convinced that Flaying Tendrils would be the ideal card for my Peasant deck. It was going to allow the deck to deal with a lot of small threats at once, and it could also be used to prevent large threats from coming back time and again! There was only one problem with my plan: I had yet to open a copy of Flaying Tendrils, and because of my extra restriction for the deck, I was not allowed to simply buy one no matter how inexpensive it was.
Fortunately for me, I was regularly drafting Oath of the Gatewatch at the time at Friday Night Magic (FNM), where I might get lucky and find a Flaying Tendrils that I could use for my deck. A few weeks went by, and I didn’t see any; I wasn’t sure if it was just that uncommon for the card to show up, or if it was an early a pick for the other players at my table. It wasn’t until near the end of Oath of the Gatewatch drafts at FNM that I finally saw one! That ever-elusive uncommon was right there in front of me, but I wasn’t drafting Black that week. In fact, there were several good cards that WERE in my draft colours in the same pack. This was it, the moment where I had to make the hard decision: would I take the card that would be ideal for my draft deck, or would I snap up this uncommon card while I had the chance?
Of course I had to take the Flaying Tendrils. It was likely the last time I would ever see it in a Draft, and I was having no luck opening it from boosters. I snapped up that uncommon card like like it was a priceless relic, even if it meant sabotaging my draft deck. Finding that uncommon was one of the most memorable moments I have ever had sitting at a Draft table. For me it was a very important decision to make that would have lasting consequences.
The fact that I had to think that hard about choosing whether or not to take an inexpensive uncommon cards is, in my opinion, quite wonderful. I’m so glad that I gave myself that silly extra restriction all those years ago when making my Peasant Commander deck. Not only do I feel all the more satisfied when my deck does well because it has no rare cards, but because of that restriction I get far more excited when opening booster packs than I would otherwise. I eagerly look through my Common and Uncommon cards for something useful that I could add to my deck, since I can’t tweak the deck otherwise. The same is true for drafting; the restriction forces me to make a difficult choice that would otherwise be quite trivial: do I take the card I want for my Peasant Commander deck, or do I pass it up knowing that it may be the only chance I will ever have to add it to that deck?
Would you make the same decision?