A few years ago, for a glorious month after the release of Unstable, silver-bordered cards were officially legal in Commander. Personally, I think that ‘month’ (Dec 15-Jan 15) should be an annual occurrence, but I digress. During that month, I played in a Commander Challenge tournament where the overwhelmingly broken power of the silver sets was on full display. But like black or white-bordered Magic, the problem cards are just a handful of repeat offenders, and the rest are mostly fine. So fine in fact, that enough of them are in my battleboxes, and being considered for Commander decks that we’ve decided to try making them legal for our tabletop.
Here’s a quick aside about house rules. I’ve read again and again that Commander is the most popular paper format in Magic, and possibly overall. The Commander Challenges I played in were official, DCI sanctioned events, and I’ve heard whispers about other ‘tournaments’ both ultra competitive and deliberately casual. But Magic is enjoyed by millions of people worldwide, and there is hardly a unified competitive Commander scene anywhere, and wide disagreement on what form that should even take. So almost all Commander is played on tables, probably of the kitchen variety, for no stake. That means if it’s your house and your table, you might feel justified in making some rules that make the games played on it more to your taste. And why shouldn’t you? Especially for the most expressive of formats in Commander.
Our house rules are a simple trio. First, mulligan all you want. If you consistently mulligan to combo, that’s going to be very apparent and will be dealt with, but generally speaking, we want everyone to start on an even playing field with enough mana that they feel they can compete. Second, ‘Takesies Backsies’ are totally allowed. That means if you did the wrong thing, and there’s no trigger swamp to navigate backwards through, it’s fine. Take it back. Punishing people for their mistakes is fine for tightly contested tournament play, but on the casual table, it mostly produces feelbads, not learning experiences. Takesies Backsies with explanations on why such and such was a bad idea is enough to learn from. Finally, we’ve allowed silver-bordered cards, but ‘within reason.’ Something like Gleemax probably wouldn’t be cool, but something like a Three-Headed Goblin could be a fun idea that can totally add to your game enjoyment without breaking everything.
Some of the legendary creatures from the silver sets are awesome buildarounds, but there is a line on a card from Unstable that caught my eye. That line isn’t on any physical copies of the card, but there it is, in the oracle text. Check out the line of code on The Grand Calcutron that says it can be your Commander!
That’s right, this wacky Azorius artifact can be your Commander, like Rowan Kenrith or Norin the Wary! Why is this? Who knows! But I’ve totally built, and now played, a deck with TGC as the Server in Chief, and I’d like to make it freeware!
Order out of Chaos
The deck is also here, at good old Archidekt.com. I called it Order out of Chaos. To build this deck, I had to use the custom build function, otherwise the silver bordered cards wouldn’t even appear as a search result.
If something like Planechase ever reappears, TGC’s reordering of Magic would be a cool mechanic for a Plane. As a mechanic on your Commander, it makes for a really interesting experience. One of the first things you have to understand is that you can totally enable savvy opponents. The way the Calcutron works is that each player displays their hand face up in front of them, in an order of their choosing from left to right. Each player can only play the leftmost card. If a new card is added to their hand, they can put it anywhere in the sequence. And if they have less than 5 cards at end of turn, they draw to 5. Any opponent that can consistently empty their hand each turn stands to draw a ton of cards.
Naturally, players who struggle with sequencing of mana will struggle extra hard against the Calcutron, as will players who overthink everything. In that respect, it’s not the nicest thing to spring on newer players. But seasoned players might appreciate it, and knowing that they can profit from TGC, will likely leave it alone, allowing you to start breaking the symmetry of the sequencing.
I had a few ideas on hacking the program when I started building the deck. Here’s some of the tech I took out for a hard drive.
The above Boon of the Wish Giver is one of my favourite cards from Ikoria. Without the cycling ability, it would probably never be cast in a deck like this, but it and the many other cycling cards I have in the deck can safely be stowed at the back of your program, to be used for their ‘front sides’ only if necessary. I have 8 lands that cycle (my only Drifting Meadow is in some other deck), some removal in Cast Out and Forsake the Worldly, and the all-important Shark Typhoon to threaten to block with.
