As Commander players, we evolve based on our experiences with the format. Naturally our deck compositions develop based on the results of casual games at shops, within playgroups, online games, or, for some, through competitive tournaments. While brewing decklists, whether we’re aware of it or not, we go through a cycle of inquiry, action, and reflection as we turn our 99 to do exactly what we intend. Becoming acutely aware of this cycle of inquiry will make you a better deck builder.
The Inquiry Cycle
MYP: From principles into practice, International Baccalaureate Organization 2014
Howdy! In addition to playing magic, I work as a math teacher at an IB public high school. I love to create. I legitimately enjoy conducting research, building upon resources, testing my product, learning from the experience, and revising for improvement. I do this professionally creating mathematics curriculum, and I am even drawn to it in leisure compiling list after list of magic brews.
I began playing magic in the era of Squirrel Opposition and Upheaval into Psychatog. Most of my MTG context is set in the Standard format where my favorite decks include Astral Slide, Tight Sight, Teachings Control, and Rally the Ancestors (with a whole lot of jank in-between). I owned a partial custom cube for a time and only began playing EDH a couple of years ago; however, I now subscribe to this format exclusively.
The interesting part of my experience with the format is that I don’t particularly enjoy the same types of decks as I played historically in Standard or Cube. EDH shifted my game motivations towards more interactive board states rather than racing to obtain a position to secure victory. Yes, this means I went through the cycle of inquiry outlined above and continue to experience throughout all my deck building.
While certainly not a newcomer, The Mimeoplasm is my current pet Commander. Ole’ T-Rex arm is always fun to take for a walk. What I enjoy most about this commander are the innumerable, divergent paths the deck takes during a game, while still feeling like a tightly synergistic pile of cards.
When I began constructing my initial list I naturally scour resources such as EDHREC, beginning with an obvious focus on how to fill the graveyard and what to do with all that dead goodness.
A simple EDHREC inquiry into The Mimeoplasm yields the staple graveyard tutor cards Entomb, Buried Alive, and Jarad’s Orders, but also plenty of spells that allow you to dig through your deck while simultaneously filling your graveyard with edible creature snacks:
Using the “Advanced Filters” tool to narrow in on decks that include cards similar to Grisly Salvage unearths a bevy of self-mill cards as well:
Though even with these clearly outlined, I knew I didn’t want instants and sorceries to make up the backbone of the deck. This ooze wants a graveyard steeped in creatures! So I decided that even though creature cards that loot are inherently weaker than a card like Fact or Fiction, they can achieve controlled, steady graveyard and hand sculpting. Thus I built my list on a foundation of creature-based draw abilities:
Splendid! And speaking of creatures, a standard EDHREC inquiry yields plenty of juicy includes. Split into two categories based on what our main squeeze desires: the edibles it wants to copy, and the edibles we want to use to add +1/+1 counters.
Counters-matter cards include: Lord of Extinction, Consuming Aberration, Splinterfright, and the simple cyclers Krosan Tusker, Elvish Aberration, Twisted Abomination. This deck is oozing (pardon me while I dad) with potential includes here depending on the effects you enjoy.
After pawning off the pieces of my Tasigur deck, I compiled my Mimeoplasm list and got some games under my belt. The deck functioned somewhat as intended. It was creature focused. It viewed the graveyard as an extension of my hand. It provided explosive plays on the synergistic heels of some of my favorite “haste” enabling clone effects in Renegade Doppelganger and Volrath’s Shapeshifter (imagine playing a Looter into this card, discarding Sire of Stagnation). My deck also gave me turns with endless possibilities as a result of gratuitous mana from Nirkana Revenant and Regal Behemoth coupled with Tempt with Reflections and Rite of Replication—I say endless possibilities, but usually the choice is simple: “I’ll cast Villainous Wealth targeting you, friend.”
There was a lingering problem I noticed though. I found it ridiculously easy to win with Laboratory Maniac. I mean it became so easy that winning any other way was just too inefficient. This might not seem like a problem, but I enjoy playing decks without a singular goal. An enabler like Deadeye Navigator with Prime Speaker Zegana and Thought Gorger in addition to cards such as Greater Good, Windfall, and Whispering Madness were just so powerful in combination with a giant, gooey Consecrated Sphinx that it took almost no effort or thought to mill myself to victory. Not to mention Mirror-Mad Phantasm shenanigans.
