Seedborn Musings – I hate Sol Ring and All That It Taps For

I’m a curmudgeon.  There.  I’ve said it.  If you’re reading this and you know me, this isn’t news.  If you tell me to do something, I’ll likely not.  If there’s a “best deck”, I want to brew something to beat it.

But I display this most proudly when people say anything like this:

“Oh, you’re running [blah.dec]?  You have to play this card!”

No.  I.  Don’t.  The more someone italicizes their statement, the bolder I make mine.

This mindset is so prevalent in Commander that it makes me want to…um…not play Commander.  There is an idea that every list of 100 you sleeve up should have a certain few cards regardless of the deck plan.  The list runs deeper if you’re talking about a certain color or combination.  In this world where a 100-card list is really only about 85 of your choice, you should be running Sol Ring, probably Ancient Tomb, dual lands if you can get them, Oblivion Stone, and so forth, and you’re stupid or hopelessly underpowered if you don’t.

To me, this is the equivalent of saying every Scars of Mirrodin draft deck is helped by Myrs as mana-fixing.  What if you just packed your deck full of lands and threats so that, while people are using small cards to set up threats, all your draws are live?  Is a topdecked Iron Myr in the late game better than a topdecked land?  Not really. Threat quality v. threat density is a consideration in 40- and 60-card universes. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be a consideration in 100ville. 

What about a topdecked Sol Ring, or an Ancient Tomb when you’re at low life totals?  Those things take up space in a deck, and even the stuff to find those things takes space.  Simply put, if you don’t have guaranteed early access to these mana artifacts or sick lands, you’re taking up a lot of cards for something that will be an awful topdeck.  And while I resent the argument “Bad topdeck = bad card,” Commander has so many situations where you’re re-establishing the board after a sweeper that it’s worth entertaining.

Currently, I have three Commander decks: one that I took the time to put together thoroughly and the other two that were initially thrown together as themes from stuff I owned 1 of.  That’s changing with some cards I’m trading in, and so I’m building what I consider the most curmudgeonly list of the format, at least in terms of challenging notions of cards that absolutely have to be played.  The final list is in flux on the last few cards, but say hello to…

RADHA AND HER CURMUDGEONS

(Commander: Radha, Heir to Keld)

 

Sorted by converted mana cost, color, and spell type (creature v. other).

You may notice that I haven’t listed my artifacts or nonbasic lands.  That’s because there are neither.  That’s 59 spells and 41 basic lands, and there are perfectly good reasons for configuring it that way.

The basic theory here besides fun with Radha is that the space that most decks take for artifact mana and nonbasic lands can be replaced with artifact/nonbasic land hate.  In this sense I’m building a Commander metagame deck, one whose goal is to focus on basic lands and creatures and force others to respect that plan by stripping theirs away.

Note, however, that I don’t have major solutions to basic lands.  I’m not running Obliterate and I refuse to buy Deus of Calamity since I could hit basic lands.  I can bounce a basic land with Primal Command, destroy one with Chain of Acid, or give one a blaze counter.  That’s it.  The rest of the land hate is against nonbasics.  The trick with the artifact/nonbasic hate is that I never for a second have to weigh destroying my stuff v. their stuff.  It’s all their stuff!  I have five cards to hate on nonbasic lands and nine to hate on artifacts, while having a ton of creatures that can sweep the board.  (Were you aware that Butcher Orgg can divide its combat damage among creatures that aren’t involved in combat?  That’s all kinds of cool.)

Radha as a commander ensures that you’ll have 4 mana on turn 3.  As a basic mana elf, nobody’s too worried about her in the early game; they have to set up their board still.  But you can get in early beats or hide behind walls until you get what you want, at which point you’re suddenly ahead on development.  The deck basically curves out at 6, but the difference is that every card drawn from there out is a threat instead of a dead mana fixer.

