Dear Azami: Aggressive Negotiations With Merieke Ri Beret

Check out this week’s edition of Dear Azami to see what changes Sean suggests be made to Alex’s Merieke Ri Berit Commander deck!

Dear Azami,

My cousin was a tournament judge, and for Hanukkah he gave me a pretty large box of old cards. After rooting through it, I found a copy of Merieke Ri Berit and became obsessed. I had been looking for a new Commander deck to make, and this lady inspired me to combine her with other cards from the box and some cards I had. I also ended up "repurposing" the other two Commander decks I owned to make room for Merieke.

I then went down to my local store for a few trades because apparently I never owned some very specific cards, like Obelisk of Esper and any of the new Commander 2013 cards, and I also did not own any scry lands. I was pleasantly surprised however that I was able to make most of the deck with cards from the box and cards I already owned (this may explain the inclusion of certain odd lands).

I’m now looking to give it some of the punch that it lacks. I want a mix of creatures that tap for cool things and other things that make those creatures untap. Perhaps I should also have things that make my creatures indestructible so that I can keep them if Merieke untaps.

Merieke Ri Berit
Akroma’s Vengeance
Arcane Sanctum
Arcanis the Omnipotent
Aura of Dominion
Austere Command
Avacyn, Angel of Hope
Avatar of Woe
Azorius Guildgate
Beacon of Unrest
Beguiler of Wills
Brilliant Ultimatum
Burst of Energy
Captain of the Mists
Cerulean Wisps
Coffin Queen
Command Tower
Conjurer’s Closet
Control Magic
Cryptic Command
Curse of Inertia
Cyclonic Rift
Darksteel Ingot
Deadeye Navigator
Deceiver Exarch
Decree of Pain
Diabolic Revelation
Dimir Guildgate
Dromar’s Cavern
Drowned Catacomb
Energy Arc
Ethersworn Adjudicator
Fetid Heath
Freed from the Real
Glacial Fortress
Godless Shrine
Grand Arbiter Augustin IV
Hallowed Fountain
Havengul Lich
Hero’s Downfall
Illusionist’s Bracers
Increasing Ambition
4x Island
Isolated Chapel
Jwar Isle Refuge
Karmic Guide
Lightning Greaves
Magewright’s Stone
Merciless Eviction
Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
Mind Over Matter
Mystic Gate
Niblis Of The Breath
Nimbus Maze
Obelisk of Esper
Orzhov Guildgate
Path to Exile
3x Plains
Reflecting Pool
Reliquary Tower
Rune-Scarred Demon
Sejiri Refuge
Sky Hussar
Sol Ring
Sower of Temptation
Spell Crumple
Sphinx Of The Steel Wind
Staff of Nin
Sunken Ruins
Supreme Verdict
3x Swamp
Swiftfoot Boots
Swords to Plowshares
Temple of Deceit
Temple of Silence
Temple of the False God
Thoughtweft Gambit
Thousand-Year Elixir
Tidal Force
Tideforce Elemental
Tragic Slip
Vault Of The Archangel
Venser, the Sojourner
Wrath of God

Sincerely yours,


We have covered Merieke Ri Beret once before in a deck built to assemble Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek and grind out a long game with a wave of tokens. This deck is quite different, aiming to build around Merieke and maybe find loopholes in her whole “killing creatures she steals” rule but at the very least doing cool stuff and having fun doing it. I’m down with that, even if it does make me a little nervous to start reaching for a card like Mind Over Matter in this format—I’ve seen too many Eldrazi discarded to it so that Niv-Mizzet can keep killing people from infinity to really trust it, but I guess here it’s innocent enough.

I like the deck’s comparative innocence without mistaking that innocence for ineffectiveness. Some decks play cute cards and come off as goofy, designed to do that odd thing you built around without any apparent concern for the fact that this thing has no correlation to winning the game. I’m talking "deal ten damage to someone with Glyph of Destruction" kind of goofy, where you build around that exact bizarre scenario where your cute trick gets to happen and will happily play ten games waiting for that one bright shining moment.

