Saturday, September 21st was another fantastic Commander Challenge at the Connection Games & Hobbies in Vancouver. I don’t count participants, but there’s usually between 30 and 40 people playing. It’s a good crowd. There are a lot of regulars, a great range of ages and personalities, and a mostly casual approach.
For anyone unfamiliar with Commander Challenge, it is a real, honest-to-goodness Commander tournament invented by the owner of the Connection, Matt. Despite the fact that it is, by definition, competitive, it is a format that rewards casual play.
Players play 4 rounds of timed commander, mostly in pods of 4. Sometimes 5, in rare cases 3. The rounds are 1 hour, with a cycle of 1 final turn per player if you go to time. Players receive 1 point for eliminating another player, and 1 for being alive at the end of the game. At the end of the game, each player votes for another player, and a vote is worth 2 points. After the rounds are complete, there is a prize pool that is drafted in order of finish, with all players receiving a prize.
I have been playing in this format for years now, and it’s the best. The voting system makes for fewer broken decks, as they don’t do as well as the pilots expect. Instead it rewards creative builders, clever players, and friendly behaviour. Which is what I think the format is supposed to be. I have fun games at the Challenge. It’s part of my prize package.
This Challenge I brought Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker, partnered with Tana, the Bloodsower. I wrote about this deck and my choices here. The deck itself can be found here. I described the deck yesterday as a Brudiclad deck that couldn’t pass up playing Progenitor Mimic. If you look at the list, you won’t see things like fetchlands, shocks and OG duals. I might play these cards if I owned more of them. You also won’t see many if any tutors (for other than basics). My blog is ‘Self-Taught’ Commander. That means no tutors.
There’s a lot of cards I won’t run in addition to that. If I don’t like it played on me, I don’t run it myself unless I’m welcoming the hate. A lot of those cards are powerful and would win me more games. This particular Challenge saw me cut Purphoros, God of the Forge and Aura Shards from my deck. You may think that’s preposterous, but in the Challenge this can be a legit strategic choice. Votes matter. Let’s see how I did.
One last thing: a huge thanks to everyone I’ve played with, and especially everyone who has given me permission to write about our games. Commander is partially a game of self-expression, especially here. I hope I validate a lot of choices.
Game 1 – (In turn order) Nicol Bolas, The Ravager; Me; Teysa, Orzhov Scion; Phenax, God of Deception.
The game started with a couple of turns of land and a Sol Ring from Bolas. Phenax got Relic of Progenitus out early. On turn three I landed Whirler Virtuoso and Teysa played Pitiless Plunderer, a card I’m a big fan of.
Turn four, things really got going. Bolas played Baral, I played Proteus Staff, Teysa played the Commander, and Phenax played Toothy. Turn five started the same way, with everybody advancing their board state. Bolas played the Commander, and the rest of us discarded. I used some energy to make a thopter, then used Proteus Staff to turn it into Loyal Apprentice. Not ideal, but okay. Teysa passed, looking poised to be reactive. Phenax played Glacial Wall, looking sweet in foil.
Then we started to get a taste of why Nicol Bolas has been the big bad in Magic for all these years. Phenax tried a Bloodchief Ascension, which is terrifying by itself, but Bolas countered it with Force of Negation, pitching Counterspell for emphasis.
On Bolas’ turn, the Commander flipped into the Planeswalker. It was almost too many options, and Bolas settled for drawing 2. I played a Ghirapur Gearcrafter on my turn, and Teysa followed up with Black Market. The market was about to do some serious business. Phenax attacked Bolas with Toothy, and Bolas chumped with Baral.
The Bolas deck was really on theme, and played Hour of Devastation on his turn, wiping away most of the board. Black Market at 9. Phenax drew a couple of cards from Toothy, but was struggling with mana, and it didn’t help.
On my turn, I copied the flipped Bolas with Clever Impersonator. We had to call a judge to confirm I could do this and not wind up with the dragon side. I felt the ‘too many options’ thing immediately. Had I thought it through, I could probably have used the reanimation ability better, but I also drew 2 cards with it.
