I decided it was time for a new Commander deck. My recent decks are okay, but they have been a little dull. I wanted a deck that would surprise my group. I wanted something that would make players stand up and applaud my card decisions. I wanted my deck to have a high “Wow” factor. I knew just the person I needed to see.
Don’t get me wrong, I can build a deck. I’m no deckbuilding wizard, but I can spot interesting card interactions and manage to cobble together decks that work in our group. Most of the time I can even build the deck using only the cards I already have in my collection.* However, Seedborn Muse (or @earthdyedred to his closest Twitter followers or Brandon to those of us in the inner circle) is an absolutely amazing deckbuilder. His previous articles here and with StarCityGames make his skills obvious. With Seedborn Muse, I saw an opportunity to take advantage of someone else’s superior deckbuilding skills and use their template to build a new deck.
In Seedborn Muse’s last article in StarCity’s Talent Search, he laid out how to build a deck. That is a gutsy move. Showing how to build a deck suggests that his method can work for you. It almost sounds like the late night infomercial:
I’ve set out my method in this easy to follow DVD. If you follow my directions you’ll be shearing sheep like a pro in no time!
Can Seedborn Muse really teach me to shear sheep like pro… er, or, build an amazing deck? This just seemed like a great opportunity to test the template he laid out to determine if it would really work for someone else.
Step One: Find a Cool Card and Figure Out What it Does.
For a Commander deck, I would expect that this cool card would usually be your commander, although that is not a requirement. Since I am something of a deckbuilding coward however, I chose the obvious, and picked the commander as my cool card. I also already had a card in mind. I only own one copy of this guy, and he has never been in a deck before. Perhaps he isn’t the most original General for a deck, but Sedris, the Traitor King is the legendary Zombie Warrior to lead my troops into battle.
My playgroup is a little wacky. At some point, someone referred to my general as Cedric The Entertainer. Expect me to run with that joke for as long as it is funny, then just keep going. Yes, I am “That Guy.”
Brandon suggested breaking the card down into its elements so you can clearly see parts of the card that you can best use to build the rest of the deck. Cedric the Entertainer is:
Blue, black, and red. When dealing with a general for your Commander deck,** the colors of the general are particularly important. Any white and/or green cards are removed from consideration. The loss of white and green mean that enchantment removal is going to be very difficult to get. I will have to either play through them or bounce or counter them.
Six mana. This should bring to our attention that the likelihood of getting to recast Sedris several times will be somewhat limited. Getting to more than 10 mana may happen in the game, but relying on it is dangerous. If your general is being killed that often, you probably want to hold off casting it until you can unearth in the same turn. This just makes it even harder to cast as his six mana cost is effectively nine mana. Knowing that Cedric the Entertainer will not be available whenever you need him means that the rest of the deck will need to be able to stand on its own. He is there to make the deck better, not make the deck.***
A legendary Zombie Warrior. Being legendary doesn’t mean too much when deckbuilding for Commander, however being a Zombie Warrior is something to keep in mind. Using cards that pump Zombies and/or Warriors is an option to consider while deckbuilding.
5 power. The first thing that came to mind is finding a way to make this guy an infected double-striker. I’m not sure that I want to go with infect, but we are just brainstorming right now. It seems unlikely, since I don’t want to build the deck to rely on making this one guy into something amazing, but we’ll see how it all plays out. This may turn into a black infect, blue proliferate deck that lets me unearth my infect dudes… Yeah, I kind of doubt it too. I’ll be leaving the infect decks in EDH to Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon.
5 toughness. Seeing him die due to burn will be unlikely. The 5 toughness and being black makes him fairly resistant to removal. His decent toughness should allow me to run many mass damage spells. Slagstorm and Pestilence come to mind.
Each creature card in your graveyard. I will be looking to load the graveyard with creatures. At the very least I won’t be afraid to see my creatures die and end up in the graveyard. I doubt I’ll run many cards that put creatures from my library directly into my graveyard. While that does put some nasties in there right away, I like playing them first. I think some players will be reluctant to step in front of a creature when they know it will be back the next turn to try again. I want full value from every creature in my deck.
Has unearth 2B. Rather than work my way through unearth in one big clump, I’ve broken the keyword down into its parts. There are some interesting rulings in relation to Cedric the Entertainer and I recommend checking them out if you are looking at building a Commander deck with this Comedy King.
