Block Commander Challenge: The Mercadian Invasion

Nobody combines fun formats with great results like Abe Sargent! His latest project imposes some great building constraints to give your next casual get together some extra gusto!

Grand Prix Washington, DC: March 11-13!

Hello folks! I hope you’ve had a fun few days of happiness and cards, nothing but blue skies and winter-fueled fun times. As we sit in the post-Oath of the Gatewatch malaise, I wanted to push to the past and hit up a fun Commander project. As you might recall, I’ve been doing one Commander deck from each Block of Magic, starting with Ice Age and moving forward. A lot of these blocks have a lot more quality cards than we remember or suspect, and there’s a great option to harness their power for good.

Block Commander, baby!

Today bring you the next two Block Commander decks after I ended with Urza Block in my previous Block Commander article. While Masques Block is one of the weakest blocks of all time and certainly qualifies as an option for a drive-by Block Commander deck, Invasion is a very rich and deep set.

Without further ado, let’s get this Block Party started!

Project V: Masques of Impropriety

Since each of the previous iterations of this project used blue, I want to pull blue out of this. But that brings up some issues. I could build a solid and playable tempo deck based in Masques Block blue around cards like Rishadan Footpad; Rishadan Port; Rhystic Study; Waterfront Bouncer; Alexi, Zephyr Mage; and maybe even Rising Waters if you are feeling a bit nasty. It’s also the last block with cards like Brainstorm and Counterspell. But I want to bid blue a fond farewell and move to other colors. Goodbye blue. There’ll be no Bribery or Soothsaying or Coastal Piracy or Misdirection. Right?


So what could I do?

I could do Rebels or Mercenaries.

My past four decks and their colors:

Ice Age – blue, black, and red

Mirage – blue, green, and white

Tempest – blue and red

Urza – blue, green, and white

Since I haven’t touched black much, I want to hit it today for sure. Any major themes that I can tie into? Masques Block isn’t exactly the best block around. I might just do a quick “good stuff” deck and move on. Let’s see…..

To my mind, Invasion is the beginning of the modern age of Magic sets, and so it’s hard to figure out Masques. Masques is a great block because it’s the last block where there are no tricks or trends to drafting. If you like Limited, then it’s pure. Every block that comes later has some tricks to it: emphasis on gold, an all-black set, artifacts-a-go-go, graveyard, land, serious tribal stuff, and so forth. Every set from Invasion through Battle for Zendikar has some spin on Limited play.

I don’t like green a lot in Masques Block. There’s not a lot to recommend there to team up with black. Black’s fine, though. Could I do black and red, or do I lack on playables?

Because of a fear of the quality of good burn and aggressive red (red was coming off Tempest Block fueled by Jackal Pup and dominated Tempest-Urza Standard with a lot of powerful cards) was watered down post-Urza Block as an overreaction. There’s not even a single Blaze effect (unless you count Cinder Elemental or you want to discard two cards to use Latulla, Keldon Overseer). You don’t even have Shock, just Seal of Fire. Rhystic Lightning is no Lightning Bolt or Incinerate.

And burn wasn’t the only thing punished coming out of Urza Block. Fading isn’t that strong a mechanic for Commander and the best cards are slower ones. For example, one of the best commons to draft in Masques? It’s a four-mana wall, Stinging Barrier. That’s how slow things are.

So what to do?

I looked through the cards, and this deck needs blue. Has to have it. Sigh, fine. Let’s do blue, black, and white – a little Esper lovin’.

And there we are! I decided to use Dakkon Blackblade as the Commander due to his ability to swing and end games. I wanted a suitably old-school legend for the deck, and he worked. I was thinking of Chromium as well, or maybe even Dromar, the Banisher from the next block down.

Black is arguably the best or second-best color in Masques Block, so I was happy to “force” myself to build around it, now that I look over the results. There are a lot of great, powerful, and destructive cards in black like Avatar of Woe and Plague Wind. You certainly won’t regret running such cards.

