Modern Horizons previews kicked off with a bang for Commander fans—Morophon, the Boundless, a very cool changeling with all sorts of fun tribal implications that I wrote about last week. I was happy to see such a cool Commander card in a set pitched towards Modern, but as the previews kept rolling, more and more cool legendary creatures let us all know that Modern Horizons is not just for competitive Modern players. Not by a long shot!
Two legends in particular caught my eye: Urza, Lord High Artificer and Yawgmoth, Thran Physician, two iconic characters from Magic’s long, deep history.
When Urza was previewed, word on the street was that Urza was way too overpowered for Commander, and any decks built around Urza couldn’t help but be broken in half. My opinion was that you could make a potent but not broken Urza deck if you merely refrained from putting in cards like Paradox Engine that would lead to generating unlimited mana that you could then sink into Urza himself to cast your entire library.
I started sketching out a preliminary list to write about here until I saw the pre-sale price was around $40. When it comes to the actual commanders I pick to write about, I do my best not write about ones that could be difficult for an average Magic collector to obtain. While my decklists are far from budget, I figure most of the time any of the 99 cards that are out of a reader’s budget can often be swapped out for a more wallet-friendly option. That’s not going to be true for the commander card. So, I decided to hold off on Urza to see if maybe the price might eventually come down to a more affordable level. I see now that it’s preselling for $55—yikes!
Then I thought maybe I’d write about Yawgmoth—he seems like a really cool card to design a deck around, quite strong without being too insane. Unfortunately for the budget-conscious, he’s currently selling for $35. I guess that’s what happens with mythic legends from a set that’s going to be retailing at more than your regular booster price.
Lucky for us, there are other non-mythic legends worth writing about, and one in particular caught my eye as being particularly cool—Ayula, Queen Among Bears!
Now, there have been Bear cards printed in Magic sets ever since Alpha, with the printing of Grizzly Bears.
2/2 creatures for two mana became a baseline for a creature that was borderline playable back in early days of Magic, and so any 2/2 creature for two mana was referred to as a “Grizzly Bear” and later just shortened to “Bear.” And while there have been a lot of “Bears” printed over the years that weren’t creature type Bear, there were a fair number of cards that were actual Bears. To the point that, eventually, Commander fans started clamoring for some sort of tribal support for Bears, and in particular a legendary Bear to lead the tribe.
We eventually got one!
Unfortunately, as cool a card as Goreclaw is, it is not in any way a suitable commander for a tribal Bear Commander deck. Thankfully, Wizards R&D kept an eye out for a suitable place to deliver a true Bear commander, and boy howdy did they ever!
Ayula is satisfying on so many levels. As a two-mana 2/2 it is truly a “Bear,” and it has abilities that care about Bears. And they’re good abilities too, patching two weaknesses that a Bear deck would otherwise have to deal with—having Bears that are too small to really impact the battlefield, and being very light on creature removal.
Now, one thing I needed to decide was how pure a Bear deck I wanted to be. Could I include non-Bear creatures that might be otherwise Forest-related that could provide some added utility? And what about Equipment and Vehicles—would I be okay to have my Bears pick up an Heirloom Blade or crew a Smuggler’s Copter? I decided that, in order to maximize Ayula’s ability, I’ll keep all the creature types limited to just Bear creatures – including changelings. Because playing a Bear deck is already locking yourself into a relatively low-power creature type, I’ll be okay playing some Equipment cards. I will however steer clear of Bears driving Vehicles.
Let’s get brewing!
What’s kind of surprising is that we’ve got a ton of actual Bear creature cards to fill out our deck, including a few green changelings. While there aren’t too many creatures that will get a discount from Goreclaw, we will definitely be able to make use of the trample and stat boost with a few extra +1/+1 counters from Ayula. I love having Chameleon Colossus here: it makes a prime target for +1/+1 counters from Ayula, which makes its activated ability even scarier, and it’s also a great candidate for fighting, especially black creatures.
The new Modern Horizons card Ayula’s Influence is sweet, and since my mana curve is quite low, I’m looking forward to converting extra lands in hand into 2/2 Bear tokens at instant speed. Bearscape is an old-school card that works a little more slowly but gets the job done too. Caller of the Claw isn’t technically a Bear, so it bends my rule a little bit, but I figure the odds are pretty good that it will enter the battlefield with quite a few Bears attached and so it makes a pretty good exception.
Door of Destinies is a clutch card here, since it will eventually make even the smallest of your small Bears into threats. I really like Heirloom Blade here, since it makes any Bear a threat and will pretty easily replace itself with another Bear that should be easy enough to cast and equip.
Pump Up the Bears, Pump ‘Em Up
Pumping up our relatively small Bears is a priority and we’ve got a lot of good options. One of the best is Beastmaster Ascension if we’re able to get in some attacks to build up the quest counters. I also thought the oft-forgotten Muraganda Petroglyphs might do some work here, since so many of the Bear creatures don’t have abilities. Vitalizing Wind can be a brutal surprise for any opponent who thought they were facing down a handful of 2/2 creatures.
