Duel Commander at BoM

August 12, 2014

Hey Guys,

Today I want to talk about a format that is close to my heart – duel commander – a competitive format with a lot of room for innovation and fun interactions. The rules are similar to normal multiplayer commander except that the starting life total is 30 and many of the most powerful tutors and fast mana are banned.

My friends and I had a great time trying out the format so I decided to take part in the Bazaar of Moxen to get some real tournament experience.

There were two events, both of which had close to 100 players – quite a lot for the format. Fortunately for me I finished 2nd on Saturday and 1st on Sunday.

This is the deck I signed up with:


1 Oloro, Ageless Ascetic


1 Dark Confidant

1 Angel of Despair

1 Rune-Scarred Demon

1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

1 Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur

1 Iona, Shield of Emeria

1 Snapcaster Mage

1 Ashen Rider

1 Sphinx of Uthuun

1 Griselbrand

1 Massacre Wurm


1 Miscalculation

1 Gitaxian Probe

1 Toxic Deluge

1 Impulse

1 Compulsive Research

1 Spell Snare

1 Careful Consideration

1 Daze

1 Unburial Rites

1 Intuition

1 Reanimate

1 Mystical Tutor

1 Mana Leak

1 Remand

1 Ancestral Vision

1 Inquisition of Kozilek

1 Flash

1 Swan Song

1 Cryptic Command

1 Force of Will

1 Entomb

1 Exhume

1 Brainstorm

1 Fact or Fiction

1 Tainted Pact

1 Careful Study

1 Show and Tell

1 Lim-D

L’s Vault

1 Frantic Search

1 Counterspell

1 Mental Misstep

1 Living Death

1 Hymn to Tourach

1 Thoughtseize

1 Duress

1 Thirst for Knowledge

1 Swords to Plowshares

1 Force Spike

1 Skeletal Scrying

1 Ponder

1 Night’s Whisper

1 Preordain

1 Spell Pierce

1 Damnation

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Pulse of the Grid

1 Dance of the Dead

1 Liliana of the Veil

1 Animate Dead

1 Necromancy

1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor


1 Cephalid Coliseum

1 Scalding Tarn

1 Homeward Path

1 River of Tears

1 Marsh Flats

1 Windswept Heath

1 Verdant Catacombs

1 Minamo, School at Water’s Edge

1 Misty Rainforest

1 Watery Grave

1 Flooded Strand

1 Scrubland

1 Swamp

1 Polluted Delta

1 City of Brass

1 Bloodstained Mire

1 Command Tower

1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

1 Caves of Koilos

1 Sunken Ruins

1 Island

1 Tundra

1 Drowned Catacomb

1 Creeping Tar Pit

1 Reflecting Pool

1 Adarkar Wastes

1 Arid Mesa

1 Darkslick Shores

1 Hallowed Fountain

1 Wasteland

1 Snow-Covered Island

1 Mana Confluence

1 Glacial Fortress

1 Godless Shrine

1 Seachrome Coast

1 Underground Sea

1 Underground River


There are so many sweet things this deck can do that I don’t even know where to start. Let’s take a look at the overall strategy and what this deck tries to accomplish before we look at the individual card interactions and the current metagame.

This commander deck wins most of the games by reanimating Griselbrand. It is so strong in a format where you start with 30 life (and gain 2 life each turn) that it can trump any strategy since it lets you draw a bazillion cards. Even if your opponent deals with it you will be able to follow up with a slew of other sweet fat creatures and overwhelm him with pure card advantage. So how do we get Griselbrand into play you might ask? Basically, there are three ways to do so:

1. Draw Griselbrand
2. Play a discard spell, such as Careful Study
3. Play a reanimation spell, such as Reanimate
1. Play Entomb
2. Play a reanimation spell, such as Reanimate
1. Draw Griselbrand
2. Play Show and Tell

Even if you don’t draw any of these cards right away it’s not that hard to create a situation where you can sneak Griselbrand into play since the deck runs a ton of tutor and card filtering effects. Control cards like Damnation and Counterspell will also help buy enough time to set this up.

