Wednesday, May 20, 2020

There's No Shame in "Stock"

I'll start this piece off with that the obligatory "man it's crazy out there" and "while we were all cooped up" disclaimers because, holy shit, it's been crazy out there and we were all totally cooped up (and probably still should be for a while, but that's just me) and it's been goddamn weird right? So I did what many a good magic player has done the past several weeks with all this extra time on my hands and that's sit down and break apart my mid-teens worth of Commander decks to fine tune some cards here and there. But, unfortunately, one of the main things I discovered about my deck building acumen as I did some looking around the Internet (specifically the hallowed halls of the EDHrec webpage) is that I am, to my chagrin at first, a "basic bitch" when it comes to deck building.

And this was kind of disheartening at first, because one of the biggest things I like about Magic and the literal tens of thousands of cards it brings to the table is taking that large pool of keywords and abilities and card types and molding them into something creative but functional. That's a hallmark of limited play, which is also one of my favorite things to be doing with my cardboard (or digital cardboard since I do 100% of my drafting through Arena). I like to get this pool of fresh cards and mold them into something fun and hopefully playable. That feeling also transfers itself over to a new set release in general when a brand new stock of cards hits and makes their presence known on your existing decks and gets you tooling about. It just so happens, though, that my "tooling about" ends up with me making decks that look (ir)remarkably similar to what you can find when you click the "Average Deck" button on the EDHrec pages per commander.

At first I was kind of hurt by discovering that my decks are essentially the "Pumpkin Spice Latte" of design. By that comparison I mean that my decks were satisfying in flavor but generic in composition. Except, then it dawned on me, why is that a problem? The decks themselves are very much enjoyable to play, it just so happens that they play similar to the versions of those decks that thousands and thousands of people have decided is the enjoyable way for that deck to play. And in being fair to myself and this plethora of other deck builders, when you see a general you like and that inspires something in you to build a deck around them, you're probably doing that off of particular theme that general presents. You build yourself a Nekusar deck, you best know you're going to be Wheel of Fortuning and its variants. You're not building Daxos, the Returned to play a deck full of three dozen Instants and Sorceries. So when it comes to a lot of generals, you, and thousands of other players just like you, are going in there with a base-level in mind to the deck that of course is going to share a LOT in common with people that are in the same mindset, but maybe only a handful of unique cards in mind on top of the staples that, based on power level and design, are obvious includes in such a deck type.

If anything a deck building "existential dread" highlights about crafting a fresh ninety-nine card deck - maybe even a hundred with Companions existing now - when you choose a new general is that, due to the velocity of new cards being printed these days in the world of Magic: The Gathering and a recognition that Commander is pretty much the most popular thing the game has going, thereby leading to a lot of cards being aimed specifically at the format. Some cards are just more powerful than others, that's always been true since the day Alpha hit the shelves twenty-six years ago and the cream has always risen to the top. Even in a format like Commander where the emphasis is way more skewed to durdling and showing off your fun cards before you infinite lock the table on turn eight, things are going to be a little ubiquitous. Every deck ramps so you're probably going to ramp a specific way because those are the best way to get yourself extra mana in your deck. As per my Daxos example earlier, if you're playing a general like that that makes tokens based around you casting enchantments, you're going to play enchantments that benefit your tokens in some way. That cream just rises to the top, the top of your delicious fall-themed latte that fills you with generic happiness ones the leaves start to drop.

Personally, I have found a bit of a cure to my deck builders' mid-life crisis, and it's not buying up expensive cards to show off in compensation of my lackluster designing achievements. Basically what I try and do is get my variety not by going to extremes to differentiate my deck from being 95% of the "stock" version of what everyone is doing with it, but just differentiating my decks. To a certain extent anyway, for as I said before, sometimes ramp is just ramp, and removal is just removal, and twenty-six years into the game we have so much of each that the best just ends up being the best. But what I'm saying is experiment with your decks not within the confines of the general, but within the breadth of all the generals and deck archetypes that the catalog of Magic allows. I'm packing eighteen decks in total today that run the gamut of my original Karador decks' "Graveyard Toolbox" to a Yidris deck that does the Cascade shenanigans you'd expect to my own Daxos Enchantment deck since I've brought him up several times in this piece. My decks Morph, they steal, they mill, they go wide and they go high. The decks themselves may not represent the more obscure corners of over two decades worth of history within themselves, but across my library of, uh, libraries I feel like my variety of things to do is as strong as anything I could have done within the confines of just a singular build. Regardless, if you're finding satisfaction with what you are doing with your builds, whether it's scouring every last deep and dark corner of Gatherer to find a card that even a dozen clones of Mark Rosewater couldn't remember if you put them on the spot, or your deck box looks like a buffet of archetypes, there's no shame in what you're shuffling up looking like what a lot of the community is if you still get a sense of satisfaction in what it does while you're in the slamming your cards down on the table.

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