Blackblade Reforged is mostly just for Ayula, but because the casting cost of most of our creatures is so cheap, paying full retail on the equip cost is probably going to be just fine sometimes.
Green has some good removal options for enchantments and artifacts, so I’ve included some of them here, including the stellar new Modern Horizons card Force of Vigor. Song of the Dryads and Beast Within expand the selection of permanents beyond what green is typically capable of, and I figure that Blast Zone can charge up higher than two and potentially leave much of my own battlefield presence unscathed.
If there’s one thing that green is vulnerable to, and Bears in particular, that would be fliers, so I decided to include Raking Canopy to help with that.
My mana curve is incredibly low, so mana ramping isn’t of vital importance in this deck as it typically is in Commander. Still, having some is worthwhile. In particular, Mind Stone and Treasure Map can be used for other resources too.
I was originally thinking I’d include some planeswalkers in this deck but I didn’t see very many that looked like they would play nicely with Bear tribal, so I decided to just go with The Immortal Sun instead. If I can draw Life from the Loam that’s going to do some great work here: getting back lands for Ayula’s Influence, getting back Blast Zone and other utility lands, clearing off the top of your deck with Dredge to get a fresh peek with Sylvan Library, and getting back cycling lands.
I’ll round things off with a few key cards. Heroic Intervention is clutch when so many of my cards have relatively low power, so keeping as many of them on the battlefield will be key. Blade of Selves does a great job at creating multiple copies of the equipped Bear so you can get a bunch of triggers off Ayula. And doubling your Ayula triggers with Panharmonicon is just good, clean living.
Sweet deck! But wait, there are too many cards. I’ll start by looking at our mana curve:
Converted Mana Cost
Number of Cards
22 + commander
7+ / X
71 total cards plus 38 lands equals nine cards too many, so we need to make some cuts! Let’s see what we can trim, starting with the top of our curve.
Zendikar Resurgent is a great card that’s not going to be bad in this deck, but I feel that it’s not really going to be doing the heavy lifting in this deck like it does in other decks. With the tribal synergy cards, you can get a lot of card advantage already without such a big mana investment. I like Storm the Citadel but I feel that it’s going to be tough in a deck like this without too many evasive creatures. Muraganda Petroglyphs is a card you almost never see and it seems like a good inclusion for a deck filled with a bunch of Bears with no abilities, but I’ve got other cards that boost our team that won’t get turned off if we give our creatures trample with Goreclaw or flying with Eldrazi Monument.
Despite the flavor win, I don’t think Awaken the Bear packs enough punch to warrant a coveted three-mana slot in the deck. I don’t think I want to trade out card draws to activate Words of Wilding, and I’m skeptical that we’ll have eight power consistently enough to activate the formidable ability.
I don’t see having too many really large Bears to warrant the strive ability of Setessan Tactics, so I cut this fight card and decided to keep the others. I really like the overload mode on Scale Up, as turning our typically 2/2 creatures into 6/4 seems like an incredible deal for six mana but I’m concerned that changing the creature type into a Wurm could prove problematic in some situations.
For the last cut, Forest Bear gets the boot for being a very expensive and difficult-to-acquire card from Portal: Three Kingdoms.
Okay, so here’s how the deck ended up:
- 1 Grizzly Bears
- 1 Balduvian Bears
- 1 Spectral Bears
- 1 Caller of the Claw
- 1 Bear Cub
- 1 Pale Bears
- 1 Striped Bears
- 1 Werebear
- 1 Ashcoat Bear
- 1 Changeling Titan
- 1 Woodland Changeling
- 1 Chameleon Colossus
- 1 Game-Trail Changeling
- 1 Runeclaw Bear
- 1 Adaptive Automaton
- 1 Ulvenwald Bear
- 1 Druid's Familiar
- 1 Alpine Grizzly
- 1 Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma
- 1 Vivien's Grizzly
- 1 Mother Bear
- 1 Webweaver Changeling
- 1 Strip Mine
- 18 Forest
- 1 Slippery Karst
- 1 Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers
- 1 Tranquil Thicket
- 1 Winding Canyons
- 1 Mikokoro, Center of the Sea
- 1 Miren, the Moaning Well
- 1 Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
- 1 Opal Palace
- 1 Myriad Landscape
- 1 Arcane Lighthouse
- 1 Blighted Woodland
- 1 Mirrorpool
- 1 Sea Gate Wreckage
- 1 Desert of the Indomitable
- 1 Scavenger Grounds
- 1 Path of Ancestry
- 1 Arch of Orazca
- 1 Emergence Zone
- 1 Blast Zone
- 1 Rancor
- 1 Sylvan Library
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Vitalizing Wind
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Kamahl's Summons
- 1 Mind Stone
- 1 Bearscape
- 1 Grizzly Fate
- 1 Life from the Loam
- 1 Deglamer
- 1 Door of Destinies
- 1 Raking Canopy
- 1 Beastmaster Ascension
- 1 Eldrazi Monument
- 1 Bear Umbra
- 1 Beast Within
- 1 Triumph of the Hordes
- 1 Prey Upon
- 1 Bow of Nylea
- 1 Unravel the Aether
- 1 Obelisk of Urd
- 1 Song of the Dryads
- 1 Evolutionary Leap
- 1 Blade of Selves
- 1 Seasons Past
- 1 Panharmonicon
- 1 Heroic Intervention
- 1 Vanquisher's Banner
- 1 Kindred Summons
- 1 Herald's Horn
- 1 Heirloom Blade
- 1 Treasure Map
- 1 The Immortal Sun
- 1 Blackblade Reforged
- 1 Titanic Brawl
- 1 Savage Swipe
- 1 Force of Vigor
- 1 Ayula's Influence
What do you think? Are there any cards I’ve overlooked? And if you see any new cards from War of the Spark or Modern Horizons that should find a home here, let me know!