Teysa used the Black Market mana to replay the Commander as well as Deathpact Angel. Phenax played a Wight of Precinct Six and Riddlekeeper. The Wight was fairly large, but without Phenax it was just another creature for now.
Bolas continued to use the Commander to draw cards. Loyalty at 13. Yikes. Bolas added Nicol Bolas, God Pharaoh, commenting on how powerful it was. He used it cast the first nonland card in Teysa’s deck, getting Anointed Procession. That’s a card I should consider playing in Thopter. I tried a bunch of fiddly stuff on my turn, using my Bolas copy to bring back my Gearcrafter, and using Proteus Staff on the Thopter to get Aviation Pioneer from my deck. I played Feldon of the Third Path and passed.
Teysa played Tragic Arrogance. Leaving us all with less. I keep a thopter and my Bolas copy, Phenax keeps the Glacial Wall, and Bolas manages to keep his God-Pharaoh. Teysa keeps the Commander. The Black Market is at 13 and counting.
Phenax is really hurting on mana and passes. Bolas replays the Commander, making us all discard, and then follows it up with a God-Pharaoh plus, making us exile 2 more from hand. I’m out of cards and my next-turn strategy, losing Mirror March and Minion Reflector. Bolas also Bojuka Bogs Teysa’s graveyard, just for good measure.
Without cards in hand, I’m struggling. I use my Bolas copy to draw, and play an Experimental Aviator, trying to rebuild. Teysa wants to end it with big mana, and casts a huge Torment of Hailfire for 16. Bolas Disallows it. Phenax celebrates living another turn with a land and a Rhystic Study.
Bolas then makes the play of the game on his turn, casting In Garruk’s Wake off the top of Teysa’s deck with a God-Pharaoh activation. Hard to imagine a much better pull. He paid for the Rhystic Study activation, too.
All my stuff is gone. I play Commander Ishai. Teysa has 20 black mana from Black Market, but can only play the Commander. Phenax plays the Commander. We all look at Bolas.
Bolas plays Lim-Dul’s Vault, a real oldie. He tries to make us exile our cards from hand again. I cast a Magmaquake I’m holding, or else lose it. Bolas responds with Mana Geyser, followed by yet another Torment of Hailfire, this one for 22. Since being printed, I have been killed by this card more times than anything else in Commander. And this is far from the first game when I was killed by the second or third copy cast in a game. In terms of efficiency, it’s almost impossible to match. If your worst case scenario for your single colourless mana investment is the equivalent of 3 Lightning Bolts, you might have an OP card. On theme, though, and we are off to round 2!
Game 2 – Nath of the Gilt-Leaf; Marwyn, the Nurturer; Me; Sidisi, Brood Tyrant.
There’s an immediate elf sub-theme happening here. Three elf commanders, counting Tana. Sidisi has a bunch of elves, too. Nath leads with a Llanowar Elves, and it’s game on. The rest of us play lands until it comes back to Nath, who moves right along into Pelt Collector and Priest of Titania. Marwyn innocuously plays a Forest. I play Sol Ring and my Ghirapur Gearcrafter. Sadisi plays Coiling Oracle, yet another Elf. If anyone can leverage Elves….
Nath plays Emerald Medallion. Then Viridian Corrupter, eating my Sol Ring. Then Tajuru Preserver, then some attacking. Marwyn plays the Commander. I play Sai, Master Thopterist. Sidisi plays Boreal Druid. All three of them are playing Boreal Druid, which is kind of hilarious.
Nath attacks Marwyn with poison. It’s really on theme. Golgari Elves poisoning the pure, mono-green Dominaria Elves. Nath doesn’t seem like much of a source of proliferate, so the Viridian Corrupter doesn’t seem so bad to the table at large. Marwyn plays Wirewood Channeler. We have the Elf payoff x2.
I play Idol of Oblivion, making a thopter with Sai, then tapping the Idol for a card. The Idol is excellent. It’s clearly awesome in this deck, and most token makers. White and red decks, like Darien, King of Kjeldor and Krenko, Mob Boss will get massive mileage out of this card.
