Today, I’ll be weighing in with my favorite casual Commander deck, Rin and Seri, and what I believe makes it a great casual deck, at least to me. I call the deck “Raining Cats and Dogs” because it makes a ton of cute pet tokens to swarm the battlefield with.
Before I break down my 99… Let’s start with some background on what my expectations are for a casual Commander deck and game….
First of all, everybody’s expectations for what constitutes a casual game are different and there is no cat-egorical, dog-matic rule for how to build a deck that qualifies or disqualifies itself as casual. Casual is in the eye of the beholder and everybody’s idea of what is a casual deck, or game of Magic, is different and informed by their experience playing the game over time.
With that said, there tends to be a lot of overlap about particular concepts people agree foster a great casual Commander gaming experience. For me, it’s a one point list that gets more complicated the deeper you think about it:
1. Is everybody at the table having fun and enjoying the game?
I view most everything else as derivative of my singular point and based on individual preference and experience.
I respect and enjoy the play of cards that tend to be unpopular such as Armageddon or Winter Orb, but I also recognize other players may not have the same 30 years experience of memories playing with and against these cards like I do and so I don’t include them in my casual decks. I also build my decks to play in “pick up games” at LGS or gaming conventions as opposed to a specific playgroup where parameters are more established.
Personally, as a long-time Vintage player, I think playing with and against the most broken and powerful cards is fun, but in the end it’s only really fun if everybody has the same expectations and can field the same caliber of deck. I don’t find it fun or challenging to play a deck that far outclasses the other decks at the table any more than my opponents find it fun to get stomped by my overpowered monstrosity. CEDH appeals to me, but that’s not the power level I consider casual or ideal for “pick up games” with new opponents.
We also need to understand that fun is a relative term, meaning what one player enjoys playing (example, Armageddon) may be dramatically different from what another deems fun/casual. I’ll give a two point bulletin about what I find most fun about Commander as a format to help readers understand where my opinion is coming from:
1. I want to play games where everybody enjoys themselves (myself included) regardless of who actually wins.
2. I want to be able to use my experience playing Magic over the years to continue to tune, work on, and personalize my decks over time.
Both of these are pretty reasonable expectations a lot of players share… AND, they can often be in conflict with one another; since tuning to make one’s deck better often leads to it becoming so powerful it feels competitively built relative to what other players expect and can field themselves.
So, my question when I started playing Commander more regularly during the pandemic was: “How can I have my cake (keep tuning up my decks) and eat it too (make sure my decks don’t come across as too competitive and thus unfun in a pick-up game with new players)”?
The answer, for me, was (and again with the numbered list, 3 this time):
1. I can have more than one deck with different power levels.
I have several decks ranging from CEDH (Competitive Elder Dragon Highlander, i.e. Competitive Commander, aka decks designed to win at all costs with no emphasis on other players enjoyment whatsoever) to an unaltered Precon Commander deck and everything in between. My Commanders ranked from most competitive to most casual:
Power Level 10
Power Level 9
Power Level 8
Power Level 7
Power Level 6
Power Level 2
With the exception of Rasputin Dreamweaver, I typically think any of the Commanders are pretty reasonable to play in a pickup game at an LGS or Convention because none are maxed out for power, or built around concepts players tend to agree are objectionable or unfun, but rather seasoned on flavor.
It may be ableist to say “have more than one deck,” but when we play the game for years, it’s funny how players tend to end up with more than one deck. For me, it’s more like finding the right deck to play at the right table. When I can only bring one deck with me, it’s typically Rin and Seri because it’s fun, personal, and not an overly powerful deck in my gauntlet. It’s built to be fun to play with and against.
2. Decks don’t need to be maximized as powerfully as possible.
Each of these decks has a distinctly different power level, which means no matter the power level of decks at a random table of players, I have something that won’t be over or under powered for the game people want to play. Again, my goal isn’t to obliterate everybody as much as possible when playing casual Magic. I want all of us to have a fun shared experience. I want it to be a good and interesting game – not a blow out.
3. I often place self-imposed restrictions on my deck building for a casual deck.
My favorite self-imposed deck constraint is FLAVOR + Sol Ring.
For Rin and Seri, I avoided tutoring (even Fetch Lands), selected almost exclusively cards that were on-flavor (cats and dogs tribal) or on-strategy (related to tribal), and prioritized playing as many cats and dogs as possible.
For me, I consider myself to have actually won the game when afterwards somebody compliments my deck by saying it’s cool, or enjoyed having it in the game. I want to make friends and allies at the table, not be public enemy #1, both in terms of game play as well as socially, in a pick-up-game.
So, let’s get to the deck I’ve been playing that gets by far the most compliments in terms of flavor and game-play, Rin and Seri.
I came about this Commander while hanging out with my wife (who doesn’t play much outside of Old School Battle Box, Jumpstart deck duels, and the one time she teamed with me and we went undefeated at the Dominaria United 2HG prerelease) at RIW Hobbies.
She saw the full art version in the foil binder and pointed out how it reminded her of how our Cat and Dog (Devon Sawa and Stella) are friends and I was sold on building a new deck! It’s also an adorable, gorgeous looking card.
