Cooking By The Book (And Deck Building, Too)

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Cooking is a vital skill of any hopeful, eternal bachelor like myself. Like anything else vital to a neck beard’s endless list of abilities (like rolling natural twenties, arguing on the internet, and lying your way through a term paper), it isn’t something that you simply wake up one day and assume you know how to do. Learning to cook is a matter of incremental gains after a dozen or so failed starts, with your success being entirely relevant to personal preference (unless you’re cooking for a group of people, in which case you follow the advice featured in my first article and bring plenty of alcohol).

This is a polite way of saying you’re going to be making a ton of sour expressions before you finally create something palatable, and experience dour, bland creations before you finally make something truly delicious. Similarly, making a Commander deck with a more subtle, nuanced approach that also doesn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth isn’t accomplished all at once, it takes time, dedication, experimentation, and most importantly, admitting when it’s time to toss your work out with the trash.

Part of what makes any dish truly great is the harmony between the ingredients- the tomatoes, basil, garlic salt and red wine that I used tonight to create the sauce for my dinner didn’t disagree with one another, and none of them fought or over powered one another on my taste buds, and any of those ingredients have plenty of application with other dishes, and each other. Likewise, when we sit down to build a new deck or improve on an old recipe, we have to be careful that what we’re adding or taking away from the list doesn’t cause a severe chain reaction.

While everyone wants to avoid potential embarrassment (and food poisioning), there’s only so much theory crafting and self testing that can occur before your work is brought into public scrutiny. Thus, paying plenty of attention to how your deck/dish interacts within itself and carefully noting  how any given interaction sways the whole isn’t just important, it’s literally the difference between success and being kicked from the kitchen table.

Using cards that work well with the rest of the deck rather than just using a few that have an extremely powerful interaction is just as superior as using a oven backed honey hoagie, black forest ham, olives and all natural swiss cheese over the traditional white bread and Oscar-Meyer cold cuts, especially when you’ve both as readily available options.

Before we even begin to build our grocery list of savory combos, delicious beaters and other nummy selections, we have to ask ourselves for WHOM the dish is ultimately trying to please, HOW it’s going to do just that and WHY we’re choosing to dice our tomatoes as opposed to simply slicing them. The WHOM is fairly self explanatory; is your deck, or dish, for your enjoyment and pleasure only, or are you going to use it as a means of enticing guests over?

Commander (and cooking) can be self rewarding, but reaches its peak flavor through the magic of good company. Having created something that can be enjoyed by a table of different people (who, needless to say, all bear differing tastes) rather than on a individual basis is a far more selfless option foremost, but is also a more suitable path for activities which are built from the ground up to strengthen and encourage social bonds.

While I enjoy drinking alone and comboing off for the win like any other warm blooded basement dweller, my best memories of Commander (and cooking!) stem from my friends loudly criticising me as they desperately try to choke back the dish I just made them on cheap beer while still clinging to sobriety long enough to hand me my ass on a silver platter. There’s no shame in accepting defeat if it ensures victory and a full stomach at your playgroup’s expense later. And besides, bragging about that awesome deck/dish isn’t as fun as getting to share the experience with someone else, right?

Now we’ve arrived at the question of HOW exactly we are going to saitiate our hunger for a good time. While personal taste will seemingly always interfere with our choices, there are always going to be a few standbys that we can resort to as a lure to the table.

Much as I prefer Crown Royal over other whiskeys, I’ll gladly bust out Jim Beam or Jack Daniels to get my friends to come over. Likewise, while I love prison-style builds and punishing effects such as Smokestack and Gravepact, I’ll pull out the Zedruu the Greathearted list I’ve been working on if it encourages people to play (Protip of the week: Never trust a guy playing Zedruu. He’s a thief, a liar, and he’ll forcibly bribe you with “presents” that are a pile of feces in bright wrapping paper).

The literal and figurative fulfillment you get from a truly satisfying creation stems from using choice ingredients, and be it that the spice you’re using is a big etherium kitty or a little blue smurf, remember this; if you’re setting out to make a truly memorable moment, think not of how you should find a moment of joy to yourself but how you can bring an evening of memories to all included. Otherwise, you’re literally going to be playing with yourself and goldfish tastes terrible. However you choose to accomplish this is entirely dependent upon who will be joining you, and is something that can take quite a while to gauge properly. Generally though, here’s a few things to avoid:

1. Cheap Vodka & Mass Land Destruction: Unless your intent is to cause as much non-cardboard based bloodshed as possible, avoid the ire that mass LD brings in favor of more selective and non-destructive methods, such as Back To Basics. Plus, cheap vodka tastes like shaving cream, and it’s only suitable use is as such.

2. Turn 2-3 Wins & Any Sort of “Ultimate Nacho” Platter: That’s not just the salsa and hot sauce coming back for revenge, that queasy look you see on everyone’s face is the feeling of utter disappointment over the game ending so quickly sneaking up their throat. To keep the bile from spewing, keep your combo in hand or on board until a suitable moment of weakness for most of the table. Going off as soon as possible, especially if you undoubtedly win isn’t cool, it turns you into a political target and permanently labels you a horrible host and that’s just not sweet tasting at all.

3. Excessive Cheese: While cheese comes in many varieties, such as Oathing into Progenitus and Munster, serving too much of either won’t sit well on anyone’s stomach. Cheese is best served sparingly and in it’s most exotic, pungent form, Gamekeeper sees little play, and can accomplish just as much as Oath with a minor amount of recursion.