Sidisi plays Stinkweed Imp. Nath plays the Commander and attacks Pelt Collector into Stinkweed Imp. It wasn’t an ideal play, and it turned out it totally didn’t matter, as….
Marwyn went off. This was turn 5. Glimpse of Nature was the start, followed by Chord of Calling for Quirion Ranger, Wirewood taps for 9 green, Seedborn Muse appears, and then Nettle Sentinel. I can read the writing on the wall. Staff of Domination is the official killing blow, even though it results in Craterhoof Behemoth.
Sometimes you have these games, which end quick. Some people get pretty salty over them. In Commander Challenge you have a direct response. You can vote for someone else. You can also bring a second deck, and play a second game. If you feel like it, you can even vote based on your second game, or any other criteria you like. I find the second game to be important as it establishes that players come to play, and decks that end things quickly can discover they might be cheating themselves out of good games.
We played a second game, which ended much like the first, as the Marwyn deck was designed to be very efficient in what it did. I respect that and was fascinated to see it in action, but could never play it myself. I could get salty about the quick games, but I got two in, played my backup deck, chatted with a great group of people, and had a really good time. Without looking at the voting, nobody can even argue that Marwyn came off the best from that game.
One thing we talked about was ways to reduce the number of non-games in Commander. I’ve floated ‘All searches except those for basic lands fail to find’ previously, a rule I try to play with myself. An idea that came up from this conversation was complete removal of the banlist. I’m actually pretty intrigued by this idea and the argument it presents, and I’m going to be revisiting it later in the week, so watch out for that.
Also if anybody is playing a Goad deck, like the one I played last Commander Challenge, take a look at Heat Stroke.
Game 3 – Me (certified dice-roll winner); Krenko, Mob Boss; Saheeli, the Gifted; Brago, King Eternal.
A word about Brago and theme deck: the Brago player in this Challenge was trying to use Brago to tell a story. There were cards specific to the narrative, and the deck was not the typical Brago stax many people have come to fear. Which is what he told everyone. But Brago’s reputation isn’t good, and many people claim their deck isn’t as nasty as it turns out to be. It’s a fine line building a deck like that, because you have to earn trust you didn’t exactly lose in the first place. I ran into that playing Zurgo several years ago. My advice to the Brago player is to stick with a story you care about, and make heavy use of the Throne of Eldraine cards that support storytelling in general. Don’t get discouraged, because maybe winning people over with Brago is your achievement to unlock. It’s going to be awesome when it happens.
This game was an odd one, but a good one. Krenko started hot, but that’s Krenko. By turn 2 he had a Mogg Sentry and 2 tokens from Krenko’s Command. I love how Commander enables commons to be big game. Saheeli seemed to be my kindred spirit, leading with Retrofitter Foundry, then adding Burning Prophet. I feel like this particular Saheeli deck was quite strong but lacked focus.
On turn 3 I managed a Burnished Hart. Krenko played Smouldering Spires and targeted the Hart. He attacked me and played Seal of Fire. Krenko was clearly going to rule the chump game.
On turn 4, Krenko was still making all the waves, playing Koth of the Hammer, and attacking with a mountain for the first of what would be almost every subsequent turn. Saheeli and Brago each played their Commander on their turn.
On turn 5, I drew Wall of Stolen Identity. I had to play it on Brago. It wasn’t furthering my plan, but I was so excited to play the card on a legit target I couldn’t resist. After a Mountain attacked Saheeli, who was struggling for mana, and Saheeli passed, Brago played Keeper of the Keys, adding the Monarch to the game.
Turn 6, I played Scaretiller, another new card I want to try at every opportunity. This thing is the real deal. If you are red or white or black or blue, or any combination of such, you might want to give this thing a look. One recursion of Evolving Wilds and this is already awesome. Ramp is so hard to come by in those colours. Doubling your fetches or getting another in play from your hand a turn early can be big game. Better if you can tap it for value of some kind, like piloting a vehicle. Boros vehicles loves this guy.
