Cryptic Commander: There Can Be Only One! By Andrew Pemberton

Cryptic Commander: Knowing Your Enemy in EDH by Andrew Pemberton


Greetings and salutations, my fellow Planeswalkers! As some of you may be aware, I’ve barely written for the past while. There are a multitude of reasons for this, mainly that training towards a promotion at work has left me with very little time to play magic, and also that a power surge basically destroyed my PC until payday next week. Luckily, my community is incredibly helpful, and rather than spending my day off playing Magic, they’ve allowed me to sit at a PC to grind out another article for my readers. First and foremost, I would like to thank Sam Fryman for the loan of the Computer, as well as the rest of my player base for their continued support.

Now, on to what I really want to talk about… Today, with the continued spoiling this week of many of the cards for the upcoming Commander releases, I’d like to go through something that should be important to many players, especially those having their first forays into the format: How and why should you pick a general. I’d like to outline the way different players choose their generals, and how to make an informed choice about who to choose to lead your armies.


Choosing your Perspective.

When I first started playing Commander, I will openly admit that I was dubious at first. My friend, after finding the forums on Mtgsalvation, informed me of it shortly after he returned to the game. Bringing a Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind deck with him, he showed me through the rules of the format and the particular synergies it employed. Now, at this point, I was just beginning to cut my teeth with control play in Standard, and as such, I wasn’t that interested… until he told me something that piqued my interest.

“You could build Elves, Andy…”

…Long ago, way back when I first started pre-Mirrodin, my first theme deck was an Elf deck from Legions. Yes, I know, that set… Anyway, Elves were the first creatures that I experienced synergy with, and they’ve always been a big part of my play style. The use of elves even helped me when I first played standard, back when Tooth and Nail was a semi-dominant deck (Among Slide, Affinity and many control variants). Tooth and Nail stuck with me until it rotated just before Ravnica (and I went along with it), and I never felt happier. Ramping up to grab multiple 2-creature combos was my bread and butter at the time, and I loved the sense of controlling your opponents in many ways. Now, however, this gave me a way back in…

My first general wasn’t any ordinary elf general such as Glissa Sunseeker or Eladamri. Nope, I went with Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary. At the time, my deck was filled with many of the elves I’d played as a young teen, and also some from years past. However, it was this experience that made it finally hit home: This was the magic I’d been searching for. As I evolved as a player, so too did Rofellos, and eventually, both of us became frustrated by the redundant plays we were both making… dropping fat men as early as turn three was such a huge boost for me. I felt like I was home. Eventually, as ban lists changed, Rofellos transformed into Azusa, and evolved into one of the most dominant decks I have ever created.

Discovering your general is a bit like choosing what ice cream you want to eat. You could be stood in a shop with a hundred different varieties, with flavours you love, hate or are indifferent to. The key to enjoying Commander is to enhance the elements you enjoy most about the game. For instance, there are plenty of reasons to pick a first General;

-Nostalgia: A creature from an era in which you previously played, or a card you have a strong bond to through a combo play.

-Synergy: The particular Legend syncs up well with other play styles which you enjoy playing

-Power Level: You feel the urge to win every game, and you want the strongest possible general for the job.

-Colour Identity: You appreciate the values of some colours over others.

I will tell you one thing that I tell people every day at work: You cannot make a bad decision so long as you pick the product that’s right for you… and just like I am for them, I’m here to make this job a lot less strenuous for you.

Primarily, I’d like to point out our friends: Timmy, Johnny and Spike. These are our three types of players that we commonly associate with Magic. Mark Rosewater is one of the people responsible for these psychographic profiles, and I shall be using his words to aid me in their descriptions.

“Timmy wants to experience something. Timmy plays Magic because he enjoys the feeling he gets when he plays. What that feeling is will vary from Timmy to Timmy, but what all Timmies have in common is that they enjoy the visceral experience of playing.”

Timmy players are most often associated with those new to the game. They enjoy the thrill of getting off a big creature to wallop their opponent’s face off, or casting a big spell that has a profound effect on the game itself. Timmies don’t often care whether they win or lose, so long as something epic has happened from their control in order to influence the game. We should all expect to have a little Timmy in us in order to enjoy the format, I find, otherwise games can devolve into squabbles and fits – I know this well, I have both seen this happen and acted as such on many an occasion. Timmies tend to go for General Damage / Voltron-Style generals, as combat is the simplest way of garnering big creatures to your cause. Godo, Bandit Warlord and Omnath, Locus of Mana are great examples of possible Timmy generals

“Johnny is the creative gamer to whom Magic is a form of self-expression. Johnny likes to win, but he wants to win with style. It’s very important to Johnny that he win on his own terms. As such, it’s important to Johnny that he’s using his own deck. Playing Magic is an opportunity for Johnny to show off his creativity.”

