I was lucky enough to go to Gen Con last weekend. Gen Con offers something for every gamer, and the Magic player is no exception. Between the various booths offering to buy and sell cards (I personally preferred the TCGplayer booth, but I may be a little biased), those offering deckboxes, sleeves and all manner of Magic paraphernalia, there was something for everyone. Gen Con offered a large space for playing Magic as well! Between drafts firing, sealed tournaments and other events, there were plenty of ways to accumulate tickets for the Prize Wall.
For me though, I was always on the lookout for the casual Commander players. Casual Commander players have to be a somewhat nomadic group when it comes to conventions and Grand Prix events. While there are a lot of tables, there are a lot of events. Seeing a judge coming toward you with a group of players is the warning call, that you are going to have to move. This means finding a casual game isn't always easy. This time around though, there was a Command Beacon lighting the way to Commander players: the white cowboy hat.
One player wore a white cowboy hat and was always around to get in another game. The call soon went out that if you were looking for Commander games, just find the guy in the white cowboy hat. No reason to tweet out your table location, just tell people to find the white cowboy hat. This even showed up on Reddit!
The white cowboy hat in question rests on the head of my friend Kyle Carson. Kyle's first Gen Con was last year and he couldn't wait to get back again for this year. Gen Con for Kyle is a chance to play a bunch of Commander. I played a few games with Kyle and I know he ended playing 33 games of Commander total! Having Cowboy Kyle as the beacon for Commander players at Gen Con was great. Kyle is polite, friendly and always excited to see more players show up! If he was already in a game when someone showed up, he would point people to others who needed another player. Kyle is a delight and has become an integral part of my Gen Con experience.
I talked to Kyle about his favorite deck and thought I would take the time to share it here:
According to Kyle, the deck is secret plan to win is land lockdown. You use the mana ramp package to get plenty of lands, then lock down the mana bases of your opponents while you club away at their life totals. The alternate plan is to steal away your opponent's big creatures with Treachery or Bribery and take them down that way. Kyle particularly likes using an opponent's oppressive Eldrazi creatures against them. Many players talk about how their deck is fun for everyone. Kyle likes to put that to the test and has discovered many players don't like the annihilator mechanic as much as they claim everyone else does.
Getting to this point takes some work. With an eight-mana commander like Lorthos, your deck will need plenty of ramp. Mana is the deck's Achilles' Heel and is the primary struggle right through the mid game. If the strategy is going to come undone, this is the most likely way it will happen. Kyle runs 37 lands and his ramp package currently sits at 17 cards! With many of the serious game-changing spells in his deck costing six mana or more, hitting your lands and getting to ramp is essential. Kyle has found that to play the control game with your opponents, you'll want to be able to cast two spells a turn. Given the cost, you'll need at least 12 mana available each turn to make that happen.
A big part of that package are the six different Caged Sun variants in the deck. Adding a +1/+1 to his creatures is nice, but they are already pretty sizable. Realistically, this is here for the mana ramp. With mass land removal being fairly rare, Kyle likes to use effects that make tapping his lands that much better and Caged Sun does that in spades. Kyle also runs Snow-Covered Islands so his Extraplanar Lens is less helpful to any of his opponents who are also running blue cards. Setting up a copy effect or two often allows Kyle to tap a land for three or even four mana.
With the ramp package in place, the Lorthos deck then looks to lock things down. This starts with eight different pieces of mass removal. Kyle explains that Lorthos often ends up in an Archenemy game. The mass removal and targeted removal are there to keep you alive until you are ready to lock down the board. Generally, once everything is in place, they can't use their lands to recast their creatures. You just need to clear out everyone's creatures one more time to open the way to attack with your big creatures for the win. Kyle has found that he usually needs to wipe the board twice before he can get the lock set up, so he regularly needs three ways to clear the battlefield in a game, thus the reason for so much board wipe.
Part of the control package Kyle uses during the mid-game is the five-card counter package. While not huge, it tends to be big enough to handle threats to don't want to see just go back to their hand. Kyle added in the Torrential Gearhulk and that brought a significant shift to the deck. While it was there at first to add another counter to the deck, to make better use of it Kyle replaced several cards with more instant-speed options, making the Gearhulk into more of a toolbox option as opposed to simply another counter. The change proved to be positive for more than just the Gearhulk. The ability to operate on an opponent's turn can make all the difference in the world, as it forces his opponents to be on alert always.
In early builds, the creature count for the deck was fairly standard, but it has gone down and down as the deck has been streamlined. The current build has 20 creatures, but most of them cost more than four mana so Kyle isn't really looking to his creatures as a key to surviving the early game. This also makes his early mass removal more effective since it rarely hits his own creatures. Included in the list of 20 creatures are cards that are technically creatures, but usually end up copying something other than creatures (looking at Clever Impersonator and Phyrexian Metamorph here). Kyle has shaved several of the generic Sea Monsters from the early builds, making this version much more control related as opposed to a friendly Under the Sea theme deck.
The deck also runs plenty of card draw, but Kyle's favorite has been Flow of Ideas and Tomorrow, Azami's Familiar. With the ability to choose the best card of three – and do it multiple times – lets him sculpt hands to be full of the cards he needs at most moments in the game. He loves setting up a hand that is just absolute gas and with the way the deck plays, it is often necessary when trying to handle everyone coming at you at once.
In a nod to his meta, Kyle runs one piece of graveyard hate and one Eldrazi to get his graveyard back into his library. Milling is a popular strategy in his group, so Ulamog sits in this deck not so much to be cast as it is to stifle the mill players. It has proven a valuable card more than once and has brought a smile to Kyle's face when it works as it is supposed to!
A couple of the surprise cards in the deck are Willbreaker and Dismiss into Dream. These cards make Lorthos and Teferi into great removal spells as they target several opponents' creatures. Lorthos works especially well since you target things first and pay the mana after. This means you don't have to pay to remove targets that disappear!
Illusionist's Gambit is another card that is often an all-star that lets you Redirect a large attack to someone else. Can create situations where multiple creatures get destroyed because the attacks are no longer ideal. There is a joy in having your opponents do the work for you!
One of Kyle's favorite cards in the deck is Time Stop. This card does a little bit of everything. It works as a Fog, Counterspell or Stifle. Kyle has often used it immediately after an opponent draws a card for the turn as a type of Time Warp, forcing the most dangerous opponent to just miss their turn completely.
The deck comes with its own reputation at his local game store, as players tend to compare their stronger builds with how well they perform against his Lorthos deck. Kyle understands the oppressive nature of the deck and is always careful not to play it against unsuspecting opponents, since it can result in a less than fun experience if you aren't ready to handle it.
For Kyle, what started as a Sea Monster deck has become a monstrous deck. Early on, Kyle expected the deck just wouldn't be all that good. With the high casting costs on so many of the cards, he expected that in most games he would get rolled on. Blue isn't exactly known as a color with plenty of mana ramp and this mono-blue build demands as much as it can get. It was surprising to him to see the deck perform reasonably well initially, then better and better as he tuned and streamlined it.
It was a joy to get to see Kyle again and play against Lorthos and other decks he brought. Kyle is a true fan of the game and brings decks for all different styles of opponents and games. I'm already looking forward to seeing the white cowboy hat again for more great games!