Unified Front - Using Data to Find Swappable Commanders

(Pledge of Unity | Art by Chris Rallis)

It Takes a Village

For some time, I've been interested in building a Commander deck with a rotating group of commanders. The simplest version of this would be to take two similar commanders with the same color identity, like Brokkos, Apex of Forever and Otrimi, the Ever-Playful, find 99 cards that work well for either, and you're done.

The Magic: the Gathering Data Science version of this is to use EDHREC data to find bundles of ten similar commanders, start your deck with those ten, and then find the 90 other cards that appear most often in decks helmed by those commanders.

The trick is in identifying similar commanders. I decided to do it on the basis of cards in the 99. For each commander, I looked at the EDHREC data to see what proportion of decks featured a given card. As an example, consider the fun new commander Ivy, Gleeful Spellthief.

You can see on the "Table View" on her EDHREC page that Command Tower appears in 86.2% of Ivy decks, Gemrazer in 76.0%, Sol Ring 75.7%, Shielding Plax 75.1%, and so on. You can represent each commander as a vector of these inclusion rates for all cards (there will be lots of zeros!), and represent all commanders as a #commanders × #cards matrix of these inclusion rates.

From there, it's a matter of a "simple" matrix multiplication to get a distance metric between each pair of commanders; essentially, a weighted sum of inclusions rates for cards they have in common.

As I said, I want to try building a deck around ten swappable commanders, so for each individual commander, I looked at the 10th most-similar commander, sorted by this distance, and picked one for each color identity. This will make more sense when you see the lists below.

UR is the color identity with the most cohesive bundle of 10 commanders, where the central commander is Veyran, Voice of Duality. These are all variations on Spellslinger decks, and they tend to start with a fairly consistent set of spellsling-y staples: cheap cantrips, Storm facilitators, and nonlegendary creatures that also carry instant and sorcery triggers.

The next five most-closely-bundled commander/colors are all monocolored, followed by the remaining two-color pairs, then three colors, then five. This is pretty much what I expected, given that expanding a deck's color identity increases the number of cards it has access to.

This table lists, for each non-colorless, non-four-color color identity, the commander at the center of the tightest bundle, the 9 other commanders in that bundle, and the 15 cards that appear the most frequently in their collective 99. Some observations follow, but for now, enjoy a huge list!

