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So You Wanna Build a Commander Deck?

Honestly, one of my favorite parts of Commander? The creativity allowed in the format. You can have decks from two different people and have decks so dissimilar you can’t believe they have the same Commander. The sheer volume of options for splashy plays and feats of stacking triggers ever-so-judiciously means there is no perfect deck for every situation. It’s possible to craft a story with cards or a machine of devastation, all depending on your whims. The singleton nature allows for even linear decks to have some degree of variation and innovation to find even the most complex of wincons. In short, you get to explore the mechanics, the power and the flavor of cards in the best way imaginable – your way!

Play the Deck of Your Dreams

Your deck in Commander doesn’t ever have to be anything you don’t want it to be. This format allows us a creative freedom that is different from most (if not all) of the other formats in magic. The variety of directions one can take when building a deck is almost overwhelming – though most people usually gravitate towards one playstyle or another. Decks can be woven into a story, weaving a theme with the cards. I can be optimized for a heavy interaction or to lock your opponents out of the game. You can use the top tier, best cards in the game (well, the ones that aren’t banned anyway) or throw together a bunch of cards in the commander’s color identity and just hope for the best. Who knows, maybe it’ll be fun?

You Can Ask for Advice

For all the creativity commander allows, it can be overwhelming when you approach a new deck from scratch. All but 85 cards in the entirety of Magic:the Gathering are banned, leaving an incredibly deep and diverse pool of cards from which you can choose. Lucky for us Commander players, we have a wellspring of incredible content creators/deck builders/strategists here to help us navigate the maze of options. These fine folks have created myriad guides, deck techs and lists from which we can draw upon for ideas, strategies, mana bases, sneaky combos, budget builds and have covered every which way you can approach a new deck. These are fantastic resources and nothing should hold you back from using them! It’s too much to ask to have encyclopedic knowledge of every card in Magic’s history so don’t feel like you have to go it alone. Why reinvent the wheel?

You Can Choose Your Own Adventure

Alternatively, you can pick a Commander or a mechanic you really enjoy and just brew around that. Dig through your boxes, find cards with the right mechanics, flavor text or colors and begin the process. You don’t have to follow any guidelines if you don’t want to constrain yourself. Set the sleeves for your lands aside, and then just pick whatever you want to put in the deck. Not following a set of guidelines is a double edged sword of course, maybe you’ll have to hone the amount of lands, change cards as you play through the deck.You can really swing for the fences with this style of building. Wall Infect? Sure. Ladies Looking Left? Why not. Angus MacKenzie Group Hug? (If so, who hurt you? 😉 ) Commander decks can be about self-expression and exploring concepts and ideas in addition to (or in spite of) winning.

Of course you can build a great, competitive, well-tuned deck without outside influence, but you can also go on a more off-kilter path with hilarious and fun results.

I have a Liliana, Heretical Healer that is pure Liliana Tribal. It’s not good nor optimal by any formulaic standard. It features all the Liliana art & flavor text I could find, some zombie and discard synergy cards, and 27 lands. Basically no ramp, a couple of cost reducers/mana doublers (if they survive) and everything needed to be able to respond to only a few threats and just hope for the best. The deck is a blast, and perfectly on flavor with setting the odds against yourself with only yourself to blame. I’ve had some amazing wins with it, and suffered absolute blowouts as well. For me, that’s part of the fun – maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t, but at least I get to do something silly along the way.

Commander Liliana Tribal Deck List - Olivia Gobert-Hicks

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If you do choose to forge your own path in deck building, remember too that the guides and informative content out there can still suit your purposes. You can see the cards that are constantly in those top ten lists, and choose to run (or not run) those. You can give yourself arbitrary deck building restrictions that make you think outside the box and find cards and strategies you might never have considered before. Try building a deck without the best-in-class staples and instead run some slightly different cards that are functional copies that perhaps nobody at the table is expecting. (The Command Zone just recently had a podcast on exploring different and unique options, you can check that out here.)

Don’t Let Anyone Tell You Otherwise

There is no wrong way to play Commander. This is *the* format that lets you play how you like. You can optimize your decks, play at the highest level; or tell a story over a game that is almost secondary to the interactions of friends at the table. You can run however many lands you want, play the non-optimal cards, break open a booster box (or just grab some piles of cards) and make the best deck you can. The focused, high power decks are every bit as valid as the “eh, I hope it works” piles of pet cards that you just can’t bring yourself to break up. You don’t ever need to be restricted to formulas or the “optimal plays” if you don’t want to be.

As long as you’re following the format’s rules the world is your oyster. Even the banlist can end up being ignored to varying degrees at any table that agrees to let you play with banned cards, planeswalkers as your commander, or even just experiment with silver-bordered cards. You don’t have to build decks that are solely focused on winning if you don’t want to; that’s not the only experience that can be derived from the format. There are plenty of group hug decks whose win condition is one of attrition – but attrition from simply being done with the never ending Fog effects that keep everyone alive and never let anyone get closer to a win. There are decks that always turn cards sideways, that are planeswalker tribal, pure chaos, discard, draw, mill, enchantress – whatever kind of gameplay is your style, there’s likely a way to execute it at almost every level. Enjoy the gamut of experiences that brewing in Commander can bring. Follow the formulas from whatever player or content creator you like best or deliberately build a silly deck that may or may not even have a wincon; build your story, your mechanic, your colors – just bring your friends along on the journey.

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