That said, while I wasn’t willing to cut all of these cards from the deck, I did want to search for alternate win conditions. I adapted my EDHREC search, filtering for decks “without” the LabMan and “without” thine divine sphinx. From these types of inquiries I introduced a mill win condition in Oona, Queen of the Fae. I added an ability win condition in Shaman of Forgotten Ways. A nuclear weapon was included in Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord along with a power-matters theme. Finally I introduced something I rarely include in my odd, creature-based EDH decks: a win condition through attacking creatures with combat step mouth-breathers Pathbreaker Ibex and Thunderfoot Baloth. Of note was the choice to exclude the infect win in Blighted Agent and Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon, leaving that for more icky players (though I can’t fault you as the cards are perfect for the deck).
Playing this version of the deck felt better. I was winning with unique board states, unexpected evasive damage, and I even came close to eating someone’s whole deck, while the whole time still having the opportunity to lightning flash my skull like a Maniac. Divergent play experience: check!
While games with this list were more interactive, I still typically exploded out of the gates faster than my opponents. The deck played as a reanimator, and it was clear that the most powerful cards in the 99 were Reanimate, Exhume, Dance of the Dead, Animate Dead, and Necromancy. It didn’t help running Kederekt Leviathan in combination with the latter three.
Essentially, I wanted build a more ‘fair’ deck. Playing a turn three Woodfall Primus or wrecking a player’s board at will is hard to resist when given the option, but it’s not very fun to play against. It also makes you the target at the table, and I want the guy between me and the fridge to not mind getting me another beer. Thus I purposefully handicapped myself by stripping the fast reanimation spells. Of course my initial worry was that I also removed my chance of getting huge bros onto the battlefield! Searching EDHREC for Mimeoplasm lists “without” reanimation spells suggested mana accelerants to get bigger things in play, and further refining to skew towards creature-based ramp cards, yielded the types of spell-light includes I was looking for. In went scaleable mana on bodies like Gyre Sage, Viridian Joiner, and Selvala, Heart of the Wilds. Out went most of my looter creatures as now there wasn’t as heavy a lean on reanimation.
Games with this list have felt much more rewarding, requiring me to navigate in complex ways. Now if I want to get a creature into play I can cast it OR still reliably retrieve it from my graveyard with The Mimeoplasm. Sometimes I’m forced to get a little more creative with Doomed Necromancer, Coffin Queen, or Champion of Stray Souls. Also, since most of my power plays come from creatures with activated abilities, if I want immediate impact I’m limited to things like flashing a creature in end of turn with Elvish Piper, or utilizing the few creature-based haste enablers in my colors—Apprentice Necromancer, Shifty Doppelganger, and Surrak, the Hunt Caller. As a last resort I can put the power cards into play, claim that “I win next turn,” and actually give the table a chance to interact, which makes for a memorable game.
This build is everything I want in an EDH deck. It makes use of underused cards in a synergistic way, requires acute consideration in how it is piloted each game, and it is powerful without being predictably boring or oppressive. As I wait for my turn to come around, I’m often in a position to consider and decide between multiple chains of play for how I will follow my untap step. I am rarely short of options with this list, which means that I don’t have to regret passing do-nothing turns. The only reflective alteration that I have at the moment is how to push the synergies of the deck further.
I mentioned that not only do my card choices skew towards creatures, but specifically creatures with activated abilities. Hence, my next adjustment to the deck is to lean on these activated abilities more, making use of Necrotic Ooze, Havengul Lich, Quicksilver Elemental, and the great Experiment Kraj. Consequently I plan to introduce a slight +1/+1 counters theme with cards such as Master Biomancer, Primeval Protector, and Crystalline Crawler. In place of the powerful staple finishers mentioned at the top of the article I might include ability creatures such as Chameleon Colossus, Volrath the Fallen, Mossbridge Troll, Memnarch, and, most busted of all, Devoted Druid. Be aware that if you search EDHREC for Mimeoplasm lists filtering for inclusion of Experiment Kraj you’ll get loads of Ooze tribal, whereas excluding a card like Inexorable Blob will refine for cards that fit in synergy rather than theme.
We’ll see how this goes during my next few play experiences. Finally, my list as it stands now:
I hope you enjoyed this exhibition in The Inquiry Cycle applied to EDH brewing and deck building. This process is one that I believe makes a masterful deck builder, and, speaking generally, an engaged learner and productive citizen of the world. Now go forth and walk like a dinosaur! Walk with an understanding of the inquiry process, its applications to your experiences (magic related or otherwise), and evolve through intentional reflection.
Cheers to the brewers!