Today, a Commander deck dies.
If you have to go out, though, it’s better to go out with a win than with a loss. For the last semi-competitive game of Commander at Jim
Hanley’s Universe, the Thursday night before the Commander decks went on sale and changed everything, it was obvious to me that of the five decks
I could have chosen, Experiment Kraj would be my deck of choice. After all, with the coming of these new commanders to choose from, Experiment Kraj
himself would seem to be a poorer fit than Edric, Spymaster of Trest at the helm of the deck, and even if I chose to keep the deck just Green and Blue,
it would change drastically. Gone would be the awkward-but-interesting “+1/+1 Counters Matter” theme that included the infinite-mana combo
I was never quite able to assemble in my year and a half with the deck: Experiment Kraj + Spike Tiller + Simic Growth Chamber + Morphling. Gone also
would be much of the justification in keeping it just Green and Blue, as Damia, Sage of Stone is incredibly tempting to me, and so I knew either way I
went with it once those decks arrived in my hot little hands that this would be the last time with Experiment Kraj.
For a last game, it was immensely satisfying. A total of eight players agreed that the provably broken Standard format was not compelling enough to
interest them that evening and were untempted by drafting while the store was out of Mirrodin Besieged and offering your pick of NPH/NPH/NPH or
NPH/NPH/SOM. Eight players meant two pods of four, and my opponents were well-known to me.
Playing his very beatdown Adun Oakenshield deck was Omar Hernandez, JHU regular and occasional Commander forums denizen of some repute… at least
enough repute to have appeared on CommanderCast, a feat which I myself cannot claim.
Playing a fat-creature-themed Doran deck was Herman Lee, an old-school Neutral Ground regular who has recently been showing up at JHU for Commander
games and the occasional draft (but, wisely, mostly Commander). And rounding out our table was another U/G deck with a harder combo theme than my own
(and a few red cards as well)â€”Intet, the Dreamer as played by Chris LaIaconna, or as my playgroup has been calling him, “Mr. Muttonchops.”
Chris has gotten on the wrong side of some of my playgroup, who thinks that he pushes too hard and too fast for the combo kill engines his deck is
capable of, and whether it is Intet powering out the Tooth and Nail for Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Pestermite or â€˜just’ the nine-mana
version protected by Boseiju, Who Shelters All, it’s pretty clear that his deck has a more focused combo edge than my own goofy build.
That my playgroup wants to do mean things to Chris to “teach him a lesson” in how it is not okay to just jam a combo as hard as possible down
people’s throats is a footnote for the future, but it might be worth noting that within my circle of friends there is a bit of a grudge against
Chris and his Intet deck, and it seemed best for me to be civil and work under the idea of â€˜trust but verify.’ Yes, my previous experiences
have shown that his deck is entirely capable of a seemingly unbreakable combo kill, but every time said â€˜unbreakable’ combo has come up in
the past before, I’ve foiled it with a Constant Mists with buyback or the split-second nightmare Sudden Spoiling; each time the table as a whole
followed by killing his stuff and then killing him. I don’t need to carry my friend’s grudge. I just need to be well-armed and make good
decisions, same as my overall plan always is when I sit down for a game of Commander. (What my friends are considering holding in store for his future
and my answer to their question of â€˜what is the most broken thing you can do if you want to try and do it as hard as you can?’ may be
forthcoming in the future, but is somewhat against the spirit in which I try to play the game and certainly against the spirit of discussion I have
been fostering so far for this column. Whether I discuss it here in the future or not, well, we’ll see.)
The game began awkwardly for me. We use a partial free mulligan rule, followed by partial Paris mulligans, and out of my opening hand of seven I saw
just WindingCanyons and Temple of the False God as lands and threw the other five cards back. On further reflection I should have thrown back six, but
I wasn’t paying careful enough attention to which lands it was I was keeping, and things became quite difficult when the mulligan left
me with still no lands to work with and was followed by a partial Paris mulligan of four cards, with me holding onto just the Oracle of Mul Daya I had
in hand to help me dig out of mana troubles. No lands appeared, though Yavimaya Elder did, as did Jace Beleren, so even a little bit of mana appearing
in my future would lead to castable spells and send me off to the races.
Considering I’d never had to Paris for any number at all with any of my decks, and this one certainly had never seemed to have mana troubles with
its generously high land count, numerous mana-fixing effects, and plentiful cheap card drawers, I worried that this was to be an ominous game for me,
the terrible experience that pried Experiment Kraj out of my cold dead hands once and for all.
For turn two, I drew a Simic Growth Chamber and was back in consideration, having found one mana of each of my colors and needing just any land in my deck to get Oracle of Mul Daya online. That land didn’t appear for the third turn and I simply laid Winding Canyons
again, and on my fourth turn land had still not appeared and I played a useless Temple of the False Gods, stuck on mana. For turn five, all was well; a
basic Forest appeared, and when the Oracle flipped up Tolaria West that meant I had my five lands to turn on Temple of the False God and enough mana in
both of my colors. But the opponents had not been doing nothing while this happened; both Adun Oakenshield and Intet had recruited Sylvan
Library, both Adun and Doran had played Phyrexian Arena, and Doran made up for the lack of Library by playing Abundance to go with the Arena and
moderate his draws. Intet and Adun fought a minor skirmish over Strip Mine and Wasteland, much to my Growth Chamber’s relief, and while everyone
had done a lot of something it was not so much that shenanigans were going on, and now being able to play my spells I could hope to catch up.
Adding to his collection of advantage-gaining permanents, Adun brought down Mimic Vat, while Doran played Academy Rector and Intet played Rhystic Study
to get a chance at cards off of every spell. My Oracle’s attack into Academy Rector was able to kill it and rob the Mimic Vat of imprinting the
Rector, based on whose effects went on the stack first so long as it was not Doran’s turn when Academy Rector died, and Doran added
Mirari’s Wake to make himself clearly a true threat at the table. My mana situation continued on very well and I was able to play both Spike
Weaver and Jace Beleren, drawing everyone a card and leaving one mana untapped in case I needed to use the Weaver to protect Jace. Adun improved his
board further with just a land drop and Vedalken Orrery while Doran got the full use of his mana for an entire turn and deployed both Mossbridge Troll
and Lurking Predators, threatening to turn everything quite goofy indeed. Intet felt it pertinent to target Doran with his Bribery, just hoping for a
Primeval Titan, not knowing that Omar and myself would both have honestly admitted to having a Titan in our decks and not in our hand, and targeted the
one player who didn’t even have a Primeval Titan in his deck. Angel of Despair was settled upon, removing Mirari’s Wake, and as one might
expect over the next few turns a steady trickle of fairly worthwhile creatures started to appear under Doran’s control.
My own Lurking Predators came down the following turn, though everyone could see the top card of my deck and knew it to be fairly safe to start
deploying spells, but after Oracle and Jace working on the top of my deck I would have a Primeval Titan appear before my next untap. Adun convinced
Angel of Despair to go die and come work for his Mimic Vat, while Doran played an Avenger of Zendikar for six tokens and then played a land and sent
the Troll knocking at Intet’s life total, coming in for the full 25 and not just the innocent five damage it looked like was going to happen.
Dropped to 9, Intet moved to defend himself, and Sakashima the Impostor became Avenger of Zendikar as well and yielded eight tokens, followed by a
Misty Rainforest to catch up in size. I simply enjoyed my Primeval Titan and got a small attack in to pull two lands out of my deck, the first two
having been Blue/Green dual lands and these now being utility lands, my Oran-Rief the Vastwood and Cephalid Coliseum, one card away from threshold and
a healthy filtering of my hand to improve its quality. To protect myself a little bit more I cast a Willbender, with Intet having just played his
Boseiju and threatening Tooth and Nail or Time Stretch, and Adun considered now to be the perfect time for his clever trick, an end-of-turn Mutilate
(for just -3/-3) that threatened to clear only a small portion of the board and leave Doran clearly ahead… until Fork targeted the Mutilate, and we
contemplated our responses. The remainder of his army pumped the Troll, while Spike Weaver cleverly reminded me that his +1/+1 counter might look
better on Primeval Titan, and those were the only two creatures left in play.
Slowly but surely time passed, and we’d crept over the hour and a half mark as we all jockeyed for position and advantage, the Angel tokens never
choosing to finish Intet off while it picked at everyone’s busted enchantments (starting with the Lurking Predators) and showing a clear bit of
an alliance between Intet and Adun, which led to myself and Doran not really trading blows with each other if not specifically being allies. As the two
blue mages Intet and I likewise conspired to prevent the worst of offenses from coming down, and then the game hit its turning point. Adun led with a
Makeshift Mannequin reanimating Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger, and the mana advantage proved truly daunting to the rest of us. I was holding Venser,
Shaper Savant and willing to let the other two suffer a little bit at the hands of Vorinclex as they played out their turns, with Doran not doing
terribly much but send a chump attack of the Troll and recruit some not-so-interesting friends, and Intet spending a few mana on his own turn to set up
defense against said frequent attacks, an Eternal Witness to buy back a spell and get a free block. With one of the blue mages at least tapping mana
Adun considered it time to get to work, and started with an instant speed Myojin of Night’s Reach, prompting me into action for my own benefit.
Venser killed the Voice of Hunger and left the rest of our mana untouched by the stunting touch of Vorinclex, leaving me a mere fourteen untapped to
call my own and seeing Adun tap all of his mana while he still had it doubled. Mystic Snake then answered the Myojin, and then it was an instant-speed
Yawgmoth’s Will with six mana floating and the option of Demonic Tutoring, Forking it, and playing Vampiric Tutor as well to set up a truly
deadly hand. Intet saw fit to counter the Will with his own spell, since I had just tossed off two counters towards answering the problem, and we
discussed amongst ourselves that I could counter it but was willing to just let it happen, and he considered that too dire a threat. I paid
him back for that willingness by letting him draw off the Study, and Adun followed up with another mid-level spell we could allow to resolve and one
last tap of the Mimic Vat to destroy yet another problematic enchantment.
With my fellow blue mage tapped out and Adun having just done an awful lot to bleed us of counters, my “this could be a counter if we
need it to” Chord of Calling was able to find Avenger of Zendikar instead of Draining Whelk, and netted eighteen Plant tokens to work for me. Thawing
Glaciers put a counter on each immediately and returned to my hand, and was replayed on my turn to provide a second, while Primeval Titan found a third
and fourth (fetching Evolving Wilds and Misty Rainforest) as I sent it and all eighteen Plants at Adun to make certain he died, which he did while
holding Hellkite Charger and Bear Umbra for the infinite-attack combo-kill he had attempted to push through while it seemed he could bleed Doran and
Intet of mana and myself of counterspells. Regrowth bought back that Chord of Calling in case, and a Strip Mine I had casually searched out a few turns
before took out Boseiju, as I was now holding three counters and could answer pretty much anything but a Boseiju-powered spell, no matter how fragile
Intet’s life total might be.
Of course, I could have just killed more than Omar and ousted both Adun Oakenshield and Intet at the same time, what with eighteen four-power creatures
and Adun being at a perfectly-reachable thirty life after his Vampiric Tutor and fetchlands and the use of both Sylvan Library and Phyrexian Arena,
what with Intet being at nine. However, that’s just not how I roll, and I’d said up front as I started doing this that I’d be sending
death at people one at a time, and as I took out Adun it was Doran who was marked for death, him having the next strongest board position. Doran
prepared some defenses, and Intet followed up with a Nevinyrral’s Disk that would be untapped and online in just enough time to save him, but had
little else really to work with besides a few small creatures, the presumed Willbender morph now being known to be a Vesuvan Shapeshifter instead as he
kept trying to figure out how to get Plant tokens out of it.
Doran died next, graciously but unceremoniously, buried beneath an avalanche of 6/7 Plant tokens. He was able to kill one Plant and the nefarious
Primeval Titan, but the other hundred and two power buried him in a shallow grave and the field narrowed to just myself and Intet. Take Possession took
away the Nevinyrral’s Disk option, and Fact or Fiction by Intet was split as Vendilion Clique and Brainstorm versus Gruul Turf, Capsize and
Venser, Shaper Savant, and given the presumably rough straits of his hand and my firm two counterspells left to work with it was Clique and Brainstorm
that was opted for. Intet set up his mana and spells very cautiously with Sylvan Library to work with, found a Mystical Tutor for Mana Drain and
Brainstormed into it, then passed the turn hoping to make something work out the way he planned. Cryptic Command was the trick of the hour but his mana
was just that little bit short, with only basic Island and basic Forest for the Mana Drain to protect his Cryptic, and a convoked Chord of Calling got
It would have been far more awesome if he had been able to Mana Drain, and I wish that he could, just for the sheer awesomeness of how the last turn
would have played out for the last time with Experiment Kraj. After resolving the Cryptic I would have blown the Nevinyrral’s Disk to wipe the
board clean, used Winding Canyons in my own beginning of attack step to play Thornling, grafted onto him from Llanowar Reborn and tapped Oran-Rief the
Vastwood for a +1/+1 counter, spent a green to give him haste and sent over the least-expected of all possible ways he might have thought he’d
die this turn for exactly lethal damage. Instead, he just died, but it’s still good to go out on a win. For its hard-fought efforts Experiment
Kraj earned me four New Phyrexia boosters, the first of which cracked a Batterskull I had been wondering how I was going to get for the several
Commander decks of mine that have wanted one, going out with a win and a smile on my face.
But if a Commander deck has to die, as this one did this weekend, it is for the very best of all possible reasons. This weekend’s release of the
five Commander decks turns everything on its ear, inspiring us with new possible deck designs and chasing us into color combinations we had not
previously been inspired to chase, with viable options at last besides Vorosh the Hunter and Numot the Devastator at the helm of some of the enemy
wedges and a new enemy-colored commander to consider for each of those as well, with several of those having had but a paltry few options before these
added another to the tally. Experiment Kraj dies not because it was a poor deck but because Edric and Damia ask me to take it in other directions and
inspire me to chase these new unknowns with the promise of new splendors on these foreign shores, and there is much to be excited about.
Let us have a look, then, at each of these Commanders, to see what inspirations can lead us down their path or what new possibilities they bring for us
Basandra is an interesting commander, in that she leads you down a very specific path. Certainly, Basandra does not seem as readily useful as some of
the other R/W Commanders, perhaps best typified by the ready-out-of-the-box strength of Argus Kos, Wojek Veteran at pumping the power of your plentiful
creature base. Basandra by her nature limits things to the point where only what is on the board can be used once attackers are declared, be it
on-table tricks or the occasional secret information of a morph creature. To that extent, she’s good at running interference: once you’ve
started to declare an attack, that attack is made only with known information, and you can be certain you will hit your target or at least be able to
figure out everything that could possibly happen once you’ve committed yourself to the fray.
Is Basandra as power-packed as Jor Kadeen, the Redeemer? No, by the looks of her. But where Argus Kos and Jor Kadeem both tell you how plentiful your
creatures should be if you want to get ahead in a fair fight, Basandra instead dictates terms to the opponent that affect the nature of these fair
fights, preventing the sudden appearance of unexpected blockers or something like Sudden Spoiling making a hash out of your attack. Basandra asks that
you focus on how you can use this limitation to gain advantage, making her a fairly beatdown Commander, and then you add her second ability: starting
fights. For one Red mana per creature, Basandra forces an opponent’s creatures to commit to an attack, and though she does not dictate where they
attack it is a simple fact that tapped creatures cannot block. Whether the creatures so provoked swing at you or go elsewhere, they won’t be
available for blocking duties, making Basandra well able to pick up some easy card advantage by taking out utility creatures like Withered Wretch that
can be forced to storm heedlessly into a fight they are unprepared to win, and closes the door on spells that could be used to save them.
Blue/Green is one of the favorite color combinations I’ve seen in Commander, as it has the best mana acceleration available to it (both
Sakura-Tribe Elder and Mana Drain) and a lot of synergy: the green spells make a bunch of mana at the cost of cards to do so, while the blue
spells spend the mana and replenish the pool of cards used to do so, meaning that once things start rolling they get harder and harder to stop and you
can do bigger and more potent things very quickly. Edric does two good things in that regard: he provides you with the potential to draw a considerable
number of cards, if you’ve built up some creatures to use on the attack, and he provides a clear incentive for the opponent to attack anyone but you if they want to get the card they could draw if they would only look elsewhere for a while.
There is good reason, then, that out of all the cards pre-selling out of the Commander decks it was Edric that commanded the highest price. Not only is
it distinctly possible he might break out into older formats where the norm is sixty cards instead of ninety-nine, but he is a potent Commander in a
potent and well-loved color combination, one which previously had only the comically weak (if interesting) Experiment Kraj and the
too-dangerous-to-live Momir Vig, Simic Visionary. Edric stands somewhere between these two, not so powerful and one-sided as Momir Vig that he has to
be killed at all costs and his owner attacked fairly relentlessly by anyone who has seen a deck of that sort get rolling in the past. And yet he can
very clearly reap you definite rewards just by his presence, and it simply happens that he offers benefits to everyone else while he is at it and seems so innocuous while he is doing it. That everyone attacking everyone else and leaving you more-or-less alone is a dangerous recipe for
your taking over the game is not to be underestimated, and Edric incentivizes exactly this sort of behavior, sending their creatures at everyone else
and only directing your fair share of their spells pointed your way but none of the beatings that are otherwise best sent elsewhere.
At first blush, Nin isn’t much to look like. After all, yes you can kill a creature every turn, but to do so you have to not only spend the mana
each turn but also let the creature’s controller draw an awful lot of cards. The second glance is a strong one, however, when it becomes clear
that Nin will only target an opponent who offers you a considerable alliance to make that gush of cards come forth in their direction, but otherwise
will be spent almost exclusively targeting your own B-team of creatures, be they Kher Keep kobold tokens or the occasional stray Goblin or Wizard. When
looked at just as a way to provide yourself with a rush of cards over and over again, and one that even can target itself repeatedly thanks to being
your Commander and thus being able to return to play even after killing itself, Nin becomes a lot more interesting both politically and as a means of
steady card advantage.
There is little I like more in Commander than a regular dose of extra cards, and you could say that my first article here on 99 Problems was a love song to
drawing extra cards. The more you draw, the better able you are to keep up with and eventually outpace your opponents, not just one of them but all of
them. Nin cares not the toughness of the creature, just how much mana you invest, providing an overfull grip of cards fairly reliably and providing
Red/Blue with better options than the underwhelming Tibor and Lumia and fairer options than Jhoira or Niv-Mizzet, either of which will have
you targeted for coordinated attacks by the rest of the table pretty much from the moment you show them in the command zone, lest a curious dragon take
out an entire table in one fiery rush of cards or a few Eldrazi be suspended for right after that Obliterate resolves. As with Edric, a fine balance of
power is present and yet held carefully within its own reasonable bounds, as neither is immensely threatening but either can pull you considerably
ahead if they are simply left unmolested for a few turns.
Skullbriar fires off the imagination, first with people who want to cycle Decree of Savagery on their Commander and have that effect stay permanently
for the rest of the game, then with people who want their opponent to give Skullbriar a try only to see what Black Sun’s Zenith has to say about
his future chances to impact a game. It’s easy to imagine Skullbriar grinding down inexorably to slowly but surely work up +1/+1 counters and
start ousting players from the game in just a swing or two, and starting this plan off early on thanks to the very low cost of the card making it a
very beatdown Commander. If anything, it’s the first truly beatdown Black/Green Commander, as there have been a reasonably large number of
options between Ravnica Block and Lorwyn Block but nonetheless these have tended to be slower, bigger, and provide some sort of slow and grinding
advantage, be it Sapling of Colfenor’s slow influx of cards or (more often) Savra, Queen of the Golgari’s Rock-like ability to grind out a
slow and steady advantage on the board trading your cards for more than their worth around the entire table.
Skullbriar doesn’t wait around. Not only is he a two-drop, but that two-drop has haste, meaning your opponent might have just a single land in
play when they take their first point of the inexorable 21, and the slow grind to considerable heft has begun. He doesn’t forget how big he was
the last time he was answered, unless you can return him somehow to their hand or tuck him into their deck, as those are the only two zones where his
prodigious memory for his previous accomplishments does not follow him. Black and Green Commander decks have maybe been a little beatdown by the cards
they’ve included, but previously only Doran allowed that color combination to be truly beatdown by design, and now Skullbriar gives us a true
two-color option for a similarly beatdown Commander, though perhaps one that focuses a little bit more on connecting with him than on
connecting with him and all of his friends.
I’ve been watching too much Game of Thrones, I know. I saw this Commander’s name and wished it was “Vish Khal” since that was how I
read it the first time and somehow became disappointed when upon re-reading this illusionary not-just-silent-but-invisible H dropped from sight. (And
yes, for my fellow purists, it would have been far better still if it was Khal Vish… we needn’t belabor the point too much further, do we?)
Vish Kal is nonetheless a potent Commander, even if he is a Kal whose braid has been cut before he died. Vish Kal is able to just own the board while
he is in play, essentially letting you carefully trade each of your creatures for an opponent’s for no mana. Add to this immense
board-controlling ability a huge flying creature with Lifelink that can pop out of nowhere to deal the requisite twenty-one points in one fell swoop
and you have a dangerous Commander, especially given some of the other cards you can play with Vish Kal’s themes of sacrifice for purpose like
the original Grave Pact or even the new flavor, Martyr’s Bond, alongside one of the best cards in Commander that goes under-utilized solely
because of how few decks are actually allowed to cast it, Debtor’s Knell.
Of the five two-color Commanders, Vish Kal gets me the most interested in
designing something for him, as I have always secretly wanted to build a Ghost Council of Orzhova deck and built something interesting that works with
sacrifice and a slight dose of lifegain, and Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter takes each of these suggested themes and amps them up past eleven and straight on
to twelve. Skullbriar can deal 21 in six hits, and gets ahead of himself by starting on turn two; Vish Kal can deal 21 in one hit, and unlike
Skullbriar who then has seven power and takes another three hits to kill a player, Vish Kal stays at 21 power when he turns around to kill the
next player in line. Sure, you have to feed him to get him to that monstrous size, but that’s not even hard to do if you try… both Black and
White already have strong token-creature themes, and Vish Kal can do truly disgusting things with underrated cards like Tombstone Stairwell working
alongside him, that being just another one of those awesome cards I have been trying to work into a Commander deck somewhere and which jumps to the
forefront of my mind as an excellent khalasar all in one card.
The three-color Commanders have been very carefully and cleverly designed against each other, as I expect it is no mistake that for each tricolored
wedge there is both one very beatdown Commander and one significantly more controlling Commander, widening the field from what used to be just the one
option for these wedges (well, the five Planar Chaos Dragon Legends plus Doran, the Siege Tower as the odd duck and second option for W/G/B) to allow
for both a definitive beatdown version of the color combination and a definitive controlling version as well, with a slower but more
card-advantage-oriented Commander at the helm of the deck.
Now this is a beatdown Commander I can get behind. He’s so freeform and highly contextual, and you can build him with a bit of a
Reanimator theme that sees you searching out specific food to put in your graveyard to assemble a dangerous Commander or just as the end-game closer in
a beatdown deck that uses what’s already died or what you’ve already killed to make a nasty monster. Both options are valid, and given the
Highlander nature of the format even the best of intentions to break Buried Alive in half with this guy will still see you playing the
â€˜fair’ half of this strategy a considerable portion of the time. Good thing, then, that when it comes to playing fair the Mimeoplasm is
allergic to the concept, as even when he is â€˜only’ being the best creature played (and killed) this game, he still comes down considerably heftier in size than that monster was, all at the low price of a bargain-basement five mana.
The Mimeoplasm inspires me to chase it with some very specific cards. Buried Alive is one of the more obvious options, but so too is Intuition very
interesting, either searching for three big things and not really caring which one the opponent lets you keep or specifically searching for just two
(oops, no third card to let you put in your hand!). Mystical Tutor, Vampiric Tutor, Personal Tutor, Imperial Seal if you’ve got one and
don’t mind throwing it at the problem, each can find that key Buried Alive, which by itself turns The Mimeoplasm into a nasty, nasty monster. As
far as three-card piles go, my favorite thoughts for Mimeoplasm duties are Kalonian Behemoth and Krosan Cloudscraper, plus perhaps Wonder or maybe even
Filth if you happen to have opponents with Swamps or Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth is in play to give everyone that unfortunate land type regardless of
their innate colors.
Unlike Body Double, you can’t recur the same creature over and over, but this wonderful mix of size and potency can be all sorts of different
things and always be awesome. Even in a deck that wants to try and do the same thing over and over again with the same key cards, The Mimeoplasm will
end up being all sorts of interesting combinations of things, both in the games where you don’t draw the key enablers like Buried Alive and in
the games where you did but that plan is answered before it finishes the game. But imagine a start like this particularly broken one: land, Sol Ring,
Lightning Greaves. Land, Buried Alive for It That Betrays and Krosan Cloudscraper, plus whatever third creature makes you happy, be it Filth or Wonder
or Brawn or what-have-you. Turn three, employ The Mimeoplasm as a ridiculously potent creature able to kill in one swing, equip Lightning Greaves, kill in one swing. Lord of Extinction happens to count its power while still in the graveyard, and can be a considerable boost once
the first few turns have passed in addition to just an awesome five-drop in your colors.
Slower kills should not be seen as any less inexorable, considering some of the support cards you would likewise play that previously hadn’t been
looked at too closely. Life’s Finale is a new addition from the most recent set and didn’t seem too impressive, since the sweeper
effect was obviously the main effect and looking through an opponent’s deck to hit them with a Buried Alive somewhat random and only really able
to gain some slight, incremental advantage as the cards they drew were a little less lively every turn. Maybe it could work alongside Geth or Puppeteer
Clique or Nezumi Graverobber, or you are the sort to put Animate Dead and Necromancy in your Commander deck and can easily profit by having fine
reanimation fodder appear for free attached to your sweeper. Suddenly, The Mimeoplasm makes this effect very important indeed, setting up a future
Mimeoplasm with bodies to eat for enormous size or highly specific bodies like Iona, Shield of Emeria to consume and copy. With The Mimeoplasm being
good fast and good slow, I’m very intrigued to see where it goes, and what other unintended interactions we stumble upon as we look more
closely at what we can do if we try.
Damia is where my heart is at, I should say that right up front. As a young gamer, back in college I played a variety of other games — Alien vs.
Predator, Vampire: the Eternal Struggle, and everyone in the college gaming group’s perennial favorite, Shadowfist. Shadowfist happened to have a
bit of an odd card-drawing mechanism, in that the hand size was six and at the start of each of your turns you were allowed to exile a card in your
hand and then draw up to your hand size, considerably different than Magic’s one-card-per-turn rule or Vampire’s rule of drawing a card
every time you play a card. It was essentially an unlimited-card rule, just doled out in time-controlled portions, and Damia has exactly that same sort
of an effect on your hand size: your draw for the turn can be between zero and seven cards, and the more cards you play the more cards you’re
She’s just a 4/4 for seven, but as a Commander with deathtouch she still has a little bit of rumble in her, if you need her to win a fight she
can do that too. And it might be a little bit hard to ensure that she’s in play unmolested during the beginning of your turn, so if you want to
consistently get paid off with the rush of cards she’s able to provide it might behoove you to build some elements into your deck to give her
Flash — be it my very favorite land, Winding Canyons, or another measure such as Leyline of Anticipation, which happens to hit on the other thing that comes to mind: the less each of your cards cost, the more of them you can play over and over again turn after turn, so Damia
can provide you an insurmountable advantage rivaled only in potential by the must-kill-on-sight Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur.
I have an Excel spreadsheet that is just a card-file of all the things I think I might want to play in a deck with Damia, and it has some cards I
frankly never expected I would have considered for inclusion in a Commander deck. Submerge, an old Legacy favorite, is probably a free removal spell
with fair regularity in Commander, and does not happen to care whether the person you are targeting is the person with the Forest. Better yet, cast in
response to a shuffle effect it’s almost as good as a true â€˜tuck’ effect like Hinder or Spin into Myth, since after all sooner or
later the opponent will shuffle one way or the other, so it will still do most of the same job of denying someone their commander when cast in response
to a fetchland or something similar. Dark Ritual is just a bad Sol Ring or Mana Crypt in this format, but when you don’t have to care about the
card disadvantage of burning a card for just the two mana once, suddenly the first time you cast Damia she only costs five, not seven, and you’ll
draw that replacement card almost immediately.
Anything that breaks the symmetry of paying full price for a full effect is something that starts to get bonkers with Damia. All three Pacts
you’re able to play in her colors are actually good, though I found I wanted too few green creatures to really want that Pact over say
Worldly Tutor, and Blue has plenty of things like Misdirection, Force of Will and Commandeer to play control at a breakneck pace just by spending cards
instead of mana, while any card with a Trap cost or better yet Suspend has to be considered very seriously just because of how readily Damia breaks the
symmetry of the draw phase when you set cards aside at breakneck speed. She doesn’t care when you pay for it, or when you get the effect, all she
counts is cardboard in your hand at the start of the turn and she gives you a steady replacement time and time again. Turn after turn I found the
biggest limitations actually came in that I could only play one land per turn, so Exploration and Sakura-Tribe Scout or Walking Atlas had reasonable
usefulness, and even the oft-mocked Terrain Generator could help get a glut of lands out of your hand and help you draw replacements promptly, as your
initial balance of approximately 40% mana required to get your deck running under the “draw one per turn” rule is suddenly horrifically
overbalanced in terms of lands drawn per turn versus lands able to be played in a turn, and even just a Wild Mongrel that you could discard lands to
uselessly might be welcome in order to keep the influx of spells coming. Usually I hate stuffing my Commander deck full of tutors, but when it
doesn’t actually cost you card advantage suddenly Vampiric, Worldly and Mystical Tutor are obvious auto-includes.
And returning to the peculiar nature of things you can do in this format, Damia is also the only Blue Commander who happens to have deathtouch,
allowing a sub-theme to be built in if you want it for an interesting overlap between the commander and the color of Trinket Mage, letting you search
up Viridian Longbow in Commander to turn your awesome card-draw commander into Visara the Dreadful as well while she’s at it.
Animar is the beatdown commander for this color combination, an awesome mix of power pumping and cost reduction that is very intriguing to consider.
Red and green are both good beatdown colors to begin with, and it was at one point in Standard the best strategy to take that naturally aggressive
color combination and splash the card-drawing power of Blue by means of cards like Deep Analysis and Fact or Fiction to that aggressive shell. Animar
takes us very far away from the shell we’ve come to see as familiar to us in the varied Intet, the Dreamer decks that have been played with fair
popularity for some time now, which tends to end up with a fistful of expensive spells and combo mechanisms, and while Animar can definitely help you
pay for big creatures before their time, it still takes a good balance of cheap creatures to put counters on him as well as big threats to cast fast
Unlike the other beatdown Commanders now coming to us for the first time, Animar is surprisingly durable in the face of removal, as protection from
white and from black covers an awful lot of the pinpoint removal you can expect to see in the format. His tendency to grow in size very quickly happens
to give him an edge up against one of the remaining colors, and last I checked Lightning Bolt was not a very commonly-played Commander card. Animar
makes me want to take advantage of his impressive cost reduction abilities in new and more interesting ways, with mana creatures like Sakura-Tribe
Elder alongside cheap card advantage creatures like Masked Admirers to help ramp up to bigger and bigger things. Suddenly, Palinchron is not merely a
free creature of considerable potency but also an accelerant, untapping all of your lands (maybe even ones you didn’t need to cast him!)
and putting another counter on Animar, letting you skip from seven to even higher reaches with just a little work.
With colorless mana taken care of and a significant profit coming from deploying all of these resources, suddenly cards like Glimpse of Nature or
Recycle are powerful ways to deploy an incredible amount of threats without overextending into a mass removal spell, and good old fashioned Skullclamp
can let you play old-school Affinity in an Animar deck if you have a considerable amount of colorless creatures as long as a few are fragile or you
have a sacrifice outlet like Greater Gargadon, until suddenly it’s Kozilek or Ulamog that is suddenly the free creature. â€˜Threats’
like Myojin of Seeing Winds and Slithermuse are powerful ways to recoup the card investment that brought all this power to the party, as might be
smaller effects like Mulldrifter who can cost only one blue mana for either the regular or the evoke cost if you put Animar to work.
While you’re at it, with the mana so easily provided for it’s time for another legend from these decks to pinch-hit, with Edris, Spymaster
of Trest able to pass the Ophidian ability along to all of your creatures, as can Coastal Piracy. Greater Good of course does nasty things to good
people, and considering that it doesn’t care whether it’s a regular mana cost or a kicker cost that you’re reducing, Citanul
Woodreaders can be two cards for two mana and Verdeloth the Ancient can do horrible, horrible things on the cheap.
Much like Animar, Riku of Two Reflections surely has a lot of attention on him, as U/G/R is a compelling color combination that captures the
imagination with its options and synergies. Riku is the â€˜controlling’ Commander for this wedge, but also has a fair share of combo
potential, with dreams of copying Time Stretches and having to figure out if it would in fact be Teeth and Nails that you are casting with entwine.
Just one use of Riku might be enough to take over the entire game, with some of the potent spells this color combination is able to field, but even the
â€˜fair’ uses of Riku can still see you copying Fact or Fiction and Beast Within for fun and profit, allowing you to control the board with
one-for-one removal against multiple opponents without running out of steam.
Focusing on spells, Riku has Forks for everybody, and would not be the first five-mana 2/2 to have a wide footprint in the format, reminiscent as he is
to me of his blue-green cousin Momir Vig, Simic Visionary. What Riku loves is spells and plentiful mana, and of course spells that make mana
like Cultivate or Farseek help out both early and late. The nearest strategic cousin to Riku, however, is Wort the Raidmother, but everybody knows a
color combination is just better when you add blue to it… and where Wort can be a token-based Commander that favors mostly permanents and
only a few spells to Conspire into, if you want to chase the dream of resolving two Warp Worlds in the same turn to bloat your board considerably while
shrinking the opponents’ board position for their lack of token creatures and relatively-normal spell count. Riku might like nothing better than
to have all spells to work with, and thus the sorts of spells you’re likely to see are going to work with this fact, even if they are
symmetrical… after all, the symmetry is broken by Riku’s ability, which you can have and they cannot take advantage of.
Suddenly, it seems sensible to consider anything that might double your mana available, even Heartbeat of Spring and Mana Flare. Certainly, Mana
Reflection is â€˜better’ because it only doubles your mana, but slower by enough that it might make sense to play these cheaper, symmetrical
versions just to push you faster and harder to the point where Riku starts copying spells and running away with things. And once you’re doing that, Early Harvest is a compelling addition, and if you start looking for combinations that can go into an Early Harvest / Stroke of Genius
shell you start finding things like Drift of Phantasms, Holistic Wisdom, and the ever-laughable-till-it-kills-you Eye of the Storm that can bend Riku
to a pure-combo approach.
Fair or foul, Riku of Two Reflections is quietly on my “watch” list, that being the list of Commanders you can reveal that cause me to
immediately mistrust your intentions and have to ask myself very carefully whether not bending as hard as I can to try and kill you (and recruit
everyone else to that task too!) might not just be the death of me. Part of that is just me being a worrywart, but part of that is a genuine compliment
as well, and while I don’t find myself drawn to chase and see what Riku has to offer (as I said, Damia has my heart…) I do
consider him a top specimen from this new batch.
Saproling love for everyone who wants to play a Saproling-themed deck, and unlike Thelon of Havenwood this Commander doesn’t forget the Planar
Chaos Thallids exist. Ghave is the B/G/W beatdown commander and can work to two purposes, making Saproling tokens that you can then eat for power or
sacrificing Ghave over and over to generate a token army… both directions people are happy to chase in Commander, and with different aspects needed
at different times based on what the opposition is playing. My first thoughts about Ghave were “oh look, a 5/5 for five… oh wait, Doran is a
5/5 for three.” Yes, Doran pushes you in a different direction, but he doesn’t have to push you into a â€˜toughness matters’
theme, he can just be part of an efficient beatdown curve that doesn’t care to focus on the power-warping ability. But Doran has never, in and of
his own abilities, turned that 5/5 into a 10/10… and if that is the size of creature you need to have, the first Ghave can cut himself to pieces to
make Saprolings and the second Ghave can then staple those pieces of his own corpse back onto himself, jumping him to 10/10. Add the ability
to sacrifice any other Saproling for a power bonus and suddenly the themes Ghave can pursue lead to interesting places.
Enter Doubling Season. Add just this one other card, in a color combination able to play both Idyllic Tutor and Enlightened Tutor alongside the regular
compliment of black tutoring power, and suddenly Ghave, Guru of Spores is a 10/10 for five, one who can spend mana to generate seemingly infinite
blockers and grow himself in the meantime. One counter off, two Saprolings, four counters on… does this have to go on for very long before the Guru
of Spores has overpowered the table either with his own might or his willing legion of sacrificial followers?
I’ve never wanted to play a Saproling deck before. It seemed silly, and just the kind of thing where you’d commit everything to the board
only to have your entire position evaporate in the face of a board sweeper or two. Sure, B/G/W is the traditional colors of â€˜The Rock’ as a
strategy, and has plenty of tools to grind back after board wipes, but when I play a grindy deck I don’t want to do it from the aggressive side
of the game, I’d rather grind from the control side of things and at least know when the board wipes were coming because they were mine in the
first place. But Ghave can be chased with a generic token theme, just using power pumpers and token generators without caring about tribe, and
I know these to be very successful, or chased with the tribe in mind and reward you as hard as possible by assembling Ghave into a two-swing killer
with only a few cards invested.
Shizo, Death’s Storehouse pushes in the direction of killing with Ghave, and Oran-Rief, the Vastwood pushes in the direction of swarming with the
tokens. Both can be free additions to your mana base, and with cards like Marshal’s Anthem able to work with both the token theme and provide the
recursion necessary to survive repeated sweepers that are the bane of creature decks there are plenty of ways to chase a deck design that can play
whichever way is right in the context of the game. Grave Pact and Martyr’s Bond are one-card board-control combos with Ghave, the kind of
lockdown that is very hard indeed for enemy creature decks to work their way out of, considering one of the important cards is the hardest-to-kill
permanent type in the format and the other is a commander that can even suicide himself in response to being tucked or stolen. With or without honest
Thallids, this is one fungus not to be underestimated, as a good design around Ghave will yield a surprisingly resilient beatdown deck.
Karador is one long card-advantage grind, slow and steady just like The Rock is supposed to be. Now, I love a slow and steady grind, and if you give me
a little graveyard recursion attached to a creature in this format I am going to take that football and run with it. Karador also adds an unusual
aspect to Commander, in that he is the only commander I am aware of that gets around the increasing cost attached to reusing your commander, since
cost-increase effects and cost-decreasing effects can end up negating each other and thus under normal circumstances Karador will end up keeping
himself pretty reasonably priced. Even the tenth time, he might still only cost just B/G/W.
My favorite class of permanents in commander are creatures that can build an army by themselves using some sort of internal recursion. Sheoldred,
Whispering One and Geth, Lord of the Vault are going to be top-shelf creatures as long as the format exists, in my mind, and Karador is quite similar
to Sheoldred in that he allows creature recursion at the rate of once per turn. I don’t mind paying the mana, I just want the ability, and so
like Sheoldred you are going to see Karador, Ghost Chieftain appearing in every deck able to cast him (and, well, “with creatures”) whether he is
the commander or not.
Karador asks you to play things like Buried Alive, like The Mimeoplasm does, but instead of building a leaky battleship that crumples in the face of a
mass removal spell and can’t be rebuilt, once it’s put in your graveyard Karador can play it over and over. Life’s Finale can’t
target the opponent to profit, but can still target yourself, as Damnation + Buried Alive, and thanks to Karador’s cost-reduction effect you can
reasonably expect to be able to cast him and a threat out of your graveyard in the same turn, and unlike The Mimeoplasm you can benefit from
fetching utility creatures. A control build can happily set up Sakura-Tribe Elder recursion for a few turns where a more beatdown deck would consider
this a waste of time when a threat could be found instead, and depending on your needs and desires either side of that can match your intentions and be
followed through in your design.
Nothing interests me more than evoking Shriekmaw each turn with Karador, as this easily hits my sweet spot in Commander, but thanks to the colors you
are allowed to play you can have this grindy effect with all sorts of different permanents you want to wear down, with Wispmares and adding in my quiet
love of trying to play Gate to Phyrexia as a board control card. But the fact of the matter is, Karador doesn’t care how the creature got there,
and so Karador can easily reward you for playing Survival of the Fittest and replacing your draw step with dredges of Golgari Grave-Troll to gain
access to more than one card per turn while the draw step only yields you one. And so long as Karador doesn’t care how, he might appreciate
working alongside a fair use of Hermit Druid in a Commander deck with as many as a dozen basic lands in it, letting each Hermit Druid activation toss
off as many as ten cards off the top of your deck while he does his thing, providing direct card advantage of the one sort while feeding Karador with
the other sort. Millikin can make mana and provide you a fraction of a card each turn, and both Mesmeric Orb and Altar of Dementia can be used to
provide self-milling that lets Karador access multiple new options each turn.
Of course, when you’re doing all of this work, your Lord of Extinction is going to be huge.
Kaalia is another one of those commanders that really get me thinking, asking the question of â€˜just what can you do?’ and coming
up with answers like pushing out fast Angels of Despair to both up the beatdown clock and provide a bonus effect while you’re at it. I’m
very glad Kaalia likes three different tribes, and would have been sad if she only focused on one of them, same as I am every time I used to get
excited about Hivis of the Scale but multiplied a thousand fold by the fact that each of her three colors has a different race of iconic flier to call
their own. She cares not, she’s not racist, she brings you flying to the party whether your wings are red or black or white.
There are plenty of potent creatures in Kaalia’s vast sway of influence, and it’s possible that even though she doesn’t limit
herself, you should consider doing so. If you focus on Dragons, after all, Kaalia can be bringing Kilnmouth Dragon to the party, whose amplify effect
brings not just a huge dragon but a powerful board-control element down much faster than it was ever meant to. Changelings can be recruited too, and
while it’s not impressive to get a free Taurean Mauler, it might be important to have creatures lower than the seven-drop on your curve
that count as the right creature type when asked. And even if you focus strongly on one creature type you’re still prone to include things that
count like Angel of Despair or Bogardan Hellkite to take advantage of their board control potential and Kaalia’s ability, or Akroma, Angel of
Wrath as just a powerhouse beatdown creature that happens to just sometimes come down entirely too soon.
Kaalia doesn’t pass my beatdown creature test, in that she asks me to overextend and doesn’t provide me a lot of ways to get cards back.
Blue’s best at it, and Green’s good too, so Animar got a pass for the strong card drawing, but Kaalia has just Black to work with for card
drawing and all the colorless cards that everyone else has access to, the Mind’s Eyes and Seer’s Sundials that can quietly help with card
recursion. But I shouldn’t beat up on Kaalia too much… after all, she’s the color of Debtor’s Knell, and with this tendency to
overextend with the nuttiest Goblin Lackey variant I hope to ever see still costing no mana whatsoever, cards like Second Sunrise and Ghostway can
still be called on to dodge mass removal, and since you are both black and white Cauldron Haze can likewise be put to work. Living Death’s nice
but anyone can do it… Patriarch’s Bidding, however, pays you back for your strict adherence to one of the three possible options instead of a
broad affiliation with many flavors of winged things, letting you call Angel, Demon or Dragon as best suits you and get them all back while the
opponent’s presumably tribal mishmash returns only a very few creatures to play. I for one have never had a Patriarch’s Bidding cast
against me that returned more than two of my own creatures to play, and Kaalia allows for plenty of options as directions to build your deck regardless
of which tribe you pick, meaning that an Angel-themed Kaalia deck will play significantly differently than a Demon-themed one or a Dragon-themed one,
making Kaalia an enticing inclusion in this because even after everything else there’s still so many directions to go with her that she seems to
be one of the most popular overall among my friends and local playgroup.
Lightning Greaves and haste effects are particularly delightful with Kaalia, as might be anything that could hunt up a specific creature and put it in
your hand, be it a traditional tutor as her black aspect allows or something narrower that yet might hit the right band for a lot of your options, like
transmuting Netherborn Phalanx. Oversold Cemetery and Kaalia are a one-two punch, and she probably works just fine with Nim Deathmantle and Mimic Vat
too, putting things into play at reduced cost and using these others to recur them even after death is one of the directions I’ve seen chased
that seems perfectly valid. And an especially-delightful combination to help avoid the problem of running out of cards and thus action in the face of
opposition is Dragon Mage, whom Kaalia can put into play tapped and attacking, and who happens to cast Wheel of Fortune every time he connects with the
Tariel reminds me of just how allergic I am to the word â€˜random,’ and how I prefer to know what I am getting out of a deal before I choose
to enter into it. On the face of things, then, Tariel is the control option of the wedge he shares with Kaalia and Oros, the Avenger… and
unfortunately that word â€˜random’ starts to make me wonder whether Oros might not be the better control commander, able to lay down a
withering haze of suppressing fire that keeps small creatures off the table turn after turn. What the word â€˜random’ actually means with
Tariel, however, is that you need to do the work to set him up. I’m okay with things on that terms, and so Tariel isn’t the schizophrenic
problem control card I worried he was at first, he’s just a commander that needs friends like Withered Wretch and Nezumi Graverobber, or even
greater measures like Bojuka Bog and Nihil Spellbomb, set up just in advance of murdering the creature you intend to steal.
Without doing the work to know what you’re getting, Tariel is a gambler’s commander. I’ve been learning how to play poker to some
reasonable degree through online websites and low-impact tournaments, mostly because I am still learning how to do the math quickly and setting it to
an intuitive computation instead of an active calculation, and poker has taught me considerably how it’s fine to play the odds or choose wisely
within an acceptable range of options. You don’t need to know exactly what you’re getting with Tariel, after all you’re getting
something for free, and with enough repetitions you’ll get everything, like it or not. You get to choose which opponent, and you get to choose
when; you don’t really need a whole lot more than that. But you can have it if you try: Rings of Brighthearth are an excellent addition
to Tariel’s seemingly random ability, allowing you to choose the same person or a different opponent for the ability. Thousand-Year Elixir does
not get very much love at all but is perfect for Tariel, granting him haste for his creature-stealing ability and a second shot at using him each turn,
and even just a Maze of Ith can work wonders by taking advantage of Tariel’s innate vigilance to get a free untap out of the deal and thus a
second creature each turn.
Hard work, not disappointment, that’s what Tariel asks of you. My innate distrust of the word random started to disappear when I realized
zero-mana abilities are really good on a commander, and ones that reward you for drawing the game out and provide warm bodies to
assist in exactly that task are the kind of battleships I love to build decks around. Tariel can even race his own Debtor’s Knell to the bottom,
if you can but find a way to use him over and over again, which are actually fairly plentiful if you but try. Umbra Mantle pumps your commander and offers additional repetitions of his ability, and as an equipment is tutorable by all the usual cards plus Godo, Bandit Warlord,
Stonehewer Giant, and, yes, Stoneforge Mystic. Seems we just can’t get rid of that darn Mystic no matter how hard we try, even banning it in
Standard can’t guarantee it might not be played at a FNM or PTQ!
Again we hit that pesky word, â€˜random.’ I like taking responsibility for my actions, I want to be able to make the choices, I don’t
want a commander who might just accidentally kill someone I didn’t mean to kill because the roll of a die came up awkwardly and that’s how
things work. A lot of things conspired to try and make me hate Ruhan of the Fomori… but then I gave up and learned to love the bomb.
Ruhan is a four-mana 7/7, and as your commander he kills in three swings so long as he connects. It doesn’t matter if those three swings are
consecutive, it doesn’t matter if those three swings are intentional, he just cares if he got through. As a beatdown Commander, Ruhan asks you
just to fill your deck with efficient creatures and swing hard, backing things up from time to time with the occasional counterspell or taking out
problems with efficient removal, and that aggressive reckless abandon is what you start to like about him. If you start with the idea that you’ll
have to kill everyone eventually, and apologize once in a while when you attack somewhere you didn’t mean to, Ruhan will work out fine: at the
end of the game he always attacks the last opponent, and the flow of a game can be decided very easily by the rest of your creatures attacking
as you direct. Not every decision has to be intentional, so long as most of them are you can get away with the rest of things, and once in a while
you’ll “get lucky” and roll an attack at the person you wanted to attack anyway.
A 7/7 for 4 is just huge stats, but without evasion or trample you only get so much bang for your buck, as you’ll be too readily reminded the
first time a token creature blocks. Tenza, Godo’s Maul happens to bring that to 10/10 trampler at a very attractive price, again findable with
Stoneforge Mystic and all those friends, and the evasion can be acquired by Wonder or a variety of other means, up to and including a variety of Swords
to grant protection from numerous colors that would likely fill out a beatdown deck of this color combination anyway. Once we’re attaching
equipment I of course start to want Sunforger, and that brought the question of whether Master Warcraft could force Ruhan to attack the right person
instead of just the selected person, and unhappily that answer was no… but that won’t necessarily stop Sunforger from being profitable
anyway, with both Oblation and Chaos Warp as options in the same deck and enabling you to turn that Stoneforge Mystic into two disabled commanders (and
thus potentially crippled decks). What you need, then, is time for Ruhan of the Fomori to keep punching until he hits the right person, and
for that a little light countermagic goes a long way to keep problems off your back.
Remand is the go-to beatdown counterspell, so easy to keep up and free to draw you a card while you’re at it, but Arcane Denial and Dream
Fracture both do that job without drawing any ire, since you take away their spell but offer some recompense: it’s noting personal, let’s
both draw, it’s not my fault Ruhan picked you, he’ll pick someone else next turn. Cryptic Command is the beatdown counterspell wet dream,
as proven by the fact that I spent an entire Extended season trying to be able to cast both Wild Nacatl and Cryptic Command in the same deck, and
unfortunately there are archives somewhere on a team forums bulletin board that can attest to this fact, able to clear blockers and protect your
threats while also recouping you that ever-important card.
Another card I happen to think might work quite well for Ruhan is Molten Disaster, another card I keep trying to find a home for based on the sheer
potential I see within it. Ruhan attacks all equally, or at least equally randomly, and just dishing out damage at a rapid clip and keeping the
opposing life totals relatively balanced (and you ahead) is a recipe for success with Molten Disaster. As an uncounterable direct damage spell (save by
corner cases like Decree of Silence or the luckiest Counterbalance in the world) it can oust an entire table of opponents if you’ve spread damage
around equally enough, and even without killing everyone it can just kill a person or two and really narrow down who is next to get hit by
Ruhan of the Fomori, all while also getting rid of a few small creatures that might have had the audacity to block him.
Sometimes, sheer brute strength wins the day, and Ruhan has that in spades. Not the biggest brain, but plenty of punch to make up for it, and figuring
out how to go with the flow and work down the opposition is a talent well worth cultivating and which Ruhan requires even more than any other commander
I have ever seen.
And then there was one.
Zedruu the Greathearted is already in a Commander deck of mine, taking over for Numot in the R/W/U Sunforger
control deck I had previously written about. I underestimated Zedruu the first time I saw him, thinking him just some campy creature and
imagining people trying to use his Donate ability to give people Illusions of Grandeur or other self-destructive permanents, and envisioned a
locked-down board state with Zedruu, Bronze Bombshell and Nim Deathmantle creating an endless cycle of screaming explosions as enemies are handed joy
buzzer after joy buzzer much to their detriment.
On the second pass through, I asked myself just how much fun could be had chasing the notion of handing people things, and realized that Death by
Dragons hands opponents dragon tokens that you nonetheless own, and Hunted Phantasm passes along faerie tokens that you would get to gain life for and
draw cards off of. Still at â€˜cute’ but starting to get closer to what’s actually going on. Then I tried to hand somebody a basic
land, and I “got it.” Oh. Zedruu’s just sort of a ridiculous card drawing engine, you don’t want to hand people things that explode,
you want to hand them things they can’t get rid of and you’ll draw over and over for doing so.
You can still hand them things that explode. It’s okay. We forgive you. (It’s hilarious.)
However, suddenly Trinket Mage gets you the last Trinket Mage target anyone had ever contemplated wanting to get in any format ever, Darksteel Relic.
Costs nothing, can’t kill it, catch! Good luck with that! Do this too many times and your deck is full of cards that just say “plays on
table,” a necessary asset of course but not one that is conducive to winning the game if Zedruu is kept off the table, so what it really suggests is
that you’ll want to have ways to put extra lands on the table, and maybe ways to give opponents things that doesn’t hurt you in so doing.
Gilded Drake comes to mind as a solid way to give Zedruu his +1 while still doing something useful, as does Chromeshell Crab, and Death by Dragons is
still a perfectly serviceable card: you get something out of it, it’s just someone else gets picked on.
Zedruu doesn’t require a deck be built around him, but being mindful of his abilities can still help, and like with Damia this can be as simple
as trying to find ways to put extra lands into play on the cheap. Terrain Generator and Walking Atlas can both assist, not that they’re
necessarily the most compelling of cards, but just surviving additional turns can help you put lands into play, so a preponderance of sweepers plus the
ability to play Zedruu again with flash will prove instrumental in getting him up and running, and as you might expect from a card-advantage commander,
you don’t need to get that rush of cards more than just a few times before you can run away entirely with a game, and getting paid twice by
Zedruu will pull you ahead: once pays you back for your investment, twice reaps the rewards, and after that is just gravy as you bury the opponent in
cards. The number of ways to get rid of a basic land under your own control that can be commonly found in decks is vanishingly small, and so a manabase
a little bit heavier than usual in the land department (since you plan to hand them away) and with a reasonable preference for basic lands will let
Zedruu work for you very easily by himself, no other combos necessary, just “do X, draw cards!”.
Worthwhile inclusions not often seen in other builds would include Gamble, to get back permanents that have been invested but which might be best
served back on your own side of the board for a while, and Thieves’ Auction, able to mix up the board to such a considerable degree while still
enabling you to play your own spells, can both do good work… and work well together, at that. While you’re intentionally disadvantaging
yourself by handing your lands off to other players, Land Tax can return you some of that card advantage and Oath of Lieges can take the heat off,
giving you back a land per turn while Zedruu ensures that someone, somewhere has more lands than you to trigger it. But as I said, you don’t have
to work hard with Zedruu to reap the rewards of easy card advantage. And if you want to be totally mean, Zedruu can always generously donate a Celestial Dawn to a non-white mage!
— s_mckeown @ hotmail.com
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