How to Build a Commander Deck

Hello Everybody, today I’m going to assume that you know the basics of the format and are looking to improve your EDH/Commander deck or maybe even just get started building or planning your first one. If you don’t know the rules or wanna learn more about the format itself go here and here.

Now before you do anything, realize that if your playing EDH as a casual format with friends instead of a competitive format that you will want to stay away from cards and strategies that make the game “unfun” for the other players. Remember, unless it’s competitive, keep it fun for everybody, not just yourself. If the deck is specifically for competitive play, then run what wins.

My personal guidelines that I try my best to adhere to with each deck I build are:
Be able to win.
Be mostly true to a flavor and a theme
Be very interactive
Be fun to pilot or to play against (without a lot of excessive effects to keep track of)
Have multiple paths to victory
Have lots of cool interactions and synergy
Play out differently every game to keep it fun over a long time
Integrate the Commanders abilities into the strategy at least a little, but…
Be able to win without ever playing the commander.

And keep in mind that EDH decks ARE NOT MATHEMATICAL EQUATIONS. There is almost never a “single best answer/card” or “best” way to approach something. EDH decks are more like living, breathing works of art that adapt and evolve over time. Chasing perfection is fine as long as you understand that not only can it never be achieved, but that it doesn’t even exist in the first place. Never think for a second that you’ve assembled the “best possible decklist”. Listen to others and learn what you can from their experiences, and always strive to improve what you’ve got.

THE NINE ELEMENT OF DECKBUILDING :

  1. Think Big – This is not Standard, or Modern, or Legacy : Get out of the mindset that if “x” card is good in every other format, that it will be good in EDH. You’re not playing against one player with 20 life and a few mana sources, you’re playing against one or many players with 40 life and huge amounts of mana at their disposal.
  2. Versatility and Added Value is paramount : Cards that give you options are a staple in EDH. Cards that have “cycling” or “transmute” all give you much welcome options, as well as cards with “Kicker”, and “Entwine” offer some added value when you’ve got the extra mana to spend.
  3. Synergy : I’m sure you’re probably familiar with this concept already, but just in case you’re not, it needs to be mentioned as it’s probably the single most important factor in building any deck in Magic. In general, SYNERGY may be defined as two or more agents working together to produce a result not obtainable by any of the agents independently. To simplify that a little, it’s two or more cards that, because of their abilities/attributes, make each other much better than they could be by themselves, or the “whole” is greater than the sum of the parts. Whenever possible, the cards in your deck need to “synergize”, or work together with all the other cards in your deck. When building your deck, and choosing the cards to go into it, ALWAYS ask yourself “does this card have good synergy with the rest of my deck”.
  4. Multiple cards serving the same function : The chance of drawing a single card by turn 6 in an EDH deck is only 13%. That’s not good. So if you need a type of card, say a sacrifice outlet, by turn 6 at the latest, you need to find several cards that will serve that function. Upping the count of cards serving a particular function to 4, increases your odds to 44% that you’ll see one by turn 6. Further increasing the count to 8 cards gives you a 69% chance. Now we’re in business.
  5. Tutors : Being able to search your library for a particular card you need is a huge bonus. This is especially true for combo decks. Also cards with “transmute” or “transfigure” serve very well as tutors. Tutors that put the cards they search for straight onto the battlefield are generally(but not always) preferred over tutors that put the card in your hand or on top of your library, and instant tutoring is always preferred over sorceries.
  6. Re-useability : Why settle for using a card once, when you can use it multiple times. There are a lot of possbilities for graveyard recursion and buyback or flashback in EDH.
  7. Card Draw/Card Advantage : Card advantage is huge in EDH, so make sure to have some card draw in your deck.
  8. Removal : You’re going to need a lot of removal in EDH, and you’re going to need to be able to kill anything on the board. Creatures, Artifacts, Enchantments, Lands…. they all need killin’. You’ll need to be able to kill creatures with shroud, creatures with indestructiblility, and anything else you can think of. And remember FLEXIBILITY. A card that can remove several, or even “any” type of permanent is extremely valuable in EDH. Very often you’ll need to kill things that are already dead and in the graveyard. So be sure to pack some graveyard hate. Unless your deck relies on having creatures in the graveyard, it’s also almost always better to exile creatures rather than destroy them. This is because some creatures are “indestructible” but may still be exiled and many decks run lots of recursion spells that bring creatures back from the grave but not from exile.
  9. Evasion : A 6/6 vanilla beater doesn’t have much chances to get through for much damage in EDH. Beaters in EDH NEED some type of evasion. Trample or flying at a minimum, both is more like it though. Shroud, unblockable, protection, indestructibility, and the various landwalks all see a lot of play in EDH.