There are enough activated abilities to make an extra land relevant, especially if it’s a Mountain, as Obsidian Fireheart, Hoard-Smelter Dragon, and Lord of Shatterskull Pass are fine uses for them (Silklash Spider and Omnath can use your excess Forests).  Note that those abilities also give plenty of use for Radha’s RR from attacking.  This week, I killed a Heartless Hidetsugu deck with just three Radha swings when I used her mana and 4 more to stick Epic Proportions on her in the declare attackers step.  War Cadence is a similar boon, with the added benefit of being usable on others’ turns, i.e. you can help someone kill Mr. Elf Token by letting Mr. Ground Pounder swing unblockably at him.  See if they can pay 7 for each wannabe blocker…

I have 4 enchantments and 1 planeswalker, so I’m not wildly vulnerable to noncreature permanent hate myself.  I am vulnerable to Wrath effects, but I don’t think I am more than other decks of the ilk; in fact, having so many independent threats lets me recover naturally post-Wrath.  Mordant Dragon tells me I don’t have to overextend to win.  Wrap in Vigor, Recollect, Woodland Guidance, Genesis, and Praetor’s Counsel help me protect against wipeout.

Even in version 1.0, the general concepts behind the deck were winning far more games than they ought.  Radha allowed for mana consistency to drop midrange threats like they were mad phat beats (which they would commence if left unchecked).  The key was understanding that consistent mana development out of one card, namely Radha, freed up space for other cards to affect the board.  Not every deck can use this, of course, but it’s the principles I got from this that matter for whatever you’re building.

As 100 is 1.67 x 60, if you want your deck to be as fast as it is when Sol Ring is out, you’ll need 1.67 x however many cards you’d devote to acceleration in a 60-card deck.  You’re looking at about 12 cards to fill that role; otherwise, your deck will be absurdly fast sometimes but normal the other times.

But just like the difference between a deck that would like early mana and a deck that needs it, putting in a Sol Ring and a couple other cards like it isn’t enough.  Your starts are better with it, of course, but that doesn’t mean anything if you’re unlikely to have those starts.  All you’ve done is nudged your early odds while punting threats from your late game.  Before you start inserting random mana ramp in your deck, ask yourself how desperately you need it early and how dead it is drawn late.  The earlier you need it, the more cards you need to make it happen.

Part of why people auto-include these cards is the desire to play all the splashy spells.  But a deck that relies on these things to ignore curve considerations is asking for trouble in Commander just as it is in Constructed.  Just because you have Grand Architect and a lot of blue creatures in the deck doesn’t mean you should run Blightsteel Colossus as a 4-of.  Just because you would like to cast Blightsteel Colossus every time you have 12 mana doesn’t mean you will have 12 mana every time you draw Blightsteel Colossus.

Commander is a format for splashy spells, but so is every format; it’s just that the splashy spells of other formats cost less because the games are faster.  Primeval Titan is a splashy spell.  Jace, the Mind Sculptor is as haymaker as they come.  But while curve is paramount in Constructed, it’s assumed less important in Commander, probably because it’s a casual format, you want to play with big spells, and you have sprinkled mana acceleration.

Take every card in your deck, label its roles (it can have multiple ones), count up how many cards there are for each role, and divide the total by 1.67.  This is how many effects you would have in a 60-card deck, so if you’re familiar with that realm, work with that idea.  As much as my deck hates on artifacts, that still works out to about 5 artifact hosers in a 60-card deck.  That’s a reasonable amount, but it’s very different from saying “I have 8 cards in here to stop you” as though we could draw one any second.  It is safe to say that I will kill either nonbasic lands or artifacts over the course of the game.  Since my deck has neither, I’m fine with whichever comes up, but it’s not the same as an auto-win against them.

You see how this math reveals deck consistency?  Do you also see how replacing your mana artifacts with cards that all do one thing well can give your deck consistency of another sort?  If I’m running a Worn Powerstone, a Thran Dynamo, a Sol Ring, a Mana Vault, and a couple other things, I could replace all of those with sweepers and turn my few sweepers in the deck into a guaranteed draw rather than a wishcast with all this mana sitting around.

This necessitates lowering your curve slightly, but it’s not like limiting your nine-mana plays makes you aggro or anything.  There’s a point at which it doesn’t matter what sweeper you draw; it will hit something, and any 2+-for-1 is better than none.

Maybe your deck needs to run Sol Ring; by its ubiquity I assume many do.  But there are other ways of achieving consistency and other ways of taking control of a board.  Yes, Sol Ring and friends allow explosive starts.  But also yes, there are plenty of cards that mitigate explosive starts, and maybe it’s better that your deck beats the explosive starts instead of dedicating card space to making a better explosive start.

