What makes a great deck? What makes a deck someone’s favorite?
The answer is narrative. Of all the things that make Magic magic, it is the stories we create that establish connections. Loving the cards we play and playing the game we love isn’t just about how good the cards are or how well we play; it is our force, acting on cards – molding, shaping, and playing them – that help us to create incredible, memorable experiences.
Today’s episode of Card Kingdom Commanders is another fantastic illustration of this principle, because even when we think we know a deck, sometimes, we can still find ways to meet it with fresh eyes.
MEET FRANK CHAFE
Frank does a lot in and around Magic. At Card Kingdom, he works in the Overstock department, helping to assemble Battle Decks, but he also helps out Fulfillment folk like me with out-of-stock cards. Frank is the go-to guy when we have to venture into our bulk section; it’s been my fortune that he always seems to be there when I’m looking for a card, and he often drops whatever he’s doing to help.
As some of you know, Frank’s also a fellow writer here on the blog. As an accomplished Level 1 (soon-to-be Level 2) Judge and former Events Coordinator, Frank has traveled all over for Magic, and has a great perspective for players looking to work their way through the challenges of tournament play.
Strangely enough, Frank is one of the few Commander players I’ve not yet had the chance to meet on the battlefield. We’ve actually played more putt-putt than Magic, but I’m hoping we will remedy this soon!
THE RELENTLESS AESTHETIC
Frank’s favorite Commander is Marrow-Gnawer, the O.G. leader of his Relentless Rats tribal deck. It’s Frank’s first Commander deck, and although there have been many cards like Damia, Sage of Stone, or Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord that have rivaled Marrow-Gnawer for control of the rats, Frank’s reason for staying the course is simple: none of the other options are Rats.
Adhering to tribal discipline is tough, but something we should wholeheartedly support in challenging ourselves. Although we live in a world where Dragonspeaker Shamans abound in Dragon decks, I’ve always found a huge amount of design satisfaction in sticking to hard restrictions like this; because often, we can find other places to break rules, or have more creative liberties.
We can see that here in Frank’s list. Outside of Crypt Rats and Pack Rat, we have 29 Relentless Rats to attack with, and a few support cards that will win the game outright—Thrumming Stone, Exsanguinate, Altar of Dementia and Torment of Hailfire. The abundance of tutors, including classic familiars like Demonic and Vampiric Tutor, the ancient Imperial Seal, and the new Razaketh’s Rite provide opportunities for Frank to get to these cards, and/or troubleshoot along the way.
As Frank says, the deck is “All rats all the time,” but it’s not just a simple juggling of 30-power rats that make his deck impressive. Frank has been playing Marrow-Gnawer for seven years, adding foil versions for every card available, and his commitment to aesthetics helps his deck transcend basic functionality and gameplay, making it a playable piece of art. Among these are a handful of sweet cards, like Cabal Coffers, Swarmyard, and the Shards of Alara Swamp by Chippy. Even the Judge Promo Imperial Seal he recently acquired is very nice, but the favorite, at least for this deck, has to be the Italian promo Relentless Rats, Ratti Spietati.
According to Frank, this version of the card is close to impossible to find in the US. In fact, not even Relentless Rats artist Thomas Baxa was aware of such a printing before Frank showed him at a GP! Over the years, Frank has been able to secure copies through his travels and his community of Judge friends, and he’ll have all 29 copies of Ratti Spietati later this year – which is really cool, not just for its awesome translation, but for sentimentality. Some of my favorite cards aren’t necessarily ones that I’ve bought myself, but the ones given character and memories by the people I’ve met, sat down, and played a few games with.
Do you have any cards with special meanings? Be sure to let us know on Twitter @Card_Kingdom!
For most of his Magic-playing life, Aaron has been playing and writing about Commander. One of the few mono-colored players in a gold-bordered world, Aaron enjoys the challenges of creating meaningful, memorable games, as well as the excitement that comes with engaging underrated cards as he explores the format’s uncharted territory. A disciplined deckbuilder with over 200 lists to his name, Aaron has spent the past several years creating content about his favorite format.