primary commander similar 10 common in the 99
Veyran, Voice of Duality
Zaffai, Thunder Conductor
Eruth, Tormented Prophet
Mizzix of the Izmagnus
Jori En, Ruin Diver
Melek, Izzet Paragon
Neera, Wild Mage
Niv-Mizzet, Parun
Rootha, Mercurial Artist
Vadrik, Astral Archmage
Izzet Signet
Brainstorm
Talisman of Creativity
Ponder
Storm-Kiln Artist
Frantic Search
Preordain
Guttersnipe
Archmage Emeritus
Faithless Looting
Opt
Goblin Electromancer
Blasphemous Act
Talrand, Sky Summoner
Mana Geyser
God-Eternal Kefnet
Fblthp, the Lost
Jacob Hauken, Inspector
Lier, Disciple of the Drowned
Teferi, Temporal Archmage
Kaho, Minamo Historian
Baral, Chief of Compliance
Naru Meha, Master Wizard
Azami, Lady of Scrolls
Kairi, the Swirling Sky
Counterspell
Brainstorm
Cyclonic Rift
High Tide
Ponder
Mystical Tutor
Preordain
Rhystic Study
Pongify
Thought Vessel
Negate
Sapphire Medallion
Isochron Scepter
Mind Stone
Reality Shift
Chainer, Dementia Master
Kokusho, the Evening Star
Junji, the Midnight Sky
Balthor the Defiled
Gonti, Lord of Luxury
Sheoldred, Whispering One
Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed
Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder
Lorcan, Warlock Collector
Yawgmoth, Thran Physician
Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Crypt Ghast
Dark Ritual
Zulaport Cutthroat
Feed the Swarm
Blood Artist
Reanimate
Demonic Tutor
Jet Medallion
Animate Dead
Ayara, First of Locthwain
Solemn Simulacrum
Toxic Deluge
Bolas's Citadel
Nest of Scarabs
Selvala, Heart of the Wilds
Yisan, the Wanderer Bard
Marwyn, the Nurturer
Yeva, Nature's Herald
Thrasta, Tempest's Roar
Seton, Krosan Protector
Ashaya, Soul of the Wild
Omnath, Locus of Mana
Ghalta, Primal Hunger
Ezuri, Renegade Leader
Llanowar Elves
Elvish Mystic
Fyndhorn Elves
Beast Within
Arbor Elf
Reclamation Sage
Beast Whisperer
Eternal Witness
Priest of Titania
Heroic Intervention
Return of the Wildspeaker
Quirion Ranger
Green Sun's Zenith
Karametra's Acolyte
Finale of Devastation
Rionya, Fire Dancer
Birgi, God of Storytelling
Delina, Wild Mage
Jaxis, the Troublemaker
Syr Carah, the Bold
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Captain Ripley Vance
Neheb, the Eternal
Atsushi, the Blazing Sky
Inferno of the Star Mounts
Chaos Warp
Faithless Looting
Jeska's Will
Seething Song
Thrill of Possibility
Mana Geyser
Blasphemous Act
Mind Stone
Ruby Medallion
Vandalblast
Runaway Steam-Kin
Abrade
Fire Diamond
Fanatic of Mogis
Dockside Extortionist
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Thalia, Heretic Cathar
Hokori, Dust Drinker
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
Adeline, Resplendent Cathar
Heliod, Sun-Crowned
God-Eternal Oketra
Michiko Konda, Truth Seeker
Heliod, God of the Sun
Rick, Steadfast Leader
Swords to Plowshares
Path to Exile
Knight of the White Orchid
Generous Gift
Mentor of the Meek
Smothering Tithe
Sun Titan
Esper Sentinel
Mother of Runes
Oketra's Monument
Land Tax
Keeper of the Accord
Pearl Medallion
Drannith Magistrate
Aven Mindcensor
Wulfgar of Icewind Dale
Klauth, Unrivaled Ancient
Xenagos, God of Revels
Vrondiss, Rage of Ancients
Zilortha, Strength Incarnate
Neyith of the Dire Hunt
Halana and Alena, Partners
Hans Eriksson
Atarka, World Render
Stonebrow, Krosan Hero
Cultivate
Garruk's Uprising
Beast Within
Rampant Growth
Rhythm of the Wild
Return of the Wildspeaker
Rishkar's Expertise
Kodama's Reach
Goblin Anarchomancer
Savage Ventmaw
Heroic Intervention
Gruul Signet
Etali, Primal Storm
Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Aesi, Tyrant of Gyre Strait
Tatyova, Benthic Druid
Koma, Cosmos Serpent
Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle
Slogurk, the Overslime
Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath
Gretchen Titchwillow
Jadzi, Oracle of Arcavios
Zimone, Quandrix Prodigy
Esix, Fractal Bloom
Cultivate
Kodama's Reach
Growth Spiral
Beast Within
Rampant Growth
Avenger of Zendikar
Eternal Witness
Rampaging Baloths
Tatyova, Benthic Druid
Ramunap Excavator
Whelming Wave
Lotus Cobra
Explore
Simic Signet
Azusa, Lost but Seeking
Teysa, Orzhov Scion
Teysa Karlov
Athreos, God of Passage
Elenda, the Dusk Rose
Thalisse, Reverent Medium
Felisa, Fang of Silverquill
Lurrus of the Dream-Den
Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
