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Posts tagged “decklist

Standards and Practices: Mo’ Colors Mo’ Problems

It seems the undead horde is relentless, evidenced as much by tournament results as by the increasing number of zombie movies directed by George Romero. (Seven “of the Dead” movies? Really, George? Seven?) For two consecutive weeks, American Grand Prix have been won by aggressive Rakdos decks featuring zombies, dragons, and devils that ride from the fiery pits of hell.

"Hi, mom!"

“Hi, mom!”

In times like these, one might think that streamlining their midrange and control decks, so as to be able to bear the brunt of the undead onslaught, is the correct course of action. “Surely,” quip the commentators, “Any sane man wouldn’t be caught dead playing more than eight shock lands when aggro decks dominate the format.” This is true; any sane man wouldn’t.

But I’m interested in decks built by the metaphorically insane.

Conley Woods

Brewmaster extraordinaire and Andre the Giant understudy Conley Woods recently piloted a four-color deck to the top eight of Grand Prix San Antonio, packing ten shock lands in his seventy-five.  The deck featured format staples like Restoration Angel and Thragtusk alongside aggro-hindering stalwarts like Loxodon Smiter and Huntmaster of the Fells to help brunt the initial rush of damage from an aggressive opponent, with Unburial Rites and Armada Wurm to pressure control decks after they’ve handed down their Supreme Verdict.

In Conley’s case, the life loss from shock lands is mitigated by the life gain from Huntmaster of the Fells and Thragtusk, as well as the fact that Loxodon Smiter and Restoration Angel present a sizable blocker against Rakdos and Selesnya decks predominantly featuring creatures with three or less power. The recent showing of midrange Naya decks as well as the Jund decks that appeared early in the format are a testament to those creatures’ strengths against the hyper-aggressive decks that have come to dominate the format in recent weeks.

However, adding a fourth color to an already solid deck helped Conley shore up the Naya deck’s main weakness: control. Bant control has become a driving force in the past few weeks, being piloted to money finishes by the likes of MTGO superstar Reid Duke and former Player of the Year Owen Turtenwald. The deck is very well-positioned against any and all midrange strategies, be they Naya, Junk, or Jund. Supreme Verdict is often a 2- or 3-for-1 against midrange decks, so Unburial Rites basically draws you a creature in the late game, allowing you to keep up on card advantage against the control player.

Lewis Laskin

While not placing in any large tournaments recently, Lewis Laskin’s “Not Black Midrange” deck has received a bit of buzz and seems very well-positioned against the current crop of aggressive decks. For those of you who haven’t seen it already, here is his masterpiece:

Not Black Midrange
Lands (26)
2x Clifftop Retreat
1x Desolate Lighthouse
2x Hallowed Fountain
4x Hinterland Harbor
1x Kessig Wolf Run
4x Rootbound Crag
4x Steam Vents
4x Sulfur Falls
4x Temple Garden
Instants (7)
2x Searing Spear
3x Sphinx’s Revelation
2x Syncopate
Sideboard (15)
1x Aerial Predation
1x Augur of Bolas
1x Blasphemous Act
1x Counterflux
3x Dissipate
1x Ray of Revelation
2x Rest in Peace
2x Rolling Temblor
1x Silklash Spider
1x Supreme Verdict
1x Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
Sorceries (10)
2x Bonfire of the Damned
4x Farseek
4x Pillar of Flame
Planeswalkers (4)
3x Jace, Architect of Thought
1x Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
Creatures (10)
4x Huntmaster of the Fells
2x Snapcaster Mage
4x Thragtusk
Enchantments (3)
3x Detention Sphere

Yet again we see ten shock lands shored up by the life gain from Huntmaster of the Fells and Thragtusk (a common trend with these four-color decks). If we look at this list as Bant control attempting to strengthen its aggressive matchup, the red splash helps with both the aforementioned life gain creatures as well as packing a full set of Pillar of Flame and two Searing Spears to blast any and all Gravecrawlers, Geralf’s Messengers, and Hellriders that might be getting too close for comfort.

However, we can also look at it as a Naya midrange deck trying to shore up its weakness to the over-the-top Bant control decks that win through repeated board sweepers and Sphinx’s Revelations. Jace is great at threatening a Bant player trying to win the long game, especially now that those decks have been trimming numbers on Detention Spheres and counter magic. Being able to steal the Elixir of Immortality from their deck can stop their grinding potential, and Rest in Peace out of the sideboard completely hoses that avenue of victory. Tamiyo’s emblem plus burn spells can also quickly end the game, though it does require you to play around Dissipate and Rest in Peace.

I will admit that the mana is stretched to the point of breaking, but any reasonable draw will keep you abreast of the format’s top strategies. I’m not the biggest fan of Syncopate right now, but Snapcaster Mage demands at least a few permission spells in order to be as Cryptic Command-y as he can be. Augur out of the sideboard seems cute but negotiable, and I wonder if the life gain on Aerial Predation makes it better than Crushing Vines, which has the added benefit of taking out errant Runechanter’s Pikes.

Ali Aintrazi

This article would not be complete without discussing the mad scientist himself. Ali Aintrazi is quickly becoming the spiritual successor to Conley Woods, known for such off-the-wall decks as Turboland and Blue-Black Heartless Summoning, as well as the Custom Cube he and Justin Parnell created. However, his most recent creation is probably his craziest, recently piloted to a 15th place finish at Grand Prix Charleston:

3 Doors Down
Lands (27)
1x Blood Crypt
3x Cavern of Souls
1x Dragonskull Summit
4x Glacial Fortress
2x Hallowed Fountain
1x Hinterland Harbor
2x Isolated Chapel
1x Kessig Wolf Run
4x Overgrown Tomb
1x Steam Vents
2x Sunpetal Grove
4x Temple Garden
1x Vault of the Archangel
Sorceries (14)
4x Farseek
3x Lingering Souls
2x Rakdos’s Return
2x Ranger’s Path
3x Supreme Verdict
Sideboard (15)
1x Abrupt Decay
1x Cavern of Souls
4x Centaur Healer
2x Duress
2x Rest in Peace
3x Slaughter Games
2x Tragic Slip
Planeswalkers (4)
1x Garruk, Primal Hunter
1x Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
1x Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
1x Vraska the Unseen
Creatures (6)
1x Angel of Serenity
1x Griselbrand
4x Thragtusk
Instants (5)
2x Abrupt Decay
3x Sphinx’s Revelation
Artifacts (3)
2x Chromatic Lantern
1x Door to Nothingness
Enchantment (1)
1x Oblivion Ring

After further testing, Ali posted the updated list on his recent article on StarCityGames.com, including an explanation for his deck choice and the changes he made after Charleston. I’ve been testing the updated list for the past week and plan on playing it in Baltimore this weekend:

3 Doors Down v2.0
Lands (26)
1x Alchemist’s Refuge
1x Blood Crypt
3x Cavern of Souls
1x Dragonskull Summit
3x Glacial Fortress
2x Hallowed Fountain
1x Hinterland Harbor
2x Isolated Chapel
1x Kessig Wolf Run
4x Overgrown Tomb
1x Steam Vents
2x Sunpetal Grove
4x Temple Garden
Sorceries (14)
4x Farseek
3x Lingering Souls
2x Rakdos’s Return
1x Ranger’s Path
4x Supreme Verdict
Sideboard (15)
1x Abrupt Decay
1x Cavern of Souls
1x Curse of Death’s Hold
1x Door to Nothingness
3x Duress
1x Rakdos’s Return
2x Rest in Peace
2x Slaughter Games
2x Tragic Slip
1x Ultimate Price
Planeswalkers (3)
1x Garruk, Primal Hunter
1x Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
1x Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
Creatures (6)
1x Gisela, Blade of Goldnight
1x Griselbrand
4x Thragtusk
Instants (6)
2x Abrupt Decay
3x Sphinx’s Revelation
1x Ultimate Price
Artifacts (3)
3x Chromatic Lantern
Enchantments (2)
1x Curse of Death’s Hold
1x Detention Sphere

That’s a grand total of twelve shock lands with nary a Huntmaster in sight. To supplement the requisite Thragtusk-and-Sphinx’s Revelation pony show that is the mainstay of every Bant control deck, Ali dipped into the Block-banned Lingering Souls to help prevent some early beats as well as provide a threat against the slower control decks. “So,” you may ask, “What’s the point of adding two additional colors to a deck that already has a proven track record of success? What do you gain?”

Everything.

Playing five colors means you can play every card in the format, so long as you can hit all your colors. The benefits of this are twofold; the first and most obvious benefit is that you can adjust your deck with any number of cards to prey on the suspected meta of the next big tournament. Aggressive decks expected? You have access to Supreme Verdict, Pillar of Flame, Sphinx’s Revelation, Thragtusk, Huntmaster of the Fells, Centaur Healer, and Curse of Death’s Hold in the same deck.  So long as you can insure being able to cast these spells in a timely fashion, five color control lets you play the most powerful answers and threats in any given format.

The second benefit is more subtle but equally important; five-color means your opponent has less information about what cards are in your deck. When you play Rakdos aggro or Bant control, there is a finite number of cards that are useful to either strategy, so your opponent knows what to play around. When you play five colors, the only cards your opponents can be sure are in your deck are Farseek and Chromatic Lantern. Everything else is basically good stuff dictated by what colors of mana your lands produce.

Going into this weekend, I can’t lie that I have some reservations about playing greed.dec. However, this is the type of deck I love to play. I expect there to be a rise in decks designed to beat Rakdos aggro, most of which will be midrange strategies upon which this deck preys. This is what Chapin calls level two; playing a deck that beats the deck which beats the deck to beat. I can only hope I’ll be able to show my opponents the Door.


Standards and Practices: Back in Black (and Blue and Red)

It’s been awhile since I last graced this space with my words. I’d like to say I’ve been busy with things far more important than a silly little blog, but the truth of the matter is that I’ve just been lazy and not felt the urge to write about anything as of the past few months.

I think it’s time to change that.

For those of you who’ve read this blog in the past, welcome back to Friday Night Malafarina. For those of you just joining us, I hope you enjoy your stay. Now let’s talk about Standard.

Return to Ravnica

Since I’ve been away, the Magic world has been shaken up by the yearly rotation of expansions. It seems like only yesterday we had turn-one Delvers flipping Mana Leaks over into the faces of defeated opponents, while Birthing Pods tapped to turn humble Blade Splicers into savage Ravagers of the Fells. Players were still Pondering the merits of Blue-White midrange versus Delver while Primeval Titans trampled over all who opposed them. Now we live in a strange new world filled with giant, tusked beasts that require two spears to kill, the Return of the demon lord Rakdos spelling doom for opponents, and the triumphant second coming of a four-mana Jace that can claim to be somewhat near He Who Shall Not Be Named in power and versatility. It is a format where a card like Bonfire of the Damned is too costly and inefficient while Mizzium Mortars is just fine at two or six mana, and Geist of Saint Traft isn’t the scariest thing one can face (though it is still pretty scary!)

Welcome to the tier 2 metagame, my friends.

For those of you new to Magic who don’t know what a tier 2 metagame is (and have a premium account on Starcitygames.com), I refer you to Mike Flores’ article from last week. The key point to take away from the article in question is that there are three conflicting models for deck design: the linear model, the tier-two metagame, and the haymaker model. With the linear model, Wizards has more or less designed the deck from the ground up and the players simply fine-tune the intricacies of said deck. This is the case with tribal decks like Zombies and Goblins, or Affinity in Modern. The deck exists because Wizards intended for it to exist.

The haymaker model is the model to which we have grown accustomed in the past few years. While most people would point to the obvious example of Primeval Titan, Flores chooses to point out Tarmogoyf as one of the first indicators that constructed Magic had moved to a more haymaker-based strategy. Before Tarmogoyf, it was perfectly reasonable to expect a game to be won off Meloku, a 2/4 flier for five mana that needed a certain board state to actually take over a game. After Tarmogoyf, we saw decks being built on the backs of the inherent power of each card rather than synergies and card advantage. Planeswalkers are guilty of contributing to this style of deck building, as are the myriad of powerful enters-the-battlefield creatures we’ve been seeing in recent years, most notoriously the Titan cycle.

However, I agree with Flores that Standard has regressed back to the second model of deckbuilding not seen since we last visited Ravnica. While haymakers still exist in the form of Angel of Serenity, Thragtusk, Geist of Saint Traft, and other ridiculous creatures, games have become less about individual threats and more about having a solid game plan, whether it be extreme aggro, total control, or out-valuing your opponent. There are a greater number of viable decks in the current Standard format than there have been in quite some time, and we’ve only scratched the surface of what can be accomplished if we think outside the box.

Living in a Brewmaster’s Paradise

One of the biggest pitfalls for any Magic player is conflating a previous constructed format with a post-rotation format. Many people entered into the new Standard environment expecting Zombies to be the top deck and expecting Delver to still exist in some form (I mean, the card is still legal and all!) However, in a format devoid of Mana Leak, Vapor Snag, or Primeval Titan-into-Kessig Wolf Run, games tend to go longer and players are not punished for taking time to set up their game plan. As such, control is an actual presence in the metagame and Cavern of Souls is more or less relegated to dedicated tribal decks.

Reanimator, a fringe strategy in the era of Delver, is an actual contender for the “best deck” in the current Standard format, having usurped Jund and Raka Midrange as “the deck to beat” in the last few weeks. While one could consider such a strategy to be indicative of a haymaker format, when a deck like Reanimator becomes the boogeyman it means the format is very receptive to new ideas, as its “unfair” strategy is easily hated out and thus can be forced to play a fair game against any deck in the field.

This is the kind of format that rewards innovation and punishes complacence, as relying on a deck that did well in the previous week can have you hated out the following. All of the “top decks” we’ve seen over the past few Grand Prix or Star City Games Opens have all been very near in power level, with no clear frontrunner in sight. Eventually, the metagame will reach equilibrium, but hopefully Wizards’ recent policy change of not posting Magic Online Daily Events decklists will have the intended effect of slowing down the evolution of the format enough that it won’t grow stale before the release of Gatecrash.

