Welcome to the World of 20 Ticket Commander -Why Competitive Players Should Play Casual Format-

Allen Wu

Allen Wu

Introduction

My favorite ways to play Magic are casual formats like Battle Box, Legacy, and Commander. That claim might seem strange coming from a competitive player, but the real reason I play Magic is to solve hard problems.

For me, these casual formats are more pure tests of my understanding than Standard or Modern, which are much more fully explored. I think most competitive players actually suffer from exclusively playing tournament formats, only learning specific decks and matchups rather than how to play Magic as a whole.

DazeMystical Dispute

Playing different formats and finding the overlaps between them exposes Magic’s underlying machinery. My understanding of how to play around 《Daze》 in Legacy, for example, became the backbone of how I play around 《Mystical Dispute》 in Standard.

In this spirit, I recently roped some friends into playing 20 Ticket Commander with me. I expected the format to be narrow, dominated by a handful of underpriced cards and Commanders, but it wound up being far richer and more compelling than I anticipated. I roped myself, it turned out, and I spent 4 straight days brewing and tuning decks. Introducing budget to the already strict Commander deckbuilding constraints made for some euphorically complicated puzzles.

Sol RingDemonic TutorGaea's CradleSensei's Divining Top

Many powerful Commander cards are in the 5-8 ticket range on Magic Online, like 《Sol Ring》, 《Demonic Tutor》, and 《Gaea’s Cradle》, so decks have to mean it in order to play these cards. Cards like 《Command Tower》, 《Sensei’s Divining Top》, and most Dual Lands are more economical, in the 1-2 ticket range, but a 20 ticket budget still only allows for around 15 of them. 《Sensei’s Divining Top》 at 1.49 tickets is a bargain for such a powerful card, and I initially expected to play Top in all my decks. But ultimately, 1.49 tickets was too extravagant for card selection.

In this article, I’ll introduce and showcase the 4 decks I built, briefly covering the deckbuilding process and explaining how each deck works. In a follow-up article next week, I’ll go over the lessons I learned building and playing these decks and how I plan to apply them in my tournament practice going forward.

Let’s Play 20 Ticket Commander!

《Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca》

  • Sample List
  • (Commander)
1 《Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca》
-Commander (1)- 7 《Island》
4 《Forest》
1 《Ancient Ziggurat》
1 《Command Tower》
1 《Reflecting Pool》
1 《Unclaimed Territory》
1 《Flooded Grove》
1 《Hinterland Harbor》
1 《Lumbering Falls》
1 《Simic Growth Chamber》
1 《Simic Guildgate》
1 《Skyshroud Forest》
1 《Temple of Mystery》
1 《Thornwood Falls》
1 《Woodland Stream》
1 《Yavimaya Coast》
1 《Gaea’s Cradle》
1 《Hashep Oasis》
1 《Lonely Sandbar》
1 《Minamo, School at Water’s Edge》
1 《Mosswort Bridge》
1 《Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers》
1 《Tranquil Thicket》
1 《Vivid Creek》
1 《Vivid Grove》
1 《Arch of Orazca》
1 《Bonders’ Enclave》
1 《Field of Ruin》
1 《Tectonic Edge》
-Land (38)- 1 《Benthic Biomancer》
1 《Cosi’s Trickster》
1 《Cursecatcher》
1 《Dakra Mystic》
1 《Enclave Cryptologist》
1 《Jade Bearer》
1 《Jungle Delver》
1 《Kumena’s Speaker》
1 《Mistcaller》
1 《Reef Shaman》
1 《Sandbar Merfolk》
1 《Tidal Warrior》
1 《Tideshaper Mystic》
1 《Coralhelm Commander》
1 《Deeproot Elite》
1 《Kiora’s Follower》
1 《Lord of Atlantis》
1 《Master of the Pearl Trident》
1 《Merfolk Branchwalker》
1 《Merfolk Looter》
1 《Merfolk Mistbinder》
1 《Merfolk Trickster》
1 《Overtaker》
1 《Sea Scryer》
1 《Silvergill Adept》
1 《Stonybrook Banneret》
1 《Waterfront Bouncer》
1 《Cold-Eyed Selkie》
1 《Jadelight Ranger》
1 《Jungleborn Pioneer》
1 《Lullmage Mentor》
1 《Merfolk Sovereign》
1 《Merrow Reejerey》
1 《Seasinger》
1 《Swift Warden》
1 《Thada Adel, Acquisitor》
1 《Fallowsage》
1 《Seafloor Oracle》
1 《Surgespanner》
1 《Murkfiend Liege》
1 《Seedborn Muse》
-Creature (41)-
-Sideboard (0)-
Kumena, Tyrant of OrazcaGaea's CradleOppositionIntruder Alarm

《Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca》 was the first deck I built. The concept was to budget for 《Gaea’s Cradle》 by playing a bunch of random Merfolk. 《Kumena》 would put the Merfolk to work drawing more Merfolk, which the 《Gaea’s Cradle》 would cast. After 《Kumena》 drew the deck, 《Opposition》, 《Intruder Alarm》, or attack steps with counterspell backup would lock up the game.

The deck plays as many cheap Merfolk as possible, with flagrant disregard for their text boxes, in order to maximize the chance of drawing a card with 《Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca》 on turn 3 and to be able to deploy new Merfolk as efficiently as possible.

Thada Adel, AcquisitorSurgespanner

The Merfolk in this deck are largely tokens, except they trigger 《Guardian Project》 and 《Vanquisher’s Banner》. There’s a bias towards green Merfolk because of 《Gaea’s Cradle》, and allowances for bannermen of the tribe like 《Thada Adel, Acquisitor》 and 《Surgespanner》.

Merrow CommerceDrannith Magistrate

The first drafts of this deck were even further optimized for 《Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca》, with no other sources of card advantage and additional untap effects like 《Merrow Commerce》. But after playing against 《Drannith Magistrate》, I came to appreciate the danger of depending entirely on 《Kumena》.

Seafloor OracleGuardian ProjectVanquisher's Banner

All Merfolk are equal in the eyes of 《Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca》, but 《Reef Shaman》 and 《Sandbar Merfolk》 are not playable cards on their own. I added 《Seafloor Oracle》, 《Guardian Project》, and 《Vanquisher’s Banner》 to give the deck some hope of winning a game with 《Kumena》 out of the picture, and additional interaction in 《Nature’s Claim》 and the 《Pongify》 effects. I cut 《Inspiring Call》, which is a powerful, flexible card with 《Kumena》 in play and a stone blank without him.

SeasingerHarvest SeasonOvertaker

The deck still has some cute cards like 《Seasinger》, 《Harvest Season》, and 《Overtaker》. I’m trying these cards, though I suspect they should just be more 1-mana Merfolk. 《Triton Shorestalker》 and 《Mist-Cloaked Herald》 are next in the line of succession.

Reef ShamanTidal Warrior

One funny interaction is that 《Reef Shaman》 and 《Tidal Warrior》 replace land types instead of augmenting them, so they do a decent 《Rishadan Port》 impression. This actually came up in one of my games, where I should have used 《Reef Shaman》 to keep my friend Jake off of RRR to stop 《Mizzium Mortars》, but that card wasn’t on my radar.

Still, this deck has structural problems. Even with the backups I added, the deck struggles without 《Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca》 in play. Recovering from sweepers is tough, but the deck also needs 9-10 Merfolk in play before it starts humming. The win conditions are mostly enchantments with major targets on their heads. The counterspells offer some defense, but successfully fending off 3 opponents with 1-for-1 interaction requires a big lead.

Kumena's SpeakerLord of Atlantis

The mana is also heinous. G 1-drops and UU 2-drops on a budget means playing infinite tapped lands while still being short colored sources, and so many tapped lands makes curving 2 Merfolk into 《Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca》 much less likely.

Jungle Delver

This deck features some cool interactions, but the power level doesn’t ultimately justify how fragile and inconsistent it is. Regardless, this is my second favorite of the decks I built. There’s something deeply satisfying in using every part of the 《Jungle Delver》.

