After reading back over the last couple instalments of The Metaworker, I realised that some of the strategies I’ve been getting into might be a little heavy for the average playgroup. In fact, the whole concept of making appropriate meta choices sometimes has the effect of sparking a sort of arms race within a playgroup, where escalating power levels make the play style unforgiving and tedious.

Quite often you’ll hear spirited discussions about the “spirit of Commander” when you’re surfing the MagicTCG subreddit or the MTGSalvation Forums, and it’s a concept you may already be familiar with. In essence, it refers to the idea that Commander is a format whose loose rule structure allows for deck diversity and a more social environment. This removes a lot of the tension that’s associated with competitive Magic. Quite often this translates to deckbuilders making suboptimal card choices because they value things like flavour, interactivity, or inclusion of a pet card over closing the game out as early as possible.

With that in mind, let’s dive right into this week’s topic – Having Fun with our Friends, which I’m going to break down into three main ideas.

When I sit down with a group of people to play Commander, the very first thing I do is talk to them a little about what style of game they like to play. I do this because

  1. The social nature of Commander thrives when all players in a game approach the game with similar ideas of what to expect.

You’ll notice that I very explicitly avoided using the words “spike” and “casual” in this definition because I believe there’s a lot of fun to be had at both ends of the competitive spectrum, as long as everyone in the game knows what they’re getting into. Sometimes the answer is ramp to fatties and beat face”, other times it’s Warp World and Goblin Game”, and in my own personal playgroup it’s tax, stax, and efficient resource conversion (which is a concept we’ll be talking about in a later episode”.

       2. Meta Choices are sometimes a means of powering down your deck diluting your strategy, if                    that’s what your meta calls for.

I haven’t really touched on this idea yet in these articles, but it is absolutely true. In any playgroup there’s bound to be a disparity in the deckbuilding skill and budget of each deckbuilder at the table. If you recognize that your own decks are at a significantly higher power level than what your friends can handle, and they’re not adapting to handle your strategy appropriately, it could be time to build a new deck.

       3. Pull punches in deckbuilding, never in gameplay.

If you find yourself identifying with the situation I’ve described above, do your best to avoid pulling punches in gameplay. Letting people win because you’ve determined that your opponent’s deck is incapable of beating yours comes off as patronizing, and it has the tendency to escalate tensions rather than diffusing them. The time to pull your punches is in your card selection during deckbuilding, as it limits your access to tools you normally lean on as a player.

The strategy I use to hammer home these 3 ideas is to ensure that I’ve got access to decks that have a variety of power levels and strategies. My current lineup, in order of power level, looks something like this:

(Lowest Power/Casual)

Kangee, Aerie Keeper (Changeling/Lord Triba)

Roon of the Hidden Realm (Golem Tribal)

Karona, False God (God Tribal)

Anax and Cymede (white weenie / heroic aggro)

Animar, Soul of Elements (Imperial Recruiter / Ancestral Statue combo)

Nin, the Pain Artist (control/monolith combo)

(Highest Power/Competitive)

To get an idea of what deckbuilding on the lower end of this spectrum looks like, I want to take you through the deckbuilding process for my lowest power deck headed by Kangee, Aerie Keeper. Rather than building around the commander, I started by making a list of what I wanted the deck to be:

  • Good distribution of threats (see Metaworker Episode 1). This would ensure the deck could compete in a meta full of   top-tier spot removal.
  • Take advantage of the benefits of multiple tribes by utilizing creatures with the Changeling ability.
  • Use some of the obscure cards I have in my collection from the Revised to Urza Block era. I wanted to build this deck on a budget, so every card I could jam in here from my bulk box was a card I didn’t have to purchase.

While going over a list of my favourite creatures with Changeling, it became very obvious that this deck was going to be either Bant or a subset of Bant colours. This would give me access to the best Changeling creatures in the game (Chameleon Colossus and Mirror Entity) as win conditions, as well as the Merfolk, Elf, Sliver, and Bird lords that I felt could form the spine of this deck. Before going out to buy any of the cards I wanted to jam into this deck, I took a look at the Bant commanders I’d have access to:

Angus Mackenzie – this, in my heart of hearts, is who I want to be the commander for this deck. Tiny Leaders, the reserve list, and a small print run are the main factors why you won’t see Mr. Mackenzie heading up a budget deck any time soon.

Arcades Sabboth – this is an interesting choice, and it almost won out. It sends the right message to the other players at the table as far as what this deck is and what it intends to do.

Derevi, Empyrial Tactician – I can tell you first hand from my own playgroup. Derevi is an absolutely punishing stax general. Derevi dovetails (intentional) really nicely with bird lords, which opens up commander damage as a win condition. Even though this deck wouldn’t be build to take advantage of Derevi’s most powerful interaction (untapping Gaea’s Cradle multiple times per turn), this commander sends the wrong message to the other people at the table, which works against the first idea I’ve outlined above.

Jenara, Asura of WarJenara has built-in evasion and can get bigger as the game goes on, but without any worthwhile angel lords on my radar she didn’t make the cut.

