Mechanical Engineering – Always Cut From The Top

Commander Mechanic • February 3, 2022

By Chris “Commander Mechanic” Balon

Hey folks, I’m Chris and I’m YOUR Commander Mechanic. You may recognize me from my YouTube Channel or from guesting on major streams around the community—I’m a deckbuilder and brewer with a very analytical view of the format of Commander.

Some have said I take a competitive mindset and apply it to casual Commander, but I prefer to think of it as taking an efficient look at deckbuilding. More of the game is played before you ever sit down at a table with other players.

There’s a lot to be said about other players’ impact on play experience. Expectation mismatches, lack of communication, and differing opinions on what constitutes ‘fun’ can all play a part in how much you enjoy Commander. Throughout this series I want to take a look at how you can improve play experience—your own and that of others—before you ever play a game. Avoid not being able to play the game due to deck building issues, avoid imposing poor scenarios on others, and ensure you have concentrated efforts in mind when deckbuilding.

But, as always, Commander is about having fun YOUR WAY—don’t let anyone tell you there’s a right or wrong way to play this game.

It Cuts Deep

One of the hardest actions when deckbuilding is finding cards to cut. Everyone has their favorites or starts with a massive list of 200+ cards and needs to slim it down to an economical 100 cards, but it’s often painstaking, cutting a card you think is going to be awesome or you really like. Not finding a home for a Thieving Skydiver or having Liquimetal Torque always be your 101st card is a rough feeling.

I get people submitting me 105-card lists ALL THE TIME, asking me to trim their decks for them. Cut out the fat. And that’s the crux of today’s learnings—making cuts.

I often say ‘kill your darlings’, a well-worn adage that means to remove yourself from the subjectivity of things you like and see them objectively. Naturally that’s difficult, and not everyone can do it, so there’s some alternatives that can help you save your favorites and still help you slim down that deck.

Error and Trial by Combat

My friend Jim LePage, of the CAG and The Spike Feeders, has a sage bit of wisdom: just play the extra cards. If you’re at 103 or 105 cards and you don’t know what to cut, just play a 103-card deck. No one’s going to deck check you, it’s not cheating, but you’ll very quickly determine, after putting a deck through its paces, what works and what doesn’t.

Looking at a deck on paper and putting a deck through its paces in a combat scenario are MASSIVELY different experiences. Another great proverb is ‘no plan survives contact with the enemy’, and in this case we mean enemies! Your deck can look great on paper, but its strengths and weaknesses aren’t what you goldfish. Interaction, disruption, combat, these all throw a spanner in the works of any deck’s best laid plans.

So just run the deck against opponents a few times. See what works and what doesn’t, then choose cuts that way.

The Unkind Cut

Next, and this may hurt a lot of people, but consider cutting your pet cards. Those ‘fun-of’ cards that are in decks not because they work in the deck but because you like them. Don’t get me wrong—I’m ALL FOR playing with the cards you like, but if you’re AGONIZING over getting your deck down to 100 cards, look at what your cards are doing for your deck.

If you’re playing a Treasure deck but you’ve got a Daretti, Ingenious Iconoclast and a Myr Battlesphere in your list, ask yourself if they’re doing anything that one of your Treasure-generators doesn’t.

If you’re playing a spellslinger deck and you’re running Reality Shift alongside all of blue’s other great single-target removal, ask yourself if a 5th piece that does the same thing, all of which isn’t your primary gameplan, is really necessary.

Look at what you’re trying to do and look at each card in your deck. Answer honestly ‘does this card help me do the thing the deck is trying to do?’ and if the answer is no, put it in a list of potential cuts. Then go through that list and each card in it and ask yourself ‘does this card help me do the thing the deck is trying to do faster or better?’ and if the answer is no, cut it.

Now you’ve made a list of cards that don’t ‘do the thing’, and don’t help you ‘do the thing’. If a card is in your deck that doesn’t progress your gameplan… why is it in the deck at all?