Krenko’s turn 6 was wild, like all of Krenko’s turns. Krenko doubled the Goblins, making 3 tokens, then cast Dogpile on my Bragowall, then attacked into the Brago player, taking the Monarch. Saheeli played land. Brago was now free of tapdown, and the Brago player was free to use him. First he put Darksteel Mutation on Krenko and added Diregraf Captain to the board. He attacked Saheeli and retook the Monarch by blinking the Keeper of the Keys.
Turn 7, I played Helm of the Host. I bounced a land with Izzet Boilerworks, then replayed it by attacking with Scaretiller. I should have used my Burnished Hart to ramp, as Krenko kills it on his turn with a kicked Torchslinger. He Lava Spikes the Brago player to the face. So aggressive!
Saheeli plays Thopter Spy Network and attacks me with a random Servo for a card. Brago follows with Tezzeret the Seeker, who immediately searches for Darksteel Plate. Brago’s guys are unblockable because he started with the Monarch, and he attacks Krenko and Koth both. Seal of Fire eats the Diregraf Captain, but Koth takes 4 and Brago blinks his stuff, including Tezzeret, who dies to get Panharmonicon into play.
Turn 8, I copy Panharmonicon with Phyrexian Metamorph, then cast Aviation Pioneer for 2 thopters. I feel like I’m just about to get something going, but Krenko has an overloaded Vandalblast on his turn. Great against this table. Krenko attacks, and then kills Brago with Lightning Bolt after he blocks a gob token. Saheeli plays Prototype Portal targeting Hedron Archive, which I see as the most common Portal target all the time. Maybe it’s just me. Brago returns.
Turn 9, I have 8 mana and no real plan, so I cast both Commanders. Krenko continues the Mountain onslaught. Saheeli makes Hedron Archives, and plays Whirler Rogue. Brago plays Coveted Jewel, which is insane when blinked. It’s insane in general. Brago adds Door of Destinies on spirits and Topplegeist. He attacks and blinks, drawing tons of cards.
Turn 10, I cast Spitting Image on the Keeper of the Keys, taking the Monarch to try and refill my hand a bit. Krenko keeps the pressure up, and I chump my Keeper copy. Saheeli makes more Hedrons and casts Aether Gale, bouncing Krenko, Brago, Keeper, and my Ishai along with tokens. Saheeli plays a Morph. Brago plays Kiri-Onna, bouncing a thopter.
Turn 11, I try Ignite the Future for the first time. Love it. I get a land, Feldon and Idol of Oblivion. Krenko Smelts the Idol as soon as it hits the table.
On his turn, Krenko adds Goblin Trashmaster. He attacks. We do a quick check on life points. Krenko and Saheeli both have 37, Brago is at 18, and I’m at 32. Saheeli adds Thopter Engineer, Commander and more Hedrons. The board is starting to be a little out of control over there. Brago looks to stabilize with Myojin of Cleansing Fire, bouncing Kiri-Onna.
Turn 12 I use Feldon to copy Aviation Pioneer, then cast Brudiclad. I turn my tokens into thopters. The Aviation Pioneer token turned thopter dies at end of turn, FYI. Krenko casts a white-bordered Mons’ Goblin Raiders, then makes 5 tokens, then trashes the Coveted Jewel and the Door of Destinies. Saheeli has too much going on by now. Saheeli casts Saheeli’s Artistry, copying Brudiclad and Krenko, following with Tezzeret, Cruel Machinist. A thopter becomes a 5/5, but after a judge consultation, we determine that Brudiclad can’t make all his tokens into 5/5 thopters. They’ll only copy the token as it was played. Saheeli still attacks me for 10 in the air, rather than merely lethal. Reckless Fireweaver appears after combat.
