My Five Cents On… An East Coast Commander Article (“Gamesmanship”)

This was originally meant to be a comment posted on an article from East Coast Commander, but try as I might, I couldn’t get it to post on the site, so instead, I figured I’d post my expanded thoughts here and direct some traffic towards their site (not that there’s all that much traffic coming through here. Reminder, other sites are much better than this one, and you should be reading them!

My Five Cents On… An East Coast Commander Article (“Gamesmanship”)

I hate the assumption that Commander-equals-Deck.  Or that there’s only one “Optimal” way to build for a general and that all decks with that general will be built that way.

One of the great joys, at least for me, of Commander is the latitude in deck construction.  This isn’t  Standard  where “innovation” means running only 3 copies of a card instead of 4, or other tournament formats where  there are only a few viable decks, plus Rogue (i.e.  couldn’t afford playsets of 150$+ cards) decks. It’s a format where there are 555 viable commanders,* and a way larger number of potential decks.

And we shouldn’t be judgmental.  At least not at first.

I’ve had someone refuse to play against me because I announced I was going to play Azami.  That made me really mad, and also frustrated — I spent a lot of time building an All-Creature, try to win  by Inkmoth Nexus, deck that could only take a limited number of extra turns using a 4-creature, combat-based, synergy,  and I got hated off the table _BEFORE_ the game even started because someone saw  exactly 1% of my deck.

I felt bad for choosing to play a deck. I decided to be a bit defensive and ask why (“because it’s all counterspells and infinite turns”), but after having to explain what my deck does in advance, he let me play it.**  I didn’t win the game.

It sucks for people that like to build decks and play them (as opposed to just win all the games) to have to know that they can’t pick certain generals because of stereotypes.   Not all Magic players are sweaty, smelly, basement-dwelling, mouth-breathing, neck-beards with plumber’s smiles and no social skills

My Zur is Group Hug and has Near-Death Experience as its _only_ win condition (aside from 21 hits by Zur). My Hippo does massive amounts of steroids. But I hate feeling  like I have to announce and explain in detail what my deck does in order to be allowed to play it.

One of the least fun games I’ve ever been involved in had  me being ganged-up on for playing a Rhystic Study on turn three because it was the only play I could make without having to discard, and, being color screwed, it was an opportunity to maybe draw into a forest.  No one else was Mana screwed, and it wasn’t much more than a speedbump for the other decks, but I still got wrecked for playing a card that wasn’t even going to win the game (when I was the least threatening player at the table).  Now, that’s a slightly different situation, but the principle is similar:  I was attacked based on assumptions rather than actual action.  It’s like making assumptions about someone’s character based on what they wear.

Azami, Lady of Scrolls

We sentence you to death, without charge or trial.

Rhystic Study

If you have ever seen this card, you should Go Die in a Hole (of Fire), probably.

On the other hand, I once sat down against an Azami deck whose pilot said “It’s not like the traditional Azami deck,” but the only thing that made it different was that it didn’t have any real win-condition while it was looping Time Stretches. Now, if I play THAT Azami deck, I know how to approach it.

It’s a different story when you know a particular deck, though. When I see my friend’s Balthor or Sisters of Stone Death decks, I know what those iterations do, and attack accordingly.

In the first half of “Gamesmanship” the author describes a situation where he actively directed his attacks at a player playing a (not The) Riku deck. Given the context, this made total sense.  That particular deck was known to be troublesome,  and the author’s deck’s best answer to it was to remove the the player  (and the Riku player’s response was out of line).  Where I disagree is that it was the players own fault for choosing to play  “a”  Riku deck.  The deck in question may be a problem, but the principle that it’s the Commander’s fault, is where I take issue.

I would prefer to live and play in a world where decks are measured by their character and actions, rather than judged by the general that leads them.


*Gatherer lists 559 Legendary Creatures, minus the 4 banned ones.  Yes you can use Haakon as your commander if you want. It might not be good, but  it shouldn’t stop you from trying.

** the deck needs Wanderwine Prophets (plus a merfolk to champion), Seahunter, and something to make the Prophets un-blockable to get  multiple extra turns. It’s not tribal, and it doesn’t run that many merfolk.  The deck has creatures that  can counter spells, but no hard counters or counter-locks.

2 thoughts on “My Five Cents On… An East Coast Commander Article (“Gamesmanship”)

  1. I like this response, and I completely agree with you. It really should not matter what general you sit down with – it should be based on the other 99. But the fact remains that we’re human, and we make assumptions. Yes, it is possible to build Zur and not be a completely oppressive player. But how often does that happen? Is it something you’re willing to risk when you see someone set Zur in their command zone, across the table?

    • My initial reaction, when seeing a “Problem” Commander on the other side is often to be wary, but I do really try to give each new iteration of a deck a chance to impress me before I’ll just go after it as a knee-jerk reaction. There have been a few times where playing on the standard assumptions has led to really un-fun games. I had just played against a Purphoros deck (which always screams Arch-enemy to me) and lost pretty heavily. The next week a different player came with a Purphoros deck, and I just assumed it was going to be like the build I had faced before (which made me unexcited to play the game), it turned out to be different in a lot of ways… still making efficient use of the General, mind you… and a lot more fun to play against. If we’d have hated him out early, I’d never have known. Same thing happens a lot lately with Nekusar decks. Most of the ones I’ve seen have similarities, but they’re not identical, and lumping them all together as “a Nekusar Deck” isn’t really useful in how to approach them. I don’t “like” seeing certain commanders, but I’ve found that being open minded about them leads to better game play. I like to see what a Bruna player will drop on that first swing with Sovereigns of Lost Alara active… and I love being pleasantly surprised when it isn’t Eldrazi Conscription or Corrupted Conscience. Once I know a particular deck, though, if it’s one of “those” decks, all bets are off.

      Also, there’s also not a lot of actual “risk” involved. I don’t and won’t ever play Commander for prizes, so the only thing lost in not killing a new Zur outright is a bit of time. Perhaps if more people started branching out with how they build particular commanders, it will become tougher to make assumptions, and there won’t be the “I can’t play X because I’ll get hated out” fear anymore. Or we could just kill all the Spikes! (just kidding).

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