There are some Commander’s out there that more or less tell you how to build a deck with them at the helm. The directions are often, but not always, spelled out in the rules text. Building these decks can be fun but I find they are a bit too rote for my taste. Even the decks where my Commander has a clear direction – like Hakim, Loreweaver – there is enough wiggle room in the script for me to go off book.
Old Rutstein is at the other end of the spectrum. Rather than a well detailed story, this Crimson Vow legend is an improv prompt. He gives you a hint of direction and then your imagination can take over. While Old Rutstein decks may have some overlap, each one you encounter at a social table could very well be something unique. And that’s exciting, especially after what feels like years of commanders that have to be built just so.
So what is Old Rutstein? Despite my fawning, it’s very easy to build him as a general Golgari goodstuff deck. There’s a light graveyard or self-mill theme, a light lands theme, some tokens sprinkled in and he manages to generate a bit of value. While not Meren of Clan Nel Toth levels of card advantage, Old Rutstein is going to spit out tokens no matter what. No matter what direction you take the Peasant, you’re likely to want to capitalize on his ability to generate tokens.
Idol of Oblivion is going to help you continue to draw cards while Nadier’s Nightblade is going to make sure those tokens do something good on the way out. Nadier, Agent of Duskenel also turns tokens that leave play into power and later on, value. Modern Horizons 2 provides plenty of cards with some token synergy with Academy Manufactor and Chatterfang, Squirrel General headlining the list. Doubling Season and its ilk also get the nod and if we are going in on tokens, it is going to be hard to pass up Bitterblossom, Awakening Zone and Pawn of Ulamog. Cap this off with Craterhoof Behemoth and you have a fairly standard core for any token-based deck.
That’s all well and good. But that’s not where my mind went when I saw Old Rutstein. Instead, I wanted to build around the artifact tokens that this legend spits out. Instead of generic good stuff, I instead thought of Marionette Master. By honing in on one aspect of the card, I provided myself with a path to avoid the pitfalls of falling into a Golgari goodstuff pile.
If you’re going for a more “Artifact-o-Crats” centered approach, then you’re looking at trying to bring some element of Krark-Clan Ironworks into the fold. Scrap Trawler and Sly Requisitioner can do some fun things and Inspiring Statuary can make your Treasures pull double duty. Speaking of Treasure, Pitiless Plunderer, Revel in Riches and Ruthless Knave all bring something to the table, as do Fain, the Broker and Skullport Merchant. You can also capitalize on sending artifacts to the scrapyard with Fangren Marauder, Disciple of the Vault, Ich-Tekik, Salvage Splicer and Keskit, the Flesh Sculptor. And if you’re feeling like moving game objects around, it’s hard to do better than Tireless Provisioner and Trading Post.
If you want to go a bit more esoteric, you can build Rutstein as a secret Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker deck (Author’s Note: I love building secret Shirei decks). Keskit and Marionette Master both fit into this rather neatly, as do Academy Manufactor, Disciple of the Vault, Pitiless Plunderer and Skullport Merchant. Beyond that, you have to get creative with cards like Arcbound Ravager, Myr Scrapling, Sylvok Replica, and the cousins Triskelion and Monoskelion.
The other way I would look to build this commander would be leaning a bit more into manipulating the top card of the library. Cards like Haunted Crossroads, Scroll Rack, Mirri’s Guile, Sensei’s Divining Top and Sylvan Library help to stack the top of your deck to get the exact hit you want out of Rutstein. Sapling of Colfenor, Realmwalker, Oracle of Mul Daya, Augur of Autumn and Vizier of the Menagerie all care about what is coming off the top. Grist, the Hunger Tide not only helps to fuel any mill shenanigans you have going on but also helps your forest hermit generate a swarm of Insect tokens, provided your heading for the Swarmyard. Crawling Sensation and the new Crawling Infestation double down on this endeavor.
On this track, including cards such as Life from the Loam, Ramunap Excavator and Crucible of Worlds helps to reap the rewards from a full bin. Tormod, the Desecrator and his brethren also are happy in this world as they just want cards to leave the graveyard, not caring about where they end up.
Old Rutstein is a puzzle and he is one without a clear solution. In that way, he’s a perfect commander – one that fosters creativity and can provide endless tinkering. Unlike some other legendary creatures that are so heavily tied to a set’s mechanics, Rutstein is open ended and backwards compatible, meaning that there will always be an opportunity to add or subtract cards. Some folks like finishing a Commander deck – having it be a distilled version as closer to a Platonic ideal as possible. Others like to constantly tweak and tune and for this latter group, Rutstein seems like a perfect fit.
What cards would you put into an Old Rutstein deck? What direction would you take this creepy trader?