A New Way to Play – Artisan Commander by Paul Palmer

Looking to shake up Magic: the Gathering's most popular format? Paul Palmer's having fun with a new, Artisan-based variant.

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Bone Miser (Commander 2019)

It’s 3am. My friend Mat and I have been playing Commander online for about 5 hours. We’re done playing for the night and start discussing some of the fun Rule 0 things we’ve done in that past, and some we want to do (please let me play Griselbrand as my Commander? No? Okay…) and we get onto the topic of Pauper Commander. I’ve not played much Pauper Commander and although I enjoyed it when I did, it always felt like the power level was a little low. That’s when it hit me: Artisan Commander. For those that don’t know, Artisan emerged as a Magic Arena specific format where you can only play commons and uncommons. Like Pauper Commander (an uncommon Commander and only commons in the deck), we talked a bit about how Artisan Commander (with a rare Commander and commons & uncommons in the deck) could be a lot of fun.

We rattled off a few examples of cards that might be sweet to play, like the Lieutenant cycle from earlier Commander decks (Tyrant’s Familiar, etc.), Vizier of Many Faces and Steel Hellkite to name a few. We logged off, but before going to sleep I did a quick search to see if Artisan Commander already existed. When I couldn’t find any results on Google (except for a bunch of links to Doomed Artisan) I decided to throw a handful of rules together to experiment with as a starting point:

1. Your Commander can be any rare non-Legendary creature.

This one is part of the format’s identity and is one of the two core rules. I also decided non-Legendary because there are already a lot of Commanders whose rarity is rare and I wanted to format to be distinguishable from regular Commander.

2. Your deck can only contain common and uncommon cards.

Just like the first rule, this is the other half of its core ruleset. This is what makes it Artisan Commander instead of just Commander.

3. Artisan Commander has the same ban list as Commander. Cards may be added or removed based on play testing.

This one just keeps the format consistent. The cards that are on the Commander ban list are there for a reason. It’s also easier to keep them banned than go through and curate an entirely new ban list for something that we just wanted to experiment with. This also prevents people from playing Prophet of Kruphix as their Commander and means that if cards like Sol Ring, Skullclamp or Ancient Tomb turn out to be too good we can just purge them.

As something I threw the rules together for in about 30 seconds at 3am, the format has turned out to be surprisingly fun. While we haven’t played many games we have already found some very interesting and fun decks to play from Bone Miser reverse Rack and Tamanoa Burn to Noble Hierarch ramp control.

Bone Miser Reverse-Rack

My list was Bone Miser and it used a mixture of cycling, madness cards, and discard outlets to create a value engine that helped me to create a bunch of tokens, mana and draw loads of cards.

Putting Cards Into Your Graveyard

While Bone Miser is a great card and a allows you to play the Waste Not strategy without upsetting your friends and forcing them to discard it does suffer from the fact that by itself it’s not very good. To answer this we need ways to get things into our graveyard to start generating the value that Bone Miser is so good at creating.

One of the easiest ways to do this is through cycling. With Amonkhet and the even more recent Ikoria, we’ve seen cycling get a lot more support and have been given access to a lot more good cycling cards. Some of the key ones here are Horror of the Broken Lands which discards for a single black mana but can also be played as a creature that will benefit from all of the discarding we are doing. There is also Street Wraith, a staple in Death’s Shadow Modern and Legacy decks but that can also be used here to cycle a card for (almost) free! The MVP (Most Valuable Player) of the cycling cards in the games that I played was definitely Undead Gladiator. Not only is it a reasonable price to cycle (1B) but it can also be used in your upkeep to discard another card (again for 1B) and return itself to your hand, ready to be cycled again. With Bone Miser in play, this allows you to draw a ton of cards, make an army of zombies or even repeatedly discard lands to make mana and then cycle Undead Gladiator over and over. This card could probably take the top spot in the deck if it weren’t for two other cards…

Skirge Familiar and Zombie Infestation steal the spotlight from Undead Gladiator for one main reason, cost. While Skirge Familiar does have a sizeable initial investment of 5 mana and Zombie Infestation requires you to have two cards in hand what makes them so powerful is that the cost of their ability is to just to discard cards. This makes it a free discard outlet that then gives you upside from the actual ability (mana from the Familiar and zombies from Infestation). These cards allow you to cycle through your hand repeatedly allowing you to get all of the benefits of Bone Miser basically for free, and if that wasn’t good enough, you can do it at instant speed.

