Deck Decisions

Hello and welcome, my name is Erik. I’ve been doing the Commander thing since about 2007 and I’ve written for General Damage Control, Star City Games, and Card Kingdom. Today I want to talk about how I approach a deck building rut.

Sometimes, we end up with a small herd of decks and aren’t sure which ones to keep,  overhaul, or  turn into spare parts, and that’s when an outside view can really help. When I get stuck deckbuilding, I tag in a friend for some of the last cuts to the final 99. That’s what xar as  I’m doing here: tagging in to help a friend.

Cowboy Kyle (
@KyleCCarson), a true gem of a human being, has been keeping his deck herd to six for a while. With new cards coming and so many new commanders, he isn’t sure which decks belong in what category. Let’s get cracking to make some space!

Defining Our Terms

Dismantle: Perhaps the deck isn’t as fun as expected, massively underperforms, is too similar to other decks you have, or maybe this deck just is one you rarely reach to play and it sits too long on the shelf. When you have a deck that you remember fondly but never pick up it's time to dismantle it for something new.

Overhaul: decks that have some quality worth refining. Perhaps the deck is a seed or joy but isn’t getting there, the deck lost its focus but is still great, or the deck has become lopsided over time of little adjustments and needs a tune up. These decks still spark joy for you though not as much as they did.

Keep: They’re great, you love them, and best of all, no changing card sleeves!

The distinction for dismantling and keeping can be hard to draw. In the past I used to track how often I played my decks or stuck to a strict rotation so I could evaluate this. Now I keep myself to fewer built decks at once and gauge this more by how much I am enjoying games. When one of my decks loses luster I try to overhaul it; if I don’t really want to play it against my friends or is a deck that I am not happy with how the game
felt it is time for me to dismantle it.

The Keepers and decks to Dismantle require little brain work once categorized. Keepers stay in their box. Easy peasy. To tackle Dismantles I like to turn on a great anime, like Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood or Demon Slayer, and get to desleeving. For Overhauls, I prefer to make some time to dedicate to upgrading decks.

The Decks & The Strats

When looking to remove some decks from a Commander Herd, I usually start with a quick review of the strategies currently being used. If all your decks are the same archetype either you need to play something different OR only do that thing. Whichever brings you the most joy. I tend to try to keep the strategies a big spread about just so that I can use more cards and overload my collection with the same staples. If you love Voltron strategies, you can have two or three in your herd but I recommend playing more archetypes to improve as a player.

As I write Kyle has decks with the following Generals:
Bosh, Iron Golem- a mono red artifact deck focused on board control and flinging artifacts to finish the game

Charix, the Raging Isle- a big ol’ mono blue Voltron deck with a lot of undersea friends and controlling elements

Grakmaw, Skyclave Ravager- +1/+1 counters abound with a midrange value strategy and Voltron options

Gyrus, Waker of Corpses- Jund value deck via enter the battlefield triggers and recursion with Gyrus as a recursive engine and Voltron finisher

Sliver Hivelord- mutate onto Sliver Hivelord to take out the table with Voltron and sweepers since HIvelord can’t die

Obuun, Mul Daya Ancestor- midrange Naya landfall focused deck

Looking at Kyle’s herd a few things jump out to me. Kyle really enjoys attacking, haymakers, and Voltron strategies. Bosh is the only deck with a real plan to handle the board and almost everything else is midrange focused with commanders that can do the Voltron thing to end a game.

Judging from these, I think this is too many midrange decks. The reliance on Voltron options can prompt a playgroup to change which answers they use. In playgroups which are slower to adapt change their removal options, this can be a boon. But, many of the playgroups I’ve joined would punish me for this many Voltron decks.

The Color Spread

When I am unsure what to add to my herd, it’s useful knowing which color has the most cards available. I created a CMDR Box to help me minimize the issue of having eight copies of Capsize, and like fourteen Kodama’s Reach and too many Swords to Plowshares to ever actually use.

The spread: White- two; Blue- two; Black- three; Red- four; Green- four

Looking at this spread I think Kyle dislikes White and Blue. I’m not sure what happened between him and  Azorius, but it doesn’t look like he’s trying to make amends with them.  

It’s important to note that color spread is an informative tool and not one to weight heavily in your decision making process. If you have a large collection, it’s nice to know that moving to a lightly used color can save you a bit on getting cards. Or that you absolutely love a particular color, it may be useful to have that color in all your decks (I had black in every deck for a couple months and it was a joy) to ensure that you play them all.

What to Adjust?

After looking at Kyle’s herd for deck strategies, the color spread, and the commanders it’s time to make some hard decisions.

Dismantle-Sliver Hiverlord. This build confuses me. It looks like it’s all-in on the Hivelord as the mutate target. Something like a Looter il-Kor or other evasive critter would be a huge boon. While Hivelord is innately hard to remove, I don’t see the payoff here. Maybe Kyle can better explain to me what is happening with this deck or there is some part of the table experience I am missing.

Overhaul- Gyrus can be saved, but he needs an overhaul. The mana curve is very high and the ramp doesn’t support the curve.

Keep- Obuun, Bosh, Charix, Grakmaw. I like Obuun, this is a fun commander and gives multiple paths to victory. Bosh is both cool and a pet card, in part due to his kids, so removing that one isn’t much of an option. Charix is cool and has a unique ability to pump it’s damage. I also really like the Grakmaw deck, but part of this may be an over appreciation for any Golgari deck that isn’t Meren or Totally-Not-Meren.

The Overhaul Plan

If you are using one of the deckbuilding sites available you can get easy info like land count, average mana cost, and your color spread within the deck. You should be using this info to help overhaul a deck. When you tweak a deck and forget to adjust your basics in accordance, you slowly creep your curve too high, or cut too many card advantage spells- these are all signs to overhaul the deck.

Gyrus is the deck that most needs an overhaul in my opinion. I think the deck is so close to being awesome but will find something lacking in most games. Dropping the mana curve a bit and adding just a dash of ramp will help smooth that out and provide more satisfying games for the Jund Hydra. Cards like Noxious Gearhulk can become Ravenous Chupacabra to synergize more with Gyrus’s recursion ability and drop the overall high mana curve.

Bosh could also use some tuning with some clunky bits being reconsidered for more redundancy or making the main gameplan more efficient. Darksteel Forge is a great card, but exile effects have come a long way since this was printed and 9 mana just to protect your toys is a lot to ask in a game where Heroic Intervention and Teferi’s Protection are fairly commonplace.

Your Turn

What do you think? Can this approach help you to evaluate which decks you should improve and which ones should be scrapped for parts? Should other deck(s) have been on the chopping block instead of Mutating Sliver Hiverlord?

Thanks for reading!