Everyone remembers the sets and cards from when they started playing Magic fondly. For me, I was immediately captured by the idea of deck building around cards and themes. The first deck I ever played was the Orzhov preconstructed deck from the original Ravnica block, with a theme of draining somebody from 20 to zero. The first deck I ever took to an FNM was a tribal Merfolk deck with Merrow Reejerey, Tideshaper Mystic and Wanderwine Prophets.
But the first card I ever saw and thought, "I need a deck built around that" was Doran, the Siege Tower.
Back when Lorwyn was released, Doran was an absolute house in Standard. While most people remember Worlds 2007 for the infamous Ignite Memories game Patrick Chapin and Gabriel Nassif played, it was the aggressive 0/5 creature that actually won the tournament in the hands of Uri Peleg. The deck was effectively The Rock (a term for Golgari Midrange, from before we used words that made sense to name Magic decks), but splashing white for five cards: Doran, the Siege Tower and a single Oblivion Ring in the sideboard.
A much younger Nick Prince took that deck and ran with it, making some "obvious" changes like including Treefolk Harbinger (because it's so good) and a few less expensive cards like Garruk Wildspeaker and Tarmogoyf. I believe at one point the deck played Wren's Run Vanquisher and a few other Elf cards to enable Gilt-Leaf Palace.
It didn't do well, nor did it particularly matter. I was happy to go 2-2 at Friday Night Magic because the game and the people were all great. What mattered was I was having fun.
I've been thinking about why I play Magic and what I enjoy about it the last few days, as all paper Magic is cancelled due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. And with a lot of time on my hands the last week (and for the foreseeable future), I've had ample opportunity to check off things I've been meaning to do in my apartment, and one of those things included updating a Commander deck I hadn't touched in a long while… my old buddy Doran.
The last time I played the deck (in 2018, according to the file), this is what it looked like. Early into ever really playing Commander, it was meant as a way to play a lot of my favorite midrange Abzan cards loosely based around Doran, the Siege Tower and the idea that nothing is better than a two-for-one. There are definitely concessions to Doran in the deck, with high-toughness choices at every point in the curve from Birds of Paradise and Nyx-Fleece Ram up to Pontiff of Blight, and generally enough ways to enable Doran to be both a "5"/5 attacker and pseudo-Overrun when every creature suddenly attacks for several points more than its printed power.
This deck certainly feels like an homage to both an old The Rock deck and my version of it from back in 2007! Some of the cards are real gems that have simply been outclassed over time, like Ob Nixilis Reignited or Xathrid Gorgon. Others are probably too niche for a deck that isn't dedicated to the theme, like Heartwood Storyteller and Journey to Eternity. And some make me wonder what on Earth I was thinking (looking at you, Archers' Parapet). Even just glancing at it, I had a few cuts I was desperate to make already.
The other thing I really wanted to do was to give the deck some themes, so that it had an identity that was interesting and unique from what I normally do in Magic. When I build a Commander deck, I have a really simple principle that I adhere to: I need to enjoy it three hours in, when my inattentiveness is at its peak and I'm distracted talking to other people. I generally don't want to hold up countermagic, or execute difficult combos. I want to draw a lot of cards, attack for tons of damage, and then go back to drinking a glass of wine and discussing a TV show.
Thankfully, even for a tree as old as Doran, there were a number of cards printed the last few years that were definite upgrades for the Treefolk. The first is one that everyone forgets exists unless War of the Spark is available to draft on Arena: Huatli, the Sun's Heart.
The problem with decks built around Doran is that when he isn't in play, nothing can attack well. Two years ago, the only other option for letting creatures deal damage with their toughness was a Dragons of Tarkir card called Assault Formation. A single removal spell, especially mid-combat, was often back breaking because suddenly a bunch of 0/4 and 0/5 creatures were running headlong into an opponent's creatures. Huatli, the Sun's Heart offers a second option for getting around this problem. Redundancy is everything in Magic, and that includes Commander.
