These days – well, pre-pandemic days – when I was playing with physical cards, I was more than likely doing so with a hundred of them. To be fair, these days not much has changed except for the fact that my toddler will usually run into the room where I’m shuffling up, prolonging the first few turns of the game as well as his bedtime. Despite my love of the format, I still struggle to write about Commander.
Unlike Pauper, there’s no metagame to explore, no ways to get an edge in a league or challenge. There’s no way I can convince myself I’m being objective. For me, Commander is intensely personal and documenting my takes on the format feels self-indulgent and embarrassing. If building a Commander deck is making a mixtape for yourself, writing about it is giving that tape to your crush. That’s part of what I find endearing about the format: it lets me tell a story I want with cards that mean something to me. While I want to optimize my decks – you never want a mixtape where the songs don’t flow seamlessly – to me, that’s secondary to just doing the things I want.
Building a deck how you want it to be built might mean making concessions, or rather making choices that other people see as deckbuilding concessions. You may leave out a suite of cards that helps end the game, even if they’re perfect. Why? Because that’s not what you’re trying to do with this particular deck.
Not that there’s anything wrong with ending the game. Personally, I feel a lot of these interactions are frowned upon in part because they run counter to one of the alluring elements of Commander: discovery. I believe a ton of Commander’s identity is tied to the things that made Magic magical back in the day: the idea of having your deck and seeing things you have never seen before. The explosion of popularity in the format has made combinations that once seemed novel and exciting rote and routine. But I can still imagine the new player discovering the joy that is Nim Deathmantle, Sengir Autocrat and Ashnod’s Altar with a Zulaport Cutthroat on the battlefield.
Mixtapes aren’t just about the songs or their sequence but rather the entire experience. If you’re building a Commander deck, you want to build it with your opponent’s experience in mind while not taking away anything from your own enjoyment. My love of Commander tends to drill down to a few key elements:
- Graveyard shenanigans. While Commander has trended towards being a graveyard format, I still love anyway to take advantage of cards entering and leaving the bin.
- Sacrifice for value. In a similar vein, I have to actively stop myself from building every Aristocrat commander that’s out there. The kid with the Nim Deathmantle and Ashnod’s Altar? It’s me.
- Enchantments. I love using enchantments in Commander. Most players tend to run modal removal for enchantments and since artifacts (the most common pairing) tend to be more threatening, enchantments tend to stick around longer.
- Readers. I fully embrace the fact that I am an Old. I’ve been playing Magic for 27 years and I love casting spells that the table has to read several times. Is it a little cruel? Maybe. But it’s all about the discovery. I like playing Commander to see new things and I want other folks to have that same opportunity.
Also, I have a ton of old cards.
Every good mixtape has a story behind it and the deck I’m going to talk about today isn’t an exception. If I ever have to go down to one deck, it’s very likely going to be this one. It started almost a decade ago when I had a Bruna, Light of Alabaster deck. My Bruna deck was pretty good for the time – it would resolve the commander and very quickly smash opponents with commander damage. But my Bruna deck didn’t hold up to repeated game play. I felt like I had little agency and instead, the cards just played themselves, win or lose. So I shelved the deck even as I picked up new Auras here and there.
At some point I got it into my mind to build an Aboshan, Cephalid Emperor deck. The idea was to use cards like Magewright’s Stone to turn my commander into an Icy Manipulator while pairing him with tons of flying creatures. Archetype of Imagination and Gravitational Shift were in the pull pile, as were cards like Spirit Away and Flight of Fancy. I noticed that a ton of these cards were enchantments and more than a few were Auras. One was a creature with far too many lines of rules text. Hakim, Loreweaver.
I read the card. Then I reread it. After that, I knew that I was never going to build Aboshan. Instead I set about building mono-blue Aura Voltron.
Hakim, Loreweaver by Alex Ullman
Hakim’s first ability is worded such that you can activate it as long as there are no Auras on him. If you have three Auras in your graveyard you can activate Hakim, hold priority and do it again.
The result is you’ll end up with two Auras on your commander. This is useful for dealing with some of the more expensive haymakers like Eldrazi Conscription and Octopus Umbra. The ability also helps you rip through your library thanks to Rousing Read (which replaced Flight of Fancy) and Cartouche of Knowledge. Want to go on the offensive? Auramancer’s Guise does work and can help keep the cards flowing with Curiosity and Curious Obsession. But one of my favorite tricks with the deck involves various Control Magic effects.
Let’s get this out of the way: yes, Corrupted Conscience is in the deck. Yes, I have used it on my own commander to kill opponents. Finally, yes, one time I left a friend feeling dejected when I activated Hakim with both Corrupted Conscience and Eldrazi Conscription in the graveyard.
Anyway, you can use Hakim’s ability to get cards like Confiscate and Lay Claim out of the graveyard. Then with Crown of the Ages, you can move them around and take whatever permanent you want. Illusory Gains is a fun one in that you can bring it back with Hakim and then it gets passed around, giving you the last creature to enter the battlefield and a Hakim ready to go again.
There are more ways to mess with the battlefield. Perplexing Chimera is a card that can throw a wrench into any board state. Willbreaker works rather nicely with all your Auras but it truly shines with Shimmering Wings. Treachery is a card I’m lucky to have from my youth and it does some serious work here. Bring it back during your upkeep and end up mana neutral? Thank you, I will.
Here are some of my favorite cards that I don’t see very often.
- Vanishing: When this is on Hakim, it can be very difficult to kill him and, thanks to the way phasing, works you get to keep all the Auras on him.
- Infiltrator’s Magemark: Let’s hope you don’t run into any Pramikon, Sky Rampart or Arcades, the Strategist decks.
- Portal of Sanctuary: If there was ever a card tailor made for Hakim, it’s this.
- Arcanum Wings: Shenanigans!
- Dreamscape Artist: In the early days of Pauper, this was my avatar on several message boards. The fact that it accelerates me and gets Auras into the graveyard is just gravy.
- Abjure: One mana counterspell that let’s me rebuy an Aura later? Sure.
I love my Hakim, Loreweaver deck. Every time a set comes out, I scour the card list for any new Aura options. Despite my affection, I’ve shied away from playing it on webcam due to the abundance of control-swapping effects, but rest assured that when in-person play is a thing again, I’m going to be bringing this one to the table.