Sometimes you just need to ask!
Last week I wrote an article talking about Unstable in Commander and suggested that most cards in Unstable would be okay in the Commander format. My influence with the Commander Rules Committee clearly runs deeper than I realized, because days later, they announced that silver-bordered cards (with a list of exceptions) are legal in Commander until the next update on January 15! Happy holidays indeed! If all of these cards are going to become legal, how do I not build a deck?!
Initially, I was thinking about chickens. The Chicken creature type is near and dear to my heart, but there are a few problems. There aren't more than two types of chickens in any color, so right off, I was looking at a five-color deck that was going to feature six creatures, and the commander would not be a chicken. The deck would end up having to rely on tutors and recursion cards to make sure the chickens that are in the deck would actually be part of your game. This was going to mean an expensive deck with pricey lands and tutors that would probably play the same way every game. This just didn't sound like the kind of deck I wanted to build with silver-bordered cards.
A big part of what I loved about playing Chicken decks in 60-card casual formats was all the die-rolling. The randomness of dice deciding how big or small the chickens would be, or whether creatures would live or die, was appealing to me. I don't recommend it for every game of Magic, but occasionally it would be fun. I started looking at Unstable and I got an idea. In fact, I found The Big Idea.
The joy of The Big Idea is more than just a 4/4 for six mana. Let's break this down a little bit. When you spend four mana and tap The Big Idea, you roll a six-sided die (note: for the rest of the article, when I say roll a die, I mean a six-sided die). It gives you 1/1 red Brainiac creature tokens equal to the result. Roll a "1," get one Brainiac. Roll a "6," get six Brainiacs. This means that you are going to average 3.5 1/1 creatures per roll. For four mana, that sounds about right.
The key lies with the second ability that lets you tap three Brainiacs so you get to roll two dice instead of one and use the total of those results. So when you tap three Brainiacs and use the first ability, you are going to get between two and 12 Brainiacs. You can see how this can get out of hand if you have six Brainiacs and activate that second ability twice. Suddenly four mana for what will average out to be 10.5 Brainiacs is a Good Thing. Right then, I knew I had my commander!
So what would the deck need to make this happen?
The Big Idea is very slow. Without help, The Big Idea needs six mana to play and you can't activate the Villain until the next turn. Even in pretty casual formats, this is a pretty big ask. Now factor in the fact that things don't get really fun until you have at least three (and preferably six Brainiacs) and you have a deck that takes forever to really get moving. This just won't do.
One way to speed this process along is giving The Big Idea haste. This shaves a turn off the wait and also means that it gives your opponents less time to destroy it. Their sorcery speed tricks are less useful if the damage is already done! I chose the time-honored classics, Swiftfoot Boots and Lightning Greaves, along with a few options that are happy to help all your creatures: Anger, Fervor and Hammer of Purphoros. There are going to be times when you have plenty of Brainiacs and would like to see them attack instead of add die rolls, so giving them haste just seems like a good plan!
The other option is ramp. Black and red aren't exactly loaded down with ramp options, but there are plenty of artifacts that help get the job done. I also like Crypt Ghast and Revel in Riches as options. Revel is a little costly as a ramp option, but opponents tend to be a little more careful with repeatedly sacrificing their creatures for effects when you can just win games outright.
Another way to speed things along is to be able to untap The Big Idea. If you have the mana, wouldn't you want to activate it multiple times? There are plenty of ways to untap a creature, but I opted for Twiddlestick Charger. The contraption may only work every third turn, but I definitely wanted some other contraptions in the deck, so this cost me nothing to add, so this is straight upside!
The Big Idea needs to tap Brainiacs, but it doesn't say that the Brainiacs have to come from The Big Idea. Painiac and Inhumaniac are two Unstable creatures that are also Brainiacs. They have the added bonus of being die-rolling cards, so it will add to the fun! Painiac can look forward to swinging in for ridiculous numbers while Inhumaniac is all upside when rolling two instead of one die, since it becomes impossible to roll a one!
