Making the Cut – Narrowing Options

(Huddle Up | Art by Magali Villeneuve)

Kenrith the Awakeners

Hello and welcome to Making the Cut, where we make the gut-wrenching decisions to get you to your best 99. This last week, my local playgroup went a bit wild with the latest episode of Game Knights, and wanted to emulate the “Everyone build a deck for a Ravnica guild” premise in a league of our own. Fast forward a few days and we’re handing around a styrofoam cup full of guild names for everyone to randomly draw from. I got Izzet!

I’d been thinking about putting together a Spellslinger deck for a while, but as I scrolled through all of the options for Red & Blue Commanders, I couldn’t help but think about my last article going over Superfriends decks, and which commanders I would use to build them.

Will Kenrith and Roawn Kenrith might as well have “rather unfocused” stamped on to their foreheads, but let’s not dismiss them out of hand just for that. I came in wanting to play a Spellslinger deck, and then changed my mind and wanted to play Planeswalkers too. Given my lack of focus, they seemed like the perfect pair to match me.

Will allows us to protect our planeswalkers with his +2 ability, and will make our other planeswalkers and spells cheaper with his -2. If we can get a pillowfort going or a lot of tokens built up, Rowan lets us tap out opponent’s creatures with her +2 or punish others for attacking with her -2. As for their ultimates, Rowan’s will give our other planeswalkers a free The Chain Veil effect, while Will’s will probably win us games on the spot with our spells.


The Loop

Below, I’ve gathered a broad card dump based around what we know Will and Rowan are good at. Given that it’s two different themes at once (Spellslinger and Superfriends), this dump ended up very broad. The initial number came in at over 325 cards, of which I’ve already whittled out some of the more exotic options.

Blue

Column A (49)
Column B (47)

Now, if you scrolled straight through that wall of text, no one would blame you. It’s an unorganized mass of cards, cut straight from hours of meandering the internet gathering spells and planeswalkers. And that’s really the point. When presented with a massive pile of cards, our brains shut down. They skim instead of reading, get distracted thinking about the dishes you should be doing, or generally just stop paying attention.

That is why to make decisions, we must first split up our options into manageable piles.


Prerelease Practice

When I think of the initial process of cutting down a huge amount of cards, I always think of Sealed Deck. For those of you who haven’t gone to a Prerelease or otherwise participated in a Sealed Deck event, here’s the jist: You get six booster packs, open those booster packs, ascertain what you think the strongest cards or strategy would be from among this assortment of cards, and begin building a deck around them.

For myself, this process begins by separating cards into colors, sorting through what seems good and what seems bad as I do so.

As you know from above, we’ve already split our pile of options into colors, and it was still a bit overwhelming. So let’s start with the smallest and most important chunk, our multicolored cards. We’ll also go ahead and put them into quick categories of what they do, for more direct comparison.

Generally in a Sealed deck, your multicolor cards can be a strong indicator of which direction you should move in. In this case, we’ve already decided on playing Izzet, but there are still some cards here that can now be put immediately into the “not good enough” pile.

For removal, the flexibility of Fire // Ice and Turn // Burn seemed like it would be enough to play them, especially since we’ll be reducing costs all over the deck, but honestly even at a cost of a single blue or red mana, their effects are rather underwhelming. Similarly, while this originally seemed like the deck that could finally find a spot for Hypothesizzle, it’s just too expensive for the measly effect of maybe destroying a creature and replacing itself. Prophetic Bolt may end up in the same bag, but if we do get to cast it for only three mana with Will’s -2, at least we get to dig a little deeper for the card we want while also being able to target anything.

Brutal Expulsion is another option that leaps out as inferior, given the cost. While four mana is exactly where we want a multicolored spell to be with our planned cost reduction, even at two mana, bouncing a spell or dealing with a creature is rather underwhelming. Paying full cost for it would be almost embarrassing.

Other quick cuts include Izzet Cluestone, which does not have as much late-game upside as Izzet Locket, and Ral, Caller of Storms, which is just too expensive overall. Firemind’s Research is tempting here as well, but I can’t get the idea of using it with Rowan’s ultimate out of my head. In the same vein, getting two copies of Geistblast‘s copy ability would be amazing, but it’s probably not worth playing a bad Shock.


Changing Lanes

For the sake of brevity, I’ve gone through the colors individually and picked out a few other bad apples offscreen. Now we’ve got a Sealed deck with all the colors we know we’re not playing and all of the cards that on reflex we know just aren’t good enough piled off to one side. At this point, though, we don’t even have to count the cards to see that we’re still way above the number of cards we’d need for a proper deck, which means we further organize to go through the cards once again, and to refine. For me, the next step is to arrange them by their converted mana costs.

What we’re doing here is simplifying. Just as we did when organizing by color, we’re trying to find a way to take a massive pile of cards and narrow down the amount of things that our brains have to think about. We’re finding a way to directly compare cards that are similar in one way or another, and then running them through the loop again.

So let’s look at the same cards all over again, but arrange them differently to get a fresh look.


