I have a bit of a process for when these Commander decks come out. I don't always follow it exactly to the letter, but as a general guideline, this is what I like to do.
First, I try to play at least a few games with each deck out of the box, no modifications at all. This hopefully gives me a concrete idea of their strengths and weaknesses, so that my eventual improvements are based more on data than theory.
Next I try to make small but important changes. I usually try to limit myself to around 10 cards per deck, or so. I tend to fail often in this regard, getting excited about ideas and possibilities... but either way, at this stage of the game I'm just looking to improve the overall performance of the deck, while keeping the core idea of the deck largely intact.
Mostly this entails adding some high-powered, on-theme cards that get left out of the precon for whatever reason, cutting things that are horribly weak or off-theme, and beefing up areas that are weak, such as removal, draw, or anything else that seems to be lacking. These decks almost always have that one card that leaves you scratching your head asking either "Why the hell didn't they include that?!" or "Why the hell did they include that?!". Basically what I like to think of as "quality of life improvements".
But, again, I'm usually trying to adhere to whatever theme or themes the original list contained. I want the deck to feel like an improved version of the unmodified precon, rather than feeling like a completely different deck. Of course, there can be exceptions - being the contrarian that I am, there's almost always one face-card commander that I'm not that excited about and usually wind up with one of the five decks each year going to the alternate commander instead. For example, in 2013 I just couldn't get into Jeleva at all, and when it came time to fix up the Grixis deck I went Nekusar instead.
It's not until the 3rd stage that I will throw everything out the window if need be, and will, if the mood strikes me, make very radical changes to the decks. If I think the as-is approach to the deck is just all wrong, and I have to go in a totally new direction, this is the stage for that. In short, I've given WotC the benefit of the doubt, tried out their idea, worked to improve on their idea and ultimately this is where I decide if their idea was worth keeping and fixing or if I can just flat-out build something better from the ground up.
But it's that second phase I want to talk about today. Just as a thought exercise, I wanted to try and theorycraft a list of my first 10 additions to each deck, based on the criteria above - work to stay within the boundaries of the original list's themes and goals, limit the overall number of changes (in this case 10 is the target #, but if we go over by 1 or 2, so be it) and mostly focus on adding in obvious "must have" cards that got left out, shoring up weaknesses and just bolstering the power level of the deck without changing fundamentally how it plays.
Now, before I get to our first deck, I want to talk about one more thing, since this is largely an issue that only seems to be coming up with these 4-color decks. Say I want to add a Legendary creature to the 99 of one of these decks. Since today's deck we'll be looking at is the Ydris deck, Entropic Uprising, one of the cards I considered adding was Nekusar since the starting list has a bunch of "Wheel" effects. You see cards like Wheel of Fate, Whispering Madness and Waste Not and Nekusar just jumps to mind, right?
But lets think critically for a moment. If we add Nekusar because of a handful of cards that synergize with him, what happens if we just draw him, but none of the Wheel effects? The instictive answer to that, then, is to add more Wheels and Howling Mines, right? Nekusar is just one of those cards that kinda has to be built around pretty heavily to actually do anything. But, if we step back and take a critical look, we realize that we're not building a Ydris deck anymore, we're building a Nekusar deck with access to Green, but without easy, repeated access to what should be our commander. Does green actually do anything for a Nekusar deck? Not really, no. So there's no reason to warp a Ydris deck around Nekusar, when it would make vastly more sense to just build a Nekusar deck.
But what if I want to add Riku? Let's see... does Riku need to be built around to a great extent? No, not really. You just need creatures and spells to copy, pretty much. A lot of ramp wouldn't hurt, but there's no specific way you need to warp the deck to get Riku to work. Does Riku benefit from having access to Black? Well, I'm pretty certain Black can give us some spells and creatures we'd like to copy, so probably, yeah. does throwing Riku into the 99 make far less sense than just making a Riku deck? Kinda hard to answer without knowing the outcome, but I'm pretty sure you can make a Ydris deck with Riku in the 99 that doesn't feel like a nerfed version of what should be a Riku deck to begin with.