《Golos, Tireless Pilgrim》

  • Sample List
  • (Commander)
-Sideboard (0)-
Golos, Tireless Pilgrim

My friend Mike brought a 《Golos, Tireless Pilgrim》 deck to our first game, which got my curiosity and my attention. Mike’s deck was built around artifact synergies, with 《Golos》 being a secondary component. His 《Golos》 activations could hit cards like 《Myr Battlesphere》 and 《Ugin, the Spirit Dragon》, but they more typically hit mana and enablers. I wanted to make a deck where the 《Golos》 activations were consistently game-ending.

Nature's LoreIndatha TriomeKetria Triome

With 《Golos, Tireless Pilgrim》 occupying so much of the budget, getting the mana to work was tricky. Realizing I could get access to all 5 colors from 《Nature’s Lore》 effects for just 3 tickets with 《Indatha Triome》 and 《Ketria Triome》 was a big breakthrough. I’d been stuck trying to get the mana under budget with Shocklands, but 《Breeding Pool》 at 3 tickets was prohibitively expensive.

Temple of MysteryArcane SanctumGolgari Rot Farm

After that, it was straightforward to fill out the manabase with Temples, the remaining Trilands, and Bouncelands. The Bouncelands enable 《Azusa, Lost but Seeking》 and 《Summer Bloom》 on top of being strong fixing. 《Arch of Orazca》, 《Field of Ruin》, 《Tectonic Edge》, and 《Kessig Wolf Run》 are 《Golos, Tireless Pilgrim》 bullets, but 《Golos》 usually gets 《Temple of the False God》 or a Bounceland anyway.

Army of the DamnedCruel UltimatumKozilek, the Great DistortionThe Scarab God

The rest of the deck is straightforward – ramp spells, bangers, and a handful of cheap interaction. Price was the biggest factor in my choice of bangers《Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger》 is a better 《Golos, Tireless Pilgrim》 hit than 《Army of the Damned》, but 《Army of the Damned》 does the job. It’s goofy to be playing so many different Ultimatums in the same deck, but they’re surprisingly easy to cast with so much fixing. The two splurges are 《Kozilek, the Great Distortion》 and 《The Scarab God》, since I was concerned about having too few ways to deal damage and wanted some sources of inevitability.

Winter OrbArmageddonCoalition Relic

The ramp package is land-focused because lands are more reliable than artifacts. However, this makes the deck more vulnerable to cards like 《Winter Orb》 and 《Armageddon》. It’s possible the weaker ramp spells like 《Rampant Growth》 and 《Harrow》 should be artifacts like 《Coalition Relic》.

This deck is probably the most powerful of the decks I built. The gameplan of the deck is simple: ramp to 《Golos, Tireless Pilgrim》, keep playing 《Golos》 until it lives, then either cast a banger or activate 《Golos》 every turn for the rest of the game.

The fact that 《Golos, Tireless Pilgrim》 ramps past its Commander tax while having such a threatening activated ability is perplexing – a lot of players in the casual room on Magic Online would just concede when they saw my Commander. I even managed to steal a win from a fully powered 《Tymna the Weaver》 and 《Thrasios, Triton Hero》 deck, though 《Fires of Invention》 carried that one.

