Mechanical Engineering – Learning from Tutors

Commander Mechanic • July 29, 2021

Opposition Agent by Scott Murphy

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.

Redundant Redundancy

Tutors make up important parts of many deck builds for many different reasons; making our decks more consistent, ensuring we have crucial pieces that allow us to work, or getting silver bullet solutions to board states when required. The important thing to know about tutors is that they are essentially an additional copy of any card in our deck. And in a singleton format like Commander, having 2 copies of a Sylvan Library or Wrath of God means we are twice as likely to see it when we want it. It removes the CHANCE of seeing it and introduces inevitability.

For some, adding this consistency is anathema to what they want from Commander. Some people WANT random. They WANT variance. They WANT to see different cards from their deck each and every time they play. Nothing wrong with that at all—there’s no right or wrong way to play Commander.

But for someone like myself, who builds decks that are aimed at doing A THING IN PARTICULAR, it’s more satisfying to me when the deck DOES THE THING than when it doesn’t or can’t. So I insert tutors into decks so I can ensure I get a lynchpin card or a hidden commander or a valuable synergy piece.

If you NEED a specific artifact to complement your strategy you can have FIVE OR MORE copies between Fabricate or Whir of Invention or Reshape and all of the black tutors that can grab any card.

Finding a Balance (or any card, really)

Tutors can be a slippery slope—when you have a saturation of them and your consistency improves considerably, so does power level in most instances. When THE THING your deck does results in winning the game, the more consistent you can do THE THING the more likely or often you can win. That’s a distinct advantage. Some people love tutors, and some people don’t.

So finding a balance between being too consistent and being consistent ENOUGH is crucial.

When looking at synergies within your deck and the ability to win there’s a fondness for saying “this is a one-card combo with my commander”. Meaning with your commander and that card you can pop off, often winning the game. Commanders and decks with that level of consistency are very powerful, pushing into the upper tiers of power level.

Look at high power level darlings like Najeela, the Blade Blossom or Godo, Bandit Warlord. These are both commanders that can win with one card from within their libraries. Godo can tutor his own one card when he enters the battlefield, making him remarkably consistent and just requiring a volume of mana to DO THE THING. Najeela can go near infinite, enough to win the game, with one of any 4 or 5 cards—Druid’s Repository, Bear Umbra, Sword of Feast and Famine and more! That’s what makes these decks consistent and consistently powerful.

So now imagine you have 5 or more copies of the 4 or 5 cards that combo directly with your commander. You’ve gone from a 5% chance to draw one of your combo cards to a 10% chance. That means between your opening 7 and one card drawn each turn, odds are you’ll draw into a combo card or a tutor for a combo card by turn 3. Every time.

Responsible Use of Tutors

One of my favorite uses of tutors in Commander is for what’s called a “hidden commander”. This concept isn’t about grabbing a single card that wins you the game, but rather grabbing you a card within your deck that has a unique effect that can’t be your commander.

What do I mean by this?

Let’s say you have a concept for a Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer deck but you really want to make all of your tokens into copies of Smothering Tithe. Tithe doesn’t fit your color identity so you need to have a commander that allows you to play both Brudiclad and Tithe in the 99. However you also need to include enough ways to go FIND your Brudiclad and your Tithe. So we’re looking at red & blue for Brudiclad, white for Tithe, and black for tutors to go find them. Let’s settle on Breya, Etherium Shaper as our commander.

Now we have a commander that isn’t really part of our core gameplan, but cards within our 99 we need to find in order to make our game plan work. Enter tutors. This is valuable redundancy to find the parts of our pieces to DO THE THING, since we know we’ll be getting specific cards and those won’t necessarily immediately win us the game.

We’re using tutors to reshape the way our deck functions, not emphasise its core functionality. We aren’t using tutors to win faster or more consistently, we’re using tutors to change what our deck is doing, but ensuring it CAN do it. No one wants to play a deck that can’t DO THE THING.

Being Reliable

One of my personal favorite instances of a hidden commander deck is my new Academy Manufactor deck. When Manufactor was revealed in Modern Horizons 2 I knew I had to break it. And when the set notes DARED us as players to make 18 copies of Academy Manufactor, turning each instance of a treasure, food, or clue into 18 million of EACH token… well I had a directive. A challenge. And I never back down from a challenge!

Since the deck revolves around a non-commander card, I knew my deck building needed to take a specific form. Increase the consistency of finding Academy Manufactor by any means necessary.

The commanders, Silas Renn, Seeker Adept and Jeska, Thrice Reborn serve specific purposes but not the CORE function. So I need to include tutors and consistency to find my hidden commander. Check out how many tutors are included in this list:

I count almost 10 tutors in the list, ranging from Demonic Tutor through to Imperial Recruiter – all aimed at grabbing Academy Manufactor or something that can make a copy of Academy Manufactor. This way I can make sure my deck can DO THE THING it was built to do—make entirely too many copies—and my opponents know that I’m not grabbing a one-card combo with my commanders.

Setting Tutor Expectations

It’s important to note that last part: I let my opponents know what I’m up to before they start sweating when I pop off my tutors. Before I even choose to play this deck I let my opponents know what it’s doing and what I’m up to. That way THEY know I’m not tutoring up some “win the game combo” and can even increase their willingness to see what I’m doing. It also decreases the chances they’re going to want to permanently remove Academy Manufactor since they’ll want to see the cool things I can do as well.

Tutors are scary—many people see tutors as boogeymen, grabbing oppressive combos or cards that ruin games far more than they improve them. So be open. Transparent. Honest. Tutors can be tools OR weapons, so let your opponents know how you’re using them before they draw conclusions to the worst-case scenario.

If you ARE tutoring for a game ender or a one-card combo with your commander, ensure the table knows and agrees on the power level of the deck first. If you sit down with a Godo, Bandit Warlord deck, tell them if you’re running Helm of the Host or not. If you’re playing a Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy deck, be clear that you’re running Basalt Monolith in the list. Those are powerful combos that do powerful, game-ending things. Don’t let your opponents sweat over IF you’re doing THE THING, let them know what you’re planning ahead of time. It’s healthier for everyone.

Demonic Consultation

Tutors are powerful—whether they can grab you ANY card or a specific card—and they need to be used with a level of restraint and a clear intent. Make your deck too consistent and you’ll be steamrolling a table by doing THE THING before anyone else can.

Tune your deck via tutors. Keep in mind that the more tutors you include, the more copies of any specific card you have. Tutors are wild cards, turning into anything you want or need. That flexibility and consistency is scary. Tutor responsibly.

Let me know in the comments below how YOU use tutors in your decks, and what’s your favorite tutor or tutor target in your personal decks?

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!