This deck plays some cute cards and is a bit goofy, but that goof factor is turned into creature removal at the absolute worst and does some interesting things—in fact, I think this deck’s cardinal sin is not in the goofballs but in the "good stuff" inclusions. I want to embrace the chaos, embrace the goofiness, and make good use of Twiddle effects for fun and profit. I don’t want to Bribery my opponent or win with a reanimated creature thanks to Beacon of Unrest, so I really just want to focus on the theme of the deck and pare away everything that is not at that essential essence without necessarily making the deck worse. After all, we call it "good stuff" for a reason—it’s all good stuff, and the cards we’re going to cut are some of the best cards in Commander for their respective colors.

That doesn’t keep them off my chopping block, however, so we’re going to pare the deck down to its inner core and rebuild from there.

The Cutting-Room Floor

Artifacts: Lightning Greaves, Magewright’s Stone, Obelisk of Esper, Staff of Nin

Unfortunately, shroud prevents most of the fun tricks we want to use your commander for, so between the two similar Equipment we’ll be leaning on Swiftfoot Boots and cutting Lightning Greaves even though I think Lightning Greaves is the better card. Staff gets cut because it’s just not a very cost-efficient card, though I like it and think it does an effective job in some decks, and I have a higher class of card in mind for Magewright’s Stone—we’re going to have a lot of these sorts of effects and can get better cards doing the work if we try.

As for the Obelisk, well, you’re short on real lands, and we need to cut that bit of artifact mana in order to add to your mana count elsewhere. The acceleration isn’t as relevant in this deck, so we just want to hit the right mana counts every time with a reliable card that will tend to stay in play—and that card type generally tends to be lands since the unwritten code of conduct basically says for people to declare that particular zone of play off limits for messing with too deeply.

Creatures: Sky Hussar, Pestermite, Deceiver Exarch, Captain Of The Mists, Grand Arbiter Augustin IV, Karmic Guide, Sower of Temptation

The first half is going because they are the worse class of Twiddle effects. I want to find room for more cantrip Twiddles and stronger untap effects, and that means cutting back on the cards that aren’t exactly great like Deceiver Exarch that basically do nothing after providing their effect—I’d rather have a new card in my hand than a 1/4 in play every time. The other half is the "good stuff" cards, which get cut because they don’t really fit; they just happen to do good things in your average game. That’s not quite good enough for me, and I’d rather focus on your overarching themes than just aim to play high-quality cardboard.

Other Spells: Aura of Dominion, Burst of Energy, Curse of Inertia, Freed From The Real, Absorb, Beacon of Unrest, Bribery, Confiscate, Control Magic, Diabolic Revelation, Hero’s Downfall, Necromancy, Tragic Slip, Wrath of God, Brilliant Ultimatum

Much the same as with the creatures, the first group is untappy tricks that I just lack confidence in being good enough in the deck, while the second group is good-stuff inclusions that may have a solid impact over the course of a game without necessarily being a relevant part of your game plan. The final cut however comes from having actually resolved Brilliant Ultimatum—it’s like a Fact or Fiction, yes, so it’s already basically "a good card," but for seven mana you have to hit something quite impressive to make this worthwhile.

I have never once been satisfied that I have been paid back for my investment of BBUUUWW. Ultimatums are pretty good in Commander in general principle, but not this one. At reasonable best you’ll get two spells and get to cast them, and I need more than that for seven very specific mana. Yes, you can "collude" and have an opponent choose to give you all five so you get a better deal, but that’s basically the only scenario where you actually pull ahead on this card and is not something I’d expect to rely on.

This pared-down version of the deck looks like this:

Structurally, we want about three more lands, and anything that can bias in favor of finding Minamo, School at Water’s Edge gets to count as part of our untap Merieke suite of cards and thus helps build in synergy as it also fixes our mana. I want a dash more countermagic and to add more creatures than anything else here, as so far we have just fourteen that I’ve decided to keep from your original deck and quite a few of them are not intended to ever get in a fight.

