Dear Azami #100: Savage Gloves

Sean celebrates the hundredth edition of Dear Azami by answering a reader’s call for help with his mono-green Jolrael, Empress of Beasts Commander deck.

Last week, Cassidy brought back to light some of the early origins of Dear Azami, noting how it was envisioned from the very first article to take the Dear Abby model of readers asking an advice columnist for help on a problem they were having. But what I suppose Cassidy couldn’t have known was how I really view this column—not simply following in the well-tread footsteps of Dear Abby and Ann Landers but also the path that was broken by Savage Love, Dan Savage’s relationship advice column on the steamier side of things that Ann and Abby never touched.

He can’t have known what never exited my brain, after all, but insofar as that choice has a tangible effect on what I try to do with this column and also is part of a metaphor I use for how I know when a Commander deck has gotten to the right point, it’s important to say aloud. If I’m following anyone’s traditions, by intentional design it’s his.

Cassidy also linked to the first article in the series entitled simply “99 Problems” because I knew from the first edition that I was going to aim for a problem-solving, reader-interaction column. What he didn’t link to was the zeroeth edition of the Dear Azami series, the article that let me explore some interesting space and was another homage to Dan Savage after reading an anthology he contributed to entitled “Things I’ve Learned From Women Who Dumped Me,” which also includes a seriously awesome piece by The Right Honorable Stephen T. Colbert: my introspective time-travel time through Magical successes and relationship failures entitled “Things I’ve Learned From Magic Cards Who’ve Dumped Me,” the direct precursor to this column.

Prowling through the early history of Dear Azami drew me back to the fact that I don’t necessarily put a lot of me into this column for the reader to see, and reading Cassidy’s lead-up to this week’s hundredth article showed quite clearly what benefits there are to reap when you invite the personal in. I’ve been distant by intentional design, but having invited Cassidy in as my co-author for this column has changed its essential character particularly in that regard, and I’ll have to raise my own bar accordingly by acknowledging the fact that the fourth wall has long since been broken and I might as well play along.

Cassidy promised an earth-shattering kaboom for this hundredth article, and I have to begin with an apology, which is never the great way to start off on the right foot. I had quietly and carefully lined up Elder Dragon Sheldon Menery to step sideways from his own weekly column into mine for a week, offering him the opportunity to step into the role of relationship advisor rather than deck tinkerer as a guest star for this hundredth article.

Schedules do not always line up so neatly as we might like, however, and preparations for this past weekend’s Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze made it impossible for him to join us on this week’s column and keep any sane, reasonable timetable—either to do it right or to be prepared for the coverage team and on his flight with all the bags packed and all the real life things squared away before he disappeared. Look for that now-no-longer-a-surprise appearance in the next few weeks, but, unfortunately, it’s not today.

Good, Giving, and Game

Commander is a difficult format to understand for those who are more used to the traditional tournament-oriented formats like Vintage, Legacy, Modern, and Standard. The change is not just card pool legality (though that is certainly a massive change—a format where you can play Timetwister but not Biorhythm is hard to wrap your head around), and it’s not just deck size or the singleton nature of the cards you’re allowed to play. It isn’t even the switch from two players to four, though that is a weighty change that has a lot of significant implications.

The change is that you are certainly playing to win, but you aren’t trying to win at all costs and aren’t deckbuilding to win at all costs either. Commander is an enjoyable format because of self-restraint rather than external deckbuilding constraints, and thus it allows a much broader form of self-expression than we usually see.

Commander games aren’t just a game; they’re an opportunity to build enjoyment outside of the typical Magic paradigm of winners and losers. This isn’t just due to the multiplayer format unbalancing the numbers—a four-player game will have one winner and three losers, so just mathematically even if you’re playing to win you’re not starting with anything more than a slim 25% likelihood of victory—but by actively reengineering what counts as a win in this game, which is not simply being the last planeswalker standing but having a good time playing a great game. How things play out coming down to the wire doesn’t define whether you are winning or losing because playing the game you intended to play when you built your deck and having an awesome time is the metric of winning.

That’s why it’s so critical that you have a deck you like, one that is powerful enough to keep up with the Joneses so you’re an active participant in the game rather than a spectator to your own grisly fate at the hands of too-many enemies; you have a near-infinite canvas for self-expression, but you also have a relationship with your deck. And when something isn’t working, maybe you’ll put some time into fixing your relationship problems, and maybe you’ll DTMFA and seek the next fling to enjoy that new relationship energy.

You’re probably not in a monogamous relationship with your commander, and sometimes the solution to the problem is just to see other people for a while and come back to each other with a bit of a different perspective and more of a willingness to tinker until things are working right. But ultimately what we all need from our decks is that they be good, giving, and game.

Good as in good for us, the kind of fit for your interests and curiosities to give you enthusiasm to seek out more time with it. If you’re the beater of down and just want to smash face mightily with Godo, Bandit Warlord because red is your favorite color and bald-faced aggression is your chosen style of interacting with the world around you, fooling around with Memnarch is just not going to make you happy.

It also has to be good as in good enough to play—you have to strive to build towards a power level that is appropriate for your playgroup so that you are in the game at all times. This is a difficult knife’s edge to walk without tipping over too far to the other side and ending up overpowered instead of underpowered. Everyone has to have a good time for it to be a good game no matter who wins how.

Giving as in giving opportunities to blossom, but also as in forgiving. A solid Commander deck has to have enough catch-up mechanisms to get you out of a tight scrape and have enough play to it to bring you to the point where whether you win or lose—either way it was your plays in the game that were the most determining factor in whether you could have won the game or not. This is part power level and part balance, as a forgiving deck is not something that happens accidentally—you have to intentionally design it from both the winning perspective and the losing one. You have to build around the likelihood that things aren’t going to go perfectly and make sure you’re still able to play a solid game instead of sit on four lands discarding your plethora of awesome spells and fantastic creatures.

