Yesterday was my love’s birthday, for which I made her a deck. The arts and crafts present was justified given the Hamilton tickets she scored for us last night, which, spoiler alert, were totally worth it. But I converted one of my decks, Marath, Will of the Wild, wrote an article about its conversion into a Hazezon Tamar deck (which she referred to as a user’s guide), and then presented it to her for her to tune and play and enjoy.


Gross with a lot of things!


Playing Commander one-on-one is a different beast. I was worried that if I played something like Tasigur, the Golden Fang, I would prevent Dana from actually getting to experience the true power of her brand new Doubling Season Hazezon Tamar deck. I also was worried about being a pushover, though. So I ended up running Maelstrom Wanderer. It’s big and bad, but largely eschews interaction in favor of “comboing off” by spitting all its lands onto the battlefield.


This is a bit more ~my~ speed, though.


I mean, I think it’s a fun deck.


Things got off to a fast start for me. A turn four Oracle of Mul Daya into a turn five Solemn Simulacrum left me with four mana up, and since Dana had just dropped Mirari’s Wake, I found myself forced to pop off a Decimate, targeting her Solemn Simulacrum, my Solemn Simulacrum, Mirari’s Wake, and her Blighted Woodland. It felt mean. Thus, instead of pushing my advantage I kept ramping and ramping and ramping. And this meant missing my window to go in for the kill before Dana dropped Doubling Season and then started chaining Ajanis. Ajani, Mentor of Heroes found Ajani Steadfast, who instantly ultimated.


Now, I misread the ultimate ability, and thought that it prevented damage to creatures as well. This caused me to further delay my attack, and then, having gotten frustrated with the whole thing, I made a rash decision to Rude Awakening my lands and swing all in, forgetting to leave back some untapped lands for the post-combat main phase. Whoops!


And she survives! Truly one of the most brutal planeswalkers to combo with Doubling Season.


Dana was mortally offended by these lines of play. I kept dropping more and more onto the board but since I wasn’t killing her with it she had the opening she needed to turn the tables. That took the form of an Avenger of Zendikar, with landfall, followed the next turn by an instantly ultimating Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. That killed me right good.


Which, I was totally fine with! I had fun, she had fun, and sure I was less aggressive than I otherwise could have been but it felt appropriate in the context. I wanted Dana to get a good memory of beating my ass like the red-headed stepchild of a rented mule, so that she’d know what her deck was capable of. And I wanted to have fun with my own deck, because Commander. Dana is of the opinion, however, that in finding a way for us both to have fun, I threw the game. And because she didn’t beat me at peak performance, she felt cheated.


That’s what I find tricky about one v. one Commander games. The competitive mindset infects the game, making it all about the base binary, win or lose. But in that game I swung with 25 lands. I drew 35 cards in a turn. Sure, I had to discard a ton of those cards, but I was making big plays. I was having fun. And if I had focused on beating her before she had a chance to really get online, I would have had less fun. There would have been less room for fun. And I play Commander because it’s fun.


Let me try to explain it by means of one final analogy. When I was in college, I was totally obsessed by whatever Civilization game came out in that era. One thing that kept annoying me was my failure to get military victories. I kept shooting for global conquest, but invariably I’d inadvertently trigger cultural victories. My efforts to maximize the efficiency of my populations involved building a lot of temples and theaters to quell unrest. When you’ve conquered like 90% of the cities on the map, those temples and theaters would add up fast. So I finally had to start making my cities unhappy, making myself less effective, in order to get that military victory.


It took longer, and was a hell of a lot uglier, but in the end I got the specific victory condition I was going for, even at the expense of passing up the more common victory conditions that were available far earlier given perfect play. So, did I throw the game? Yeah, I probably did. But I think it was defensible, and in no way minimizes the value of Dana’s win. While my dicking around gave her an opportunity she might not have otherwise had, she still took her deck and punished me for playing with my food. I mean, I was building towards an explosive finish, and I would have taken it should the game run long.


Don’t be afraid to find your own victory conditions, even in one-on-one play. There are ways to end Commander games where everyone gets some sort of personal victory. The hard part is finding them, the fun part is selling them, and the best part is the boost in post-game feels all around. Good times.


Jess Stirba feels a certain kinship with a historical figure who seemed to find their truest voice in the written word.

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