Previously, this article series has covered the basic considerations for a Standard-only Commander card pool consisting of Return to Ravnica, Gatecrash, Dragon’s Maze, Magic 2014, and Theros. This second part will cover the eight mono-colored legendary creatures provided by Theros and their possible inclusion in mono-colored decks. These legendary creatures are a good start for exploring a Standard-only Commander format by exemplifying the best resources available to each singular color. By combining typical deck building concepts such as card advantage, mana acceleration, tutoring, and removal, interactive decks are still very possible even with a narrower card pool. All the example decks below will attempt to maximize the key themes Wizards of the Coast has implemented in each color under the New World Order design philosophy. In a Standard Commander format, do not automatically discount a mono-colored deck pilot despite his lack of color flexibility. Instead, these decks will capitalize on their steady mana bases to bring their strength to the fore.
Heliod, God of the Sun naturally has white gravitating towards a vigilant token creature theme, but doesn’t have much in the way of cheap, non-narrow creature removal. What white does have are ways to wipe the board of creatures and start over with Heliod: Angel of Serenity, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, Luminate Primordial, and Planar Cleansing. A deck built around Heliod might work to get board states consisting of a populated token army with pump effects or protected by Rootborn Defenses followed by a board wipe. Alternatively, Gideon, Champion of Justice is a semi-indestructible threat that continually gets larger. White also has access to an inordinate amount of life gain. By buffing the player’s life total, a Heliod, God of the Sun deck can recover from an opponent’s board wipe and have enough life buffer to rebuild its army. Such a deck might look like this:
This deck may also want Fiendslayer Paladin as an early threat with life gain and semi-protection. However, it can be a dead draw later in the game given a lack of synergy with the token theme and without a variety of efficient equipment normally available to white to increase its combat survivability. Riot Gear may also be something that a Heliod player might want to consider because it pumps a creature out of first strike damage range and can be moved around after combat. +1/+2 on any key creature may be enough to keep it on the table and be a continued threat in many scenarios. Lastly, Vial of Poison has potential to combo with Trading Post and the token theme of the deck.
Thassa, God of the Sea easily fills the expected classic blue control, draw-go build despite the focus of the color in Standard on milling a single opponent. A blue Thassa deck will be able to draw into more answers consistently than other mono-colored decks and lay down singular threats while simultaneously protecting them. The downside of blue is going to be lack of multiple large threats to quickly eliminate opponents. The blue player will possibly need to lean heavily on the social contract and deal-making to avoid being stereotypically eliminated first before attempting to take control and win the game. Playing a kingmaker role to remain in second place and waiting to bounce the entire board with a well-timed Ætherize or Cyclonic Rift may be a heavily-treaded strategy used by this deck’s pilot.
Annul may seem an odd counterspell inclusion, but it has real strength as one of the singular ways to preemptively deal with the Theros Gods. Clone is a card that will have tremendous power in this type of environment given it’s flexibility and very reasonable casting cost. For Johnny-type players, Conjured Currency may be a card to consider. It’s a very slow Switcheroo that can create some unexpected, possibly advantageous board states as it makes its way around the table. Additionally, the possibility of taking control of key god creatures is one of blue’s limited ways to deal with the troublesome permanents.
A mono-black Commander deck has two options for its general, but a deck lead by Erebos, God of the Dead has a strong draw engine that will compare with Standard Commander Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius or Prime Speaker Zegana decks with the added benefit of a low casting cost and indestructibility. Despite black’s inability to deal with non-creature permanents, black has some strong synergies and has potential to hold its own against the dual-colored decks possible in a current Standard card pool. Black also has a Johnny player’s type of deck when combining Shadowborn Apostle with Abhorrent Overlord, Desecration Demon, Lord of the Void, and Shadowborn Demon.
Purphoros, God of the Forge obviously needs to have multiple creatures come into play as often as possible to utilize its trigger. Unfortunately, a Standard Commander deck has limited options to make tokens repeatedly or en masse: Goblin Rally, Hammer of Purphoros, Molten Birth, Utvara Hellkite, Young Pyromancer, Akroan Horse, and Trading Post. Given the small amount of feasible red instants and sorceries in Standard for Commander, Young Pyromancer and Molten Birth really fail to fit in this deck.