I also have super-cycler Nimble Obstructionist, who is also pretty impressive as a 3 power flash flyer for 3 CMC with one really relevant type. I’ve had this card played against me many times, and it always makes a sweet splash. Glad I’ve finally picked it up, and since it’s so cheap at the moment, is highly encouraged for all players.
I’m a little scared by the potential of the Obstructionist (or Shark Typhoon) with Library of Leng, which means you can cycle it to draw itself while getting the extra ability as a side effect. Seems oppressive. At least it’s fairly mana-intensive. Unless you combine it with New Perspectives. Yikes.
Since cycling is such a strong ability in a deck like this, Mental Discipline helps a lot by effectively giving it to all your cards.
Legacy staple Brainstorm, one of only 2 instants that made the final cut of a blue/white deck, becomes an even more interesting piece of strategy with all sorts of flexibility towards shaping your program.
Drawing extra cards is a good thing, and since each draw forces opponents to think hard about where in the program it’ll go, I felt like cards that force everyone to draw are the way to go. Mikokoro, Center of the Sea is best used before an opponent’s end step, when they have fewer than 5 cards in hand, because they’re going to draw to 5 anyway. Sneaky.
Equally sneaky is Skyscribing, which forces everyone to draw, but can be stashed at the back of the program like a cycle card that never gets discarded. Pride of the Clouds, which I don’t have, would be really cool as a chump maker in a similar vein.
Millbook Folio of Fancies does triple duty, forcing everyone to draw, keeping large, confusing programs from being discarded down to manageable, and even giving me a backup wincon should decks get small.
I didn’t include Geier Reach Sanitarium, because giving my opponents a discard option isn’t what the deck wants. It’s more about clogging up hands, including my own. Cards like Reliquary Tower, Arch of Orazca, Throne of the High City and even mana rock Thought Vessel keep my program nice and long.
I’m a little shocked by how expensive Cephalid Coliseum is these days. It can hurt to play with, but triple looting is pretty sweet. Other blue utility lands like Mystic Sanctuary, Halimar Depths and Castle Vantress add flexibility and invaluable abilities like Scry. Moonring Island would do fine in here, too.
Sacrifice outlet Phyrexia’s Core is a powerful colourless utility land in this and most other Artifact heavy builds. Sacrifice outlets are always great against theft and exile, in response to sweepers, and for things you’ve stolen temporarily.
In a similar but opposite role mechanically is Buried Ruin, which has tons of utility here.
While the deck doesn’t run that many basic lands, the power of Terrain Generator to pull basics from the back of your program and put them in play is pretty sweet.
Chill retreat Glacial Chasm is probably a last resort, and only stops damage, but has often been a major difference maker for me in the past. It might only delay things, and eat away at your life, but that delay might mean the game. You can also make out-of-date William Gibson references to hacking away at Ice that might be back into retro vogue or something.
Human haven Castle Ardenvale is a great chump producer at a minimal cost, and sometimes doesn’t even have to be used to deter a non-trampling attack. The enchantment Efficient Construction does the same, but might be a little weak in this build. Techy lands like Blast Zone and Hall of Heliod’s Generosity round out the real estate.
The mana rocks are a fairly standard bunch, with Sol Ring, Commander’s Sphere, etc. Foundry Inspector and Etherium Sculptor are great at discounting a huge amount of our cards, making it easier to play multiples from our program in a single turn while keeping some mana up.
Rock star Honor-Worn Shaku takes advantage of the Commander being a tappable Legend.
Shiny toy Coveted Jewel takes advantage of all the cards I have that deter combat from coming my way.
I have lots of those combat-deterring cards. Propaganda, Ghostly Prison, Collective Restraint, and Sphere of Safety are all well-known ‘pillowfort’ cards that keep the heat off.
Trap cards Lightmine Field and Caltrops can punish armies of attackers.
OG math card Meekstone keeps the biggest things tapped down, potentially with the help of old-school partner in crime Icy Manipulator.
A favourite of mine, Crawlspace (which I don’t see played enough) is awesome here, especially if I’ve got a source of chumps online. I don’t have Ensnaring Bridge, but I feel like it wouldn’t be a strong as in other formats, what with the easily filled hands.
I haven’t cast Portcullis yet, but someday. This card is a riot, and might stop a whole strategy from ever firing. I’m pretty sure it wrecks token decks pretty badly.
If the creatures get too big, I have Noetic Scales to put them awkwardly back into the program.