《Yarok, the Desecrated》

  • Sample List
  • (Commander)
1 《Yarok, the Desecrated》
-Commander (1)- 7 《Forest》
2 《Island》
2 《Swamp》
1 《Zagoth Triome》
1 《Bad River》
1 《Command Tower》
1 《Opulent Palace》
1 《Dimir Aqueduct》
1 《Dismal Backwater》
1 《Drowned Catacomb》
1 《Flooded Grove》
1 《Golgari Rot Farm》
1 《Hinterland Harbor》
1 《Hissing Quagmire》
1 《Jungle Hollow》
1 《Llanowar Wastes》
1 《Lumbering Falls》
1 《Overgrown Tomb》
1 《Simic Growth Chamber》
1 《Sunken Ruins》
1 《Thornwood Falls》
1 《Twilight Mire》
1 《Watery Grave》
1 《Woodland Cemetery》
1 《Yavimaya Coast》
1 《Temple of Deceit》
1 《Temple of Malady》
1 《Temple of Mystery》
1 《Barren Moor》
1 《Lonely Sandbar》
1 《Tranquil Thicket》
1 《Arch of Orazca》
1 《Field of Ruin》
1 《Tectonic Edge》
1 《Temple of the False God》
-Land (43)- 1 《Birds of Paradise》
1 《Elves of Deep Shadow》
1 《Elvish Mystic》
1 《Fyndhorn Elves》
1 《Llanowar Elves》
1 《Coiling Oracle》
1 《Destiny Spinner》
1 《Fblthp, the Lost》
1 《Sylvan Caryatid》
1 《Wall of Blossoms》
1 《Barrin, Tolarian Archmage》
1 《Eternal Witness》
1 《Llanowar Visionary》
1 《Nissa, Vastwood Seer》
1 《Reclamation Sage》
1 《Risen Reef》
1 《Springbloom Druid》
1 《Wood Elves》
1 《Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths》
1 《Hostage Taker》
1 《Mystic Snake》
1 《Notion Thief》
1 《Phyrexian Metamorph》
1 《Ravenous Chupacabra》
1 《Solemn Simulacrum》
1 《Venser, Shaper Savant》
1 《Acidic Slime》
1 《Mulldrifter》
1 《Shriekmaw》
1 《Tatyova, Benthic Druid》
1 《Deadeye Navigator》
1 《Massacre Wurm》
1 《Noxious Gearhulk》
1 《Woodland Bellower》
1 《Agent of Treachery》
1 《Rune-Scarred Demon》
1 《Terastodon》
-Creature (37)-
-Sideboard (0)-
Yarok, the DesecratedBirthing PodSurvival of the Fittest

With 《Yarok, the Desecrated》, I noticed that both 《Birthing Pod》 and 《Survival of the Fittest》 were cheap and wanted to build around them. My aim was to make a powerful deck that was more dynamic and interactive than 《Golos, Tireless Pilgrim》, where I’d win through incremental advantages.

Hero's DownfallMulldrifterEmergent UltimatumHostage Taker

Overall, this was the easiest deck to build. 《Yarok, the Desecrated》 was a big spend at 3.79 tickets, but the Sultai colors are so strong and deep in Commander that rationing the remainder of my budget was easy. Cards as powerful as 《Hero’s Downfall》, 《Mulldrifter》, 《Emergent Ultimatum》, and 《Hostage Taker》 were literal cents.

The hardest thing to figure out here was the mana. My first draft of the deck had all the Mirage fetchlands (《Bad River》, 《Grasslands》, etc.), all the 《Nature’s Lore》 effects, and the 3 Shocklands. My colored mana was perfect with this configuration, but I wasn’t happy with how many tapped lands I had and how much 《Breeding Pool》 cost.

Zagoth Triome

Eventually, I came to the same breakthrough I did with the 《Golos, Tireless Pilgrim》 deck, realizing that 《Zagoth Triome》 would give me most of what I wanted from 《Breeding Pool》 at almost half the cost. Not being able to fetch untapped blue mana can be annoying, since a lot of the power of 《Nature’s Lore》 and 《Wood Elves》 is the immediate mana rebate, but the full ticket of savings more than justifies that disadvantage. The off-color fetchlands all left for basics, which helped with the tapped lands issue, but I kept 《Overgrown Tomb》 and 《Watery Grave》 because they were good deals in their own right.

Yavimaya DryadFarhaven ElfCultivateKodama's Reach

I originally also had more 3-mana creatures that searched for lands, like 《Yavimaya Dryad》 and 《Farhaven Elf》, instead of 《Cultivate》 and 《Kodama’s Reach》. The creatures work better with 《Yarok, the Desecrated》, 《Birthing Pod》, and 《Survival of the Fittest》 than the ramp spells, but the latter are much more powerful. The ramp spells provide most of the advantage without 《Yarok》 in play that the creatures do with 《Yarok》.

