Tricks and Treats

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The letter I!f Command Tower is the only column you read then you've been missing out: this entire week has been Commander Week, and there's been plenty of good reads about your favorite format.

There are ten new commander choices with tomorrow's Commander (2013 Edition) release (more on all of them next week), which means there's going to be plenty of new Commander decks being built over the next few weeks. One of my favorite articles from this week was Bruce Richard's "It's a Process," a walkthrough of his method of building a new Commander deck around a new commander.

It's a process after my own heart:

  • Find a Cool Card and Figure Out What it Does
  • Find More Cards to Go with It
  • Tweak It

While it doesn't dive into specific questions around, say, building your deck with respect to the cards you have available, it is the core method of how most of us get from square one to a battle-ready Commander deck. Looking for related themes, similar cards, and obvious additions that fit are surefire ways to flesh out a 100-card stack.

But this personalized method isn't the only way to arrive for Commander night with a deck ready to go.

Frankenstein's Monster is a Zombie, Right?

Let me set this up. You're reading this online. That means you care enough about Magic to look up articles and take some of your non-gaming time to spend on learning more about your gaming. It may seem innocuous but it's a significant hurdle that isn't actually required for enjoying Magic. In fact, there are plenty of players who can pick up the game and play with friends for years without pointing their web browser to anything Magic specific.

So thanks for that. I appreciate it.

Since you're reading this you're likely aware that I ask for responses every week. One theme that I've seen across responses is that many of you enjoy seeing and sharing entire Commander decklists. Time and time again, I'll get a brief blurb answering the weekly prompt (as requested, so thanks again!) followed by "and here's what the deck looks like:" with a complete 100-card list. The most popular articles I've received feedback on are where we look at many different Commander decks .

Are you connecting the dots here?

While Commander is arguably the most personal format in Magic, where you can build almost any kind of deck to share almost any kind of idea, it's still daunting to start from scratch. Handy, thematic guides built on tried-and-tested methods is the usual recommendation, since what I don't want to do is take away your opportunity to be personal. It's your deck to decide, not the deck that's already defined to be correct.

What if you weren't interested in personalization as much as trying something different to see how it works?

If you've played competitively you probably know you can find current decklists for any format online. From event coverage of Grand Prix and Pro Tours to a daily dose of something different, digital articles are where you find a deck to play. It isn't that decks aren't personal in non-Commander formats, but finding a deck "that just works" is no longer optional: You're trying to win your next event, after all!

I believe (since it's not really a testable hypothesis) that's why decklists for Commander seem to be as popular as those for other formats. Many of you enjoy the thrill of building and executing on your personal vision for a deck, but sometimes you just want to find something different to play today.

The best name that I can find to describe it is the Frankenstein approach: Like a (mostly) benevolent scientist, you seek out the body or parts needed to finish your creation. It's not wholly novel—you're using someone else's pieces—but it's still something you choose to play. Whether it's an entire deck lifted wholesale or most of it cobbled together from what you have handy, when you want a complete deck in a hurry, starting with a finished deck will always be faster than building one.

It's why Commander (2013 Edition) is whole decks and not a Modern Masters–type set that includes new cards for Commander.

Adding Lighting to the Table

Let's look at an example. I asked for your ideas around building a Roon of the Hidden Realm deck after sharing an article about building around commanders that attack. It was a not-so-subtle nudge to avoid the most obvious way to use Roon: flickering, blinking, and reusing creatures with enters-the-battlefield abilities.

I am currently playing with a flickering deck that runs Jenara, Asura of War as the commander for colors and a Plan B punch. I would absolutely swap her out for Roon as soon as he is released. Decklist below.

Iconic five:

Galen's Roon of the Hidden Realm
Commander - Roon of the Hidden Realm

Main Deck

99 cards

Azorius Chancery
Breeding Pool
Celestial Colonnade
Command Tower
Evolving Wilds
Gavony Township
Glacial Fortress
Graypelt Refuge
Hallowed Fountain
Hinterland Harbor
Krosan Verge
Maze of Ith
Misty Rainforest
Reliquary Tower
Rupture Spire
Seaside Citadel
Sejiri Refuge
Selesnya Sanctuary
Stirring Wildwood
Strip Mine
Sunpetal Grove
Tectonic Edge
Temple Garden
Temple of the False God
Terramorphic Expanse

40 lands

Acidic Slime
Brutalizer Exarch
Coiling Oracle
Deadeye Navigator
Draining Whelk
Eternal Witness
Farhaven Elf
Jungle Barrier
Lavinia of the Tenth
Mnemonic Wall
Mystic Snake
Oracle of Mul Daya
Phyrexian Metamorph
Progenitor Mimic
Sakashima the Impostor
Scavenging Ooze
Solemn Simulacrum
Soul of the Harvest
Sower of Temptation
Sun Titan
Sunblast Angel
Sylvan Primordial
Venser, Shaper Savant
Wall of Blossoms
Wall of Omens

