This article’s been a while in the making. I meant to cover my Slimefoot, the Stowaway deck around the time of Dominaria’s release, but then I got caught up with the lore and story for a few months, so it’s here now.

Most of the time I spend talking about Commander is devoted to the process of refining a given deck. Working from an already-established deck and improving upon it, streamlining and tuning it to make it run more consistently. This week I wanted to talk about something a little different and go into my process for creating an initial decklist. As soon as the card was revealed I knew that I wanted to build a deck around Slimefoot, the Stowaway. I’ve always had an affinity for commanders that have a built-in source of damage, and the little Thallid seemed ripe with potential.

Here’s the initial decklist that I built up:

Commander: Slimefoot the Stowaway

Creatures: Thallid, Thallid Shell-Dweller, Korozda Guildmage, Jade Mage, Sporecrown Thallid, Vitaspore Thallid, Yavimaya Sapherd, Deathbloom Thallid, Thallid Germinator, Catacomb Sifter, Thallid Omnivore, Bloodspore Thrinax, Hell’s Caretaker, Smothering Abomination, Mycoloth, Phyrexian Plaguelord, Tendershoot Dryad, Sporoloth Ancient, Extractor Demon, Champion of Stray Souls, Verdeloth the Ancient, Butcher of Malikir, Verdant Force

Enchantments: Keen Sense, Cryptolith Rite, Necrogenesis, Night Soil, Fungal Plots, Fecundity, Dark Prophecy, Attrition, Snake Umbra, Tainted Remedy, Parallel Lives, Foster, Black Market, Doubling Season, Primal Vigor, Verdant Embrace, Death’s Presence

Spells: Saproling Migration, Sprout Swarm, Putrefy, Grow from the Ashes, Harvest Season, Second Harvest, Spore Swarm, Reprocess, Scatter the Seeds, Morbid Bloom, Life’s Finale, Decree of Pain, Genesis Wave

Artifacts: Skullclamp, Altar of Dementia, Golgari Signet, Ashnod’s Altar, Slate of Ancestry, Grafted Exoskeleton

Lands: 18 Swamp, 17 Forest, Vivid Grove, Vivid Marsh, Golgari Guildgate, Golgari Rot Farm, Woodland Cemetery

There’s some obvious power cards in here. (I was lucky enough to trade into a Doubling Season after my brother deconstructed his Ghave, Guru of Spores deck.) But for the most part this deck was built using a very simple method.

  1. Skim my rare binder and leftover draft decks for any card that has even the tiniest piece of synergy with the themes that Slimefoot encourages. In this case that means anything that makes Saprolings, directly scales with the number of creatures you control, interacts specifically with tokens, lets you kill a bunch of creatures at once, or benefits from life drain/gain.
  2. Spend a few weeks trading with friends to pick up any cards they have available that are obvious fits for the deck—the aforementioned Doubling Season, Primal Vigor, and Verdant Embrace all fit into this category.
  3. Go through the commons/uncommon box at my local LGS for on-theme cards.
  4. Round out any still-empty slots with general on-color goodstuff such as Golgari Signet and Putrefy.

The priority here isn’t refinement or cohesion. It’s to get a lot of ideas and themes into deck that doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg. If anything, my initial list is intentionally disjointed. And I’m not just talking about individual cards that aren’t quite optimal. The above list has elements from a grindy attrition-based Aristocrats deck, and all-in combo deck that can draw through the deck at frightening speed thanks to effects such as Dark Prophecy, and even a more traditional and aggressive Fungus/Saproling tribal deck. Sometimes the pieces for one of those stragtagies will all come together, and sometimes you wind up with a disjointed mess. And that’s okay.

The next step is easy: play a lot of games. I can spend as much time as I want theorizing about how a deck will or should play, but without actual playtime that doesn’t mean anything. Play games, see what works, and see what you enjoy.

Right now, the above list is at its most powerful when you draw into the combo side of the deck. Sometimes that means going infinite with Ashnod’s Altar and any token doubler, but more often it means finding some way to convert tokens into card draw and digging through the deck. The Aristocrats theme has some real potential but lacks the raw power that the combo draws give you, while the agro/tribal axis is almost a nonentity. I’ve only had one game so far where I had enough anthem effects come together to make that a viable strategy, and without a way to consistently give my army evasion this will never be a serious option.

