Competitive Commander was something of an enigma to me when I was first introduced to it. It was a format that was the same as Commander, but still different. The games aren’t always harder to win, but games have a much different flow most of the time in competitive games. Before I go any further, I want to clarify; there is a lot more to competitive Commander than simply playing better cards.
Casual Commander players still play good cards. Every single pre-constructed Commander deck that has been printed has included one Sol Ring, a card that is basically essential in every deck, no matter the Commander. In order to go further in depth, I need to put it in context.
So, this is very obviously a mono blue combo deck. Enter the Infinite alone will tell that. So first, we need to talk about Commander choice. I chose Arcanis for multiple reasons.
This deck first began as the Teferi preconstructed deck that released in Commander 2014. I bought the deck from my LGS. It was my first sleeved Commander deck, and I won the first game that I played with it. I fell in love that night, and when the Speed vs. Cunning Duel Deck released, I fell in love with Arcanis. A few months later, I bought a Mind Over Matter, and I never looked back.
Arcanis is impressive. The general plot of this deck is to take enough turns in a row, drawing with Arcanis each turn in order to draw up the combo and win. With these types of strategies, seen mostly in Modern, some kind of Howling Mine effect must exist, in order to be at card advantage rather than card parity. Arcanis solves this problem, on top of having a built in Evac Button for his own protection.
In short, he’s a combo piece and protection, all in one Commander.
Some would argue that going the route of Azami, Lady of Scrolls does this job as well, if not better and faster. In order to play the Azami build, you have to drastically morph the deck into a Wizard deck (obviously) but is that actually worse? There are plenty of Wizards that provide you with protection, Cursecatcher, Martyr of Frost, and Voidmage Prodigy just to name a few. Not to mention, you get in with a lot more combat damage, giving you a real alternative path to victory if your combo gets torn apart.
On the other hand, it makes your deck a lot more susceptible to board wipes. You don’t have infinite counter spells, and you are still taxing yourself each time you tax your opponent. The Azami build is definitely different, taking a tempo approach to the combo rather than the control approach that Arcanis takes.
So our Commander is chosen, now we build the combo
Mind Over Matter is the main combo of the deck, as it goes infinite with Arcanis. Our secondary combo is Omniscience, which is a one card combo with this deck, especially if we have Arcanis on the battlefield. With these cards we can draw our deck and proceed to win through Laboratory Maniac. Our soft combo is the extra turn spells, which we play nine of. We can’t just expect to naturally draw our combo each game, however. We have to have some way of finding them, which brings us to our tutors, but we have to jump through a few loopholes.
We ideally find Long-Term Plans, which can find us a Mind Over Matter which we can then draw with the help of Arcanis. However, we play Mystical Tutor, and Merchant Scroll, which both find Long-Term Plans. On top of those, we play Spellseeker which can find Merchant Scroll, which can find Long-Term Plans. What I’m getting at, is we have our paths to find the combo.
While we’re finding our combo though, we still have to fill the role of the control deck. How do we do this? First, we need steady card advantage in the early game. This is done with Search for Azcanta, Rhystic Study, and Temple Bell, which also goes infinite with Mind Over Matter. Now that advantage is out of the way, how do we actually control the game? Well, the blue deck will do what blue decks do best. Counter spells.We play 12 of them. That may seem like a low density, which it can be certain games, but you have to think of how quickly Competitive games can end. These games are a rush to the finish line, we don’t need several counter spells, just a couple well timed ones.
So we’re a mono blue combo deck that plays counter magic. Cool. What makes this so interesting? There are multiple cards that are in the deck, solely because it is built for Competitive play. I will go by just a few of them now so that we understand some of the odder card choices.
First and foremost, Extract. This card is very obviously an anti-combo card. A lot of Commanders are big tells as to what their combo is, and ripping even one piece of it out of their deck can be devastating. This also deals with cards that we otherwise couldn’t deal with, an Iona, Shield of Emeria on Blue is actually the end of the game for us. At that point we play lands and hope one of the other players answers her.
However, I would never play Extract in a casual game of Commander, as I would rather have counter magic or card advantage in it’s spot.
Brainstorm is another card isn’t great outside of Competitive, the main reason being the inclusion and exclusion of fetch lands. In this build, we play all four fetch lands that we are allotted. These seem like a very small and quiet part of the construction of this deck, but they add the percentile points necessary to bump this deck into competitive status.
Now, that’s not to say there are no cards in here that are cute. Thought Reflection is one of these cards, as it’s just a ‘Win More’ card. It is a Consecrated Sphinx on an Enchantment, which is arguably better, but Thought Reflection tends to paint a giant target on your head. This makes us a good target for attackers, which is why we’re playing Meishin, the Mind Cage. Meishin makes sure that we don’t die to creatures turning sideway, ever. This is a control decks dream come true, especially where blue doesn’t have any hard sweepers for creatures. We have one of the best sweepers in the format in Cyclonic Rift, but having a permanent answer to attackers is just what we need to ensure we survive as long as possible.
Competitive Commander has a lot to it, as I’m finding I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I want to cover, so I will be doing more on this variation of EDH in the future. Going back to what I said when I opened, Competitive EDH is a lot more than playing better cards. 10 of the cards in my deck right now are from a preconstructed Commander set. It’s about finding a perfect balance of cards you love to play, and cards that are good. I don’t play Competitive because I want to be the best that I can, I play because it’s the most fun that I have.