Metallic Mimic, Adaptive Automaton and Taurean Mauler can all be Brainiacs, so they were easy to include, especially since two of them will pump all Brainiacs. Runed Stalactite will turn the creature it is equipped to into a Brainiac so there is another bump for the numbers.
Finally Riptide Replicator, Conspiracy and Volrath's Laboratory are all great ways to create or turn my remaining creatures into Brainiacs. I suspect the cost involved in creating a card that you simply want to tap for an effect is probably too high with some of these cards, but we are trying to live the dream, not crush our opponents in an iron fist! If that happens, we'll consider it a fringe benefit!
Initially, I didn't want to have a Contraption deck as part of this Commander deck. While I like the idea of Contraptions, I didn't want a deck about die-rolling be the deck that I first use for Contraptions. Contraptions offer so much more to commanders that revolve around artifacts, and the number of artifacts on the battlefield. Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer; Breya, Etherium Shaper; and Shattergang Brothers are all decks that are going to utilize Contraption decks and the artifacts they provide in so many more ways. The Big Idea would really only use the Contraption deck based on the value of the actual Contraptions. This would also mean running several cards that assemble Contraptions and those are slots lost in the deck for other things. Would it really be worth it?
When searching through all the cards that involve die rolls, four of them were Contraptions. One card, Steamfloggery, uses a die roll to determine how many Contraptions are assembled. When I started looking at other Contraptions and realized I could use five cards to give me access to 15 cards that cost nothing – not even space in your deck – I just couldn't turn it down!
My die-rolling Contraptions do a little bit of everything from damaging players ( Boomflinger) or creatures ( Thud-for-Duds), to making more token creatures and contraptions. The rest of the contraptions are primarily there as ways to draw more cards. These cards may not prove to be explosive, but the small incremental advantages they will give should work over time and will likely make opponents reluctant to use targeted destruction to get rid of them.
If I'm going to go to all the trouble of upping the number of dice I use when rolling, I want to use it for more than just The Big Idea! I've already mentioned Painiac and Inhumaniac and how rolling extra dice will help them out, but there are so many others! Big Boa Constrictor is straightforward and not particularly exciting, but a card like Steel Squirrel gets scary. When you roll a five or higher, the Squirrel gets +X/+X until the end of the turn. So on a third of your rolls, the Squirrel gets significantly bigger. If you start rolling two (or three dice), that Squirrel is going to get bigger far more often and by bigger, and I mean HUGE!
There are several other dice-related cards in the deck, but there are two in particular that I want to mention. Jumbo Imp is a flying creature for three mana that essentially has you rolling a die on your upkeep to add counters, and at the end of your turn to remove counters. This means that the Imp has a 50/50 chance of dying at the end of your turn simply because your end of turn roll is bigger than your upkeep roll. With The Big Idea out, we can roll two dice at the start of every upkeep and one at the end of turn. This doesn't guarantee that the Imp will live, but it does significantly improve the odds.
Finally, the last die-related card I wanted to talk about is the only Chicken that made the deck. It is the undead chicken, Poultrygeist. Poultrygeist is the 1/1 flying creature for three mana that lets you roll a die whenever a creature dies to try and make it bigger. Whenever you roll anything but a one, it gets a counter. When you roll a one, Poultrygeist dies. As someone who has used this card regularly, it will never be as big as you need it to be. However, if I roll two dice, how often will I ever roll a one? Admittedly, eliminating the downside of this card demands you tap three Brainiacs and that may prove to be a price that isn't worth paying, but for someone like me who has suffered the fowl indignity of killing my own precious flyer over and over again, it is worth it!
And to quickly head off the obvious comment, I specifically did not include Purphoros, God of the Forge in the deck. I have grown tired of watching groups of token creatures appearing and everyone instantly dying because an indestructible permanent was there smacking everyone for two life for each of those token creatures. Purphoros needs a break in my group, so he is not in here.
I understand that some of you aren't as excited as I am about Unstable. And I understand if the idea of making a deck that may not be legal as of January 15 isn't all that appealing. But consider your current decks and the silver-bordered cards that are out there. I'm confident you can find something that will work in your decks and fit your level of silver-bordered insanity!