Quite a while ago, I used to play a lot of 1v1 Commander, then 1v1 EDH, with the French ban list (found on duelcommander.com). I loved it. The games were interesting, powerful, and each one was different thanks to a 99-card singleton deck. Best of all? The format is creative and has endless possibilities.
With the color restriction of your general, as well as the possibility to build your deck around it, a lot of different archetypes emerged. Maybe you wanted to play the Esper colors, choosing Merieke Ri Berit as your general. She isn’t really a build-around, but lets you play the most powerful control colors. Another way to go at it is to make a monster out of Uril, the Miststalker, or build an Elves deck with Ezuri, Renegade Leader or Nissa, Vastwood Seer.
1v1 Commander, unlike regular multiplayer Commander, is meant to be competitive, which is another reason I like the format. The same goes for my friends in Stockholm. But at some point, they stopped playing, and so for me the format faded—until now! Its release on MTGO got my friends and me talking about it once again.
But a few things are missing. First, the rules and ban lists are different and, for the first time, a boogieman is driving down diversity: Baral, Chief of Compliance.
So why does Baral, Chief of Compliance dominate? Are people not creative enough? Is it because it’s also one of the cheapest decks? I set myself on a mission—beating Baral, Chief of Compliance while still having a playable deck. This couldn’t be the end of the format.
First things first. I looked through the different 5-0 Baral deck lists—well, not so different, all of them pretty much consisted of 3 things: A lot of counterspells, card draw, and ways to cheat Emrakul, the Aeons Torn into play, whether it was Polymorph, Reweave, or Synthetic Destiny. Baral discounting all the spells in the deck while looting when they counter a spell makes it difficult to put together a synergy-based plan, so I quickly dismissed that idea.
What about going under the counterspells and playing something proactive? First, going under their counterspells is harder than it sounds, since many of them are quite cheap, but even if you succeed, it’s significantly harder to beat a Polymorph into Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Okay, so that doesn’t work either. I needed to go even deeper and find stronger anti- cards.
I went to my search engine, entered “can’t be countered,” and started looking for cards that had those words in the text box. I found cards such as Cavern of Souls, Pearl Lake Ancient, and Sphinx of the Final Word, which all are good against Baral. But finding them in a 99-card deck is an issue, meaning that the rest of the deck will still be susceptible to Baral’s efficient answers.
The breaker had to be something that’s there every game. Like a commander. Both Akroma, Angel of Fury, Thrun, the Last Troll, and Dragonlord Dromoka seem interested in doing that, but those decks would have too much trouble with Emrakul. Then I saw it. It was perfect. Surrak Dragonclaw. And it hit me. Instead of trying to beat them with something different, why not just do what Baral does, but better in the mirror? That is, beat them at their own game. Surrak Dragonclaw was perfect for that since not only can it not be countered, but it is also an efficient clock that has flash, meaning you can always keep up mana for counterspells, and it would be the perfect way to break ground in a draw-go scenario. To put the cherry on top, it also makes other creatures you cast uncounterable, meaning you could land game-winning cards that are otherwise too clunky such as Torrential Gearhulk, Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, or Consecrated Sphinx. I quickly started to scribble down a list.
Commander: Surrak Dragonclaw
I still haven’t lost a game so far to Baral. But that doesn’t mean the games aren’t hard. The plan is to play their game, meaning it’s a classic draw-go game. The key is that they don’t really pressure you until late in the game, especially if you deal with their first Baral. That means you can break the stalemate with a turn-5 Surrak Dragonclaw. Since they are mono-blue, they will have a hard time dealing with it on the board, and they can’t counter it. At this point, the game is quite easy to win with the pressure from Surrak while both players have tons of counterspells in hand. Just make sure they don’t cheat in an Emrakul.
Are there more ways to beat Baral, Chief of Compliance? Yes, most definitely. A dedicated control deck to win the mirror such as Oloro, Ageless Ascetic, Merieke ri Berit, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, or a partner combination such as Vial Smasher the Fierce + Kraum, Ludevic’s Opus can do it. But at the moment, the online metagame is ruled by different blue decks. Red and white are played only as splash colors. Aggressive decks are nowhere to be seen. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing these spell heavy interactive mirrors, but if Wizards wants more interesting deck building and diversity, what do you do?
Do you ban Baral, Chief of Compliance? Because banning Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise definitely isn’t enough. Actually, I think banning cards left and right isn’t the way to go, because it would take too many bans to change anything, which defeats a part of the purpose playing 1v1 Commander where you are able to play a lot of sweet, old, powerful cards. There’s only one way to go.
Change the rules to the duelcommander.com rules and adopt the same ban list. First off, the format has been played for ages, at events such as Bazaar of Moxen, MKM tournaments, and other, larger non-GP events, and slowly the ban list as well as the format, developed to a solid state. All of a sudden, making your own rules and your own ban list, different from the already tested and perfected real ones, is silly. It’s inelegant and creates confusion. This is, after all, something that Wizards didn’t create themselves and are seemingly less adept at making great.
The largest difference in the rules, which would change the metagame the most, is that in real life you play with 20 life. Playing with 20 life changes the entire core of the format. All of a sudden, it’s much easier to play an aggressive deck, and building your deck mono-blue with only counterspells is more likely to get punished. All these aggressive decks will no longer have to care as much about an early Polymorph into Emrakul because they can just race it or stop it once. Because of this, other decks can rise in the wake of fewer infinite counterspells.
This isn’t just some theory of mine—search for the most popular decks in IRL 1v1 Commander and you’ll find Zurgo Bellstriker, partner aggro, partner control, Geist of Saint Traft control, Prossh, Skyraider of Kher combo, or Meren of Clan Nel Toth creature synergy. All the different archetypes are present and in full force. This also means that you have to worry much less about a deck such as Baral, Chief of Compliance, where you won’t resolve a single spell if you try to brew something new and different.
1v1 online Commander could be better, but it is fun. Bring back the rules already created by the 1v1 Commander community. It will be amazing.
Until that happens, play some Surrak Dragonclaw!