Is It Time To Retire My Favourite Commander Deck?

Kwain, Itinerant Meddler was my first serious attempt at a Magic: The Gathering Commander deck. I’d dabbled a little bit before and made a few that either broke rules I didn’t know existed (Lutri, the Spellchaser), or were so incredibly dogwater that they lasted maybe a game or two before being pulled apart (Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker), but Kwain was my first love.

At first he was a simple group hug deck: let everyone draw cards and have a good time, until the trap closed shut and I had enough cards in my hand and enough mana on the board to get my win before anyone could stop me. It was lots of fun, people were often surprised by what a quaint little Rabbit Wizard could do, and it served me well as I got more and more into Commander. But now I think it may be time for Kwain to hang up his Lightning Greaves, as I consider retiring him for good.

Over the years, Kwain has gone from my little Rabbit fella into an unstoppable monster. Years of upgrades have added over ten counterspells, multiple ways of having an unlimited hand size, numerous combos to draw my entire deck, and backup win condition after backup win condition. Double Masters 2022 was the final nail in the coffin for him, with the addition of Drogskol Reaver and Consecrated Sphinx to my collection pushing him well over the point of no return.

Commander’s not inherently about going super hard and crushing your opponent, it’s about making sure every player has space to have fun and let their deck do the things it wanted to do by the time someone finally pushes their way to a victory. It’s a very anti-‘pubstomping’ format; still competitive, but not at the cost of the overall play experience. In a well-balanced group, your deck should be winning about 25 percent of the time.

By the time it finally hit me that Kwain had gone too far, he was winning maybe 80 percent of the games I’d played with him. He drew too many cards, gained too much mana through cards like Smothering Tithe, and always had an answer for no matter what my opponents wanted to do. Add to that numerous pillowfort effects like Ghostly Prison, Norn’s Annex, and Propaganda, and the result was a game where I’d just sequester myself away from the rest of the table, hording my resources until the time came I was bored and wanted to end the game. Nothing anybody else mattered, I was in full control.

The first problem with this is that it warped my persona playgroups’ metas. Not only would I become a target and try to be taken out before I could gain momentum, they’d build decks specifically to try and break through everything my deck did – pack counterspells of their own, add graveyard recursion, load up on enchantment and artifact destruction, or even throw in things like Reliquary Tower and Thought Vessel to keep all those lovely cards I gave them. None of these were in their decks the first time I bust out my Rabbity King, but sure enough they crept in specifically to deal with me.

The second problem is that it felt good. Now I’ve been roused from my Kwain-induced stupor, I can see that I wasn’t ever bringing anything fun to the table. Maybe at first when it was just friends drawing cards, but it took no time at all before a card that should normally be fun, like a Minds Aglow, suddenly turned into a game-winning threat everyone groaned to see. It’s always good to feel like the archenemy sometimes, but if it’s happening every game it’s time to start considering toning things down.

Except toning down the deck would just take the fun out of it for me. I’ve tasted what happens when Consecrated Sphinx and Wedding Ring get together, or the delight of using Minds Aglow and Smothering Tithe to make enough Treasure tokens to win the game there and then. I’ve won with every win condition the deck has, and all of them are both degenerate as hell and delicious to pull off. I also can’t find stronger groups to play against, as then the cycle begins again and Kwain gets even more oppressive until the same problem happens again. I can’t go back and can’t go forward, so the only move is to retire Kwain completely.

I have other decks I play – Hamza, Guardian of Arashin and Isshin, Two Heavens As One being my main two at the moment. I have a good time with them, but they’re not exactly Kwain. They don’t have that sentimental value Kwain has – the time I’ve spent playing it, or the money that’s gone into upgrading it. It almost feels like I ruined Kwain, and there is a larger element of sadness there than I’d care to admit over a card game.

This is both an ode to my perfect boy Kwain, and an important lesson any Commander player must learn. It’s tempting to always find the latest upgrades for your favourite decks, but there will come a time when you’ve taken them outside of the spirit of the format. It’s better to have a deck that always needs ‘a few more upgrades’ than one that’s tuned beyond the format, which, unfortunately, is what has happened with me and Kwain.

There are other commanders I’ve been eyeing up. Jumpstart 2022 has a new Rabbit Wizard that plays with Illusion tokens that looks a lot of fun, and of course there’s New Capenna’s Queza, Augur of Agony that would be a good fit for a lot of the card-drawing joy the early Kwain days gave me. There’s also other colours outside of blue and white I want to explore – I have a black and red Sacrifice-focused deck sat half-finished mere inches from me. But for now, as silly as it sounds, I need time to just appreciate what this little Rabbit has done for me and how it brought me into my favourite way of playing Magic.

RIP Kwain, Itinerant Meddler – 2020-2022.

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