Johnnies are the style of player who love to combo. They love to find intricate ways to interact with the board, be it through a combination of cards, or using one type of card in a certain way. Johnnies get solace from EDH in the fact that they get off their combos. Granted, most combination plays are a win in EDH anyway, but even smaller, minute interactions can have a profound effect on gameplay for the Johnny. Teysa, Orzhov Scion, Merieke Ri Berit and Rasputin Dreamweaver are all good examples of generals a Johnny would find interesting to play.

“Spike is the competitive player. Spike plays to win. Spike enjoys winning. To accomplish this, Spike will play whatever the best deck is. Spike will copy decks off the Internet. Spike will borrow other players’ decks. To Spike, the thrill of Magic is the adrenalin rush of competition. Spike enjoys the stimulation of outplaying the opponent and the glory of victory.”

Spikes are the epitome of constructed play. They favour tight, aggressive plays with little fault. Unfortunately, Spikes are a little bit of a detriment to most EDH communities, as it can be difficult to gauge when to have fun and when to win. Certainly, everyone should have a little Spike in them anyway, but having too much can kill off the fun very quickly, especially in EDH. Spikes will always go for tier 1 generals: Vendilion Clique; Doran, the Siege Tower and any 5-colour General are all good examples of Spike generals (*Note* I did not have a preference towards blue in this respect, and there are plenty of other coloured tier 1 generals. These were literally the first three that came to mind.)

Choosing your General.

OK, so we’ve explored what sort of person you are, now let’s hook you up with a deck. Some important things to consider when making this choice of General:

-How would you want your centrepiece card to affect the games he is cast in?

-What sort of synergies would you want associated to your general?

-Do you know the advantages and detriments of the colour identity in which your general sits?

These are all major things to consider, and in turn, give you an idea of what cards need to suit your purposes. I’ll give you an example of a profile I use in order to gauge why I would choose a specific General. For this example, I’ll be using a new General I’m currently working on;

General: Merieke Ri Berit

Why?: Colour Identity is not one I have covered before, and also means I covered all 5 colours twice between 5 Commander decks. Also, the strategy she offers is not one I or any of my playgroup are currently exploring.

Colour Identity: White (Removal; Recursion); Blue (Permission; Steal Effects; Draw); Black (Draw; Removal)

Themes: Stealing opponent’s stuff through manipulation of Merieke, or use of cards such as Bribery or Knowledge Exploitation.

Doing this, it gives me an idea of what I want to focus my deck on doing, how I’m going to accomplish it, and an idea of what cards I will need to create the best possible deck, in terms of theme, fun and competitive nature. I always try and devote around 10 cards towards a particular theme: Depending on the type of player you are (Or certainly the deck you wish to create), you can amend these cards. I find that half of the experience of Commander is building your deck. I still regularly tweak cards in my decks, and as such, the deck never gets boring. With so much variety in the card pool, it’s very difficult to exhaust all of your options very quickly.

In closing, I’d like to leave you with a few helpful hints in picking your new Commander:

–          Pick a general to suit your play style: If you want to prolong your enjoyment of the deck, don’t build something that you know you may not enjoy playing. Proxying is an acceptable way of testing a deck within a playgroup before splashing out on cards.

–          Pick a general to suit your budget: If you do want to buy cards, there’s no point making your first deck a 5-colour deck unless you have a large disposable income. With the rise of Legacy, dual lands for multi-coloured decks are on the rise, and it can be hard to get older staples for some decks, though I will say that there are acceptable alternatives should you find yourself on a budget.

–          Pick a general to suit your playgroup: I’d almost call this metagaming in a way, and it’s almost always not an assured thing, but try to pick generals that offer something different to your playgroup. Different generals of the same colours may have similar cards in some areas, but my Merieke deck may play vastly differently to a Sharuum the Hegemon deck.

–          Pick a general to suit you: There’s no point playing something you won’t enjoy! Magic is a game where you’ll experience love and hate for certain cards, but as long as you make sure your card choices sensibly so as to avoid the distain of your playgroup and even yourself.

As a final note, the new Commander preconstructed decks are being released next week, so if you want a quick way to get started pick one up! It’s so much easier to play with a precon then starting from scratch. Avid Commander players will even have spare decks (I carry at least 4 at any given time…), so borrowing a deck isn’t unheard of either.

So, I would like to leave you with one final thought, if I may. If you see a game of Commander going on, please take some time to watch how it goes. Ask questions, let yourself be intrigued. You never know, you may just find a new way to play.

As always, you can catch me on Facebook, MSN or e-mail, though my PC is currently down, so please give me some leeway in terms of replying should you have questions. Good day, and happy Commanding!

Quote of the day.

“There’s a method that you use to cast spells, and if I were a level 2 Judge I’d know it.” – Alex Gersaw

Andrew Pemberton


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