One of the fundamentals of chess is that you gain a massive tempo/control edge if developing your pieces forces your opponent’s pieces to retreat.  A pawn that opens up a diagonal for your bishop while also threatening their knight in the center gets you quite far ahead, as they will waste a move retreating the knight while your next move can add pressure to the board.

If everybody’s intent on running out their mana pieces early, then you make them waste their moves by destroying them with one card.  If your deck has this as a built-in plan, as the Radha list above does, then you’re developing your board just by playing lands every turn, even while setting back their development because they were relying too heavily on their artifact mana.  Not every color combination allows for this, but red, green, and white all can work with this, and in other color combinations you can stake your claim to a similar consistency (e.g. getting rid of small creatures, or having tons of protection from a prominent removal color, or shroud).  Reliable artifact destruction can develop you as well as reliable artifact mana; it just depends on what your goal is.

But most importantly for my purposes, building a deck this way lets me be a Commander curmudgeon.  So take that, Mr. Sol von Ringerstein.  I will not be part of your machine.

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About Seedborn Muse

Articles: GatheringMagic.com, 2012-; Muse Vessel, 2011; StarCityGames.com Talent Search, 2010; Hardball Times, 2008-2010; Baseball Prospectus, 2007. Books: Spill of the Tongue, Slip of the Mind (Draft in 2011; wanting feedback); Hardball Times Annual 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009. Songs: soundcloud.com/earth-dyed-red. Sketch comedy: In development.
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20 Responses to Seedborn Musings – I hate Sol Ring and All That It Taps For

  1. Panahinuva says:

    I’m actually in favor of cutting out unnecessary artifacts, especially due to the fact that there’s a Thada Adel deck caroming around in our group. It’s actually really funny to watch. The guy who built the deck didn’t build in any of the so-called “artifact staples” because, in his words, he’ll just “play everyone elses'”. And he does. I saw him end up with four sol rings and a couple of moxes once and it made me gleeful. And then the Radha player shatterstormed and I (running Kemba) opened the vaults. That also made me gleeful.

    But yeah, I’ll have to recommend this article to the Radha player, to see if I can convince him to cut some of his artifact acceleration.

  2. Seedborn Muse says:

    That sounds like an awesome metagame! I would love to see that board.

    Although I tend to make synergistic decks, I don’t thrive off hard decision trees. If I have a Shatterstorm that takes out a lot of nasty stuff but also leaves me without a Thran Dynamo, I may not cast it at the ideal time because I’m too attached to my board. That’s a big reason I eschewed it with Radha – I can recover from my creature wipe because I have a high concentration of creatures, while Shatterstorm/Ruination effects never hurt me. Commander is complex enough without my deck having internal tension.

    Great to hear from you, and I’d love to see the other Radha list.

  3. Shoe says:

    I have a deck that eschews artifacts entierly and doubles all of my removal spells as midrange creatures. I play Borborygmos as a general and make sure the deck keeps the pressure on. I have TONS of shatterstorm like effects that are ALWAYS one sided. Its a great strategy and I agree completely that the EDH/Commander Metagame is becoming stagnant. Anything to mix it up makes me happier.

    Good to see a place for some casual articles, after Kelly Digges quit writing for the mothership and Abe Sargent was off of starcitygames (although I did find out he is now at mana nation and still writing good stuff) it is refreshing for some new good material for the casual player.

    -Shoe
    Moderator of WOOBERG.weebly.com, Your #1 Source for Magic: the Gathering Variant Formats

  4. Seedborn Muse says:

    Shoe,

    Great hearing from you. My own take on what happened with casual writing is that it had a few leading lights who were so prolific (Alongi/Sargent/Steinmetz) that their absences were more keenly felt than anyone realized; they were sort of holding up the casual audience by themselves. Departures then were equated with the casual audience being “dead,” that EDH had taken over, blah blah blah.

    The multiplayer audience is still quite alive and dedicated; it just doesn’t have as many clear and obvious voices as it once did. Hopefully with three people on the same site we’ll revive the heyday.

    Another advantage I’ve found to R/G artifact smash decks is that they’re refreshingly simple to run, as they also increase the simplicity of others’ boards. (We had an epic Chain of Acid this week in a 3-way that took out Koth, Valakut, and 2 mana artifacts from one player, a Dragonskull Summit from another, and 2 Forests from mine.) EDH bogs down when all the board states are too complex. R/G has no such problem. Crush them! We eat!