Liesa, Forgotten Archangel
Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter
Orzhov Signet
Zulaport Cutthroat
Skullclamp
Cruel Celebrant
Blood Artist
Viscera Seer
Talisman of Hierarchy
Ashnod's Altar
Bastion of Remembrance
Anguished Unmaking
Pitiless Plunderer
Despark
Smothering Tithe
Grim Haruspex
Village Rites
Ranar the Ever-Watchful
Yorion, Sky Nomad
Brago, King Eternal
Oji, the Exquisite Blade
Ephara, God of the Polis
Vega, the Watcher
Rasputin Dreamweaver
Hama Pashar, Ruin Seeker
Millicent, Restless Revenant
Lavinia of the Tenth
Azorius Signet
Soulherder
Mulldrifter
Eerie Interlude
Cloudblazer
Ephemerate
Sun Titan
Ghostly Flicker
Restoration Angel
Dovin's Veto
Flickerwisp
Archaeomancer
Wall of Omens
Peregrine Drake
Momentary Blink
Karazikar, the Eye Tyrant
Kardur, Doomscourge
Xantcha, Sleeper Agent
Prosper, Tome-Bound
Blim, Comedic Genius
Valki, God of Lies
Florian, Voldaren Scion
Raphael, Fiendish Savior
Kaervek the Merciless
Tor Wauki the Younger
Rakdos Signet
Chaos Warp
Talisman of Indulgence
Rakdos Charm
Bedevil
Terminate
Vandalblast
Blasphemous Act
Feed the Swarm
Jeska's Will
Hurl Through Hell
Light Up the Stage
Grim Hireling
Theater of Horrors
Fevered Suspicion
Wyleth, Soul of Steel
Akiri, Fearless Voyager
Bruenor Battlehammer
Reyav, Master Smith
Raiyuu, Storm's Edge
Risona, Asari Commander
Tiana, Ship's Caretaker
Aurelia, the Warleader
Ken, Burning Brawler
Kalemne, Disciple of Iroas
Boros Signet
Boros Charm
Sram, Senior Edificer
Sigarda's Aid
Sunforger
Open the Armory
Sword of the Animist
Blackblade Reforged
Puresteel Paladin
Danitha Capashen, Paragon
Generous Gift
Wear // Tear
Talisman of Conviction
Loxodon Warhammer
Ardenn, Intrepid Archaeologist
Kyler, Sigardian Emissary
Leinore, Autumn Sovereign
Sigarda, Champion of Light
Katilda, Dawnhart Prime
Torens, Fist of the Angels
Sigarda, Heron's Grace
Bess, Soul Nourisher
Hamza, Guardian of Arashin
Cadira, Caller of the Small
Drizzt Do'Urden
Champion of Lambholt
Avacyn's Pilgrim
Beast Within
Inspiring Call
Mikaeus, the Lunarch
Abzan Falconer
Heronblade Elite
Cathars' Crusade
Eternal Witness
Shamanic Revelation
Unbreakable Formation
Adeline, Resplendent Cathar
Sigarda, Heron's Grace
Katilda, Dawnhart Prime
Thalia's Lieutenant
Beledros Witherbloom
Dina, Soul Steeper
Willowdusk, Essence Seer
Valentin, Dean of the Vein
Savra, Queen of the Golgari
Chatterfang, Squirrel General
Gyome, Master Chef
Blex, Vexing Pest
Grismold, the Dreadsower
Meren of Clan Nel Toth
Zulaport Cutthroat
Skullclamp
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Viscera Seer
Moldervine Reclamation
Blood Artist
Rampant Growth
Ashnod's Altar
Assassin's Trophy
Putrefy
Llanowar Elves
Bastion of Remembrance
Village Rites
Pest Infestation
Golgari Signet
Tasha, the Witch Queen
Xanathar, Guild Kingpin
Captain N'ghathrod
Dragonlord Silumgar
Lazav, Dimir Mastermind
Umbris, Fear Manifest
Circu, Dimir Lobotomist
Wrexial, the Risen Deep
Gyruda, Doom of Depths
Phenax, God of Deception
Dimir Signet
Consuming Aberration
Talisman of Dominance
Maddening Cacophony
Mindcrank
Drown in the Loch
Fractured Sanity
Nemesis of Reason
Feed the Swarm
Ashiok, Dream Render
Ruin Crab
Mind Grind
Tasha's Hideous Laughter
Memory Plunder
Windfall
Kess, Dissident Mage
Abaddon the Despoiler
Cormela, Glamour Thief
Zevlor, Elturel Exile
Anhelo, the Painter
Jeleva, Nephalia's Scourge
Obeka, Brute Chronologist
Inalla, Archmage Ritualist
Gwendlyn Di Corci
Parnesse, the Subtle Brush
Izzet Signet
Dimir Signet
Rakdos Signet
Talisman of Creativity
Talisman of Dominance
Frantic Search
Ponder
Windfall
Preordain
Dark Ritual
Fact or Fiction
Talisman of Indulgence
Mystical Tutor
Terminate
Goblin Electromancer
Queen Marchesa
Mathas, Fiend Seeker
Piru, the Volatile
Isshin, Two Heavens as One
Kaalia of the Vast
Ghen, Arcanum Weaver
Kelsien, the Plague
Jirina Kudro
Negan, the Cold-Blooded
Extus, Oriq Overlord
Orzhov Signet
Boros Signet
Rakdos Signet
Talisman of Hierarchy
Talisman of Conviction
Ruinous Ultimatum
Boros Charm
Smothering Tithe
Anguished Unmaking
Talisman of Indulgence
Despark
Crackling Doom
Generous Gift
Phyrexian Arena
Damn
Kykar, Wind's Fury
Elsha of the Infinite
Gnostro, Voice of the Crags
Hinata, Dawn-Crowned
Vadrok, Apex of Thunder
Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest
Narset, Enlightened Master
Sevinne, the Chronoclasm
Guile, Sonic Soldier
Akim, the Soaring Wind
Izzet Signet
Azorius Signet
Whirlwind of Thought
Boros Signet
Talisman of Creativity
Brainstorm
Talisman of Conviction
Ponder
Jeskai Ascendancy
Dovin's Veto
Preordain
Talisman of Progress
Faithless Looting
Archmage Emeritus
Storm-Kiln Artist
Ghired, Conclave Exile
Atla Palani, Nest Tender
Jetmir, Nexus of Revels
Phabine, Boss's Confidant
Rith, the Awakener
Kitt Kanto, Mayhem Diva
Jinnie Fay, Jetmir's Second
Marisi, Breaker of the Coil
Gahiji, Honored One
Mayael the Anima
Cultivate
Beast Within
Farseek
Shamanic Revelation
Boros Charm
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Sundering Growth
Anointed Procession
Ohran Frostfang
Harmonize
Elemental Bond
Rootborn Defenses
Artifact Mutation
Second Harvest
Beastmaster Ascension
Tivit, Seller of Secrets
Kamiz, Obscura Oculus
Aminatou, the Fateshifter
Raffine, Scheming Seer
Sen Triplets
Nihiloor
Queza, Augur of Agonies
Alela, Artful Provocateur
Sharuum the Hegemon
Bane, Lord of Darkness
Azorius Signet
Dimir Signet
Orzhov Signet
Baleful Strix
Dovin's Veto
Talisman of Hierarchy
Talisman of Dominance
Esper Sentinel
Talisman of Progress
Anguished Unmaking
Void Rend
Damn
Supreme Verdict
Despark
Utter End
Ziatora, the Incinerator
Vazi, Keen Negotiator
Henzie "Toolbox" Torre
Ognis, the Dragon's Lash
Bhaal, Lord of Murder
Zangief, the Red Cyclone
Mr. Orfeo, the Boulder
Korvold, Fae-Cursed King
Kresh the Bloodbraided
Prossh, Skyraider of Kher
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Mayhem Devil
Ignoble Hierarch
Farseek
Blasphemous Act
Victimize
Pitiless Plunderer
Assassin's Trophy
Rhythm of the Wild
Terminate
Three Visits
Goblin Bombardment
Deadly Dispute
Juri, Master of the Revue
Nature's Lore
Maelstrom Wanderer
Averna, the Chaos Bloom
Intet, the Dreamer
Surrak Dragonclaw
Riku of Two Reflections
Omnath, Locus of the Roil
Illuna, Apex of Wishes
Miirym, Sentinel Wyrm
Animar, Soul of Elements
Yasova Dragonclaw
Cultivate
Farseek
Kodama's Reach
Temur Ascendancy
Rampant Growth
Rhythm of the Wild
Garruk's Uprising
Nature's Lore
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Growth Spiral
Rattleclaw Mystic
Genesis Ultimatum
Terror of the Peaks
Reclamation Sage
Simic Signet
Storvald, Frost Giant Jarl
Rafiq of the Many
Galea, Kindler of Hope
Falco Spara, Pactweaver
Roon of the Hidden Realm
Chulane, Teller of Tales
Rigo, Streetwise Mentor
Jenara, Asura of War
Gorion, Wise Mentor
Kros, Defense Contractor
Noble Hierarch
Avacyn's Pilgrim
Dovin's Veto
Eladamri's Call
Knight of Autumn
Bant Charm
Holy Avenger
Simic Signet
Selesnya Signet
Time Wipe
Belt of Giant Strength
Sovereigns of Lost Alara
Brokers Ascendancy
Shalai, Voice of Plenty
Thrummingbird
Karador, Ghost Chieftain
Nethroi, Apex of Death
Teneb, the Harvester
Tayam, Luminous Enigma
Kathril, Aspect Warper
Myrkul, Lord of Bones
Colfenor, the Last Yew
Ghave, Guru of Spores
Kethis, the Hidden Hand
Anafenza, the Foremost
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Eternal Witness
Eerie Ultimatum
Viscera Seer
Zulaport Cutthroat
Ashnod's Altar
Avacyn's Pilgrim
Blood Artist
Buried Alive
Assassin's Trophy
Carrion Feeder
Satyr Wayfinder
Mythos of Nethroi
Grisly Salvage
Altar of Dementia
Yarok, the Desecrated
Damia, Sage of Stone
Muldrotha, the Gravetide
Archelos, Lagoon Mystic
Nine-Fingers Keene
Tasigur, the Golden Fang
The Mimeoplasm
Sidisi, Brood Tyrant
Zaxara, the Exemplary
Otrimi, the Ever-Playful
Eternal Witness
Villainous Wealth
Assassin's Trophy
Tatyova, Benthic Druid
Simic Signet
Ramunap Excavator
Putrefy
Golgari Signet
Growth Spiral
Deathrite Shaman
The Gitrog Monster
World Shaper
Life from the Loam
Crop Rotation
Muldrotha, the Gravetide
Jodah, Archmage Eternal
The Ur-Dragon
Scion of the Ur-Dragon
Ramos, Dragon Engine
Tiamat
Esika, God of the Tree
Horde of Notions
Golos, Tireless Pilgrim
Sisay, Weatherlight Captain
Progenitus
Chromatic Lantern
Farseek
Faeburrow Elder
Temur Ascendancy
Dryad of the Ilysian Grove
Chromatic Orrery
Eerie Ultimatum
Mirari's Wake
Morophon, the Boundless
Dragonlord Dromoka
Ruinous Ultimatum
Primevals' Glorious Rebirth
Fist of Suns
Jegantha, the Wellspring
Ramos, Dragon Engine