Brago plays Kindred Boon and I whistle. He has repeatable divinity counters for Myojin of Cleansing Fire. Yikes. On my turn 13, I try Mirror March, then make another Aviation Pioneer token with Feldon. Chumps for days. Krenko makes 8 gobs and attacks me for 8. I’m getting low. Not enough chumps. Saheeli throws out Meteor Golem for the Kindred Boon and we go into big time stack mode. Myojin blows up the world, Trashmaster blows up all the artifacts, and some of the thousands of Hedron Archives are sacced for cards. Saheeli refuses to have a manageable table, and plays Genesis Chamber and Sharding Sphinx. Time is called in the round. We have 4 turns left to try and figure it out. Brago drops the Keeper of the Keys again, bounces Sharding Sphinx with Kiri-Onna and attacks me. I’m at 6.
Turn 14 I flashback Ignite the Future, getting Panharmonicon, Pia Nalaar and Izzet Signet. I cast Blasphemous Act to remove some potential attackers, forgetting about Koth. Krenko makes the emblem on his turn and taps Mountains to kill me. Saheeli gets the last say, but has nothing to add. We end there.
Game 4 – Kaalia of the Vast; Me; Zedruu the Greathearted; Rienne, Angel of Rebirth.
Zedruu prefaces things by saying that he is a store. He gives us each a stack of gold coins with which to bid. We don’t know what’s in ‘store’ for us, but it seems pretty interesting. I love decks like this that do something different. Also, I have never seen Rienne in play before, so I’m quite curious. Kaalia is dangerous.
Turn 1, we all play land, but Kaalia is clearly not fooling around, playing Shizo, Death’s Storehouse. Turn 2, Kaalia adds Orzhov Signet. Zedruu plays Ring of Thune. Of course!
Turn 3, Kaalia keeps the rocks coming with Talisman of Conviction, then adds Lightning Greaves. I play Whirler Virtuoso, saving my energy for later. Zedruu plays Sword of Vengeance. Zedruu is an equipment shoppe, I now realize. Rienne plays Harmonic Sliver, killing the Lightning Greaves. Rienne’s moves are a little out of left field until I grok into what the Commander does. Harmonic Sliver makes a lot of sense.
Kaalia appears on turn 4. I play Thopter Engineer. Zedruu plays Nim Deathmantle and Strionic Resonator. I will totally bid on the Stri Res. Rienne plays Azusa, Lost but Seeking.
Turn 5, Kaalia gets her first attack in. It’s me. It comes with a Rune-Scarred Demon. Yikes. I block Kaalia with a thopter, then use my energy to make a second and add it as well. Kaalia dies, but I take it from the demon. Kaalia replays Kaalia. I draw Clever Impersonator. I copy the Rune-Scarred Demon, breaking my own rule for tutoring. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I settle on Leadership Vacuum. Zedruu plays Sword of War and Peace which apparently he wants to give to one of us. Rienne plays Rienne.
Turn 6, Kaalia uses Generous Gift to turn my RSD into an elephant token. Then attacks, adding Rakdos the Defiler. I lose half my stuff, including one of my lands. On my turn I pass. Zedruu plays Zedruu. The Shoppe is about to open. Rienne plays Wilderness Reclamation, which Kaalia immediately kills with Anguished Unmaking. Not sure exactly why, but there was no hesitation.
Turn 7, Kaalia plays Grand Abolisher. Sneaky good move. Before combat, I cast Leadership Vacuum, bouncing Kaalia. Kaalia holds off attacking. I think this was a courtesy move towards me. I appreciate it, as I was toast if I went to 2 lands. Kaalia is a strong deck, and I don’t advocate playing less than 100%, but Commander with 4 people is complicated. Kaalia had me on the ropes and knew it. She didn’t have to kill me to show dominance. By not attacking, Kaalia may have lost a point, but would be open to Rienne. I felt like this was a smart, respectful move, and Kaalia got my vote because of it.
On my turn, I played Pia and Kiran Nalaar. On my endstep, the Zedruu Shoppe opened. We had each been getting a gold coin for good behaviour towards Zedruu each turn, and we each had a stack of 8. We were offered Zedruu’s various artifacts to bid on. We all put it all on the Sword of War and Peace. Zedruu’s tiebreaker was a roll-off, which Rienne won. Zedruu added Saheeli, Sublime Artificer. Rienne equipped the Commander with the Sword of War and Peace, then added Swiftfoot Boots.