Oh, by the way, I got a token card included in the next series of Star City Games Personality Tokens, currently available through the end of June!
I am thrilled and honored to get my mug immortalized on this awesome Matrix-inspired token card. Go check out this link to find out how you can get your hands on some! And if you’re able to come attend the
Do me a solid and follow me on Twitter! I run polls and get conversations started about Commander all the time, so get in on the fun! Make sure to check in to learn about some giveaways I’ll be doing with some pretty sweet Commander cards out of my own collection, tied to this weekend’s Commander Celebration!
Below I’ve got links to decks I’ve written about going back to January 2017. If you want to read the associated article, just put “Bennie Smith” and the commander name into Google and it should pop right up. I’ve written a lot about Commander — and Magic in general — so if you want to explore further, the Star City Games article archives have my articles all the way back to January 2000!
Commander Compare & Contrast
Zedruu, the Greathearted with Emma Handy
Nahiri, the Lithomancer with Anthony Alongi
Feldon of the Third Path with The Professor
Why You Should Commander Like Me
War of the Spark
God-Eternal Rhonas, God-Eternal Oketra, Storrev, Devkarin Lich, Nicol Bolas Tribal, Feather, the Redeemed, Massacre Girl, Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion
The Haunt of Hightower, Teysa Karlov, Prime Speaker Vannifar, Rakdos, the Showstopper, Nikya of the Old Ways, Lavinia, Azorius Renegade, Judith, the Scourge Diva
SCG CON Winter 2018
Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow, Grothama, All-Devouring; Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis; Feldon of the Third Path; Ramos, Dragon Engine; Inalla, Archmage Ritualist; Prossh, Skyraider of Kher; Brago, King Eternal
Guilds of Ravnica
Niv Mizzet, Parun, Emmara, Soul of the Accord, Lazav, the Multifarious (decklist in the comments), Tajic, Legion’s Edge, Etrata, the Silencer, Izoni, Thousand-Eyed
Aminatou, the Fateshifter, Xantcha, Sleeper Agent, Lord Windgrace, Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer
Core Set 2019
Sai, Master Thopterist, Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma, Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire, Chromium, the Mutable
Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle, Grand Warlord Radha, Arvad the Cursed, Muldrotha, the Grave Tide, Slimefoot, the Stowaway, Yargle, Glutton of Urborg, Squee, the Immortal, Firesong and Sunspeaker, Jodah, Archmage Eternal, Tiana, Ship’s Caretaker
Rivals of Ixalan
Azor, the Lawbringer, Etali, Primal Storm, Nezahal, Primal Tide, Zacama, Primal Calamity, Tetzimoc, Primal Death, Zetalpa, Primal Dawn, Ghalta, Primal Hunger
Grusilda, Monster Masher, Dr. Julius Jumblemorph
Vona, Butcher of Magan, Tishana, Voice of Thunder, Admiral Beckett Brass, Gishath, Sun’s Avatar
Nazahn, Revered Bladesmith, Inalla, Archmage Ritualist, Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist, O-Kagachi, Vengeful Kami, Mairsil, the Pretender, Taigam, Ojutai Master
Razaketh, the Foulblooded, Zur, the Enchanter (Mummy’s Curse), Djeru, With Eyes Open, The Locust God, Karona, False God (All the Deserts), Nicol Bolas, Neheb, the Eternal
Oketra the True, Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun, Atogatog (Cartouches & Trials), Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons, Samut, Voice of Dissent, Rhonas the Indomitable, Hazoret the Fervent
Yahenni, Undying Partisan, Nicol Bolas, Child of Alara (Five-Color Energy), Rishkar, Peema Renegade, Kari Zev, Skyship Raider, Sram, Senior Edificer
Breya, Etherium Shaper, Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice, Tymna the Weaver // Ravos, Soultender
Other Commander Decks
Thada Adel, Acquisitor, The Ultimate Golgari Deck, Anafenza, the Foremost (shutting down shenanigans), Momir Vig, Simic Visionary (no green creatures), Kytheon, Hero of Akros (Tribal Gideon), Tasigur, the Golden Fang