Even More Value

As I built this deck I realised that while Bone Miser is an amazing engine, I needed ways to get value out of these cards if it wasn’t in play. To do this I turned towards a mechanic I’ve not played a lot in multiplayer: madness. The great thing about madness cards is that they allow me to still cast them when I discard them. This means that if Bone Miser isn’t in play the cards in the deck that force discard isn’t just card disadvantage and instead allow you to cast the madness cards as you discard them. On the other hand if Bone Miser IS in play you get the additional benefits from discarding them and you can still play them. Of the madness cards I’ve had a chance to play with, Call to the Netherworld to save Skirge Familiar after it’s removed or Big Game Hunter as an instant speed removal for a big threat like Artisan of Kozilek have turned out to be among the best.

In addition to madness, I knew that to get ahead against blue and green decks I’d need card advantage from the tokens I’m creating. With that comes one of the cards that I think may end up being too powerful: Skullclamp. This token deck staple almost killed Magic when it was printed into Standard and is fantastic in this deck. While the tokens are 2/2s, you can use artifacts or creatures like Ashnod’s Altar and Viscera Seer to sacrifice the creatures it’s attached to (I actually played this and Ashnod’s Altar in one of our games) to refuel your hand after discarding.

The Finishers

One of the most important things about building a Commander deck is the way you’re planning to finish the game. Is it going to be combat damage? Some kind of big spell? An infinite damage combo? Grinding out your opponents with small amounts of damage while removing all their permanents?

The biggest issue my playgroup found while brewing our decks was the power levels of the finishers; we can’t play a lot of the popular Commander finishers. No Torment of Hailfire, no Craterhoof Behemoth not even a Nexus of Fate loop.

I managed to find two clear routes to victory in my deck. The first is as old as the game itself; through discarding my creature spells (and maybe recurring Undead Gladiator a bit) I’m able to create a huge army of zombie tokens to turn sideways and kill my opponents through combat damage. The alternate comes from one of the newest sets: Syr Konrad, the Grim. Knowing that I’ll be discarding lots of creatures, Syr Konrad allows me to consistently drain my opponents and act as a pseudo-Blood Artist (which might actually be good in this deck!). By discarding these creatures I can create a lot of tokens that I can then sacrifice to continue the Syr Konrad-drain win condition. As well as discarding creatures I can also discard lands which allows me to generate a lot of mana to pour into Syr Konrad’s activated ability, milling opponents and earning a win Syr Konrad damage drain, or even, potentially, through a classic rip-through-your-opponent’s-library-win-on-card-draw mill mechanic.

While I managed to find some good finishers, I fear this will be the biggest deckbuilding issue with this Commander variant, leading to some grindy control wars with players losing to milling through drawing too many cards or even just losing to whoever can resolve a 2/2 (a Mishra’s Factory could even do the job here).

I’m very excited to brew for this format and would love to see your decks, the rare creatures you choose and how you decide to build around them

Let me know if this format interests you and if you want to see some of the other decks from myself or my playgroup.

I hope you enjoyed reading this and if you want to see more Commander content check out the links below

Paul Palmer

Upgrades for your Commander 2020 precons
Sultai Deck Tech  – Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer
Choosing a General for Your Commander Deck

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A New Way to Play - Artisan Commander
A New Way to Play - Artisan Commander
Looking to shake up Magic: the Gathering's most popular format? Paul Palmer's having fun with a new, Artisan-based variant.
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