Last night we gathered together to try out the new Magic the Gathering pre-constructed Commander decks. Four players, four decks and about four hours of fun! In this post I will be summarising our experiences on the playability of the pre-constructed decks and share our initial feeling about how it all went.
Choosing the Tribes
Initially I was a bit puzzled with the number of precon decks this year. When in the past years Wizards has published five decks each year there were only four this time around. It might be due to the very mixed colors the decks represent (in the past they have been balanced in some way to represent all colors equally). But the best effect of this was that we could actually play a balanced game with four players.
In previous years our members of our gaming group have bought some decks for toolboxing. We have been playing actively (some more or less) since the first precons were published in 2011. This means that most players in our group have huge collections and each year these decks have less to offer us in the terms of financial value. In addition to that some of the decks didn’t click.
While browsing through the spoilers for this year’s Commander decks I was sure I wouldn’t buy any of them. I’m a tribal player by heart but none of these four had a tribe I actually wanted to play. None of these decks are as competitive as our current meta demands. So there was no point to buy a deck when I could order the singles I wanted.
We discussed quite a bit about the decks and it seemed that each tribe had something someone liked. Wizards, dragons and vampires were of course easy bets for the tribes. Cats on the other hand were not.
However having played a lot more Magic recently I have been able to narrow my focus. I like go wide strategies and GW as a combination. There were enough cards that I do not have and would have bought anyway in the Feline Ferocity deck that I decided to buy it. Miska wanted the wizards for his collection, Mikko was already intrigued by the vampires and we managed to convince Ville to get the dragons.
Suddenly we had all the precons and the will to make a game night happen.
Most of us had studied the cards and the deck lists prior to the game. We had some kind of presumptions how the games would go. Dragons would get mana screwed, wizards would have weird shenanigans and vampires could very well dominate the game. I suspected that my cats would do well since their out-of-the-box mana base seemed most consistent.
We sleeved the decks, shuffled the hell out of them and began to play!
Only to notice that no way could we start with the hands we draw.
Miska and I had to mulligan for five cards, Mikko went six and Ville started with a full hand. He got immediate mana boost with Dragonlord’s Servant. I was luckily able to “bolt the bird” with Condemn when he attacked so he didn’t get as much head-start.
In the first game Miska never managed to solve his mana problems so we did not see that much of whacky wizardry. What we did see though was hordes of vampires. We had three board wipes in the first game (which by itself is a high number for precon) but time after time the vampires rose again.
Once we recognised the threat the vampires presented there was a quick alliance between other players to crush the bloodsuckers. Even with very aggressive game the vampires were first to die. Mainly due to their inability to draw cards to fuel their rage.
After Mikko was eliminated I had balanced my cats, got Zendikar Resurgent to double my mana and managed to beat down the other players with single huge cat.
While other players continued with their Eminence-commanders I wanted to give Nazahn, Revered Bladesmith a chance since the first game had shown this deck was about the equipment.
The game began horribly again. Most of the players were forced to mulligan under seven cards and just go with a couple of tap lands at best. I had Oreskos Explorer to fix my mana that was it.
Dragons didn’t get as explosive as fast they had done in the first game but the wizards were on fire. Miska had Mirror of the Forebears on the board on the round two and it clearly was his MVP for the second game.
The curses made their appearance in this game. There wasn’t any politics about playing them. We stuck two Curse of Vitality for Ville on turn three and that made him a very early and easy target. Mostly due to the vampires strong going in the first game Mikko was cursed twice too, but since his draws were abysmal no-one wanted to attack him. We still did (for the gold) but it wasn’t as much fun.
The wizards were going strong, even with nobody actually sure what was going to happen with them. But in the end I managed to cast Mirari’s Wake to double my mana (again) and after that it was just the matter of rounds before I beat them all dead. The game ended with my commander swinging with 34 commander damage on a single blow (well, double strike) and me having life at 80.
Summary and Opinions
As everybody suspected the biggest hindrance in these two games were the mana base. And I don’t mean Sol Rings and whatnot but the “comes into play tapped”. Their number was just too damn high. It meant most players had to play only taplands for a couple of first rounds. And that wasn’t fun. It also meant that (as I had suspected) the mana fixing of cats proved powerful.
In comparison to our regular games there also was a ridiculous amount of errors made. Eminence for example was easy to forget at the beginning, the way curses worked was overlooked more than once and other stupid mistakes were made all the time.
I’m not sure this was a bad thing though. As I said we have been playing for years. When you build your deck you tend to see what it does and learn the cards while refining it. This time the precons forced us think more.
In the end we all enjoyed the games. The decks were in fact balanced. And even though I managed to win both games I had to work for it.
The precons have always been quite good decks. Maybe not entirely competitive but a great starting point at the least. With four decks we didn’t need to leave one deck out of the game and got a good grasp about what the decks could do and what not.
I had thought I would take the deck apart after the games but it was just too fun to play to break it down already. I might even try to run it as is during our next game night before updating it. Just to see more of how it works.
While these decks are nowhere near perfect, they are good decks and relatively easy to play. Their issues are mostly in the mana base and will need updating to local meta. But as out-of-the-box decks go these were great.