This is a long way of saying - if we're going to include other Legends they have to feel like they're supporting what the deck wants to do, not trying to take it over! If a Legend feels extremely "build around me", it's likely that including that legend will distort the deck the way I described Nekusar distorting this one - the more you support and build around a Legend who is not actually your commander, the less your deck is likely to work correctly or feel right.
So, that outta the way, let's move on. Entropic Uprising, with Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder at the helm. What does the deck do, what is it all about. Well, short answer - Chaos. Long answer... I would have to play the deck to see because the list looks like total nonsense on paper.
Now, frankly, I'm not a big fan of the typical "Chaos" decks that just make it impossible for anyone to actually carry out a strategic line of play. They're fun once in a while, in very strict moderation, but still just not something that appeals to me. This deck, however, seems light on the types of cards you normally see. I mean Whims of Fate is one such card that I just detest, but overall it seems like the list is more focused on creating chaos out of it's own board state, but outside of the "draw a whole new hand" cards, it largely leaves your opponents unmolested. So I'm just going to try and hammer that aspect home a bit more - rather than LOLRANDOM cards like Possibility Storm or Grip of Chaos that make the game a nightmare for everyone else, I'm just going to try to make my deck do random things, like Cascading into spells at random!
So, first up, cards that should already be in the list:
Rashmi, Eternities Crafter
For the record, I kinda get why none of these made it into the precon - Rashmi literally just came out and was probably designed way too late to be in this product as well. Fine. MW just saw print in Eternal Masters as well. Fine. And Maelstrom Pulse is just kind of not the typical card they'd print in one of these products. But really, though, how can you have a Maelstrom Wielder be all badass the way Ydris looks if he can't even cast a simple Maelstrom-based removal spell? Pulse is a solid card, doesn't see nearly as much EDH play as it should, and it's ON FLAVOR! That makes it a must-run for sure. Maelstrom Wanderer is just too insanely powerful and thematic to pass up, and Rashmi has the "Almost Cascade" ability and feels like a perfect fit for the deck without changing anything about what the deck does fundamentally. So these are easily the first three changes I would make, hands down.
Next up, a couple of real a-holes:
Leovold, Emissary of Trest
I mentioned above that the deck has a lot of cards like Wheel of Fate and Whispering Madness, which, frankly is a bit odd to me. I mean, I KINDA see where they're going with that, but it feels like a very shoe-horned-in theme to me. I am just not a fan of this aspect of the deck. But, we're trying to avoid fundamental chances to the way the deck works, and removing all of these cards would definitely make the deck feel drastically different, I would bet. So, I'm just going to throw in a card that will just help make the existing themes a bit better. Good ol' Leovold. Yeah, he's kind of a build-around-me Legend, but I think he fits for a few reasons - one, Red has actual Wheels, so he does benefit from having access to Red, but I think where he fails my above criteria is that it technically would make a bit more sense to just ditch Red and go with Leo as our commander... but he's SO DAMNED MEAN that I feel like it's better to just have him show up once in a while, rather than being something we are guaranteed to have access to all the time.
Notion Thief is also pretty fun (lol, 'fun') with Wheels, so in he goes.
Next thing to address is getting Ydris to connect. He doesn't DO anything if he doesn't get to deal damage now and then. What can we do to see that he does?
Sword of Feast and Famine
Ah, good ol' Thraximundar! He's powerful and generic enough he can go just about anywhere and not feel at all like he's secretly the real commander and doesn't require, well, ANY support to do his thing. I just like him here as a powerful card that incidentally can help Ydris get through for damage, and he's both good to cascade into as well as good to cast after Ydris turns on Cascade. Torrent Elemental is a bit of a deep cut, but he certainly fits the goal. And finally Sword of Feast and Famine does double duty by helping Ydris connect AND untapping our lands when he does, so we ensure we'll have mana to actually cast stuff (assuming we have to cast some spells before combat to clear the way).
Moving right along, now I want to explore getting multiple triggers out of Ydris, to double up on our Cascade shenanigans.
