A lot of die-hard EDH players often try to complete what is sometimes called the rainbow challenge (among other names), but the gist of it is, you try to have at least one deck in every possible color combination. This means at least 27 decks: five mono-colored decks, ten two-colored decks, ten three-colored decks, a five-color deck and an all-colorless deck (Using Karn, Silver Golem or one of the legal Eldrazi Titans). At this time there are no four-color Legendary Creatures in print, though some groups allow the Nephilim cycle to be used. I’m not a big “house rules” kind of guy, not that I have anything against house rules. I’m just content to wait until we get proper, officially legal options.
Personally, I do not have any real interest in a colorless deck. And I don’t really want a five-color EDH deck because I also maintain a five-color “Big Highlander” deck that already sort of fulfills this role, and eats up a LOT of my dual land collection, so I would not be able to have an “optimal” five-color mana base unless I cannibalized my Big Highlander for lands. But I do have the goal of completing the other 25 decks – having one deck for every mono, two or three color combination.
But I don’t just want to have “a” deck for each color scheme, I want to have a “definitive” deck for each color scheme. Now, notice I say “definitive” and not “optimal”. To explain what I mean, I’ll provide an actual example. One of the very first lists I posted on this blog was my old Rafiq list. I had been playing Rafiq for quite some time – basically since Shards of Alara was released. He was not the first Shards legend I built around – I think I tried out both Mayael and Sedris before I actually acquired a Rafiq for my collection. By the time Conflux came out, I was madly in love with my Rafiq deck. I typically had between 4 and 6 decks built at any one time and I was constantly tearing apart and rebuilding decks, but Rafiq stayed together pretty much the entire time and was one of my most oft-used decks for years.
Of course, I’m an explorer and always in search of new experiences, so I would periodically de-sleeve Rafiq in favor of some other Bant-colored commander. I tried a few different builds with Jenara at the helm and when Derevi was printed I was a big fan of her as well. But after each experiment with a new, different Bant commander, I always just went back to Rafiq. Those other decks were cool and fun and I enjoyed them, but they all got old after a while. Rafiq, for me at least, never gets old. Thus, that makes Rafiq the “definitive” Bant commander for me. I enjoy trying out other options, but Rafiq is just “The One”. The one that, when I play the deck, it just feels like it perfectly fits what I want a Bant deck to be. Playing the deck comes effortlessly to me, as everything about the way the deck plays just feels… right, somehow.
So, my goal is to keep exploring and experimenting until I find my “Rafiq” for all 25 color combinations. I want to find that ideal commander/deck that just fits. The one that provides the most ideal play experience based on what I want to get from playing those colors. The commander that keeps me coming back for more, again and again, no matter how many other commanders I might try out. Now that I’ve explained what I am trying to accomplish and why, I can outline my progress so far. For each color I will talk about what I have tried and how close I think I am to finding that “definitive” deck or commander.
White – Ugh. Mono-white may well be the last deck for which I find that definitive idea. I really haven’t tried much – the most recent attempt was me trying to get the Nahiri precon from Commander 2014 tuned-up into something I could enjoy playing, but the color’s weaknesses – namely a serious lack of card draw – has hampered every attempt I have made to get a mono-white deck to work. Plus, the whole “Equipment Tribal” thing was really close to my existing Aurelia build and in fact the deck just felt like a much weaker, slower version of that deck. For the time being I have no clue what I want out of a mono-white deck and I have no ideas with which to even experiment. I’ll put this off a while in hopes that they print some cool, new Legend that inspires me.
Blue – I have definitely found my “Rafiq” for mono-blue: Teferi, Temporal Archmage. I’m still tinkering with the rest of the deck, but I am 100% sold on Teferi and the overall deck concept. There are a lot of really degenerate things you can do with him, but my take is a good deal more fair. It’s basically a ramp deck with a strong reactionary control element. It’s not loaded with counterspells – right now I’m only running Cryptic Command with plans to include Mystic Confluence later, and you’ll notice both of those are not strictly always going to counter a spell – and I don’t run any infinite combos. Most of my control-oriented spells are defensive and castable only when someone tries to attack me – things like Cyclonic Rift, Aetherize, etc. The basic goal is to ramp out Teferi, use his Untap effect to power out ridiculous things like giant sea monsters, or cast big spells like Rite of Replication. There is a lot of card draw and random stuff like Vedalken Shakles that are powerful on their own but often have deeper synergies within the deck. Right now, there is absolutely nothing else in the mono-blue realm that interests me, so Teferi is my guy.