  5. Alex G says:

    Saying you’re cutting Ancient Tomb or Sol Ring because they are bad late-game top decks can also be applied to every basic land in your deck. Id rather cut a card at random from my deck than a Sol Ring. I get what you are trying to say that all cards need to be evaluated, but it only goes so far. If Sol Ring tap ability was ‘Win the Game” it makes the cut in every deck in Magic. I would still run Sol Ring even in your deck because a 2 mana accelerate with zero tempo loss is over 9000 on the power charts.

    Also, there are artifacts and nonbasic lands you can run even in your deck with zero drawback – Wooded Foothills and Darksteel Ingot. I think you’re also wrong about how powerful early mana is. Land, Sol Ring, Signet go is pretty crazy. Even with your hate package that player is halfway to the finish line while you’re waiting for the gun to fire. Let’s say it’s their turn 2 and they go dual land, Glen Elendra, pass with a blue up. It’s going to be pretty dang hard for you to hate them out now. I think there are plenty of deck that don’t need a Sensei’s top, and quite a few that dont need lightning greaves, but its going to be pretty hard to find a deck that isnt improved by the addition of sol ring or ancient tomb.

  6. Memidas says:

    Something tells me you may have missed the point of this article Alex G…

    I personally am happy to find something that isn’t the same old same old. I’m interested in trying this deck because nothing makes me more happy than to make “must have” cards go bye bye. 🙂

    This is my first time reading on the site but I think I may have to stick around. Thanks for bringing something to the casual community that’s actually casual.

  7. Seedborn Muse says:

    @Memidas:

    Thanks much. You’re the type we had in mind when making this site.

    @Alex G:

    I didn’t say Sol Ring = bad topdeck = bad card; that’s an obviously bad argument. But Sol Ring, like any other accelerator, is a card slot. You’re trading threat density for threat explosiveness. Depending on the threat, that can be great – but it might also make you the first target.

    Of course Land –> Sol Ring –> Signet is a powerful turn. If your deck doesn’t do that consistently, however, then you shouldn’t build in reliance on it. And all the reliance on mana artifacts is a metagame inefficiency that in theory ought to be exploitable. If you’re going last as player E, and players A-D spent their first turns playing Rings and Chalices, then your turn 2 Meltdown is a lot-for-1. You could state accurately that it’s a rare case, but so is the explosive early play *IF* your deck isn’t dedicated to making the explosive early play.

    Many players’ decks do less of anything consistently because of these must-haves. Obviously, those decks can work. But there’s no reason they have to be built that way, and I wanted to make the counterargument because I thought one existed and I hadn’t seen one made.

    To be fair, I did take a tone intended to stir things up a bit, and you stated your case well. But I don’t see how Sol Ring and Ancient Tomb are useful unless they give a critical mass of acceleration so that your deck does something reliably with them. Otherwise, they’re just filler cards.

  8. Jules Robins says:

    Alex’s argument holds for Ancient Tomb if not for Sol Ring. As good of a metagame call as running a lot of non-basic hate may be, your deck would probably be stronger abusing all of the great non-basics in color (Mystifying Maze, Kher Keep, Mosswort Bridge, etc.) over some basics and running other threats or removal in place of the hate. That being the case, Ancient Tomb is a must play because it’s much better than a basic early, and both are dead topdecks late. I support your point that people should diversify the metagame, but please don’t throw the truth away in favor of a position. You don’t have to run Ancient Tomb, but unless all of your other colorless sources are better and you can’t run more due to color requirements, you should probably play it. Also, while I think your sweeper point can hold for artifact acceleration (only in red decks), the same is not true of non-basics. By running Mystifying Maze over a basic, you have fewer dead topdecks without lowering your number of mana sources. Your logic only holds when spells are being replaced, but sans the destruction point, Sol Ring is better than a land, it generates a mana the turn it comes in, and you wouldn’t keep a 1-lander in commander anyway, so Sol Ring takes a land slot, not a spell slot. This point would have been much more acceptable with something like Gilded Lotus. Last bit: Your math only works for drawing the first copy, then it breaks down because the percentage of the deck decrease in a 60 card deck is different from that of a 100 card one. If you have 3 creatures in your 60 card deck (1/20th, 5%) and you draw one, you now have 2 in your 59 card deck (about 1/30th, 3.4%). On the other hand, if you have 5 creatures in your 100 card deck (1/20th, 5%) and you draw one, you now have 4 in your 99 card deck (about 1/25th, 4%) and thus have a much better chance of drawing a second in the commander scenario.
    I’m sorry if this came off harsh, I really appreciate the writing that you’re doing on the subject, but I felt the need to clear these things up. I look forward to seeing more from you in the future.