CHOOSING YOUR PLAY STYLE :

How do you want to play? How would you like to win? Do you want to play an agressive beatdown game that puts pressure on from the start, or do you want to control the early game and then lay down big threats. Maybe you would like to win with a large army of tokens, or with graveyard tricks. Maybe by a defensive game with lots of lifegain. Keep in mind that archetypes are flexible. Most decks don’t actually fit completely into one category but use elements of two or more, and a lot of them overlap into others. The 3 Major Archetypes – Aggro, Control, and Combo are the 3 basic archetypes that pretty much every deck fits into to some degree although they do overlap a lot in EDH.

CHOOSING YOUR COLORS :

You may decide on choosing your Commander and/or Playstyle and allowing that to dictate your colors, but then you may want to choose at least one or two colors first as some are much stronger for certain playstyles. For a breakdown of all colors combinations and generals go here.

CHOOSING A COMMANDER (If you haven’t already) :

Obviously, the most important decision about your new deck is who the commander will be. It needs to fit or enhance your chosen playstyle for the deck. You can design your deck to focus specifically on enhancing your commander or  you can just make your commander part of a larger strategy. A lot of people choose a commander solely based on the colors it gives them access to, and that’s ok, but you’ve got easy/reliable access to the commander card in the command zone, you might as well use it to your advantage. Your first commander should probably be two or three colors. My opinion is that two color is the best for newer edh players as they are versatile and easy to make a stable, inexpensive manabase for. Mono colored decks are viable in EDH, but there is plenty of mana fixing available for multi colored decks and the added flexibility is very welcome. I personally love the simplicity, reliability, and flexibility of two color decks and almost never go higher than that, but that’s just personal preference and certainly not for everyone. For the converted mana cost of your commander, keep this in mind; Even though your commander is replayable after being killed, it costs more and more every time, so if you choose one that starts out at 7 or 8 mana, there’s a good chance you may only get to play them once or twice (if that). It seems that most players like to keep their commanders at 5cmc or below but consider up to 7cmc to be acceptable as long as that commander does something big.

A NOTE ABOUT GOING TRIBAL AND SUB-THEMES :

Tribal decks are very popular in magic and a lot of people want to continue that into EDH. That’s completely fine if that’s what you want to do, and it can also be very competitive if you know when to step out of the tribal zone and keep it to kind of a sub-theme or a semi-tribal deck. After all, EDH is mostly about having fun, so if you like it, go with it.

MULTIPLAYER OR 1 VS 1 :

Whether you’ll be playing mostly duels or multiplayer will have an influence on your card choices. For instance, in multiplayer most people want more sweeping removal but in duels, you’ll want more spot removal.  It’s best to have the flexibility of both mass and spot removal in your deck no matter what your focus is, but you can lean heavier one way or the other based on whether your primary opposition will be multiplayer or single. And against popular opinion, I tend to go a little heavier toward spot removal in most of my multiplayer builds. I find that much of the time, I only need to kill one troublesome creature and don’t want to destroy my own board position with a sweeper. Some strategies, like hand disruption/discard, while perfectly viable in a duel or any other format in Magic, are near suicidal in Multiplayer EDH. Remember, you’re not playing against one player with 20 life. You’re playing against multiple opponents at 40 life, and each of them probably has adequate card drawing built into their decks. You will not be able to adequately control all of them with discard. Aggro decks are also more suited to duels than multiplayer. You can do ok with them in a big game, but the amount of sweeper spells that hit the board in multiplayer and the fact you have multiple opponents to take down, make aggro in multiplayer an uphill battle.

MAKE THE PERFECT MANABASE POSSIBLE :

Fixing your mana is relatively easy in EDH due to the wide variety of lands and mana producing artifacts available as well as mana ramp creatures and spells.
Most decks run 38 to 40 lands and a few artifact mana sources/ramp spells.
If you want a direct comparison of how many lands in a 60 card deck = How many in a 99 card EDH deck:
23 = 38
24 = 40
25 = 42
26 = 44

I highly recommend going here, insert the colors of your commander and find all possible fixing and utility lands for your deck.

UTILITY LANDS :

Utility lands are lands that do things other than or on top of providing mana fixing. They commonly provide sacrifice outlets, creature recursion, protection, land destruction and lots of other purposes. You want to include some of them in your deck.

Alright, this is far from complete or exhaustive, but is a quite good guide for anyone to start building a Commander deck.

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