Black – Black is a weird one in that I have more or less nailed the deck, but I haven’t settled on a commander yet. I am basically still working with the general idea of the Ob Nixilis deck from Commander 2014, but as in my write-up on improving that precon, I am mainly focusing on both a “Swamps matter” theme and a “Big mana” theme – stuff like Caged Sun and Crypt Gast, or just a good old Cabal Coffers or Nykthos. While playing with Ob Nixilis as the commander, the one thing that became readily apparent was that the deck was very good at assembling a massive mana advantage but did not reliably have ways to capitalize on that advantage. Unlike the Teferi deck, I couldn’t just cast a big Stroke of Genius (there is Damnable Pact now, but it also costs a lot of life!) to fill up my hand. I really needed a good source of card advantage to go along with all that mana. There are three commanders that I feel represent the best options for abusing massive amounts of mana: Erebos, Drana and Geth. I’m a big fan of drawing cards and Oloro was popular in my group at the time, so I went with Erebos after demoting Ob Nixilis to the 99. But I never got around to trying the other two. Drana is just removal, so I’m not that big on her. Geth, I think, is probably the best of the three, and I love to use my opponents things against them. I plan to rebuild this deck in the near future with Geth at the helm, but for right now, I’m uncommitted to a specific commander – I just know I really like the deck.
Red – I thought Daretti would be the answer to all my questions concerning mono-red, but ultimately he was a bit of a letdown. I’m much more interested in a U/R build that can run him, Tezzeret and Dack Fayden as well as the artifact-centered Blue cards like Muzzio and Fabricate. Daretti was just too durdly and had huge problems actually closing out games, at least when you take certain options off the table for social reason (I ran Vandalblast and Mycosynth Lattice in my build, but the one and only time I actually pulled off that play I felt like a HUGE asshole). I loved the little value engines the deck could set up, but finding a way to translate all those little durdles into actual wins without resorting to below-the-belt moves just proved too difficult and I gave up on him. I’m vaguely interested in Purphoros or Krenko, but hesitant to commit to trying those out of fear they too will prove a bit too anti-social for my group. And, honestly, while I think Red is better than White, at least, it is the second worst color in EDH, at least on its own. Basically, I am still waiting for inspiration to strike.
Green – I really didn’t like Freyalise much, and she was, I think, my first real experience with mono-green in EDH. Titania was more intriguing, but a buddy of mine beat me to the punch with her. I’m not at all above running the same commander as someone else in my group, but I am not interested in running the same DECK. If a commander has room for two decks to co-exist without being carbon copies, fine. But my friend has basically nailed the Titania concept so well that even if I think my deck would be a little bit BETTER than his (due to my having just a few key cards he doesn’t), my deck would basically be about 97% the same as his. Functionally it would be identical – same basic lines of play, same win conditions, same weaknesses, etc. So, Titania is out because, IMO, she has been “solved” well enough that there’s no point in me even trying. I have seen some discussion on Yisan, the Wandering Bard recently and he intrigues me. I’m playing him in my Surrak Dragonclaw deck just for shits and giggles but he’s been pretty fun the few times I’ve had him stick. I might give him a try at some point, or not. Have not committed either way, but right now he’s the only other green Legend I am even remotely considering.
Azorius (W/U) – I actually put together and sleeved up a very competent-looking Grand Arbiter Agustin IV deck a few years back, and I think it would have been my ideal Azorius deck. But even though I have it in me to WANT to be “That Guy”, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I never actually played the deck in a game with my group. That’s probably for the best. So far nothing else in W/U has inspired and excited me the way GAAIV did, but I could not find a way to make Agustin socially palatable so I gave up on him. Ultimately, though, none of other W/U options have captured my interest, so I’m either going to have to be willing to fully commit to the Dark Side and rebuild the Arbiter deck or wait until something new comes along.