Why bother with all of this preperation, careful selection and scrutiny of your guests? The short answer is “propagation”. The slightly more detailed answer is to ensure people not only want to come back, but will enjoy their entire experience. You can get a burger anywhere, but if you want it to come out looking intimidating, mouth-watering & tasting out of this world, presentation is absolutely key.

People play Commander primarily to be wowed, and to enjoy a different flavor of Magic altogether. If they were simply looking for a win, they could get as much in any other given format. The only thing that has pushed Commander past it’s own innate faults ( deck consistancy, practically schizophrenic ban list and divided community) is how incredibly exciting and creative it can be. As our recent guest writer Carlos from Commander Cast (and all around amazing broski) says, “It’s a format where ANYTHING can happen and you can do ANYTHING you want!” Killing an opponent with a well-oiled combo isn’t nearly as cool to your guests as beating him/her to death with a flying, trampling Giant Shark.

One dish that seemingly never settles well with guests, and has yet to find it’s way into a civilized gathering, would be the discussion on the possible sanctioning (!) of our beloved format. Popular concensus is that sanctioning Commander would be akin to killing it, dividing by zero and making the sky fall prematurely and honestly, there’s plenty of ground for these rather popular opinions, as giving any sort of basis to the format would be striking a blow directly to the heart of it.

Commander was and still is, a format of freedom, democracy and enabling rather than restricting what players are allowed to achieve and no amount of attention, be it from Wizards or the player base, is going to shake this foundation. Sheldon and his friends have created the last bastion of creativity in Magic and to alter the formula even a slight degree could mean utter destruction.

But what if to save all we hold dear, such drastic measures are necessary?

Think for a moment about what we as a community of players could possibly gain by even having something as slight as a “true” ban list rather than just a list of cards we’re advised not to play with. One that every community could reference rather than relying upon their own house rules that might possibly alienate new comers or those unfamiliar. I think we all can agree that the current ban list is horridly inconsistant and has been no small subject of public scrutiny. While unbanning Worldgorger Dragon caused less of an uproar than predicted and just as many people are holding back from decrying the banning of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn the list is only getting better by a painfully slow pace over time and as I said, the open encouragement to create a ban list that is particular to one playgroup can result in some pretty awkward encounters.

I recently was out of town and decided to join a store’s Commander league so as to enjoy an evening playing with strangers. Coincidently, I decided to give their banlist a cursory once over and was a bit shocked to see that Crucible of Worlds, Life from The Loam, Strip Mine and Wasteland were banned. I inquired about this with another player, and he informed me that due to a prevailence of Azusa, Lost but Seeking decks in the era, they had to tack those items alongside the usual suspects.

While this completely eliminated their Azusa problem, it also screwed over honest shlubs like myself who weren’t using the cards in any abusive fashion whatsoever. While having an official ban list could have possibly prevented the problem outright or propagated it further, having a unique one wasn’t helping at all either, as it was just driving players away instead. Last time I checked, for a community to flourish, people need to actually be, ya’ know, PLAYING MAGIC.

A true ban list could be made more fair or based in the roots of of Commander’s humble origins by providing some sort of community vote alongside the council’s decision. Being able to ban or unban one problematic card, like Hermit Druid or Gifts Ungiven, could shake up the game enough to keep it fresh while eliminating problematic decks in the meta and still give the community a voice in what they’ll be playing with.

It’s something that not only makes a lot of sense when you sit back and think about it, but in my opinion is ultimately unavoidable now that Wizards has started directly pandering to the player base. They’ve said that they would still leave the format in the hands of the players and the creators of the format have even come forward to confirm as much, but don’t think for one moment that the thought hasn’t crossed the mind of someone with enough authority to make some waves.

Could it potentially destroy the format utterly, turn it into a complete Spike-fest, and ultimately drive people away in droves?

Oh yes.

Could it also give the format what it’s needed for so long, and finally might achieve due to it’s newfound attention, fervor, interest and fame?

Most definitely.

Sanctioning Commander is grossly unlikely. I, for one, am not in favor of it despite what I’ve wrote here and if the vocal community is any indication, I’m not alone while at the same time is something we shouldn’t completely toss it out of our minds, especially with the surge in pilot numbers over the last month. More people than ever might be holding a rally cry against sanctioning, but likewise, so are the people in favor of reformation.

Anyways, with all that heavy talk out of the way, it’s time for a treat. You guys have been absolutely wonderful guests this week, and I decided to whip up the follow especially for you. The first thing listed here is a decklist I’ve been tinkering with over the last few weeks revolving around Glissa, The Traitor and the second list is my ultra competitive concoction I’m sure you’ll enjoy just as much as I do.

Jack Lacroix – Glissa and Her Toys

Commander
Lands
Creatures
Permanents
Spells

Southern Snowfall (Home Made Vanilla Ice Cream)

Ingredients

– 3 cups of Sugar/Splenda
– 4 Eggs
– 1 Pint of Heavy cream
– 2 Tablespoons Vanilla Flavoring
– 3 Quarts of Milk or amount needed to finish filling the freezer

Utensils

– Ice Cream Churner, can be bought at most cooking stores
– Spoons
– Electric Mixer
– Stomach, Mouth & Hands
– Friends

Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs well. Add sugar, cream and vanilla. Continue beating until sugar is dissolved. pour into one gallon freezer container. finish filling with milk, place in freezer and let freeze. Enjoy!

Until we dine again, mind your manners, remember that those odd shaped forks are for the salad, that one spoon is for the soup and desert, and that the best wins are obtained in the company of friends.

Have a great week everyone!

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