An idea to work with this limitation is to explore additional themes unexpectedly found in red Standard Commander: Cheating large creatures into play and playing all the dragons available with Utvara Hellkite. Red has the ability to cheat creatures into play with Guild Feud and Possibility Storm. The important detail about Guild Feud is, “If no creatures or only one creature is put onto the battlefield this way, no fight happens.” Unfortunately, with only 25 creatures in the deck, this is a risky deckbuilding strategy, but will appeal to Johnny-type Magic players. (There is a finite number of red or artifact creatures in Standard currently with both high power and toughness with which to utilize with Guild Feud.) Accelerating straight into a Furnace Whelp from a Dragon Egg is fun too. Possibility Storm acts as a secondary and even perhaps better alternative to Guild Feud. The difference between the two is that Guild Feud allows you to consider trying minor group politics while Possibility Storm risks accelerating your opponents far beyond your own board state.
Second, if a Purphoros player can land an unanswered Utvara Hellkite, it can quickly take over a battlefield within a few turns. Hellkite Tyrant offers another way to cheat large threats onto the table by stealing key artifact acceleration with the side benefit of taking away opponents’ Theros artifact enchantments. Hellkite Tyrant will probably never win Purphoros the game, but has potential for serious card advantage with permanent theft of opponent’s resources.
Humorously, Guild Feud works on a very Vorthos level to demonstrate red’s attempt at politics: “You’re in the lead and you want a put a creature into play? Fine, I’ll try to kill it and you’ve milled three cards. Hey, look! My guy is meaner than yours too!” This is also aided by Akroan Horse: “Give that weaker player over there a blocker. I get an army for doing so? Imagine that…” Just don’t attack the Akroan Horse’s controller with a Hellkite Tyrant.
Anthousa, Setessan Hero, Nylea, God of the Hunt, or Polukranos, World Eater, despite having access to almost all of the mana acceleration available in Standard, will all have a very difficult time facing off against other Commander decks. The color has extremely limited and narrow card draw, few board wipes with limited effectiveness, and minimal fight-based creature removal. Additionally, Anthousa requires a deck built around the Heroic mechanic, but without recursive spells. This makes her a poor choice. Nylea herself does not have trample and is considered by eternal Commander players to be a less effective Kamahl, Fist of Krosa. Polukranos provides some effective removal with its cheap cost, but that benefit will dwindle over time as its command zone cost continually rises with multiple deaths. Timmy-type Magic players could possibly be interested in this archetype for a while due to its potentially large creatures, but it lacks resiliency and will frequently get stuck in topdeck mode. Eternal mono-green players may find this color to be a little frustrating to play.
With this deck, Nylea is the optimal commander and the cards work together to capitalize on making large creatures with trample. The Nylea player should be careful about overextending into removal and may want to help the table keep the focus on another threat by actually holding back attacking frequently. When the opportunity arises to hit the player that everyone fears the most, the green player will swing with an impressive force. As always, the green player will need to hold removal spells to remove key flyers found in blue and enable trample as frequently as possible to deal with tokens and pump effects.
With a single commander (except for black) and a limited card pool available for mono-colored decks, a Standard Commander deck may appear obvious for optimized builds when compared to guild-colored decks. Mono-colored deck builders will have to trade a set of color weaknesses for a consistent mana base and a potentially more dedicated theme.
This format will no doubt be exciting. Each color on its own appears to have deckbuilding highlights that can be fresh, interactive, and interesting to play in a multiplayer game with red players possibly having the most fun. The red players trying the build found in this article are going to be most likely to understand the Joker metaphor presented in one of Adam Styborski’s articles: “Just shooting Batman holds no appeal for the Joker. He must die by a laser mounted on the moon instead.” Those specific games will be memorable long after the Return to Ravnica/Gatecrash/Dragon’s Maze/Magic 2014/Theros Standard Commander card pool has rotated out and faded away.