Dimir (U/B) – Wrexial is definitely my pick here. I absolutely adored my Wrexial deck and plan to rebuild him at some point. After the C14 decks came out, I built a Grimgrin deck with Gisa and Geralf as “lieutenants” of the deck. It was really fun… not super powerful, though. In fact it lost a TON. And before I do go back to Wrexial I have one other top-secret idea I just have to try out first. I’ll let you all know when I get around to that little project, but until then by Dimir days are on hold. Once I have this other idea executed upon, I will definitely be putting Wrexial back together. The thing is, when I first built Wrexial there actually weren’t a TON of cards that were directly on-theme, so it was actually easier to just build him as a good-stuffish control list with a handful of “steal your stuff and kill you with it” cards. But then suddenly things like Chancellor of the Spires, Spellweave and a whole host of cards that allowed you to plunder your opponents’ hands, libraries and graveyards saw print. This led to me trying to jam all those things in and losing the basic control elements that made the deck work. It’s going to be tough to restore the original balance while still including a bunch of the new toys, but the more I “improved” the deck the less it seemed to win, so it is clear I must go back to the drawing board and fix these issues.
Rakdos (B/R) – Black/Red was always tricky. I tried Lyzolda and Wort, having limited success with both. Wort was pretty strong in 1v1 but terrible in multiplayer. Also rolled over to decks with lots of Wrath effects. I have tried at least twice, maybe thrice to get a Kaervek greifer deck to work but that approach has some weaknesses inherent in the colors and strategy, not to mention it was a SERIOUS hate-magnet. It’s just one of those decks that leaves you with a binary choice: hate it out of the game so badly it can’t do ANYTHING or let it do even a LITTLE of what it wants and suddenly YOU can’t do anything at all. So it was kind of a non-starter both for social contract reason and for basic strategic reasons. As of yet, I have not had any further ideas for what to do here. I’ve looked at Grenzo a bit, but nothing has materialized in the way of inspiration.
Gruul (R/G) – Right now I’m rocking a pretty kick-ass Omnath, Locus of Rage deck. It’s very powerful, but it has some issues. Frankly, I love the deck for its complex decision trees (sequencing your ramp spells and/or land drops so that you can get Omnath online as quickly as possible, BUT while still have more stuff to do once he’s in play is quite tricky sometimes), its ability to bypass alpha strikes and just win via direct damage if I fear something like an Angel of the Dire Hour, and its tendency to just make huge, battlecruiser-Magic style plays. But, the downside is that it tends to be rather linear and repetitive, the turns on which I win usually wind up feeling very much like I’m “combo-ing off” as my opponents just sit and watch me goldfish for like 15 minutes while I juggle a million different triggers and constantly re-calculate my mana, and it’s just not very interactive at all, and finally I don’t feel like there is a good solution to these problems as the deck is inherently one that not only has a 7-mana commander but HEAVILY relies on that commander to be effective. Anything I could do to make it less linear, more interactive and less combo-ish would also just objectively weaken the deck. So, I think it’s better to just have my fun with him for now, but I will soon go back to my bro, Stonebrow. My old Stonebrow “Trample Tribal” deck was never going to be my most powerful deck but it was always reliably fun to play regardless. Plus they have printed a lot of cards that I would love to see alongside Stoney B. Thunderfoot Baloth in particular is a card that almost on its own has had me thirsting to sleeve up the old R/G Stompy list. While I expect Stonebrow to always remain on the lower end of the power spectrum compared to many other decks I’ve played, I still think “large creatures with trample and buffs” is the most quintessential Gruul experience, so I’m perfectly happy to stick with the deck for now.
