Smoothing the Curves - Article 2 - Decisions Decisions

By: James Ness


Welcome back everyone to Smoothing the Curves! 

Today I wanted to take a look at choosing a commander and a deck theme since these aren’t always mutually exclusive.  So let’s get to it!

I find that the biggest challenge I face in deck building is avoiding top-down deck construction – meaning I start with the commander, add the spells, presume the ramp then hopefully I have enough slots left over for the lands – all before deciding on or defining a direction.  Working in this fashion makes it easy to include cards in a deck that may work, but don’t synergize or generate any value.  Bottom up deck construction not only ensures proper proportion of key components but also permits for the deck theme to be fully developed.  Roon of the Hidden Realm and Kaalia of the Vast are great examples of this, so let’s take a closer look.

Roon undoubtedly has an incredibly powerful ability as it not only gets repeat value out of blinking powerful effects like Mulldrifter or Coiling Oracle – but to what end?  The deck came together to be incredibly powerful but not only not fun to play, but also not fun to play against on account of the high level of interactions and lack of a clear and decisive win condition.  How does Roon win – other than forcing bored opponents from scooping?

Kaalia by contrast immediately offers a very simple and straight forward direction up front – cheat angles, demons and dragons into play and smash face.  This clarity in direction comes at the expense of deck flexibility in contrast with commanders like Roon.

There are 3 principal considerations when first conceptualizing of the functioning of a new deck:

  • What do I want to do?
  • What commander best enables that?
  • How do I win?

Your win condition doesn’t necessarily have to have anything to do with your commander – combo-centric decks can have win conditions entirely separate from the commander – But outside of the cEDH arena, how you want to win should be among the first questions you ask when you start to consider your commander as this will help to steer your deck.

When I brew, my journey begins with commanders that speak to me in one way or the other – usually a theme or general flavour.  Then I consider how I want to use the commander to accomplish my deck goals and how I will generate value.  Once I’ve roughed in my 99 cards I check it over for pieces that feel at odds with the rest of the deck and look for more viable replacements.

This last step was something Roon taught me.  Everything seemed fine and dandy up until I started to play and I realized that locking other players out of the game with me while not moving towards a decisive victory myself was just not for me.

While I believe that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to play the game, I will add the caveat that if you’re not having fun playing your own decks, there’s something wrong in there somewhere and you may want to check what’s missing and see if you can tweak things to make it more exciting for you!

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