Mechanical Engineering - Focusing In

Commander Mechanic • August 19, 2021

Aeve, Progenitor Ooze by Andrew Mar

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.

Manual Focus

I was recently asked by a friend for advice on how to dial in a deck’s focus—to take it from trying to do ALL THE THINGS down to just having the wheels pointed in the right direction. I’m known for building tuned decks with targeted goals in mind, where a deck does one thing really well, but can pivot to other strategies. But how do we do this? How do we build a deck and resist throwing in everything under the sun?

It’s a matter of focus.

Does Wurmcoil Engine fit in every list focused on artifacts? How do I choose between a Farseek and a Three Visits? How many creatures should I include in a Feldon of the Third Path list?

These are all common questions, and all answered by getting you—and your deck—to focus.

The Final Countdown

My secret to focus is my 1/2/3 approach to deckbuilding. Each and every deck should, in my opinion, have three goals in mind—these goals can range from synergistic actions, through to assembling combos, through to winning the game. And it should be noted that not all, or even any, NEED to be focused on winning the game. A deck doesn’t need to win in order to achieve the goal you designed and built it to do.

I’ve mentioned in my videos that I often look at a tuned deck as having three avenues to victory, but that’s for decks where I’ve been asked to make them as tuned or powerful as possible. And this includes but isn’t limited to: A way to win via game-ending combo, a way to win via combat, and a way to win via non-combat. Once you determine what these are, your focus follows.

For instance, I may have my primary strategy be a voltron wincon. That’s combat-based and perfectly viable as a primary direction, and I’ll want the majority of my strategy built around that. Plenty of equipment and auras, and accompanying cards like Kediss, Emberclaw Familiar to make the damage even more explosive.

But what if I can’t attack? What if the board gets locked down and I have no creatures, or what happens if I can’t get through some difficult blockers? Well then I need to pivot to a secondary strategy.

So maybe THAT strategy is a combo of some sort. Maybe I jam Mycosynth Lattice in the deck along with Karn, the Great Creator and Vandalblast to shut my opponents down or destroy all of their permanents. That’s pretty simple and overlaps with some of my existing strategies. But what if I can’t find those pieces, or Mycosynth Lattice gets removed before I can pop off?

Well let’s pick a third goal that overlaps well with those two—how about artifact synergies with a Reckless Fireweaver? That way I can deal gradual damage over time every time an artifact enters under my control! If I have some treasure generators for mana production in the list then my utility spells just turned into an alternate route to victory!

With those ideas alone in mind it sure seems like I’ve got 40% of a deck list ready to go, doesn’t it?

A Soft Focus Filter

But the above example is focused on WINNING. What if our goal isn’t to win, but to do something different? Maybe we want to make a BILLION artifact tokens, like I’ve shown with my Academy Manufactor list? Or Maybe make as many Gyruda, Doom of Depths as possible as I’ve displayed before? Your strategy—your deck’s focus—doesn’t necessarily need to be to WIN, but your “game over” button should be in your 1/2/3 strategy somewhere!

Whether you’re aiming to win the game as your primary goal or whether you’re looking to make blue flying minotaurs as a goal, your deck should be pointing in that direction with every decision. Have your core pieces and, as discussed in my last article, tutors to GRAB those pieces if you want to really up deck consistency. Have as many redundant pieces as possible to ensure you can find a ‘function-alike’ when you need a core piece; examples here being Impact Tremors, Warstorm Surge and Terror of the Peaks all being able to sub in for each other from a functionality standpoint if you’re making a lot of creatures.

Pay close attention to overlaps in your strategies as well—this can ensure you’re able to pivot quickly if you need to switch between your goals. If Plan A is off the table, can you use any of the pieces you have from Plan A to achieve plans B or C? Being able to answer ‘yes’ to this is the key to ensuring you aren’t dead in the water and that your deck FEELS GOOD.

You Can’t Spell ‘Focus In’ Without ‘FUN’

Here’s a unique example—this is an Ooze tribal deck I put together after the recent Modern Horizons 2 set spoiled green creatures that lean into storm; in particular the new legend Aeve, Progenitor Ooze. I wanted to build a tuned tribal deck that didn’t necessarily WIN, but could absolutely run over opponents with a silly, lesser-utilized tribe.

I also gave myself a handicap; no Food Chain. Food Chain is a one-card combo with Aeve and I wanted to avoid that. So let’s take a look:

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Let’s break down the goals of this deck—what’s the 1/2/3? What’s the focus?

Well my primary plan is to make INFINITE AEVES, but without Food Chain. This is achieved by a small combo that allows us to cast oozes infinitely for an infinite storm count.

With Tangleroot and Cloudstone Curio, along with any two one-mana oozes, we can generate enough mana to cast, bounce, and recast them infinitely! Then we cast Aeve and BAM! Infinite Oozes! This may win us the game but it may not and that’s ok—some men just want to watch the world covered in slime!

Our second strategy relies on heavy +1/+1 counter synergies. Since many oozes, including our commander, make counters we can include Hardened Scales and Branching Evolution to make our creatures even larger. This gives us a superior cost-to-benefit ratio whenever we cast our creatures, ensuring if we’re spending 2 mana we get a 6/6, where our opponents would be getting a 2/2.

Third is a strong card advantage and board control package through the deck. If we can’t make infinite oozes and we can’t win via combat damage, let’s hold off our opponents as long as possible. This strategy relies on us drawing lots of cards and using targeted removal to deal with pesky permanents. We’re in mono green but that doesn’t mean we can’t control the battlefield!

And you can see that everything in the list gets me to these goals. Sure there’s some high value floor utility in the list, but that falls into a perfect overlap with most of our gameplan. Otherwise everything’s an ooze, allows us to cast lots of spells, or digs us through our library. Nice, tidy, focused.

Taking the Long View

Breaking down what you want a deck to do and choosing to focus on those key strategies is how you prevent a “throw everything in the list” mentality. That’s not to dissuade anyone from playing their favorite cards, even if they don’t get you towards your end goal; do that! Make it yours! If a card brings you joy but doesn’t push you towards your gameplan, YOU get to choose if it stays or goes—no one else.

But if you’re looking at 120 cards and you need to decide what stays or goes, ask yourself again: what’s my plan? What am I trying to do?

If you look at a Myr Battlesphere and realize it doesn’t achieve anything on your 1/2/3 gameplan? Consider cutting it. You may love the card, but sometimes we have to kill our darlings. Do you feel more joy playing 1/99 cards in your list, or would you feel more joy in having the ENTIRE DECK do what you want it to do?

I can’t answer that for you, but it’s something for you to think about. Your gameplay experience starts with YOU.

Let me know in the comments below how YOU factor in strategy and what keeps YOU focused in deck building!

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!