Orzhov (W/B) – I love playing Orzhov, but somehow, in EDH, this color pair has proven very tough to crack. The best thing I’ve built so far is my old Vish Kal list, but that deck has one very noteable issue in that it always felt very generic. Like, the deck didn’t have a specific mechanical theme or strategy. It was just a mix of threats, removal, utility and lands. It made for some fun games and it was acceptably powerful, but there wasn’t really any specific thing that the deck DID. It didn’t have a clear line of play beyond “cast removal on things that scare me, drop threats, occasionally reanimate those threats, and struggle to find good ramp and draw”. For a brief time, while Griselbrand was legal, the deck started to morph into a deck that was all about abusing Griselbrand – that was of course a very effective way to win, and it gave the deck an actual clear purpose, but Griselbrand was rightly shown the banhammer and the deck again went back to an amorphous blob of Good Stuff. I tried and tried to give it a more thematic, cohesive or synergistic feel, but nothing really panned out. The typical Orzhov “bleeder” thing of subjecting your opponent to a death by 1000 cuts doesn’t really pan out in a format with multiple opponents all starting at double the normal life total. One of the overarching things that has become clearer as I analyze my own career in EDH is that I value and adore synergy above all else. I am not at all above playing a “Good Stuff” deck but even my old Thraximundar deck, which was built specifically and intentionally to be an Good Stuff deck still managed to feel cohesive. It ran smoothly and almost everything in it actually felt like it belonged even when it lacked clear synergy. But I have yet to get an Orzhov deck to feel this way. Either I go all in an a theme and wind up with a terribly weak deck that isn’t fun despite its high level of synergy (Daxos, Ghost Council of Orzhova), or I forgo some of the synergy in favor of powerful cards chosen to shore up those weaknesses and wind up with a very generic, non-synergistic deck lacking cohesion, or any unique “style” of its own. The two newest options, Daxos and Karlov have failed to excite and inspire me. But Ayli, the recently spoiled Legend from the upcoming Oath of the Gatewatch set has me much more intrigued. I’m not sold on her yet, but I am definitely going to try her out and see if she turns out to be my “Rafiq” for the Orzhov guild. (Note: I am fairly certain I would love playing a Teysa 1.0 deck, as I love W/B Tokens in 60-card Magic, and I love playing control in EDH, but someone else in my group had a Teysa deck for a bit and I kinda hated playing against it. I admired the deck for what it could do, but it was stifling – as long as the Teysa player was still in the game you just could NOT afford to develop your board! So as much as I think I personally would find Teysa to be very rewarding to play WITH, I do not want to become a hypocrite by subjecting my group to another Teysa deck after I bitched so much about the last one.)
Izzet (U/R) – Another tough one to figure out. I know what I want this to be, now, but there is not yet a commander that really supports what I’m after. Like a huge number of other EDH fans, I am looking for the U/R “Artifacts Matter” commander – and not to sound all hipster, but I started wanting this to happen a long time ago – way before Origins teased us with its U/R Thopters theme. I tried all through Innistrad block to make a U/R Instants and Sorceries matter deck with lots of flashback and stuff like Snapcaster and Runechanter’s Pike, but it never panned out. For one thing, I had to use generic “for the colors” commanders like Nin the Pain Artist. Niv Mizzet might have been better, but he has a reputation and I wanted to avoid getting Niv Mizzet-levels of hate. When Return to Ravnica was announced, but before any cards were spoiled, I was already hoping the Izzet guild this time around would live up to their flavor of being mad tinkerers and have an artifacts-matter mechanic instead of a spells-matter gimmick, but of course that didn’t happen. Still, the additional support for this archetype finally gave me enough to work with that the spell-centric deck I was working on before could finally be made to work. I even got a great, on-theme Legend in the form of Melek, while lots of other goodies from Aetherize to Mizzium Mortars to the mighty Epic Experiment propelled the deck from “awful” to “capable of winning games”. But there was a problem. My playgroup has a gentleman’s agreement that we all avoid countermagic; we don’t explicitely forbid, so if someone just happened to have a Mystic Snake in their U/G snake tribal deck or whatever, we wouldn’t crucify them, but running more than one or two counters because the happen to be on theme will get you some dirty looks for sure. This is a problem because a deck that operates almost entirely via Instants and Sorceries is hard to interact with in a meta that does not include many counterspells if any at all. The only way to interact with Melek is on the Stack, but most decks are running permanent removal like Krosan Grip or Swords. Sure, killing Melek or my Runechanter’s Pike is good, but how does a deck with no countermagic stop an Epic Experiment or a Devil’s Play for 20, Fork-ed and Twincast-ed? So again it was a deck that technically worked as I envisioned it, but how it worked was not really a good fit for my metagame. It kind of exploited the anti-countermagic accord we had, and also those Epic Experiment turns felt awfully masturbatory. Twenty mintues of me goldfishing, no one able to interact and the I just declare “Okay everyone’s dead, I think” just wasn’t actually that fun. I’m working on something with Arjun but I am not yet convinced I can even get the deck to actualy DO what I want it to do, and even if I can, I’m not sure if it’ll be fun or not. But really I’m just waiting for that deck where I can run Daretti and Tezzeret in the same deck.
