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Our group's been playing Magic since mid-2013, and Commander 2013 since a while after that. A couple of us are keen on building our own commander decks now. We're aware the Commander format can easily be very powerful, and that different groups vary from decks that finish within a few turns to those that easily last 15-20 turns (like the C13 decks do). We're having some trouble working out how to gear our decks to be at a suitable power level for our table's current meta.

We can tell when a card's just going to outright break things and be un-fun. However, we encounter fairly powerful cards and we're not sure if they're too powerful, or OK because it's just what that deck does, or maybe it should be considered a bomb like Serra Avatar. Is Pontiff of Blight too powerful or just right in our C13-based environment (pay a few {W/B}, cause life loss and get 3-4 life for each mana spent this way because multiplayer) — how do we tell?

How do Commander groups usually work this out? Are there design standards available? Is there a well-defined tier list that can guide our deck construction? What do people go by to ensure they match their game's meta effectively without breaking it? Or is it just done by feel and experimentation and group moderation of "don't use that card, it won't be fun for us, use this one instead maybe"?

As a subjective question, this will be governed by the Stack's Good Subjective, Bad Subjective guidelines and the subjective questions guidance offered at the bottom of this help page.

This means answers need to adhere to the back it up principle: your solution must be accompanied by based on either something that happened to you personally, or something you can back up with a reference. In general that means cite direct experience (your own or someone else's) that demonstrates the effectiveness of solutions you provide. A solution that comes with no experience of its effectiveness is low quality.

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    For the record, Stack Exchange does not exclusively handle objectively answerable questions. Subjective questions are acceptable and even the norm for many sites. See our questions not to ask page - the bottom section (CTRL+F "some subjective questions") outlines our expectations for subjective questions and how they're handled. – doppelgreener Jun 22 '15 at 7:24
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    I recognize the allowance for some (but not all) subjective questions, and I find that this one doesn't make the cut. The question is primarily opinion based. Every group is sure to have their own completely different way of doing things. This might be better suited to some discussion forums (like mtgsalvation). – Rainbolt Jun 22 '15 at 13:15
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    Indeed: judge whether answers are good subjective answers. The question certainly allows and asks for such answers; there's no need to get rid of it because some people might not answer it well. – Cascabel Jun 22 '15 at 14:55
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    @Hackworth such a person would be failing to back up their statements sufficiently. You've just provided a model of a low quality subjective answer. If you see one like that, downvote it. – doppelgreener Jun 22 '15 at 16:04
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    From the answers that are already posted, I am not sure how this can be answered with facts that are not just opinions and from the comments on the same answers it would appear it is already turning into a discussion. – Pow-Ian Jun 23 '15 at 12:29
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If there's one thing you can learn from Mark Rosewater's "Making Magic" articles (check out the section on "Empires"), it's that the best way to find out if a deck is unfair and/or miserable is to play it. This may seem like something you could shortcut, but card evaluation is really hard, and cards or decks that seem oppressive at first glance may turn out to be actually really fun and exciting; and vice versa.

The key thing here is to have a group happy to communicate that your deck is stopping them having fun, and to be able to tell which deck it is that's doing it. The best way to tell this is the same way you'd analyse anything; change one thing and see what happens.

For example, if everyone turns up with a new deck, and one can't compete, one's horrifically broken, and one just feels like it could be fair if the removal suite in the opposing decks were different, you change the broken one, and see how it fits. If you change all of them, suddenly you could get massive swings against the "could be fair" which you weren't expecting.

Also, be aware that if your deck is requiring people to significantly adapt their decks to deal with it, then even though it seems fair, it's actually warping.

Another issue is play skill; for example, Black Lotus is an entirely reasonable card as long as you're using it to ramp into Centaur Courser on turn 1. The deck may seem reasonable, and then suddenly stop being reasonable in the hands of a more experienced player. So it's worth agreeing that, just because a deck was fine originally, it could now be time to retire it as it starts to cause issues.

  • Don't suppose you found that link? I'd be very curious to read it. – Robert Wertz Jun 23 '15 at 20:26
  • @RobertWertz Done. I slightly misremembered, it's actually a very short segment of a much longer podcast acting as an introduction to Commander. – deworde Jun 24 '15 at 17:26
  • You missed a word among "actually ;" just before that video link! First paragraph, last sentence. – doppelgreener Jun 25 '15 at 6:23
  • @doppelgreener Wow, this really was a rush job. Thanks! – deworde Jun 25 '15 at 18:48
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I think group moderation is the way to go. Build the deck you want to play. If there are cards that look particularly brutal, maybe ask your group about them ahead of time. Otherwise, just play, and if something happens that ruins the fun for everyone, then adjust as needed.

If you want to keep games from feeling "samey" every time, you could ban cards that let you search your deck for a specific card. That way, even if someone has a bomb, they'll probably only see it in about 25% of games. Also, keep in mind that Commander is intended to be multi-player. If someone has a particularly powerful deck, they should expect the other players to all be targetting them. It is difficult for even a strong deck to take on multiple players at once consistently.

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In addition to the other suggestions here like getting feedback from your fellow players as you play, you can do a couple free-for-all games. In my play group that is mostly what we do and it's pretty easy to see who has the best board position at any given time (we all usually start conspiring to hurt that player's board, he is getting constantly attacked, etc.). If the deck you play is constantly garnering hate from the other players, your deck may be over-powered.

For example: one of my friends has a few EDH decks, including one that uses Gisela, Blade of Goldnight as his commander. When that deck comes out, we all know that while the game may technically be a free-for-all, it is really everyone vs. him.

If people are constantly feeling threatened by you deck so much so that you constantly have a target on your head, you probably need to dial it back a bit.

Note: being in a good position is part of the game and key to winning. It is when you are in a good or great position a disproportionate amount of the time that it becomes a problem.

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Hmmm the problem I see with this is that in my experience a player makes a commander deck he enjoys, he doesn't change it according to the group or the group makes a deck which can match his, this would take a lot of fun out of the proces of owning your own commander deck of 100 cards.

That being said, there are buyable premade commander decks. In my experience they are neither good nor bad and can be played against each other as long as they come from the same set. I've done this once with some friends, we all bought the new commander decks and played once with them so we could figure out the flaws and then we made changes we deemed necessary to make a deck which could actually fight.

Next to that there are commander staples cards. This forum topic gives a list of all commander staples. I would say that you can build a lot of decks with these cards and cards you deem necessary for a commander deck.

Also a commander deck is mostly build around it's commander. So how a deck is build mostly depends on the commander (although I know of cases where the commander is only used to provide colours).

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    Except 'staple cards' are generally some of the more powerful cards in the format... – Waterseas Jun 22 '15 at 14:20
  • Not per se, some mana stones and stuff like that are not per se powerful, granted the eldrazi and stuff like that are powerful, but mana dorks and utility cards are not that powerful, they can be expensive tho. – Wouter Jun 22 '15 at 14:22
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    Ow no in interpreted it wrong form what you said, i thought you meant power as in got a lot of power. I agree with you in that regard – Wouter Jun 22 '15 at 14:29
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    This feels like it's only marginally an answer to the OP's actual question; he's clearly willing to adjust his deck to avoid being too overpowered (so there's also not just one possible deck per commander), the group isn't just limited to premade commander decks, he's willing to adjust, and decks aren't entirely composed of staples so even if you use plenty of them, there's still a need to figure out how to adjust power. – Cascabel Jun 23 '15 at 22:19
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    This kind of answer, which actually appears perfectly valid since Wouter backs their opinion with experience as is recommended, is exactly the reason why I voted to close this question. – Pow-Ian Jun 24 '15 at 15:53

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