Similarly, playing so many 2-mana ramp spells over mana creatures is unusual in a 《Birthing Pod》 setup like this one, but the ramp spells are more reliable fixing at a way lower cost. The best 2-drop mana creatures, like 《Lotus Cobra》 and 《Bloom Tender》, are all in the 0.5 ticket range – affordable, but a luxury when 《Nature’s Lore》 is 0.01.

Dimir AqueductGolgari Rot FarmSimic Growth Chamber

The Bouncelands in this deck are a nonbo with 《Yarok, the Desecrated》, which doubles the detrimental trigger, but they’re too strong to not play. Mana is a real pinch on a 20 ticket budget, and the Bouncelands are powerful fixing and card advantage in 0.04 ticket packages.

Eternal WitnessPhyrexian MetamorphMassacre Wurm

The spells feature a number of moderate splurges, in the 0.25 to 1 ticket range. I’m unsure these cards all justify their price tag, but 《Eternal Witness》, 《Phyrexian Metamorph》, and 《Massacre Wurm》 are so unique and so powerful with 《Yarok, the Desecrated》 and 《Birthing Pod》 that I couldn’t skip them.

These cards squeezed out some powerful utility options though, like 《Sensei’s Divining Top》, 《Oracle of Mul Daya》, and 《Thassa, Deep-Dwelling》. I would have played 《Casualties of War》 over something, if not for the Magic Online bug where playing it lags the client out.

Woodland Bellower

《Woodland Bellower》 is a pet card of mine, having been a key contributor to my first good PT finish at PT Sydney 2016. It was a 《Traverse the Ulvenwald》 bullet in my GB Delirium deck, tutoring for 《Sylvan Advocate》 and 《Tireless Tracker》. The 《Woodland Bellower》 is much stronger here, legitimately approaching great.

With 《Yarok, the Desecrated》, it finds 2 creatures which in turn each trigger twice, making for a clean 7-for-1. 《Woodland Bellower》 was a bit pricey at 0.29 tickets for some reason, but it’s been well worth it.

As far as gameplan goes, this is a pure midrange deck. It aims to get an overwhelming advantage in mana, in cards, and on board, then grind its opposition into dust. You have the tools to answer any opposing threat with advantage, though finding the line through such complicated decision trees can be a challenge.

Yarok, the DesecratedSurvival of the FittestBirthing PodDeadeye Navigator

However, that isn’t to say this deck is purely reactive. If 《Yarok, the Desecrated》, 《Survival of the Fittest》, 《Birthing Pod》, or 《Deadeye Navigator》 stick, they decide the game in short order. 《Birthing Pod》 is my favorite card, full stop, and if you missed out on playing it in Modern, you’re in for a treat here. With 《Birthing Pod》 in play, you’re always winning, though it may take some work to figure out how.

The one thing that dampens my enjoyment of this deck is how obviously good it is. The deck has synergies, but those synergies are making already powerful cards even stronger. There are no 《Reef Shaman》 or even 《Summer Bloom》 here. Further, I suspect a BUG 1/1 with no abilities would be a 90th percentile Commander based purely on the relative strength of the color pairing, and 《Yarok, the Desecrated》 is a good deal more than that. That said, I love myself some midrange, and this deck is a paragon of the archetype.

《Kykar, Wind’s Fury》

  • Sample List
  • (Commander)
-Sideboard (0)-
Kykar, Wind's FuryPolymorphBreath of LifeFalse Defeat

And then we came to the end. 《Kykar, Wind’s Fury》 was the last of the 4 decks I built, and by far my favorite. This deck is a symphony. The initial concept was a 《Polymorph》 deck using 《Kykar》 as a token-maker, and then I realized I could combine that with white’s reanimation spells (《Breath of Life》 and 《False Defeat》) for an additional Solar Flare angle. When I noticed that 《Kykar》 was also a mana source and could ramp me to my 《Polymorph》 threats, I knew it was destiny.