2B: Return the card to play. There is nothing that says that I can’t return multiple cards to play in one turn. If I am going to do that, I need to ensure that I have plenty of black mana in my deck. This deck is already shaping up to be quite a mana pig every turn.
The creature gains haste. This will let me use any activated abilities on creatures, as well as attack with them.
Remove it from the game at end of turn or if it would leave play. This creature is going to be removed from the game at the end of the turn. You can’t bounce it to your hand or blink it out and back into play. [You can if the effect exiles it, since unearth is a replacement effect and exile can’t replace exile. – Seedb. Muse] This also means that effects that use creatures in the graveyard are going to have limited use. Cards such as Tombstone Stairwell or cards with Threshold will not work well with Cedric. Also be aware of cards that have an ability that triggers when that creature goes to the graveyard. While they will come into play twice, they only go to the graveyard once.
Unearth only as a sorcery. You are not going to be able to use the ability to respond to an opponent’s spell. If you want to ensure that the unearth happens like you want it, counterspells will need to be your friend. This is another demand on your mana base, since you’ll be tapping a ton of land on your own turn. If you want to represent any tricks in your hand, you will need a lot of mana showing.
Step Two: Find More Cards to Go With It.
Brandon’s recommendation for finding more cards is to start “within the set or block, first in the card’s colors, and then elsewhere.”
This sounds a little boring. What about the funky interactions with cards in other sets? You know, the kind of interaction that Wizards wasn’t thinking about when Sedris was created. However, we are only on step 2; I can’t abandon Seedborn Muse’s blueprint so quickly!
Cedric is a mythic rare from Shards of Alara, so I did a Gatherer search in Alara block looking at blue, black, and red, in an effort to find some cool connections. I found 20 or so cards, but I don’t think I want all of them in this deck. I want crazy interactions that will make my opponents do flips, not stupidity that will make me flip out.
The next place to look is in “blocks with relevant traits.” Since we are dealing primarily with unearth, I’ll focus on graveyard effects. For these effects we are best to look to Odyssey and part of Ravnica. Threshold cards were out right away; with unearthed creatures leaving play, I didn’t see getting to threshold as being all that synergistic with Cedric the Entertainer. I want to use up the creatures in my graveyard, not accumulate creatures in my graveyard. Haunt was another ability that was out. If the creature isn’t in the graveyard, I can’t unearth it.
Transmute looked like a promising keyword. I just needed to make sure that the creature with transmute could find something I wanted and was still something I’d want to unearth. Graft was interesting, but looked like a lot of work to set up effectively. Hunted creatures provided bonus creatures to a player who has been working with you (or at least not attacking you) while giving you a big dude for cheap. I am always a fan of helping out other players who are likely to do favors for me later on.
It was at this point that I considered creatures with “enter the battlefield” effects. As I started going through those, it became clear where most of my creature spells would come from. The list of cards was endless! I took the results from that search and picked out the cards I considered for inclusion. Rather that give you a long list of cards to scroll through, the list is here. The decklist is coming below and it will have this list of cards on that spreadsheet.
That is a fine list of creatures, but there needs to be some support spells. Relying completely on creatures is a dangerous (actually foolish is probably a better word) game. Considering most of my creatures would likely have some sort of enters the battlefield ability, then end up out of play at the end of the turn, my support spells generally give me some kind of boost; some cards pull creatures out of the graveyard and back into play, while others demand a sacrifice cost and who better to pay those costs than recently unearthed creatures?
I also knew I would be relying mostly on my creatures to remove my opponents’ creatures. However, something was missing. I felt like there was a Void in my card selection. It turns out there wasn’t a Void in my card selection so I added it.
Bounce seemed like another good way to get full use of my creatures. As an added bonus, my group has had a propensity lately for counters of all sorts on all kinds of permanents. Bounce just seemed like a better and better idea! I already had a few creatures that could do this, but I thought I would consider a few more cards; preferably something that is repeatable or can do something else as well. I know you want to see which cards I included, but just hang on for a little bit longer.
When it comes to tutors, Gatherer is unnecessary; I simply included a Demonic Tutor. It is the one tutor in the right color that I know I have.
I knew I wanted some artifact mana in the deck. While my metagame doesn’t have much mass land removal, adding a few artifacts to speed things up a bit wasn’t going to hurt too much. Here again I eschewed a Gatherer search and simply looked through my mana-producing artifacts, adding those into the list of deck-eligible cards. There are times when having your artifacts sorted by what they do, makes deckbuilding very easy. Now, keeping my cards organized is a sick torture that I wouldn’t wish on my friends. Perhaps that is an article for another day.