Game as in game for anything, able to expect the unexpected and rise to the occasion. There are way more angles of attack an opponent’s Commander deck can have than you can intentionally build answers to in any one deck using specific cards for each problem, so you have to build both for a focused game plan of your own and plans for what you do if things go off the rails.

Uncharted territory is fun to explore and leads to the most interesting Commander games rather than the straightforward head-down fight that comes with facing down strong opponents with predictable but powerful linear plans. Yes, you know what you can expect to have happen when Zur gets online on time, but isn’t the more interesting game the one where you don’t know what to expect and Ib Halfheart, Goblin Tactician surprises you with just how good he can be if he tries?

If we wanted predictable lines of play with common strategies overlapping time and time again to dictate what our response should be with the cards in our hands, we’d play poker, not Magic. With Commander, we want to build a rapport with our weapon of choice—to have a good time on a night out that maybe we don’t get as often as we might like and not be disappointed because the deck isn’t firing on as many cylinders as we might like because that blasted Azusa deck is just too damn reliable. We want to be able to keep up with the Joneses without having to be the Joneses.

Redefining Santorum

If this column is patterned after Savage Love, well, you can expect a few polite digs as we speak truth to power from time to time. Dan Savage famously mocked anti-gay bigot conservative politician Rick Santorum by holding an Internet contest to redefine the Pennsylvania politician’s last name far in advance of any potential Presidential run and used innate knowledge of the interconnectedness of the Internet to make sure his redefinition would turn up as the #1 Google search to gently assist in taking him down a few notches as a reward for his outspokenness against “gays and the homosexual agenda,” in which that particular politician likened sex with a member of your same gender with sex with animals for no particular reason than perhaps politicians suck sometimes.

For more (amusing and totally NFSFW) information, just Google Santorum.

I’ve spent a hundred articles now building a loudspeaker. I’ve used it from time to time, most specifically in getting Griselbrand Grisel-banned by porting that particular commander into an Ad Nauseam Tendrils build of Commander that would, if left alone, have been destined to unbalance and take all the fun out of last summer’s Gen Con Commander events and probably all of Magic Online to boot. I have no problem taking the results of my analysis publicly forward when I think something’s bad for Commander from time to time.

The Rules Committee has said they don’t have a “watch list,” but that doesn’t mean I don’t. I saw the ban for Emrakul, the Aeons Torn coming from a mile away and in fact was advocating for it long before anyone realized it was necessary, and whenever something is in danger of warping Commander away from what it is to what that card makes it all about, I’ll be there.

We’re having a good time right now, and I for one am about to sleeve up a Staff of Domination for the first time and give it a whirl to see how good it is. I’m thinking very good but not too good, with the threat of being casually broken already covered by forbidding the use of Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary as a commander. You can do a lot of bad things to good people with everyone having a good time as you do it, and I’m happy to see it come off the banned list—and sad to see Trade Secrets added because of how it can break down collusively to allow one player to draw their deck and finish off a table without the potential for Ad Nauseam to do so without collusion, just built into the normal function of the card, likewise earning it the ban hammer.

It Gets Better

But enough introspection. This is column #100, but I still have a job to do—to take a Commander deck and make a better deck out of it, to fix a broken relationship between a mage and their pile of cards so that they can have a good night out together without harsh words or breakup threats. I considered following Cassidy’s footsteps and writing about a deck of my own.

I even picked up my long-since-dismantled Godo, Bandit Warlord deck to play at my local shop’s new Commander League this week since a good red deck is so hard to find these days. I wanted to recapture past savage beatings, especially as I’d felt as if I’d worn out the welcome of my surprisingly-controlling black-white Vish Kal and blue-green Prime Speaker Zegana decks, especially after last week’s disciplined beating administered to a Zur deck that I called out a challenge to and picked a fight with from the get-go (and carefully emerged victorious against by the skin of my teeth, using literally every piece of the buffalo to do it).

While I barely scraped by with my horde of Plant tokens and Avenger of Zendikar struggling to break through Energy Field + Rest in Peace, this narrow victory in which my counterspell in hand specifically needed to be the kind-of-weird choice of Misdirection to squeak out the win to eliminate Zur before he killed me then quickly turned into a 178-point Craterhoof Behemoth attack the next turn for the remaining players, and I wanted to see other Bandit Warlords for a while.

This column isn’t about my problems, though I do have them; this column is about other people’s magical spells and fantastic creatures and building a stronger relationship with the things that drew your interest to them in the first place so more fun can be had. Talking about my own deck for Column #100 felt like it would be a little too blase, so instead we dig into the prodigious Mailbag of Problems to see who needs our help today!

Dear Azami,

I’m a long time listener, first time caller. There are times when I like to consider myself a knowledgeable EDH deckbuilder—today is not one of those times. I’m having trouble with my Jolrael, Empress of Beasts deck, and I just cannot seem to get it working right.

Currently there are twelve EDH decks in my collection—each has a unique purpose and play style to fit my mood or situation. I’m a green mage at heart, so I already have decks covered for big Stompy (Mayael), tokens (Rhys the Redeemed), all creatures (Damia), and ramp/combo (Riku, which is being overhauled).

