Recently, I got a chance to jam a bunch of one-on-one Commander games. It was enlightening for several reasons, the first of which simply being that I was reminded I don’t particularly like one-v-one Commander. But that’s a superficial thing; the real lesson I learned is that navigating complex decision trees, even if you play quickly, can be frustrating for your opponents.


This issue first cropped up when I was running my [casthaven]Tasigur, the Golden Fang[/casthaven] deck against Dana’s [casthaven]Sygg, River Cutthroat[/casthaven]. At first glance I had somewhat assumed the decks would play out similarly; Sygg is a jujitsu control deck, while Tasigur is a ramp control deck. We were both set up for what seemed like it was going to be an interesting, and interactive game.

This card is a cheap draw engine, and Dana loves it.

Thirty minutes into the game Dana got visibly frustrated with the way my deck was playing out. Every turn I had three to five different plays to accomplish, and my early ramp meant that I had the mana to do everything I wanted. Dana spent her turns resetting my board or stealing my best permanents, but my turns were taking much longer than her turns, thanks in no small part to my mana advantage.

I am dying for one of those SCG Open “Tasi-purr, the Golden Paw” playmats. Next season, here I come!

Eventually she tapped out for something, and I drew [casthaven]Villainous Wealth[/casthaven], and then Dana quit in frustration before the spell had finished resolving. X was ten.


She may have made some derogatory remarks about public masturbation in her salty splendor.


Later, once the tension within our household had subsided, Dana opened up about the specific thing that frustrated her. Her point was that, while I wasn’t doing anything wrong, the complicated board state I had vomited out meant that I had a huge decision tree every turn, and even if I was processing those actions as quickly as possible, that left a lot of lag time for my opponents. In a multiplayer game conversation often fills those turns, but it’s a more glaring issue when playing one-on-one late at night.

Clayton is still adamant that Triumph of the Hordes is a reasonable Commander finisher.

When I dusted off [casthaven]Scion of the Ur-Dragon[/casthaven] to play against Clayton’s [casthaven]Omnath, Locus of Mana[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Daxos of Meletis[/casthaven] decks, I ran into a similar issue. In game one, when I was playing a ramp-light hand against Clayton’s monogreen ramp deck, he ran over me. It didn’t hurt that he kept blowing up my lands… didn’t hurt him at least. It may have hurt our friendship a little, because it narrowed my decision trees down to one or two lines of play, and even those failed to save me against an instant-speed [casthaven]Terrastodon[/casthaven].

It’s pretty easy these days for Dragons to kill a 2/2.

Then I shuffled up and played Scion against the UW control deck, and again it was mana advantage that proved determinative. Only this time I had the ramp. By the very nature of [casthaven]Scion of the Ur-Dragon[/casthaven]’s ability I had fairly complex decision trees available to me, and once I dropped Scion with ability mana up, I could answer almost anything he did.

This card demands a foil reprint.

None of these games was particularly fun, at the end of the day. But it seems like the bigger issue is the degree to which basic mana advantage was balanced in one-versus-one play. In multiplayer, the ramp deck usually draws commensurate aggro. When you have that aggro anyway, because you’re playing in a duel or because you just happen to be the big threat even without doing anything, that downside falls away.


It’s a conundrum, because doing things is fun. My goal, in any Commander game, is to maximize the amount of stuff I get to do. Back when I was new to the format, I used to play decks without significant ramp or draw engines. Those decks often fell into those particularly frustrating doldrums where you only have one line of play, and it evaporates before your next turn.


I hated that pattern.


I’m thinking of going in one of two directions after these games. The first option, and one that’s likely to happen, would be to convert Tasigur into something that better shares those decision trees. I’m thinking kingmaker group hugs, using universal ramp spells like [casthaven]Veteran Explorer[/casthaven]. That way everyone has complicated decision trees, which hopefully will translate into more fun for all.


The second path involves me tapering down the decision trees in different decks. Maybe [casthaven]Scion of the Ur-Dragon[/casthaven] doesn’t need ALL the Dragons. Maybe it’s better to do one high-impact play per turn. The problem I see with this path is that it leads to a more reactive style of play than I tend to enjoy. If I am limiting myself to one play a turn, those plays are likely going to be big and splashy, and that often means sweepers.

This commander makes morph an almost-playable mechanic. Almost.

Dana and I played one last one-versus-one game, and this one was much closer than the other three. I was playing [casthaven]Animar, Soul of Elements[/casthaven] and she was playing [casthaven]Nekusar, the Mindrazer[/casthaven]. In the end, it played out like a game of combo versus combo. On her turn six she managed to get me with [casthaven]Spiteful Visions[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Runeflare Trap[/casthaven], all while staring down a lethal number of free morphs.

There’s a lot of blue in these decks. Probably not a coincidence.

If that’s what ramp-free Magic games are like, though, I think I’d rather stick with my lands.


Jess Stirba is a green mage with rainbow proclivities.

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