As I said in my first post on Commander, my new Commander decks begin their lives as piles of extra cards that I battle against my friends’ lower powered decks. Building new decks this way allows me to slot in some underused cards that wouldn’t otherwise see the light of day, some of which end up making a surprising case for themselves.
But, these decks inevitably evolve. Cards filter in and out via trades or cheap pick-ups or looking at bad cards and simply getting tired of wondering “Why can’t you be better?”.
This series, From the Ground Up, is going to chart the evolution of a newly constructed Commander deck as it comes into its own.
At the helm of this deck (and wearing a nifty helm of her own) is Alesha, Who Smiles at Death, leading a deck that I’m calling Alesha’s Expendables.
Right now, the deck is made up of some cards that are synergistic with Alesha and some that are just the most powerful spare cards I own. Let’s take a look at the deck as it stands right now, assess the good and the bad, and then look towards the future.
Here’s the current decklist. It’s a mess, right? But it’s a mess whose power level is pretty much where I want it to be. It’s good enough to hang with my friends’ lower powered decks and even win a couple games, but its nowhere near consistently powerful.
When I look at the deck, and how some of its games have played out, a few sets of cards stand out:
- Ponyback Brigade has been great in combination with both Nantuko Husk and Boltwing Marauder. Marauder itself has been much better than I ever thought it would be. The ability to make Alesha larger off of her own trigger lets her attack fairly freely, especially if the creature she brings back from the graveyard brings some token buddies along for the ride. I wouldn’t have put Boltwing in a “polished” version of this deck, but it might end up sticking around for awhile.
- Avalanche Riders is as great as expected, especially if an opponent gets off to a slow start. In the same vein, Fiend Hunter has also performed well.
- Mentor of the Meek has been great, and Pain Seer has been alright. Small fry who draw cards are especially good in this version of the deck, as they allow me to dig towards my better cards more quickly.
- Some number of sacrifice outlets are going to be necessary to get maximum value out of the deck. The games in which I’ve drawn Nantuko Husk, Vampiric Rites, or Sadistic Hypnotist and been able to re-trigger my good “enters the battlefield” effects at will have been my strongest games. Gift of Immortality has also been good alongside these sacrifice outlets.
- The mana-fixers, such as Pilgrim’s Eye, Solemn Simulacrum, and Burnished Hart, have been a great help for the deck’s very budget mana base.
- Humble Defector is hilarious and must always stay in the deck.
And what’s been not so great? Well:
- Auramancer’s pretty abysmal in a deck with only seven enchantments. I put it in because it’s usually great, but it turns out that it’s bad here. It often sits in my hand doing nothing. That was a mistake I made during deck construction, not a fault of the card itself.
- The targeted discard guys, such as Disciple of Phenax, have mostly been bad, which makes sense as targeted discard is pretty bad in multiplayer overall. They’ve been better than, say, Auramancer, but still not good.
- Jeskai Barricade either does something absolutely sweet or is absolutely terrible. There’s been no middle ground. It’s possible that the card gets better as the rest of the deck gets better, but it’ll most likely hit the chopping block at some point.
- The targeted Instant and Sorcery based removal has often been a life-saver, but having it on creatures would be so much better in this deck. Those won’t be the first cards to go, but the anti-synergy is palpable.
- While Auramancer will probably be the first card cut from the deck, since it just does nothing, I’d really like to cut Herald of Anafenza first instead. It does more than Auramancer, but not by much. It’s way too costly and slow.
- Ride Down requires way too much to go exactly right to be worth using. It’ll stay for awhile, as it’s not the worst card in the deck, but the setup isn’t worth the card.
When I look to make the deck more powerful, I’ll be emphasizing the stuff that’s already good and trimming the stuff that’s bad. In short, I’ll be looking along three main lines:
- Increasing the redundancy of powerful “enters the battlefield” abilities, self-discard effects, and sacrifice outlets. Those seem like they’re going to be the deck’s bread and butter.
- In the same vein, moving more of the deck’s powerful effects (such as removal) onto creatures. Currently, a lot of the most powerful cards in the deck are spells, which don’t synergize well with Alesha’s ability. This is just how the first version of the deck happened to work out, given my card pool, but it’s something I can rectify going forward.
- Since Boltwing Maurader’s been surprisingly good and Nantuko Husk is always great, it’s worth considering a version of the deck that plays a bunch of token makers and “whenever a creature enters the battlefield” abilities. I think the final version of the deck will just lean towards efficient creatures and abilities, but the token theme is something to keep in mind.
I’ve put together a shortlist of cards to consider adding going forward, but the list is by no means definitive. Not everything on there will make it in, and not everything will even get a shot. Some of the cards I’m most excited to try out are:
- The Anafenza, Murderous Redcap, sacrifice outlet combo to do infinite damage. For those who don’t know how this works, what happens is that you sacrifice Redcap, it comes back with a -1/-1 counter and does one damage to something, and then Anafenza’s ability allows you to place a +1/+1 counter on the Redcap. Due to rules, the counters cancel each other out, allowing you to repeat the process as many times as you need. This combo could also be quickly tutored up by Buried Alive.
- I love Herald of Leshrac and have been waiting to find a deck for it. This might finally be the one.
- Bone Shredder and company will help solve the “my removal should be on creatures” problem mentioned above.
- Archetype of Finality is a sweet card that combos very well with Alesha’s first strike.
- The greatest flavor win here has to be Fell the Mighty. I don’t think there’s been a more ragtag group of creatures looking to take a table down.
Right this second, I’m about to make the deck’s very first swap. My friend Pat gifted me an extra Master of Cruelties that he had lying about, so I’m going to slot it in for the much maligned Auramancer.
So in this first installment, the deck changes are:
- Auramancer > Master of Cruelties
In the next part of the series, I’ll attempt to figure out which cards can be added without making the deck too powerful for its intended playgroup. Until then, may you greet death with sword in hand.