Mechanical Engineering - The Complexity of Simplicity

Commander Mechanic • March 24, 2022

Kodama of the West Tree | Illustrated by TAPIOCA

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.

Keeping It Simple

Previously in my articles I've covered synergies and strategies and ensuring you have multiple routes to victory, but there's a flip side to all of it. Some players want a simple experience that leads into the basic building blocks of Magic and Commander: maybe we just want to draw cards, play lands, and attack.

That's a perfectly valid way to play this format. Let's all slam Grizzly Bears against each other until those Bears turn into Dinosaurs like Colossal Dreadmaw and eventually turn into earth-shaking beasts like Craterhoof Behemoth...

The fact is that some players find themselves to be weaker deckbuilders, and taking a synergistic route is something they feel they aren't capable of or aren't confident with. Others still just want the simple experience of "play creature, turn sideways" because that's what they enjoy!

Countless players have their Angels Decks, or Dinosaur Decks, or their favorite tribal decks and either want to be dropping massive creatures or amassing a horde of smaller bodies to run everyone over with.

But deckbuilding strategy is still involved, whether you're realizing it or not.

All the Good Stuff

Many people I talk to about their decks criticize themselves and their deckbuilding skills by stating they're only capable of building "good stuff decks"--that is to say, high value floor decks. As covered in my articles in the past, a card is "high value floor" when it's always at least good. Examples of high value floor cards are Sword of Fire and Ice, Rhystic Study, or Smothering Tithe--cards that are always going to do what you intend, such as draw cards, allow attackers to get through, make mana, or drain resources from your opponents.

But a high value floor deck doesn't necessarily mean you don't have high value ceilings, or ways to make those cards even BETTER. We've all seen what a Smothering Tithe can do when paired with a Wheel of Fortune.

Even if you just want to be attacking, there are considerations that have to be made in deckbuilding to make that strategy work, otherwise you face severe setbacks. What do we do if we're up against a deck that wipes creatures repeatedly? Or a deck that has lots of high-toughness blockers? It's keeping the strengths and weaknesses of your deck in mind that helps level you up as a deckbuilder. How do you think a step ahead and consider what could be your Achilles heel?

And how do you prepare for it?

A high value floor deck, like many are fond of playing, still takes skill to assemble and pilot. If you're concerned about not being able to "do the thing" and don't have the confidence to build a deck that does "the thing", these high value floor decks are perfect for you.

Basically Building

These decks also often that lend themselves to fewer colors as well in order to avoid the issues that crop up due to lack of consistency from not being able to find the mana to cast these spells because you're avoiding expensive mana bases. Mono-color decks are often looked down on, as many are fond of commenting on my videos, due to the assumed lack of complexity. But sometimes complexity is overrated. Sometimes you just want to SMASH.

These are the decks that run 30 basic lands to avoid issues with finding all of your colors. These are the decks that avoid issues like mana rocks or tutors because you just want to play a land every turn and play a good card that you like.

Perfect! That's what this format is about--that's a perfectly valid strategy and if it's what sparks joy, more power to you.

But the problem I often see is people cutting back on lands to make room for MORE GOOD STUFF. Sometimes it's hard to find cuts when your deck is just a lot of good cards, or cards you like, because who wants to cut one of your babies? But NEVER compromise on your land counts--that's a disaster waiting to happen.

If you take pride in your deck--if it's your love, your one-and-only--that's fantastic. Show it off and be proud of it. The number of players that come to me EAGER to show off something they made, even if they're self-deprecating and call their own decks simple, is heartwarming. Whether you think you're a great deckbuilder or not, you're right.

It's Not Easy

I recently built what I'd call a "simple" deck as a quick Twitter exclusive around the new Kodama of the West Tree. A spin on a +1/+1 counters deck that ramps like crazy! The only way it really wins is by attacking, but it does that ONE THING really well. It's pretty hard to fail to "do the thing" when you're not complicating your plan or overthinking your actions.

"Should I attack this turn?" is easy to answer when all you want to do is attack!

Check out the full list:

Seems... pretty simple, right? With everything entering with +1/+1 counters on it and your commander giving all Modified creatures trample, it's really straightforward to get damage through and ramp uncontrollably.

These strategies still have a lot of moving parts despite wanting to just attack. Synergy pieces still exist, as you'll find with any deck regardless of its gameplan. Equipment that triggers on-damage, spells that protect your creatures, or creatures that make your other creatures more reliable are all forms of synergy--so don't disparage your deckbuilding if you don't want to build with multiple routes to victory in mind!

Do What Brings You Joy

In Commander, as in life, doing what makes you happy is paramount. I may preach redundancy and synergy and backup plans, but if that's not your style? More power to you. If you KNOW WHAT YOU LIKE, by all means build 10 decks that do the same thing because Commander is a format where you just need to have fun. Winning or losing doesn't matter as long as you have a good time.

It's when you stop having a good time that you need to reconsider what you're doing. Your deck, your strategy, or your playgroup. If you've got nothing positive to say about the format, change starts with YOU.

I know players that have multiple decks that do the same things, whether it's a few decks led by Aurelia, The Warleader or multiple decks that just want to cast Krakens. If you find joy in what others may deem as 'simple', that's all that matters and don't let anyone disparage you for it. Just don't blame the format or others if they can see your strategy coming and shut it down!

That's the downside to a simple or linear strategy. One piece can stop you, and if you can't answer it, sometimes you just have to be OK taking the loss. That's not on you as the deckbuilder if you've made that personal concession, but don't blame the format if someone gets a combo win or shuts your strategy down! If you want a niche experience where everyone is playing the same "everyone attacks" lines, then YOU need to be responsible for cultivating your own play experience.

Thinking In Straight Lines

Believe it or not, simple strategies and basic combos make up cornerstones of cEDH play. There exist multiple decks that are assembled to win via ONE COMBO, such as Godo, Bandit Warlord. The entire deck supports getting to that combo as fast as possible, but the complexity comes from guarding against counterplay that exists as part of playing at that power level. Is the deck bad? Is the deckbuilder bad? No, not at all!

But if you get shut down, it's time to think about how to prevent that in the future. And if you find yourself getting shut down often? Maybe it IS time to introduce some complexity.

Let me know what you think about high value floor, simple, or linear strategies in the comments. Is this the kind of deck you prefer? And do you prefer them for ease of building or gameplay or just because it makes you happy?

I'd love to hear your feedback!

And, as always 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!