Command of Etiquette—Social Rules to Play Commander Well

Welcome to a new feature on Hipsters of the Coast: articles about Commander decks and strategy.  While much of our writing is more competitive in nature, I personally find competitive Commander to be a boring format, and repetitive.  So, this is dedicated to those more casual games of Commander, the ones in which the goal is to have fun.  Which is not to say that some of the decks I’ll post won’t be busted; they will, and they often are.  But my Commander philosophy is more about interesting interactions than it is about jamming the best cards in my Commander’s color into a single deck, and beating face or comboing out.

See, what I like the best about Commander are the table politics.  I love playing the political game.  As such, I try to do two things to keep myself from being the victim of an early death before I can get my engines online.  First, I try to minimize my threat as much as possible.  Second, I try to play by a code that I am happy to broadcast to those thinking about messing with my life total or board position.

Threat minimization is an important strategy to master, in both play and in deck construction.  For example, I was messing around with a Red, White and Blue Commander deck based around Gravitational Shift.  It’s a tribal fliers deck.  On the top end it runs both copies of Isperia, both Niv-Mizzets, and fun “combos” like Drogskol Reaver and Archon of Redemption/Wall of Reverence.  Now, as you may or may not know, the UWR color combination has some of the worst options for generals.  Its elder dragon is Numot, the Devastator and the secondary general from the Commander decks was Ruhan of the Fomori.  While Numot is more on theme with the tribal fliers aspect of the deck, Numot is a very aggressive general to play due to his ability to bomb your opponents’ lands when it hits.  Similarly, Ruhan is huge and undercosted, and makes the deck look like it’s trying to kill through general damage.  So I ended up using Zedruu the Greathearted as my general.  I don’t have any donate synergies in the deck, and with the notable exception of Gravitational Shift itself, the vast majority of my cards are only beneficial for me if I retain their control.  But Zedruu is a completely innocuous general, as she’s usually only played by group hug decks.  And her ability does come in handy against some of the more thieving decks that populate my local meta, since she’s a great response to someone stealing your permanents.  Whereas before I’d have difficulty setting up my wall of angels, sphinxes and dragons, playing Zedruu means the table gives me some much needed breathing room.

The other thing I try to be clear about are the consequences of messing with me in EDH.  Now, I’m not talking about reasonable attacks here; if someone needs to connect with a player to advance their plan and I’m shields down, I get it.  And I’m the first one to admit that sometimes a powerful board state I’ve created calls for a wrath or some particularly useful spot removal.  No, what I am talking about is someone swinging in for huge because they want to knock me out before I can have fun in the game, or swinging at me even when it would be more beneficial to attack someone else.  When this happens, I will respond, once, with asymmetrical force, and then make it clear that I won’t do it again unless they initiate.  This strategy is based on models of the iterated prisoner’s dilemma.  Game theorists have come up with a model to be effective at an iterated prisoner’s dilemma game; one must be nice, be willing to retaliate, be willing to forgive, and be non-envious, or willing to let an opponent score more than you would.  These are great rules for Commander as well, since personally I value having a good time over being the “winner” at the end of the round.

But I also make sure to keep my word when I am playing the game.  The goal of telling one of your fellow players something should be that they rely on the information conveyed in making their decision.  If you turn around and then do the opposite of the information you’ve conveyed, no one is going to listen to you because they will know that you lie.  Now, I am not above manipulation, or keeping to the letter of my word should things get complicated, but I play with a repeat group of people.  If I lie in one game, they’re going to remember that in future multiplayer games.  As a result, I make sure that if I say I am going to do something (or more commonly, refrain from doing something), that I do it.  Even if that means missing a key turn to stop an opponent’s strategy, the value of my word is a more important commodity than the result of any individual game.

But enough of my strategy babble; it wouldn’t be a Commander article without a decklist.  Today, I’ll provide two.  The first is the Zedruu deck I mentioned in the article, the second is my favorite deck of the moment, an Edric deck full of mulldrifters.  What I find most interesting about these two decks is how Zedruu has much more powerful cards, but the synergy makes Edric a more powerful deck.  See if you can pick out some of the ridiculous synergies in Edric in the comment section!

