When it comes to playing commander, the odds are against specific player winning. If there are four players at the EDH table with all things being equal, then each player has a 25% chance of winning. While this concept sounds good, in reality, it is far from the truth. This boils down to “all things being equal.” Commander is not in a bubble and all things are not equal. For this reason, if a player would like to win more one must skew the odds in their favor.
Commander breaks down into three specific areas that you need to master to improve your chance of winning. They are politics, gameplay, and deckbuilding. Tightening up your deck building skills can cause a surge in your win percentage more than improving gameplay or politics. This makes sense. Someone can play a deck that’s not optimized flawlessly and still lose.
One of the most important concepts to help build better decks is to plan out the deck before someone ever puts a card into a sleeve for the deck. By planning out what a deck wants it needs to accomplish, players can select cards to accomplish their goals. Then, through the card selection process the builder can begin to tell if the idea selected is viable to build. Initial playtesting of the deck in your playgroup will reveal cards that were thought good but are not that viable. Then they can go back and replace those cards with more efficient cards. To help out with this process one needs a Deck Report.
Many different media can be used to keep deck reports. I use a simple word processor, Google Docs. This way my decks are kept online and I can access them from any computer or my cell phone. The process saves automatically and I will always have a record of my deck to refer to. This allows me to update my decks and keep a record of what I change. This way if I sub out a card that did not work, then the deck can revert back to its original form. It also allows me to just print out the report with the current decklist. Then, I can go either to my collection or local game store to get the cards needed to build it.
Also, when I bring the report with you when you playtest it. I also have a place to take notes on what works and what doesn’t. This allows you to add that data later after the evening’s games are over. It is very tempting to keep a deck report on a phone or mobile device. For some, this works. Still, I would advise people to stay away from storing the data on your phone despite being a mini-computer that is with them at all times. Today’s society often has people distracted as they browse the web, text their friends or perform many different activities with their cell phones. When playing EDH is that you are with your friends in person. It is a perfect time to disconnect from electronics for a little bit. Keeping your notes on the phone can detract from this aspect of EDH.
A deck report should have a minimum of four sections. These sections are the goal of the deck, the package breakdown, the card list, and the mana curve. More information can be added. Examples are game notes and version changes of cards. The primary purpose of the report is to focus your deck idea into a solid decklist that you can build. Then take your gameplay experience after several games and begin to optimize your deck idea into something stronger.
The goal of a deck is just a one or two-sentence section that describes what one wants to accomplish with their deck and how to win with it. Examples are…
I want to play exalted cards with Rafiq of the many. Then attack with Rafiq by himself so that he deals double strike and kills with commander damage quickly.
I want to play vampire tribal with Edgar Markov. I will gain value through the effects of vampire cards and swing-out with my vampire horde to win the game.
The Package Breakdown
The Package Breakdown lists the different packages in the deck for example ramp, card draw, and removal. It also includes deck specific packages such as exalted cards in the Rafiq deck or vampires in the Edgar deck.
After all the packages are listed you then assign a number of cards to each specific package. This assures that you are able to accomplish the goal you are setting out to accomplish. The total number of cards should equal ninety-nine.
Sometimes you’ll need to cut things short in order to get the card packages total to 99. It is in this situation one will want to try and double up on the area cut short. For example, if the deck is short on card draw, then the card Drumhunter fits in the ramp category. While placed in mana ramp it also has an ability that functions as card draw. Essentially you are filling two slots with one card. If someone can find enough of these cards the deck is viable. If they can not, then the deck idea is too ambitious. The deck needs to cut back on what it trying to do
The Card List.
The card list is the list of all the cards in each package. Early in the process, there will be more cards than each package requires. With the list, the builder will slowly cut the weaker cards in each section until the number of cards associated with each category is met. Some cards will have multiple functions. If you really like the card with multiple functions you can always move it to a different category. One advantage of this is it allows for a larger than allotted category for that type of card.
Also when creating the card list keep in mind what the deck is trying to do. For example, if the deck is Voltron, then Sword of the Animist is a good choice of card for the ramp category. It will power up the Voltron commander while allowing the deck to ramp. If the deck is Mizzix of the Izmagnus as a commander, then using instants and sorceries for card draw and ramp spells is preferred. These cards help Mizzix gain experience counters. By using these guidelines, a decklist will be built and it will be focused on what the deck goal wants to accomplish. It also forces the builder to stay disciplined. Cutting cards from the wrong category often sabotages the deck building process.
Mana curve should not be neglected in a report. Once there is a decklist, take an inventory of what each card costs in mana. If you are using X mana spells you need to place that card at the likely spot on the curve it’s going be cast. Commander is a slower format, but it still needs to be known how long it will take to cast most of the spells in the deck
The mana curve should be a slightly shifted bell curve. The majority of the spells costing four to six mana as a rough estimate. There are exceptions to this rule but it is a good starting point for a deck. If the mana curve it too high, then the package breakdown needs to be revised to lower the curve. I like to take the mana curve and visually plot it in graph form. This helps me to visually locate where the cards are at in the curve. It also gives a quick assessment of how the deck will cast spells and when. This link is to a visual curve for my Dimir Zombie Deck on google docs. It’s simple but it works.
This visual allows me to know I should have a play on turn three. I should be able to play cards turns three through five. With the large amount of three drops, there is a chance of an explosive turn beginning turn six. Then I can play two quantity three drops together.
This deck looks to have some tempo. This visual also helps me when it comes to adjusting to my local meta as well. If my meta is faster and a little more competitive, then it can show me that I can cut some five drops or higher and add in some lower-cost spells. If my meta has a lot of larger spells going off, then I can either keep the mana curve or I can choose to shift a couple of cards to a higher point on the mana curve. No matter what is done, having this sort of graph is a very valuable tool at one’s disposal.
It is also wise to keep notes on what is changed as the deck evolves. I used to just update the file and save it. However, I found that if a deck wasn’t working after a couple of changes, then I could not always remember what I switched out. It made it difficult to readjust the deck to an earlier version and adjust again. I found without a changelog, I was far less disciplined when it came to adjusting decks. I was more likely to overhaul a deck. Sometimes an overhaul is necessary but not always. So adding a changelog at the bottom of your report while not necessary is a wise addition. A changelog can look similar to this.
Removed: Hour of Promise added Cultivate for lower curve and I wasn’t searching for nonbasic lands.
Removed Stroke of Genius added Divination I found on Thrasios scry I was always moving stroke to the bottom of the library because it was too expensive to keep.
Removed Wrath of God added Cleansing Nova as protection from Void Winnower in the current meta
Removed Thicket Elemental added Genesis Storm as a playtest to see if I can get more value out of it.
In the end, the deck report can contain more information. Feel free to adjust it to your needs and don’t be afraid to review the report from time to time. Once a deck is built do not forget about the report. Think of it as a story of your deck. Review it and update it as needed. By doing this, it will help you optimize your deck over time. The deck report will help players build tighter decks. It also tracks your decks as you optimize them overall and for your current meta. It is a little extra work but it is well worth the time spent to do it. The improvements that occur in deck building skills often are the most noticeable. They can improve your chances to win more than tightening up the other areas of playing EDH. May all your deck brews be optimized.
Do you use a deck report? If so what does it contain? Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know. If you have any questions about setting one up let me know and I will help as much as I can.