“What’s the power level of your deck?”
“I’d say about a 6. I don’t tutor, or have infinite combos, or play Gaea’s Cradle in my Cat / Dog tribal deck, but I bring the heat with good, honest beats.”
Rin and Seri is a fairly synergistic Commander built around a weird concept: Cats and Dogs Tribal. I’ve also never built an “&” tribal deck around two creature types before which appealed to me as a deck-builder who enjoys a challenge. I also think the uniqueness and flavor makes it an incredible casual Commander starting place.
It’s not that Rin and Seri isn’t a powerful card, but rather the opportunity cost of building around cats AND dogs limits our cardpool considerably. Cats or Dogs are not exactly up there with Elves, Goblins, or Zombies in terms of great synergy staples across history, but I wanted to see it come to life on the table top, nonetheless.
I went HARD on Cats and Dogs:
I love that the deck allowed me to collect all of the coolest pets and that I got to play with them in a fun deck that others generally enjoy having at the table.
I’ve noted in the past that Commander beatdown decks tend to be strategically weak (because we need to do 120 points of damage in combat to slay all three opponents) but this is one of the better beatdown decks I’ve ever built. Rin and Seri’s ability pumps out a decent amount of bodies and I have lots of ways to buff my critters up and interact. I think it’s a strong build of what I consider to be a weak Commander archetype which ends up being a nicely powered even when well built in a casual game.
Without tutoring or infinite combos, my deck can consistently goldfish (deal 120 damage) around turn 7 when unimpeded. I also like that it is aggressive in combat because if there is a deck at the table with higher power level than the rest I can target it with my attacks to form a coalition of the willing to try and help take them out early.
The biggest upside of decks that attack is we get a lot of social agency at the table, depending upon who and where we send our creatures in combat. It’s a lot of fun to play and my decisions tend to impact the game in a dynamic way regardless of whether I win or lose – which makes me feel like I played a pivotal role in how things turned out.
Another cool aspect of the deck is Changelings (creatures with all types) count as Dogs and Cats which helps bridge the gap between two creature type tribal and allows me to get both ends of Rin and Seri’s ability in the form of two tokens per.
It’s so cool to get to play Chameleon Colossus (which I attacked for lethal with to win a PTQ) again!
Changelings also get buffs from both the Cat and Dog Lords in the deck.
My mana is a bunch of dual and tri-lands to help me cast my plethora of Cats and Dogs. Since I’m heavily limited by the availability of Cats and Dogs I need lots of color fixing to play with the most desirable pets. I also use a bunch of CMC = 2 mana rocks to color fix mana as well as help get my Commander deployed a turn faster.
My deck really rocks and rolls once Seri and Rin is deployed, so I want to get it down with a mana Rock before deploying more Cats and Dogs to earn bonus token triggers. I also defaulted to Mana rocks over ramps like Rampant Growth (even though I think Ramps are more powerful) because I wanted to be tutor free. I think it’s generally a more fun game when players are not constantly shuffling and searching and gameplay less redundant and thus less broken. I want to play with all the cats and dogs as they are drawn organically, not just tutor for the same handful of good boys and girls.
I tend to think that Mana should just work consistently so I don’t hold myself to a hard standard with flavor and mana, unless I’m adding super powerful and expensive mana staples to a deck that’s meant for casual play. For instance, I left out Fetches and Gaea’s Cradle because I’m not trying to play that way in a friendly, casual game. I do have Revised Dual Lands because I happen to own them.
With that said, Fetches (to find shocks and tri lands would be more powerful), Vivids, or Bounce Lands would all be fine substitutions for budget constraints. I just so happen to love my duals.
New Capena really spoiled me with nice new cards to the deck:
But I haven’t added any new printings since then, though I still enjoy tuning it and finding other neat cards to add. I recently added:
Coat of Arms doesn’t fit specifically into my Cats and Dogs flavor, but it does fit with my flavor of being a Tribal Beatdown swarm deck. It’s not like anybody is ever calling for Coat to be banned because it’s too broken. It’s kind of like having another great Cats and Dogs Lord since not too many exist. It’s also a card people get excited to see deployed to the battlefield because it’s sweet and we don’t typically see people using it to buff Cats and Dogs!
Many of my other Strategically synergistic cards also have some flavor overlap. I’m always fond of looking for cards like that to tune my deck:
Nothing to do with Cats or Dogs? But, the flavor Rin and Seri is dogs and cats living together (total chaos!) in peace and harmony.
Has a bunch of Tigers in the art! Eat ‘em up, Tigers!
One of the things I love about Casual Magic is that it creates a ton of opportunities to be creative, not only deck building but justifying card choices. I also can’t wait to get my Coat of Arms altered into a Coat of Paws at the next convention I attend. I really enjoy tuning up decks built around Commanders that were never intended to be top tier, such as Rin and Seri, it’s a great and flavorful way to approach building more casual and “pick up game” friendly decks. It’s also a lot of fun to play a Commander that not a lot of people have ever played against before.
Rin and Seri are more bitey than bark!