28 creatures

Aura Shards
Awakening Zone
Conjurer's Closet
Cyclonic Rift
Day of Judgment
Explosive Vegetation
Fact or Fiction
Ghostly Flicker
Kodama's Reach
Mirari's Wake
Momentary Blink
Nim Deathmantle
Oblivion Ring
Otherworldly Journey
Path to Exile
Return to Dust
Sol Ring
Sudden Disappearance
Turn to Mist
Urban Evolution

27 other spells

Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Garruk Wildspeaker
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Venser, the Sojourner

4 planeswalkers

Roon of the Hidden Realm



Almost unanimously, the submissions focused on bouncing creatures in and out of play for value. Make tokens, gain life, destroy opponents' things, counter opponents' spells—it was all there in spades. The real question I was left with was what flavor of value was wanted most.

Galen's deck is the archetypical approach, focusing on maximizing the benefit created by Roon's ability. Grab some extra lands, stymie opponents' plans, and blow up everything that Roon can't handle with help. Don't like some of the choices Galen made? Try another version.

I actually built a Bant flicker deck a while back, and I've just been waiting for a commander to take the helm that really fits the theme. I base mine around as much value off of each flicker as possible: so recycling, recursion, and enter the battlefield triggers abound.

The five biggest players, I'd say, are these:

  • Ghostly Flicker—A flicker deck obviously needs flickering, and this is a master. You get a lot of value off this card, since you basically get two effects of your choice whenever you'd like. Plus, it plays very nicely with the top-choice card.
  • Acidic Slime—Among enter the battlefield effects that really shine, Acidic Slime is up there for being very versatile removal.
  • Strionic Resonator—Especially in this deck, copying triggers is a huge bomb. Giving basically every creature in the deck a kicker cost of 2 Mana to double their effect is pretty incredible.
  • Karmic Guide—It's a creature, it's a recursion effect, and it is a pretty fine blocker at times, too. Plus, you can simply flicker it during your upkeep to dodge echo and get another guy as a bonus.
  • Eternal Witness—The real workhorse of the deck. Getting Strionic Resonator + Eternal Witness + two flicker spells gives you an endlessly looping engine of value, which is usually how the deck wins.

Here's the full decklist for those interested. Quick note: there are some notable cards excluded (e.g., Solemn Simulacrum) since other decks have laid claim already.

Aric's Roon of the Hidden Realm
Commander - Roon of the Hidden Realm

Main Deck

99 cards

Azorius Guildgate
Breeding Pool
Command Tower
Glacial Fortress
Hallowed Fountain
Krosan Verge
Maze of Ith
Seaside Citadel
Selesnya Guildgate
Simic Guildgate
Sunpetal Grove
Temple Garden
Vivid Creek
Vivid Grove
Vivid Meadow

35 lands

Acidic Slime
Angel of Serenity
Armada Wurm
Avenger of Zendikar
Coiling Oracle
Deadeye Navigator
Deadwood Treefolk
Deputy of Acquittals
Deranged Hermit
Diluvian Primordial
Eternal Witness
Fathom Mage
Fleetfoot Panther
Harmonic Sliver
Juniper Order Ranger
Karmic Guide
Kitchen Finks
Luminate Primordial
Mistmeadow Witch
Progenitor Mimic
Restoration Angel
Sower of Temptation
Sphinx of Uthuun
Sun Titan
Sylvan Primordial
Trostani, Selesnya's Voice
Veteran Explorer
Wall of Blossoms
Wood Elves
Yavimaya Elder

34 creatures

Aura Shards
Azorius Signet
Chromatic Lantern
Cloudstone Curio
Conjurer's Closet
Darksteel Ingot
Defy Death
Elixir of Immortality
Fractured Powerstone
Ghostly Flicker
Hallowed Burial
Hymn of Rebirth
Into the Void
Kodama's Reach
Momentary Blink
Otherworldly Journey
Path to Exile
Return to Dust
Selesnya Signet
Simic Signet
Staff of Nin
Strionic Resonator
Supreme Verdict
Swords to Plowshares
Wing Shards

29 other spells

Venser, the Sojourner

1 planeswalker

Roon of the Hidden Realm


Different ways to make tokens, ramp up our mana, destroy opponents' things, and even make our mana. While it's not entirely different (there are always staples that lend themselves to certain themes) much of the deck draws from a different set of cards. It still maximizes Roon of the Hidden Realm and shows you that if you wanted to piece together your own take you have a smorgasbord of deck parts to build from.

What if strictly bouncing/flickering wasn't your cup of tea. Is there another Roon deck to draw from?

