I’ve run into the problem, from time to time, where one of my friends builds a Commander deck around an amazing general, and I want to play it desperately. But they had it first, and I don’t want to end up just copying someone else’s innovation, out of respect and because it would probably be a little boring. But some of these decks are just awesome, and worth talking about. Here are several novel EDH generals that make for some interesting gameplay:

Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker

This general is fascinating, because it flips the typical way one would build an EDH deck. Instead of running a bunch of powerful spells and ridiculous mulldrifters, all of the cards my friend Rob runs in his Shirei deck have a power of one or less. Crypt Rats are played next to a Death Cultist, and Fume Spitter is a particular all-star. Basically, all these cheap creatures self-sacrifice or are sacrificed to other cards, providing a minor effect. At the end of each turn, Shirei brings them all back into play, allowing you to repeat this loop during every player’s turn.

One interesting wrinkle for a deck like that is that Rob doesn’t run Skullclamp, one of the most abusable pieces of equipment in a deck with a bunch of dorks with one toughness. See, Skullclamp makes their power greater than one when they die off, so missing out on the Shirei loop is not worth drawing. If I were to make a deck like this, I would be tempted to have Shirei be a tutorable card instead of the general, just because opening the color identity up to include white (probably with Teysa as the general) would allow you to also play Immortal Servitude, which seems like an amazing way to start your loop back up again if a series of wraths leaves your tiny terrors locked in the ‘yard.

Phage the Untouchable

This deck is the brainchild of HotC’s very own Rich Stien, who writes our Magic gestalt posts every Monday. What I find most brilliant about this deck is that Rich took one of the commanders that seemed utterly incompatible with the format, and he made her work. He casts her through tricks like Torpor Orb or Sundial of the Infinite, all of which can be used to stifle her “you lose the game” effect when you cast her from the command zone. Once she hits the board, she ends games even more quickly than combat generals like Scion of the Ur-Dragon or Gisela, Blade of Goldnight. One hit with her and you win, or at the very least one of your opponents loses.

The problem with a deck like this is that once you get past the amazing tricks to get Phage into play, there’s not a lot of ancillary fun that she lends herself for. With Phage, the trick is getting her into play, not winning once she’s in play. So, short of loading up on Whispersilk Cloak effects, there’s not much to add to the basic strategy. You can either ramp up and search out your enablers to get her out before your opponents can deal with her, or run a deck that’s more controlling to bide your time till the perfect moment arrives.

Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker

My friend Micah runs a Kiki-Jiki deck, and while the card may currently be fairly notorious for the way it’s dominating Modern, it’s a little less combo-tastic in EDH. Of course, only a little. There are still cards like Thornbite Staff that let Kiki go infinite at the drop of a hat, and Ashnod’s Altar provides an always-reliable source of extra advantage. But Micah’s deck plays out elegantly, as he curves out through a series of red mulldrifters into Kiki, for incremental advantage over the course of the game. Sure, sometimes he manages to loop Inferno Titans with the silly thing, but having played it once or twice before let me tell you, it is a blast to play.

Now, I don’t know Micah’s list, so he might include the following cards. But, if I were making the deck I would definitely add Sword of the Paruns and Umbral Mantle into the mix. I tried both cards out in an Ezuri deck, where they allowed some of my mana dorks to go infinite, and I found that I’m a fan. With Ashnod’s Altar out, Umbral Mantle basically reads “1: get +2/+2 until end of turn, plus the come into play effect of one of your creatures”. Even if you’re looping a fairly innocuous creature, Kiki has haste and a loop like this can let you do a lot of general damage in fairly short order.

Anyway, there are other decks that inspire this feeling that my friends that play them somewhat own the concept, but I think it’s interesting the degree to which I fear being derivative when I make my EDH decks. I netdeck CONSTANTLY when it comes to every other constructed format. I know my strengths and weaknesses, and while I have fairly tight play, I’m not as good a builder as someone who has the card reserves to play on MODO every night, or who regularly tests their builds with a team. But when it comes to Commander, originality and brewing are almost all that it’s about for me.

Maybe it’s because Commander is a format with less pressure, where minor missteps are forgiven, and as such I am more comfortable trying and failing than I would be at a more competitive event (and if you want to hear more about me responding poorly to failure, come back on Wednesday to read my recap of the Modern PTQ this past weekend). But I still feel like it would be stepping on my friends’ toes if I were to take the neat concepts they unlocked and duplicated them in decks that have the same general, and the same basic identity. But this brings up one last point of Commander etiquette: sometimes it can be a ton of fun to borrow and play someone else’s deck. Give it a shot; playing with Micah’s Kiki deck was both a tremendous gas, and gave me some ideas of my own when I later went about making my own mono-red Commander deck.

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