Mechanical Engineering - (Card) Quality of Life

Commander Mechanic • July 15, 2021

Cosima, God of the Voyage by Andy Brase

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 deck builder 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 deck building. 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 deck building.

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.

Draw vs. Draw Fixing

Recently we discussed card draw — how much you need, how much you want, and when card draw becomes a strategy rather than a necessity. But we touched on an important topic in the article (which you can read here); how does draw FIXING play in?

Draw FIXING isn't equivalent to straight card draw, but rather the ability to determine what you’re going to draw. Cards that scry are some of the purest forms of this, helping us determine what’s coming up next and letting us CHOOSE what we’re drawing.

And this plays an essential part in your strategy—would I rather draw a random card, or would I rather know what’s coming up? Should I let the fates decide what’s on top of my deck, or should I control my own destiny?

And that’s where fixing comes in.

Scry me a River

Since scry was made an “evergreen” keyword (meaning it’s not tied to a specific block and can show up anytime) we’ve seen some instances of incremental scry like with Preordain or Charming Prince through to massive bursts of scry like on Cryptic Annelid or Study Hall. This has allowed every color to get some sort of incidental draw fixing into their lists—stapled to existing spells or added in specifically for repeated options.

We’ve recently received several legendary creatures with massive amounts of scry stapled to them as well, which has been very healthy—giving strategies with notoriously lower levels of card draw fantastic levels of card fixing instead. Alibou, Ancient Witness in particular has introduced the Boros/Lorehold color combo to a commander that is basically a tutor every turn!

Wait, what? Well there’s something we need to consider about scrying—and card quality: that they are closer to tutoring than not.

I’m a Cruel Tutor

Card quality isn’t card draw, since it doesn’t net you a resource to hand, and isn’t a tutor, since it doesn’t search your whole library. So what is it? Well—it’s half of both.

What do I mean by this? When we scry and determine what we’re drawing we aren’t netting a resource but ensuring a resource. That’s valuable to do things like avoid clumps of land, or drawing dead cards. Would you rather draw a card that’s no good to you, or would you rather scry into a card that you need?

And the more we’re able to scry—the larger the volume of cards we’re able to look at—the closer to a tutor we get. If Alibou scrys you 20 cards, that’s a third of a Vampiric Tutor without the life loss. You now get to control what you’re drawing, when, and how that affects your following turns. YOU now know what you’re doing for the next several turns, while your opponents are drawing blind. Who’s in the driver’s seat in this situation?

Even smaller doses of scrying, or just the power to look at more cards or rearrange cards, allows you to fix your turns and plan better. Knowing what you’re drawing 1 to 2 turns from now with a Mirri’s Guile can inform you whether you want to play a Windswept Heath or a basic Forest. Whether this turn is going to be set up or if you should start putting pressure on.

This is where Magic turns into Chess—it’s said that Chess Grandmasters are able to think several turns ahead of their opponents. That’s “easy” for Chess players because there’s no hidden information… but if you know what you’re drawing and can plan what resources you’ve got coming, you’re working off of less hidden information than your opponents. You’re ahead!

Knowing is Half the Battle

BUT knowing what’s coming up and being able to use it are vastly different things. Card quality is not a substitute for card draw—they work hand-in-hand to ensure you know what you have available AND can use it. Scrying then drawing a card is where you ideally want to be. Using a Scroll Rack then being able to shuffle away unwanted cards is ideal. Activating a Sensei’s Divining Top then being able to shuffle and see new cards is ideal. Using a Soothsaying and then drawing what you’ve scry’d to the top is ideal.

When you can marry card quality and card draw together you get STRONG consistency within a deck. One without the other is a failing proposition.

Here’s a deck list I put together for a $100 mono-colored budget challenge that proves this—the partner pairing of Siani, Eye of the Storm and Eligeth, Crossroads Augur. One partner scrys massive amounts of cards, and the other turns that into card draw—a match made in heaven!

An Easy Fix

Blue’s a bit of a softball when talking about both draw and fixing—the color excels in BOTH. But what do we do with White, which lacks both? What do we do in Red, which exiles rather than draws? What role does draw fixing play here?

White NEEDS to be supplemented—artifacts like Crystal Ball are good budget options, but anything that can get you a repeated look at your library is excellent. We’ve been spoiled lately with artifacts that are efficient, low-to-the-ground, and either draw cards, fix draws, or both.

It’s these that are important to include in a deck that is hampered by drawing only one card per turn. The fewer cards you have the potential to draw the more you need to be able to control what you are drawing. If your deck is light on card draw, ensure you have consistent draw fixing! Make that one card per turn you are drawing COUNT. As for impulsive draw—that is, exiling the top card of your library and getting a limited amount of time to cast it—these effects often come with caveats; when you’re able to cast the cards, if you can play lands, etc. If you exile a card you can’t cast with Outpost Siege then you’ve lost massive amounts of tempo and opportunity. That’s where draw fixing comes in.

Being able to look at the top card of your library is a form of draw fixing too, and can help us inform our decisions further.

If you know that you CAN cast what you are exiling to impulsive draw it makes it THAT MUCH easier to smooth your gameplan, and amps up the value of your draw solutions. The two work symbiotically—card quality ensures you get what you want while card draw ensures you can use the card you want when you want. They’re two halves to a whole.

Quality over Quantity

So in deck building you need to ask yourself “am I going to be casting these cards?” Are you going to be drawing more cards than you’re capable of casting in comparison to your mana curve? If the answer is ‘no’— if you know you’re a deck that casts a consistent one card per turn—then draw fixing and card quality are more valuable to you than card draw.

Yes, having options is fantastic. But if those options start to go to waste, by discarding or exiling the wrong cards, then you’ve wasted all of that momentum you’ve gained. The more you can control limited amounts of card draw the more consistent you’ll find your play experience.

Let me know in the comments below how YOU balance card draw versus card quality in your decks, and what’s your favorite card that allows you to do this?

Until next time folks, good luck & 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!