The various formats of Magic offer a very diverse field of gaming for players of all skill levels. Commander, to me, is Magic in its purest form. Deck building, synergy, variance, and player interaction are all utilized to the fullest within the Commander format. The creativity involved in creating an effective 100 card singleton deck for multiplayer gameplay is so unique to the format, that I’ve pretty much left behind other modes to focus on those 99 problems (but a general ain’t one).
For my first article, I wanted to focus on the heart of proper EDH (Commander) deck building – thematic synergy. Thematic synergy is the idea of taking a strategy forwarded by a particular Commander, and arranging beside cards that help further that goal. A friend of mine told me once “EDH is about taking a legendary creature and breaking it.” I think he would agree with me saying that thematic deck building and competitive synergy need not be mutually exclusive. For example, one of my favorite decks is not one of the most competitive generals, but the deck itself is very effective at pulling out wins because it is very focused in what it sets out to do. Every single card in the deck has a purpose, and every purpose sets out to win the game. The general is Lord of Tresserhorn, and the deck is graveyard combo.
When I started out creating my Lord of Tresserhorn deck, I had a very ambitious goal in mind: to create an entire deck that was itself a combo, while maintaining elements within the deck that could win on their own should the deck fail its initial goal, and still maintaining traditional Grixis flavor. The combo of the deck revolves around 2 cards, Mesmeric Orb and Basalt Monolith. While the triggering combo is 2 cards, there are numerous other moving parts to have the combo work. All and all, it is a very fragile and complex combo to pull off, and removal of any number of elements of the combo can completely disrupt you from going off. Before we delve into the combo itself, let’s take a look at the decklist.
Lord of Tresserhorn Graveyard Combo EDH
Lord of Tresserhorn Win Condition
The general idea of the deck is to use the combo of Basalt Monolith and Mesmeric Orb to mill your entire library into your graveyard, which triggers a cascade of effects that ultimately should win you the game… assuming some pesky instants don’t rear their ugly heads and ruin the party. To elaborate, once your graveyard is milled, Narcomoeba will trigger itself onto the battlefield, Fatestitcher gets unearthed, allowing Gravecrawler to be cast from the graveyard, all of which enable flashback on Dread Return targeting Necrotic Ooze. With Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Cinderhaze Wretch in the graveyard along with Anger, giving your newly reanimated slime haste, you can swing into your opponents with your ooze army for game. Obviously, such a fragile combo needs to be protected, so cards like Pact of Negation and Spell Crumple provide disruption against someone packing instant speed removal or counters.
To rely on such a complex combo to win all of the time would be foolhardy, so that brings us back to the concept of thematic synergy. The deck has numerous “outs” that allow for other win conditions aside from the primary combo. It is essential for an EDH deck to have several win conditions because of the large degree of variance in each game. Particularly in a multiplayer game, you are going to have more people with answers to your win conditions. The more complex your win conditions, the more likely they are to be disrupted. Adding cards that just focus on a narrow win condition isn’t the answer, however. Since you can only have one of any particular card in Commander, it is important than every card provides as much utility as possible.
For example, because of all of the graveyard mechanics in this deck, there are multiple sources of synergy on graveyard. One particularly powerful interaction is Mimic Vat, Body Double, and Sepulchral Primordial. Individually, they all are very useful cards, but together they provide a constant and powerful reanimation engine. There are few things sexier in Magic than stealing every opponent’s creatures from their graveyards every turn. Additionally, there are several other reanimation options via Coffin Queen, Beacon of Unrest, and Profane Command. If your graveyard is going to be one of your primary deck themes, then a large majority of your cards should synergize with cards in the graveyard.
Finding as many opportunities as possible to abuse your deck’s interactions is the purpose of finding thematic synergy in your builds. Since this deck is constantly dumping cards in the graveyard, I was forced into using certain cards to ensure that I am able to turn my graveyard into a source of card advantage. I added cards like Crucible of Worlds, Volrath’s Stronghold, and Academy Ruins to help generate card advantage and provide answers when they are needed. If a player was building a deck that abused tokens, they would want as many options to take advantage of the tokens as possible – Doubling Season, Goblin Bombardment, Gavony Township, etc.
Similarly, a Commander deck should be able to take advantage of synergies that stem from your general. Obviously, Lord of Tresserhorn doesn’t provide a lot of advantageous abilities for a player, but there are aspects of his abilities that can be abused. For example, Torpor Orb was begging to be put in this deck, which turns off Lord of Tresserhorn’s enter the battlefield trigger, but can be used as a hate card for other decks. Consecrated Sphinx is another card that is just excellent generally speaking, and can turn LoT’s disadvantage into an advantage for the deck.
Ideally, if your deck has proper synergy in line with the theme of the deck, it will be able to take advantages of the deck’s shortcomings. A commander like Damia, Sage of Stone would want to take advantage of cards that dump your hand quickly to take advantage of her draw ability and mitigate skipping your draw step. Enchantments like Omniscience and Manabond provide ways to take advantage of cycling through your deck quickly while Damia refills your hand. With my LoT build, I tried to ensure that I was not simply using my general for colors, but rather for what he can provide in utility on the field by surrounding him with cards that take advantage of his drawback.
I encourage players to analyze the theme of their deck and focus their deck’s synergies towards a primary goal. Thematic synergy ensures that you will have the consistency and the versatility needed to pull wins out of your pods quickly and often. Every card needs to have as much utility as possible to warrant inclusion. If you ever have to say that a card you have in the deck is there because it is good with only one or two other cards, then you really should reconsider its inclusion.
Well, until next week, happy gaming!