Why You Should Slowly Update Your Commander Deck

Mikeal Basile
May 08, 2023

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection--thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

Today I come to you with a request to revisit the days of early EDH/Commander. No, I’m not saying you have to switch your playgroup over to preDH (EDH with cards made before “Commander” products started being printed). I’m also not telling you to only play with Commander-era cards. I’m going to talk to you about doing something that is both rooted in the past, but also still highly applicable in today’s fast-paced heavy Commander-design dominated world: I want you to build a deck, and then slowly upgrade or even alter it over time. I’m inviting you to try out a deck-building philosophy that many Magic the Gathering players have embraced in the past. Namely, treat your deck as “your deck.” I say “your deck” and not “decks” because I’d like to try and capture for you the time when you could only afford one deck. When you could only build one pile of cards and battle with your friends over and over again. This type of thinking has many benefits. I was inspired to write this when I read an article about why you shouldn’t upgrade your deck. I’m not sure I entirely agree with the approach, but it does have its merits. Instead, I’d like to posit that we embrace the idea of “the deck” and see where that might take us.

Inspired Tinkering - Craig J. Spearing

When you don’t have a deck, the hardest part is getting started. What colors do you play? What legendary commander fits best? What commitments are you going to make? These choices are so much more difficult considering the vast array of choices we have available in today’s saturated market. The pre-constructed deck options alone are enough to drown even experienced players—we’re paralyzed with choice or we just buy them all. However, what if we decide to learn more about ourselves before we endeavor to learn more about the cards available to us? I’m suggesting that we skip learning all the new cards, and rather instead determine what we love about the game.

Now, I don’t entirely disagree with what Gregory states in her article I mentioned previously, “Iterative work has many benefits, too, but I’m here to argue that you should start to care a little less, playtest a little more and enjoy the following benefits…” This is an awesome piece of wisdom, and I think it also applies to the approach I’m advocating as well. If we perhaps build in the restriction of only looking for what applies to “your deck” then you can start narrowing down what you need and what you want from each subsequent set that releases. What I mean is that you aren’t so overwhelmed with products to acquire when a new set comes out when you only have one three color deck. You can immediately narrow your focus down to the cards that you might want to try out in your deck. The more you play-test your deck, the more you get to know what types of decks it likes to play against, what decks it is weak to, and how you can perhaps shore up your defenses or beef up your offense for future games. Cutting cards that underperform and finding sleeping all-stars only happens when you actually play your deck again and again. Your level of stress goes way down with each set when you only focus on one deck. Heck, you could probably even have two or three decks and still just feel A.O.K. with each new release. I love the idea of my hobby bringing me stress relief, and I loathe the concept of being stressed about Magic. So, rather than build more decks, tear a few of them apart and refocus on just one for a while—it’s instant stress relief. As someone with over 80 sleeved Commander decks, I might know a thing or two about this stuff.

Biogenit Upgrade - Tomasz Jedruszek

Playing your singular deck is very rewarding. Plus, since this is a 100 card singleton format we don’t always get to see our updates each time we play. I know that when I update my cubes it can be several drafts before the newer cards get the trifecta of being drafted, put in a deck, and actually played in the game. If we don’t actually get to play the cards we’re trying out, then we just have to play some more to find out if we still want them in the deck. That sounds like enjoying much more Magic playing time, and that is a beautiful thing, indeed! Add on to that the idea that we don’t have to strip down a deck, rebuild/recalculate its mana base or mana curve or anything else, and we have a recipe for some serious unburdened fun.

The fun part of this is watching your deck develop along particular lines of fun, randomness, and competitiveness. Your deck’s power levels could take wild swings with the addition of just one or two cards. Suddenly, you notice that your deck has a new synergy or combo you hadn’t planned on and now you realize that your deck isn’t even fun anymore—you just crush everyone all the time. Those are happy accidents to make, but also very fun to correct. How do you fix the over-powering elements enough to keep your deck competitive, but not blow everyone else away like some sleeping cEDH deck amongst a bunch of pre-cons blow-out? If you and your friends get into this type of incremental upgrading each time you play, then you start getting to know each other’s decks, and you start to get excited to see what changes your friends have cooked up. You get better at playing against one another, but you also get better at surprising one another with how much a card or two can alter the course of an entire game or even an entire play group. Claims of “format warp” start to suddenly become reality and a fun puzzle to solve.

Journey to the Oracle - Chris Rahn

I feel that the end product you are shooting for is actually just the journey itself. Your deck building doesn’t become a destination, but a flowing experience that offers you new memories and experiences around every update. There is no ultimate optimization of “the deck”, so you just develop it a bit more over time. Each time you tweak and alter your deck you get to experience new ideas, make interesting plays, and then build a more exciting Magic experience for yourself and your friends. Ultimately, it’s an exciting and enjoyable way to build and refine—it’s also much more affordable than building entirely new decks over and over. I love something that is budget friendly, but journey rich at the same time.

While you might swing for the fences and swap out ten or more cards at a time, I would caution you on that front. Having a chance to watch small changes play out is a great way to slow down the experience, and live a little more with the moments you have. You can really appreciate your deck for what it is capable of, and you won’t be stuck in all that it could or should have been: if only you had drawn those ten new cards…

Song of Creation - Noah Bradley

Now, the frequency with which we rebuild should really just be linked with either the release of new sets, or as I like to plan it, with the times we all sit down to play several games. Each gaming session is a chance to see our creations in action. If we can focus on making one or three changes between each gaming session (provided we actually play the new cards a few times), then we can get a feel of the types of changes we want to make. The more you play a deck the more you grow together. It can feel like bringing out an old friend to the table once you’ve played a deck like this for a while. It’s a comforting feeling to pull out that Brion Stoutarm deck and watch it unfold and hurl itself toward victory. 

I hope that this article has offered you some insight into why incrementally altering your decks may actually be worth your time, rather than rebuilding them entirely. While rebuilding can be rewarding, and should probably be done from time to time, I still believe that slow changes and slimming down your deck collection might be far more rewarding and offer up much needed respite from the fast-paced world of Magic product releases. If you’re wondering what to do with all those decks you might tear down and disassemble, then you might want to take a look at my articles on building a Commander Cube. I’ve built and designed both expensive and budget versions, and they are a very rewarding way to utilize a growing collection of Commander products that otherwise might just be collecting dust. Until next time, go pick out which deck and legendary creature is going to helm “your deck” and may the increments and the cards be ever in your favor!