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[Article] So You Want to Build a Commander Deck? Part 2

If you haven’t read the first part of this guide, you can check it out HERE.

Today, we’ll work on building a foundation for your Commander deck building skills. There are some things you should learn when choosing your cards for your deck. Evaluating cards for formats like Modern and Standard will be evaluated differently for Commander so adjusting your mindset for that is needed.

Part 2: Things to Keep in Mind

1. Versatility and adjusting to Singleton

Using only one of each card (other than basic lands) can be tough to adjust to. Since almost every set is legal in Commander, that is a lot of cards to sift through. Each one should be carefully chosen but luckily there are a lot of cards that do similar things so that’s what you’ll be aiming for. You want versatile cards yet at the same time you want to keep things consistent by having very similar cards.

In other formats, you want multiples of a card to increase your chances of drawing it right? In Commander it’s the same concept. However, the cards should be more versatile due to the variety of cards available to you. For example, if you’re playing a White-Black-Green deck and you’re looking for removal you’ll want to consider cards like Putrefy and Mortify as opposed to something like a Doom Blade. The deck diversity in Commander is much larger than in other formats so your deck should be very versatile and should have answers to almost everything.

You want be able to deal with indestructible creatures, things with shroud, hexproof, enchantments, artifacts, graveyards, opposing commanders, etc.

You get the idea.

Of course there are exceptions to this and you can’t always have an answer to everything, but there are tons of multi-purpose cards out there for you to choose from. Commander is all about value and the more things you can do with a card, the better.

Throughout your journey you’ll also find cards that are almost exact or similar but one will be obviously better. When you come across these cards make sure to keep track of them so you can recur them for other decks in the future. For example, Momentary Blink is an obvious upgrade over Turn to Mist. Including multiples of very similar cards is also acceptable. For example, in a control deck you might have both Day of Judgment and Wrath of God for an extra wrath. They’re not exactly versatile cards or exactly the same but they serve the same purpose.

To get further value out of cards, all your creatures will have some sort of ability attached to it. If you using cards like Traveling Philosopher you’re doing something wrong. Since every slot is so important, you’ll want creatures that do additional effects to go along with all your other spells. For example in my Sac Attack deck, I need quite a bit of ramp. So I not only include cards like Cultivate and Nature’s Lore but I also have Birds of Paradise and Wood Elves to ramp.

2. Plan B isn’t enough

Other constructed decks are streamlined and have a very clear and defined goal. Usually there will be a couple of win-conditions but because you want your deck to be very consistent, it’s rare you will fill your deck up with a ton of different ways to win.

In Commander, you still want to make your deck relatively consistent with multiples of like-minded cards however due to the deck size and diversity of cards you will usually have multiple ways of winning. For example, you might include one or two combos within your deck even though you’re playing a token deck or if you’re playing a commander Voltron deck you might include multiple targets to suit up in case your commander gets “Tucked” (Shuffled into your library) or gets killed too often.

This is because the games go on much longer in Commander so the chances of you having time to piece together certain win conditions (not only combos) becomes greater and the chances of you losing win conditions also becomes greater. Since you will likely include many different ways to deal with opponent’s win conditions, they will be doing the same. This makes having more than just one extra plan to fall back to ideal.

Also, many people will put a couple combos in their deck simply because they may end up drawing the possible pieces to go off without hurting the integrity of the overall strategy.

3. Go Big or Go Home!

Commander’s all about having fun. There are competitive Commander groups or 1v1 partners however having fun should be everyone’s main priority!

One of the best ways to do that is landing a huge spell or doing a huge play that gets everyone going. Spells that impact the whole board or multiple players are very attractive in a Commander game. The best thing is many of them are perfectly viable to use!

Spells like Rise of the Dark Realms, Phyrexian Rebirth, and Oblivion Stone are all great to use. Again, because games can go on for quite a long time, higher mana costing spells are much easier to resolve before you die.

That being said, mass permanent removal or powerful spells that are played just to annoy players aren’t things you want to run in your deck. Hopefully by playing game-ending spells that’s what will happen. You will win the game. However, it’s all about context and your play group so just as long as everyone’s ok with things, you can run anything!

“Big” spells also do not mean spells played purely for fun. There are many out there that can tie into point #1. For example, Austere Command will find a place in almost all of my white based decks due to its versatility while still being a “big”, powerful spell.

4. Don’t Ignore the Small Stuff

To add to point #3, don’t fill your deck with a bunch of large spells that you can’t cast till turn 5+. Especially in multiplayer games, remember there’s possibly more than 1-2 people having turns till your next one so you can’t ignore the early, mid game. Mostly regarding removal, cards like Swords to Plowshares are low costed removal that’s perfect for the early game but nice even later on because it exiles so it works well against creatures that a player wants to re-use.

By having a good early game, it’ll increase your chances of surviving to the later game.

5. The necessities

Here’s a summary of what should be in every Commander deck (as usual, exceptions can occur). With my earlier points hopefully you can better determine which of these cards you should play.

Removal: You need ways of getting problematic things off board. A mix of single target removal and wraths are good however it depends on the deck which you need more of. It also depends if you’re playing 1v1 multiplayer. Make sure to have some removal for non-creature things as well as well as removal for Voltron Commander decks! Cards like Condemn can “Tuck” opponent’s commanders into their deck which gets around them returning to the Command Zone.

Recursion/Re-use: Your permanents will die at some point in the game. Either that or you’ll be sacrificing your own permanents to gain an effect with cards such as Aura of Silence or Qasali Pridemage. Since you only have one of each card, including some ways of re-using those spells is helpful whether it’s returning them from the graveyard with Eternal Witness or blinking them with Flicker.

Tutors: This one isn’t always necessary but because you have a large library with every card being unique, you’ll want to be able to search through your deck for specific cards for different situations. When you have a deck filled with many different answers to a variety of things this is a “sub-theme” that can be referred to as (a) Toolboxing/Toolbox. Worldly Tutor and Enlightened Tutor are examples of these cards.

Evasion: When players have a lot more time to do things; their board state can become pretty cluttered with creatures. Unless you have evasion, it’s going to be quite tough to get through people’s armies so abilities such as unblockable, flying, trample, etc. are good to have if combat damage/Commander damage is your main win condition. It doesn’t always have to be attached to a creature as well. I like including cards like Rogue’s Passage sometimes because it’s harder to remove and works well if you have one very large creature you want to get through.

6. Don’t Threaten the World

This only applies to multiplayer games but I think it’s still something important to touch on. When building your deck, you want to make it strong, but you don’t want to fill it to the rim with extremely threatening cards. Some of the cards I mentioned earlier such as Rise of the Dark Realms will paint a target on the back of your head to the rest of the group. I’m not saying don’t play cards like that, but try to think of how the card you picked will affect the board state and player’s orientation to you.

This is also especially important in the early game. If you’re not building a very aggressive deck, you might not want a ton of early threats. If you place a whole bunch of threats on the board in the first two-three turns that will also make you a possible target.


Well that does it for this guide! I’m confident it’s enough to get you guys started on your way. There’s of course much more I could talk about but that would result in a very VERY long article and I think this is a good place to stop. Maybe in the future I’ll do more of an advanced guide, but feel free to message me in the meantime on the Facebook group page or e-mail me at if you have more specific questions and I’ll try to help you the best I can!

– Michael Y.

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