Turn 8, Kaalia added another Talisman. I played Retrofitter Foundry and Kyren Negotiations. Shoppe time again. I win the Stri Res uncontested, as the others vie for the Sword of Vengeance. Rienne gets that too. On Zedruu’s turn, Sword of Light and Shadow appears. On Rienne’s turn, the big angel is suited up with the Sword of Vengeance and swings in at Kaalia for 9 commander plus some triggers. Rienne plays Qasali Pridemage. On endstep, I tap my guys with Kyren Negotiations to hit Kaalia, now at 19, as Grand Abolisher prevents me from using them on Kaalia’s turn.
Turn 9, Kaalia plays Resolute Archangel, jumping back up to 40 life. The RSD is still kicking around, and it swings into me, bringing me to 20. On my turn, I play Padeem, Consul of Allocation and Inspiring Statuary. At the end of my turn, we all bid on the next Sword, and Kaalia picks it up this time. Zedruu draws 5 cards on his turn, then plays Worldslayer. Rienne uses Qasali Pridemage to kill Sword of Light and Shadow, then attacks Kaalia, who is sitting now at 18 Commander from Rienne.
Turn 10 flies by. Kaalia is replayed. Ishai appears for me. I win Worldslayer. Zedruu draws 7. Rienne kills Kaalia with Commander damage. Rienne casts Chandra, Awakened Inferno, and uses the middle ability to kill Padeem so she can get to the Worldslayer. I respond by casting Magmaquake for 3, wiping out all of Rienne’s small creatures, and all Planeswalkers from the table.
Turn 11, I equip my Commander with Worldslayer, but can’t get through. Rienne takes 8 from my Construct tokens. I win Zedruu’s Nim Deathmantle, but Zedruu casts Approach of the Second Sun on his turn. Rienne immediately targets Zedruu, attacking and putting him at 9 Commander damage. Rienne uses Qasali Pridemage and Harmonic Sliver as repeatable removal and kills Worldslayer and Stri Res.
Turn 12, I try and attack Zedruu for as much as possible. He’s still at 39. Zedruu draws 4, and equips the Commander with Darksteel Plate and Lightning Greaves, trying to draw into the victory. Rienne attacks and casts War Flare. I’ve never seen it before. Rienne presents lethal with Commander damage. Zedruu Chaos Warps his own Sword of War and Peace, shuffling it into his deck. The Approach is shuffled away in there somewhere too, hopefully farther from the top. Chaos Warp results in Humble Defector. Zedruu is at 19 Commander. Time is called. We have 3 turns to try and end it.
Turn 13, I swing with Ishai, but far from lethal. Zedruu passes some stuff around and plays Djinn of Infinite Deceits, hoping to block. Rienne has Day of Judgement, however, and Sheltering Light to protect the Commander. Swing for lethal, ending the game with both Rienne and I still alive.
We were among the last tables to finish, so prizes quickly followed. If you look back at my record, you’ll see that I was killed in 3 of 4 games, with no kills myself. Despite that, I placed third overall on the day. I am extremely pleased with this finish. Thank you for your votes!!!
I’m most happy finishing so high because I’m trying to advocate for a more casual approach. If I can win with decks that don’t strangle the life out of a table by turn 5, so can you. I finished well, got an amazing prize (Signature Spellbook Gideon, foil Path), had great games, had great interactions with people, and played my way. I think that’s a win any way you look at it.
I want to mention a couple of other things. Shout out to the Atla Palani deck running Beast tribal. Beaster Eggs! Love it!
Also, I wanted to talk to the first place finisher and get a little report from the top. I didn’t, but the deck was Horobi, Death’s Wail, and sounded like a blast. Anything that seriously runs Touch of Darkness sounds awesome.
Thanks for reading! I will be reviewing Throne of Eldraine this coming week, and putting up plenty more Phyrexian Dad comics. I would love for you to subscribe!