When it came down to designing Jolrael’s list, I was stumped. Mono-green in EDH has this stigma around here for the degenerate comboing and ramp of Azusa. My unwillingness to make yet another token or big Stompy deck led me to the unconventional “attacking with lands” theme. The plan is simple: ramp, activate Jolrael or cast a Rude Awakening type spell, and swing. The end result became a mess that was just a terrible “good stuff” deck that didn’t seem to actually do anything in a four-player match. Maybe it needs more ramp and speed, less fluff and durdle—I’m not sure anymore. Here’s the list in all its mediocrity:


Jolrael, Empress of Beasts

Creatures (27)

Avenger of Zendikar
Awakener Druid
Craterhoof Behemoth
Deadwood Treefolk
Engulfing Slagwurm
Fierce Empath
Kamahl, Fist of Krosa
Liege of the Tangle (the main inspiration for this deck)
Nacatl War-Pride (someone said this works well with Jolrael; they would be right)
Oracle of Mul Daya
Pelakka Wurm
Quirion Druid
Rampaging Baloths
Regal Force
Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary (acceleration is nice, but would I rather have land ramp?)
Seedborn Muse
Seedguide Ash
Tilling Treefolk (because Crucible of Worlds seems so expensive)
Timber Protector
Tornado Elemental
Treefolk Harbinger (usually to get the Protector)
Ulvenwald Tracker
Yavimaya Elder
Yeva, Nature’s Herald

Sorceries (16)

Beacon of Creation
Boundless Realms (too good not to include?)
Desert Twister
Genesis Wave
Howl of the Night Pack
Hunting Wilds
Life from the Loam
Overwhelming Stampede
Prey Upon
Primal Command
Ranger’s Path
Revive (Regrowth is better, but this is budget and works just as well)
Rude Awakening (I wish there were more of these!)
Skyshroud Claim

Instants (9)

Beast Within
Constant Mists
Crushing Vines
Krosan Grip
Momentous Fall
Natural Affinity
Relic Crush
Squall Line

Enchantments (8)

Defense of the Heart
Greater Good
Night Soil
Primal Order
Primal Rage
Rites of Flourishing
Vastwood Zendikon
Vernal Bloom

Other Spells (3)

Garruk Wildspeaker
Garruk, Primal Hunter
Oblivion Stone

Lands (36)

32x Forest
Mosswort Bridge
Sapseep Forest
Treetop Village
Yavimaya Hollow

I playtested it a little bit and got so discouraged I let it sit for months. My playgroup is not cutthroat—the games aren’t short enough for that—but we play to win with the crazy cool spells we cast. It needs to stand up to being in four-player matches. I’ve been trying to step back and see where I lost the plot. I still haven’t figured it out, so I’m reaching out to you for help! I’d like to keep at least Rude Awakening, Natural Affinity, Nacatl War Pride, and Liege of the Tangle in the 99 since I think they’re the heart of the deck. Other than that, have at it!

Thanks for everything, and I look forward to more awesome Dear Azami articles in the future!

–  Evan

I won’t lie—if we are really going to take the kid gloves off and put the savage gloves on, this will be a considerably more expensive deck than it necessarily has to be because with an engine-based build for ramping this up on all cylinders, we would begin by adding Sensei’s Divining Top, Sol Ring, Mana Crypt, Crucible of the Worlds and Survival of the Fittest as well as the things that attach to them to make them really, really good. In this case that means adding Wooded Foothills, Windswept Heath, Verdant Catacomb and Misty Rainforest as well to make sure that both Life from the Loam and Crucible always have at least one land to work with.

That’s an absurdly high price point for cards, however, and I’m getting a very clear sense that this is not a price-no-object request to fix the deck, so rather than add well over $300 we’re going to dig into the pile of neat and interesting cards that I think would work well in the deck. Your aimed-for objective is to get a whole lot of lands in play and use them to kill your opponents, and this can be a difficult task, so we’re going to aim very carefully to build a board-state where you can prevent your opponent from stopping you at your chosen task while we’re at it, at least to the extent that a mono-green deck is capable of such.

We begin at the beginning, which is the mana base. There’s nothing especially wrong with a simplistic approach, but for Life from the Loam to really do much of anything at all we’re going to need to make this a little less basic even if we do end up with roughly the same board state after we’ve used our fancy lands to fetch our basics. If we’re using Life from the Loam to keep making our land drops, we want to get as good a rate as possible for it so we’re not skipping every single draw just to play one land.


Sapseep Forest, 12 Forests

I don’t really believe that Sapseep Forest is going to be worth coming into play tapped for the minimal amount of life it is likely to get you over the course of a game.


Evolving Wilds, Terramorphic Expanse, Bant Panorama, Naya Panorama, Jund Panorama

These are a cheap but solid way to increase the number of “good” lands you have to work with for Life from the Loam. They’re cheap additions as opposed to the super-expensive “real” fetchlands, and while I’d prefer to run all of them together and make sure that it’s the Loam that you have to search for rather than the Loam and then some other stuff too in order to have the Loam be good, it’s not really a big deal til you’re adding multiple equivalent cards and the Crucible is in here too. These are also very good with Rampaging Baloths and Oracle of Mul-Daya, giving you a little bit of extra free value while we’re at it.

Blasted Landscape, Tranquil Thicket, Slippery Karst

It’s not a big stretch to decide to add a few cycling lands to your Life from the Loam options. I like them anyway simply to help moderate your draw, balancing things out so that when you’ve drawn too much land you can maybe turn a few back in for new cards, and with Life from the Loam it gets much easier to play a resource acquisition card to make your land drops without having to give up drawing real cards to do so.

Thawing Glaciers, Winding Canyons

Long-time readers need no grand exposition as to why I am adding these two. One gets you a free land every other turn when that is exactly the kind of card you want access to, and the other lets you get tricky with when you play your cards out in a color that notoriously sucks at exactly that.