Slashing Costs Like It’s Black Friday

The method that works for me personally is to Always Cut From The Top. I say this in a lot of my videos and while brewing live on www.Twitch.tv/CommanderMechanic but always ensure the top end of your curve is sleek and streamlined.

The Command Zone released a series of comprehensive ‘stats’ episodes distilled from multiple EDH gameplay channels (https://youtu.be/Iwdb_kPCwNU) where they discovered that, on average, each game sees only 1-2 spells cast that cost more than 7 mana. What that means is that you only have a 25% chance of being the one player in your pod that casts that card… so how many cards are you going to include in your list that you likely won’t get a chance to cast?

If there are only 2 7+ mana spells cast in a game and you have… 6 or 7 spells in your deck that cost that much, odds are they’re going to be dead cards in your hand!

I don’t mean spells that reduce cost either—Dig Through Time or Curtain’s Call don’t count here—but unless you’re cheating costs or reanimating big creatures, don’t invest in the top end of your curve!

Exceptional Decks Require Exceptions to the Rules

With all of this being said, there are always going to be decks that are difficult to cut. You may look at EVERY card and say ‘this does the thing’ or ‘I am not cutting my favorite card’. Perfectly fine, don’t let me or anyone else tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. That’s the beauty of Commander.

The next option is to solicit peer review. Show your list to a friend and get a fresh set of eyes on it. There’s a reason why writers, myself included, have editors: it’s near impossible to objectively self-edit. So show your friends your list and ask for their feedback. They aren’t nearly as invested in your deck as you are, so they’ll be able to give you the recommendations you need!

An example of this for me is the latest iteration of my Too Many Gyrudas deck, featuring Runo Stromkirk. The original version is so near and dear to my heart that it’s become my signature deck, so iterating on it and evolving it is something I took great passion in.

In addition, the new commander requires some specific deckbuilding restrictions, so I felt I was too close to the project after brewing for DAYS and couldn’t be objective about it any longer.

I gave the deck list to a friend who asked some very pointed questions about my inclusions and here’s what I ended up with (cutting down from 130 or so potentials):

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

 

The original list included everything I love and just about everything from my original list, but the original list was a Gyruda, Doom of Depths COMPANION deck, meaning “limited to only even mana value cards”. By switching to Runo Stromkirk I DOUBLED my card pool for selection or inclusions! Naturally I was overwhelmed with choice.

And that’s perfectly natural. Magic is a game with tens of thousands of cards to choose from—narrowing down to just 100 is agonizing. The best part is that you don’t have to do it alone.

My Runo deck ended up being incredibly fun, even if I did have to cut a few of my crazy favorites. I’m going to continue to iterate on it and swap in and out cards that didn’t make the original cut to continue to try them. That’s the beauty of Commander—you don’t need to get a list right the first time. You’ll always keep playing it again, and again, and again…

Do No Harm

Always remember that trimming a list to 100 cards doesn’t mean you can never change the deck again. Maybe a card you left in is under-performing? Maybe you’re realizing you need more creatures? Maybe cutting that land wasn’t a good idea (never compromise on your land counts!)?

Whatever it may be, continue to refine, tune, and self-edit. You’ll find a balance in your decks and your gameplay that feels right. When a deck pops off, it pops off. If you play it and it works, consider what cards you didn’t see in the game where the deck worked. Would it have performed BETTER if you HAD seen those cards? If the answer is ‘no’, there’s a candidate for a cut!

Let me know what you think about cutting down decks and how you go through the process. I’m always interested in others’ insights into how to reach that comfy 100. Let me know in the comments below and, as always folks, good luck and have fun!



"I'm Chris and I'm YOUR Commander Mechanic!" A die-hard Commander player, Chris is a brewer, deck builder, and player experience advocate. Check out YouTube for Tune-Ups, Twitter for hot takes, and catch him on streams all over the community!