Golgari (B/G) – Oh baby. I spent a lot of time and effort massaging a Savra list from an awkward and janky pile of crap into a very fun and highly effective deck. I was and am quite in love with Savra. When Meren was spoiled she was pretty much the most exciting thing in Commander 2015, and despite a whole list of other cards in that set that I think are pretty darn sweet, Meren was from the first second my favorite new card in the whole set. With hype like that, the only place to go is down, right? Wrong! Before I even got my hands on the actual decks I was already declaring the B/G deck to be the best overall deck in the set, and Meren to be the best new commander. Yet somehow she actually managed to EXCEED my expectations and has consistently performed even better than I dared to hope. On top of that, the deck is one of the most “me” decks ever. Every time I play it I am just so happy with almost every single play I make, it’s like if an entire team of people for WotC R&D came to my house and put me through a barrage of psychological and analytical tests to build a comprehensive Magic profile and then used all that data to design and build a deck specifically just for ME. And yet, I kinda still want to go back to Savra. For one thing, if I have Meren together, there’s not much point to me rebuilding Karador and I really like Karador (but that’s jumping ahead, well get to that later). I also have a foil Savra and as of yet there is no such thing as a foil Meren. So I am at a crossroads here. My group was never a huge fan of Savra, but I think they dislike Meren even more. But, while I was absolutely convinced beyond doubt that Savra was my “definitive” Golgari commander, Meren has shaken that resolve to the core, and now I really don’t know what I want more. All I know is, until the Ozrhov come up with something truly compelling, the Golgari are my new favorite guild.
Boros (R/W) – Even though these are my two least-favorite colors in EDH, individually, when combined they complement each other very well. While they still lack for pure card draw and have some trouble keeping up with the other colors’ raw card advantage abilities, they can still bridge that gap a lot better together than either color can by itself. At any rate, I have found my definitive deck for the Boros guild – Equipment matters, with lots of Doublestrike and a robust Sunforger package. Who the general is, is a matter of flexibility. Right now I’m pretty firmly backing Aurelia, but it can go a number of ways. I’ve tried just about everything: Jor Kadeen, Agrus Kos, Gisela… probably at least one more I’m forgetting. I really like playing Boros, but all the decks pretty much look and play the same, outside of a few minor, cosmetic differences. Right now I’m still experimenting with Kalmene and she actually has a lot to recommend her for this style of deck. She wears equipment like Swords or Jitte better than just about any other Boros commander out there. She really is a lot better than most people give her credit for. But my favorite approach to Boros is to squash my mana curve as low as possible, keeping the average CMC of my creatures as close to 3 as possible. I want to just load up on Boros Swiftblades and Markov Blademasters. Basically if it has doublestrike and costs 4 or less, I want it. But Kalemne has that EXP gaining ability that wants you to play 5 drops, or bigger. You could certainly just ignore that text and play her as a straight up Voltron commander where a few cards like Godo and Stonehewer Giant that you were going to run anyway will just incidentally have a nice little bonus synergy. That’s not my style, though; I have a hard time ignoring text like that, so I feel obligated to build with that ability in mind. For these reasons, I’m inclined to favor Aurelia just to avoid that tension. But regardless of the specific commander, I’m firmly on the Equipment Tribal plan for Boros for the foreseeable future.
Simic (U/G) – Whereas Meren was big on hype, then succeeded in delivering on those high expectations, Ezuri has been somewhat of a letdown. If your opponents are foolish enough to leave him alone for a couple of turns, he can do amazing things, but I’ve never seen a deck fold THAT hard just to having its commander zapped a couple of times right off the bat. Ezuri baits you with his ability, saying “No, don’t run serious threats, just run little dudes, I’ll turn them INTO threats!” and again, left to advance this gameplan unmolested, Ezuri does incredibly epic things. But once people see what he can do, it’s pretty much guaranteed he will not be allowed to run unmolested in subsequent games. He’s a big hate-magnet, but he folds to that hate SOOOOOO quickly. Then again, I’m probably biased because Edric, who is clearly and definitely my favorite commander in these colors, has built-in card draw and discourages hate almost as effectively as Ezuri encourages it. I think that, if I were really compelled to, I could solve some of Ezuri’s problems – slow the deck down, give it more reactionary abilities, add some more ways to protect Ezuri himself and make it so that I can wait to cast Ezuri until there are other threats so that it’s not 100% guaranteed Ezuri will be the #1 must-kill thing all the time. But the thing is, I just know in my heart of hearts that Edric is a better fit for my tastes and playstyle and delivers what I feel to be a more essential Simic play experience. Plus, Ezuri seems like he’ll play quite well in the 99 of my style of Edric build, so he’s not out of a job completely. Edric isn’t just my favorite U/G commander, he’s one of my favorite commanders, period.