We still have some "good stuff" cards, and I will in fact be adding a few of them before I move on to the other additions because I want to fill the key role of handling opposing commanders and also bolster the card-draw side of the deck. We’re going to build up the "tuck" side of the deck a little bit more so you won’t have to expend resources defeating the same problems over and over again, letting the rest of your deck beat the rest of their deck in a straight-up fight by building Merieke to beat the board.

Adding The Good Stuff

Hinder: You already have Spell Crumple and Condemn in your toolbox, and I wanted to keep the number of counterspells roughly the same as it was before but increase your ability to deprive an opponent of their commander. I don’t love good-stuff additions, but I’m willing to make them in order to build the deck into the right shape.

Skullclamp: Speaking of good-stuff additions, this is about the best stuff there is. Every time you equip this to a creature that then dies, you get to draw two cards—and every time Merieke untaps, something dies. I cut a few card-drawing elements out of the deck but still want the potential for significant card draw, so this is going to be relied on pretty heavily—we’re even going to add a way to find it if we want to.

Stoneforge Mystic: We have some high-power Equipment and want to find them more consistently, and Stoneforge Mystic makes that happen. I don’t know quite when or why its price spiked—I assume I’d have to check recent Legacy results and just be glad I bought my playset recently for under $10 each—but if you have a copy available, it’ll be a very strong addition to the deck since it serves as a multipurpose tutor, finding the best individual card of multiple sections of your deck, and will help the deck run on all cylinders.

Expedition Map: One of the best cards in Commander, and in this case it doubles as a second virtual copy of Minamo, School at Water’s Edge. It fixes your mana and finds you utility lands, making it an exceptionally good addition to your deck.

Tolaria West: We want to add three lands to the deck, and this addition likewise serves as a land tutor in order to find the best lands for any given situation.

Bojuka Bog: You don’t really have good ways to interact with an opposing graveyard, and while relying on Merieke to prevent problems from staying in play, sometimes crazy stuff happens. A little bit of prevention can solve a whole lot of problem from appearing off of a Living Death or Open the Vaults. Adding one copy gives you three virtual copies thanks to the two above cards, which should hopefully let you stop a graveyard-oriented deck in its tracks if you have to. You don’t have a lot of to reuse this so a dedicated graveyard deck will still overwhelm you, but for the people who just casually reuse resources instead of treating their graveyard as an effective extension of their hand, this will do a lot of heavy lifting to keep things fair.

Thawing Glaciers: You don’t get much more old school than this, and I like adding Thaw to any control-oriented deck with a sufficient number of basic lands to put it to good work. You meet that criteria and will be well served by its mix of color fixing and card advantage. Drawing one Thawing Glaciers ensures you keep making your land drops with a free land every other turn.

Twiddling Our Thumbs

Fortunately, that’s where the good stuff ends. I can live with just a few cards added for their strategic qualities when we’re going to fill the rest of the slots with oddballs and amusing tricks more in keeping with your deck’s intentions. Everything added in this section will go toward the specific purpose of Twiddling good creatures, be they Merieke or something else, and we get to add some fun (but maybe terrible) cards in so doing.

Pemmin’s Aura: "I Am Superman," or so the anagram says. Enchanting Merieke with Pemmin’s Aura lets you defend her from opposing removal spells and machine-gun down opposing creatures with her deadly untap trigger, making it a clear upgrade to the Aura of Dominion that was otherwise filling this slot. When there is a clear upgrade, I have no problem making it no matter how difficult it may turn out to be for you to find this $1 uncommon. After all, we give out a $20 coupon to StarCityGames.com for strategic "you expect me to find what?!?" purposes.

