Today on Legion’s Landing, Kristen takes you through how to squeeze the utmost of value from your Commander deck by combining effects into one card slot.

Any stranger to the Commander format will laugh when you tell them you’re finding it hard to make cuts in a 100 card deck. While an EDH deck does have a bunch more slots than a regular constructed deck, you don’t actually have that many slots to explore the theme or strategy you’ve chosen.

Anatomy of a Deck

Picking a Commander is the first part of deckbuilding, and that already takes you down to 99.

Okay, so ninety-nine is still a bunch, right? Well, most Commander decks should run around 37 lands, with some being able to get away with 36 but a good number wanting 38 or more when playing at a more casual level—a level that doesn’t aim to win before turn 6-8.

We’re down to 62 cards. Whilst that’s still a good number of slots, they’ll soon be taken up by the core of your deck. The shell tends to include around 10 ramp cards, 10+ sources of card draw (with as much incidental draw as possible), 10+ single target removal spells, and 5+ board wipes. A quick calculation shows that these would take 35 of those 62 slots, leaving a paltry 27 cards remaining.

If you’re playing Voltron, this may not concern you, but any other deck might be sweating a little at the thought of fitting everything else in. As an aside, I’d still be a bit concerned about fitting the rest of a Voltron deck into 27 cards. Between a Sunforger package, equipment tutors, recursion, protection, and value creatures, it’s not many slots at all.

Back to the issue of cramming the rest of your deck into the remaining space, though. Tribal decks, for instance, want an average of 30 creatures of the chosen tribe at the least. Equipment decks want a good 10-12 equipment, and cards to enable that. Control decks want to add counterspells to the roster, combo pieces, and recursive packages.

The answer for all of these decks is to combine more than one effect into each card. Sounds simple, but how do you optimise the process?

Modal Spells

Modal spells are perhaps the most obvious answer to the problem, and it’s no surprise that they’re amongst the most popular cards in Commander. These range in use from the more catch-all answers like Merciless Eviction to more niche effects like Crosis’s Charm or Bant Charm.

Combining effects onto one card means you can not only free up more potential flex slots for cards you’re desperate to try, but also increase the consistency of your deck overall. Playing a card like Cleansing Nova over Day of Judgment, for example, means you also get a way to interact with a board full of artifacts and enchantments should the need arise. It doesn’t replace single targeted removal for these permanent types; but for all intents and purposes, it’s a second copy of Austere Command.

Another example is running a card like Rakdos Charm. Rakdos Charm is an incredible spell. Not only does it fill the slot of Tormod’s Crypt or Shatter, it can completely blow out a deck relying on an army of tokens that’s planning on going wide or comboing out. Graveyard hate is particularly hard to fit into spell slots; cards like Tormod’s Crypt only really making the cut in decks that can reuse it, generally speaking. I’d much rather put it into the mana base with Scavenger Grounds, but more effects are always good.

Why not Both?

Modal spells are great and all, but why stop there? Instead of choosing just one effect, why not combine them into one card? Austere Command is my favorite board wipe by a long way—getting that much flexibility over what leaves the table usually means you can dampen any threats with minimal impact to your own board.

Volcanic Offering is extremely efficient for five mana, netting two nonbasic lands and two creatures provided you have a willing accomplice to join you in politics. Similarly, Burn Away can remove a problem creature and a graveyard, and Mystic Confluence allows you to pick and choose depending on what suits you at the time. Bouncing a bunch of attacking creatures, or just one and drawing a couple of cards—not to mention the ability to counter a spell.

One of the better ways to live the “Why not Both” mentality is to play cards with Entwine. Road of Return combines Nature’s Spiral with Command Beacon, and the fantastic Kaya’s Guile can do a lot of small things that really add up. One of the most powerful cards in Commander, Tooth and Nail, uses Entwine to set up most decks for a win.

Taking it Further

Glorybringer by Sam Burley

So, you’ve identified a bunch of great modal cards and cards that can give you more than one way to approach a situation. There must be a way to ring out a little more value though, right?

Well, there is. Whilst these types of cards are all excellent, it’s when they work in conjunction with your Commander that they can really shine. I had the opportunity to play my Sylvia Brightspear & Khorvath Brightflame deck at an LGS while on holiday this weekend. While it was great fun to take it for a spin (and a win!), it reinforced what I’d been thinking about this week.

The synergy between your Commander and the cards in your deck is a fundamental part of deckbuilding for the format, sure; but when you blend in modality and multi-purpose cards, you encounter some of the most rewarding lines of play possible for your deck.

To contextualise this, I’ll use some cards from the aforementioned deck. Glorybringer, Tyrant’s Familiar, and Drakuseth, Maw of Flames are great cards in their own right, and obviously do a lot of work in this deck. At face value, repeatable removal on a body is a great example of getting the most out of your cards—you have a creature that can deal combat damage, which helps you win more quickly, combined with a way to remove opposing creatures.

A lot of the time with these dragons, you’ll target a blocker; but if they can attack unimpeded—or there’s a juicy enough target—you’ll take out a utility creature to prevent an opponent working toward a win condition.

Now, in this deck, Sylvia gives them double strike, which turns them into huge sources of damage and makes them even harder to block. This much is obvious, but the synergy doesn’t end there. Sylvia and Khorvath’s main strength is that they can end players with Commander damage in short order. By playing cards like Glorybringer and Drakuseth, you’re more consistently able to connect with Commander damage by removing blockers when needed. What’s more, being able to drop two of the three cards mentioned with Haste means that your opponents have less time to shore up their defences once they realise what’s coming.

To some, this granular approach to the multiple layers of what makes a particular card good or bad might seem redundant; if you’re a more experienced player, it’ll be treading familiar ground. To anyone a little newer, though, it’s a good habit to get into, as it’ll make your decks that much stronger. Investigate and analyse in detail—how many situations is this card good in?

A Note on Quadrant Theory

It’d be a shame to touch on the impact of flexible cards without acknowledging the tangential relation to the idea of Quadrant theory. Quadrant theory dictates that your card should be impactful on as many board states as possible, usually whether behind, ahead, developing, or at parity. It’s most often referenced in Limited, but is equally relevant here.

A card that fits this purpose in Sylvia & Khorvath is Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. By default, he’ll usually be pumping out 2/2 Knights. These are good as things are developing, and also great when Khorvath is in play, given they gain flying and haste. Dropping Gideon and swinging in as a 5/5 indestructible is also sometimes an option, particularly when an opposing Planeswalker is played down and you need to answer it.

Further, there are plenty of occasions where mid-late game dropping Gideon and ultimating him for the emblem straight away is a very strong play. A permanent buff to creatures that have first strike or double strike is very potent, and sometimes the +1/+1 to your Commanders can ratchet the clock up a notch for Commander damage too. Gideon is good at most stages of a game, gives us plenty of modality, and synergizes with our Commander(s) perfectly. Just as he was back when he lit up Standard, he’s the decidedly male poster boy for this article.

Fitting all of the cards you want to play into a Commander deck is close to impossible. The best option you have is to try and fit as many different effects and modes onto each card as you can, and match them as closely as possible to the strategy your deck is aiming for. While Fury Charm might not be top of the list for most decks, it’s a solid include in Jhoira of the Ghitu, not only because it functions synergistically with the Commander, but because it also destroys artifacts. This is the line of thinking that will bear the most fruit, and is the key to squeezing more space from your deck.

Kristen is a lover of both Limited and Commander, and can most often be found championing the Boros Legion when called upon to sit down and shuffle up. Based in the UK, she works as a software developer, and her love for the Legion is second only to her appreciation for Lord of the Rings and Mass Effect.

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