The decks are instant- and sorcery-focused, with lots of card draw, ways to copy spells, and control elements. The commander bundle cares more about Devotion to black, and it has some aristocrats elements. has a bit of Elf tribal, along with tutoring for huge creatures that you can cast thanks to ramp. wants to copy things, sling spells, burn, and Storm. Finally, is a collection of every kind of hatebear.

Beyond those single-color themes, the two-color bundles do a great job of showcasing the typical strengths of those guilds. The three-color bundles are a little looser, arguably defined more by what they are not.


Archidekt recently hosted a deckbuilding competition with the prompt:

"...build a Commander-legal deck that showcases something that other players may have never seen before. For instance, it could feature an underutilized commander, be designed around a spicy combo, or offer a new take on a popular deck."

I figured that building a ten-commander-swappable amalgamation might be sufficiently novel, so I started with the cards most frequently found in the collective 99s of the 10 blue-red Spellslinger commanders listed above.

From there, I eliminated many expensive or salty cards and tuned it down to focus less on Storming off and more on cantrips and cards that could, themselves, be cast more than once. Here is what I ended up with:

UR Swappable Spellslinger

Commander (1)
Creatures (31)
Sorceries (10)
Instants (16)
Enchantments (3)
Artifacts (4)
Lands (35)

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If and when I build this deck in real life, prior to playing, I will pull all of the blue/red legendary creatures out, shuffle them, select one to be my commander, then shuffle the other 9 in as part of the 99.

I think this will run best with Veyran at the helm, since essentially all of the permanents have spell cast triggers, but Niv-Mizzet, Jori En, Mizzix, Melek, and Neera should also run pretty smoothly. I think I included enough cantrips to make Eruth work, although I'm not sure there are enough high-MV cards to really take advantage of Zaffai and Vadrik. At any rate, it should be pretty fun to see what happens!


Thoughts? Questions? Critiques? Suggestions?

Let me hear them! Is this just data-wrangling for the sake of data-wrangling? Are these decks too generic to even compete? Or, is the philosophical satisfaction of playing very near to an archetypal center worth the effort? Let me know what you think, and if you have tried to build a deck like this. As always, if you aren’t already, please follow me on Twitter.

MtGDS (AKA Magic Data Science) is pretty new to the game, but is trying to understand it as best he can through data. He loves making graphs and finding new ways to measure things. You can read his non-Commander articles at http://mtgds.wordpress.com, and he's worth a follow on Twitter @MtG_DS.