It is important to keep this in mind when brewing control for the new Standard. While your local metagame will vary only slightly from week-to-week, you have to be able to anticipate the next big deck at higher-level events and be able to figure out the answer to last week’s winners, then either play that deck or be prepared to beat that deck (or, as Patrick Chapin calls it, finding Level 2).

Level 2

With Reanimator on top for the past few weeks and aggressive strategies like mono-red and Zombies on the downturn, the format is ripe for a control deck to take the gold at the next big event. Most of the top players are on Reanimator, Selesnya Aggro, Raka Midrange, or Bant Control, meaning our main offenders are planeswalkers, Geist of Saint Traft, Angel of Serenity, and what is more or less a glorified White Weenie deck. With this in mind, I believe I’ve found a deck that can go toe-to-toe with any and all of these titans of the format:

The Legion of Doom

Instants (13)
1x Cyclonic Rift
3x Dissipate
2x Forbidden Alchemy
2x Izzet Charm
3x Think Twice
1x Thoughtflare
1x Ultimate Price
Lands (25)
4x Blood Crypt
1x Desolate Lighthouse
4x Drowned Catacomb
4x Island
3x Mountain
4x Steam Vents
4x Sulfur Falls
1x Swamp
Sideboard (15)
3x Cremate
2x Essence Scatter
2x Olivia Voldaren
3x Rolling Temblor
4x Pillar of Flame
1x Slaughter Games
Sorceries (9)
1x Bonfire of the Damned
2x Dreadbore
2x Mizzium Mortars
2x Rakdos’s Return
2x Sever the Bloodline
Planeswalkers (6)
3x Jace, Architect of Thought
1x Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
2x Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
Artifacts (2)
2x Rakdos Keyrune
Creatures (5)
1x Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius
2x Snapcaster Mage
2x Thundermaw Hellkite

My love of Grixis Control may not be as well-known as my love of Mono-Black Control, but I’ve been known to cast my share of Cruel Ultimatums, or resolve a Nicol Bolas or two (not two at the same time, mind you!) While this deck seems to be a “sit back and react to everything my opponent does” sort of control deck, it is more proactive than it appears. The deck is packed full of answers to the various threats in the format, but subscribes to the concept of “the best defense is a good offense,” as is the case with the most substantial new inclusion to the deck:

2x Thundermaw Hellkite

I wasn’t initially sold on this card in control, opting to play Olivia Voldaren in its place at my local shop’s most recent Standard tournament and keep the hasty dragon in the sideboard. Then, I took Steve Campen’s advice (always a risky move!) and sided in this card against control decks, regardless of whether or not they were packing Lingering Souls.

I did not give this card the credit it deserved.

Having an opponent drop a Jace onto an empty board on turn four, only to chomp down on it with a 5/5 hasty dragon and leave him having to find a way to deal with this new threat sans his draw engine felt almost like casting Cruel Ultimatum. Going into the second round of a recent Grand Prix trial, I played against a hybrid Grixis-reanimator list that replaced planeswalkers with Lingering Souls and an Unburial Rites package. I realized in hindsight that, had I been playing Thundermaw Hellkite over Olivia Voldaren, I would have easily stomped my opponent in spite of his repeated recursion of Angel of Serenity, simply for the fact that I would get the dragon back to my hand and immediately smack him in the face for five, Lingering Souls be damned. On top of that, I realized that I was winning most of the games where I continually put pressure on my opponents before finishing them off with a Rakdos’s Return, and a 5/5 haste flier is a great way to put an opponent on the back foot.

Suffice to say, I used my winnings from the tournament to pick up two more of this guy and happily switched Olivia to my sideboard.

2x Rakdos Keyrune

By the same token, my closest games were the ones involving Strangleroot Geist, Rancor, and Silverblade Paladin. With Pillar of Flame in my sideboard, I was more or less a dog to the super-aggressive Selesnya strategies going into the tournament, mising a match win off a Selesnya beatdown deck in round three only to lose to a similar deck the following round. While Rakdos Keyrune may not have won me those games, it would have helped stem the bleeding against Thalia or Silverblade Paladin long enough to let me come back. The fact that it curves into Thundermaw Hellkite is just gravy.

1x Ultimate Price, 2x Izzet Charm

There were games where I would drop a Jace and activate his +1 ability, thinking him safe to my opponent’s assault on the following turn, only to have him eat a Rancor, Wolfir Avenger, Silverblade Paladin, or any other haste creature that could have been avoided had I been packing instant-speed removal. The presence of such cards in the format requires me to include removal which is narrower like Ultimate Price or less efficient like Izzet Charm, with the added bonus of Izzet Charm being able to counter planeswalkers, making the loss of a Dreadbore less painful.

2x Dreadbore, 2x Sever the Bloodline

I have been very impressed with Sever the Bloodline in current Standard, where exiling has become a very important mechanic to combat Reanimator and where token swarms are common. Dreadbore is a solid card, but I don’t think I need to run more than two to reliably deal with my opponents’ threats.

1x Bonfire of the Damned, 2x Mizzium Mortars

The miser’s Bonfire of the Damned is more theory than practice at the moment, as I added it after the tournament and only was able to test it against hybrid Reanimator, where it is basically dead. The logic on this card is threefold. Against Geist of Saint Traft, it kills the problematic creature a turn sooner than Mortars. It also provides an early board wipe against  weenie swarms, but can come into play against control as well by taking out a planeswalker or doming them for lethal.

3x Dissipate

This used to be three Syncopates. What happened?

Control is a major presence in my local metagame, and Syncopate isn’t a good card in those situations. Sure, it’s great when you’re trying to counter a Geist of Saint Traft on the draw, but it’s better to have a way to force through a planeswalker when you’re playing the draw-go mirror. With the addition of Izzet Charms as the cheaper, “soft” counter, I’m comfortable main decking three of this card.

1x Cyclonic Rift

Grixis is notoriously soft to enchantments, and the widespread use of Detention Sphere and Oblivion Ring means that having a single Cyclonic Rift is a necessity. I had the pleasure of overloading this against a control player when they were at ten life, tapped out, and I had two Thundermaw Hellkites hidden under his enchantments.

It’s also super sweet to end-of-turn this into…

2x Rakdos’s Return

No Grixis control list is viable without this card. I considered running a one-one split between this and Devil’s Play, but testing has shown that this card is the game-ender against any control or midrange deck, and it is the most reliable way for this deck to actually win the long game. Nugging an opponent for four with this, then using Snapcaster to finish off their hand is completely reasonable, and actually won me a game in the top eight of the recent Grand Prix trial.

1x Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius, 1x Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker

For those times when Rakdos’s Return simply won’t cut it. It is impossible to lose a game once you’ve untapped with either of these cards in play. I won a game off Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius without ever activating his ability, simply using him as a 5/5 flying Ophidian while leaving mana up to counter or kill all of my opponents spells.

3x Jace, Architect of Thought, 2x Tamiyo, the Moon Sage

I originally ran four Jaces, but testing has shown this deck is very good at protecting a Jace for more than a few turns. It may still be right to run four, as he is one of the main reasons to play blue right now, but I think cutting the last one for Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker is entirely reasonable, as this deck already has very few win conditions to speak of.

Side note: Rakdos Keyrune allows for a turn-four Tamiyo, which is awesome!

2x Forbidden Alchemy, 3x Think Twice, 1x Thoughtflare

I am happy with this combination of spells for my draw engine. Forbidden Alchemy is an all-star alongisde all the flashback spells and Snapcaster Mage, and Thoughtflare is almost as good as Sphinx’s Revelation when you can bin excess lands and spells with flashback. I’ve been wavering back and forth between Think Twice and Desperate Ravings. Each has its merits, but I’m erring on the side of caution and running Think Twice at the moment. This deck already has a lot of card draw and very few win conditions, so randomly discarding said win conditions can be brutal.

2x Snapcaster Mage

Originally a three-of, he’s a solid card that I found stranded in my hand one too many times for my comfort. He almost always does something and I may bump the number back up to three in the future, but he’s a two-of for now.

1x Desolate Lighthouse

This card has never been bad for me, but I would never run more than one as it becomes much, much worse in multiples and strains the mana a tad too much.

3x Cremate, 1x Slaughter Games

Cremate inevitably comes in against Reanimator and Zombies, with Slaughter Games pulling double duty against Reanimator and control. Having a cantrip answer is always preferable in a control deck, but Angel of Serenity can be a real beast against this strategy and Slaughter Games naming Angel of Serenity makes any matchup involving that card a lot easier to win.

2x Essence Scatter

As stated in my explanation for the main deck Dissipates, this deck has a problem being on the draw against Geist of Saint Traft, so boarding into Essence Scatter seems like a reasonable answer when it can also deal with Restoration Angel, Thragtusk, Angel of Serenity, or any other problematic creature in a pinch.

3x Rolling Temblor, 4x Pillar of Flame

Rolling Temblor is included in the sideboard to deal with Geist of Saint Traft (to which this deck is somewhat weak), but also serves as an answer to Selesnya Aggro and Zombies. Pillar of Flame comes in only against Zombies and Selesnya Aggro.

2x Olivia Voldaren

As previously stated, this comes in when facing down Selesnya Aggro. It can also come in against Geist of Saint Traft decks, as it stacks up reasonably well against Restoration Angel and Moorland Haunt.

Playing the Deck

As with any control deck, the key is to know what is or isn’t a threat, and properly sequence plays. There are times where it is correct to counter a planeswalker (such as when you’d need the mana up on your turn to drop a threat of your own), but sometimes it’s equally correct to let it resolve, then Dreadbore or Thundermaw Hellkite it the following turn. It all depends on which planeswalker it is, and whether or not allowing the opponent to activate any of its abilities is too threatening.

By the same token, do not run out your threats unless you know you can protect them. This deck is relatively threat-light compared to a lot of other strategies, but has the necessary tools to keep its threats on the table. The only time when you can be liberal with casting spells is after resolving a Rakdos’s Return for your opponent’s entire hand, as you will almost always be ahead of them on cards for the rest of the game and as such can lose one or two threats to their answers. Just don’t get cocky.

Jace, Architect of Thought is probably the most difficult planeswalker to play optimally outside of Liliana of the Veil and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Against any non-black creature deck, it’s almost always right to use his +1 ability unless you have to dig for an answer, as he will buy you a nonzero amount of time while your opponent repeatedly bashes creatures into him. He is there to blunt the assault so you can force your opponent to over commit, or simply lock creature strategies down in tandem with Tamiyo. He also makes Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius very good against most creatures in the format.

The most important part of playing control is to never get too cute with your plays. In the quarterfinals of the Grand Prix trial, my opponent was facing down a tapped Thundermaw Hellkite and Snapcaster Mage with his Tamiyo at a reasonable five loyalty. Rather than keep my Thundermaw tapped while he waited for an answer, he chose to use her -2 ability to try and dig for that answer a turn early. This ended up costing him the game, as I had a second Snapcaster in my hand to swing in for lethal on the following turn. When in doubt, always go for the safer play; it is always preferable to put yourself behind to make sure you survive another turn rather than hope your opponent doesn’t have you dead to a risky move. This deck can out-attrition most other attrition-based decks, as it has plenty to do with its mana in the late game between flashed back Forbidden Alchemies and Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius activations.

The Takeaway

This Standard format is far from solved, and as such this list is far from final. As the metagame continues to shift, so too must its answers. Now is the best time to be a brewer like myself; the current trend of SCG Standard Open results and Grand Prix finishes have shown that innovation is rewarded with a trophy and a write-up by Conley Woods or Patrick Chapin. Whatever your preference, make sure you know what you’re setting out to accomplish and know what obstacles lie in your way.

It’s all one big Epic Experiment; now is the time to don the white lab coats and get to work.


Show Me Your Generals: Animar, Soul of Wit

Last week I wrote about the multitude of Animar Commander decks I have seen played at the Encounter since I started playing the format, specifically mentioning that I would someday like to take a look at the Animar, Soul of Elements deck piloted by Ian Evans. For those of you who don’t know Ian, he is one of the few Encounter regulars packing about as many Commander decks as myself (my recent Glissa deck put me back in the lead). His Commanders include staples like Animar, Gisela, and Hanna, as well as less-used Commanders like Empress Galina (in merfolk tribal, no less!) However, even when his Commanders is one of the more popular legendary creatures in the format, his decks regularly surprise me with odd card choices and neat interactions. As such, I would like to spend today’s column talking about the aforementioned Animar deck or, as I like to call it:

Before I delve into Ian’s deck, I would like to correct one mistake made in last week’s article. It was brought to my attention that there have actually been six Animar decks at the Encounter since I started playing Commander. I failed to mention the Animar deck piloted by Mark Benning; unlike all the other decks, his is a hyper-competitive Animar combo deck that seeks to win as early as turn three and can do so with great regularity through the use of mana dorks and bounce creatures like Shrieking Drake. I apologize for missing Mark’s deck and thank him for reminding me that I do have people reading my articles.

All right, enough durdling, let’s dig in!

