With each year's Commander product release, Wizards gives Magic players around 20 new commanders for their decks. Your group starts building around each of the commanders and pretty soon all of the commanders you are interested in already have a deck built around them! You have some interesting ideas for Eugene, Master Techromancer but Marley from your playgroup is already running her Eugene deck, so it would be pretty lame if you showed up with your version. Either it will be so much better than Marley's so you'll make her feel like crap, or your version will suck compared to hers, leaving you to question your life choices when Marley, the girl who can't even remember her own phone number, builds a deck better than yours.
This time around though, Wizards has done it up right! There are still 20 or so commanders for you to build decks around, but with the partner mechanic, you have over a hundred options for your commander/commander pair! While there is still a chance Marley will be running one of your commanders, you can probably find another commander to go with the commander that Marley is running that you particularly like.
For me, my favorite commander partners are the foul-mouthed friend to oxen, Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder, and the multilingual monk, Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker. In spite of the set only being available for purchase for a handful of days, Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder (aka Bruse, kindred spirit) and I have developed a special relationship. We suffered similar nicknames through elementary school ("Moose on the Loose," "Spruce Goose," "Loose Caboose," and "Chicken Legs," were just a few). Bruse is an ox herder, and I had an early career as a cat herder.
My relationship with Ishai is one of admiration. That she has dedicated her life to give a voice to the voiceless is an admirable trait, particularly when the creature you're giving a voice to could kill and eat you with no notice at all. Ishai has told me that Ojutai often threatens to make her into fried chicken, yet Ishai bravely continues on her chosen path.
I also like these legendary partners for how complimentary they are to each other. Bruse Tarl, much like myself, is an enabler who helps others be more than they ever have been before, giving double strike and lifelink to a creature every time he attacks. Ishai grows ever larger when opponents cast spells. Very quickly Ishai grows to dragon-sized proportions. When Bruse Tarl gives her double strike and lifelink, I hope that I'll be able to take opponents out of the game with 21 points of commander damage in a single swing. The lifelink should also allow me to overextend and gain enough life to cover me after taking out one opponent.
Besides, the two of them together feels like a buddy cop movie. Bruse Tarl and Ishai star in Rush Hour 22: Gridlock.
I've put together an early draft of my deck that I'm excited to share with you. I hope to have this together for some games in the very near future!
If the deck is going to revolve around having both commanders on the battlefield, I'll want to have ways to protect them.
Soul of New Phyrexia
Swiftfoot Boots, Whispersilk Cloak, and Lightning Greaves are not surprising anyone. If you are building a commander deck that relies on the commander, you're likely running these cards as well. They consistently show up in plenty of Commander decklists. I liked the idea of Hindering Light as a way to protect my permanents and draw a card, all for very little mana. Soul of New Phyrexia makes creatures indestructible, shutting down a lot of the removal that would be used. I would have preferred to have a card that protects my commanders cost less than five mana to activate, but it offers such a huge body on top of the ability that I wanted to try it out. There are plenty of cheaper options that I can switch to if that one doesn't work out.
This is a part of my Commander decks that has really changed in the last year. I've always felt that a slot used to draw cards was a slot that was wasted. I prefer to add another fun card or a threat. Where is the fun in "draw a card?" At some point I finally tried running cards specifically for their "draw a card" ability, mostly just so I could write an article to show all of you just how pointless card draw in a format like this would be.
I hate to eat crow, but I was straight up wrong. I still prefer to have my card draw do something as well as draw a card or cards, but there are too many games where the fun was lost because I was trying to draw gas off the top of the deck.
Kraum, Ludevic's Opus
Nin, the Pain Artist
While my choices for card draw still aren't ideal, things are better. The card I want to mention is Skyline Despot. I knew I wanted a way to add the Monarch to my games and decided this was it. I know that I'm just as likely to be giving my opponents extra cards as I am to get extra cards, but I have found my group has completely stopped random attacks when the Monarch is in play. This means that I'll either be drawing extra cards or random attacks won't be directed at me nearly as often. Besides, seeing my friends fight over who gets to wear the Burger King crown is reward enough!
No green in the deck means that I'm looking at a lot of artifacts to get the job done.
The usual suspects are all there. I'm a big fan of Fellwar Stone, especially now. Many people in your metagame are going to be running four-color decks. The Fellwar Stone is likely going to tap for at least one of the mana you need the turn it enters the battlefield. By the fourth turn, I expect it will tap for any mana you need. It costs only two mana and doesn't enter the battlefield tapped. This is a great card.
I'm also trying Migratory Route. I'm hoping four flying birds will be worth the cost, and if I draw it early, I'll be happy to landcycle it away just to find the land I need.
If your deck never does anything to your opponents, how are you going to stop them from winning? Most decks that go unopposed can manage to get the win, so I try to make life for my opponents at least a little difficult. I focus primarily on:
● Mass removal, for when things get out of control;
● Targeted removal, because sometimes you just need one thing gone; and
● Artifact and enchantment removal, since I hate getting locked down by a permanent that I just can't interact with any other way.
Swords to Plowshares
Grab the Reins
Duergar Hedge Mage
Mangara of Corondor
Archon of Justice
In an effort to make my cards do double duty, I have a lot of creatures who also destroy permanents. This can be dangerous since many of the permanents that mess with my decks are ones that limit how many creatures I can play. If it proves to be an issue, I'm prepared to sub a few cards out.
So many times when looking at Commander decks I see all these amazing cards that do amazing things, then realize these decks do nothing in the first five turns other than get out more land. These decks often find themselves down around 30 life or less by the time they start doing anything.
In an effort to avoid that, I try to include at least a few cards that I can play early on. I want creatures that do interesting things, or can at least act as a speed bump for some of the creatures coming my way.
Duergar Hedge Mage
Mangara of Corondor
Most of these creatures are there to deal with permanents but Thrummingbird is a proliferate engine there to make Oshai just a little bit bigger. When you realize Bruse gives double strike and we are looking for commander damage kills, proliferate can be very impressive.
Just as I want cards that can see play early, I want creatures that can stop other flying creatures and can hit for damage in the air. I built too many decks early on that relied on removal to stop a flying creature to ever do that again. It just sucks up so many of your utility cards on creature that would otherwise be inconsequential, but they just keep hitting you for one or two points of damage every turn.
Kraum, Ludevic's Opus
Gisela, Blade of Goldnight
Archon of Justice
Custodi Squire was regularly a high pick for me in Conspiracy drafts and I've started bringing it over for Commander games. The graveyards in Commander games tend to be a little deeper, but the card quality in my Commander decks is certainly better than any draft deck I've built in Conspiracy. I have high hopes for the Squire.
I suspect that the early changes to the deck will involve cards that have counters on them being added to the deck. Planeswalkers and creatures with +1/+1 counters on them just make sense if I'm going to have a group of cards that are essentially there just to make Oshai bigger. I may also find that Oshai doesn't need the help so I should just drop this group of cards altogether. I'll see after a few games.
While these cards can pump any creature, the deck is focused on commander damage kills, so expect each of these to be doing their thing with Oshai in mind.
Orzhov Advokist is the real deal. Many players are going to take that offer, particularly when they don't plan to attack you anyway. It is amazing how plans can change quickly and the Advokist ensures you'll see no surprises. Players will be telegraphing their attacks against you, or trying to fake out their opponents. It doesn't look like much, but I'm confident it will show its worth as more players see how well it works first-hand.
Pull it all together, and this is what we have, with Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder and Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker our as commanders.
The deck as a whole will certainly see some changes as I get a few games in with it. With the joy of partners I'm sure you'll get a chance to find a special pairing that is all your own!