Infuse, Twitch, Esper Sojourners: Each of these is effectively a copy of the same card—the Jolt you were already playing. "Untap Merieke, draw a card" is the text on them we’re considering relevant, allowing us to play them as tricksy versions of Annihilate that can also potentially have other uses. Thus we could afford to cut a few other removal spells like Hero’s Downfall since we’re upping the number of cantrips that can effectively serve the same purpose.

Staff of Domination: This is a multifaceted card that’s able to scale effectively as you reach higher and higher levels of mana by drawing you more and more cards, and it also effectively says "4: Untap a creature" as far as your Merieke based game plan is concerned, making it a solid card-draw effect and about the best multi-untapper you can play without specifically enchanting Merieke and thus risking a possible two-for-one in the exchange.

Puppet Strings: An old reliable friend of Merieke Ri Beret, Puppet Strings gets to play the part of Icy Manipulator when you need it to and "untap Merieke" when you want it to. Your aim is to get added benefits out of each creature tap, and this is a simple way to get an extra tap a turn with a no-frills card that just hangs out and does what it’s supposed to do. It’s not a card we see often, but it does exactly what you want it to.

Unbender Tine: This one costs no mana and even has the added benefit of potentially being able to tap for a mana—it doesn’t care what type of permanent it’s untapping after all. I don’t like artifact mana that can be destroyed in a sweeper spell without providing you some sort of benefit, which is why I tend toward cards like Mind Stone for extra mana and cut Signets and Obelisks habitually (but leave Darksteel Ingot alone). This one is only a mana rock incidentally; the rest of the time it’s just a cheap way to double up a specific creature’s tap effect. It does that for no mana, making it better at its job than most of the other cards we’re playing to provide that sort of effect . . .

Thornbite Staff: But not better than all of them of course. Thornbite Staff offers a free untap anytime a creature dies, and of course when you untap Merieke, a creature dies, giving us something of a Catch-22 and clearing enemy boards quite effectively as long as you can generate that first trigger somehow. (You can fortunately stop the chain of events anytime you want to by simply letting the last trigger go by with Merieke still untapped, so you’re not obligated to kill everything but merely able to.)

Intruder Alarm: This one is added for bonus hilarity, but of course we must be careful to make sure we can’t go infinite with it by accident. Intruder Alarm giving you a rebuy of every good tap ability each time a creature comes into play is awesome; generating infinite power and combo killing an entire table is not.

Galvanic Alchemist: You already have the obvious soulbond creature for Commander, but Deadeye Navigator is not the only card with that particular line of text that you can play. Galvanic Alchemist replaces Captain of the Mists with a better way to get multiple untap triggers off of the card since you can always just spend more mana to get more effect.

Triggers & Blinks

With that said, we now have 90 cards and have not yet added any more cool bonus tap effects or ways to profit from the creature-swapping side of Merieke. There is an entire other avenue of benefit we can pursue if we want to, and I want to mess around in that amusing playspace to see if we can’t give ourselves the creatures we stole or otherwise benefit off of them similarly to how you want to benefit off of Avacyn’s unique ability. The last nine cards will help blink key permanents or have potent tap triggers so we can get paid off for playing all of these cards like Galvanic Alchemist and Unbender Tine instead of inefficient cards that don’t develop anywhere. We need to have somewhere interesting for it to take us, so we’ll bolster that part of the deck and then call it finished.

Callous Oppressor, Preacher: Both of these three-drops provide a way to borrow additional creatures on the pretty cheap, each with its own restrictions and limitations. While they aren’t necessarily unique alongside Merieke, they still bolster your overall plan, making them worthwhile additions.

Jushi Apprentice: I like drawing extra cards, and Jushi Apprentice fills that role pretty adequately, letting all of our untap cards potentially turn into card draw instead. But as much as I like untapping Jushi Apprentice, I like untapping Tomoya the Revealer more. The flip side of this card isn’t meant to target you, though of course it does that nicely the first time—subsequent flips are there to deck an opponent by brute force of card draw after your hand size hits the double digits.

