September 18, 2017

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How to Play More Magic – Speed Up Your Commander Deck

How much do you actually “play” a given game of Commander?

In this article, I’m going to tackle the notion of actually playing more Magic. Playing more spells, having more spells to play, and spending less time playing “draw-go” magic, unless that’s your goal.

Lately I’ve been brewing decks with the intent of getting through more of them at once, inspired by lands that have cycling on them. The tipping point has been the cycle of deserts from Hour of Devastation. I’m borrowing the philosophy used in Draft, but applying it to the 99. Lands with cycling on them mean you can play more lands in the deck in general without worrying about mana problems, which means less games coming up short on mana, and being able to cycle away lands means less flooding out since you can cycle those lands away into other cards.

Ideally, we want to use up most or all of our mana each turn. Presumably, if you measure the amount of mana spent at the end of a game, the higher that statistic, the more Magic you’ve played. (If I were more organized, I’d want to track the “avg. mana spent per turn” for each of my decks.) One way we’re going to end up using more mana and seeing more cards in our deck is to run cheap instants that either replace themselves, or let you see some more cards.

Blue has no shortage of tools to accomplish this. If we want to keep our Blue decks low to the ground while still seeing lots of cards, the Ponder/Preordain combo should be present. I’m also a fan of Frantic Search for seeing a few more cards as well as being “free” to cast. I’m a huge fan of Pull From Tomorrow as one of the few X draw spells since that one discard is the price of seeing one additional card over Blue Sun’s Zenith. Plus, it scales very nicely!

Red is surprisingly fantastic here as well. Blue cards generally top these, but without access to islands, the only thing we lose is some of that instant speed timing. Cathartic Reunion lets us see a fair number of cards. As does Faithless Looting with its flashback ability. If we plan to do a lot of attacking with our deck, an Expedite is worth a look. Sometimes you just don’t have your Swiftfoot Boots and want to sneak in a quick attack.

Speaking of cantrips, I think it’s especially useful to look into ones that support your deck’s strategy anyway, since there’s always the option of “cycling” them for the extra card in an emergency. White is notorious for lacking good card draw spells, but if we dig around here, we can still brew a deck that allows us to see extra cards every game. Scout’s Warning could be the perfect fit for your deck while drawing an extra card. Aura blast is a spell that will surely see use while replacing itself. Survive the Night is an interesting one. I’m positive you’ll be grateful to rescue your commander from certain doom, but it’s that clue token that acts as the cantrip. Consider it a delayed cycle.

Green often draws its cards in massive chunks by having massive creatures and, perhaps, their sacrifice. Looking at you, Life’s Legacy. But don’t worry, green can move quicker too. Cards like Cultivate that tutor up a land definitely should count towards our metric of “seeing more cards per game”, but sometimes you just want to see what’s on the top of the deck! Something like Explore works well in decks that often find themselves with a mitt full of cards. Green has a slightly different tool to protect valuable creatures with Refresh. Although it’s very meta dependent, Ground Seal can do major work against certain decks. And in theme with every card in this article, if somehow it’s not useful, it at least replaces itself for the cost of a Sorcery speed cycle.

Black’s a tough one. We have to jump through a few hoops to speed our deck up, but there are a few interesting standouts. Resourceful Return should provide a useful ability and that card draw option should be live most of the time. If nothing worth bringing back has gone to our graveyard yet, Dark Dabbling is black’s three mana instant that can save our Commander. And perhaps our whole team, if we’re cycling instants and sorceries. I’ll admit this is a stretch, but if we’re looking for pseudo-cyclers, Soul Rend does the job. Its wording doesn’t require the target to be white to cast, and we get a delayed draw out of it.

If we were to brew a deck devoting a good number of card slots to these types of effects, we’ll play more magic. We’ll be casting more spells, seeing more of our deck, and most importantly, drawing our all-stars more frequently. It’s as if our deck isn’t 100 cards, but 85 instead. Check out Episode 113 of our podcast, Commanders Brew. I brewed up a deck that leans hard on this makeup of a deck, and it’s a blast to pilot. Give it a listen and let me know what you think!