Theme Decks

One of the fun things about Commander is the ability to build decks around a theme. In most constructed formats, if you want to build a theme deck, you’re limited to a few specific archetypes—Elves or Merfolk in Modern, ETB effects with Panharmonicon in Standard, Infect if that’s more up your alley. Smuggler’s Copter is necessary no matter what you’re running right now, but a Vehicle-themed deck can’t win an FNM, much less a Competitive REL event. My Modern deck is Slivers, since they’re the tribaliest of tribes, and while I net-decked off someone’s list that got Top 8 in an event, it’s not likely for me to win anything with the deck.

Commander, on the other hand, abounds with potential themes around which to build a deck. Name one, and I’ll either send you my decklist I’ve already created, or I could create a list just for you.

There are so many themes that are viable in Commander. Tribal? Just name a creature type. Admittedly I’ve yet to make my Atogatog five-color Atog deck actually work, although in testing I did once make Atogatog large enough to swing out for commander damage—against a single player, and my board was empty afterward, but still. Slivers works amazingly well in Commander. I personally use Sliver Legion because I like to stick to the spirit of Commander where every game is different, and I also like to smash face and dislike infinite combos. Hivelord of course is also a good option for that, but he tends to be a little less interactive, since he makes all your things indestructible, which tends to be more frustrating to the other players. I have six different dragon tribal decks (Scion of the Ur-Dragon along with all five Fate Reforged dragonlords), a different tribe for each two-color combination (Merfolk, Soldiers, Zombies, Spiders, Werewolves, Wizards, Clerics, Vampires, Humans, Snakes), along with mono-color, tri-color, five-color, and duplicate two-color tribes. I even have a Saproling tribal deck, for crying out loud. Saprolings. And I’m not the only one.

Bro—or hugs—is a theme that can only exist in Commander. Just try to imagine sitting down at a two-player game with a deck designed to help out your opponent. It doesn’t make any sense. Yet I have three bro decks, and I’m working on a fourth. Do they win? Well, sometimes. Zedruu seems to be the most apt to win, though Xira Arien can as well under the right circumstances. Phelddagrif has never won. The point of the decks isn’t to win; the point is to make everyone have fun. That sort of goal is only possible in a multiplayer game where the end goal isn’t necessarily about winning.

Any mechanic is fair game in Commander. My Tajic soldier tribal deck is also built around the Batallion mechanic. I do in fact have an Infect deck—not nearly as scary as Modern infect, since I’m limited to one copy of each card and have multiple opponents to kill, all of whom are trying to eliminate me as soon as possible. After the Fate Reforged pre-release, I built a Dash deck; it’s kind of terrible as far as winning is concerned, but it’s incredibly fun to play. My Rafiq deck built around the Exalted mechanic is extremely powerful; it can kill people as early as Turn 6 with the right combination of cards. My Shu-Yun deck built around the Prowess mechanic isn’t quite so powerful; each creature I include means one less non-creature to buff the others, making the deck fight against itself. It’s still fun, though. And with Shu-Yun, rather than Narset, at the helm, I don’t get hated off the table before people realize just how jank my deck really is. Then there’s the Morph deck I completed recently. I haven’t yet played any games with it, but I imagine it will run somewhat similar to CJ Shrader’s morph deck, albeit in slightly different colors: I cast all the cards in my hand using the Morph ability, someone boardwipes, and then I am sad. My Aurelia deck is all about extra combat steps, and Karador revolves around the dredge mechanic—if I recall correctly, every single card with dredge ever printed is in the deck.

And of course, that’s just the themes that have inspired me, personally, to make decks. Every Guild mechanic from Ravnica is a potential deck idea; it might not win a lot of games, but in multiplayer anything can happen, and it can be fun to play regardless. There are currently 121 keyword abilities in Magic, any of which can be used as inspiration for a deck; and that’s not even counting the 35 keyword actions, or the multitude of ability words. Between tribes, abilities, and other themes, you could make a themed deck for every day of the year without repeating a single theme. As it is, I could play a different themed deck every week and not start repeating until halfway through 2018. And my judge friends have even more. One of them has a chair themed deck. Another has a deck with a Teferi theme; it contains all cards that reference Teferi and are legal to play in the deck, and is designed to keep other players from being able to play spells. Teferi’s Isle and Teferi’s Moat are key players in the deck.

Point is, you can build anything you like. It’s not necessarily going to be the best deck, but if you enjoy playing it, that’s really all that matters. Depending on how competitive a playgroup you’re in, any deck has a chance to win a Commander pod. That’s part of what makes it so fun. With more players to gang up on the obvious threats, it’s a more level playing field for those who just want to have a good time. So go forth and build—and don’t forget to tell me about all the fun and inventive things you’re doing with your decks.