Commander And Conquer - Red Decks Go Fasta
"Your goal is to press the red button. Don't worry about what the button does,
just know it's your job to press it."
-Steamflogger Boss Motto.
So you've made your first deck. You added a few cards in, you took a few cards out. Now you're ready to really get into the deck building scene and start bringing your opponents to their knees.
Last time we covered synergy and anti-synergy, not just between two cards in your deck, because let's face it, your opponent is going to do everything in their power to stop you, so why would you help them out by playing cards which work against each other. We have also remembered to exclude cards which just dont work with the overall theme of the deck, why bother with cards which draw cards when artifacts enter the battlefield if you are running only 2-3 artifacts.
Today we’re going to talk about those little symbols in the top right-hand corner, and how important those can be in the selection of the cards for your deck. It may seem a simple task, but getting the general tempo of your deck so that all is running smooth is more than just making sure you have a smooth mana curve.
More than just a mana curve:
Chances are you’ve heard about a “mana curve” or at least have an idea about balancing the number of 1 drops (card that costs one and is intended to be played on turn one eg Sol Ring, whereas Tragic Slip costs one but is meant to be played later), 2 drops, 8 drops etc. The problem is, cards are so much more than just a mana cost. Sure, the simplest of creature decks will play a one mana creature turn one, followed by a two mana creature turn two, and a three drop creature turn three, but most of our decks aren't that simple. Most of our decks are running a mixture of creatures, instants, sorceries, etc that are all of different mana costs. Your deck has to do more than just “guarantee a turn one play.” It needs to “guarantee a smooth transition from start to finish.”
So the big questions is, when do you want your deck to do what it does? Are you looking for a turn four blowout with a tricky combo, set up and executed before anyone has a chance to stop you? Are you looking to grind the game out until late game, where your spell quality exceeds that of your opponents and you win through sheer attrition? Knowing when your deck is going to do its thing is imperative to building a strong deck.
Consider the following 2 cards: Vampiric Tutor vs Diabolic Revelation.
Vampiric Tutor is by far the faster card. Coming in at a mere 1 mana, this is easily a turn 1 play, tutoring for whatever you want. The life loss is mostly irrelevant in commander but just simply from a first glance, Vampiric Tutor is faster by around 6 turns. But the card has 2 significant issues:
The first point is often overlooked. Putting the card on top means that you're required to draw a card before you get what you tutored for. This means that you are actually effectively discarding a card to get the tutor. This also means if the card you're tutoring for gets counterspelled or shuffled away youre down an additional card from the start. Vampiric Tutor loses you card advantage.
The second point is where Diabolic Revelation shines. Being able to net you 2, 3, 4, 20 cards (if you have the mana) means drawing this card late game gives you a whole new hand (of cards you actually wanted too!) However, for the first 7 or so turns of the game, it just sits there gumming up your hand.
These points are relevant when determining what you should be placing into your 99. If your deck is looking to be the fastest at the table, you cant afford to gum your hand up in the early game. But then again, if you're looking for a late game win, you really want the late game advantage.
This is a huge problem I see many people make. They see some veteran player tell them that “Vampiric Tutor is better than Diabolic Revelation” and combined with the price of the card in the secondary market we are often inclined to believe them. However what they really mean is “This card is better in my deck, because the strategy I am employing requires me to win as fast as possible, and this card allows me to do this.” Which there is nothing wrong with. Being a fast combo deck is a great way to finish the game before anyone has a chance to find an answer for your deck. However remember that if youre aiming to win quick, you have to be the fastest. Because no matter how fast you are, if someone else is faster, they will win everytime.
Unless of course you are the one with all the answers. We discussed in the past how combo decks are generally full of cards which are bad by themselves but great together. This is now a great time for you to get your revenge and kill the single piece of the combo and watch their house of cards tumble to the floor. Playing cards which stop your opponents synergy is a very effective strategy, leaving them with half of a bunch of combos often leaves them with a handful of dead cards. This is why control decks have a huge advantage over combo decks, they can surgically remove pieces of the combo with a single card. But, you lose out against aggressive mid-range decks which are just full of great cards. So you end up with a paper-scissors-rock fight of combo-control-aggro. Combo decks will generally find their pieces before the aggro deck can kill them. Control decks will deal with the combos. And aggressive decks will just have too many threats that the control deck cant choose which piece is the most worthy of their single piece of removal.
The funny thing is, the whole thing reverses if you make a few changes to the deck. If you run less single target removal and more mass removal, your control deck has a much better match up against aggro, and a much poorer match-up against combo. If your combo deck runs more counterspells to defend its combo, it slows down and thus the aggro deck is able to get in there and finish you off. If you run 50 tutors for a single card, then you have a really high chance of getting that card, but if they stop you, well now you have 49 dead cards.
So quite likely you feel like this:
Put a shirt on, Ixador…
Yeah, thats a lot to digest. But the gist of it is quite critical and luckily can be summaries like thus: When building, stick to what you know your deck is good at, and build around that. If your deck wants to be fast, build it fast. Dont put aggro cards in your control deck. Dedicate yourself to a single cause, and if you have a bunch of extra cards you want to use but dont fit, just build a second deck!
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.