Here’s the crucial distinction: just because a particular theme is the most powerful in your intital games, doesn’t mean that’s what you should focus on empowering. The stage is about finding what you enjoy and then making it work, not finding what works and forcing it to be enjoyable. (Trust me, that doesn’t work so well.) As an example, I recently had a game where I played turn two Golgari Signet, turn three Parallel Lives, turn four Ashnod’s Altar, turn five Slimefoot, cast Sprout Swarm in response to removal, and won the game on the spot. I’m fairly sure that’s objectively the most powerful line the deck has access to at the moment, and it worked perfectly.

I hated it. I’m seriously considering cutting Ashnod’s Altar from the deck to prevent it from ever happening again. In the meantime I’ve decided to never add tutors to the deck because if they’re included it will almost always be the correct play to go get part of a three-card wincon. (As an aside, I don’t have a problem with infinite combos. They’re a fascinating part of the game and I love the fact that they exist. I just don’t enjoy playing with them myself.)

The games I did enjoy were those revolving around sacrifice outlets and card draw engines, sometimes building up to a board of 40+ Saprolings and winning with one massive drain from Slimefoot, other times chipping away with a few creatures at a time as I search for the next way to make tokens. That gradual progression is something I really enjoy, as well as the built-in resiliency to board wipes that all of the death triggers provide.

Some control elements are fine, but I don’t want to lean too heavily on cards like Grave Pact that encourage grinding the game to a halt. Instead I’ll be looking for cards like Attrition. Powerful interaction, but also targeted enough that nobody gets locked out of the game on accident.

While the tribal elements are fun, there’s two main problems with taking the deck in that direction. First, there are painfully few cards that exist to facilitate Saproling tribal. That doesn’t make such a build impossible, just difficult. The second problem is that I already have a deck that embraces that playstyle in the form of Krenko, Mob Boss. To put it simply, I don’t feel the need to make a separate aggressive tribal deck, especially one that would by necessity be operating at a significantly lower power level.

So I have my direction. How do I implement it? This is when you go back to those test games from earlier. So far I’ve been focusing on the positives, but now is when you ask yourself what didn’t work, figue out what was missing. One problem that I ran into in almost every game that I played is that my initial list has a very difficult time making an adequate number of tokens. You almost aren’t really playing the game until you’ve resolved a token doubler, and there are a very limited number of those cards you can run.

That means I’m going to use the slots freed up to crank Saproling production to the max. After looking through Gatherer, that will most likely take the form of a lot of spells that make tokens, such as Fertile Imagination and Fungal Sprouting. I wouldn’t consider that ideal as I prefer to use effects that can be uses repeatedly, but there simply aren’t that many more cards that both make Saprolings repeatedly and are even remotely playable. (Dreampod Druid is not something I’m willing to consider, for instance.)

I don’t have an exact list of changes I want to make worked out yet, but once I do I’ll spend a few games playing with proxies to make sure I’m happy with the new cards. Some people despise proxies on principle and I certainly understand why. But with an understanding playgroup and the explicit intent to either buy the real cards or remove the proxies in a few weeks there isn’t an issue. From there I’ll repeat the whole process a few times until I arrive at a version of the deck that I’m happy with.

It’s easy for conversations about Commander to get caught in a mindset that surrounds conversation around Standard and other competitive formats: there is an ideal version of each deck and we’re striving to reach that perfect goal. I call BS to that idea. There might be an objectively most powerful version of any given deck, but in Commander that does not necessarily mean it’s the best version. In fact, raw power is often directly harmful to having a good time. (This is playgroup dependant, I know.)

This might seem obvious, but it has a lot to do with why I’ve done less and less Commander content as time goes on. At the end of the day tuning a Commander deck is about finding what’s fun, and it seems incredibly arrogant for me to try to dictate what is fun for anyone other than myself. I hope you enjoyed this look into my process, even if it was very different from how I normally talk about Commander. I have some big projects in the works, but they probably won’t be ready to print for a few months.

In the mean time, find your fun. And appreciate the people who are finding theirs.

Levi Byrne has been with the game since Worldwake and has a rabid love for fantasy writing that goes back decades. Despite some forays into Legacy he plays Commander almost exclusively, and has a love for the crazy plays and huge games that make Magic what it is. He was the go-to advisor of his playgroup on deck construction for more than five years before joining Dear Azami.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.