Sakashima the Imposter
Giving Ydris double strike will cause him to trigger twice if he gets through both times, which in turn will give all your post-combat spells Cascade x2, just like Maelstrom Wanderer. If one of those spells happens to be Maelstrom Wanderer, it will, until end of turn, have Cascade x4. WTF! If that doesn't sound like a good time to you, I can't fathom what would. Sakashima is another way to go about this. Basically she lets us have two copies of Ydris at once. She also plays quite well with Thraximundar, by the way.
And because I have no self-control, you're getting a bonus 11th and 12th card.
One of the original ideas I had was to mirror the "off the top" value of Ydris/Rashmi, etc., with a suite of enchantments that punish your opponents for casting spells by giving us value. Mind's Dilation, Lurking Predators, and a couple of other similar effects, but ditched that for a few reasons. One, it was going too far off the path laid out by the original list. Two, it was too similar to my own current Rashmi list, and I didn't want to repeat myself that much. Three, Lurking Predators is already in one of the other C16 decks so it felt lame and unexciting using a card already in another list. And, finally, it'd have taken up too many slots on this list and I'm already going over as it is. But, Mind's Dilation is just one of those cards I have recently fallen madly in love with and I keep trying to put it into everything. It does of course make sense here. Usually, we're all about casting stuff off the top of
our own library, so why don't we at least dip our toes into our opponents' libraries as well? Neat!
And while I generally like the surprise and anticipation of Cascade's randomness (Ooh! what are we going to hit? Big ol' dud, or solid bomb?), sometimes you do want a modicum of control over our own chaos. And a little bit of draw is always welcome in my house. Get you a card that can do both, as the current internet meme dictates. Sylvan Library can just be fuel, or it can be a way to manipulate the outcome of our Cascades, should the chaos get a bit too... chaotic.
Well, I managed to keep the list down to 12... pretty good, for my standards, actually. My first draft for this deck was almost 20 cards and this was actually one of the lists for which I had the most trouble finding things! The others are going to be much harder to trim down to anything close to a top ten.
So what didn't make the cut? Well, listing the actual cards would be a bit of a cheat, now wouldn't it? "Here's my top 10 list, and here's my list 10 other things that didn't make the top 10." Seems cheaty to me, anyway. But I can say there are hints of themes that I just didn't feel compelled to explore or expand upon.
For instance, the presence of Spellheart Chimera and Past in Flames suggests there might have been at once time more of a focus on an Izzet-style "Instants and Sorceries matter" theme. You could definitely push the deck a bit more in that direction, if you like.
It also has hints of a deck that is way more focused on Graveyard abuse. I could see this going in a sort of 4-color Wrexial style direction.
Now I have to cheat anyway, and mention a couple of cards by name, but I can see some version of this deck using Greater Good and Sphinx's Tutelage in conjunction with all those windfalls and wheels to mill people out.
And finally, if you're the type, you could of course take WotC's half-assed approach to "chaos" and go all the way with that. I doubt any of you need me to tell you how to build a chaos deck and even if you do, there are better outlets for that info. So instead I'll just leave you with this little nugget: A buddy of mine may or may not be planning to abuse Cruel Entertainment via Eye of the Storm to try and ensure no one ever actually plays their own deck for the entire game! And I may or may not be at fault for planting that little idea in his head.
The real trick, though - and I think this will probably be more or less true for all of these decks - is keeping SOME kind of theme or direction intact, and not just going into different flavors of 4-color Good Stuff. Nothing wrong with that if you actually want that, and if so, this is probably the best deck of the five with which to do so. Drop the (arguably) worst color and just run "Value Cascade into Bombs and Good Stuff", which is basically a typical MW deck with black cards in it. But if you want actual theme/synergy and an overarching direction for the deck, these 4-color decks do present a challenge. You just have access to SO much of Magic's entire catalog of cards, that it is incredibly hard to keep a coherent theme. That's part of the reason for this little theorycrafted thought exercise - to force myself to work within limits and really analyze themes. Rather than get lost in what's possible (virtually everything, with these colors!), adhere to what's essential.
Feel free to chime in with your Top 10 (or so) essential additions! I'd love to hear what some of you think this deck just absolutely NEEDS to have.
(P.S. If I were going to cheat and have a 13th essential addition, it'd be Bloom Tender. But I'm not going to cheat do that, so I never said this, and you never read it, kay?)