Building a Commander Deck, part 6: Building an Orthogonal Deck

What makes an Orthogonal Deck?

An orthogonal deck is not trying to win the game. Period. It may be able to, if things go just wrong. In the case of today’s decks, the deck has the tools to create a winning board state — but just because it can generate some arbitrary board states doesn’t even mean the game will end at any time. Wait, what?

How is this deck intending to win?

This deck wins by demonstrating that the Commander format is Turing Complete, that is, you can build a universal computer using only the cards in Commander plus the commander rules. It does so through a constructive proof: it actually sets up Rogozhin’s UTM(2,18) through the board state, and provides a halting mechanism that is not Coalition Victory. A hat tip to Herrick in particular, as he proposed this particular option as a wincon in email correspondence. As a requirement, there may not be “may” abilities in the construction of the deck. Churchill had a variant that already did that, but obviously, you can screw up the triggers because many of them were “may” abilities.

The Deck

I’m not going to do a deck tech. I’ll let Because Science explain how the setup works. The differences are:

  1. We’re going to give a third player a copy of Mesmeric Orb. This keeps players from ordering triggers for however little that matters.
  2. We’re including an Agent of Erebos to exile out opponents’ graveyards.
  3. We’re using Vital Surge to be our do-nothing spell, taking the place of Coalition Victory (that do-nothing spell is important in making state transitions happen — we need an odd number of iterations in the processing loop to happen if we’re going to change states)
  4. We’re using Liliana’s Contract with three hacked Assassin tokens (they have names, and they do not have relevant abilities) to win the game during the upkeep of the second step of the processing loop rather than winning with Coalition Victory. We are going to have means of giving them shroud.
  5. We’re going to exile whatever land we play during the cleanup part of machine construction.
  6. We can use our commander as a bit of an aid in setup: we only have to create 2/2 creature tokens for the tape and give them +1/+1 counters with Kenrith, the Returned King, our commander.
  7. We will be choosing to exile Kenrith to ensure we have no options. Ideally, you convince your opponents to also exile their commanders if they are in play, but that’s not strictly necessary.


Honestly, interaction gets in the way of this deck doing what it wants to do — which is be redundant about its setup steps. Yeah, I could probably make it leaner, but that’s not really the point. Also, I explicitly want to discourage anyone from taking this to their commander night. It’s decidedly not that deck.


Unlike interaction, this deck utterly needs its ramp for its setup. It needs to be able to generate infinite mana in all colors to perform its setup steps. As such, I’m running all the signets, all the talismans, all the premium rocks except for Mox Diamond (not enough lands) and Chrome Mox (we really can’t afford to be exiling much of anything), and as many Sol Lands as we can find. I’ve even jammed Mishra’s Workshop because making sure we can put down our artifact-based infinite mana/infinite draw combos is that central to the deck. And generally, Mishra’s Workshop is not a card you’d typically want in a commander deck.

Card Advantage

Here, the card advantage is in the form of our infinite draw combos:

  1. Infinite Mana + Staff of Domination: This is the version that the original paper used in its Legacy Universal Turing Machine.
  2. Infinite Mana/Etherium Sculptor + Future Sight + Sensei’s Divining Top: I’ve jammed this one in here
  3. Sensei’s Dramatic Scepter: I mean, sure, why not?
  4. Infinite Mana + Kenrith: Yeah, he has a non-tapping targeted draw ability on him.

The Combo

Everything is about the combo. We need a bunch of copies of creatures under specific players’ turns. Basically, the combo works like the paper. You set up the tape as the paper specifies, and your deck should be, in order:

  1. Infest. This will, as a part of its cast, kill any 2/2 creatures. That includes whatever is under the head of the UTM (and *only* the thing under the head), causing triggers replace it and put it under your control with Illusory Gains.
  2. Cleansing Beam. This will give all of your opponent’s creatures two +1/+1 counters because of Vigor. Yes, this has to have one and only one valid target, so my deck adds a copy of Copy Enchantment to copy Steely Resolve, this one naming Assassin so that your assassins cannot be targeted. This starts moving the tape. (Both you and the player who controls the tape control a copy of Vigor.)
  3. Vital Surge. This card does as little as possible. If we get control of a tapped token, it gets milled on the previous step, causing a state change, as the tape will read with the other set of phased permanents. This was Coalition Victory’s job in the original deck.
  4. Soul Snuffers. Because of two copies of Dread of Night (Memnarch can turn it into an artifact, and then you can copy it using Stolen Identity — you’ll also use this on Steely Resolve to get the two copies you need) are on the table, and you’ve hacked them to hit black creatures means that it dies to its ETB trigger. This finishes moving the tape.

So wait, this has a lot of infinite combos and literally locks down the table. Why is this an orthogonal deck?

First, look at the mana base. That’s right: it’s crap. It’s running way too few lands to make the combo work reliably at all.

So what else might qualify here?

Perhaps the funniest deck tech I’ve ever seen comes from The Commander’s Quarters. They designed the most expensive possible deck in the format. It’s a hot mess without any clear strategy. But it has a theme: I have enough money that spending about half of the price of a house on 100 pieces of cardboard is not a problem.



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