The goal of this deck is two-fold: First, you create a board state that does not threaten your opponents though a combination of playing innocuous cards and deterrents which encourage them to attack someone else. Then, you manipulate combat in order to make your opponents eliminate each other and themselves, leaving yourself in a position to eliminate a single opponent.
You might like this deck if:
- You like playing control but don't want to be labeled "that control player"
- You enjoy the social part of Commander and want to use that to your advantage
- You want a deck that doesn't just turn creature sideways or tutor up a combo to win
Deck Choices. As you look at the deck, you'll see that there are many cards which are quite mediocre and have upgrades (such as the checklands, Darksteel Pendant, and Terramorphic Expanse). There are two reasons for this. The primary reason is that I want to give every appearance that I am not a threat. "Hey don't worry about me, I couldn't even afford shocklands and proper fetches!" "Pendant isn't bad, it's just a scry 1, it's not like I'm spinning the top every turn." The secondary reason is that I really enjoy playing this deck at my league because it can usually net me a decent number of points, so I only run one single tutor in the deck in order to guarantee that I can get that point every game.
Deck Breakdown. The deck can be largely broken down into three parts (four if you count lands): Defense, combat manipulation, and general utility. The defensive cards are pretty much all the permanents with the exception of the mana rocks and a couple of utility artifacts. These are the cards which sit on the board and say "hey you know you could attack me if you want, but do you really want to attack me? What about that player over there?" While some of them can't help but draw attention to themselves naturally, they should for the most part be cards that an opponent won't care about as long as they don't attack me. The combat manipulation cards are the instants and sorceries which change the way combat operates, either by redirecting damage, preventing it altogether, changing combat math, or messing with the declare attackers step. Finally are the utility cards, which is where I lump in removal and small benefits for me that don't fit the first two categories.
The most important things I'm looking for in my opening hand are lands and mana rocks, followed by defensive cards to build up my little protection fort. It is almost always the correct answer to play Mathas as early as possible in order to start getting bounty counters. One of the weak points of the deck is that it can run out of gas and start top-decking, so getting bounty counters out as soon as possible will help keep your hand full, make land drops, and make your opponents realize the benefit to not attacking you or killing Mathas. An opponent that draws extra cards is a happy opponent that isn't looking to make you an enemy (yet). I tend to spread around the counters roughly evenly, except that I draw attention to scary creatures by giving them extra counters, and all board states being equal, I'll draw attention to the player with more cards in hand or more available mana by putting counters on their creatures the most.
With a decent draw and a balanced game, you should by the midgame hopefully find yourself in a situation where you have an average amount of mana, a medium-sized amount of cards in hand, and a small board state. Your hand should consist of a little pillowfort, a little removal, and one or two reactive cards. Here is where you have to start weighing your options and making opportunity costs. Do you spend four mana to cast a No Mercy or hold that mana up? Do you recast Mathas or wait a turn? As the game progresses this question becomes more important, because you might have a few different reactionary spells and the other players start to notice that you have a full grip of cards and are leaving open seven mana. Every situation is different, so you have to weigh your options and determine how a "worst case scenario" will affect you and whether you can reasonably afford to let your guard down for one turn in order to advance your board state.
The late game is what makes and breaks the deck. Here is where you shift gears altogether into defensive mode. Hopefully most of your hand is reactionary spells, so you should be constantly checking damage on board, life totals, and calculating every possible scenario for eliminating an opponent. Your opponents might be a little worried about your ability to mess with them, so that can help get them to lower each other's life totals by attacking each other instead of you. If possible, wait for opportunities to outright eliminate an opponent rather than just weakening them, as this can cause them to shift their focus to you (rightfully).
The biggest weakness the deck has is against decks that don't generally win by turning creatures sideways. Most of the gotcha! cards are ones which are creature based, so against a spellslinger deck you're going to have a harder time winning. Therefore, you should try to eliminate that player first when you get the chance. If you are in a meta that is heavy with these types of decks, you may want to tailor the deck with reactive cards against spells, or consider a different deck altogether.
The other weakness is the mana. These colors are not traditionally known for their ramp, which makes mana rocks much more important. If you aren't concerned about the image your mana base gives you, then it would make sense to make upgrades to the lands as you can.
The first thing you probably notice when looking at the list is that there are some pretty subpar choices. Darksteel Pendant over Sensei's Divining Top??? Checklands? Terramorphic Expanse? These are all intentional choices, and affording the better cards isn't a factor. The reason is that players with scary boards or expensive cards are typically viewed as a threat, even when they shouldn't be. Therefore, we add a subconscious layer of politics by playing these weaker cards. Remember, the overall goal is to give every possible reason for your to be ignored because you aren't a threat.
The deck itself can be broken down into four parts: deterrents, combat tricks, general removal, and utility.
Crawlspace - makes getting attacked more manageable, and since it only affects you, large armies can still swing elsewhere
Farsight Mask - you wouldn't think that this would pull a lot of weight, but players don't generally want to swing with a random creature and give you a card. And if you do draw cards off it, you'll be better poised later on to manipulate combat
High Priest of Penance - pulls double duty because people don't want you to destroy something of theirs, or can be used as a political tool "if you attack me with X I can blow up Y". I've yet to live the dream of responding to an alpha strike with Gideon's Sacrifice. One day... one day
Ophiomancer - repeatable deathtouch blocker or sacrifice fodder
Michiko Konda, Truth Seeker - this effectively shuts down players with small board states, and dear god don't play something like Blood Artist
Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs - makes attacking me more expensive. Still waiting for someone to swing alpha strike expecting to eliminate me, fog them, then get them on the backswing with all my new ogres
Ogre Slumlord - Like Ophiomancer, this makes deathtouch blockers
Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts - blocks most things on the ground, makes you reconsider attacking in the air, and can safely swing for damage
Curse of Opulance - you could attack me, or you could attack them and get some mana
Ghostly Prison/Sphere of Safety - makes it harder to get attacked by many things at once
Righteous Aura - paying 2 life is so much better than taking 6 damage
Vow of Lightning/Vow of Malice - literally makes something (usually a general) unable to attack you
No Mercy - see Teysa
Chronomantic Escape - almost a pet card, I just think it's fun. It does come in handy a surprising amount of times
Kor Haven/Maze of Ith - damage prevention
Selfless Squire - fog on a stick that also prevents damage for the entire turn
Gideon's Sacrifice - Basically a fog effect, but can be combined with High Priest for extra value
Outmaneuver - this can be used politically to get someone to swing a certain way