He That is Giddy Thinks the Animar Deck is Fair

Here is Ian’s list:

Gatecrashers

Creatures (36)
1x Æ ther Adept
1x Aphetto Alchemist
1x Archivist
1x Cinder Pyromancer
1x Cunning Sparkmage
1x Deadeye Navigator
1x Dwarven Patrol
1x Goblin Medics
1x Goblin Sharpshooter
1x Horned Kavu
1x Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
1x Laboratory Maniac
1x Malignus
1x Man-o’-War
1x Marsh Viper
1x Mist Raven
1x Mystic Snake
1x Nephalia Smuggler
1x Nettle Sentinel
1x Nightshade Peddler
1x Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind
1x Pestermite
1x Primeval Titan
1x Prodigal Pyromancer
1x Prodigal Sorcerer
1x Razorfin Hunter
1x Rootwater Hunter
1x Seeker of Skybreak
1x Shocker
1x Shrieking Drake
1x Suq’Ata Firewalker
1x Tandem Lookout
1x Thornwind Faeries
1x Veteran Explorer
1x Vulshok Sorcerer
1x Zealous Conscripts
Lands (36)
1x Dryad Arbor
1x Evolving Wilds
1x Faerie Conclave
3x Forest
1x Ghitu Encampment
1x Gruul Turf
1x Hinterland Harbor
6x Island
1x Izzet Boilerworks
1x Kazandu Refuge
1x Misty Rainforest
5x Mountain
1x Mountain Valley
1x Reliquary Tower
1x Rootbound Crag
1x Rupture Spire
1x Scalding Tarn
1x Shivan Oasis
1x Simic Growth Chamber
1x Treetop Village
1x Tropical Island
1x Vivid Crag
1x Vivid Creek
1x Vivid Grove
1x Volcanic Island
Enchantments (15)
1x Aluren
1x Arcane Teachings
1x Earthcraft
1x Equilibrium
1x Fertile Ground
1x Fire Whip
1x Fires of Yavimaya
1x Furious Assault
1x Hermetic Study
1x Intruder Alarm
1x Kyren Negotiations
1x Presence of Gond
1x Quicksilver Dagger
1x Splinter Twin
1x Squirrel Nest
Instant (1)
1x Artifact Mutation
Artifacts (8)
1x Basilisk Collar
1x Gorgon Flail
1x Gruul Signet
1x Izzet Signet
1x Lightning Greaves
1x Quietus Spike
1x Simic Signet
1x Sol Ring
Sorceries (3)
1x Hull Breach
1x Regrowth
1x Restock

There’s a lot to take in with a deck like this. First and foremost; Ian tends to build ridiculously silly combo decks, and this list is no exception. A number of competitive-caliber combos exist in this list; Aluren, Niv-mizzet-Curiosity, Kiki-mite, Nest-craft, and Intruder Alarm-Presence of Gond are all represented. What makes this deck particularly spicy is how Ian chose to supplement these combos; instead of adding a mass amount of tutors and card draw, he filled the remaining slots with pingers (creatures that tap to deal 1 damage to target creature or player), an ability that synergizes very well with things like Tandem Lookout and Basilisk Collar.

I spoke last week of the importance of redundancy in Commander. Unfortunately for Ian, there exists such a thing as too much redundancy, which is where I think his list suffers most. Too many of his cards do nothing because other cards in his deck do the same thing, only better. Hermetic Study seems like a pretty terrible card when your board is Cunning Sparkmage, Suq’Ata Firewalker, and Cinder Pyromancer! As such, let us cut the wheat from the chaff and see if we can’t improve on Ian’s framework.

The Play’s the Ping

First up, the lands:

Dryad Arbor – For the thousandth time, no! There is no potential upside to this card that would lead me to include it over a basic Forest, as Wrath effects are some of the most commonly-played spells in Commander.

Replacement: Forest

Faerie Conclave, Ghitu Encampment, Treetop Village – Man lands are great when the name of the game is equipment. Unfortunately for Ian, the name of the game in his deck is enchantments, which do not work well when the creature disappears at the end of turn. There is not enough inherent power in any of these lands to warrant their inclusion.

With that said, Raging Ravine is actually good on its own, as it can grow to ridiculous proportions with little to no effort. As for the other two slots, a basic Forest and a Sulfur Falls should fit the bill.

Replacements: Forest, Raging Ravine, Sulfur Falls

An Overflow of Good Converts to Bad

Well, that was easy; now it’s time to discuss some spells!

Arcane Teachings, Fire Whip, Hermetic Study, Kyren Negotiations – All of these cards grant the ability “Tap: This creature deals 1 damage to target creature or player.” The problem with this is that most of Ian’s creatures already have this ability, making all of these cards unnecessarily redundant. The only reason Quicksilver Dagger doesn’t make the list is that it draws Ian a card upon activation.

Speaking of drawing cards, enchantments like Ophidian’s Eye work very well in a deck full of creatures that tap to deal damage. As of right now, there are five cards that grant the “Ophidian effect” to other creatures: Curiosity, Keen Sense, Ophidian’s Eye, Snake Umbra, Tandem Lookout. Seeing as Ian is already running one of these, we can easily include the other four as replacements for the four cards we’re taking out!

Replacements: Curiosity, Keen Sense, Ophidian’s Eye, Snake Umbra

Fertile Ground – I understand that having the appropriate mana can sometimes be an issue when one does not have access to a ton of fetch- and dual lands, but putting yourself down a card just to fix your mana feels wrong in an Animar deck. This slot could easily be something that wins the game rather than a do-nothing enchantment!

What better way to win the game than Triumph of the Hordes? With Marsh Viper getting the axe due to the exclusion of the pinger-granting enchantments, Ian still needs a way to win with a lulz-y poison kill, and casting Triumph of the Hordes onto a board full of pingers is a great way to instantly kill one’s enemies!

Replacement: Triumph of the Hordes

Furious Assault – The low cost of this spell almost makes me want to keep it in, but the fact that it can’t target creatures ruins the card for me. Barring shenanigans with Aluren and Shrieking Drake, I just don’t see Furious Assault being very good on its own.

Warstorm Surge, on the other hand, is an excellent card! It still allows for the combo kill with Aluren and Shrieking Drake while having the added benefit of being able to hit creatures on the way down, making Deadeye Navigator that much more deadly. The fact that it doesn’t trigger for your opponents is why it gets the nod over Pandemonium.

Replacement: Warstorm Surge

Restock – Restock is a fine card that has passed its prime. Back when it was first printed, a double Regrowth was the bee’s knees. Since its printing, cards like Eternal Witness, All Suns’ Dawn, Praetor’s Counsel, and Creeping Renaissance have outclassed Restock in terms of inherent power. This is not to say that I think Restock is unplayable in Commander; I just think there are other cards that should be considered before it.

That being said, Ian is playing cards like Horned Kavu and Man-o’-War, and that screams synergy with Eternal Witnes. There is rarely a green deck I build that doesn’t want Eternal Witness; it is the most powerful Gravedigger variant ever printed and a Commander staple for good reason!

Replacement: Eternal Witness

Combo is a Fearful Thing

Now that we’ve discussed the spells, it’s time to get to the meat of Ian’s deck: the creatures!

Aphetto Alchemist, Seeker of Skybreak – I appreciate the potential of these cards in tandem with cards like Archivist and Niv-Mizzet, but I don’t think the upside of drawing an additional card outweighs the cost of having a do-nothing creature that takes a turn to really impact the board. If Ian is in the market for an effect like this, he should look to non-creature cards to provide the benefit.

Enter Mind Over Matter, everyone’s (least) favorite combo-enabler. With Niv-Mizzet and Mind Over Matter in play, the world is your oyster, and everyone else gets to eat shit waffles. The fact that we’re adding redundant combo pieces like Snake Umbra and Curiosity make Mind Over Matter that much more potent in this list, turning every pinger into a possible three-card combo kill.

Thousand-Year Elixir is suspiciously absent from Ian’s list. Granting haste to activated abilities in a deck that relies on activated abilities to win seems like a no-brainer to me, and having the ability to untap any of Ian’s creatures is just icing on the deliciously evil cake.

Replacements: Mind Over Matter, Thousand-Year Elixir

Dwarven Patrol, Goblin Medics, Marsh Viper, Nettle Sentinel – All of these creatures are grouped together due to the fact that they all lose their ability to do anything by virtue of removing the pinger-granting enchantments from the deck. Even with said enchantments in the deck, most of these cards have little potential upside to warrant their inclusion. Commander is a 99-card singleton format, so each card has to impact that board state in some way or at least progress your game plan toward its logical conclusion. When these cards are good, they’re only marginal, but when they’re bad, they’re the worst cards one could possibly hope to draw.

As such, let us replace them with the pingers that Ian seems to have missed when building this deck! I noticed in perusing Ian’s list that he tried to keep all of his pinging creatures at converted mana cost of three or less, probably to synergize properly with Aluren. However, he failed to include Vithian Stinger, Zuran Spellcaster, and everyone’s favorite Weird, Gelectrode!

In addition, I think Ian would do well to include Frostwielder in his list. Though it costs four mana, the ability to exile a creature is very powerful in Commander, and putting a Basilisk Collar on Frostwielder is almost like having Swords to Plowshares on a stick (and we all know how good Swords to Plowshares is!)

Replacements: Frostwielder, Gelectrode, Vithian Stinger, Zuran Spellcaster

Malignus – Let’s be perfectly clear: I love Malignus. There is nothing funnier to me than having a Flayer of the Hatebound in play when I cast Cauldron Dance to bring this monster back from my graveyard and smack someone in the face for death. However, outside of combo shenanigans, I just don’t like this card for what it is; a giant vanilla beater. Even though I’ve suggested Ian add Warstorm Surge to his list, his opponents’ life totals are irrelevant to his overall game plan, so Malignus seems unnecessary to his strategy.

What is necessary, however, is Soul of the Harvest. Having already suggested Mind Over Matter and taking note of the fact that Aluren and Laboratory Maniac are both in Ian’s list, Soul of the Harvest can easily give Ian a win out of nowhere when Shrieking Drake is involved, combo killing the table by having Ian draw out his deck and drop Laboratory Maniac for the win. The fact that it is a 6/6 trampler just makes it all the more appealing.

Replacement: Soul of the Harvest

Mist Raven – Bounce creatures are great with Animar, as they provide a way to grow your Commander with relative ease. The problem with Mist Raven, however, is the fact that Ian already has a number of three-or-less costed bounce creatures to auto-win with Aluren, and Mist Raven simply doesn’t do enough for its cost.

Enter Venser, Shaper Savant. He’s a Mist Raven with all upside, bouncing creatures, lands, spells; whatever Ian wishes! Moreover, Venser can combo with Deadeye Navigator to Capsize-lock opponents in the late game.

Replacement: Venser, Shaper Savant

Nephalia Smuggler – In a dedicated blink deck, Nephalia Smuggler is the conductor of the train to Value Town. In Ian’s deck, he’s a do-nothing card that can combo with Intruder Alarm at a very inefficient price. He does what Deadeye Navigator does for a higher cost and with less upside.

Since we’ve already added Venser to the list of “unfair things to do with Deadeye Navigator,” we may as well suggest Draining Whelk to complete the trifecta. With a few counters on him, Animar will insure that the whelk is able to be cast with reasonable efficiency.

Replacement: Draining Whelk

Shocker – In a world where every Magic player doesn’t think like a five-year-old, I hope that Shocker gets the respect he deserves. As for us; we live in a world where everyone giggles when you “give someone the Shocker.” Ian was running the Shocker to combo with the enchantments that grant the pinging ability as a combo with Niv-Mizzet but, since we’ve removed said enchantments, his role has become null and void.

Deceiver Exarch is suspiciously absent from Ian’s list. He already has Zealous Conscripts and Pestermite to combo with Kiki-Jiki and Splinter Twin, so adding the last of the “ha-ha-I-just-killed-you-with-a-broken-combo” creatures should be a no-brainer!

Replacement: Deceiver Exarch

Veteran Explorer – I love me some Veteran Explorer. In Legacy, he lets you cast Grave Titan! In Commander, he makes everyone love you when secretly you’re just ramping up to that Primeval Titan with a Rite of Replication to kick the next turn. The problem, then, is that Ian doesn’t want to ramp in his deck. His is a combo deck; as such, he should leave the exploring to the dedicated ramp deck.

In the message sending me his list, Ian mentioned that he wanted to find room for Guilded Lotus in his 99 for the combo potential. For those of you who don’t know, if you have a Deceiver Exarch bonded to a Deadeye Navigator with a Gilded Lotus in play, you have infinite mana of any combination of colors. Here’s how it works:

1.)    Tap your Gilded Lotus for UUU.
2.)    Pay 1U to flicker Deceiver Exarch/Pestermite/Zealous Conscripts. (You have U floating.)
3.)    The creature re-enters the battlefield, untapping Gilded Lotus. (You have U floating.)
4.)    Tap Gilded Lotus for any color of mana. (You have XXXU floating.)
5.)    Pay 1U to flicker Deceiver Exarch/Pestermite/Zealous Conscripts. (You have XX floating.)
6.)    Repeat steps 1 – 5 ad infinitum.

For every two activations of Gilded Lotus, you net two mana of any one color. What’s even better about this combo is that it instantly wins Ian the game with Soul of the Harvest in play, as he draws out his entire deck, then casts Laboratory Maniac before drawing into an empty library. You know; for the lulz.

Replacement: Gilded Lotus

Fairwell, Fair Foresthead

Here is the updated list:

Gatecrashers v2.0

Creatures (34)
1x Æ ther Adept
1x Archivist
1x Cinder Pyromancer
1x Cunning Sparkmage
1x Deadeye Navigator
1x Deceiver Exarch
1x Draining Whelk
1x Eternal Witness
1x Frostwielder
1x Gelectrode
1x Goblin Sharpshooter
1x Horned Kavu
1x Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
1x Laboratory Maniac
1x Man-o’-War
1x Mystic Snake
1x Nightshade Peddler
1x Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind
1x Pestermite
1x Primeval Titan
1x Prodigal Pyromancer
1x Prodigal Sorcerer
1x Razorfin Hunter
1x Rootwater Hunter
1x Shrieking Drake
1x Soul of the Harvest
1x Suq’Ata Firewalker
1x Tandem Lookout
1x Thornwind Faeries
1x Venser, Shaper Savant
1x Vithian Stinger
1x Vulshok Sorcerer
1x Zealous Conscripts
1x Zuran Spellcaster
Lands (36)
1x Evolving Wilds
5x Forest
1x Gruul Turf
1x Hinterland Harbor
6x Island
1x Izzet Boilerworks
1x Kazandu Refuge
1x Misty Rainforest
5x Mountain
1x Mountain Valley
1x Raging Ravine
1x Reliquary Tower
1x Rootbound Crag
1x Rupture Spire
1x Scalding Tarn
1x Shivan Oasis
1x Simic Growth Chamber
1x Sulfur Falls
1x Tropical Island
1x Vivid Crag
1x Vivid Creek
1x Vivid Grove
1x Volcanic Island
Enchantments (15)
1x Aluren
1x Curiosity
1x Earthcraft
1x Equilibrium
1x Fires of Yavimaya
1x Intruder Alarm
1x Keen Sense
1x Mind Over Matter
1x Ophidian’s Eye
1x Presence of Gond
1x Quicksilver Dagger
1x Snake Umbra
1x Splinter Twin
1x Squirrel Nest
1x Warstorm Surge
Instant (1)
1x Artifact Mutation
Artifacts (10)
1x Basilisk Collar
1x Gilded Lotus
1x Gorgon Flail
1x Gruul Signet
1x Izzet Signet
1x Lightning Greaves
1x Quietus Spike
1x Simic Signet
1x Sol Ring
1x Thousand-Year Elixir
Sorceries (3)
1x Hull Breach
1x Regrowth
1x Triumph of the Hordes

Basically, I’ve cut all of the redundant enchantments for an effect of which I think Ian’s deck was sorely in need (card draw) and added some more protection in the form of countermagic as well as adding the game’s most ridiculous combo piece (Mind Over Matter) which should have been in his deck in the first place.