Thespian’s Stage, Mystifying Maze

The Stage gives you potential bonus access to awesome and interesting things or can just be a Forest if that is what you want it to become. Mystifying Maze gives you an additional little bit of self-defense that might otherwise be lacking and lets you take a bit of stress off of your spells in turn.

Mouth of Ronom – An additional layer of creature defense at very low cost, the Mouth is great for shutting down small- or medium-sized problems, which are a key problem for how your deck interacts and gets out of a hole and is pure profit if you’re going to be able to recur the card you’re using to shut them down. I get a little bit nervous when it’s difficult to keep Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir off the table, and you’re able to make this adjustment reasonably effectively. This does bring with it one other change however:

-20 Forest, +20 Snow-Covered Forest

The biggest concern might be price, but they’re not that hard to find on the cheap if you look for them. Then the next biggest concern is fearing people think you’re playing Extraplanar Lens and are thus one of those frankly annoying mono-green combo-ish decks that you’re exactly opposed to this deck leaning towards. There comes attached one hanging question however, which is why Snow lands but no Scrying Sheets? The answer is that without further manipulation like Sensei’s Divining Top and with other nonbasics that aren’t Snow lands, I honestly don’t think it will hit often enough to be meaningfully better than a basic land when a land being a basic has meaning to you thanks to Primal Order.

If we were going to add Sensei’s Divining Top and other expensive stuff, then yes I would give the Scrying Sheets consideration. I would also be able to justify adding my favorite weirdo gimmicky card, Druidic Satchel, as it would then be a reliable mana ramp effect. As it is, we’re not going to go quite as deep as that, but there is one other card that uses Snow lands for its relevance, which we’ll get to later…

Usually I next move on to artifacts, but you don’t really have a big collection of them and they’re just lumped in with your other spells. I’ll work on both together at the same time, then, which is oddly convenient as I am going to significantly bulk up your number of artifacts and use your spell base to do it. We’ll come to the creatures last and then push this beating machine out as a tight little finished product!

OUT: Night Soil IN: Nevinyrral’s Disk

I understand the desire for token creation, but it’s not necessarily on-theme and I want to shy away from cards that seem like they’re more good stuff additions. As a graveyard hoser Night Soil is okay mostly because it is otherwise useful when you don’t need to be hosing a graveyard, but it’s not really good at stopping all of the problems you might expect to face, just at shutting down reanimation effects and slowly set up Living Deaths. If we really wanted to hose a graveyard we’d start with Scavenging Ooze and Loaming Shaman, but I’m not convinced we really need to include this effect as we’ll have other ways to directly hose that player—people will forgive you for tactical, targeted Armageddons when that player was just going to own the table, after all.

OUT: Rites of Flourishing IN: Caged Sun

I want there to be more mana available; I just don’t want to share. Hug-type effects don’t necessarily actually help you get anywhere, and while it’s nice to be able to play additional lands quickly, you’re going to be able to play them out as you deploy them anyway—all your additional lands in play are coming from spells you cast, not as a result of you drawing a lot of cards. Caged Sun helps double your mana capabilities once you’ve played a spell accelerating you directly from four to six, of which you have many, and thus helps to have a strong acceleration role to build towards the big part of your game. And it doesn’t even share!

OUT: Primal Rage IN: Gauntlet of Power

I don’t think it’s worth playing a card just to get trample, so when I was looking for weak links to make room this one immediately suggested itself. Gauntlet of Power was another addition I wanted to ramp up your mana access, and while this one does share, unlike Vernal Bloom it only shares when a basic land is tapped for mana, meaning it doesn’t overshare willy-nilly with all those fancy dual lands the multicolored decks are likely to have.

OUT: Vastwood Zendikon IN: Mishra’s Helix

Rather than looking for another way to convert lands into threats, I went looking for a way to convert board position into player kills. The best way that presented itself to me was to tap your chosen victim out at end of turn before you swoop in for the kill, allowing you to potentially threaten them by forcing their responses before you’ve committed your presence to the board—and if their responses are insufficient, eliminating them.

The temptation to use this during upkeep to shut players down will be there, and frankly it is how you elect to play this card that is most telling what the purpose and function of your deck is. You’re not trying to get out in front of someone and then take away the interactive element of the game over the course of several turns by Prison locking them under a Helix; you just keep this thing around for when an opportune moment presents itself to make a player dead. This is actually a far more dangerous usage, really, and one I think you’re well prepared to take advantage of.

If we wanted to go for crippling, cheap shots, this would be Powder Keg instead. We’re not aiming to do that, this is a precise tool for a precise job, even though you could wield it like a sledgehammer if you tried to. We don’t usually pick up Mjolnir for basic dentistry work, but this time I guess we do.

OUT: Vernal Bloom IN: Tranquil Grove

And now the reason for the big push away from the enchantment card type presents itself. Vernal Bloom’s functionality has been preserved without preserving the specific card itself, and this minimalist approach to how many enchantments you are using yourself allows you to play Tranquil Grove to mass wipe all of the enchantments in play however many times you need to. This is a card type that can be very problematic to a green mage, and this is a tool that lets you tell all of them to get out of your way however many times in a row you need to.

OUT: Crushing Vines IN: Swiftfoot Boots

I didn’t think you really needed another just-an-artifact killer, and while it’s nice to have the option of taking out a flier on the other half of your artifact destruction spell, it’s not really a vital one—the only one you really don’t want to see in play is Consecrated Sphinx, and if we’re just talking about big dumb fliers on the board threatening your life total, we have other ways of handling that.

