Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Hunt for New Commanders

When you’ve played EDH for a few years and built/dismantled a few dozen decks it can start to feel like you’ve exhausted the interesting options for commanders. Sure there are over 500 legendary creatures out there, but when push comes to shove many of them use a very similar 99 card shell. I find that monocolor decks in particular tend to boil down to some mono-specific cards (primalcrux, extraplanar lens) and then a mix of top-40 artifacts and top-40 cards in the colour. That is, a kumano deck plays much like an akroma deck which plays much like a urabrask deck, which one imagines is much like a rakka mar, heartless hidetsugu, or kamahl pit fighter deck.

If we set monocolour generals aside, we’re left with 179 options. Still a pretty good selection considering most players will only run somewhere between 1 and 10 decks, but the options can deplete quickly when you’re only interested in cards that fit your personal playstyle. I like to think of magic as having 3 eras of legendary creatures, and that I’ve exhausted most of the options in two of those three.

Three Eras of Legends

The first tranche of multicolour generals to consider are the most recent products - the 37 legends that have been printed since wizards of the coast officially endorsed Commander as a format. 

I find I see a lot of the new-commanders in my games as its what new players tend to have access to, and the commander precons in particular are often how players jump into the format. Even if I haven’t played a general like Kaalia or Karador, I feel like I’ve seen enough of them around that I have no interest in sleeving a deck up myself. It wouldn’t feel like my deck, it’d feel like everyone-who-ever-played-this-general’s deck as in most cases the card choices are just blatantly obvious (hi skullbriar and kaalia). Not that I’m a purist or anything, I currently play Zedruu, Mikaeus and Maelstrom Wanderer from this age - and I’ve weakly considered trying Vela, although I feel like the type of Vela deck I’d make would be too similar to Mikaeus.

The second wave of multicolour options to consider are the 84 “modern legends” - which I’d classify as legends heralded by the appearance of the weatherlight crew and running up to Shards and Zendikar blocks. 

This is the guts of EDH, with everything from the original ravnica guild masters and their henchmen, to the 3-colour dragon cycles, to reaper king and sharuum. Before the commander precons showed up 90% of EDH decks I saw were headed by cards from this era, and I’d say they still make up about half of the decks I see regularly around the table. I own a huge chunk of the 84 legends from this era, and have played a good 40 or so over the years. My decks currently include Doran, Stonebrow, and Konda but for a long time my decks consisted of things like Sapling, Sygg, and Teneb. I feel like I’ve seen or played most of the options here, with wort the raidmother as the only decent untapped option, but if I’m running RG I think I’d rather just be smashing heads with stonebrow than trying to conspire a hurricane.

Finally we have old glory - the 58 multicolour legends of antiquity, from black lotus to the thawing of the glaciers. 

Often horrible and/or ridiculous, these guys are what I consider the last of the unplucked gems for my EDH deckbuilding. Of course of the 58 multicolour legends in this epoch a good 1/3rd are pointless vanilla or french vanilla creatures (scivitri scarzam or marhault ellsdragon), while another 1/3rd have just been horribly outclassed over time (axelrod gunnarsson, vaevictis asmadi). But there remains a good dozen or so interesting generals that I don’t own and have not seen used in my playgroup. I’ve held off on several of them because of the price (I have a rule of thumb to not spend more than 3 bucks on an EDH card - but it may be worth compromising for a good old boy as a commander). Guys like Ramses Overdark, Halfdane, Hazezon tamar, Jacques le Vert and Rasputin Dreamweaver range from 6 bucks to 25 bucks which is outside that range, but it may be time to break the piggy bank open to find the last few jewels of EDH . I currently run Tresserhorn and Axelrod from the time when men were men and legends were legends, and I’ve tried to run dakkon blackblade or hunding gjorgenson but its damn near impossible to make a UW deck that I can actually enjoy playing.

Deckbuilding these days

I still find it surprising when magic players ask “who’s your general?”, as though any EDH player plays just one deck. But while I sneer at the foolishness of the question, I also kind of miss having one go-to general as being “mine”. For a while it was sapling, then sygg, and since then I’ve always had a stable of decks with no clear frontrunner. In fact I feel like I’ve got several decks that are personalized and iconic - Mikaeus suicide aggro, Maelstrom borderline fair play, Stonebrow relentless assault, and a black/red mass damage deck that just lacks the right general to join those ranks. I also feel like with some more games and effort I could bring my Doran, Zedruu and Tresserhorn decks to the point where they too feel like my personal decks, rather than any-deck-to-ever-play-that-general.

I think at this point that’s really what I’m striving for with my deckbuilding - complete and coherent decks with my own style embedded throughout. I have a graveyard full of failed attempts - generals that I built up but found the deck too obvious or just not my style -  Krond, Kresh, Patron of the Orochi, Edric, Teneb, Horde of Notions, Mayael, Intet, Red Akroma and Sedris are all examples of decks I could effectively rebuild at a moment’s notice, but have no desire to do so.

In summary the fact I find few generals left to try out probably just means its time to tinker with my existing favourites, and then dig up some of those untried legends of antiquity to complete a stable of decks that really represent my playstyle and personality as a magic player. From there its probably a matter of rotating cards in and out rather than continuously building entire new decks.