I have to make a bit of an admission. I have always liked Mercenaries more than Rebels. Their power is just better. Take a card like Silent Assassin. It’s a two-drop that rocks a solid 2/1 attacking body. If someone jumps in your way, you can just end them. In fact, you can destroy as many blocking creatures (at the end of combat) as you have mana to churn, and note that you can destroy Peter’s blockers when he blocks Mary’s attack. Silent Assassin is a great card. And you can layer onto that fun Mercenaries like Rathi Assassin.

Black has a lot of creature kill in Masques Block. Notorious Assassin can turn any card in your hand into a Dark Banishing. Meanwhile, you have cards like Seal of Doom, Sever Soul, Vendetta, and Thrashing Wumpus. With the Avatar of Woe and the three Assassins, you have a strong anti-creature creature base. So black has some goods (check out Larceny too, by the by).

Blue brings some of the aforementioned heavies to the table as well – Bribery, Rhystic Study, and tempo cards like Rishadan Footpad. There are some (expensive) counters that have pitch options you’ll not likely use, such as Thwart and Foil. They back up Counterspell and Misdirection.

Joining them are a few solid bounce effects. Waterfront Bouncer is fine, but check out Withdraw. You can bounce one opposing creature that you need to bounce with the first target. The second one is less likely to hit if aimed at a foe, but you can use it to bounce-save a creature of your own. I’ve seen players use it to bounce an opposing dork and to reset a creature with an enters-the-battlefield trigger or to save a creature from removal while slowing down the foe who came at them. Withdraw has some solid tricks, and you can get the double bounce effect if someone is tapped out.

This is also the perfect time for me to remind you about how powerful Alexi, Zephyr Mage can be. From bouncing your whole team to survive a Wrath of God to bouncing a full opposing team and swinging, she has serious chops.

White brings some more removal to the table in the form of cards like Afterlife, as well as two major sweeping cards, Wave of Reckoning and Mageta the Lion. The first kills a lot of stuff on the battlefield, and usually the creatures that don’t die are the ones you don’t care about as much. Sure thing, Bob, keep that Sylvan Caryatid or Birds of Paradise, and Cheryl, you can have that Stitcher Geralf and Avatar of Hope. Mageta sweeps the battlefield and sticks around for swinging or more battlefield cleansing. Either way he works quite well.

We have some great white creatures too, like Avenger En-Dal or Blinding Angel, that have some value at the kitchen table. You can tap a Trap Runner to stay alive, use Mirror Strike to redirect damage, and deploy Sivvi’s Ruse as a Fog effect to keep your stuff around during combat or to keep your creatures from dying to damage-based removal (such as your own Thrashing Wumpus or Wave of Reckoning, hint hint). See Reverent Mantra for more tricks along these lines.

Don’t forget cards like Credit Voucher, Rishadan Port, and most importantly – Kor Haven! One thing Masques is better at than a lot of previous sets is drawing cards. Gush? Rhystic Study? Coastal Piracy? Armistice? Aerial Caravan? Card quality like Soothsaying, Trade Routes, Brainstorm, and Customs Depot are here as well. And you can get card advantage via discarding, as with Wall of Distortion, as well as virtual effects like Plague Wind or Shield Dancer. It’s good stuff!

And you could add in cards like Abolish or Disenchant , War Tax, and other effects if you desire.

And that’s a Masques-era deck for you.

Now let’s get our dragon on…

Project VI – Dragon Invasion

The next Block’s theme is going to be obvious. I must build a deck around an Invasion Dragon. There are no other options. It has to be an Invasion Dragon. I’d like to run red and green to give those colors some steam, and Rith, the Awakener is too obvious of a choice, so it’s Darigaaz, the Igniter today!

This is the first major block where I expect a deck to have a passel of solid cards. I consider Invasion to be the beginning of the modern era of Magic design, and there should be considerably fewer chump cards that no one wants to play rocking the block, which will make deckbuilding a bit more intriguing.

This is an awesome deck. See what I’m talking about? We have great cards like Pernicious Deed and Phyrexian Arena rocking the block. We also have iconic Commander utility cards like Terminate, Fires of Yavimaya, Hull Breach, and Planar Portal. Fun times!