If the creatures are all about value, I can have all the ETBs too with Faerie Artisans.
If the creatures are completely out of hand, I have on-theme boardwipes Terminus and Fumigate, which gets rid of those pesky computer bugs.
Ideally, my opponents point their creatures at each other, and to help them with that, I’ve included Goad stuff, like Bloodthirsty Blade, Martial Impetus and Psychic Impetus. The ‘Vow of’ auras are also pretty good at doing the same thing.
So while my opponents are busy figuring out how to order their hands, and who other than me to attack, I’m going to kill them in the best way TGC could: with math!
TGC refills opponents’ hands to 5 at the end of their turn. This could be a bug, but I want it to be a feature. We’re going all the way back to the original sets for Black Vise, and grabbing the handful of similar cards since in Miser’s Cage, Ebony Owl Netsuke, Viseling, and Skullcage. We’re even going as deep as Thumbscrews, though I feel like Copper Tablet is a better choice and more on theme.
Each of these deal damage to opponents with cards in hand over a certain amount, mostly 4. But I’m also running a bunch of other Damage Over Time cards in my DOT matrix, like the nasty God-Pharaoh’s Statue, which really slows down opponents’ action.
The other DOT cards are nice and on theme, like Barbed Wire, Feedback, Psychogenic Probe, Thought Prison, and Isolation Cell. Staff of Nin fits in nicely too.
Part of what makes this nasty is how all these DOT effects add up. Like they were specifically calculated to do so. So clever. Clever Impersonator agrees, and with Phyrexian Metamorph and Strionic Resonator, can make sure one counts double.
All these artifacts make Mystic Forge a no-brainer. It’s like a fun subroutine to run under your program.
Kitchen Sphinx Oracle’s Vault works in a sort-of similar way, and even lets you play lands.
Doubling up your effects is pretty cool, and what’s better than casting that spell you just drew, and then stashing it in your program somewhere? God-Eternal Kefnet is bringing the original math from the guys who brought you the pyramids.
I’d like to highlight an outstanding card I’ve hardly ever seen anyone but me play, and that’s Restoration Specialist. Yes it recurs 2 cards. Yes it’s cheap to cast, activates cheaply at instant speed, and fits into tons and tons of deck paradigms based on cost, size and types. Activating it after assigning it as a chump blocker feels so smart.
I’m also playing a single other silver bordered card, and that’s Split Screen. I love the concept. I think the top cards being revealed pushed this too far, however. Especially with something like Mystic Forge. This is the silver-bordered card archive in a nutshell: full of cool ideas with scary loose ends. I think Split Screen and cards like it belong on the kitchen table. Ideas like that should be played with. Commander was once somebody’s house rules.
I have a few cards that I’m not sure belong, and haven’t been able to test yet. They seem fun, though. I don’t know if I’d recommend playing with Chronomantic Escape or Reality Strobe in a deck like this, but having stuff out of your hand and in suspension seems interesting enough.
I love Angler Turtle, but would this deck ever even cast it at 7 mana? If I had a protractor, maybe. Seems too acute, or possibly obtuse, and could probably be some card draw or removal instead.
I suppose Aligned Hedron Network is on theme, an artifact, and even a sort-of board wipe. Does it get there? Has it ever? Still working on that one.
What you won’t find in my build is a small subsection of cards that would be particularly punishing in a build like this. Pithing Needle, Gideon’s Intervention, Sorcerous Spyglass, and Phyrexian Revoker (and any others like that) can make the card at the front of a player’s program unplayable, and lock them into topdeck mode. While I want to control the game, I want others to play too.
I think Zur’s Weirding might be too much also. If you want to be really competitive with a TGC deck, these are the places to start.
I’m hoping you looked at this post, and this deck and thought something like ‘Oh! That looks like fun!’ Because that sums it all up. Magic’s a game, games are fun. Sure my Commander isn’t legal, but the errata given to it by Magic suggests that somebody build a deck like this and play it anywhere the rules aren’t going to fall on them like a suspended piano. Like our table, and maybe yours. Maybe someday these cards will be really, seriously legal for one month a year. Until then, grab your Alexander Clamiltons and Grusilda, Monster Mashers, and don’t be afraid to play them for fun. I think that’s the point. Thanks for reading!