  9. Seedborn Muse says:

    No it didn’t come off harsh anywhere; it’s a reasoned and reasonable explanation of things.

    Some of these things are playstyle differences. There are two main considerations here:

    1) In a deck without lifegain, I don’t want to rely on Ancient Tomb. It’s a tradeoff that I’m not naturally good at balancing.
    2) I’m likely to hold Ruination or Chain of Acid for far too long if I have a nonbasic land out. Ordinarily I’m terrible at making that sort of decision when I’m going to lose something (it’s easier with creature wipe because I’m more likely to draw some), although I suppose that doesn’t apply to Mosswort Bridge if I’ve already cast the spell. The format has enough tough decisions that I like having a deck with few hard decisions. It’s not brainless in an aggro way, but I can do a few things on auto-pilot and reduce the brainpower needed to slog through a long game.

    But that’s just how I roll. In the abstract there are reasons to do as you say. I appreciate the comment and hope this is a useful response.

    • Jules Robins says:

      Thanks, for the explanation. I can definitely see from a personal play perspective how this makes sense for you now, I was just under the impression that you were recommending abandoning basic lands as a general way that everyone might seek to change up the format rather than basing it on their own play preferences. Again, thanks so much for writing; I love reading all of it!

  10. MH says:

    You keep saying that playing Sol Ring means giving up threat density. But that’s wrong, because if I wasn’t playing Sol Ring, that slot would be filled by a land. Your argument only makes sense if people are cutting business spells for artifact mana, which to my knowledge no one does.

    • Graveborn Muse says:

      Better late than never… Actually, a lot of folks in my meta are cutting threats for artifact mana, to the point where if you don’t have three mana rocks in play by turn 7 then you’re falling behind.

  11. Seedborn Muse says:

    There are in the abstract several decks where Sol Ring would not replace a land, at least not wisely. If I’m running either of the Bant commanders, Sol Ring probably shouldn’t replace a land, since so many of your good spells are color-intensive (your commander, Finest Hour, Rhox War Monk, Bant Charm, et cetera). Sol Ring is only interchangeable with a land if your deck has enough artifacts or minimal color commitment. If you have heavy color commitment, then Sol Ring would need to replace a business spell, since you need all the lands you can get.

    Maybe Sol Ring is replacing a land in many decks; I can buy that. But are Sol Ring & Darksteel Ingot & Signets & Mana Vault & Basalt Monolith all replacing lands? Sol Ring is a little bit of a metonym for all these.

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  13. mason says:

    There’s a new Seedborn Muse in town, old Seedborn Muse, and its name is Unwinding Clock. And it makes sweet, sweet love to Sol Ring. And Mana Vault. And Darksteel Ingot. And Signets. And Basalt Monolith. Personally, I can’t wait to do nasty things with it. In fact, I just bought a Sol Ring, a Mana Vault, and a Gilded Lotus to go into some undetermined EDH deck, which is probably going to feature Master Transmuter, Spine of Ish Sah, Grand Architect, Lightning Greaves, Ethersworn Adjudicator, and naturally, be commanded by Sharuum the Hegemon. Sorry that you hate me so much!

    But no, seriously, I love what you’re saying here. The basic mindset of “Oh, you’re blue? ZØMG! YOU NEED TO PLAY Q, W, X, Y, and Z or you SUCK. OH, and also A, B, and C” is awful. The very idea of “autoinclude” is antithetical to the spirit of ingenuity that Commander rules are supposed to foster. As soon as I’m done beating the pants off of some folks with this Sharuum variant, I’m going to sit down and try to come up with something really original. Because I know this isn’t. (Even though I didn’t look at any Sharuum lists before building it).

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