Well, this has been evolving for years, but I’m finally going to write about it.
I don’t play Commander much these days, because I don’t get many chances to, but when I do, I tend to notice that the format has moved into a direction I don’t really like.
Many of the decks are now highly researched and optimized. Even the so-called 75% or budget decks are highly synergistic. More and more games devolve into “this is my combo, can you interact with it?”
Now, personally, I do like designing these decks, but I don’t like playing them. They are nice thought-experiments, but why would I bring together a bunch of people to show off my deck design skills? Sure, if the players use the game as an excuse to get together, why not, but in case someone is actually interested in playing an actual game, this isn’t a very good place to start. Four people goldfishing to find who can find their combo fastest just isn’t that fun for me.
Any time you design a deck, you are doing game design. Your goals are not the same as in game design in general, but you are trying to understand the as it is and find a new way to work in that framework. You are trying to find ways to win.
Why? Couldn’t you take a different kind of approach? Sure, there are all sorts of flavor decks and that’s a different kind of goal, but those feel like a cop-out to me. “I can’t win anyhow, so I’ll just make a weird deck based on Monty Python’s Meaning of Life.” That could be fun as well, but how much does that contribute to the fun at the table?
How about this: You should always design with your game group’s enjoyment in mind. You should design your decks to fun to play against.
What does this mean? I don’t know, actually. It’s a learning process, which can take a long time.
This is what I do:
I don’t use combos that win the game immediately. I do use combos that gain value or win the game over time, but I don’t try to set up a one-turn kill.
I don’t use cards that lock out other players, such as Moat or excessive discard.
I try to avoid strategies that require very specific answers, which aren’t conducive to interesting gameplay, such as masses of tokens, which require my opponents to use Wraths to play against.
I don’t use tutoring, because they lead to repetitive games.
As much as I love drawing cards, I try not to do it too much, because having a bunch of cards in my hand makes my turns take longer, even if I’m a fairly fast player.
I try to use spot removal instead of wraths, because they are tactically and strategically more interesting.
I try to find new cards, which have an interesting effect on the game.
I mgiht not optimize my deck, but I will try to optimize my gameplay and do my best to win with whatever I have available at the table.