The next few cards are a little less apparent in their implications: Gilded Goose, Leafkin Druid and Incubation Druid.
One of the things that has been frustrating in the past is that there are not many high-toughness creatures that make mana that aren't Walls. There's good reason for mana creatures like Sylvan Caryatid or Overgrown Battlement to have zero power, so players don't have to make a feel-bad decision between attacking and making mana, but defender means that they can't also double as attackers in a Doran deck. Unfortunately, there weren't great options prior to 2019 in my opinion. Enter these three new creatures, which in a Doran deck act as undercosted beaters that also make a ton of mana. None of them are game-breaking, but they do more than Overgrown Battlement and Sylvan Caryatid in a long game.
As I was looking through the most recent Magic sets, I also noticed a funny thing… several of the cards I was looking to add to the deck were enchantments: Guardian Project, Smothering Tithe, Courser of Kruphix (which I assume I just forgot about two years ago), Lignify and Song of the Dryads.
Together with Hall of Heliod's Generosity which would let me return Assault Formation if I ever needed to, I was suddenly interested in splicing in an enchantment theme to the deck. While I don't like building an entire deck around artifacts or enchantments when cards like Austere Command are common, having it as a secondary theme is a very nice place to be, especially since the various Enchantress creatures from the past and Setessan Champion actually work very well with Doran, the Siege Tower. Replacing generic cards like Rampant Growth and Farseek with Wild Growth, Fertile Ground and Wolfwillow Haven are easy changes to enable the theme.
The final piece was to really push hard to take advantage of four cards to create a virtual Plague Wind: Slaughter the Strong, Fell the Mighty, Wave of Reckoning and Dusk // Dawn. Slaughter the Strong lets any 0 power creatures count for free toward the 4 or less count, and many of them are key pieces that are painful to wrath away, like the Enchantresses and mana producing creatures. Fell the Mighty means that any of those 0 or 1 power creatures can be used to blow up most of the opponent's threats, leaving only a few stragglers behind at most. The only creatures in the deck that will destroy themselves when Wave of Reckoning is played are Eternal Witness and Eidolon of Blossoms. And Dusk // Dawn misses 27 creatures in the deck and returns 26 (Erebos, unfortunately, will not be destroyed or returned). Together with Winds of Abandon, which always has the option to empty each opponent's board, the deck has several cards that function as both defensive options and incidental "I win" buttons.
As I looked for enchantments to enable the card draw of the Enchantress creatures, I found a very niche choice that actually shored up a particular weakness of this deck that I remember: flying creatures.
I generally dislike cards like this, because they frequently do so little on their own that they aren't worth a modest power boost with another card to enable them, like Doran. That said, the deck is looking to set up a sturdy defense to buy it time when its Plan A fails, but very few of the creatures in Abzan that fit our criteria are able to block fliers. Sure, there are a number of Spiders that technically fit the bill, but many are low power level, and the few that aren't tend to have 3 or more power for some reason that makes them less than ideal. The list ended up having only three creatures with reach or flying: Dragonlord Dromoka, who is in the deck primarily to turn off casting spells on our turn, Silklash Spider and Twilight Prophet.
Spidersilk Armor will often cycle in this deck because of the Enchantress creatures, it's a Glorious Anthem when Doran, the Siege Tower, Huatli, the Sun's Heart or Assault Formation are in play, and it lets the deck turtle up more effectively when they're not. While I don't want to overload on toughness-boosting cards, there's just enough here that I think it warrants an inclusion.
This is the list that I finally arrived at:
While I'm sure I'll continue to change cards in this deck for all eternity, this is the sort of deck that I would be happy to play. It has a game plan that can get aggressive, it features some gimmicky cards that I love, like Order of Whiteclay, and enough card draw synergy to make Edgewall Innkeeper proud. Because at the end of the day, even if I'm a very competitive player, I play Magic because it's the most fun game I've ever played.