The actual replacement for this card comes up in the creatures section, but sticking within the portion I’m working on, I added the Boots as a way to protect your Commander and potentially allow for a haste-based strike of all of your lands attacking when someone thought they were otherwise safe. While that may be a bit expensive to pull off, you did start by saying Liege of the Tangle is your favoritest thing, and this is perfectly accomplishable with the Liege in play. It’s also just useful to pass around haste to fat green monsters, so we need not overthink this too much.

OUT: Reincarnation IN: Kodama’s Reach

I routinely take out reanimation packages from decks that they don’t really fit in, and this is a really bad reanimation package that really doesn’t fit. It took me a very long while of staring at this to figure out what it was supposed to do and what weird conditional subclauses and implications came with the spell setting up a delayed trigger for later rather than immediately doing something, and when I “got it,” I cut it. Kodama’s Reach will help supplement the stability of the accelerate-into-fatties plan; it’s nothing fancy, but it’s darn effective.

OUT: Relic Crush IN: Cultivate

Once I added Kodama’s Reach, it was of course highly predictable that Cultivate would follow, so here it is. I don’t think you need this as an additional means to take out artifacts and enchantments; we’ve added mass sweepers and repeat-effect sweepers and will have a dash more help from the creatures section as well. We’re stabilizing the flow of the deck at the expense of a useful (but only sometimes) tool.

OUT: Squall Line IN: Explosive Vegetation

You have the other three four-mana two-land ramp spells, so completing the cycle seemed obvious for consistency’s sake. Squall Line is more flier hate that you don’t really need, and while maybe you can pick off a weak player with the surprise instant speed damage all around, I don’t think the card is really doing enough to warrant inclusion here.

OUT: Overwhelming Stampede, Prey Upon, Beacon of Creation

Prey Upon is not actually a solid removal spell, which is how they could get away with giving it to green—there’s too much conditionality to it, it’s too slow, and it has too high of a potential to two-for-one yourself in order to get something off the table. Overwhelming Stampede is a win more card; with your primary kill mechanism it costs you fifteen damage to get this benefit, meaning we’ve got to really profit to make it worthwhile, and this goes with the token cards that I’m mostly going to be cutting to make them more playable.

Kamahl covers your actually-need-an-Overrun needs, so I don’t think you need a spell that is actually like an Overrun on top of what he offers you. And I said we were cutting token-making things; Beacon of Creation makes a fair share of tokens since you ramp out forests quite expertly, but that doesn’t make it the card you want even if it is very efficient at what it does.

These three slots are moved over to the creatures section instead of directly replaced with another sort of spell. We’re going to make seven cuts there and then get to make ten additions to fill it back up again before we’ve completed the deck and can show off the final product.

OUT: Awakener Druid IN: Sakura-Tribe Elder

Small mana ramp effects still matter, and you don’t really have very much going on in the early turns of the game. I actually wanted to add Explore as well and found myself short on room, so I really did try and focus on cramming as much action into the first few turns of the game to make up for the fact that the deck doesn’t have Sol Ring or anything else in the formative turns to start getting your ramp on. Awakener Druid seemed an easy cut because of how dependent having your land-based attacker was on the survival of a 1/1 creature. We can do better than that without having to try very hard.

OUT: Brawn IN: Hermit Druid

Brawn, like Primal Rage, is mostly there to grant trample when you don’t really need that ability tacked onto all of your cards—whether Avenger of Zendikar’s plant tokens trample or not is not going to really change a game’s outcome, and when you’re going in for the kill you’re not generally going to be trying to do so from a close position. Blockers are just a bad thing in general to throw your lands in the way of, as you’ll lose more of them than you want in so doing, and trying to make the games where you have to do that closer is not what the cards should be aiming to improve.

Hermit Druid is actually pretty amazing in its fair usage. We have twenty basics so you’re not going to flip too deep off any single activation, so it’s not here as a combo card; it’s just to attain resources on the cheap. That said, you do regrow stuff and there are cards like Life from the Loam that this may turn on very well by milling past it, especially since nonbasic lands are invisible to the Druid but not to Loam. You want to get a lot of lands into play, and this will help make sure you are making a land drop every turn and that you have extra cards in hand to feed Jolrael when it’s time to swing in.

OUT: Quirion Druid IN: Avenging Druid

I had to read your Druid, now you have to read mine. Fair’s fair. Yours is supplementing the land-based beats or like Kamahl it’s exposing your opponent’s mana base to sweeper spells in an amusing fashion that makes it truly a devil’s bargain. I wanted to focus on resource acquisition instead, however, and reached for Avenging Druid as an early drop that could attack and put a free land into play in the formative turns of the game. I really like the implications this and Hermit Druid add by self-milling till you find land, letting the power of your Regrowth effects rise naturally and making it that much more likely you’ll see a Life from the Loam that you can’t tutor for over the course of a game.

OUT: Seedborn Muse IN: Fertilid

And here I blaspheme. As far as I can see it, you can have the mana acceleration power of things like Caged Sun or you can have Seedborn Muse online, but you shouldn’t have both. Having both means you’re likely to fall down the same well of mono-green combo decks, and this is intended to be much more of a mono-green aggro-control deck, so we have to actively restrain ourselves from amping up the natural combo tendencies. This will either die on sight (Good! It deserves to!) or lead to the table dying in a way even you yourself don’t find satisfying, so we’re just going to cut it since it only has feel-bad options to it.

Fertilid is not very much of a card, and nothing I could put up against the Muse was going to compare, but it is a clear and easy double-ramp effect that helps smooth the consistency with which your fourth turn involves putting two additional lands into play and prepares you for an awesome fifth turn and beyond. Resource acquisition is key, not playing Seedborn Muse is also key: mischief managed.

