Challenge the Stats – Talking Braids with Jumbo Commander!

(Braids, Conjurer Adept | Art by Zoltan Boros and Gabor Szikszai)

French, Dutch, or Fishtail?

Hello, and welcome to Challenge the Stats, the series based off of the segment of the same name on the EDHRECast, where we highlight cards that we think are overplayed, underplayed, or sleeper picks (according to our data).

This week, we have a special interview with DJ, host of the Jumbo Commander YouTube channel, guest host of The Command Zone, and Game Knights alum! DJ and I aren't talking about braiding our hair (we could talk about DJ's own luscious hair; however, I am follically challenged). No, we're doing a deep dive into his favorite commander deck: Braids, Conjurer Adept. DJ gives us a personal take on Commander philosophy, playing and building Braids, and has some great overplayed and sleeper challenges for her EDHREC page!

But first, let's meet Braids. She isn't too popular, with just over 500 decks to her name on EDHREC. Can we convince a few more people that she's worth playing?

Braids, Conjurer Adept is a four-mana 2/2 with a powerful symmetrical effect. She lets each player put an artifact, creature, or land into play on their upkeep, and we'll get that trigger after all of our opponents do. At first, this seems like a group hug deck, but DJ is going to tell us why that is not the case.

Special Interview with Jumbo Commander

Hey DJ! Thanks for being on Challenge the Stats. You have an impressive Magical resume, from your own YouTube channel that’s been around for over four years, to being a long-term guest host and Game Knight on The Command Zone. Tell everyone a little bit about yourself.

So, I used to play a lot of Limited, Standard, and Legacy. But, I realized the things I really liked about Magic, more than actually playing the game, were brewing decks and interacting with people. I found these other formats left me wanting a bit more out of my game of Magic, and Commander fits exactly that. I can brew and make weird decks. I can make them flavorful and throw in cards that you wouldn't normally see across the table from you. I also want to interact with and meet new people. Luckily, I've had the opportunity to do that, from meeting people in content creation, to people at Wizards of the Coast, to just awesome people that have really fun decks. I can sit down and play this great game with them.

I realized the things I really liked about Magic, more than actually playing the game, were brewing decks and interacting with people.

Now, you’ve mentioned before that Braids is one of your personal favorite decks in your massive collection of 30 Commander decks. What is it that sets the deck apart and makes it your favorite?

I do have a lot of Magic cards, maybe way too many. But you know what? I think that that's an okay vice when it comes down to it.

Braids is one of my oldest and one of my favorite decks. The reason why I like Braids is that it looks like a bad card. You're letting your opponents get a huge advantage before you get any benefit. So on its face value, it's something that you definitely wouldn't want to do in a game of Magic or a game of Commander. But, when it comes down to how Braids actually plays and how humans interact, it ends up being this incredibly political card that immediately starts a conversation. Before even playing Braids, you look around the table and you're like, "Alright, can we play Braids?"

You're giving your opponents a huge boost, but in some cases, they're not really your opponents: they're your allies if they're okay with you playing Braids and [if] you're accelerating them into their big creatures. And then, the thing that people seem to forget is that my deck is built around Braids. My deck is built to exploit the fact that I have bigger things to put on the battlefield than you or ways to interact with whatever you drop. Braids makes you really involved with the rest of the table. And when you're involved with the table, you're also involved in other people's decks, you're having conversations, and you're interacting. That makes for a very fun game of Magic.

When it comes down to how Braids actually plays and how humans interact, it ends up being this incredibly political card that immediately starts a conversation.

I know a lot of players might be nervous about giving their opponents free stuff. Is there anything that you would say to convince people that Braids is worth playing and [that] giving your opponents free stuff can be good?

Part of it is if your opponent isn't going to use the creature against you, then giving them a creature is actually really good, because that's the dynamic of multiplayer. If you can assure that that Eldrazi is not swinging your way, then you've actually moved your own plan forward because you've unleashed it at a different opponent. I like to think about aiming your opponents' creatures at each other rather than you. Sometimes you can use politics, and sometimes you have things like Fatespinner, which messes with the combat phase, or an untapped Maze of Ith to send those big creatures somewhere else. And sometimes, it's just the unknown of holding up mana that scares people into going the other way. That bluffing and that instant-speed interaction also makes for a really fun game.