Having done the blink deck twice already with Sharuum, the Hegemon and Lavinia of the Tenth, I thought I'd rather go in a different direction with Roon of the Hidden Realm. It's a direction that makes good use of his ability but doesn't depend or focus on it: Soldiers Tribal.

The five cards from my decklist that best demonstrate what I'm going for?

  • Decree of Justice: I want to make Soldiers. Lots of Soldiers.
  • Cathars' Crusade: I want to make my Soldiers scary.
  • Cloudgoat Ranger: Any creature in my deck that isn't a Soldier better make them or support them in some way, and if it does so as an enters-the-battlefield trigger, so much the better, because...
  • Flickerform: ...I do still want to abuse Roon's ability, and include redundant ways to make my ETB triggers happen repeatedly.
  • Enlistment Officer: Let's make sure I don't run out of gas!

Here's my first shot at a decklist. Since the vast majority of Soldier creature and support cards are white, the deck is focused on that color with only a splash of green and blue for Roon and one other card.

John's Roon of the Hidden Realm
Commander - Roon of the Hidden Realm

Main Deck

99 cards

Bant Panorama
Command Tower
Emeria, the Sky Ruin
Evolving Wilds
Flood Plain
Gavony Township
Glacial Fortress
Hallowed Fountain
Krosan Verge
New Benalia
17  Plains
Razorverge Thicket
Rogue's Passage
Rupture Spire
Seachrome Coast
Sunpetal Grove
Temple Garden
Terramorphic Expanse
Transguild Promenade

40 lands

Aven Riftwatcher
Azorius Arrester
Benalish Commander
Captain of the Watch
Catapult Master
Cenn's Tactician
Cloudgoat Ranger
Conclave Phalanx
Crusader of Odric
Darien, King of Kjeldor
Daru Stinger
Daru Warchief
Enlistment Officer
Evangel of Heliod
Fencing Ace
Field Marshal
Gideon's Avenger
Goldnight Commander
Hero of Bladehold
Intrepid Hero
Knight-Captain of Eos
Loxodon Gatekeeper
Loyal Sentry
Mentor of the Meek
Odric, Master Tactician
Phantom General
Precinct Captain
Preeminent Captain
Radiant's Dragoons
Ranger of Eos
Rhox Pikemaster
Sigil Captain
Soldier of the Pantheon
Stonehorn Dignitary
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

35 creatures

Alliance of Arms
Captain's Call
Cathars' Crusade
Conqueror's Pledge
Decree of Justice
Even the Odds
Glorious Anthem
Honor of the Pure
Martial Coup
Militia's Pride
Nomads' Assembly
Otherworldly Journey
Raise the Alarm
Timely Reinforcements
True Conviction
Turn to Mist
Unified Strike

21 other spells

Elspeth Tirel
Elspeth, Sun's Champion
Venser, the Sojourner

3 planeswalkers

Roon of the Hidden Realm


Tribal decks often run out of steam quickly: Once all your creatures are played out you're in a dominant position, but one Supreme Verdict later and the plans are ruined. John's approach is different. While it still draws on some overlapping cards, the mana base is shifted to support all the white Soldiers thrown into the mix. Using Roon to recover and expand an army ensures that whenever you need the flickering support it's just a casting of your commander away.

It's Alive!

Grabbing a ready-made deck or decklist isn't wrong for any format, even Commander. Bruce's plan is, as always, a sound one, but what going online or to a preconstructed deck allows you to do is start playing immediately. It's impossible to play Magic without a deck, and aside from borrowing one your friends might have, finding a list to try for yourself is definitely a way to solve the problem.

Possibly the best feature about going the route straight to a decklist is that it doesn't have to stop there. Bruce's third step was tweaking the deck you build. Once you play the preset list there's nothing that stops you from changing it in ways you want. While you didn't choose the original theme or cards, adapting it to be personal to you afterwards is as good as starting from tabula rasa.

If you have the time to build out your own deck, Bruce's method is exactly where I'd start. For every other time, pick up a preconstructed Commander deck tomorrow and adapt it however you see fit.

While we've spent a lot of time looking at how we build and grow our decks I've never heard much around the following questions: When do you decide to take apart a Commander deck, and why?

  • Feedback via email
  • 200-word limit to describe rationale
  • Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column)

I've taken decks apart for plenty of reasons, but I want to know about how you handle the issue. Do decks get too strong, consistent, or boring? Do you constantly try new commanders and shuffle your cards around? Do you not take decks apart and keep an expanding library of decks on hand?

Just like there's no right answer to building a Commander deck, how you handle the end (or lack thereof) of your decks is open, too. Join us next week when the latest hits just keep on coming. See you then!

Adam Styborski
Adam Styborski
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Adam "Stybs" Styborski joined in 2009 to take over Serious Fun, before switching over to begin Command Tower in 2013. With his passion for Commander and community inclusion, you'll find plenty of opportunity each week to share your thoughts about everyone's favorite casual format.

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