I think that the two most played archetypes at present are Survival-toolbox decks (e.g. Marath, Will of the Wild, Doran, the Siege Tower and The Mimeoplasm) and Blue-aggro-control decks (e.g. Vendilion Clique and Geist of Saint Traft). The rest of the metagame is mixed. There are actually a lot of people who see the format more casually and bring their Thraximundar and their Maelstrom Wanderer decks to the table.

The Survival-toolbox decks run a lot of creatures and try to ramp up with elves. They have a lot of silver bullets. Since most of these decks don’t run counters and even the blue decks run very few counter spells, your main concern should be to watch out for Scavanging Ooze and Deathrite Shaman. As long as you can keep them off the table you are fine. Oloro buys you a ton of time and with the help of Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite you can easily keep up, even if they’ve already managed to assemble a big board presence. Note that if you have a choice between cheating Elesh Norn or Griselbrand into play, I would choose Griselbrand since it can help you cheat Elesh Norn into play during the next turn.

Your game plan is a little different against the Blue-aggro-control decks. They try to resolve their commander as a threat and back him up with counter spells. In this matchup you try to play the control role. Your main goal is to hit land drops, make card advantage and stop them from killing you. Reanimating a creature is more of a “if it happens, it happens” sort of thing and not something you go for right away. The problem is that putting a creature into the yard will cause card disadvantage in most instances. Since they run a huge amount of counter spells it is unlikely that your reanimation spell will resolve. Discard spells are insanely good in this matchup since most counter spells in this format are conditional so it is easy to play around them if you know they are coming.

If you are playing the mirror match the most important rule is: don’t put Griselbrand in your yard unless you are 100% sure you are able to resolve a reanimation spell on the same turn. Since most of the reanimation spells in the deck also work on the other player’s yard your opponent will just take your Griselbrand. Apart from that, the matchup is super grindy and resolving Jace, the Mind Sculptor or just a Fact or Fiction will often win you the game.

Against any home-brew decks we are well set up, since they tend to be very slow. Considering the fact that most of those decks (e.g.Maelstrom Wanderer ramp and Thraximundar control) have an unbeatable late-game, it is crucial to get a fatty on the table as soon as possible.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about the tournaments themselves but I can tell you that I only lost 3 matches during the entire weekend finishing 16-3-1 in total. The sweetest play I had was in the quarter-finals against Etienne Lourdin playing The Mimeoplasm. He kicked off the game with a turn 2 Devoted Druid. I played Entomb at the end of his turn putting Griselbrand into my graveyard. On my next turn I played a land and passed, sending clear signals of having countermagic in hand. On his turn, he slammed Cavern of Souls naming Ooze, suiciding his Devoted Druid to get an extra creature into the yard and adding GG to his manapool in order to cast The Mimeoplasm. I showed him Necromancy and he conceded the game.

Considering my success at the Bazaar of Moxen tournament, I think the deck has the highest power level in the format. The rounds I lost were either due to me having a very bad draw – like in the finals of the first tournament where I was unable to get a creature into my yard – or due to my opponents having insane starts or early graveyard hate – like Duress into Dark Confident or just turn-1 Deathrite Shaman

Graveyard hate cards are certainly the deck’s major weakness, since you can’t afford to put a lot of answer cards in your deck. In my opinion, it is best to not be playing answer cards such as Pithing Needle, Disenchant or Vindicate. These cards are either too situational or too clunky. I’d rather have a streamlined deck and try to counter their graveyard hate. If your opponent resolves a Relic of Pregenitus, you can still search for your Show and Tell or just Flash in an Ashen Rider to exile the Relic.

In the future, I certainly want to try out a similar deck but with The Mimeoplasm as commander. I think that this card fits the strategy very well since it’s a reanimation spell on its own. In addition to that, it lets you play Deathrite Shaman, which is not only a trump in the mirror but also an insane turn-1 play for the deck. Furthermore,I just can’t wait to Flash in a Woodfall Primus on turn-2 (probably the most broken move in the entire format).

I hope you guys had fun reading this article. If you are interested in more content about duel commander, please let me know in the comments. I am also happy to answer any questions.

Marc Vogt (@I_came_to_game on twitter)

Marc Vogt

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