Building a Commander Deck, Part 5: Building a Mechanical Commander Deck
Finally, we get to the lowest power level of playable Commander decks: the Mechanical deck. These decks usually lack a focus or a good commander. Perhaps you’re playing an unsupported tribe. Perhaps you really like Manifest and jammed as many Manifest cards as you could find into a deck (there are 25 of them, so good luck with that). Whatever it is, there’s a tribe that shows up rarely or a mechanic that only got used in one set and you absolutely have to build a deck around it, only to find that there’s maybe 35 cards total when you look it up in Scryfall.
That doesn’t matter. Set your expectations accordingly.
A bit of backstory: why am I even writing this series?
I was looking to jam some games of Commander after work one day. One opponent brought the Anje Falkenrath preconstructed deck. Another brought her Meren deck. And I…I brought Urza. After comboing off on turn 4 through the hate (no, seriously, my Grim Monolith got blown away by a Krosan Grip, so I tutored up and played Dramatic Scepter instead), I realized that I’d really messed up. So I pulled out a precon and accepted them handing my ass to me because I deserved it.
The next morning, the Meren player came to me and suggested that I build Horse Tribal. See, she has a farm, she raises horses, and she’s always wanted a horse tribal deck. So I go on Scryfall. There are 33 horses in all of Magic. So I go out, jam them all in a deck with original dual lands, the interaction shell from Tymna and Thrasios Flash Hulk (list here), and the ramp package for the same — only adding some white sources and Cavern of Souls. The deck was a disaster to behold. It did not work, as it was missing pretty much anything that gives a deck that spark that says, “I want to play this”. It honestly felt more like Frankenstein’s Monster.
So I went back to playing Urza in my semi-competitive store meta. And I did that for a few months, up until I started noticing that my opponents weren’t interacting with me. I’d never see a combo piece get countered, and only very rarely see them blown up. I had to wonder if they didn’t recognize the combo. So I used Intuition to grab pieces, and they know the cards that are Bad For Everyone — even recognizing that Power Artifact was maybe not something they want to put in my hand, even though they’d never seen the card before, much less that it plus Grim Monolith equals infinite mana to dump into Urza. I had to conclude that they were not running enough interaction.
After looking at a few decks, that suspicion was proven largely correct. I’d usually see maybe 10 cards devoted to interaction, mostly in the form of creature removal — and most of it was badly overcosted. No wonder I was allowed to continue my malarkey unimpeded. Everybody was trying to win so hard that they forgot to stop others from winning.
And that’s actually what inspired this series: how much interaction should I be running, what should its curve look like, and what kind of mana acceleration should I be looking to run?
After more playing with Urza, especially in other groups where interaction was prized more heavily, I began to figure out how to make a deck tick. I had a formula to make a workable Commander deck. And as such, I came up with this list. I still think I need to cut 5 cards to make room for 5 more mana rocks, but I’m considerably happier with these results.
With the lessons learned, I then turned my eye back to building Morophon Horse Tribal, trying again from scratch. I think this version of the deck is significantly less ridiculous.
About Mechanical Decks
Again, I’m using “Mechanical” in an unusual way here, mostly because of all the power levels, this one is the hardest to come up with a name for. It’s supposed to be about the same power level as the preconstructed decks possibly with the most obvious of upgrades, maybe with a couple of upgrades out of a trade binder. Basically, the idea of a mechanical deck is that it is a deck that can win the game, but it does not have a specific focus. In this deck, the theme is obviously horses, but it lacks focus. It isn’t just winning by playing inherently evasive creatures. It isn’t playing to some grand finale. It’s simply playing to put horses on the table and turn them sideways.
At least for the other power levels, I can come up with a good, non-judgmental name for them. Optimized decks clearly have assembled the best combinations of 100 cards possible in the card pool. Tuned decks push most commanders to their limits. Focused decks are playing towards a particular end game. And orthogonal decks are not even pretending that they’re playing to win. I went with “mechanical” because it seems to highlight the usual nature of such decks: playing with a specific mechanical theme in mind without much regard to a specific way you use that mechanic to win the game.
In our case, our theme is horses. If it isn’t a horse, it’s a knight or it has horsemanship (because there just aren’t that many horses in Magic). As we’re building around an unsupported tribe (see the lack of horses) and an undersupported mechanic (horsemanship only ever appeared in Portal Three Kingdoms and plays horribly with the rest of Magic’s card pool, making its return unlikely: it’s a 9 on the Storm Scale), we’re quite well pigeonholed into this category.
How do you want to win?
Hoofbeats. I want to play a bunch of horses, above all else. I want everyone to know how much my coworker loves horses (which she does). I want to overrun my opponents with a stampede of horses, regardless of how tall of an ask that is. Lots of horses — as many playable horses as I can jam. I want my horses to get through, so I’m going to give my horses horsemanship with Sun Quan, Lord of Wu. Is it going to suck as a win condition? Absolutely. Therefore, let’s bring in Overwhelming Stampede, Triumph of the Hordes, and Craterhoof Behemoth. Those cards should help shore up the deficits of a beatdown plan.
We’re going to stick to a mostly removal-based interaction package, basically saying that we’re a green-black deck splashing the other colors. Yes, we’ve got a couple of counterspells (Counterspell, Negate, Veil of Summer, and yes, Boros Charm works very nicely as anti-removal) to stop boardwipes or combos. We’ve put in a couple of ways of dealing with problematic permanents. And we are running Cyclonic Rift to try to get our stampede in on an empty board. Our other semi-sweeper is Plague Mare, a horse that gives our opponents’ creatures -1/-1 until end of turn.