Zedruu, the Greathearted

Creatures/Walkers (37):  Adarkar Valkyrie; Admonition Angel; Ajani Vengeant; Angel of Jubilation; Archon of Redemption; Archon of the Triumvirate; Azor’s Elocutors; Baneslayer Angel; Basandra, Battle Seraph; Conquering Manitcore; Consecrated Sphinx; Diaochan, Artful Beauty; Dominus of Fealty; Drogskol Reaver; Dungeon Geists; Firemane Angel; Grand Arbiter Augustin IV; Gustcloak Savior; Isperia the Inscrutable; Isperia, Supreme Judge; Ith, High Arcanist; Karmic Guide; Lightning Angel; Magus of the Moat; Mercurial Chemister; Mother of Runes; New Prahv Guildmage: Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius; Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind; Pride of the Clouds; Radiant, Archangel; Revilark; Serra Avenger; Sunblast Angel; Swans of Bryn Argoll: Windborn Muse; Wall of Reverence

Spells (7): Austere Command; Chaos Warp; Cyclonic Rift; Enlightened Tutor; Magmaquake; Mizzium Mortars; Recurring Insight

Artifacts/Enchantments (18):  Azorius Signet; Boros Signet; Chromatic Lantern; Cloud Cover; Coastal Piracy; Control Magic; Crystal Ball; Ghostly Prison; Gravitational Shift; Izzet Signet; Lightning Greaves; Martial Law; Norn’s Annex; Propaganda; Rhystic Study; Righteous Authority; Sol Ring; Standstill

Lands (37):  Academy Ruins; Azorius Guildgate; Celestial Colonnade; Desolate Lighthouse; Glacial Fortress; 8 Islands; Izzet Guildgate; Moorland Haunt; 5 Mountains; Mystic Gate; 8 Plains; Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep; Shivan Reef; Skycloud Expanse; Slayer’s Stronghold; Sulfur Falls; Temple of the False God; Thawing Glaciers; Tolaria West

Edric, Spymaster of Trest

Creatures (49): Acid Web Spider; Acidic Slime; Augury Owl; Avenger of Zendikar; Body Double; Borderland Ranger; Brutalizer Exarch; Chancellor of the Spires; Civic Wayfinder; Cloudthresher; Coiling Oracle; Consecrated Sphinx; Cryptic Annelid; Deadeye Navigator; Deadwood Treefolk; Draining Whelk; Dungeon Geists; Farhaven Elf; Fierce Empath; Hornet Queen; Indrik Stomphowler; Loaming Shaman; Lorescale Coatl; Masked Admirers; Mulldrifter; Mwonvuli Beast Tracker; Mystic Snake; Nephalis Smuggler; Nevermaker; Ondu Giant; Oracle of Mul Daya; Pelakka Wurm; Phantasmal Image; Phyrexian Ingester; Phyrexian Metamorph; Sage Owl; Sakashima the Imposter; Sakashima’s Student; Sea Gate Oracle; Shardless Agent; Solemn Simulacrum; Somberwald Sage; Soulsworn Spirit; Sphinx of Uthuun; Terastodon; Tornado Elemental; Tower Geist; Venser, Shaper Savant; Woodfall Primus

Spells (5):  Creeping Renaissance; Ghostly Flicker; Lead the Stampede; Rain of Thorns; Rite of Replication

Artifacts/Enchantments (9):  Asceticism; Back from the Brink; Conjurer’s Closet; Cream of the Crop; Crystal Ball; Mimic Vat; Minion Reflector; Proteus Staff; Sol Ring

Lands (36):  Alchemist’s Refuge; Command Tower; Evolving Wilds; 12 Forests; Ghost Quarter; Haunted Fengraf; Homeward Path; 13 Islands; Mosswort Bridge; Reliquary Tower; Simic Growth Chamber; Terramorphic Expanse; Tolaria West

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