Last updated on October 11, 2023
Patient Rebuilding | Illustration by Magali Villeneuve
Commander is a great format where a lot of players spend time battling each other and having fun with their favorite commanders and brewers. You can see this at your local game store or from your favorite streamers.
That said, maybe you’re like me and you’re excited about the format but don't quite know where to start because you have so many doubts about deckbuilding and deck ratios. Don't worry, today I’m going to cover everything on how to build a Commander deck and the best ways to get started in the format. I’ll guide you through each part of the deckbuilding process and can assure you that we’ll all know how to build a solid deck by the end of this guide.
Ready? Let's get started!
Step 1: Choose Your Commander
God-Favored General | Illustration by David Palumbo
Choosing your commander is the most important part of where to start, since your commander will lead you where you want to end up most of the time.
Some commanders are very intuitive, like Krenko, Mob Boss. Krenko leads you to build a goblin tribal deck where you want to be aggressive most of the time. Some others are more flexible, like Kenrith, the Returned King, since their abilities don't point you in any particular direction.
Because of this you need to know what kind of deck you want to build.
Step 2: Choose Your Archetype
Before choosing your commander you might want to know the most common Commander archetypes. There are plenty of other kinds of decks you can build and I can’t list all of them, but these archetypes should be enough for you to understand what you can expect from other players and point you in the right direction to get started.
Aggro decks commonly use commanders that encourage battles or lead you towards playing multiple creatures.
Examples of these are Xenagos, God of Revels, Kaalia of the Vast, and Aurelia, The Warleader. Each of these examples works differently, but in the end you aim to finish your games by engaging in combat. This is the true essence of aggressive decks.
Combo decks usually try to exploit your commander's abilities to take over tables and games once they resolve.
Control commanders are probably most interchangeable between each other since the game plan will usually create enough board presence to survive and interact with the rest of the table while being in a dominant position most of the time. These decks rely on card quality rather than individual synergies, so cards like Cyclonic Rift, Rhystic Study, and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon are among the most common ones you’ll see in these lists.
If you're super into control and want to become a master at playing the archetype, check out Corey Burkhart's in-depth course over on Spikes Academy.
As you may expect, tribal decks rely on synergies between creatures of the same type and their “lords” to make them bigger.
This is a reference to the '80s animated television series where five giant cats team up to form a super robot known as “Voltron” to defeat villains. Voltron decks follow the same analogy where you usually want to suit up your commander to become an almost unstoppable threat that can finish the game on its own. These decks rarely run other creatures outside of their commander since they focus on protecting them at all costs.
As the name suggests, reanimator decks rely on graveyard synergies and are built around bringing one (or a lot of) creatures to the battlefield.
You can build ramp decks in various ways, like relying on mana rocks or ramp spells. But however you do it, the main goal for ramp is to cast big spells to put you in the front seat of every other deck.
Some commanders, like Selvala, Explorer Returned, can help you accomplish this, while others, like Maelstrom Wanderer, reward you for ramping into them early and potentially let you recast it back to back once they’re dealt with.
Some EDH players like slow games and want everyone on the table to play at their pace, or just like to see the world burn. Prison commanders accomplish this either by increasing your opponent's spell casting cost or taxing them for playing some sort of ability or interacting in certain ways.
Mill isn’t very common to see at a 4-player table where deck sizes are at least 100 cards, but there are some commander's deck that relies on milling as a win condition. This can go both ways as you can either opt to mill your opponents or self-mill to create massive card advantage. The latter is the more common.
Last but not least we have tokens, where the plan is straightforward: create a bunch of tokens to take over the game.
Riku of Two Reflections is probably the most popular tokens commander, followed by Rhys the Redeemed. But any commander that can exploit the ETB mechanic can be used as a token payoff, like Purphoros, God of the Forge.
Step 3: Build the Deck
I wanted to use a commander that isn’t seen much as an example, so I decided to brew something around Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar. This is a build-around commander that needs two things happening in your deck: discard spells and Food.
With that in mind, let's go through ideas of cards that go with the theme. These are called “synergy spells.”
Start by listing 30 to 40 cards that synergize well with your chosen commander or archetype’s game plan. I like this range to give you more flexibility on what cards you want to add and which ones can be cut. Don't worry about the balance of creatures to noncreatures, since some decks can have fewer of each as long as your synergies are covered.
For my example commander, let’s start with Food synergies. If you search “food” on ScryFall it’ll show you the cards that contain the word, and you can also specify some other properties like identity.