Esper (WUB) – The closest thing I’ve found to my ideal Esper commander is Oloro, but I never quite got the deck just right. I also highly enjoy Zur, so long as he’s not being the douchenozzle he typically is known for. So at this point, I’m not 100% commited to an Esper commander, but I did shell out for the judge promo Oloro last year, so I guess since I commited with my wallet, at least, Oloro will be my go-to Esper guy for now. I do quite like him, on paper, I just need to spent some more time fine-tuning the deck so that it plays out the way I envision it. I think it will get there, I just kept getting distracted by too many possible directions to go with it. Once I nail down a more concrete, specific direction to take him, I have some confidence he’ll wind up being the definitive Esper guy.
Grixis (UBR) – Thraximundar, all day every day. I’ve tried Zombies with Sedris and Vampires with Garza Zol. Both were fun, but janky. Thraximundar I’ve built and rebuilt a fair number of times, in different themes including, again, Zombie tribal, and he’s just the best, hands down. Marchesa is really cool and pretty intriguing, but I’ve seen a Marchesa deck in action – I like it, but I still just like Thrax better. My favorite approach is just to build him as a Good Stuff deck leaning heavily toward control – lots of removal, lots of card draw and a handful of bomb threats like Sheoldred with a little bit of reanimation/recursion. Like I said up in the Orzhov write-up, this deck looks like a generic pile of good cards, but it always did tend to play out much more cohesively than one would expect. It wasn’t exactly loaded with synergy, per se, but everything still somehow felt like it belonged together. Sometimes a batch of cards can just play really well together without being explicitly synergistic. It helps when an average top deck is Jace the Mind Sculptor.
Jund (BRG) – I have long felt that Karrthus should be the definitive Jund general. This is a formate inspired by and named after a cycle of big, expensive dragons and Karrthus is like the One Ring of dragons – he rules them all. But I could never get my attempts at Karrthus to run well enough for my tastes without devolving them into piles of good stuff not unlike my take on Thraximundar as mentioned above. The thing is, whereas I’m perfectly content running Grixis Good Stuff, I always felt that not making Karrthus more thematic and dragon-centric was a disservice to him and the deck. Post-Khans block, I think I could probably do it better, but a buddy of mine didn’t give up on Karrthus when I did, and has slowly but surely molded his Karrthus build into something closely approximating what I’d consider to be the ideal build. It’s still powerful and good-stuff-ish, but is far, far more commited to the Dragon creature type than I was, and I don’t think I could do much to improve on the archetype. Fortunately, there’s another Dragon option: Prossh. I don’t know that I’d ultimately consider him to be my “Rafiq” for these colors, but I think he’s about the closest I have found thus far. I do clearly love just about any deck that can and should run Grave Pact, and sacrificing things for value is also a big plus for me. The downside is that he does play similarly to a couple other decks – Savra for the grave pact/value-sac angle, and Marath for the token-production angle. If I could find a way to do the things I want to be doing with Prossh, while still making the deck feel a little more unique from those other decks I’d have a clear winner.
Naya (RGW) – Easy pick here: Marath. I absolutely loved this deck; the only real issue was that I never quite got the list smoothed out to the point that it was doing things as reliably and consistently as I would have liked, but I probably had too many sub-themes going on. I think if I rebuilt it from scratch and made some tougher choices and was stricter with myself about going off on thematic tangents, it could reach those lofty standards I have for labelling something “definitive”. At the same time, considering all the deck building tangents I indulged, the fact that it even worked at all stands as testament to the deck’s potential and the power of Marath himself as commander. I did recently have a Marath Tiny Leaders deck and I absolutely loved that deck. I ran Mayael for a very long time and I tried two separate times to make Rith work, but Marath was the first Naya build that really had both the synergy and power that I wanted. I actually won a game with Nacatl War Pride, thanks to that deck. Any deck that can make jank like Nacatl War Pride into a legitimate, game-winning threat is my kind of deck. I just wish Marath was available in foil, but that’s not nearly enough of a downside to not pick him.