OUT: Tilling Treefolk IN: Kessig Cagebreakers

You wanted to know if playing the Tilling Treefolk would be better than playing Crucible of the Worlds, and these things frankly do not compare, so we shan’t compare them. I would prefer to be playing the Crucible, but then if I were to be the one building this deck, I already own all those hideously expensive things (save a Windswept Heath; I only have two of the five Onslaught fetchlands and haven’t put too high a priority on completing the set) and could do so at my leisure.

We’re supplementing the role of it without needing to necessarily look like it with our Hermit Druid, Avenging Druid, Thawing Glaciers, et cetera—and by increasing how well Life from the Loam works in your deck since Loaming is often better than having Crucible online anyway. We add in its place a serious beater, especially alongside these cards that may pad your graveyard with bonus fodder, following the Nacatl War-Pride line of where your deck is going. While this doesn’t force your opponent’s lands to chump trade with imaginary Cat tokens, it does provide a hell of a beating for a lowly five-drop. People routinely ask why I haven’t included it in various green decks I work on here, and in this case it clearly felt at home.

OUT: Tornado Elemental IN: Eternal Witness

I don’t think you need to focus very much at all on dealing with flying creatures, and Tornado Elemental doesn’t impress me at that role. If I were trying to hose fliers, I’d reach for Cloudthresher first since the quadruple-green cost is clearly not a barrier to you. Instead, I wanted to bulk up the recursion elements a little since we added a few more cards that empower them to rock out at full speed ahead. Eternal Witness is a Regrowth with legs (and a lower price tag, as that was something you seemed happy to skimp on) and thus can potentially be recurred in addition to being powered up by the ease with which you can put a variety of targets in the yard for it to choose from.

OUT: Treefolk Harbinger IN: Genesis

I see that Timber Protector is very solid in your deck, but I don’t think you really need to tutor for it—we’ve built in other mechanisms besides indestructibility to prevent your opponent from blowing you out when you’re trying to kill them, specifically with Mishra’s Helix setting vulnerable opponents up for a clean kill. I’d rather build side channels for killing the opponent without exposing your lands, focusing on the other side of what Jolrael is good at: punishing people for sweeping your board. We’re already going to insta-kill considerably better than we had before; now we need to work on her flexibility to increase the alternatives.

Genesis is solid for just putting another card in your hand every turn, if that’s important, and builds resilience into a deck that otherwise doesn’t really want to go too long game against anyone. It also happens to combine well with the plan of self-milling for lands and Loaming each turn, as it will just naturally lead to more resources appearing at your beck and call as you play this aspect of the game up—and it won’t feel like a degenerate combo deck while you do so since you’ll really just be playing around and getting back War-Prides instead of Seedborn Muses and winning the game.

We have three slots remaining, and since we’ve added some fun creatures but also a few pretty stock ones that you could foresee without having to look too hard, the last three will try to have a bit more zing to them. The first one fails at that appointed task because I am sure there is still one creature at the top of everyone’s mind screaming “I’m perfect! How have you not picked me yet!” but the remaining two should accentuate the semi-controlling stance of where I am trying to build this deck towards while raising a few eyebrows at the same time.

IN: Sylvan Primordial

Totally not subtle since you’re a deck that likes ramping and I said I was cutting back some of your Disenchant capability only to build it back up during the creature section. This is a three-point Ranger’s Path that nukes problematic permanents around the board and can even block Dragon-sized fliers on defense and thus is essentially perfect in every way you might imagine considering what your overarching game plan is. Obviously awesome card is obvious and awesome.

IN: Willow Satyr

This weird little forgotten wonder was one of my first experiences with Legends cards since apparently back in the day when me and my brother were first starting out at this game, once we got bored of buying Homelands packs and Fallen Empires by the box online, we got mischievous and started randomly buying Legends packs for no particularly good reason. They were all scratched at the top corner and pilfered for their Mana Drains and other miscellaneous hyperexpensive Legends goodies like The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, but we were brand new and didn’t know any better and in fact were happy to get dreck like Al-abara’s Carpet and Alchor’s Tomb to build decks around.

The first loser Legends rare I got was this one, and I was mostly confused—why can green repeatedly Control Magic creatures, isn’t that what Merieke Ri Beret is for? She’s totally not green.

Later we opened Rubinia Soulsinger and began to understand, but even then we weren’t playing a lot of legendary creatures. This would remain lost to the annals of my memory up until Commander became a thing. I was sixteen and an addle-brained newbie; my second Legends rare was Invoke Prejudice, and I went on to build some atrocious mono-blue deck to exploit it before coming up with the “mondo combo” of Festival + Siren’s Song to “combo out” my brother game after game by making his creatures have to attack (or else they’ll die) while being unable to attack (and thus they all died).

The Willow Satyr stuck around for a few years, unloved in a trade binder that I probably eventually lost, but every once in a while we wondered where it might have a home. My brother stopped playing, and then I started playing considerably more competitively, rocking out a Mirage Block Constructed PTQ Top 8 playing Talruum Minotaurs and patting myself on the back for doing so. That Satyr never found a home.

Today, it has one—for keeping opposing commanders under control (magic) when they try to do their too-fancy things like set up an awesome Zur attack or rush people to death with Kaalia. Tap my Satyr, mess up your plans, easy peasy.

My third Legends rare out of those packs we bought for $20 each—English, too, what a deal (even if they were pilfered of their Mana Drains and we didn’t know)!—was a Nether Void I turned around and traded for said Al-Abara’s Carpet. Or maybe it was for the Alchor’s Tomb. I don’t specifically remember, and for obvious reasons I don’t particularly want to.