In terms of kill spells, we’ve got Abrupt Decay and its cousin, Assassin’s Trophy, in addition to Hero’s Downfall, Murder, and Murderous Rider (which has a horse on it!). Vivien Reid can also take care of fliers, artifacts, and enchantments.
Sun Ce bounces creatures, and Thundermare taps down a table. Wei Night Raiders forces opponents to discard (as it’s functionally unblockable). Finally, Yuan Shao will ensure that nobody gets creative and double blocks.
Yes, this is well below my 25 pieces of interaction. We’re only at 18 interaction pieces, and some of them are quite bad at being interaction. However, a recurring theme at this power level is that you’re more focused on what you’re trying to do than trying to stop other players. PlayEDH tends to call this power level “Battlecruiser Commander” for a reason. It’s very much about building a board state rather than trying to interact. Thus, I’d argue that including more than 20 pieces of interaction, no matter how poor, is perhaps going against what what your opponents probably want to be doing.
It’s running the three Sultai Signets plus Selesnya and Orzhov Signets, Arcane Signet, Sol Ring, Fellwar Stone, and Commander’s Sphere. Unfortunately, that’s about all we have room for. Dorkage would be nice, but we just don’t have the space. We are running the Battlebond lands, the Modern Horizons lands, and the shocklands suite except Sacred Foundry because we don’t really need it as red and white are our least used colors, 3 each of Forest, Swamp, and Island because the core of the deck is mostly in Sultai colors and 2 of the other basic lands. I don’t think this is enough, though. We are also running City of Brass, Mana Confluence, and Command Tower, because they will help us with our fixing.
Green does get some good land ramp, so I’ve also thrown in Explore and Urban Evolution, both of which also draw cards, as well as Gift of Paradise to make a land a bit more productive. Finally, Courser of Kruphix is an amazing Centaur that can help us hit our land drops a bit.
This deck isn’t really a combo deck, but it is packing a few key cards to punch through damage, all of which I’ve discussed briefly, but I feel that they merit mention here:
- Sun Quan, Lord of Wu: He gives all of our creatures Horsemanship. Creatures with horsemanship can only be blocked by other creatures with horsemanship. It’s like flying, except that there are no cards with the equivalent of Reach — and flying and horsemanship creatures can’t see each other.
- Craterhoof Behemoth: This is a friend to all go-wide decks in the format. You tutor him to the board and swing for the fences.
- Overwhelming Stampede: Like Craterhoof Behemoth, but only gives +5/+5 and is a sorcery. Still, it should be good enough to end a player or two.
- Cyclonic Rift: You know this card. You hate this card. You hate that you secretly love this card. It clears the board of anything and everything at instant speed — except for your stuff. So you cast it, then you strike into the biggest bad guy at the table.
- Triumph of the Hordes: Remember how I said only jerks win with Infect? Yeah, it’s time to be a jerk. The fact that I’ve thrown this in at all tells you how bad I think this deck really is: I am not confident that Triumph is enough to close out a game in our favor.
In order to make sure we aren’t totally hosed should any of these things get countered or removed, I’ve also included a small recursion package alongside the tutor suite. I did find myself cutting cantrips, but then, we’re not really in a control shell, so it’s not like they matter much.
Card Draw and Tutors
I’m still playing three tutors: Diabolic, Worldly, and Chord of Calling. Between them, they should get whatever they need. I’m also running a fairly typical Simic draw suite, based on creatures. Lastly, the recursion package I mentioned earlier should help rescue Sun Quan specifically, but also any other creature we may need on the table at the moment. Honestly, these cards are mostly here due to the relative lack of playable creatures.
I’ve also put in a small creature recursion package. If we must, we can even slow-loop Echo of Eons and Regrowth over several turns — but I put them in for the ability to recur important things that got removed/need to be cast a second time rather than putting them in to loop. I’ve also put Disentomb in here to get back some creatures as well. Lastly, Xiahou Dun can get back most of our creature removal cards.
Lastly, I’ve largely stuck to Green-based draw: Rishkar’s Expertise, Shamanic Revelation, and the like — but I did also include Rhystic Study and Dig Through Time because seriously, those cards are bonkers. I also threw in Sylvan Library to provide selection.
I’m running a bit hot on tutors and card advantage here — 12 spots total. However, this deck is going to churn through itself fairly easily, and we do need to reload in order to continue applying pressure and building a board state. Once again, this is mostly a function of the more Battlecruiser meta that this deck is built towards.
Other things I’ve learned
Apparently, TappedOut’s competitive meter is clued in to the presence of certain cards. An earlier version of this deck included Future Sight and the fetchlands, and their removal caused its competitive meter to drop by about 10%. The mana curve on this deck is admittedly a disaster, with a secondary peak at the 4-drop slot.
Next Time: Making an Orthogonal Deck
It turns out that there’s even a method to making a deck that isn’t even bothering to try to win the game. However, I’ve made an executive decision NOT to build a group hug deck, as that largely results in some subpar playing experiences, especially for beginners who may think that building or piloting such decks is easy because the power level is low. So instead, I’m going in a different direction: a deck whose combo is not about winning but about doing something else entirely. Oh, don’t be fooled: it still locks your opponents out of the game, but in so doing, it not only stops them from winning, but it strips you of decisions as well. That’s right, we’re building a Rube Goldberg machine.