In light of last week’s bannings, I’m taking this week off from Modern while I mess around with my Delver list. I was also able to sneak some Commander in earlier this week, and I thought it’d be fun to take an in-depth look at one of my favorite Commander decks: Melek, Izzet Paragon.
I first built this deck in 2014, after acquiring a bunch of the cards from SCG’s damaged cards bin at GP Minneapolis (Look at the art on this Earthquake!). I play with a few different Commander playgroups of varying power level, so when I build a new deck I usually start off a little cheap and power-lite. I test the waters with my more casual playgroups, using a version made from mostly cards I already have. If I like the deck, I make adjustments from there.
So my first build was not a powerhouse, and my current build is still slightly suspect if you’re looking for something optimal. But the deck itself is a ton of spellslinging fun, mostly because it rarely ever plays out the same way twice (outside of going into emergency combo mode).
I guess that’s enough teasing, let’s check out the current list. Pop this TappedOut link open to view the whole thing, then come back here for some overall discussion and my thoughts on some of the sweet, lesser-used cards.
Overall Deck Strategy (How does it play? How does it win?)
You’ll notice that there are no mana rocks, no ramp, no fast mana of any kind in my Melek build. You’ll also notice that there are 40 lands. This deck doesn’t ramp out mana early and hit hard. Instead, it prefers to draw cards, consistently play lands one at a time, and keep fire off of itself by keeping mana up for instants like Repulse, Rapid Hybridization, and Into the Roil to discourage attackers. If opponents are suitably discouraged, you can launch an end of turn Fact or Fiction instead.
If your opponents get too far ahead, we’ve got boardwipes, artifact destruction, and even the dreaded land destruction to bring them back down to our level. I once played a game where I took out about ten mana sources in two turns, between copying both Aftershock and Fissure Vent and then Rite of Replication-ing my opponent’s Brutalizer Exarch.
As far as winning, let me be straight-up right now. The only real measure by which to judge whether you’ve won a game with this deck is by looking at the number of Fact or Fictions you’ve cast that game. Fact or Fiction-like effects included in this deck are:
- Fact or Fiction (Duh.)
- Steam Augury
- Sphinx of Fact or Fiction
- Distant Memories (Yeah, this counts. We’ll get into this one later.)
If you “lose the game” to your friends, but you met one of the winning Fact or Fiction thresholds below, you actually won. You shouldn’t let anyone else tell you differently:
Fact or Fiction Victory Thresholds
- Resolved two or less Fact or Fictions – Weak sauce.
- Resolved three Fact or Fictions – Warmer.
- Resolved four Fact or Fictions – Getting there.
- Resolved five Fact or Fictions – Sooo close. Look at the annoyance on your opponents’ faces when you make one of them split a pile or make a choice AGAIN.
- Resolved six Fact or Fictions – Moral victory. This means you made each opponent resolve at least two Fact or Fictions if you did it right.
- Resolved seven Fact or Fictions – Victory is yours, even if it’s slight.
- Resolved eight or more Fact or Fictions – While someone else may have actually won the game, you lived it to its fullest. Everyone will remember the time and care taken splitting your piles more than the action on the board itself. Oh, I’m so proud.
For those who like to actually win, there are two primary plans, although you are actively encouraged to mad science your way to victory however you can:
- Value the opponents out. This actually goes hand-in-hand with the Fact or Fiction plan, but also involves creating a bazillion token fliers with Talrand or Call the Skybreaker or casting enough spells to make Guttersnipe lethal. It could also involve stealing/copying the opponents’ stuff multiple times with Acquire, Bribery, Rite of Replication, et al. If you’re going this route you’ve likely stuck a sustained card draw/value engine, such as Melek himself or Future Sight.
- Wombo combo the opponents out. This often involves some combination of Nivix Guildmage/Reiterate, Mana Geyser/Turnabout, and Earthquake/Comet Storm/Invoke the Firemind. Big mana spell, plus copying big mana spell a bunch, plus an outlet to turn all that mana into damage = victory. I usually either accidentally assemble this one early (I think I managed turn 5 once.) or purposefully assemble it really late when the game just needs to end.
Why Do You Play That? (My super secret tech.)
The best part about Commander is that you can build a deck that starts from the exact same place as someone else (the Commander) and end up with something that looks noticeably or even wildly different. Playing casual 100 card singleton means there’s less edge to lose by adding your own little bit of spice to your deck. I’m going to go over a couple of my oddball choices here:
- Distant Memories – I already mentioned this one as a Fact or Fiction variation above. I play it mostly because of that, but also because it offers a great avenue straight into the politics of Commander. You can tutor a card that hoses one opponent and ask another one to give it to you, setting them both at odds. I also often tutor for a dangerous card just hoping to get the card draw instead, so I can hit my land drops. Also, look at that poor, confused Karn in the art.
- Stolen Identity – This card is great, almost as good as a Progenitor Mimic. The ability to copy artifacts is nice if you need to steal some ramp. Definitely underrated.
- Dismiss into Dream – Very good against opposing voltron decks, especially Sigardas. Bask in the lols when they realize their creature gained the ability, and it doesn’t actually come from your card.
- Supplant Form – Maybe not an oddball, but recently added and currently overperforming. Has so far been Blightsteel Colossus and multiple Hornet Queens in the same game. Also allows for great collusion.
- Dominus of Fealty – Says “target permanent”. Annoy your Super Friends-playing opponents. Steal your opponents’ blue or red gods and instantly turn them on (Then if you’re lucky, create a token copy and sac the original to the legend rule.).
If there are any other cards in the list that look odd or surprising, feel free to call them out in the comments.
Past and Future Options (For both those on and off a budget.)
I’ve had each of the following cards (as well as some others) in the deck at some point:
- Harness by Force
- Volcanic Wind
- Ray of Command
- Prescient Chimera (Another pet card, this one finally left when Jace’s Sanctum was released.)
- Djinn of Wishes
- Meletis Charlatan
- Crystal Ball
- Elite Arcanist
- Distorting Wake
- Parallel Thoughts
- Stitch in Time (I personally don’t like extra turn cards in this sort of deck, but this one is hilarious.)
- Epic Experiment (I might try this one again as the deck gets better. I initially had weaker spells and also a bunch of X spells to hit.)
In the future, I’m looking to permanently add or give a tryout to the following cards:
- Mystical Tutor
- Merchant Scroll
- Keranos, God of Storms
- Clone Legion (Insurrection doesn’t copy well and isn’t a ton of fun, but man this card looks hilarious.)
- Mass Mutiny (Again, Insurrection doesn’t copy well but this does.)
- Mizzium Mortars
- Vandalize (A strict upgrade over Fissure Vent, which is already a staple here.)
- Consecrated Sphinx
- Young Pyromancer
- Intuition (Moar Fact or Fictions.)
The first cuts will likely be the already included “temporarily steal one or a few of your opponent’s creatures” cards, as they are a lot of fun but a noticeable weak point of the deck. For that reason, Mass Mutiny is unlikely to find a permanent home here, but I’ve had my eye on the card long enough that I want to at least give it a shot.
I hope you enjoyed this in-depth look at an ultimately very silly Commander deck, and that it gives you ideas when building your own in the future. Leave a link or some text in the comments if you have your own Melek build or cards that you really enjoy, and happy Commanding!