IN: Gargantuan Gorilla

From more historical memories of favorite cards I didn’t understand at the time, we get GG here, who you are enabling with your generous donation of Snow-Covered Forests you’re capable of mass producing at a discount and whose “tap to fight!” ability is quite solid just like your Ulvenwald Tracker (go go Fight Bear!). We didn’t understand or like this because while we liked our big dumb animals with ridiculous upkeep requirements. Force of Nature and Lord of the Pit were catchall creatures of choice to us for we were young and stupid and didn’t know any better. The text was so confusing that we couldn’t actually interpret that this is all that it was asking for.

This is a mighty large monster that can routinely keep problem creatures in check, and while Snow-Covered Forests are not required (twenty of them plus the Mouth of Ronom could just as easily be 21 regular old Forests if you don’t have the ability to get enough of them), they certainly do help for those cases where you want to attack rather than mash someone’s best man to pudding.

Mono-green can be surprisingly good at playing creature control when it wants to be.

Putting it all together, we get the following deck:

Jolrael, Empress of Beasts
Sean McKeown
Test deck on 05-26-2013

As always, for participating in this week’s Dear Azami, you will receive a $20 coupon to StarCityGames.com, redeemable for a good portion of the changes I’ve made (or one Survival of the Fittest apparently, which is why I don’t jump to include that one every time anymore). I’d hoped to find an interesting commander to go to bat with for the hundredth edition of Dear Azami, as we’ve been trying lately to cover some of the missing pieces we couldn’t believe we’d left out rather than pick an obvious Commander and complete it (I think Zur was the one that was leading that particular request).

I wanted to mess around far out in left field and have a little fun with someone interesting. The Prophecy Spellshaper commanders are intriguing design spaces to play around with, and Jolrael is probably the best of those to try out. Sometimes you see exactly the right commander and know about exactly the right oddball cards that would make it hum, like Avenging Druid That, more than the “stock commanders” retinue we’ve felt duty bound to explore lately, was what I wanted to play with to celebrate this admittedly-minor anniversary and take forward with us into the next one hundred: a sense of playful joy.

Pricing these changes out, we get the following:

Before I sign off and leave it up to Cassidy to bring us forward from here with Dear Azami #101, I felt now would be a good time to provide a complete article archive of our first 100 columns. We switched titles from “99 Problems” to “Dear Azami” pretty early on, at #15, and those early articles are very hard to find in the archives unless you know to look for them. You can’t exactly search them based on which Commander we covered when, so I worked up a simple table listing our articles in chronological order and including which commander we covered in that edition.

If you’re inclined to have a quick peek down memory lane or are a new-ish reader (I think “joined us in the last 50 articles or so” would count as far as this archive potentially being useful and pleasing to you is concerned), maybe this will point out a few tweaks and tunes we’ve made here on Dear Azami that might engage your creativity or feed your curiosity for interesting things. Here it is:

# Title: Commander:
1 99 Problems
2 99 Problems: Keeping Your Word And Breaking The Format
3 99 Problems: Ob Nixilis Versus The World Ob Nixilis, the Fallen
4 99 Problems: The Devastating Combination of Red, White and Blue Numot, the Devastator
5 99 Problems: A Letter From Lyzolda Lyzolda, the Blood Witch
6 99 Problems: Intent on Intet Intet, the Dreamer
7 99 Problems: Commanding Phyrexia
8 99 Problems: How To Build A Siege Tower Doran, the Siege Tower
9 99 Problems: Thraximundar Solves His Problems With A Chainsaw Thraximundar
10 99 Problems: 15 Solutions
11 99 Problems: Exploring Animar Online Animar, Soul of Elements
12 99 Problems: Smashing Face With The Guru Of Spores Ghave, Guru of Spores
13 99 Problems: Going Old-School with Adun Oakenshield Adun Oakenshield
14 99 Problems / Dear Azami: Wielding The Black Blade Dakkon Blackblade
15 Dear Azami: Answering The Call Of The Herd Phelddagrif
16 Dear Azami: A Golgari Rhapsody Savra, Queen of the Golgari
17 Dear Azami: Vicious Carnage With Vish Kal Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter
18 Dear Azami: A View Of Innistrad From The Command Tower
19 Dear Azami: Born To Die Grimgrin, Corpse-Born
20 Dear Azami: Writing Damia’s Wrongs Damia, Sage of Stone
21 Dear Azami: Leading The Ghosts For Halloween Karador, Ghost Chieftain
22 Dear Azami: Beating Down With The Bandit Warlord Godo, Bandit Warlord
23 Dear Azami: The Worst Thing You Can Still Do To People
24 Dear Azami: Don’t Fear The Reaper Reaper King
25 Dear Azami: Storming Eiganjo Castle Konda, Lord of Eiganjo
26 Dear Azami: Dear Olivia Olivia Voldaren
27 Dear Azami: Rosheen And Her eX Rosheen Meanderer
28 Dear Azami: Death, Death, Death, Death, Lunch… Death, Death, Afternoon Tea… Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker
29 Dear Azami: Luck Be A Lady Tonight Lady Evangela
30 Dear Azami: Winter Is Coming Starke of Rath
31 Dear Azami: Commanding The Darkness (Part One)
32 Dear Azami: Commanding The Darkness (Part Two)
33 Dear Azami: So I Hear You Like Elves Ezuri, Renegade Leader
34 Dear Azami Azami, Lady of Scrolls
35 Dear Azami: Child’s Play Child of Alara
36 Dear Azami: Science Fiction Double Feature Wydwen, the Biting Gale
37 Dear Azami: Getting Down With The Defiler Rakdos the Defiler
38 Dear Azami: Singing For Souls For My Supper Rubinia Soulsinger
39 Dear Azami: Merieke Like That Merieke Ri Berit
40 Dear Azami: Bosh & Roll Bosh, Iron Golem
41 Dear Azami: Snakes On A Plane Seshiro the Anointed
42 Dear Azami: Merciless Control Kaervek the Merciless
43 Dear Azami: The Many Have Spoken Rafiq of the Many
44 Dear Azami: Updating Edric Edric, Spymaster of Trest
45 Dear Azami: The Angels Of Asymmetrical Warfare
46 Dear Azami: Been Caught Stealing Halfdane
47 Dear Azami: Breaking Rules
48 Dear Azami: Numot: Enter The Dragon Numot, the Devastator
49 Dear Azami: Yo Cromat, I’m Really Happy For You, I’mma Let You Finish… Cromat
50 Dear Azami: Why Playing Jhoira Is A Bad Idea
51 Dear Azami: Midrange Mono-Green Is Not A Four-Letter Word Kamahl, Fist of Krosa
52 Dear Azami: Feeding An Insatiable Urge Thromok the Insatiable
53 Dear Azami: Under Cover Of Darkness Vela the Night-Clad
54 Dear Azami: Why Teysa Hates Peacocks Teysa, Orzhov Scion
55 Dear Azami: His And Hers Ragnar & Kaalia of the Vast
56 Dear Azami: Nicol Bolas, Staple-Puller Nicol Bolas
57 Dear Azami: Counter Intuitive Glissa, the Traitor
58 Dear Azami: Straight Up Beatdown, Mayael-Style Mayael the Anima
59 Dear Azami: Preaching To The Choir Chorus of the Conclave
60 Dear Azami: Ith Never Ceases To A-Maze Me… Ith, High Arcanist
61 Dear Azami: Look To The Skies Talrand, Sky Summoner
62 Dear Azami: Live From Gen Con ’12: Vaevictis Was Here… Vaevictis Asmadi
63 Dear Azami: I’d Radha Not Radha, Heir to Keld
64 Dear Azami: Garga Zol, Beauty Queen Garza Zol, Plague Queen
65 Dear Azami: Readying The Return To Ravnica Skullbriar, the Walking Grave
66 Dear Azami: Returning To Ravnica With Rakdos, Lord Of Riots Rakdos, Lord of Riots
67 Dear Azami: New Rules Isperia, Supreme Judge
68 Dear Azami: Ruhan’s Family Tree Ruhan of the Fomori
69 Dear Azami: Beauty Is Only Skin Deep Diaochan, Artful Beauty
70 Dear Azami: Izzet Flashy, Or What? Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind
71 Dear Azami: Being All Things To All People Mistform Ultimus
72 Dear Azami: The Soul Of The World Is Back! Progenitus
73 Dear Azami: All The Combos, All The Time Kiyomaro, First to Stand
74 Dear Azami: Focus On The End Game Gwendlyn Di Corci
75 Dear Azami: From Svothgos With Love Sisters of Stone Death
76 Dear Azami: Omnath, Meet Chainsaw Omnath, Locus of Mana
77 Dear Azami: Tuning Thraximundar Thraximundar
78 Dear Azami: Heads Up With Radha, Heir To The Wolfpack Radha, Heir to Keld
79 Dear Azami: Season’s Beatings Livonya Silone
80 Dear Azami: The Road To Good Intet-tions Intet, the Dreamer
81 Dear Azami: Commander Cube
82 Dear Azami: Lovisa Coldeyes Rides A Moped Lovisa Coldeyes
83 Dear Azami: Zuberacide Karona, False God
84 Dear Azami: Obzedat And The Failed Republic Obzedat, Ghost Council
85 Dear Azami: Prime Directives Prime Speaker Zegana
86 Dear Azami: Cloning Around With Lazav Lazav, Dimir Mastermind
87 Dear Azami: Octopus Prime Lorthos, the Tidemaker
88 Dear Azami: The Two Sides Of Sharuum Sharuum the Hegemon
89 Dear Azami: Crossing The Streams
90 Dear Azami: My First EDH Riku of Two Reflections
91 Dear Azami: Heart Of Stone Sisters of Stone Death
92 Dear Azami: Tribal Alliances Karona, False God
93 Dear Azami: God Mode Karn, Silver Golem
94(a) Dear Azami: Captain Malfegor: I Aim To Misbehave Malfegor
94(b) Dear Azami: Malfegor Challenge Malfegor
95 Dear Azami: I Want YOU For Ruhan’s Army! Ruhan of the Fomori
96 Dear Azami: Zombie Teysa Teysa, Orzhov Scion
97 Dear Azami: A Weird Look At Dragon’s Maze Melek, Izzet Paragon
98 Dear Azami: When Dragons Attack! Scion of the Ur-Dragon
99 Dear Azami: The 99th Problem Kresh the Bloodbraided

Sean McKeown

Want to submit a deck for consideration to Dear Azami? We’re always accepting deck submissions to consider for use in a future article, like Kristjan’s Scion of the Ur-Dragon deck or Imshan’s Melek, Izzet Paragon deck. Only one deck submission will be chosen per article, but being selected for the next edition of Dear Azami includes not just deck advice but also a $20 coupon to StarCityGames.com!

Email us a deck submission using this link here!

Like what you’ve seen? Feel free to explore more of “Dear Azami” here! Feel free to follow Sean on Facebook…sometimes there are extra surprises and bonus content to be found over on his Facebook Fan Page, as well as previews of the next week’s column at the end of the week! Follow Cassidy on his Facebook page here or check out his Commander blog!