Abzan (WBG) – As much as I like Ghave, once I finally caved in and tried a Karador deck, I was ready to completely throw my support behind the ghost centaur. If you’ve actually been reading this massive wall of text this far, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that answering threat after threat using the same card over and over strokes one of my biggest Magic erogenous zones. But complicating matters is this weird love-triangle between Karador, Meren and Savra. Having both Meren and Karador as my definitive commanders for their respective colors is way too redundant, and leaves my beloved Savra out in the lurch. But I love the Meren deck far too much to just, say, put her in the 99 of Karador and give the Golgari slot back to Savra. Meren DESERVES command of her own ship. But if I keep Meren around, that pretty much forces me to either have two decks that are basically the same deck, or give the Abzan slot to Ghave. I really do like Ghave, but honestly, I’m just kinda… over him. And there really aren’t any other options I would consider at this point. Anafenza was a fantastic Tiny Leader, but the GY hate clause actually makes me loathe her in EDH… one time I pulled out my Anafenza deck and then a player who had pulled out her Marchesa deck, just said “Oh.” and disappointedly chose another deck. When you have a general that just makes your opponents unwilling to even attempt to play specific decks, that’s a problem. Ultimately, though, if I take away all these meta concerns and just ask myself “Who is my favorite Abzan commander?” the answer is clearly and without question Karador. If that answer comes so easily, then I guess everything else is just tangential.
Jeskai (URW) – I think I might be onto something with the Narset list I’ve been toying around with. Obviously, I’m trying to keep my list honest and socially palatable; not going the combo route or anything like that. No extra turns or extra combat steps, no Proteus Staff. But thus far, I haven’t actually gotten this deck to work quite right. It is capable of, and has pulled off, some pretty impressive plays, but it’s clunky and awkward feeling. One of the most important criteria for my definitive decks is that they simply have to feel “right” which is something that is beyond my ability to define, but rather just a subjective quality that, to paraphrase Justice Stewart’s comments on pornography, I know it when I see it. Early results show promise, but not enough for me to be positive I will reach that point with Narset. Right now, she’s just the best available option, I think.
Sultai (BGU) – Surprisingly, I’m starting to lean heavily toward Sidisi, Brood Tyrant here. I’ve been messing around with a Sidisi deck for a while, as a lark I thought. But its’ starting to show some real potential and it certainly hits a lot of my favorite notes, play-wise. Graveyard interaction, value engines, self-mill, milling opponents, using my opponents’ things against them, etc. It also plays a pretty mean Villainous Wealth game. Prior to Sidisi’s rise, I flip-flopped between Damia and Mimeoplasm. I always wanted Damia to become that “definitve” commander, as her card-draw potential was just insanely attractive to me, but Blue has always been fantastic at drawing cards, while Black and Green have become very adept at draw as well. So having a BGU commander with a wonky, kinda-difficult card drawing ability in the three colors that are already fantastically well-equipped to do so just isn’t as compelling as I thought it would be. There are some specific lines of play that only Damia can pull off, which I really like (example: discarding your whole hand to Insidious Dreams right before your turn begins, so you can tutor up the perfect 5 to 7 cards and then draw them all at once off Damia). But Sidisi is much more flexible and open-ended. You obviously want to have a very high creature count, and some graveyard interaction. But while I could easily turn her deck into a blue-tinted variant of the Meren/Karador archetype, or a green-tinted variant on the Wrexial deck, there are also a lot of other directions to go. I don’t want to go full-on Zombie Tribal, for example, but one could and I am looking at a few ways to make the zombie tokens a LITTLE bit more thematically relevant and important. The best thing about Sidisi, though, is that she’s actually a little more aggressive than the average BGU deck. Still tends to be pretty slow and grindy overall, but a T3 Sidisi, hitting at least one creature for the zombie token puts any of the C14 Planeswalker commanders on the defensive really quickly, and under the right circumstances (easy to engineer with all the removal available in these colors), she can just keep churning out those tokens. Simply put, I find myself attacking with her far more than I thought I would, though the ground does still get clogged up enough to stall her out quite often. I’m not completely sure yet, but I think I’ll be keeping Sidisi around for quite some time.