Until next time, I leave you with this message: go out there and kill everyone with poison!

Editor’s Note: Shortly after this article was uploaded, David Malafarina was picked up by the US government and sent to Guantanamo Bay for conspiracy to poison everyone in the world.


Commander Decks: Glissa, the Traitor and Originality in Deckbuilding

Imagine the following scenario:

It is Friday Night Magic at your local game store. You and your friends have just been invited to play a game of Commander with someone from out of town. You have already taken a look this guy’s trade binder and can guess from the Volcanic Islands and Force of Wills in his collection that his Commander deck is probably pretty sweet, so you bust out your Hanna, Ship’s Navigator “Voltron” deck to give him a run for his money. You and your friends shuffle up and present your commanders but, lo and behold, the new guy is packing his own Hanna, Ship’s Navigator deck! “Alright,” you think to yourself, staring down a grip containing Bribery and Acquire, “he’s just made it that much easier for me to find some equipment!” You think of all the Stoneforge Mystics and Stonehewer Giants hidden somewhere in his 99 and anxiously shuffle through the two five-mana sorceries in your hand. Turn five rolls around without anyone doing anything too ridiculous, and you windmill slam the Acquire onto the table targeting the other Hanna deck. Your opponent calmly passes you his stack of cards and you flip it over to find…

… Rings of Brighthearth? Grim Monolith? Power artifact?! His Commander deck is completely different than yours!

You settle on acquiring his Lightning Greaves, a sit is the only equipment you can actually find in his deck. “He built his deck totally wrong,” you think, mentally preparing for your next turn where you plan on dropping Hanna, Ship’s Navigator, and suiting her up with a Sword of Feast and Famine before bashing the other Hanna player to punish him for making your commander look bad. Only you don’t get a next turn. The other Hanna player calmly untaps for his turn, drops Grand Architect, Pili-Pala, and Laboratory Maniac, then casts Stroke of Genius for infinite. “Good game,” he says, and everyone scoops up their cards.

You go home the following day and lay out your Hanna, Ship’s Navigator deck on your desk, looking at all the sweet equipment that, up until recently, you thought was the best route to victory with your favorite Commander. You have a foil Sword of Feast and Famine, for Pete’s sake!

Suddenly, your world view is shattered. You exile yourself to Paris for a year, take up smoking, and start writing the next great American novel. While there, you fall in love with an upper-class French girl whose father does not approve of your relationship. During a rather heated argument, you accidentally push her father onto a pike taken from the Bastille during the French Revolution. You and the girl flee the French authorities to an island country with lax extradition policies, where the two of you marry and live out the rest of your days in relative peace, though every night you are wracked by doubt as to whether or not you had the best Hanna, Ship’s Navigator deck.

Or you simply realize that there are a number of ways to build a Commander deck for every Legendary creature, you silly person.

Confirmation Bias and the Hive Mind

Building a Commander deck is not as simple as choosing a Legendary creature, throwing in as many staples as possible and shuffling up. It is not like other Constructed formats, where you can netdeck the “best deck” and be happy with your decision. Granted, some people are happy taking a list they have found online and changing a few cards to add in some personal touches, but I find the people who enjoy their decks the most are the ones who start from scratch and build something unique. There is no right way to build a deck for a certain commander, no matter how many forum trolls disagree. To prove this point, let us discuss Animar, Soul of Elements, one of the more popular commanders in my local playgroup.

Since I started playing Commander, there have been at least five different Animar decks that have popped up at one point or another. The first belonged to my friend Steve, who built an Elemental tribal deck that, as he put it, lost to Wrath of God. Dustin was the next in our group to sleeve up an Animar deck, his being the more traditional “play creatures and good spells” RUG deck that eventually morphed into a Maelstrom Wanderer deck. Then there was Ronnie, who put together a deck similar to Dustin’s save for the fact that he included Kiki-Mite combo in his 99 (yuck!); his deck later morphed into a Grixis control deck. As of right now, only two of our Commander regulars have Animar decks; my friend Christian with his Primal Surge deck and my friend Ian with his “pingers” Animar deck, which I want to write about in the near future.

It is for this reason that I am hesitant to tell a person what must or must not be in his or her Commander deck. While there are some cards that are very powerful to the point of being auto-includes in their color, such as Eternal Witness and Demonic Tutor, not every deck is in need of something like Decree of Pain or Sylvan Library, and not everyone can even afford cards likes Damnation or Scrubland. Moreover, it is a personal joy of mine to see the personal touches people add to their decks.

There is a psychological term known as confirmation bias which is mainly used when discussing how people decide on their personal politics and religious beliefs. Basically, what confirmation bias means is that if you believe something, then your mind will actively seek out opinions and facts that confirm what you believe, and ignore facts and opinions that differ from your beliefs. Thus, when your girlfriend insists that you turn left at sixth street to get to the theater when you know perfectly well that turning at fourth street will get you there quicker, her staunch refusal to accept a contrary opinion will leave you sleeping on the couch tonight (sorry, bro).

Confirmation bias is equally apparent in competitive Magic. It is the old argument of “my deck is good against X because I beat X in testing,” even when your deck has never put up a winning result at any major tournament. However, confirmation bias occurs in Commander as well, leading us to conclude that because card X has been used to do Y in format Z, I should use card X to do Y in Commander as well! The problem with confirmation bias is that it causes homogenization; if people keep using the same cards in all of their decks, then nothing new will ever be discovered. This is why I switch around a few cards in my Commander decks from week to week; it is important to test all possibilities to see if there is anything awesome I may have missed.

Glissa, the Beatdown

Recently, I set about building my sixth(!) Commander deck, mostly out of boredom but also due to the fact that I had quite a few random cards sitting around my room, collecting dust. (Metaphorically, of course; I keep my cards in good condition.) I had been thinking about making a Glissa, the Traitor deck for some time, up until my Sharuum, the Hegemon deck filled the role of “artifact combo” in my Commander collection. As I sat on my bed, staring down my foil copy of Glissa, I thought to what strategies her combination of abilities and traits could lend themselves. What kind of deck would want a 3/3 first strike, deathtouch 3-drop with built-in artifact recursion?

What’s a girl to do?

This is why I bring up the topic of homogenization and confirmation bias when it comes to building Magic decks. Most people, when looking to build a Commander deck with Glissa, the Traitor at the helm, will focus on her artifact-recursion ability and build a deck that uses Glissa to protect combo pieces like Triskelion or Mycosynth Lattice. I instead decided to focus on the fact that Glissa is a 3/3 for three mana with first strike and deathtouch, meaning she is an aggressively-costed beater that opponents will not want to block, making her the perfect creature to carry any Sword-of-X-and-Y or other powerful equipment. The fact that she brings back equipment whenever an opponent’s creature dies is just icing on the cake.

Rather than do my usual general analysis of the deck, I am going to take the Sheldon Menery approach to deck discussion and actually comment card-by-card, as some of the choices are obvious and others require a little explanation. (Also, this should make up for the fact that I have not written an article in about a month). Since I am writing on a card-by-card basis, there is no need to waste space with a full deck list.

Artifacts

Batterskull – One of the last additions to the deck. Giving any of my beaters vigilance, especially Glissa, is a great way to shift back and forth between offense and defense. The lifelink is just icing on the cake.

Coalition Relic – One of the best mana rocks in the game.

Darksteel Ingot – One of the mana rocks in the game.

Darksteel Plate – Protects any one of my beaters, but is especially nasty with Glissa as it protects her through wraths.

Dreamstone Hedron – Ramp early, card draw late. Every time I cast this card, I smile.

Executioner’s Capsule – One of my less original inclusions; pretty much every Glissa deck runs this card. However, it does highlight the importance of spot removal; sometimes you need to kill something before greaves are equipped!

Gilded Lotus – Better than Dreamstone Hedron in most circumstances.

Golgari Signet – Another mana rock.

Horizon Spellbomb – Necessary to help find the mana for Glissa’s odd mana cost, yet not a dead draw late as it cycles while finding a land.

Lightning Greaves – Hasty Phage? Yes please!

Loxodon Warhammer – Glissa tends to attract a lot of attention, so gaining life becomes very important with this deck. Hooking this up to a Primeval Titan is a huge beating.

Mind Stone – I was going to write that this is a mini-Dreamstone Hedron, before I remembered that Dreamstone Hedron is just a giant Mind Stone.

Nevinyrral’s Disk“Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

Nihil Spellbomb – I have come to the realization that my playgroup does not play enough graveyard hate. I do not know if this is a trait shared by most playgroups, but recursion is one of the most powerful and oft-used abilities in Commander, so having answers to Reanimate and its ilk is very important.

Nim Deathmantle – Absolutely bonkers with Grim Backwoods or Trading Post and a value creature like Solemn Simulacrum. I am almost at the point of adding in Phyrexian Tower and High Market for even more shenanigans.

Oblivion Stone“Leonard Bernstein!”

Sensei’s Divining Top“You spin me right round, baby.”

Sol Ring – Rather than link to another YouTube video or explain to you why Sol Ring is good, here is a picture of a cute kitty:

Staff of Nin – For those of you who do not like to run tutors in your decks, it is important to set aside a number of slots to actual card draw. Digging is just as good as actually searching for what you need, and leads to more varied and fun games in the long run. Staff of Nin acts as an expensive Phyrexian Arena with upside, which is something I can get behind.

Swiftfoot Boots – A bad Lightning Greaves is still another Lightning Greaves in a Voltron deck, and this one allows for equipping after being attached, which might actually make it better than greaves.

Sword of Feast and Famine – The best sword in Commander, in my opinion. It is a close race between this, Fire and Ice, and Light and Shadow, but Feast and Famine basically gives you a free Time Walk, and who hates a free Time Walk?

Sword of Fire and Ice – If you can keep connecting with this sword, it is basically another Phyrexian Arena with upside, and that is always sweet.

Sword of Light and Shadow – The incidental life gain from this card has been relevant more times than I can count and, as previously stated, recursion is very important.

Sword of Vengeance – This sword provides a sick combination of abilities, and equipping it to a creature with deathtouch is a savage beating.

Sword of War and Peace – The worst of the swords by a fair margin, but it excels in an aggressive deck and once again provides incidental life gain.

Tormod’s Crypt – See Nihil Spellbomb.

Trading Post – Trading Post is, quite possibly, my favorite card to come out of M13. The games where I cast this become less about beating face and more about generating value, so sometimes I think I should cut it, but then I remember it makes goats.

Umezawa’s Jitte – The “sixth” sword, its power level is on par with Feast and Famine and Fire and Ice in decks as aggressive as this. I have almost killed people with Skithiryx simply because of the jitte.

Vedalken Orrery – If your aggressive deck is unable to run counter magic, the Orrery is a good way to get ahead of decks trying to play a reactive game against you.

Wayfarer’s Bauble – More and more I am thinking this should be an auto-include in every blue Commander deck, as it is colorless mana ramp that can be searched for with Trinket Mage.

Creatures

Bloodghast – A recursive beater that synergizes with cards like Magus of the Abyss and Trading Post is always welcome in this kind of deck.

Bloodgift Demon – If you have not figured it out by now, I love me some Phyrexian Arena.

Butcher of Malakir – I am not sure if this warrants a spot in the list, but I love this card and the situations into which it places my opponents. Also, a flying sword carrier is always welcome.

Eternal Witness – Unoriginal, to be sure, but the versatility of the card along with having a body to carry a sword makes it impossible to cut.

Fleshbag Marauder – Going spellbomb into spellbomb into marauder is not unlikely for this deck, and the amount of card advantage to be accrued off the little bugger cannot be understated.

Genesis – Brings back all my powerful creatures or serves as another beater no one wants to kill.

Graveborn Muse – Between Fleshbag Marauder, Nim Deathmantle, and Glissa herself, the zombie clause is likely to be relevant more often than not. It is the best Phyrexian Arena in the deck, to be sure.

Harvester of Souls – Turns every board wipe into Decree of Pain, and makes Fleshbag Marauder amazing.

Magus of the Abyss – The Magus acts like a slow Fleshbag Marauder that gets around Tajuru Preserver (pretty niche benefit), but a 4/3 body is huge for four mana and it can hold a sword as good as anybody.

Moriok Replica – Value town, population this guy.

Nether Traitor – See Bloodghast, only this time with shadow!

Phage the Untouchable – It enables free wins off Lightning Greaves, but I would advise against ever playing Phage without some way to give it shroud, as Zealous Conscripts is a card.

Primeval Titan“When nature calls, run.

Rune-Scarred Demon – Glissa does not have access to Stoneforge Mystic, so the demon acts like a pseudo-Stoneforge while offering the ability to find answers.

Sheoldred, Whispering One – In the list for much the same reason as Magus of the Abyss, with the added bonus that my playgroup often plays Urborg, creating a giant, unblockable sword carrier.

Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon – Less deadly than Phage, but still awesome to suit up. Also, it’s really fun to shout “Taste the rainbow!” when swinging with him.

Solemn Simulacrum – Jens is the mayor of value town.

Steel Hellkite – It is a flying artifact with a relevant ability when it connects with an opponent. Pretty much an auto-include from the moment I began building this deck.

Sylvok Replica – Repeatable artifact and enchantment destruction. Destruction is nice!

Wurmcoil Engine – Deathtouch and lifelink; two great tastes that taste great together!

Enchantments

Bitterblossom – This card is a nightmare for the grindy control decks some of my people like to play (myself included). It can act as a pseudo-Forcefield when I’m on the defensive, or create an endless stream of flying sword carriers on the offensive.

Black Market – This is the train one rides to get to value town. It tends to get blown up rather quickly, but dropping this onto a board with Sheoldred or Magus of the Abyss is a great way to ramp into silly things the following turn.

Call to the Grave – See Sheoldred, only this time sans the body. It works great with Nim Deathmantle.

Grave Pact – I have mixed feelings about this slot. This makes the grade mostly on the fact that I have a foil of the sweet 10th Edition art, but if I manage to find a foil Elbrus, the Binding Blade, this card might get cut.

Pernicious Deed“Here comes the BOOM!”

Phyrexian Arena – What can I say about Phyrexian Arena that has not already been said? Play it, love it.

Instants

Krosan Grip – Answers pesky artifacts like Tormod’s Crypt or a badly-timed Oblivion Stone, while sometimes doing nothing more than taking out a Sensei’s Diving Top. You know; for the lulz.

Putrefy – Like I said with Executioner’s Capsule, instant-speed spot removal does not get the respect it deserves in Commander, which is why cards like Consecrated Sphinx get a bad rap.

Sorceries

Damnation – I added this to the deck after I realized that my board wipes were all ridiculously slow, leaving my deck open to aggressive attacks. I try not to deploy the nuke until Glissa is on the board for maximum value.

Demonic Tutor – As previously stated, Demonic Tutor is about as close to an auto-include as you can have in my book.

Maelstrom Pulse – I anxiously wait for the day I cast this to destroy three Sol Rings, then drop my own Sol Ring for the sick rub-ins.

Praetor’s Counsel – There is rarely a game in which I resolve this that I do not win soon after. I used to find this card rather boring, but people have learned that they have to deal with this kind of effect if they plan on winning the long game.

Lands

Bayou
City of Brass
Command Tower
7x Forest
Golgari Rot Farm
Llanowar Wastes
Marsh Flats
Overgrown Tomb
Reflecting Pool
7x Swamp
Tainted Wood
Twilight Mire
Verdant Catacombs
Woodland Cemetery

These are all your typical color-fixing and basic lands. Nothing too spectacular, just running as many dual lands as I can find that do not have a huge drawback. As for the rest of the lands:

Bojuka Bog – See Nihil Spellbomb

Buried Ruin – Sometimes, Glissa will not be in play or be too expensive to reliably use as a recursion engine for a key artifact. In those circumstances, Buried Ruin does the job quite nicely.

Grim Backwoods – I like this card a lot more than most, but I am always a sucker for value. Getting around stupid cards like Rite of Replication or threaten effects is always nice.

Phyrexia’s Core – Mainly here to keep people from stealing my artifacts, it works very well with Nim Deathmantle and Solemn Simulacrum.

Reliquary Tower – This deck has a tendency to keep a lot of cards in my hand, and I would rather run Reliquary Tower than waste a spell slot on something like Spellbook or Venser’s Journal.

Shizo, Death’s Storehouse – Most of my Phage wins come from the unblockability granted by Shizo. I am surprised more people have not started running this land in place of a swamp, as there is basically no downside to running it.

Strip Mine – Screw you, Cabal Coffers!

Treetop Village – Trample works very well with swords, and the village gets around pesky wrath effects.

Volrath’s Stronghold – In for much the same reason as Genesis, sans the body with which to swing. I find myself tutoring up this and the following land with Primeval Titan more often than anything else.

Yavimaya Hollow – Where Shizo makes my creatures unblockable, this protects them from dying when there is no way to keep an opponent from blocking.

While some of the card choices are pretty obvious, the deck’s main strategy for winning is wholly different from most other Glissa decks that I have seen. All of this is meant to illustrate my initial point; do not feel as if there is only one way to build a deck for each Legendary creature. While Standard and Legacy function on established decklists with very few differences in card choices between similar archetypes, Commander is the format where you can let your creativity flow. Case in point; on Magic Online, I built another Glissa deck, and while it shares a few similarities to the list discussed in this article, its overall game plan is entirely different:

Glissa Stax
Lands (39)
1x Bayou
1x Bloodstained Mire
1x Bojuka Bog
1x Buried Ruin
1x Cabal Coffers
1x Command Tower
6x Forest
1x Golgari Rot Farm
1x Grim Backwoods
1x Llanowar Wastes
1x Marsh Flats
1x Maze of Ith
1x Misty Rainforest
1x Overgrown Tomb
1x Phyrexia’s Core
1x Polluted Delta
1x Reflecting Pool
1x Reliquary Tower
1x Strip Mine
6x Swamp
1x Tainted Wood
1x Twilight Mire
1x Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1x Verdant Catacombs
1x Vesuva
1x Volrath’s Stronghold
1x Windswept Heath
1x Wooded Foothills
1x Woodland Cemetery
Artifacts (26)
1x Coalition Relic
1x Crucible of Worlds
1x Darksteel Ingot
1x Darksteel Plate
1x Dreamstone Hedron
1x Executioner’s Capsule
1x Expedition Map
1x Gilded Lotus
1x Golgari Signet
1x Horizon Spellbomb
1x Lightning Greaves
1x Mind Stone
1x Nevinyrral’s Disk
1x Nihil Spellbomb
1x Nim Deathmantle
1x Oblivion Stone
1x Sensei’s Divining Top
1x Skullclamp
1x Smokestack
1x Sol Ring
1x Staff of Nin
1x Swiftfoot Boots
1x Tangle Wire
1x Tormod’s Crypt
1x Trading Post
1x Wayfarer’s Bauble
Creature (17)
1x Bloodghast
1x Bloodgift Demon
1x Braids, Cabal Minion
1x Butcher of Malakir
1x Eternal Witness
1x Fleshbag Marauder
1x Genesis
1x Graveborn Muse
1x Magus of the Abyss
1x Nether Traitor
1x Primeval Titan
1x Reassembling Skeleton
1x Rune-Scarred Demon
1x Sheoldred, Whispering One
1x Solemn Simulacrum
1x Wurmcoil Engine
1x Yavimaya Elder
Sorceries (8)
1x Barter in Blood
1x Damnation
1x Decree of Pain
1x Demonic Tutor
1x Innocent Blood
1x Maelstrom Pulse
1x Praetor’s Counsel
1x Regrowth
Instants (2)
1x Krosan Grip
1x Putrefy
Enchantments (7)
1x Bitterblossom
1x Call to the Grave
1x Descent into Madness
1x Nether Void
1x Pernicious Deed
1x Phyrexian Arena
1x The Abyss

Commander is what you make of it, so go out and make it fun!


Standards and Practices: In Defense of Mono-Black Control

A week ago, Wizards of the Coast spoiled the newest incarnation of Liliana Vess:

Then yesterday, Mike Flores spoiled one of the most exciting reprints appearing in M13:

Those of you who know me personally know of my love of forcing mono-black in Standard whenever a new, exciting black card is spoiled in an upcoming set. When I first started playing Legacy, I built “The Gate,” what was, at the time, the Legacy equivalent of mono-black control. While the deck is Tier-2 at best, I already had a number of the necessary cards like Gatekeeper of Malakir, Vampire Nighthawk and Hymn to Tourach, and the lack of dual lands in the mana base made it a more affordable entry point into the format. It was a great jumping off point; had I not had immediate, albeit moderate, success with the deck, I probably would not have pursued Legacy as a format. I’m quite glad I did, as it has become my second favorite format behind Commander.

Unfortunately, mono-black control has become a bit of a running joke in recent years. Whenever a powerful black card is revealed during spoiler season, there is an immediate response of “OMG MBC IS A THING AGAIN!!!!!” to which there is an almost-as-immediate backlash of “LOL N00B MBC IS TEH SUXXORZ!!!!!” As much as I want to believe otherwise, the backlash is, more often than not, justified.

Today, I would like to take the side of Mike Flores and argue that mono-black control is not only going to be viable in the upcoming Standard format, but will be actively good against the current crop of Tier-1 decks.

Back in Black

The origins of mono-black control can be traced back to Odyssey block, the last time the archetype was Tier-1 in any format for an extended period of time. For most of us mono-black aficionados, the crème de la crème was Robert Dougherty’s mono-black control list from Pro Tour Osaka in 2002:

Rob Dougherty’s Mono-Black Control

Lands (28)
3x Cabal Coffers
25x Swamp
Sorceries (24)
4x Chainer’s Edict
4x Diabolic Tutor
1x Haunting Echoes
3x Innocent Blood
4x Mind Sludge
4x Mutilate
4x Rancid Earth
Instant (1)
1x Skeletal Scrying
Creatures (8)
4x Nantuko Shade
2x Shambling Swarm
2x Stalking Bloodsucker
Sideboard (15)
4x Braids, Cabal Minion
4x Faceless Butcher
2x Ghastly Demise
3x Mesmeric Fiend
2x Skeletal Scrying

The deck was a ponderously slow tap-out control deck that utilized “Swamps-matter” cards like Nantuko Shade, Cabal Coffers, Mutilate and Mind Sludge (their efficiency counteracted by the deck building restrictions they entailed) to overpower the opponent, often winning off a single, huge Nantuko Shade or drawing a bunch of cards with Skeletal Scrying at the end of the opponent’s turn to be discarded to Stalking Bloodsucker on the next. The idea behind a deck like this is that you are constantly getting X-for-1s off of every card, whether it’s Mutilate or flashing back a Chainer’s Edict or having threshold when you cast Rancid Earth.

Flash forward to Fall 2009. The menace that was Faeries had just rotated out of Standard, we’d just been introduced to this strange, new (overpowered) world known as Zendikar, and Jund had taken its rightful place as the deck to beat of the new Standard format. From the world of Zendikar, strange, powerful creatures like Bloodghast, Vampire Nighthawk, and Gatekeeper of Malakir caught the eye of every mono-black junkie in the Magic-playing world. Tendrils of Corruption! Vampire Nocturnus! I think we have a winner!

Except we didn’t, because Jund was just doing what you were doing, only better.

While the reprints of Tendrils of Corruption and Mind Sludge both provided mono-black with the tools necessary to combat aggro and control matchups respectively, Jund was the midrangey-est of the midrange decks, as well as the most-played deck in that Standard format, and vampires simply could not compete with Bloodbraid Elves and Sprouting Thrinaxes by using one-for-one removal and creatures, no matter how efficient Vampire Nighthawk happened to be. On top of that, the aggro matchup faltered without said Nighthawk or Tendrils, as most of mono-black’s early creatures matched up poorly against Plated Geopede and Steppe Lynx. As for the control matchup; sometimes you’d slam a turn-four Nocturnus with three other vampires and flip a black card – or sometimes you’d resolve a harder-to-cast Hill Giant a turn before your opponent wraths away your entire board.

So we mono-black players waited, biding our time, playing other fun decks like Naya Lightsaber until the menace that was known as Jund rotated. Along the way, we saw awesome cards like Kalastria Highborn, Abyssal Persecutor, Consume the Meek, the all-powerful Grave Titan, and even a Nantuko Shade reprint, and we knew that mono-black would have its day in the sun.

So what happened? Four words: Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

To be fair, he is better than all.

Black’s main weakness as a color is its inability to interact with anything other than creatures, the graveyard, and the opponent’s hand, so a resolved Jace, the Mind Sculptor was nigh unbeatable for mono-black in the era of Caw-Blade. On top of that, Squadron Hawk was a paltry target for removal, as it simply replaced itself the next turn. A lack of card advantage combined with an inability to deal with the format’s most threatening card meant that mono-black was simply inferior to its blue-black counterpart, which had access to Mana Leak as well as Jaces of its own. Even Phyrexian Obliterator, heralded as the best mono-black card printed since Cabal Coffers, proved inadequate when you realized that Jace 2.0 could simply bounce your four-mana do-nothing back to your hand, then make you discard it with Sword of Feast and Famine.

Again, we lovers of the dark arts had to wait for the right moment to claim our birthright. Standard season came and went, and Innistrad was on the horizon…

I See a Delver and I Want to Paint it Black

Innistrad and its follow-up expansion Dark Ascension are likely to go down as two of the greatest Magic sets ever printed. They were a flavor home-run, created one of the most fun and exciting limited formats of all time, and spawned one of the more balanced Standard formats in recent memory.*

*Despite what many commentators will have you believe, Delver is not Caw-Blade or Faeries in terms of dominance; it’s more akin to Jund, in that it is a popular deck but can be easily beaten if attacked at the right angle.

From the perspective of a mono-black player, Innistrad block was our greatest hopes and dreams come true. Liliana of the Veil is one of the most aggressively-costed and powerful planeswalkers of all time, playable even in a format as powerful as Legacy. Geralf’s Messenger is one of the most efficient creatures ever printed, harkening back to the powerhouse that was Kitchen Finks (although, as Mike Flores has stated, Shock is better than Healing Salve). In spite of this, mono-black did not see resurgence in the new Standard format, a format largely defined by creatures!

I have a feeling that years of withdrawal had finally caught up with the mono-black community. After having his or her pet archetype decimated by Faeries, then by Jund, then by Caw-Blade, your average mono-black player must have simply scooped up his or her Phyrexian Obliterators and called it a day. Now, when the format is so ripe for the picking, with creatures at an all-time high and planeswalkers at an all-time low, why has no one picked up the torch of mono-black?

Oh wait, someone has!

