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Brewer's Minute: Three Biggest Commander Deck-Building Mistakes


Hey, everyone! It's time for another Brewer's Minute. This week, we are going to take some time about one of the most popular formats in all of Magic: EDH (probably better known as Commander). One of the side effects of doing the Commander Clash series is that over the past year, I've not only built a lot of Commander decks but also gotten a chance to look at a lot of Commander decks built by all of you! Over this time, I've realized there are three very common deck-building mistakes that impact Commander decks, so today, we are going to break down these three issues but also talk about how to fix these problems. If you are relatively new to building Commander decks, this will help set you down the right track, and even if you are a Commander veteran, hopefully there will be some good reminders and takeaways!

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#1: Not Enough Mana

By far the easiest and most common mistake people make when building a Commander deck is simply not playing enough mana. When you consider that playing 40 lands in a 100-card Commander deck is the same as playing 24 lands in a 60-card Standard or Modern deck and combine this with the fact that many Commander decks play more expensive cards than a typical Standard or Modern deck, it's easy to see that skimping on lands is a bad idea. 

The problem here is twofold. Some decks don't play enough lands, while others manage to play a reasonable number of lands by leaving out mana ramp, so let's tackle both of these individually. When it comes to lands, nearly every Commander deck I build has between 37 and 40 (the one exception I can think of is when I played 30-land White Weenie, but no card in the deck cost more than two mana). While it's really temping to cut a land or two to squeeze in one more cool spell or creature, this often leads to disastrous results in the long run, so be disciplined and make those painful cuts to make sure you have enough lands in your deck.

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As for total mana sources, Tomer told me one time that he aims for 50, and looking back at my decks, I'm usually pretty close. While which mana ramp / rocks you play depends mostly on your colors, make sure to have some Cultivates, Mind Stones, and Signets to help you accelerate into your big, fun, powerful plays. While it might seem like a lot, having close to half of your deck making mana is actually super important when you consider all the expensive cards you want to play—in Commander, you almost never feel like you are flooded, no matter how much mana you have, but being mana screwed is extremely painful. 

#2: Being Too Focused on Theme / Not Playing Answers

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Let's say you want to build Cat tribal. One common mistake is to make sure that every single card in your deck is a Cat or references Cats in some way. While building 100%-themed decks can be fine if that's your goal, it's usually a bad idea if your plan is to have a fun game of Commander. Here, I like to use the 75% rule because it's easy to remember, since Jason Alt has already popularized the percentage in regards to the power level of your deck. The basic idea is that if 75% of your non-land cards are on theme, your deck is very much going to feel like a theme deck when you play it (this is actually a pretty high percentage; you could probably go as low as 50% and still be fine). Considering what we talked about in regards to mana, this leaves you with a breakdown of 50 mana sources, 37 theme cards, and maybe 13 "others." In this "others" category is where you put cards that aren't on theme but are necessary to make a Commander deck function, like wraths, card draw, artifact / enchantment removal, and targeted creature removal. As I mentioned a moment ago, 75% is aiming extremely high—you could easily play 50 mana sources, 25 theme cards, and 25 "others" and still have your deck feel like a theme deck, but the main idea here is to make sure that you make room for some interaction and other "good cards"; the game will be much more fun for everyone if you do.

#3: No Card Advantage

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Outside of being mana screwed, the worst feeling in Commander is to be top decking while all of your opponents have five, seven, or even 15 (thanks to Reliquary Tower) cards in hand, but this happens more than you'd think because common mistake number three is a lack of card advantage. This doesn't necessarily mean cards that say "draw a card" (although drawing cards is great) but can mean Land Tax, Living Death, or any other mechanic or card that gives you something to do on your turn. Basically, Commander is a format where you can never have too many cards, just like mana, because more cards means more options and more fun, so be sure to make room for some card advantage, and you'll have much more fun playing the format.

Conclusion

One of the most interesting aspects of Commander is that the format is primarily about having fun—instead of just winning, the goal is for everyone at the table to have a good time. One thing I've learned is that when one person is mana screwed or empty handed, the game is often less fun for the rest of the players at the table too. So, in some sense, I see building functional Commander decks as an altruistic pursuit. The better your deck is (better as in functional, not overpowered or expensive), the more fun not only you but everyone else at the table will have, and having fun is what the Commander format is all about. So, keep these three mistakes in mind next time you build a Commander deck, and hopefully more fun will be had by all!

As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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