Another fun aspect of Braids is that it isn't always safe and you don't always have everything under control. This deck can totally go sideways, and you can launch someone into a winning position and they're going to crush you. But playing on the edge and trying to use all of your tools to engineer a victory is quite fun.

So, it's kind of a hard deck to evaluate on a power spectrum. How would you have that pregame talk of what power level of deck you are bringing to the table?

You're absolutely right. Whenever you have a deck that plays so much with everyone else's decks, it does really adapt to the table, which is something I like a lot. When my deck can clone or steal the best thing on the table, it can be really flexible and match a similar power level to everyone else. The other thing that really makes it either a stronger or weaker deck is if you are going to, say, drop Eldrazi and Annihilate someone; wherever you have your suite of big creatures, that's where the power level lies. For instance, my version does have Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre and It That Betrays, which push the power level up.

The other way you can evaluate this is how much fast mana you have. This deck has a bunch of big creatures in it, and while you might think the main mode is cheating them into play with Braids, there's always the backup plan of just casting them. When I have a critical mass of big creatures, the kind of ramp I have can help define our deck. So, while this deck can play with a lot of different decks, I still think it's sitting in the middle range of power. When I come up to people at a table, I say, "I'm playing Braids, I'm going to give you free stuff. So you guys should really pull out the biggest, most awesome deck that you guys have."

And honestly, if you want to change your Braids deck to your playgroup, you can just swap out those big dumb creatures for different big dumb creatures, and swap out your ramp for things that are faster or slower to tune your deck up and down. I like that flexibility.

How do you balance playing your own bombs versus clone and theft effects?

I think a lot of it has to do with the table. Sometimes, playing your own bomb makes you feel like a threat, but sometimes cloning someone else's doesn't, like, "Hey, I'm just piggybacking off of the big thing that this other person did". Also, clones usually save us mana, so if the board gets destroyed, I can still cast a clone, but an Eldrazi might be stranded in my hand.

As for the stealing effects, I like to really reserve them. I don't just steal anything out there. Remember, if you can guarantee that the creature is not being swung at you, then it's almost like a benefit for you. I only steal something that I can't politically motivate and direct exactly where it needs to go. Sometimes, you have a wild card across from you and they did swing at you a couple of times. Or, you gave them too much, like a Consecrated Sphinx just sitting there on the battlefield, gaining them tons of advantage; that's the kind of thing that I like to steal.

Do you ever find the need to drop something less intimidating with the Braids trigger to avoid becoming the Archenemy or prevent Braids from being removed?

Absolutely. Sometimes when I'll drop Braids, people just use it to drop an extra land. Then if I drop something crazy, everyone's going to turn against me. There's going to be answers in the early game, and then I'm really behind because one player used one card to dismantle my strategy, and I've ramped everyone else. So, I will likely ride that situation out by playing another land or a mana rock.

What I'll usually try to do is get into a situation where I can draw extra cards so that I can push into the late game, because getting interrupted early on doesn't help me win the game. Getting to the late game where I can cast the spells without the help of Braids does change the dynamic of a game because my deck has a higher critical mass of bombs.

What would you say to new potential Braids players is the most important thing to know when piloting the deck?

I think some people are used to playing Magic, and especially other formats, where you just clam up and play your own game. There's very little room for chatting and conversation. But part of piloting this deck means talking to other people. You never just silently cast your commander. It's always a fun conversation with the table like, "Let's decide if Braids is the right decision for all of us." You might ask, "So, what's the highest CMC creature you have in your hand; you want to drop that down here?"

Those conversations can be really separate from the way that we're used to playing Magic. The way Braids breaks people out of their comfort zone and engages other players is really fun, but also, it's a critical part of playing the deck. Some players might leave that out and then be surprised when they drop Braids and someone turns against them. You need to do the legwork of having those conversations beforehand.