Here is the full list of cards that were hoping to be included into the final cut.
I went through this long list of cards and started to reduce the cards on the list. The first pass was easy: banned cards. My group follows the recommended list, so anything on the list was dropped. The second pass was the practical problem: cards I don’t own. While I am willing to buy some cards, I want to try to stick with the cards I own, at least for the initial build. Why buy something when what I own ends up being completely serviceable? Oh, have I mentioned how cheap I am?
After that I removed cards that really wouldn’t work in the overall scheme. Finally, I dropped the weakest of the remaining cards and came up with this deck. I felt a sense of accomplishment and relief after building the deck. I had done it! I followed Seedborn Muse’s directions and built what would surely be a great deck! What? I’m not done? I have to tweak the deck? After many despairing wails and anguish, and frustrated gnashing of teeth, I set out to tweak the deck.
Step Three: Tweaking
Naturally, I have to play with the deck before I can start yanking out particular cards. I do need a reason to change the deck I worked so painstakingly put together. After playing with the deck (and winning a four player game!), it became apparent that a few of the cards needed to go.
Breaking Point. I had never used this card in a deck and I wanted to try it. The reason I had never used the card was that I was pretty confident that with multiple opponents, someone will take the damage every time, and it will likely be the opponent most able to afford to take the damage. When I cast it in the game, I wanted to destroy creatures. Not surprisingly, someone took 6 damage. That was nice, but not what I really wanted. I replaced this with Inferno. Instant speed mass removal seems like a good thing, and far more reliable than Breaking Point.
Mogg War Marshal. This guy just wasn’t doing enough. I wanted the tokens to nullify cards that demanded I sacrifice a creature, and as a backup if I didn’t have anything to unearth and sacrifice. He sat on the board with his friends and really wasn’t a factor at all. I replaced him with Noggle Bridgebreaker. Bouncing Bojuka Bog is definitely a good thing. Besides, why wouldn’t you include a noggle in your deck?
Raven Familiar and Spire Owl. After the game I realized just how many annoying lands there are in my metagame. Several times in the course of the game I realized that I could do nothing about the lands. More importantly, I realized there was nothing in my deck that could do anything about the lands. I decided to add Spreading Seas and Convincing Mirage to the deck as a way to hose out Maze of Ith and other lands of its ilk. Something had to come out, and the Raven and Owl were on the chopping block [I’d also consider Fulminator Mage and Faultgrinder. – Graveb Muse].
Hivestone and Vedalken Aethermage. These two were in there solely to mess with my friend John the slivers I knew he was running. It turns out that Hivestone is really bad when Sliver Overlord is someone’s commander. The Aethermage is just a really bad bounce spell. Serves me right for trying to specifically target someone’s commander. I did manage to steal his Overlord for a turn, then realized I could use his second ability to gain control of him. While the last ability would wear off, using the Overlord’s ability on itself would let me keep him past the end of my turn. At the time I had the mana to be able to do this, as well as take some of his other slivers, but I chose not to go that route, deciding it was far too mean. Also, I’m not really sure that the rules work that way. If I’m wrong, let me know. [You may be right; I may be crazy. But you can keep a Sliver Overlord that way, as the Overlord’s ability timestamps over the temporary effect. – Seedb. Muse] I did notice a lot of blue at the table, so I brought in Active Volcano and Red Elemental Blast and took out the d-bag hate directed at a single player.
In the three games since tweaking the deck, I’ve managed one more win, and the deck has been a blast to play. There are several more cards that need to be changed, but I haven’t made any further switches.
The problem with the deck lies in its reliance on the general being in play. This was something I was aware of early on in the process, but forgot as I whittled down the cards for the deck. In future changes to the deck, I will be trying to reduce that reliance.
So does Seedborn Muse’s deckbuilding process work? I certainly think so. I included several cards I would not have considered (the Spawnbroker is fun, switching unearthed creatures for your opponent’s best creature) and ended up with a deck that is more powerful than what I usually play. The interactivity between the cards is definitely better. The difficulty with the process is its time consuming nature. I spent hours wading through repeated searches of Gatherer. This is the requirement of an interactive deck. I recommend everyone try the process and see what they think of the results.
* This is the joy of having played and collected cards since Ice Age.
** I know it is now a commander but saying “commander for your Commander deck” sounds horrible
*** Can you say “foreshadowing”?