I love Invasion Block because it brings out a lot of quality. For example, take green. You can fetch lands with anything from Harrow to Frenzied Tilling. You can make a variety of colors of mana from stuff like Utopia Tree, Quirion Elves, and Fertile Ground. I was able to find a home for Primal Growth, Quirion Trailblazer, and Lay of the Land as well. Yay mana!

It’s also the era of great utility creatures. There is no better example of this than Flametongue Kavu. That thing ran tournaments for a long time. You can grab some great Battlemages as well; Thunderscape Battlemage can destroy an enchantment and force discarding to boot. It can be a three-for-one in card advantage on arrival and it only gets better from there. We have Phyrexian Delver to grab a dead critter and bring it back (and who cares about the life loss in this 40-life format?) and Thicket Elemental to give you a single iteration of Oath of Druids when you kick it. Good stuff, right?

Then we can beat down. Shivan Wurm is huge and smash-ready. We have beaters like Tsabo Tavoc, Verdeloth the Ancient, and Penumbra Wurm in the deck as well, ready to begin the red zone smash dance. Don’t forget your win conditions.

Since I’m playing red and green in the block anyway, I decided to push the Kavu theme. Kavu are ancient creatures that were awoken by Gaea to face the Phyrexian Invasion. They are (mostly) in red and green, with a smattering of black. Those are our colors anyway, so why not?

There are a variety of Kavu out there, from smaller utility creatures to big ol’ bodies. I began with some Kavu leaders like Kavu Monarch, Kavu Howler, and Kavu Mauler. After that, I began to include Kavu that were good utility creatures like Flametongue Kavu.

Take Pygmy Kavu as a great example. At pretty much every multiplayer Commander game, someone is playing black. If there’s more than one, this is a broken card, if not, it’s still a two-for-one card pretty commonly. And Kavu Climber gets you a card on arrival as well.

You can rock Sparkcaster to shoot someone and bounce back to your hand a Pygmy Kavu, Flametongue Kavu, Thornscape Battlemage, and lots more. Then Kavu Titan arrives to punch someone. And there are lots more you could add like Alpha Kavu or Bloodfire Kavu.

After the Kavu additions to the deck, take a look at Kavu Lair. This deck certainly has a lot of creatures that are big enough to trigger the Lair when they hit the battlefield. And this works very well with a card like Sparkcaster: play it, self-bounce it, draw a card, and ping someone. Repeat as you have four mana. It adds a cool feel to the deck!

Man, there are some good cards in here that I have to wonder why they don’t get a lot of play. Consider Thunderscape Master. You can tap some black and it to drain someone of two life. It’s a winning condition that strengthens you as well. Or you can tap some green and then pump your whole team by +2/+2. That’s a prohibitively nasty pump. Sure, you have to wait until it no longer has summoning sickness and wait a turn to use it (barring a Fires of Yavimaya under your control), but it still works.

Invasion has a ton of removal options as well. Don’t sleep on the card advantage of a simple card like Annihilate, Plague Spores, or Frenzied Tilling. I have killed more than one opponent with a kicked Agonizing Demise over the years. From Artifact Mutation to Assault // Battery, Urza’s Rage, and Ghitu Fire, this is pretty solid stuff. Tangle will play havoc with someone’s attack step and it’s arguably the best Fog effect ever printed since it replaces itself. And from Void to Twilight’s Call, we have some surprises in store for folks that might be inclined to assume that a simple little Block Commander deck from way back is going to be weak.

And this block is deep with a lot of other options as well. What about Pyre Zombie or Skyship Weatherlight? I have killed players with their own Phage when she was Backlashed. If you need to counter some effects at your table, Bind is a great choice. Breath of Darigaaz can do some sweeping, and Cauldron Dance is pretty funky but has some intriguing options. How about Shivan Emissary? Rooting Kavu? Savage Offensive? Rage Weaver? You get the idea!

So these two blocks both have different feels to them, and a deep and strong Invasion heralds the beginning of the new era. Are you ready?

Get your Block Commander on!

Grand Prix Washington, DC: March 11-13!