Hey, Hayes here to talk about how the 1v1 Commander format is evolving online and what decks are making up the format. First; the new bans:
From the Magic Online Tumblr:
“In conjunction with Life from the Loam and Crucible of Worlds, Strip Mine recursion locks have proven to be an extremely powerful and resilient lock taking minimal investment from the decks playing them.”
I fully agree with this assessment: because strip mine can target basic lands there is very little you can do to protect yourself from land destruction from the activated abilities of lands. Wasteland only targets nonbasic lands.
“Initial results have shown that blue midrange decks, either mono-blue or Sultai-colored, are rising to the top at a steady rate. Given the variety of Commanders being played in decks with similar strategies, this appears to be a color and strategic imbalance in the format more so than individual problem Commanders. While removing these cards is far from a crippling blow to these decks, it’s a clear first step in lowering their power level.”
I don’t feel like these two cards needed to be necessarily banned but I think this is a good compromise for not banning any commanders. This format is filled with a lot of blue decks and instead of banning any commander, they choose to simply take two powerful blue options away. Smart move WOTC.
Here are some of the top commanders (and partner pairings) that I’ve been encountering online. You can find the various decklists and builds here.
Maelstrom Wanderer is trying to stomp you with ramp and cascade triggers. Most Wanderer decks won’t run too many traditional interactive cards but will instead focus on ramp so they can ramp quickly into Wanderer, get to get two cascade triggers, and dominate the battlefield with a 7/5 haste creature that gives all your dudes haste. Against control decks the cascade triggers will eventually break through any wall of counterspells. Against creature decks its not uncommon to cascade into game-ending sweepers like Burning of Xinye or Upheaval. Because Wanderer resolves after his cascade triggers any mass destruction effects don’t hit him.
The way that I’ve beaten Wanderer decks is to either outrace them while dodging the minor amount of removal they run, or by aggressively countering their ramp while having a threat like Vial Smasher the Fierce in play. Trading resources for he sake of trading resources is not good enough against Wanderer because if you trade for too long they might naturally make it to 8 mana and be able to cast their commander and recover card advantage.
Baral, Chief of Compliance
Baral, Chief of Compliance is trying to resolve Baral as quickly as possible and setup a nearly impenetrable counterspell wall and stop the opponent from playing the game. Because Baral costs 2 mana the first 2-3 turns of any Baral game are very intense because there is almost always some type of conflict over if he can resolve and survive low costing removal spells.
Baral is built heavily around his ability that makes instants and sorcery spells cost 1 less. In almost all Baral builds you’ll find cards that are inefficient in other decks but the -1 casting cost lets them make the cut for this deck (like dissolve or Jace’s Ingenuity). So if you do manage do dislodge/counter baral, you can put your opponent in a tight spot.
If you try to kill Baral while your opponent has their mana up they’ll probably counter it, and cantrip. Choosing when you try to force a fight over Baral can be difficult because the Baral player will almost always be more mana efficient because of Baral’s cost modifier, and whenever the Baral player counters a spell they cantrip. Constantly countering spells leads to cantriping into more counterspells, some of which draw a card by themselves (see Cryptic Command or Disrupt).
I’ve found the best way to deal with Baral is to try to resolve a low costing threat like Thrasios, Triton Hero, that lets you input mana for value over each turn. You won’t be casting spells and letting the Baral player have a chance to cantrip to their eventual control win conditions.
Be sure to watch out for Polymorph and Reweave – the only creature in most Baral decks is Emrakul, The Aeons Torn and these two spells targeting Baral will bring the famous Eldrazi into play. It might seem like this won’t happen very often but with spells like Mystical Tutor, Personal Tutor, and Merchant Scroll in the format if Baral decks want to they can focus on the Emrakul Synergy.
Mostly built around Vial Smasher the Fierce, this Grixis control deck archetypes tries to survive until the midgame until they can safety deploy Vial Smasher and get free damage triggers that randomly go to your only opponent’s face. Spells like Treasure Cruise (RIP) and Bedlam Reveler can cause massive damage via this trigger. Other spells like Logic Knot or Flash of Insight are very capable of dealing a full 30 points of damage if games progress long enough.
Kraum, Ludevic’s Opus allows this deck to pivot from a control deck to asserting massive damage with Vial Smasher’s trigger. On the turn you cast Kraum with Vial Smasher in play that’s 9 points of damage with a 4/4 haste flying creature that sometimes draws you a card.
This deck archetype often has a tempo element to it – often during a game you will realize you have to shift from countering/answering everything to resolving Vial Smasher and pushing damage onto your opponent. I’ve played with a Counter/Burn Vial Smasher deck that I had moderate success with (you can run Fireblast if you want to) and I like how easy it is to incorporate aggressive lines with the Vial Smasher/Kraum partner combo.
4 Color Kiki Chord
This is a value/combo deck that puts Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder and Thrasios, Triton Hero at the helm for their color spread and utility. The deck is very good at finding specific cards that lead to Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker style combos that create infinite value or for finding creatures like Scavenging Ooze that can rip apart specific strategies.