Smaller Piles

You may have noticed we’re only looking at the top half of the deck here. The idea is to focus on small piles, so as not to overwhelm. All we’ve done is change how we made those piles to give our brain a fresh perspective on the cards we’re considering. For instance, in my excitement to take advantage of all of the cost reductions we can get our hands on, I included every decent counterspell with an “X” in the cost I could find. Of those, only Power Sink and Condescend remain from the first cut. Looking through, however, a lot of the other counterspells need to be cut, as on further reflection, they don’t fit the goal of the deck. If you’re trying to play as many spells as possible, you want to be playing them, drawing cards, and playing more, and that means avoiding holding cards in your hand that aren’t making any forward progress.

Moving on from the X spells, then, Treasure Cruise also piques my attention because we already have a lot of card draw and it’s going to remove recurrable spells from the graveyard to be usable. Divergent Transformations really costs four mana, but even for less than that, it can backfire, and we don’t really have a good setup to use it on our own creatures.

Over in the five-mana stack, Spell Swindle is another counterspell I think we should remove in an effort to be more proactive. Master the Way and Hypersonic Dragon also have the ‘two colored mana symbols’ problem, and don’t feel like they’re quite doing enough if you have to cast them at full cost.

I’ll continue cutting cards on down the mana curve, but for now let’s move the article along to our next means of organization: Card Type.


Typecasting

To return to the Sealed Deck example, usually when I’m stacking cards out in order of mana cost, I have a bottom stack and a top stack as well. For Sealed, I simply make these stacks “Creature” and “Noncreature,” but for Commander, we’ve got a little more going on. With that in mind, then, let’s list out the remaining cards we still need to whittle down by type, and see what jumps out at us from the new perspective.

Not My Type

Artifact (12)
Creature (11)
Enchantment (7)
Instant (37)
Planeswalker (15)
Sorcery (29)

Right off the bat, the sideways glances I’ve been giving Goblin Charbelcher for this whole process really stand out when it’s placed next to Aetherflux Reservoir. While it could be a great finisher, especially in the case that we got Rowan’s ultimate going, seven mana is a lot, and it wouldn’t surprise me to find if we’d just end up not having the mana to use the big keg cannon the majority of the time. Similarly, while the upside on Pyromancer’s Goggles is there, I’m starting to think that it might not be worth the five mana investment. This is not an artifact deck, despite playing a couple copies of Saheeli. Lastly, with all the cost reduction we’ve got going on, the colorless-producing mana rocks probably also need to get the axe. While they’d be helping out some of the time, if we’re operating the way we want to be, they will be a dead card more often than not.

Speaking of artifacts, while Silent Arbiter is an effective means of protecting our planeswalkers, we actually have quite a few token producers that he impacts negatively. The rest of the creatures seem necessary for the most part. To make sure we’re making progress, however, lets cut Dire Fleet Daredevil. She is a fine Pirate, but she has you planning around your opponent’s deck instead of your own. When things start getting down to the nitty gritty and every card in the pile seems precious, sometimes you have to make a deal with yourself that you can’t move on until you cut something.

Overall, we’ve cut down on the number of planeswalkers we’re playing, to really have just the ones that are interested in spellslinging or are particularly good at protection. With that being the case, it’s probably time to cut the Oath cards as well. We have better removal than Oath of Chandra, and better draw than Oath of Jace can provide. Finally, Propaganda is a fine pillowfort card, but is really on its own. Let’s try to lean on our spells theme and impact our opponents that way, rather than having half a strategy.

Cutting any more planeswalkers would really get us to the point where we were just a spells deck, so we’ll stop there. I’m going to continue cutting the instants and sorceries offscreen, but let’s move on to our final strategy for narrowing options.


Repetition

When you get down to the last few cards to cut in a Sealed Deck, it can be really tough. You know there’s a ticking clock for deck construction time, and it can be stress-inducing. I know that sometimes I find myself just shuffling through cards quickly, stressing about the fact that I have to make cuts rather than actually thinking about what cuts to make. That is why the simplification offered through organizing into smaller piles is important.

While EDH doesn’t have a timer, no one would dispute that the closer you get to finishing a deck, the more difficult the cuts get. While all of these organizational methods I’ve described today work well for simplifying what you’re looking at and what you’re looking for, it is important to understand that they won’t work to get you down to the perfect 100 the first time. You will have to organize and reorganize several times to really continue to get fresh perspectives.

So don’t be afraid to do exactly that. If you go through splitting cards into colors, then sorting by cost, then sorting by type, then archetype, and you still haven’t gotten down to where you need to be, don’t be frustrated. There’s no rule saying you can’t just repeat the process, or do it in a different fashion. Indeed, you should, otherwise you may just find yourself once again overwhelmed by the amount of information! Just keep in mind if you’re using an online deck builder, they often have these organizational tools built in for you!

I’ll leave you with my final decklist, which I ran through this organizational process no less than seven times. I haven’t had a chance to play it yet, but I’m excited to sling some spells and tick up some loyalty counters, all at once!

So what about you? How do you organize your decks while cutting cards? When you’re considering adding new cards to your deck and don’t know what to pull out, how do you look through the deck?

Let us know in the comments, so we can all help each other get to our best 99!

Doug has been an avid Magic player since Fallen Empires, when his older brother traded him some epic blue Homarids for all of his Islands. As for Commander, he's been playing since 2010, when he started off by making a two-player oriented G/R Land Destruction deck. Nailed it. In his spare time when he's not playing Magic, writing about Magic or doing his day job, he runs a YouTube channel or two, keeps up a College Football Computer Poll, and is attempting to gif every scene of the Star Wars prequels.