When this deck hums, it produces threat after threat after threat and overwhelms the table. But even when its primary gameplans are blocked, via 《Drannith Magistrate》 or 《Grafdigger’s Cage》 or simply removal for 《Kykar, Wind’s Fury》, it has so many backups and so much card selection that it can power through.

Saheeli, Sublime ArtificerThe Locust God

The deck can make tokens for 《Polymorph》 with 《Saheeli, Sublime Artificer》 and 《The Locust God》, swarm with 《Kykar, Wind’s Fury》, or even just play a convincing control game with removal, card drawing, and 7-drops. Without the budgetary restriction, I would have leaned into the token plan even harder with 《Castle Embereth》 and 《Skullclamp》, but I prioritized my other gameplans.

Medomai the AgelessAvacyn, Angel of Hope

The threat package was a careful balance between resiliency, power, and cost. Most of the creatures have some kind of immediate impact or are hard to answer cleanly with removal. 《Medomai the Ageless》 is the loosest inclusion, but he’s a bargain at 0.02 tickets. On the other end of the spectrum, 《Avacyn, Angel of Hope》 is a lavish 1.65 tickets (why does she cost so much on Magic Online?), but I liked that she gives big 《Polymorph》 protection from Wraths.

Lightning Greaves

Because the threats are largely resilient, I skipped 《Lightning Greaves》, leaning instead on lands for the option to give my creatures haste, but it’s possible that 《Lightning Greaves》 is so powerful that I should have included it anyway.

Indomitable Creativity

It’s worth noting that 《Indomitable Creativity》 for small numbers is risky because it finds artifacts in addition to creatures, and this deck plays mana rocks and 《Proteus Staff》. Still, the upsides of using it as a removal spell for opposing artifacts and of also being able to 《Polymorph》 the mana rocks justify its inclusion despite the risks. If I’m casting it for value, I try to save it for X=3 or more.

Synthetic Destiny

《Indomitable Creativity》 was originally 《Synthetic Destiny》, but 《Synthetic Destiny》 is bugged on Magic Online such that it only produces one creature no matter how many it exiles. (《Mass Polymorph》 works fine, though you’d assume the cards are programmed the same way.)

Sphinx of UthuunBreath of Life

For me, this deck is just the perfect mix of power and synergy. The synergies all feed into one another to elevate mediocre cards like 《Sphinx of Uthuun》 and 《Breath of Life》 to full-on bangers. The deck takes advantage of every aspect of 《Kykar, Wind’s Fury》, from the spell trigger to the tokens to the mana ability, without depending on him.

Polymorph

And most importantly, it’s fun to see what’s inside the 《Polymorph》 boxes. I enjoyed building and playing this deck so much that I’ll certainly put a fully-powered version together in real life, assuming, god willing, that paper Magic is still alive after the COVID dust settles.

Conclusion

I’ve had a ton of fun brewing and playing this format and highly recommend you give it a shot. At its core, Magic is about self-expression, creativity, and mastery, and these experiences have been sorely missing from competitive play for a while now. 20 ticket Commander reminded me of why I came to love Magic in the first place.

Next week, I’ll write in greater depth about the lessons I learned from building and playing these decks and how I’ll apply them in other formats going forward. I hope you all are as well as you can be during these trying times. As always, if you have any questions or comments, you can find me on Twitter @nalkpas.

Allen Wu (Twitter)

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Allen Wu

Allen Wu Allen Wu is a pro player from United States. One of America's powerhouses made his way onto the scene via Magic Online's PTQ which is arguably one of the hardest ways to qualify. After winning Grand Prix Albuquerque in 2016, he joined Wizards of the Coast's "Play Design" team and worked on Magic's development. After returning as a player, he won Pro Tour Magic 25th Anniversary with his teammates Ben Hull and Gregory Orange. Seeking growth and victory more, he joined Hareruya Pros in the 2018-2019 season. Read more articles by Allen Wu

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