Commander And Conquer - Synergy And Me
So what if your opponent has more money than you. Remember, a 20 cent stone rain will kill a $1000 dual land any day of the week.
- Lortha, Orzhov penny pincher.
Ok, so you bought a precon, or maybe you just fumbled some cards together, but you made a deck. You’ve played it a few times, kind of got the hang of how you want your deck to run, and now you're ready to take the next step and make it interesting. It's now time to start making changes and (hopefully) improvements to your deck.
So, firstly you have to learn this number 1 rule for building a Commander deck. It's actually really simple. Here is the box of cards which are compulsory for every commander deck.
Im entirely serious. There is not a single card in the entirety of Magic: The Gathering which I would suggest goes in every Commander deck. This is a really important lesson that deck builders should learn. Just because someone on the internet said that a card was amazing, doesn't mean it belongs in your deck.
Deck building isn't about cramming 99 good cards into your deck and hoping that you win through the sheer power of a card. Deck building is all about building a well oiled machine that runs smoothly from turn 1 to turn X where X is the turn you won the game. Sometimes this means running cards which are generally considered “worse” than other counterparts, just because the cards need to work well together. We want to promote synergy. Synergy is our weird friend who makes bad cards good, because with synergy cards become greater than the sum of their parts. This is one of my favourite magic rules - “Don’t play the good card, play the right card.”
Synergy between cards:
Synergy between 2 cards is achieved when 2 cards become significantly more powerful when they are paired together. Combos are a type of synergy which generally end games. But synergy doesnt always have to be game winning. Sometimes it just makes unplayable cards good, or good cards amazing.
Eg. Sword of the Meek + Thopter Foundry
Sword of the meek is ok by itself. Its a card that you can discard and then return next time you drop a llanowar elves. Thopter foundry is a little stronger by itself, turning your useless artifacts into both life and a 1/1 flier. But really it's not much to write home about. However when you have both of them out, you can sacrifice the sword to the foundry, which gives you 1 life and a 1/1 flier. This flier token brings the sword back and allows you to sacrifice it again, giving you 1 life and a token and bringing back the sword… You get the picture. Anytime you like you can pay 1 mana to get a 1/1 flying token and a life. This is a very powerful interaction that can cause a lot of pain for your opponents, and its made from 2 quite bad cards. Best of all, I’ll bet you that you can’t find a better if not equal card in the entire of Magic. Look through all the ban lists and you wont find a 2 mana artifact that makes a 1/1 flyer and gains you a life for a single mana. But thats what synergy is all about. Playing the right cards to make the bad cards more powerful than any other card in the game.
Now for every synergistic interaction you also have anti-synergy. This is when 2 good cards can cause a very unfavourable interaction in your deck. Which further emphasises my point about playing the right cards for your deck.
Eg: This little kitty and the Captain of the Skyship Weatherlight.
Leonin Arbiter is a really nice card. Its a 2/2 for 2 mana. Its easy on the colour requirements and stops your opponents from cracking fetchlands, play tutors, etc without paying a nice tax of 2 extra mana. Captain Sisay is also a really nice card, able to tutor up any legendary card in your deck (not just creatures) and put it into your hand for the minor cost of tapping your 4 mana creature.
But together these abilities are clunky. Leonin arbiter hurts you just as much as it hurts your opponents. Its bad synergy and should be removed from the deck if possible.
Synergy in your deck:
Synergy between cards is one thing. But you also need to have synergy in your deck’s overall goal. Your deck has a lot of jobs, it has to win, it has to stop your opponents winning, it needs to be fun and not super stress inducing, but it needs to be complex enough that you dont get bored playing it. This is a lot to expect of 99 cards, especially if you have no idea what you deck does, or how you want to do it.
Sometimes anti-synergy comes not from the cards interaction with another card, but with a card's interaction with a deck. A common combo I see, placed in a lot of black decks, is the Exquisite Blood + Sanguine Bond combo.
Sure when the combo is on the table, any life gain by you, or life loss by an opponent is going to cause you to win the game. Its amazing synergy between the 2 cards, its actually game winning, but you dont always have both pieces on the board.
Exquisite bond is the easiest to trigger. I mean chances are your deck will have some way of making your opponents lose life. Which turns into life gain for you. However if you have nothing that can utilise that life gain, then the card is almost a dead card. I mean who cares what your life total is when you're facing down a million 1/1 tokens. Or have no cards in library. Or facing down a large infect creature. Life gain is nice, but it doesnt win games, it merely slows down one method of your opponents killing you. Which is helpful if you need the time, but otherwise doesn’t achieve a lot.
Sanguine blood on the other hand is harder to trigger, but the effect is better. Dropping life totals from your opponents means bring them closer to death, and you closer to winning. But you can only do this if your have a bunch of ways of gaining life. Otherwise its a dead card. See the pattern? These cards are dead cards more often than not (unless they are comboing). Which means more often than not, they are clogging up your hand.
However take this combo:
With all 3 pieces out. All permanents are artifacts, which means Nevinyrrals Disk will destroy ALL permanents when it is tapped (including lands!). However thanks to the Darksteel Forge, all your permanents are now indestructible. Which means everyone else loses everything, you lose nothing (not even the disk - its now indestructible). Which you can keep doing over and over again every turn.
Now this combo doesnt straight up win you the game. But each piece is good in its own regard. Nevinyrrals Disk is a board wipe for the colours which cant usually board wipe, Mycosynth Lattice fixes all your colour problems and Darksteel Forge makes all your mana rocks, equipment, and other artifact creatures like Wurmcoil Engine - indestructible.
Then when combined. Disk + Lattice gives you the ulitmate big red shiny DOOM button to reset the game at any point. Great when your opponents have over extended and dropped all their threats on the board or mana excelled all of their lands out of their library.
Lattice + Forge makes everything you own indestructible. Losing permanents just became a real hassle for your opponents as their wrath effects do nothing!
Forge + Disk gives you a repeatable disk every turn. It just clears all creatures, enchantments, and opposing artifacts. You also keep the disk so you can just keep wiping the board clean each turn!.
Each piece is good on its own, good in the duo, and amazing in the trio. This is where you need to place your attention when it comes to deck building. Even if youre not building a combo, you need to ask “Sure this is good, but does it actually work with my deck?” You need to find what direction your deck is going. Build into that, and use cards which support that strategy. Exquisite blood + Sanguine Bond combo is really good in an Oloro deck, which runs a lot of interactions with life gain and life loss. Because each piece becomes helpful on its own accord.
So in summary. Find out what you want your deck to do. Find out what makes your deck unique, what makes it strong, what makes it weak. Then utilise that strength and build to it. Dont bother buying expensive cards which are overpriced because they are good in someone elses deck. Beat them at their own game, using the right cards, because your cards work together like clockwork.
Dan is a seasoned commander player, with many years experience and a keen eye for combos. When he's not dominating the commander tables, or leading the armies of chaos to victory, Dan is tearing up the stage as vocalist of a local heavy metal band.