In Sheldon Menery’s recent Commander State of the Format article, he mentioned his concern about “homogenization and speed”, and if you’ve paid attention to general Commander discourse over the past few years, that shouldn’t be a big surprise. Cards like Arcane Signet have been called out as problems (and acknowledged by R&D, at least in that particular case) regarding homogeneity, and as more and more players get into Commander between frustration with other formats, concerns over the pandemic and various other reasons, an increased desire for optimization has cropped up and turned into an increase in overall format speed.
Of course, as Sheldon noted, part of the issue with speed is the existence of really good artifact mana that’s available to every deck, and banning all of that isn’t really realistic – instead, working together with your playgroup to figure out what’s fun for everyone is the best option (regardless of what you want, I’m pretty sure Sol Ring isn’t ever getting banned, folks).
I’m going to leave speed as a secondary concern for today and instead spend some time attacking the issue of homogeneity. Back in the early days of Commander’s popularization, sites like EDHRec didn’t exist, and you had to really dig through deck lists or go into Gatherer to figure out what cards you might want. I’m still very much in favor of this style of deckbuilding today – when I open EDHRec, I use it as a deck aggregator and paw through tens (or sometimes hundreds) of decks looking for sweet cards while also going deep into niche Scryfall searches, sometimes including terms that look for cards that haven’t been reprinted more than once or at all. I like finding hidden gems and making my opponents read my cards, or if that’s not possible, at least casting spells they’re not expecting me to cast. If someone says “oh, that’s pretty cool!” I’m very happy.
Of course, some cards that show up frequently might be integral parts of your deck for various reasons, and I’m not suggesting you just start arbitrarily cutting cards left and right! Instead I’d suggest cutting cards that you and your playgroup are tired of, especially cards you feel like you just see all the dang time. Let’s try this with one of my actual existing paper deck lists! I haven’t updated this deck in a while, and I played it recently for the first time in a long time, so I’m excited to give it some fresh new options. Some of my friends do read these articles, so if you’re out there and we play Commander, uh, pretend to be surprised when I cast my new stuff, I guess?
Here’s my Yennett list as it currently exists:
Yennet, Cryptic Sovereign by Eric Levine
This deck is intended to be capable of powerful plays but also be quite fun. How do you know? Well, every nonland card has an odd mana value to play properly with Yennett! Is that the optimal way to build Yennett? Not quite – it would be better to add on some more two-drop accelerators like Arcane Signet, but because the theme is just “odd mana value”, we get to dodge that. I think I’d like to add to the oddness by making some of the threads wackier.
I don’t want to change too many of the engine cards like Brainstorm and the other one-drops that fix my library up, since that’s the core of how I make things work with Yennett, but I’d like to find more weird old nonsense like Soothsaying that helps with that goal. I do want to mix up some of the utility cards as well!
Let’s take a look at some of the cards I’m playing that appear in tons of decks across the world.
I like Vindicate because I can hit it at unexpected times off Yennett, and Anguished Unmaking is a fantastic card since it’s an instant itself, but Mortify straddles the line between boring and oversaturated. So what am I looking for in a replacement? Here are the parameters:
- Cost: Three mana. I don’t care too much about the colors.
- Type: Thanks to the flexible nature of Yennett, I’ll consider any card type but planeswalker. I try not to include them in my more fun-forward decks. I don’t need an instant in an absolute sense, but I’d be happy to have one.
- Function: Removal. I need something that hits creatures at a minimum while also having some other effect.
Based on those parameters, I created the following Scryfall search:
format:commander mv=3 id<=esper (o:destroy or o:exile) o:creature -t:planeswalker
What do these strange letters mean? Well, I’m searching for all commander-legal cards (I don’t need to see Alchemy stuff, for example) with mana value three in the Esper color identity. I need the Oracle text to say “destroy” or “exile”, and I also need it to say “creature.” Finally, I want to exclude the planeswalker type.
After looking through the 250 results, I picked my frontrunner:
While this doesn’t hit a creature immediately, frankly we have plenty of point removal in the list already. I would love to have a longer-term threat that can take over the game and pull some focus away from Yennett. Profane Procession is also an outlet for the mana we’re holding up as Yennett gets us some free spell casts. One more upside: if we hit this off Yennett and have no immediate target, that’s no problem.
Next up, we have a card many people can’t stand:
When I noticed this one in my list, I decided to just free my friends from having to deal with it. In a deck focused on theme and good times, it seems confusing to play Rhystic Study. I do, however, want to get some of the value that Rhystic Study would give me, so let’s see if we can find something that will provide us cards without making us ask “Did you pay the one?” I’d like a permanent if possible, but I’ll settle for an instant or sorcery if I have to, and I’d once again like to stick to a cost of three.
Here’s our Scryfall search:
format:commander mv=3 id<=esper o:draw -t:planeswalker
Luckily we only have 366 results to go through. I considered the following cards:
I like Esper Charm and Monastery Siege for their flexibility, Oona’s Grace and Pulse of the Grid for long term value, and Winged Words for synergy with my commander. At the end of the day, though, I think Vega, the Watcher offers two things: a long-term outlet for card draw and an interesting chance to transform this deck and add a cool subtheme. Since Yennett casts the cards from the top of my library, Vega will be a cool way to get some value!
Teferi’s Protection protects our permanents, sure, but it’s a bad hit off Yennett and it’s also a card that you just see everywhere – at least, in higher-powered lists. This shouldn’t be a higher-powered list, as far as I’m personally concerned, so I’m going to power this slot down a bit.
This time, I don’t need a Scryfall search. I’ve got the perfect replacement in mind: I’m bringing in Selfless Glyphweaver!
This card does protects Yennett and our other creatures, which is what is really most important, but best of all, it has a back side that does something else! Sure, it costs eight mana, but if we choose to cast Deadly Vanity, we can keep Yennett around and destroy everything else. I’m very excited about that, and I’m even more excited about finding a clever way to “cheat” our thematic restriction without actually cheating it. After all, the front side has a mana value of three!
I don’t think I have time to go through the whole deck list today, but I want to upgrade two of our threats before we finish up. This article is about the process rather than the end result, after all! Let’s take a look at our two Eldrazi:
These feel like the least fun threats in the deck – many people, myself included, do not equate Eldrazi Titans with a great time in lower-powered games. Here’s what I’m looking for:
- Type: Creature. I want finishers.
- Mana value: seven or nine. I want big threats! I’m not worried about sorting by power, because double strike and other strength factors exist.
That’s it – it’s a simple desire! Here’s the Scryfall search:
format:commander id<=esper t:creature (mv=7 or mv=9)
From there I can drill down and find two creatures I love out of the 274 options, and find them I did.
Inspired Sphinx helps us reload and gives us a place to put additional mana that goes unspent because of Yennett’s nature while also just being quite large. Chromium, the Mutable is significantly larger, can’t be countered and also allows us to discard cards to protect it – and if you’re hitting lands off Yennett too often, you’ll probably be quite happy to have something nice to do with them. It’s certainly not unanswerable – I see Chromium being an interesting puzzle for the table more than a source of frustration, but if that doesn’t pan out, I’ll try something different.
I hope that gives you a window into my process when I’m looking to add some different and more interesting cards to my decks. I didn’t manage to find any really deep cuts today – all of these cards are in the modern frame, after all – but I did make the deck a bit more fun, and honestly, that’s the goal. I’ll update you another time when I have done more work on this list – for now, though, I’m just waiting for preview cards to start showing up! Give me more Kamigawa!