Recently, Mike Flores discussed the theory of “More-sies” in deck design, offering up a thought experiment involving a red-black deck that sought to win by killing off every single creature an opponent plays. Basically, his theory boils down to the assumption that if your deck is filled with answers to a very specific problem (in this case, creatures,) then you should have a 100% win rate against said problem. His theory is that if all you are playing against are creature decks and all your deck does is kill creatures, then you’ll always be drawing more live cards than your opponents. Once you’ve built a deck that can do that one thing reasonably well, you have a baseline from which you can shore up your weaknesses to other strategies.

“But why now?” you may be wondering, “Surely if mono-black were viable, we would have seen a deck months ago, when Avacyn Restored came out!”

Long story short: in M13, black is the new blue.

Early in the spoiler season, we mono-black pigeons were tossed a few bread crumbs by Wizards of the Coast in the form of Sign in Blood, Vampire Nighthawk, and Duress reprints. Then Murder was spoiled and, while significantly less efficient than Doom Blade or Go For the Throat, is not an unreasonable card for a mono-black player to cast. From there, we heard whispers of a new Liliana; a four-mana Liliana, no less. Everywhere, black players were proclaiming that black was finally to have its own Elspeth, Knight-Errant or Jace, the Mind Sculptor. When the curtain was finally drawn back, we received:

Needless to say, we were a little less than enthusiastic. “She only draws you lands?” some cried, while others lamented, “She can’t even protect herself!” There was even a post on the Magic forums which asked, “I wonder if they’ll ever print another good black card?” As for yours truly; I think she’s fine. She’s exactly what a mono-black deck needs in a planeswalker, offering very real card advantage as well as utility should you draw into more than one copy of her. It’s the same reaction I hear from newer players who read the card Land Tax, to which I always respond, “Even if you’re drawing lands, you’re removing them from your deck and putting more cards into your hand.” As for her ultimate; all we need is one big X spell to really push that ability to the limit…

Oh, right. Well, that’s quite an admirable goal to try and attain, but how are we supposed to get there. One-for-one creature removal isn’t going to stop Blade Splicer, Huntmaster of the Fells, and Grave Titan from spoiling your plans!

I must admit, my first reaction to seeing a reprint of Mutilate cannot be repeated in this blog (this is a family-friendly blog, after all!) While we would have loved a Damnation reprint, the mono-black community has finally been given the missing piece of the puzzle that is a viable mono-black deck. Against the current crop of decks, Mutilate can simply decimate most board states in the same way as Day of Judgment, a card which is at an all-time high in value right now. Moreover, Mutilate can deal with regenerate in a way that Day of Judgment can’t. For the first time in a long time, I have a feeling that mono-black can be a Tier-1 deck again.

For the next three months at least, you can be sure that I will be testing and tuning a mono-black list of some sort. Here is the rough sketch of where I will be starting:

Mono-Black Control

Artifacts (9)
1x Batterskull
1x Mimic Vat
3x Nihil Spellbomb
4x Sphere of the Suns
Enchantments (1)
1x Curse of Death’s Hold
Sorceries (10)
1x Diabolic Revelation
3x Duress
4x Mutilate
3x Sign in Blood
Creatures (5)
1x Grave Titan
4x Vampire Nighthawk
Instants (6)
2x Doom Blade
2x Geth’s Verdict
2x Go for the Throat
Lands (24)
20x Swamp
3x Ghost Quarter
Planeswalkers (5)
1x Karn Liberated
3x Liliana of the Dark Realms
1x Sorin Markov

This list is based off the mono-black list Mike Flores advocates in his recent article “All Your Dreams Are About to Come True.” I replaced each Wellspring with Liliana of the Dark Realms or Sign in Blood, as both cards do exactly what is needed from the aforementioned artifacts without having to jump through any hoops. I added Sphere of the Suns instead of Solemn Simulacrum, as this deck wants to hit its fours as quickly as possible, with Vampire Nighthawk allowing the deck to survive the early turns should it not hit an accelerant.

I maxed out on Mutilate instead of the four “board-sweepers” advocated by Flores, as I believe Mutilate does what each of those sorceries do at a much more efficient rate. The ability to curve into a turn-three Mutilate followed by a turn-four Curse of Death’s Hold seems like a great way to lock down the board so that Grave Titan or any number of planeswalkers can take control.

Mimic Vat and Batterskull are included to provide a threat after a board wipe; the same is true for Sorin Markov and Karn Liberated. I decided to include a single copy of Diabolic Revelation to take advantage of Liliana’s ultimate; I think being able to search up a win condition and a Duress to protect it is very powerful and worth a single slot.

Nihil Spellbomb is included as a nod to Undying creatures and Gravecrawler, both of which can prove problematic to mono-black’s main strategy of keeping the board under control. I have not come up with a good sideboard as of yet, as I have spent exactly zero hours testing this list.

I’m hoping that it’s not just my blind love for mono-black control that has me seriously considering this list for the upcoming Standard season. I honestly believe that the Mutilate reprint is the last piece of the puzzle we mono-black players have needed to create a viable strategy for our favorite color, and that the format as a whole is ripe for a mono-black deck to dominate. Even if the format should shift to more ramp strategies and combo-reanimator, Wizards of the Coast have been kind enough to provide black with powerful cards like Nihil Spellbomb and Despise to help combat any and all challengers. The only thing I can see threatening the new age of mono-black is a planeswalker control deck utilizing Sorin, Lord of Innistrad or Garruk Relentless, but no such deck exists in the current Standard format.

As it stands, I say: “Let the reign of mono-black finally begin!”


Show Me Your Generals: Reaper King

Let me tell you a little something about myself.

I love autumn. Where I’m from, autumn isn’t just about a return to classes or the end of the joy of summer. While people living in cities have just Halloween and Thankgiving to look forward to, when you live in the suburbs of a small city and the surrounding area is mostly farmland, autumn brings a whole slew of fun activities that the metropolitan citizens have to drive a few hours out of the city to take part in. When I was younger, I used to look forward to the various corn mazes that would appear in the farms to the north, and every so often my family would take a trip out to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to enjoy scenic train rides, haunted hayrides, and even pumpkin catapult-tossing (it’s exactly as redneck-y as it sounds).

More than anything, though; I loved the scarecrows.

I was (and still am) a bit of an odd-ball. I was the kind of kid who had a million books on insects, yet was deathly terrified to touch a real one. I was into the natural sciences, yet I didn’t really like to be outside. I just thought scarecrows were cool; they were like the autumn equivalent of snowmen!

Who was my favorite Wizard of Oz character? The Scarecrow! Who was my favorite Batman villain? The Scarecrow! What is my favorite creature type in Magic?

Zombies, of course! I hate scarecrows in Magic, and there’s one upon which I can rest all the blame.

Don’t Fear the Reaper (Obvious Joke is Obvious)

Okay, maybe you can fear him a little.

Reaper King is a beast of a commander. While other five-color decks use namby-pamby commanders like Progenitus or Child of Alara, the Reaper King player drops his commander on the table and says, “Alright, who’s ready to have some real fun.” While one can set out to make a Reaper King deck based solely on good cards and only use the Reaper for his colors, the best Reaper King decks actively seek to cast and get value out of the King. Let’s break down what makes him the king of five-color generals.

1.) His casting cost, both for its cheapness and how expensive it is. He is a 6/6 for five mana with a converted mana cost of ten, meaning he can do stupid things with cards that care about the converted mana cost of your spells, like Maelstrom Nexus, while also being a cheap beater on par with cards like Spiritmonger.

2.) He’s an artifact, which means there are plenty of cards that care about his supertype, like Mirrorworks, Sculpting Steel, and Phyrexian Metamorph. Why am I only referring to copy effects? Well, that brings me to my final point…

3.) He has the ability to be a repeatable Vindicate. Decks that can fully utilize the Reaper King’s ability to nuke any and all permanents are going to be the most threatening five-color decks around, making clone and blinking effects a top priority for any Reaper King deck.

With all of this in mind, let’s take a look at the following Reaper King Commander deck, submitted by my friend, Matt Jackson:

Reaper King

Creatures (29)
1x Antler Skulkin
1x Blazethorn Scarecrow
1x Chainbreaker
1x Changeling Berserker
1x Changeling Hero
1x Eternal Witness
1x Galepowder Mage
1x Grand Architect
1x Grim Poppet
1x Inferno Titan
1x Lockjaw Snapper
1x Lurebound Scarecrow
1x Magister Sphinx
1x Mirror Entity
1x Mothdust Changeling
1x Pili-Pala
1x Primeval Titan
1x Rattleblaze Scarecrow
1x Reveillark
1x Scarecrone
1x Scrapbasket
1x Scuttlemutt
1x Shapesharer
1x Sharuum the Hegemon
1x Shell Skulkin
1x Tatterkite
1x Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
1x Watchwing Scarecrow
1x Wicker Warcrawler
Lands (38)
1x Ancient Ampitheater
1x Arcane Sanctum
1x Auntie’s Hovel
1x Boseiju, Who Shelters All
1x Command Tower
1x Crumbling Necropolis
1x Crosis’s Catacombs
1x Crystal Quarry
1x Darigaaz’s Caldera
1x Dromar’s Cavern
1x Exotic Orchard
2x Forest
1x Gilt-Leaf Palace
3x Island
1x Jungle Shrine
1x Mosswort Bridge
3x Mountain
3x Plains
1x Rith’s Grove
1x Savage Lands
1x Seaside Citadel
1x Secluded Glen
3x Swamp
1x Treva’s Ruins
1x Vivid Crag
1x Vivid Creek
1x Vivid Grove
1x Vivid Marsh
1x Vivid Meadow
Instants (8)
1x Brainstorm
1x Counterspell
1x Cryptic Command
1x Hinder
1x Oblation
1x Path to Exile
1x Spell Crumple
1x Swords to Plowshares
Enchantments (8)
1x Conspiracy
1x Cover of Darkness
1x Descendant’s Path
1x Maelstrom Nexus
1x Oblivion Ring
1x Phyrexian Arena
1x Prismatic Omen
1x Wheel of Sun and Moon
Planeswalkers (3)
1x Chandra, the Firebrand
1x Tezzeret the Seeker
1x Venser, the Sojourner
Sorceries (6)
1x Day of Judgment
1x Decimate
1x Diabolic Tutor
1x Idyllic Tutor
1x Patriarch’s Bidding
1x Praetor’s Counsel
Artifact (7)
1x Birthing Pod
1x Cloudstone Curio
1x Conjurer’s Closet
1x Darksteel Ingot
1x Lightning Greaves
1x Sol Ring
1x Swiftfoot Boots

Matt sent me this list with the caveat that I make this competitive but not broken. He specified that it should not seek to win as quickly as possible, but that as the game progresses the deck should have a lot of inevitability and be able to close out the game. As such, the deck seeks to utilize Reaper King as a value engine, which is why Matt chose to include so many actual scarecrows in the list, as well as a few changelings.

I will be approaching this list from three axes; it needs to be fun, it needs to be powerful, and it needs to be consistent. According to Matt, his playgroup is about as cutthroat as my own, but is prone to not wanting to play if someone’s deck is deemed to powerful. As such, I need to make Matt’s deck “deceptively” powerful.

He’s already given me a clear direction in which he wants to take this list, so I will be continuing along that path with most of my suggestions. As with previous installments of “Show Me Your Generals,” I will only be discussing the cards that I think need to be replaced, to save both myself and my readers the task of having to read how good Primeval Titan is in Commander for the umpteenth time.

King of the Hill (Another Home Run Heading!)

Thirty-eight lands seems like a good number for this deck, as Matt is looking to cast quite a few high-end, high-impact spells with some semblance of regularity. Because the deck is five-color, there isn’t as much room for utility lands as I would like, but Matt is running a high number of colorless creatures so it is not unreasonable to make a few replacements for some “spell” lands.

Boseiju, Who Shelters All – With 14 instants and sorceries, none of which are all that important to resolve, this land just seems like a wasted slot. While I will be suggesting must-counter spells like Rite of Replication, I think this land’s usefulness does not outweigh the tax it puts on a five-color manabase.

Enter Cavern of Souls, Avacyn Restored’s entry into the contest for “Lands Control Players Absolutely Hate.” It is important for Matt that his commander resolve, which means naming “scarecrow” for the Cavern is a huge deal when facing down a mono-blue player, as most blue players can’t actually deal with a resolved Reaper King. On top of that, it makes his commander easier to cast by producing whatever color he’s missing.

Replacement: Cavern of Souls

The Lair Lands – This includes Dromar’s Cavern, Darigaaz’s Caldera, and the ilk. Nevermind that these cards are, in most cases, worse than the Ravnica bounce lands. Every experienced Commander player knows one of the best ways to fight a five-color deck is attacking its manabase, so offering up a juicy target like the Lair lands that actively slow you down is just asking for trouble.

Rather than simply suggest the Ravnica bounce lands, I’d like to fill these slots with a combination of fixing and utility lands. First and foremost, Matt is high on the artifact and creature count and low on recursion, so three of these slots can go to all-stars Buried Ruin, Academy Ruins, and Volrath’s Stronghold, all of which carry a reasonable price tag (money-wise). Since we’re adding three colorless lands to a five-color deck, it’s only appropriate that the other two slots go to City of Brass and Reflecting Pool; both are excellent at fixing mana, and the damage from the City is more or less negligible in a 40-life format.

Replacements: Academy Ruins, Buried Ruin, City of Brass, Reflecting Pool, Volrath’s Stronghold

Outside of these six cards, the rest of Matt’s lands look pretty standard-issue. I especially like his use of the “tribal” lands, as he has a number of changelings to ensure that these lands can come into play untapped, if necessary.

Bow to the King (These Headings are so Easy!)

Now it’s time to discuss the meat of the deck. I am going to leave all of the scarecrows alone; each one is more or less a cheaper Angel of Despair when Reaper King is alive, and I will rarely cut Angel of Despair from any deck that can play it. Most of the changelings will pass through unscathed; though I think one of them could be replaced by clones or other changelings, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Let’s get started, shall we?