Mardu (RWB) – Another one of those color schemes that just continues to stump me. Way back in 2011, Kaalia seemed like the definitve Mardu commander, and for many fans she is just that. She certainly looks like the most EDH card ever printed, but I just never actually enjoyed playing her all that much and I really hate playing against her, too. She’s just boring, linear and binary – either you have removal to keep Kaalia from ever attacking and the deck falls flat on its face, or you don’t have the removal and you get steamrolled by a T3 Avacyn and a T4 Gisela. At least Griselbrand isn’t around anymore. Anyway, despite being extremely hyped about her when she was spoiled, I have come to loathe Kaalia decks. All this to say, I don’t have any suitable replacements in mind. I have a Zurgo deck right now and I kinda enjoy it, but the word “kinda” is pretty much the antithesis of finding the definitive deck for a given color scheme. I think if we ever have one more whole block where Warrior tribal gets more support than the more typical tribes we are used to seeing in these colors, I might be able to massage the list into a worthy Warrior-tribal list with Zurgo beatdown as backup. But right now, the way the list stands today, it’s pretty much objectively correct to put forward Zurgo beatdown as plans A through C and falling back on going wide with Warriors as plan D. I feel like Zurgo really wants to be a Stoneforge Mystic deck, but that’s my Boros thing already. I want the addition of black to matter beyond giving me some removal and card draw options, and I want the rest of the deck to matter beyond making Zurgo more lethal and harder to stop. Simply put, Mardu is a riddle I have not yet solved.
Temur (GUR) – Ooh, I know this one! Maelstrom Wanderer! Sure, no one likes him, at least not playing against him, but he’s still the only choice if I’m being at all honest. I’ve tried Animar and Riku. I might have tried Intent, too, at some point I can’t remember, but MW is just vastly more fun than any of those. Casting a Fervor attached to a 7/5 body and then getting TWO cascade triggers is literally one of the funnest things you can do in EDH, in my opinion at least. The deck is just retardedly powerful and obnoxious to play against, because it’s very hard to answer MW in a way that doesn’t just make the MW player giggle. The more you kill him, the more they get to cast him, which is exactly what they want. Nah, I try to be very considerate of the social aspects of the format and I try very hard not to be an asshole, but MW is one of those decks that makes it SO MUCH FUN to be an asshole, you just can’t help yourself. And I’m not even running extra turns cards (did have Temporal Mastery in for a while, just because the self-exile clause makes it much more fair), mass LD or any of the other things that tend to be near-universal in MW decks. I go out of my way to make it just big, dumb and fair, but it’s still loathed by everyone I play with. So I rarely play it, even when it’s together and I frequently try to make other Temur decks work – right now I’ve got a Surrak deck that is pretty fun. But the thrill and fun of MW compared to those other GUR dudes is like the difference between doing a few lines of coke versus chugging a 5 Hour Energy. It’s not even close.
So, that’s where I’m at right now. For quite a few colors, I feel like have found that elusive, definitive deck. But there are many colors where the search continues and in a few cases feels, honestly, a bit hopeless. I may never find a mono-white commander or a rakdos deck that I just love to play the way I love playing Rafiq, Maelstrom Wanderer, or Meren. And ultimately, I recognize that my goals here might simply be out of reach. In the end, what this is actually about it exploration and experimentation. By trying to fill every slot neatly, I force myself to try things I might never try otherwise. I’m pretty well in touch with what I like and don’t like in Magic, but sometimes things surprise me. So while I may never achieve the perfect, pleasing symmetry of having the one definitve deck for each color combination, simply trying to get there has its own rewards – namely, new experiences.
And what happens if I ever do get there? If I do successfully find the “perfect” deck for each color? I don’t know, really. I guess I would just keep building new things anyway, probably. Or I might feel like I have somehow “solved” the format and quit EDH forever. I might enshrine the 25 definitive decks, seal them away and never play them again. I just don’t know exactly what might happen if that day ever comes. I think this is one of those “journey is more important that destination” scenarios or something. I mean, I hope I do get there, because having 20 to 25 decks that I dearly love to play just as much as I love that Rafiq deck would be awesome! But at the same time, building EDH decks often brings me as much pleasure (if not more, even) as actually playing them, and having a perfected stable of definitive decks would possibly stifle further creativity.
Eh, but I'm not too worried about all that. For now, I'm just enjoying the ride.