Let's Challenge the Stats. Have you noticed any cards on Braids's EDHREC page that you don't think should be there?

So, I'm personally not a fan of one type of effect that other people really like, and that's breaking the symmetry of Braids. There's two of them that you see in a lot of decks: Paradox Haze and Vanishing. I don't think doubling our Braids triggers with Paradox Haze is good enough to take a slot in the deck, and let me explain why. Look at all of the cards you would drop with Braids, and ask yourself, do you really need two of those to make your deck work? There are also many situations where you just don't have enough in your hand to be able to double things up.

Also, the fact that Braids is symmetrical means people are more willing to let you get your trigger. And by the way, secretly, it's not symmetrical. We have crazy stuff built around it. But, as soon as you start breaking symmetry with Paradox Haze or Vanishing, which removes our opponents' ability to get the trigger, then the hate comes towards you, and you really become enemy number one. All of a sudden, our opponents are very willing to remove Braids.

In general, I also don't love cards that only interact with your commander, because you have to have both cards out to get an advantage. I think that Braids already is a pretty tight list, and I just can't find room for things that make Braids better when every big creature in my deck is something that makes Braids really good.

Looking at the other side of Challenge the Stats, are there any cards on the EDHREC page that are surprisingly absent?

Faerie Artisans is missing from the page, and it's just a really great creature in general that plays into the copy and clone theme. When you're giving your opponents the opportunity to play big things, you create an interesting decision point of, "Well, do I play this creature and give DJ a token copy of it? Will someone else play a creature in between now and then so DJ doesn't get the swing with this huge monster?" I love it. Also, Faerie Artisans really just let you take advantage of all those ETBs as it goes around the table. If you're giving your opponents free creatures, then I think it definitely belongs.

Are there any pet cards that you love to use with Braids?

My favorite pet card has got to be Bloodthirsty Blade, and it's not on Braids's EDHREC page at all. The Goad mechanic is so much fun. I love the idea that I can manipulate other people's creatures and send them into harm's way. Can you imagine anything better than letting opponents put huge creatures on the battlefield and attaching this blade for three mana to say, "Go nuts. You're Goaded. Attack everyone else except for me." For only three mana, I haven't controlled this creature, but I've sent it exactly where it needs to go. And this is something that's reusable, I can switch it on to other creatures as well and send my opponents' creatures at each other, giving me all of the value. It's amazing. It's a really fun card, even in decks other than Braids.

For one other card, I want to give a shout out to Josh Murphy, one of the editors at The Command Zone. He also has a Braids deck, and a card that he turned me on to was Mitotic Manipulation. So, think about how important ramp is in this deck. Basically, all it does in most cases is get you an Island, but it's three-mana ramp in blue. I love playing my Wayfarer's Bauble, and it becomes sort of a second spell-based copy of that, with the very slim chance of hitting something bigger that's already on the battlefield. 

Finally, are there any new cards you have recently added to the deck?

Midnight Clock. I love that it's ramp and card draw. I think Midnight Clock is really good and belongs in a lot of different decks.

Card draw is really important in this deck. Sometimes you're going to end up with cards stranded in your hand because some of your interaction is situational. And sometimes, you're going to end up with things that are too expensive stranded in your hand. So, the idea that you have enough ramp to get to where you can start playing those cards is important, but so is card draw so you can just power through those slow points in your deck.

These have been phenomenal insights into Braids, and we're going to wrap up. Thanks for talking with us DJ! Readers, be sure to check out DJ’s YouTube channel. He does deck techs, set reviews, and more! You can also find all of DJ's decklists and videos on his website, and you can find him on twitter @jumbocommander.

If you'd like to hear DJ talk about Braids even more, check out this video from The Command Zone, where DJ and Josh go through DJ's deck. Check out DJ's decklist below, and be sure to vote on the next Challenge the Stats below that!

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Jevin Lortie has been playing magic on and off since Portal. He has a PhD in nutritional sciences, so he always tells people to get a healthy serving of fruits and vegetables – especially ramp-les and draw-nanas.