PhelddagrifPhelddagrif almost won out, but the signal this sends to the table is that I’d be playing group hug. That’s not what this deck is about, and there aren’t any really obvious tribal strategies that the big purple hippo enables.

Rafiq of the ManyRafiq draws a lot of hate from most tables due to his ability to produce really explosive turns that take advantage of double strike. For the same reason I avoided Derevi, I’m avoiding Rafiq.

Ragnar – See Angus Mackenzie

Roon of the Hidden Realm – I’ve already got a Roon deck that’s not going anywhere.

Rubinia Soulsinger – Similar to Arcades Sabboth, Rubinia almost made the cut. She’s in a relevant tribe (faerie), and has a pretty decent ability. Ultimately, the decision here came down to being able to take advantage of my commander’s ability while leaving commander damage open as a win condition, which Rubinia can’t do easily.

Treva, the Renewer – I was never super impressed with this cycle of legendary creatures. Treva was cut totally out of personal bias.

At this point, after scouring the entire list of Bant commanders, I decided that – in order to stick to my objectives for this deck build – I had to cut either green or white and settle in with an Azorius or Simic commander.

That’s when I came across Kangee, Aerie Keeper.

Kangee is a tribal lord with an ability that is so overcosted it’s laughable (7 mana investment before it even acts as an anthem. Even worse, it’s a totally symmetrical effect!). This commander is perfect in every way, so I said goodbye to all the sweet elf tech from the green slice of the colour pie. Kangee sends the right signal to my opponents as far as the deck’s power level is concerned.

 At that point, it was just a matter of picking out the choicest pieces of tribal tech I could find on a budget, and throwing together a list! Copying lords tends to be a powerful effect, and manipulating creature types expands their scope of influence to off-tribe creatures, so I had a few natural sub-themes to work into this list.
Kangee, Aerie Keeper by James LaPage

When I put the final touches on this decklist, what I was left with was a deck that is not particularly threatening. It definitely has the potential to do some ridiculous things (like turning an army of bird tokens into a copies of Aven Brigadier with Infinite Reflection), but it explicitly does not include any resource denial strategies or cards that hose any particular strategy. This ensures that other people in my playgroup will be able to play their own strategies relatively unimpeded.

Let’s take a look at the three ideas I outlined at the beginning of this article, specifically in the context of this deck:

  • This is a deck that signals to the rest of the table that I’m ready to have fun with my friends.
  • This is a deck is deliberately powered down to ensure that I’ve got an appropriate deck to play against people who like to play goofy magic.
  • This is a deck that allows the pilot a ton of lines of play. I can play to my ability during the game without totally dominating, and sometimes I even surprise myself with how complex the interactions can get.

In short, this is a deck I’m proud to have in my arsenal.




If you are struggling with a problem in your local meta, send an e-mail to with a detailed description of the dominant threats in your meta. Be sure to include the commander (and archetype if applicable) as well as the pilot’s preferred ways of closing out the game. Also include your decklist, budget, and any deckbuilding restrictions you’ve imposed on yourself (themes, house rules/banlist, and overall spikiness of your playgroup). Your situation may be solved in a future installment of The Metaworker.





3 Responses

  1. Kuan Yew Wong

    I’m new to the EDH format and was actually brought to it by watching Melissa DeTora and the Professor playing it on YouTube recently. I was hooked on her Karametra deck. A bit of poking around, I plan to start a 4-man Pod featuring Karametra, Phenax, Rakdos (Lord of Riots) and The Mimeoplasm. Do you think this would work in a friendly and casual setting? Would any of the deck be too powerful or overwhelming?

    I’m looking for a 8-10 turns, 45-60 minutes game play kind of casual setting.

    • James LaPage

      I think you’ve got a good mix of commanders there. Nothing sticks out to me as being inherently anti-fun, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see your games go longer than 8-10 turns, depending on how the decks are built. Rakdos and The Mimeoplasm do a great job of dishing out large amounts of damage, so they’ll probably be doing their best to make sure your games don’t go longer than an hour.

      Karametra normally does a great job of dishing out damage too. It looks like Melissa DeTora went with an enchantress theme that’s intended to slow the game down quite a bit, meaning she’s working in the opposite direction as Rakdos and The Mimeoplasm. It’s a great list, and it reminds me of the Abzan constellation list I ran during Theros standard. There’s a lot of powerful synergy there and you might find the list slightly on the oppressive side. Like with any EDH playgroup, though, it’s important to gage how you think your deck is fitting in to your local meta. If you’re winning right around 25% of your games in a 4-person pod, that’s the butter zone. Anything significantly higher or lower than that and I’d say it’s time to look at your deckbuilding choices!

      • Kuan Yew Wong

        Thanks for the swift reply! Well, there’s no much of a meta where I’m from. So it’s more of a social gathering, hence the hour-long game time. Just hoping to see everyone enjoying themselves and each deck having interesting interactions and hopefully multiple wincons.

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