Here are the top cards when it comes to Food synergies for my example commander:
- Cauldron Familiar
- Bake into a Pie
- Foreboding Fruit
- The Underworld Cookbook
- Witch's Oven
- Academy Manufactor
- Golden Egg
I also need some discard outlets to be able to cast my commander. Rakdos () gives us a few options:
- Forgotten Cave
- Faithless Looting
- Daretti, Scrap Savant
- Anje Falkenrath
- Chainer, Nightmare Adept
- Thrill of Possibility
- Conspiracy Theorist
- Unexpected Windfall
Keep in mind that you can mix in some cards that use the ones you usually discard since you’re constantly sending your stuff to the ‘yard. Some strategies that come to mind are madness and unearth, which both go great with the deck's idea. And running a pseudo-reanimator package while we’re at it isn’t bad either. For those, I'm interested in these cards:
- Living Death
- Trash for Treasure
- From Under the Floorboards
- Ox of Agonas
- Seasoned Pyromancer
- Feldon of the Third Path
When you’re done with your synergy list you can move to search for ways to protect yourself from being killed. Even if your commanders provides some protection like Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar does, you shouldn't rely on it to clear the table. That's why you need to add a mix of spot removal and board wipes to help.
Luckily Rakdos has the best removal spells of all the color combos, so you just need to pick between 10 to 15. Having an even split of them usually does the trick.
The ones I'm attracted to in my case are:
- Lightning Axe
- Fiery Temper
- Bone Shards
- Cathartic Pyre
- Blasphemous Act
- Kolaghan's Command
- Toxic Deluge
You need to have a reliable way to draw all your pieces to make sure your game plan goes smoothly. For that to happen you need to run some sort of card advantage engine or tutors. Some tutors may be expensive, but you can use pseudo-tutors like transmute cards as an easy replacement. You usually want about 10 of these, but search for up to 15 options. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.
Cards that fall into this category for my example build are:
- Reforge the Soul
- Phyrexian Arena
- Sign in Blood
- Castle Locthwain
- Night's Whisper
- Underworld Connections
- Change of Fortune
- Demonic Tutor
- Shred Memory
- Dimir Machinations
- Liliana Vess
Ramp spells are usually mana rocks. You should be about set with 10 of these. And make sure to look for some rocks or enchantments that can replace themselves in the late game, like Mind Stone.
- Sol Ring
- Arcane Signet
- Rakdos Signet
- Commander's Sphere
- Thought Vessel
- Fire Diamond
- Charcoal Diamond
The mana distribution of your deck depends on how many colored sources you run and what your curve looks like. Ideally you want somewhere between 36 to 40 lands in a Commander deck. You can also look for cycle lands to make sure you don't flood, and some MDFCs that can serve either as their front side spell or as a land.
In the case of my example build, I expect to run no more than 38 sources. Here are my options:
- Ash Barrens
- Canyon Slough
- Bloodstained Mire
- Temple of Malice
- Myriad Landscape
- Forgotten Cave
- Desert of the Glorified
- Smoldering Crater
- Polluted Mire
- Phyrexian Tower
- Agadeem's Awakening
- Spikefield Hazard
Step 4: Put It All Together
Now that you have all your potential cards picked out you need to start assembling your deck. You should have much more than 100 cards in your pool. The tricky part comes in narrowing your card pool down to what you can afford versus the purpose of each card inside the deck.
I recommend building an Excel file to get your organized so that you can clearly understand what your cards to and where they fall. It should look something like this:
Sometimes you have a card that falls into multiple categories, like Bone Shards that’s both a synergy card and removal. You can choose from the cards that fall into just one category or the cards listed as “other” when you start looking at which cards to cut or where you need to make additions.
This will also help make sure you don't go over the budget you have. If you have a limit to spend around $100 on a deck, this will help you narrow your choices and keep your budget in mind.
You can also use the Magic Online interface if you have an account if you’re looking for an easier way to build your deck. I know it looks like Excel, but MTGO does a fine job when it comes to looking for cards and deckbuilding.
The versatility MTGO provides lets you sort your deck in piles and move cards around so that you can see what you’re missing. It also offers other useful features like sorting your curve and separating cards by colors and other criteria. It also has a search card feature that’s excellent when it comes to looking for cards that have specific keywords.
Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar | Illustration by Ryan Pancoast
Juri, Master of the Revue
Big Game Hunter
Squee, Goblin Nabob
Archfiend of Ifnir
Ox of Agonas
Archfiend of Spite
Feed the Swarm
Thrill of Possibility
Bake into a Pie
Taste of Death
Geier Reach Sanitarium
Temple of Malice
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Last but not least, let's see what my final list looks like after all that work! This list may be a bit short on board wipes and removal, but I added more synergy cards instead.
Like I already said these aren’t exact numbers, but it should give you some guidance on what your deck needs. The more overlapping cards you end up with the easier it is to find cuts and additions.
I think this Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar deck is in the graveyard combo section where you use your commander and its synergies to create board presence while abusing the graveyard to reuse your spells.
I hope this quick read has been of interest to you, and that it helps as a base to understand what kind of Commander decks exist and provides a starting point on how to build your own EDH deck. This was a fun experience and I can't wait to rent my new Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar deck on Magic Online.
What about you? Are you excited to start building Commander decks right away? What's the next commander you want to build around? Let me know in the comments or over on the official Draftsim Discord.
And remember that all of this can be translated to MTGA Historic Brawl. If you’re looking for a tool to keep track of your decks, remember to use Arena Tutor. It’ll help you with some statistics that’ll make your deckbuilding decisions that much easier.
As always, take care, stay safe, and I’ll see you again soon!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: