A Fair Rafiq

Join Sheldon as he builds a Rafiq of the Many deck that aims to make use of its commander’s abilities while being a deck people look forward to playing against!

Let’s face it—when people reveal their commanders and someone is playing Rafiq of the Many, there are many groans. Everyone knows they have to be worried about getting killed with commander damage on turn 4 or 5. It tends to be a deck that controls the early tempo of the game, demanding that it be answered or else. In short, for folks who want a slightly longer game, Rafiq is one of those "maybe shouldn’t play it" commanders. Or is it?

I don’t want to explore how broken Rafiq can be since that ground has already been covered, but rather I want look into what a fair Rafiq deck might look like. How do we make use of our commander’s abilities while still make a deck that people look forward to playing against? That’s the million dollar question. As I’ve done a few times before, I’m going to take you through my thought process as it develops. We will in essence be building this deck together.

The first thing on the agenda is what to avoid. Voltron style builds are right out since that’s the majority of what I see with Rafiq. No infect and no multiple combat steps. I don’t want to make it a Good Stuff.dek either, although some favorites will certainly sneak in. After that most everything is on the table, but we’ll see if we can avoid obvious choices like Prophet of Kruphix and Seedborn Muse.

Next is thinking about how to use Rafiq’s abilities. We’ll still leverage both exalted and double strike, so we’ll consider creatures that are good attacking alone. Creatures with some combination of protection and hexproof make sense since the biggest problem with attacking with a single creature is being on the bad end of Condemn or Swords to Plowshares.

Since Mythic Bant was my go-to deck when it was Standard legal, I want to take at least one page from that book: Sovereigns of Lost Alara. Bringing along Eldrazi Conscription might be the meanest thing the deck does. If so, then I think it’s still reasonably fair. Since Auras may be a thing, maybe we also let Bruna, Light of Alabaster join the team. We’ll leave development of that idea on the shelf for a minute while we go back to exalted.

There are 26 cards with exalted in our color identity. Noble Hierarch helps with a little mana acceleration and isn’t a dead card later. Qasali Pridemage provides some control. Battlegrace Angel has a good exalted trigger. Sublime Archangel gives us super exalted. Those four are definitely in. Frontline Sage and Cathedral of War go on the maybe list, with the latter a strong candidate, but we’ll look at the land base before we do that. Although it doesn’t have anything to do with exalted, Bow of Nylea will make someone think twice before they block, and one of its abilities lets us reuse our stuff.

I’d like a protection suite of some kind for the creatures. The superstar in that category (since we know we’re going to eventually add Avacyn, Angel of Hope to the list) is Sigarda, Host of Herons. The other major players here are Asceticism and Privileged Position. While we’re regenerating, we might as well add Yavimaya Hollow. Ring of Evos Isle is nicely priced and will give the right creatures a bonus. We’ll have to consider how to best use those +1/+1 counters (Jenara, Asura of War? Glen Elendra Archmage?). Some combination of Ghostway, Rootborn Defenses, and Faith’s Reward is a start to save ourselves from sweeper effects. Finally, Tawnos’s Coffin can save a creature and the Auras on it, so in it goes.

There are so many good Auras that it will be hard to choose. We’re not going to overcommit to the Bruna strategy, so we’ll look at adding seven to ten of them. Shield of the Oversoul and Steel of the Godhead are first picks. Angelic Destiny seems pretty saucy as well. Umbras are also fine enchantments to both boost the creatures and protect them. People might get a little nervous about Bear Umbra, but I think we’ll run with it anyway as well as Felidar Umbra. I’d like to consider Crab Umbra too because I want to think about inspired. Actually, let’s head that direction.

We’ll play Opposition so that we can both tap our own creatures to take advantage of inspired and get potentially awkward (for us) blockers out of the way. Arbiter of the Ideal is a medium-sized creature with a good inspired trigger. God-Favored General will give us more creatures to Opposition with (okay, Opposition is making it tough to not play with Prophet and Seedborn, but we’ll continue to fight the good fight). Sphinx’s Disciple looks good, but I think it’s a little too pricey.

Next up are the big creatures that will do the battling. Plated Slagwurm is nice and beefy. Woodfall Primus and Terastodon are good for both attacking and utility. Hydra Omnivore is a nice way to spread the wealth. Pelakka Wurm gives us life and replaces itself if it dies. Angelic Arbiter makes people have to think about whether they want to battle or cast spells. That’s enough hugeness for now, although there may be a few more slots available later.

We need a little bit of a ramp suite. Rampant Growth, Courser of Kruphix, Wood Elves, Oracle of Mul Daya, Explosive Vegetation, Skyshroud Claim (or Ranger’s Path), Solemn Simulacrum, and my new favorite Seedguide Ash all make some sense. The creatures help with making Opposition stronger, so I’d rather have more of them than spells. The final addition to the ramp suite is Karametra, God of Harvests, which also goes along with the next thing I want to hit: the Gods.

Maybe it’s because they’re still shiny and new, but I like all of them. We’ll use the ones that fit in the deck. Ephara, God of the Polis helps us with card draw. Nylea, God of the Hunt aids our attackers and may offer up some final strike capability. Thassa, God of the Sea can get us to alpha strike capability. Since Ajani, Mentor of Heroes (who is so God like that he’s going here) and Kruphix, God of Horizons have already been officially spoiled, we’ll add them to the list as well. Let’s avoid other Journey to Nyx cards since then we’ll have some new toys if we want to update the list in a few weeks after we see what’s working and what’s not.

We need to think about some card draw. We’re playing G/U, so our old friend Coiling Oracle will make an appearance. Kiora, the Crashing Wave kind of goes here, although I seriously doubt this deck starts releasing Krakens. Tamiyo, the Moon Sage absolutely goes here. Bident of Thassa and Coastal Piracy will keep cards coming when we battle (note that there’s nothing that says we have to use exalted all the time). I considered Edric, Spymaster of Trest, but I really hate giving cards to other people. We’ll want some spell-based card draw in case a game we’re in is hostile to creatures. Urban Evolution, Jace’s Ingenuity, and Harmonize (or Concentrate) should get it done. We’ll avoid any of the Jaces since they’re kind of everywhere. We’ll put Arcanis, the Omnipotent on the maybe list should there be room.

We’ll need some board control, both to save us from giant lethal attacks and to be able to hit a reset button in case things get out of hand. Dedicating six or seven slots makes sense here. Wrath of God, Austere Command, Akroma’s Vengeance, and Planar Cleansing will be our big resets, plus we’ll add Terminus for tricky commanders. Turnabout is a powerful hidden gem that might enable us to take advantage of inspired and Opposition. In a pinch it’ll tap down an attacking team.

We’ll pass on Cryptic Command since I’m playing it in nearly every other blue deck. Aetherize is great when an army of tokens is attacking, and remember that during the end of combat step creatures are still attacking. This means you can let someone else take a pile of damage and still bounce the attacking team. At least one Fog effect is required. I think I want to go with Tangle. Spore Cloud has more potential LOLZ, but we’ll go with the lower mana cost one here.

Space is getting tight, and we still need a few things. Getting back stuff from our graveyard—especially the enchantments—will be important. There are enough of them to justify Replenish. I’d like Sun Titan simply because I like the card, but it doesn’t seem like there’s all that much value in it with this particular deck. The major reason I’d go with Sun Titan would be to recur the only piece of graveyard hate we’ll pack: Tormod’s Crypt. It’s a little good stuffy, but I’m giving in.

With two spots left, Prophet of Kruphix and Seedborn Muse are Siren’s Calling my name, but we’re going to go with some more utility. Cards that come to mind which skate the edge of the good stuff line include Cyclonic Rift; Kozilek, Butcher of Truth; Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre; Aura Shards; and Return to Dust. The latter is highly valuable because it exiles things and people besides us are going to play the Gods. Looking at cards that exile things turned up Krond the Dawn-Clad. Exile also got me to Lieutenant Kirtar, which can come back via Sun Titan.

Unfortunately I lost count somewhere along the way, and we have 64 cards. We’ll need to trim two of them to get back to 62. Ring of Evos Isle is a reasonable cut since there aren’t that many blue creatures in the deck. We can afford to cut one piece of control, so we’ll do away with Austere Command. I’m playing it in a bunch of other decks, so it’s the obvious one to get rid of.

The land suite will be pretty much what you’d expect. I’m only going to put in the lands I actually have. That means no original dual lands (Tundra, Tropical Island, Savannah) because I don’t have any left—they’re in other decks. The deck looks like it will run pretty smoothly on mostly basics anyway, and we’ll add the cheaper fetches to smooth things out. Cathedral of War should find a spot here as well as Mystifying Maze. Then we’re off to the races.

Rafiq of the Many
Sheldon Menery
0th Place at Test deck on 04-17-2014

The deck should provide some interesting gameplay. Since there aren’t too many cards that are specifically designed to go together, you’ll have adaptability and flexibility. You won’t hold too many cards waiting for the right time to play them. Eldrazi Conscription is just as good on Plated Slagwurm as it is Sovereigns of Lost Alara. It’s all about having beefy creatures and attacking with one of them. Like I mentioned earlier, there will likely be situations in which attacking with multiple creatures is a better strategic choice. Unlike the narrow Rafiq-based decks, you’ll have that option.

Like with any other Commander deck, you also have a great number of possible cards to consider. Here are a few that come to mind:

Akroma’s Memorial: A fistful of useful abilities (haste being perhaps the best) that combine to make all your creatures quite dangerous.

Angelic Overseer: Rafiq is a Human, so you’d have an indestructible flier.

Copperhoof Vorrac: Kind of goes along with Opposition, although it doesn’t have any native evasion abilities.

Crusading Knight: Will get ridiculously large when someone drops Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth.

Dauntless Escort: You probably won’t put too many enchantments on it, but if you’d rather have a creature than a spell like Rootborn Defenses, DE is your man. Rhino. Whatever.

Daybreak Coronet: If it’s good enough for the Pro Tour, it’s good enough for me.

Dueling Grounds: If you’re only attacking with one creature, you might as well limit everyone else as well. You could create the same effect asymmetrically with Crawlspace.

Keep Watch: Another of my hidden gems. This card has never failed to draw far more cards than its cost would suggest. My dream play would be to cast it at the end of a combat in which I’m not involved and draw into Aetherize. That’d be worth the cool play point.

Kitsune Mystic: A card with many possible shenanigans once you get it flipped. See also Crown of Ages. Also also see Simic Guildmage. One more time with Aura Finesse (and it’s a cantrip!).

Knight Exemplar: Knight tribal? Is it worth it just for Rafiq?

Knight of the Reliquary: Probably more of a move into Knight tribal and adding fetch lands, which can get expensive.

Mirror Strike: You only have to cast this once to make people nervous about battling you.

Overbeing of Myth: Reasonable-sized creature most of the time that gives you excellent card drawing.

Plea for Guidance: I’m going tutorless, but I don’t think one or two will hurt. Being able to pull those Gods out of the deck and into your hand is pretty cool.

Prophet of Kruphix / Seedborn Muse: You know you want to.

Sunscape Battlemage: Another hidden gem, but I’m already playing it in my Phelddagrif deck. The combination of kicker abilities makes is highly useful.

True Conviction: Double your chances of your creatures having double strike and pile some lifelink on top to boot.

Umbra Mystic: Making all your Auras into totem armor might mean rejiggering which enchantments are in the deck, but it’d be a cool thing that no one else is doing.

As far as I’m concerned, this is what a fair Rafiq deck looks like. Let me know if you agree or disagree. Take it, use it, adapt it, and tell me how you’re doing with it. I think it will be fun to play and challenging enough to get the most mileage out of that you’ll want to keep going back to play it again.

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