This deck is good because while it can threaten infinite combos (I believe its the only true combo deck in the format right now) it can just as easily win through sustained value generation. It doesn’t rely too heavily on the combos.
Tasigur, The Golden Fang
This is a control deck that is trying to grind out the game using a Sultai color scheme paired with Tasigur, The Golden Fang ‘s ability to add cards to the graveyard and force your opponent to give you a nonland card back.
Tasigur’s delve works well from the command zone – you can pay for the tax via cards from your graveyard. This also amplifies your ability to be selective in what you want to have in your graveyard when you start activating Tasigur.
Fetchlands and cards like Thought Scour and Gitaxian Probe help you flesh out your graveyard, you cast Tasigur for a low amount of mana (delving several cards and leaving up countermagic) and try to strangle your opponent. Many games with Tasigur involved involve Tasigur attacking over several turns for commander damage.
Graveyard hate, killing/countering Tasigur several times, or racing are usually the best ways to combat this archetype.
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is a deck that is often built to be either a mono blue control deck like Baral or be a storm deck that takes advantage of Jace’s planeswalker side to flashback powerful spells like High Tide so that the controller has enough mana for their storm turns using untap spells like Frantic Search and Turnabout. Sometimes the deck feels like a value deck the way it can flashback spells like Temporal Manipulation.
The best way to beat a Jace deck is to try to figure out if it is commited to control or storm, and play accordingly: storm can sometimes suffer from graveyard hate and countering key enablers like High Tide or other spells that allow for the mass casting of spells. Control Jace decks need to be either grinded out or challenged to see if they have the right counterspells at the right time.
Breya, Etherium Shaper
I would argue that Breya is the most grounded value/control deck in the format. It has a spread of over 4 colors (usually focusing on blue), and Breya herself solves and creates problems. She is banned in French 1v1 and incredibly hard to deal with because she brings two 1/1 flying creatures with her to the battlefield.
The best part about Breya is that there’s no clear way how to beat her. She’s hard to hate out because she doesn’t rely on any one strategy and from what I’ve seen deck builds are variant enough that its not easy to guess what your opponent might have in hand. Like Super Mario, she’s the master of being generic.
The Gitrog Monster
The Gitrog Monster is a degenerate lands deck that ramps very quickly into Gitrog and spews value and disruption via its “whenever one or more lands are put into your graveyard” clause. Want to Wasteland an opponent? Strip Mine? You get to draw cards while you do it in this deck.
When facing this deck you should almost always expect some form of disruption in the form of land destruction (very good versus the tri-color/4 color decks of the format). You should also always expect a fast gitrog monster – from what I’ve seen its very common to get it into play by turn three.
Gitrog decks are famous for their ability to cantrip via fetchlands and cycle lands like tranquil Thicket. If the Gitrog player has access to cards that allow for more land drops per turn things can get out of hand very very fast.
Against control decks Gitrog is good at using land denial to lock them out of the game. Against midrange decks Gitrog is usually faster at generating a dominant board presence via several land drops.
From what I’ve seen Gitrog’s only true weakness is against pure aggro decks that can apply consistent pressure and have the ability to remove gitrog immediately when he comes down.
Nissa, Vastwood Seer
Nissa, Vastwood Seer is a value ramp deck that tries to cast Nissa, then chump/trade with Nissa, cast her again, and eventually ramp into gigantic creatures like Primeval Titan and several Eldrazi. The deck is a little bit similar to Gitrog in that it runs several ways to disrupt the lands of the opponent but usually there is more of a focus on ramping and trying to reach game ending Eldrazi like Emrakul, The Aeons Torn.
Usually the best strategies against Nissa are very assertive aggro decks – control decks can struggle to close out a game against Nissa because Nissa fetches a land with each ETB trigger and eventually morphs into a planeswalker that basically draws a card each turn.
I’ve seen other decks floating around and have been running my own brews that have been having modest 3-2 (break even + 1 Treasure Chest) success. Here are a few notes on them:
I don’t think Captain Sisay has been explored enough in this format. She’s a powerful repeat tutor effect that can grind out control deck and there is actually serious combo implications with the card Paradox Engine.
Zurgo Bellstriker is a deck that has existed in the 1v1 French community for awhile but it’s not doing well in this MTGO format with a somewhat different ban list. Perhaps the new bans will help this deck but I still think this deck is a possible contender for being a top deck in the future.
Grenzo, Dungeon Warden is another viable deck that I think has legs – I’ve been going on multiple successful runs with a modified decklist you can find here. I think this is a unique deck because it can be hyper aggressive but because of Grenzo it is often capable of outlasting the grindy control decks of the format.
What I Think Overall
I think the ban changes are fair and will continue to help develop the format. I don’t think any one deck is going on a rampage and I think the format is modestly diverse for what it is. Nothing obscene or conflictive from my viewpoint.
What do you think of this 1v1 format? What new decks and strategies have you been bringing to the league and where do you think it will go? I personally think they might have banned Emrakul, The Aeons Torn but I think looking back I’m glad they didn’t.