Inferno Titan – How did this get in here? Even outside of a Reaper King deck, Inferno Titan rarely makes the cut in any except the most aggressive red decks. Three damage is good but not great and having access to five colors makes me want to replace this with something more powerful.

Sun Titan could find a home in this list, reanimating some of the cheaper scarecrows and opening up the possibility of adding a few other utility permanents in addition to the Oblivion Ring he’s already included in the list. I particularly like it with Scarecrone and Reaper King active, creating a repeatable Vindicate that also cantrips.

Replacement: Sun Titan

Magister Sphinx – Oh, this card. Let me sum up how I feel about this card:

…yeah, suffice to say I don’t really care for Magister Sphinx. Sorin Markov I like, because it can ping off smaller creatures and it is more or less impossible for an opponent to reanimate. I don’t even run this in my Sharuum the Hegemon deck, and that deck runs the Disciple of the Vault/Sculpting Steel combo.

With Sharuum already in Matt’s deck and his general being such a big part of his overall strategy, I’d like to suggest Sphinx Summoner for this slot. It allows him to tutor up Sharuum the Hegemon to reanimate something from his graveyard, or find Reaper King if it’s been tucked into his library. There’s not much more that can be said about this card; it’s just a really solid tutor.

Replacement: Sphinx Summoner

Mothdust Changeling – Yeah, I’m not quite sure what Matt is trying to accomplish with this card. It gives flying, but who gives a flying…you know what. Its body is unimpressive and its effect is more or less irrelevant in the long game, especially since Matt isn’t trying to force through damage on a regular basis.

I see Changeling Berserker and Changeling Hero in Matt’s deck and I’m left wondering what happened to good ol’ Changeling Titan. It provides the same effect as the other two and has a gigantic body to boot. Moreover, tucking Sharuum the Hegemon underneath this card will make any opponent think twice about casting that Wrath of God.

Replacement: Changeling Titan

Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir – While I like this card (and I really like this card), the three blue in its mana cost really kills me. I don’t think I can justify leaving this in Matt’s list, as it doesn’t actually do that much for him outside of keeping his opponents from countering his spells. I make the following suggestion with the caveat that if his playgroup is full of countermagic decks, by all means, keep Teferi in the list.

That being said, where is Chameleon Colossus? The big dumb green beater is the perfect fit for this deck, offering another “scarecrow” while also being a reasonable beatstick. An easy inclusion if I’ve ever seen one.

Replacement: Chameleon Colossus

Chandra, the Firebrand – Once again, I don’t think there are enough instants and sorceries to justify playing this card. While getting double tutors is always fun, Chandra is best when doubling cards like Time Stretch with reasonable frequency, and most of Matt’s targets amount to counterspells, wraths, or Praetor’s Counsel, none of which benefit from doubling.

Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, on the other hand, does plenty of useful things with Matt’s deck. In fact, this might be one of the best Tezzeret decks outside of Sharuum the Hegemon. He can draw Matt into more scarecrows, or upgrade his scarecrows into monstrous 5/5s that can do battle with even the mightiest of titans. On top of that, his ultimate isn’t completely unreasonable to achieve, and Matt has the requisite number of artifacts to actually make it good.

Replacement: Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas

Decimate – I’ve gone back and forth over my feelings about this card with my final decision coming down to whether or not people in my playgroup are playing a lot of enchantments, as that is the rarest card type to see on the battlefield. With a commander like Reaper King, I don’t think there’s much justification for this card, as Matt already has a high number of permanent-destroying effects.

However, in order for this suggestion to hold water, it is important that Matt be able to protect his commander from dying. As such, I’d like to propose Darksteel Plate as a suitable replacement for the Decimate slot. It’s tutorable with Tezzeret the Seeker and can protect his commander from wrath effects. Not the most exciting of equipment, but it fills a much-needed role in a deck like this.

Replacement: Darksteel Plate

Diabolic Tutor – Come on, man! Is Demonic Tutor really too expensive for you? The only justification for this pick over something else is cascade, and I don’t think Maelstrom Nexus is enough to warrant this tutor over the strictly better Demonic variety.

Replacement: Demonic Tutor

Brainstorm – Brainstorm has to be one of the most misunderstood cards in the history of Magic. I see it in a lot of Commander decks; when I do, I immediately check to see how often the player shuffles his or her deck. A lot of players think that because Brainstorm is such a defining card in Legacy that it must be a powerful card by its own merits, when its actual value comes from the ability to reset the top of your library with some degree of regularity. It’s the same reason that I don’t immediately jam Jace, the Mind Sculptor into every blue Commander deck, and I bring all this up because Matt does not have a deck that wants Brainstorm.

What Matt does have is a deck that wants to win with Pili-Pala and Grand Architect. For those of you who don’t know, the combo works like this: Grand Architect turns an untapped Pili-Pala blue, then taps the Pili-Pala to produce two colorless mana. The Pili-Pala then uses this two mana to untap itself, producing a mana of any color. Then the process is repeated ad infinitum, producing infinite mana.

What’s the best thing Matt can do with infinite mana? Deadeye Navigator!

I’ve found that players tend to look the other way when it comes to infinite combos that require more than two cards to “go off,” so requiring a grand total of four cards to go off seems like a reasonable hoop through which Matt has to jump. For reference, these four cards are Reaper King, Deadeye Navigator, Pili-Pala (paired with Deadeye Navigator), and Grand Architect. Once the combo has been assembled, Matt can simply destroy all of his opponents’ permanents! BOOM!

Replacement: Deadeye Navigator

Cryptic Command – Much like Teferi, I really like this card, but the three mana in its cost seals its fate as “too hard to cast” for this deck. On top of that, it’s a reactive card with a prohibitive cost, meaning that there will be plenty of times where Matt will have this in his hand and be unable to cast it at the necessary moment.

As with the Brainstorm slot, I’d like to replace this card with something that instantly puts Matt ahead of his opponents when not outright killing them. This suggestion is courtesy of my friend Joe Milia, who showed me just how busted Rite of Replication is with Reaper King. Rite is on the cusp of being ban-worthy in Commander, spared the banhammer only for the fact that it does exactly what Sheldon Menery and the rest of the Rules Committee feels Commander is about. With Reaper King, a kicked Rite of Replication equals twenty-five Vindicates; though it is susceptible to spot removal, I think the possibility of destroying twenty-five permanents makes this more than reasonable to include in Matt’s list.

Replacement: Rite of Replication

Cover of Darkness – So many cards that I love are showing up today! Cover of Darkness has made the cut in a number of my Zombie decks, but those were lord-driven beatdown decks where the creatures actually dealt a reasonable amount of damage with each swing. This Reaper King deck does no such thing.

Patriarch’s Bidding intrigues me. It makes me want to include some sort of sacrifice outlet to set up a big turn where Matt sacrifices all of his scarecrows, then uses Patriarch’s Bidding to bring them all back into play to destroy a ton of permanents. With that in mind, Greater Good seems like the prime target, as it is both a sacrifice outlet and a way to draw into more scarecrows that Matt can discard in preparation for the giant Patriarch’s Bidding. It also protects his Primeval Titan from copy effects and his commander from getting tucked by Condemn or Spin into Myth.

Replacement: Greater Good

Prismatic Omen – Another card I will rarely cut from five-color decks. However, Reaper King is not your normal five-color deck, as most of its creatures are colorless, and even Reaper King himself doesn’t require that Matt have every color of mana at his disposal.

Having already suggested cutting both triple-blue cards in Matt’s list, this slot becomes more about helping Matt cast his scarecrows rather than casting his other spells. As such, Urza’s Incubator will help this deck to go off the rails, making some of his scarecrows free and the rest ridiculously cheap. While the scarecrows don’t combo with Cloudstone Curio (due to them being artifacts), this does make bouncing the champion Changelings back and forth that much easier, which can get absolutely disgusting with Reaper King on the battlefield.

Replacement: Urza’s Incubator

Wheel of Sun and Moon – I have to admit; I’m at a loss as to why Matt is including this in his list. It’s semi-reasonable graveyard hate against people playing dredge or reanimator, but I have this sneaking suspicion that Matt is targeting himself with this to rebuy his creatures, which is a non-bo with Praetor’s Counsel and Scarecrone.

If this is the case, then Karmic Guide should solve all of Matt’s problems. It serves the same function as Sharuum with the added benefits of being able to return Grand Architect or Primeval Titan, and being absolutely disgusting with Reveillark.

Replacement: Karmic Guide

I Just Can’t Wait to be King (I Swear I’m Done Now)

Here is the updated list:

Reaper King v2.0
Creatures (31)
1x Antler Skulkin
1x Blazethorn Scarecrow
1x Chainbreaker
1x Chameleon Colossus
1x Changeling Berserker
1x Changeling Hero
1x Changeling Titan
1x Deadeye Navigator
1x Eternal Witness
1x Galepowder Mage
1x Grand Architect
1x Grim Poppet
1x Karmic Guide
1x Lockjaw Snapper
1x Lurebound Scarecrow
1x Mirror Entity
1x Pili-Pala
1x Primeval Titan
1x Rattleblaze Scarecrow
1x Reveillark
1x Scarecrone
1x Scrapbasket
1x Scuttlemutt
1x Shapesharer
1x Sharuum the Hegemon
1x Shell Skulkin
1x Sphinx Summoner
1x Sun Titan
1x Tatterkite
1x Watchwing Scarecrow
1x Wicker Warcrawler
Lands (38)
1x Academy Ruins
1x Ancient Ampitheater
1x Arcane Sanctum
1x Auntie’s Hovel
1x Buried Ruin
1x Cavern of Souls
1x City of Brass
1x Command Tower
1x Crumbling Necropolis
1x Crystal Quarry
1x Exotic Orchard
2x Forest
1x Gilt-Leaf Palace
3x Island
1x Jungle Shrine
1x Mosswort Bridge
3x Mountain
3x Plains
1x Reflecting Pool
1x Savage Lands
1x Seaside Citadel
1x Secluded Glen
3x Swamp
1x Vivid Crag
1x Vivid Creek
1x Vivid Grove
1x Vivid Marsh
1x Vivid Meadow
1x Volrath’s Stronghold
Instants (6)
1x Counterspell
1x Hinder
1x Oblation
1x Path to Exile
1x Spell Crumple
1x Swords to Plowshares
Enchantments (6)
1x Conspiracy
1x Descendant’s Path
1x Greater Good
1x Maelstrom Nexus
1x Oblivion Ring
1x Phyrexian Arena
Planeswalkers (3)
1x Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
1x Tezzeret the Seeker
1x Venser, the Sojourner
Sorceries (6)
1x Day of Judgment
1x Demonic Tutor
1x Idyllic Tutor
1x Patriarch’s Bidding
1x Praetor’s Counsel
1x Rite of Replication
Artifact (9)
1x Birthing Pod
1x Cloudstone Curio
1x Conjurer’s Closet
1x Darksteel Ingot
1x Darksteel Plate
1x Lightning Greaves
1x Sol Ring
1x Swiftfoot Boots
1x Urza’s Incubator

There’s not much to say about this deck that I haven’t already discussed. The new cards add a bit more resilience to the deck while also providing the possibility of combo kills in the late game, without forcing the deck to have to combo off as quickly as possible in order to win. Cards like Tezzeret and Birthing Pod are all-stars, both tutoring up all the scarecrows and triggering Reaper King’s ability for free, while cards like Venser and Conjurer’s Closet give the deck the potential for free triggers. I’m very interested in playing a few games against Matt with my decks to see how they stack up against this list; even his original list seems pretty solid.

In more general terms, when it comes to optimizing your Commander deck it’s important to make sure that your key cards are easily accessible and can be protected. In my Ghave, Guru of Spores deck, cards like Academy Rector and Eternal Witness are necessary in order to make sure that stuff like Cathars’ Crusade or Glare of Subdual can be easily accessed and brought back when destroyed. The most common thing I see in struggling Commander lists are cards like Matt’s Brainstorm; while it’s a powerful card in the abstract, it doesn’t actually do anything to further Matt’s game plan and he’s not using the card to its maximum potential. Compare that to a card like Conspiracy; the card is considerably less powerful than Brainstorm, yet it’s utilized fully in a deck such as this that cares about creature types.

Overall, it’s important to make sure that your cards actually do something when you’re looking for things to cut from your decks. Sure, Grave Pact and Butcher of Malakir may be awesome with an active Ghave, but if you’re already running Wrath of God and Damnation, do you really need to include both of them? When you run into these situations, your best option is to look at which card your deck can utilize more fully. In this case, I saw that Butcher being a creature made it better in my deck with cards like Survival of the Fittest and Genesis, so I ended up cutting Grave Pact to make room for other cards I needed to add to the deck.

However, what’s most important is to make sure you’re playing cards you actually like. I briefly threw Sundering Titan into my Sharuum the Hegemon deck before realizing that I utterly despise the card and immediately pulled it out in favor of a fun card like Sharding Sphinx. If you’re not able to play with the cards you like, then why not just play 100-card Vintage and play only the best cards? Commander is about playing the cards you love to play with, having fun with your friends, and doing lots of stupid stuff that just doesn’t fly in competitive Magic.

And don’t be scared to be a little mean every now and then. Your friends won’t fault you for killing them with Pili-Pala. I promise.


Archetype Rundown: Enchantress

I give up!

It happens to the best of us. You think you’re prepared to take on all challengers, to face all obstacles, to climb the highest ocean and swim the deepest mountain. Hold on, that doesn’t sound quite right…

Let me try this again.

This article was supposed to be another installment of “Show Me Your Generals,” this time analyzing my friend Mark Weiner’s five-color Progentius “enchantress” deck. But I can’t find anything wrong with it. It’s perfect. Leave it to Mark to come up with a ninety-nine card deck so chocked full of synergy that I fell to my knees and wept at the very sight of it. It’s just so…

beautiful!

No, seriously, look what he gave me to work with:

Pro Enchant

Enchantments (45)
1x Animate Dead
1x Aura of Silence
1x Aurification
1x Awakening Zone
1x Burgeoning
1x Collective Restraint
1x Copy Enchantment
1x City of Solitude
1x Crackdown
1x Debtor’s Knell
1x Enchantress’ Presence
1x Exquisite Blood
1x Fertile Ground
1x Ghostly Prison
1x Honden of Cleansing Fire
1x Honden of Infinite Rage
1x Honden of Life’s Web
1x Honden of Night’s Reach
1x Honden of Seeing Winds
1x Karmic Justice
1x Land Tax
1x Lethal Vapors
1x Leyline of the Void
1x Luminarch Ascension
1x Maelstrom Nexus
1x Mirari’s Wake
1x Necromancy
1x No Mercy
1x Painful Quandary
1x Phyrexian Arena
1x Polluted Bonds
1x Priveleged Position
1x Propoganda
1x Sanguine Bond
1x Sigil of the Empty Throne
1x Solitary Confinement
1x Spirit of Resistance
1x Sterling Grove
1x Stony Silence
1x Stranglehold
1x Sylvan Library
1x Teferi’s Moat
1x Thought Reflection
1x Trace of Abundance
1x Wild Research
Lands (35)
1x Badlands
1x Bayou
1x Bojuka Bog
1x Breeding Pool
1x City of Brass
1x Command Tower
1x Exotic Orchard
1x Forest
1x Godless Shrine
1x Grand Coliseum
1x Hallowed Fountain
1x Island
1x Misty Rainforest
1x Mountain
1x Murmuring Bosk
1x Overgrown Tomb
2x Plains
1x Plateau
1x Reflecting Pool
1x Reliquary Tower
1x Sacred Foundry
1x Savannah
1x Scrubland
1x Serra’s Sanctum
1x Steam Vents
1x Swamp
1x Taiga
1x Temple Garden
1x Tropical Island
1x Tundra
1x Underground Sea
1x Volcanic Island
1x Volrath’s Stronghold
1x Watery Grave
Creatures (7)
1x Academy Rector
1x Argothian Enchantress
1x Mesa Enchantress
1x Primeval Titan
1x Sun Titan
1x Verduran Enchantress
1x Zur the Enchanter
Sorceries (6)
1x All Suns’ Dawn
1x Demonic Tutor
1x Idyllic Tutor
1x Open the Vaults
1x Replenish
1x Rite of Replication
Instants (2)
1x Enlightened Tutor
1x Vampiric Tutor
Artifacts (2)
1x Null Rod
1x Torpor Orb
Planeswalkers (2)
1x Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
1x Karn Liberated

While I could nitpick about a few of his land choices (what in the hell is Volrath’s Stronghold supposed to be returning in this deck?) I am at a loss when it comes time to critique this deck. This is exactly what a five-color enchantress deck should look like. Need card draw? Honden of Seeing Winds and Phyrexian Arena. Mana acceleration? Primeval Titan and Mirari’s Wake. Win conditions? His freakin’ commander is motherlovin’ Progenitus!

The soul of the world has returned is pissed off!

Rather than torment myself trying to improve upon Mark’s masterpiece, I have decided instead to use his deck as an excuse to discuss the “enchantress” archetype as a whole as it pertains to Commander, for those of you thinking about building an enchantress deck of your own.

So You Think You Can Enchant?

The enchantress archetype has been a part of Magic since the game’s inception, deriving its name from Verduran Enchantress in Alpha and all of the iterations that followed. An enchantress deck wins through a slow building of mana acceleration, card advantage, and board control via the use of enchantments, one of the hardest-to-remove permanent types in the game. It accrues card advantage through the eponymous enchantresses, which draw cards whenever their controller casts an enchantment spell; at the same time, most of the early enchantments an enchantress player casts are spells like Fertile Ground and Trace of Abundance, which help to accelerate mana to get the enchantress player to the late game quicker than his or her opponents. Once there, the enchantress player will lock other players out of the game with powerful spells like Teferi’s Moat and Solitary Confinement, then beat down with a single, gigantic threat a la Progenitus or Ulamog.

The reason that enchantress decks are so notorious in Commander is not because of these things; every deck runs card draw, acceleration, answers and threats (and if you’re missing any of these, shame on you). Their infamy comes from the inherent synergy between most enchantments mixed with the hard-to-deal-with nature of the permanent type. Seriously, how is a Grixis deck supposed to handle a resolved Priveleged Position?

You may be wondering, “David, if enchantments are so powerful, why doesn’t everyone just make an enchantress deck?”

First of all; call me Dave. Second; enchantress decks are not everyone’s cup of tea, so to speak. They are ponderously slow, involve a great deal of triggers and micro management, and a majority of the time it feels like you’re not actually doing anything. However, what enchantress can do is stay under-the-radar in a format where blazingly fast starts can get you killed in an instant, which gives it an inherent advantage over decks like Azusa, Lost but Seeking or Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind, both of which scream “kill me now!”

The Colors of the Seeing Winds

Most enchantress decks are base white-green due to the namesake cards being relegated to those two colors (Verduran, Mesa, and Argothian Enchantress, to name a few), as well as the fact that both colors have some of the best enchantments in Commander (Mirari’s Wake, Mana Reflection). From there, splashes of black or blue are most common, as these two colors provide card draw and/or tutoring. My first enchantress deck used Jenara, Asura of War as the general, as I liked having access to draw spells like Rhystic Study or Honden of Seeing Winds, as well as Leyline of Anticipation, which allowed me to surprise block opposing creatures with cards like Academy Rector or Aura Thief. I have seen very successful Black-Green enchantress decks that use the power of Null Profusion and Recycle to draw through their entire decks in a single turn, and then cast a giant Exsanguinate via Cadaverous Bloom.

Some enchantress decks can completely eschew the namesake cards in favor of commanders that gain card advantage such as Zur the Enchanter or Damia, Sage of Stone. Zur in particular is notorious for his ability to tutor up powerful enchantments like Necropotence or Animate Dead, as well as the fact that he’s often in the company of “unfun” cards like Armageddon and Ravages of War. Likewise, Damia allows its player to include only the most powerful of enchantments in his or her deck, so long as a few of them can protect Damia once she’s on the field. (Totem armor, anyone?)

The odd man out is red, which is unsurprising, considering it is the color least associated with enchantments. Red’s only worthwhile enchantment is Stranglehold; most of the other good “red” enchantments have another color (a la Reins of the Deus). However, Red does have the benefit of being one of Uril the Miststalker’s colors; Uril is a hard-to-deal-with creature that asks its player to control plenty of enchantments, and can often one-shot opponents when enchanted with Reins of the Deus or Shield of the Oversoul.

What color you choose really depends on how you want to win; in Commander, enchantress decks will often have to rely on their commander to close out the game. Zur or Uril are ends unto themselves, which means the decks with them at the helm utilize enchantments designed to keep their commanders on the battlefield and swinging. Jenara plays well in a big-mana deck featuring Mirari’s Wake and Mana Reflection, meaning enchantments with activated abilities come at a premium (Sacred Mesa, Luminarch Ascension). However, if you’re playing an enchantress deck and your commander isn’t a finisher, it’s probably best to put as many card-drawing engines as you can in the deck so you can quickly reach the spells you need to close out the game.

All the World’s a Stage

For those of you unfamiliar with Magic stage theory, here is a brief summary: every Magic game, regardless of format, can be broken up into three stages, and each stage is defined by the number of resources available to each player. The early game is characterized by each player having few resources and more or less developing their hands and boards on the way to stage two. Players reach stage three when one player has successfully gained the upper hand and is dictating the pace of the game while the other player is left with very few options to regain control. Stage two is pretty much everything else.

How does this apply to enchantress? Simple; enchantress decks really want to get to stage three, but they tend to do so without committing creatures to the board, leaving them open to full-frontal assaults from more aggressive decks.

What this means is that the enchantress player needs to create a barrier between himself and his opponent’s armies. Ideally, this is done through enchantments, though a random Wrath of God or Damnation is not out of place for the mere surprise factor. However, most colors have enchantments that help to control the creature population, either through outright destruction (Pyrohemia, No Mercy) or by taxing the opponent’s resources (Propaganda, Pendrell Mists). This aspect of the deck is governed primarily by the color of the deck, but a good rule of thumb for any commander deck (not including those packing endless tutors) is to run at least seven cards for a specific purpose in order to reliably access said effect over the course of a game.

It is also important to understand that resource development is the key to moving out of stage one as quickly as possible. It’s all well and good to pack powerful enchantments like Mirari’s Wake and Mana Reflection, but if you’re unable to produce five mana by turn five, you’re going to fall behind very rapidly. Those decks with access to green should use the early turns playing spells like Fertile Ground, Rites of Flourishing, and Heartbeat of Spring, the last of which can be dangerous but easily propels the game out of the early stages. For non-green decks, it is more essential to lay down card-drawing enchantments like Land Tax, Phyrexian Arena, or Rhystic Study; while they don’t actively ramp your mana, they provide a steady flow of cards which should translate into hitting all of your land drops. They also provide a bit of redundancy for those times when you enchantress creatures are taken out by removal.

Once you’ve accelerated to the second stage, it’s time to take control of the board. If you’re playing black, No Mercy and Lethal Vapors will keep pesky creatures from surviving. In red, Stranglehold will keep your opponents from tutoring up their answers, and Smoke will keep creatures tapped down. Blue has access to powerful enchantments like Dream Tides, Flood, and Propaganda, all very good answers to the hordes amassing around your Moats. However, white and green are the best at protecting what’s yours; Karmic Justice and Martyr’s Bond are absolutely brutal against removal, and Priveleged Position, Sterling Grove, and Greater Auramancy all prevent your enchantments from getting destroyed by Acidic Slimes and their ilk.

From there, it’s simply a matter of picking your finisher and rolling it out. Luminarch Ascension is great in tandem with Propaganda effects, especially when there are three turns to tick up the counters. Exquisite Blood, Sanguine Bond, and Pestilence will end the game on the spot, and each piece is still good by itself. Even a big, dumb creature like Primeval Titan or Kozilek is a fine choice to take out your opponents while you sit comfortably behind a wall of untouchable enchantments. It’s really a matter of personal preference.

Package Deals

One of the reasons players love to build enchantress decks is the sheer number of enchantment combos there are in Magic. I’d like to close out this article by discussing some of my favorites (and maybe giving you some ideas for your own enchantress deck). We’ll start with the less convoluted combos; those that only require two cards to function. Most of these provide card advantage and should be serious considerations even outside of enchantress decks, as both cards are powerful by themselves.

Sylvan Library + Abundance

The first of these two cards should be an auto-include into every green enchantress deck, if not every green Commander deck in general. Any card that reads “draw three cards” can not be taken lightly, and Sylvan Library’s “drawback” is barely a drawback in a 40-life format. However, due to Abundance’s wording, it can be combined with Sylvan Library to draw three cards with no drawback. Because Abundance puts the cards into your hand instead of drawing them, you haven’t actually drawn any cards for your turn, so Sylvan Library has nothing to put back on top of your library!

Land Tax + Scroll Rack

I don’t know about most players, but I have a hard time not putting Scroll Rack into any deck that includes Land Tax, and vice versa. Much like the previous combo, this equates to drawing three cards a turn, so long as you have less lands than your opponents. Also, this combo will never run out of gas, as you keep putting the basic lands back into your deck with Scroll Rack, then searching them up with Land Tax on the next turn!

Exquisite Blood + Sanguine Bond

Done to death (literally)! Everyone already knows this combo, so I won’t bore you with an explanation. Suffice to say; if you’re playing black, give these two cards some consideration.

Bloodchief Ascension + Polluted Bonds

Everyone likes to make their land drops, regardless of the drawback. With these two cards out, a complete turn cycle at a table of four players means that you will have an active Bloodchief Ascension by your next upkeep.

Enchanted Evening + Anything

Enchanted Evening should be an auto-include in any enchantress deck that can support its colors. The amount of combos that this card enables is truly staggering, from more obvious inclusions like Opalescence (destroy all lands) or Aura Thief (steal everything), to lesser known cards like Calming Verse or Spring Cleaning (destroy everybody else’s stuff). However, this card is a double-edged sword if your opponents are packing enchantment hate.

While all of these two-card combos are great, it takes a skilled player to actually set up a multi-card combo in a game of Commander. If you find your deck is able to control the game long enough to where you can safely pull of either of these combos, feel free to slot them into your deck.

Recycle + Null Profusion + Cadaverous Bloom/Dream Halls

While this combo does require a very specific color combination, the turn you lay these cards out on the table, you should win the game fairly easily. Recycle and Null Profusion’s effects actually stack, so you will draw two cards for every one card you play. Add in Dream Halls or Cadaverous Bloom, and you have an engine that will draw out your entire deck. With Dream Halls, it’s as simple as casting a storm spell. For Cadaverous Bloom, you can kill the table with a giant Exsanguinate or pump all of your mana into a Helix Pinnacle to win the game.

Enduring Ideal + Humility + Dovescape + Night of Soul’s Betrayal + Necropotence + Near-Death Experience

Typing this out felt like performing a cheat code on an old NES game; actually using it in a game should feel very similar. Because this combo requires you to cast an Epic spell, it is important to make sure that your opponents are unable to interact with you after you’ve cast Enduring Ideal. However, once you’ve started up this chain, it equates to a six-turn clock for your opponents to find answers before you win. Ideally, you’ll already have Humility or Dovescape on the board to nullify either creature- or spell-based answers, then use Enduring Ideal to drop the other half of that combo. From there, you play Night of Soul’s Betrayal to kill all creatures, then the Necro/Near-Death Experience combo to win on your next upkeep. Warning: if you successfully pull off this combo, be prepared to be the target in every game thereafter.

I hope you’ve all enjoyed this archetype discussion en lieu of an actual deck analysis; enchantress is one of my favorite decks and I’m quite happy to provide my insight into the strategy behind it. Please, let me know if you enjoyed this column; I play a lot of commander, I’m familiar with a lot of different strategies, and I’d be more than happy to make “Archetype Rundown” a standard column in the future.