For me, the hardest part of putting together a Commander deck is finishing the job. At any given point I have the not-yet-living shells of between two and five Commander decks lying in piles around my Magic area. These piles, with just a little more work, could turn into something promising; the ideas are usually pretty neat, but for some reason they don’t get finished quickly.

I say “for some reason” like I don’t know exactly what the reason is, but I do. Truth is, the hardest part of making a Commander deck are the finishing touches. It’s easy to build up a pile of neat and powerful cards, but between whittling that pile down, doing manabase math, and those last minute flashes of inspiration that make hard choices even harder, it’s honestly a wonder I ever get any of my decks done. This is one of the reasons I keep decks together for so long; it’s infinitely easier to adapt a preexisting deck to try out a different strategy or play with brand new cards than it is to go through the generation process again and again and again.

I really don’t get why she’s such a weak creature considering she’s a six-drop. I’d rather her have a body and no keyworded abilities than being safe from removal but bad at combat.

Right now I am having that problem with Narset, Enlightened Master. I think she’s a promising legend, and my hope was that she would be the Commander for an all-spell deck. It’s easier to run only creatures than it is to run no creatures, so this would be a challenging goal in the best of times. Narset is not the best of times, though. First off, she’s physically weak. Perhaps if she had prowess, and thus you could keep her alive in combat more easily through abusing her ability, that would be one thing. But she doesn’t! I thought she was a 4/3 first strike hexproof, and assumed she was too weak to survive in combat; she’s actually a 3/2, and that makes her significantly worse. Her ability is also significantly less powerful than I had initially thought, as her exiling doesn’t eliminate timing restrictions. It’s not a bad ability, but it’s nowhere near the powerhouse I thought it was, were she able to plop down some permanents to save her (like Eldrazi Monument) before dying in combat.

I am aware this is not a good rip if Narset is your only creature on the board. But it’s great with tokens!

So there are several ways I’m split between going for this deck. First, I was thinking tokens would potentially be a strong way to go. Add in something like Cathars’ Crusade and Raise the Alarm not only puts bodies on the board, but it acts like a combat trick. This would also be a strong synergy in case I wanted to go for broke with Jeskai Ascendancy; as we saw in the last Pro Tour, Jeskai Ascendancy plus tokens can really put a game away. It is probably the strongest thing a person could be doing with Narset these days, and it still felt only moderately powerful.

I do miss playing with this card.

But I’m tired of token decks anyway. Next I considered making it into an equipment deck. One way to keep Narset alive through combat would be by piling up a load of shiny weapons onto her back, and watch as mayhem ensues. This raises its own problems, though. Many of the great equipment-matters cards are creatures, like Puresteel Paladin and Leonin Shikari, and thus I would need to abandon my “only spells” opportunity. This weakens Narset’s already-less-powerful-than-it-looks ability, since every creature you add represents another blank with her ability, and it would be easy to drop that down to a less than 50% hit rate. And that’s not great either. In a deck like that, Narset would become less and less relevant as the creature count crept up, and at that point you’re left with a deck where the most powerful play is rarely to swing with a 3/2.

It’s years later, and I wish they would make more cards with this border. The Planar Chaos colorshifted one, of course… the white one specifically is actually the one I like the least, but this is the card I’m talking about today.

Next I considered making her into an Enchantress deck. I’ve already used the Jeskai base for what turned into an Enchantress deck of sorts. I say of sorts because I wasn’t running Mesa Enchantress, but it had a bunch of enchantments in it, mostly so that people would leave me alone. I considered reconstituting that as a Narset deck, but even though the general was more on theme, taking away the “flying creatures” subtheme to turn the deck into 100% spells would have left me with little in the way of finishers. Winning via attrition, while possible, is unpleasant. It is especially unpleasant when your strategy requires waiting around behind a bunch of only-moderately-resilient enchantments for your opponents to draw Austere Command. Maybe if Narset was a finisher on her lonesome, but she’s not, so this direction seemed like another dead end. For me at least.

The chance of this card getting cut from the list is zero.

The natural complement to an Enchantress deck would be a Machine deck, i.e. one that’s focused on artifact synergies. Machine Jeskai isn’t actually a terrible idea, since red’s always played well with Machine strategies and white and blue are by far the more Machine-relevant colors in the Esper wedge. Of course, here the point of swinging with Narset would be to get a major mana discount on cards like Darksteel Forge and Mycosynth Lattice. Once you have those two cards in play, though, either you’ve made yourself invulnerable, in which case the rest of your playgroup is going to find the rest of the game unpleasant, or you’ve put the Orzhov player into a position where their only winning choice is to exile the world via Merciless Eviction on artifacts. And that way lies misery. Again, though, the annoyingly tetchy rules regarding timing mean that the artifacts won’t hit play until after Narset dies in combat, unless I have Vedalken Orrery in play. So this seems like a bad final product.

I originally forgot this wasn’t an instant, since it’s almost exclusively cast at instant speed.

So I think I am going to settle on the final deck, which focuses on instants. There are a lot of potentially strong instants in these color combinations, and this lets me play a Sunforger package as well. Of course, I then have the problem with how to finish the game again, but at least this deck promises to have some more play in it. But when the best spell finishers in those color combinations are cards like Entreat the Angels or White Sun’s Zenith that are complete nonbos with Narset’s cute little mana discount, this deck also looked to not make it across the finish line.

This card is good, right? I can’t entirely tell, to be honest.

I could abandon the “no creatures” theme altogether, and just go value Narset, combining the “equipment matters” package with Sunforger instants, backed with some key enchantments like Wild Research, but I think this proves the bigger issue at hand: creatures are important in Commander. Especially if you’re not interested in a storm kill! I will admit I have a ton of respect for the people who can pay enough attention to all their little numbers to pull that one off in Commander, but it just doesn’t seem fun to me. What I do like to do is amass a strong board presence and then hit through my opponents’ defenses at key points in the game. And I don’t know if Narset is the best general for that play style.

Look at this body compared to Narset. It’s a startling contrast.

When I have the Narset, Enlightened Master list down, I’ll share it, but that’s not looking like it’s going to happen today. In the meantime, I’ve been putting a Zurgo Helmsmasher/Wrath of God deck full of wraths and resilient creatures, and an Anazfenza, the Foremost/Living End deck that takes brutal advantage of her one-sided graveyard attacks. I will likely be talking about one or both of those decks next week, barring a major flash of inspiration. Oh well. Until then!

Jess Stirba gets full of rage when she sees kids being abused.

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