Triad of Fates: While I wish this card could function as a blink effect that provides the ability to keep what Merieke has stolen, we shall have to settle for playing it as an interesting tap effect we can use multiple times a turn and benefit off of by drawing cards or protecting our key permanents.

Devout Witness: We’re somewhat lacking in basic Disenchant effects, and Devout Witness gives us that effect on a Spellshaper so we can handle whatever needs managing turn after turn. It’s not flashy, but it’s highly functional.

Pentarch Paladin: However, this is flashy. Instead of messing around with any Paladins of the four points of the compass, Pentarch Paladin sets the color of interest when it comes into play so you can cover all five colors with one card so you can pick the one this particular game requires when it comes up. And unlike those other four—but much like our Devout Witness above—it can handle noncreature permanents, though "colored artifacts" are still an oddity so this will mostly fill in for enchantment and planeswalker duty. Able to potentially gun down multiple permanents a turn, this will help keep problems off your back from a variety of sources.

Nephalia Smuggler: A very simple blink effect, Nephalia Smuggler lets you clear Merieke by breaking the connection between ownership and death. Nephalia Smuggler provides the blink effect we desire—specifically, targeting anything we control (rather than own) and giving it back specifically to us (rather than to its owner). With Merieke’s chain of cause and effect no longer causing the creature to either die or leave our side of the battlefield when she untaps, we can untap her and steal something else, which the Smuggler can then blink as well.

Adarkar Valkyrie: This serves a similar role, with the Valkyrie allowing a creature that dies for any reason to come back to play under your control no matter whose graveyard it goes to. Tap the Valkyrie targeting whatever Merieke is borrowing and then untap Merieke and you’ll see that creature come back into play on your side permanently, letting you untap one or both of them again to keep repeating the effect. The more mana and untapping power you have, the more creatures you can steal and keep a turn, both for the Valkyrie and the Smuggler.

Djinn of Infinite Deceits: This one is less clear cut but can serve a similar effective role, just with a different sequence of which creature you target to take control of with which card. By stealing the creature you don’t want with Merieke and then trading it back to its owner for the creature you do want instead, Merieke can effectively work through the Djinn to steal whatever you want, maintain control of it, and not care whether she untaps because it will not die if she does. This one is somewhat more circumspect but can also be used without Merieke to just take the best creature in play for yourself. The "nonlegendary" clause is a little annoying, but working with Preacher or Callous Oppressor as well to good effect makes up for the targeting restrictions on what you can trade.

Putting it all together, we get the following:

Merieke Ri Berit
Sean McKeown
Test deck on 11-30--0001
Magic Card Back

As always, for participation in this week’s Dear Azami you will receive a $20 coupon to StarCityGames.com to make up for the presumed difficulty in finding such obscure and narrow cards as Unbender Tine and Nephalia Smuggler that are not prone to just be sitting in your Commander box or local game store. We’ve actually kept it quite cheap this week if not for that price spike on Stoneforge Mystic—without the Mystic, we’re at just $43.35, with only two cards over the $5 range. With the Mystic, however, we hit almost eighty dollars, but I consider it an important addition because of how well it works with your other cards. You can blink or otherwise reuse a Stoneforge Mystic in ways you could not double up on the free Equipment off of something like Steelshaper’s Gift or Enlightened Tutor.

If you want to keep the price under $50, you could replace Stoneforge Mystic with Stonehewer Giant, maintaining much of the functionality with a $3 card instead of a $30 and even potentially getting to double it up through the already plentiful untapping tricks you possess. But the potential to never get anything at all because you have to wait to pull that first Equipment out of your deck means I appreciate Stoneforge Mystic as the best first card of this type to add to your deck and will simply hope that you either have a copy already or the price spike doesn’t bother you.

Legacy staples that spike upward in price tend to maintain at least 80% of this new value, so I wouldn’t consider it a poor investment even though it has tripled in price over the past month—that seems to be a Legacy market correction trend rather than a Legacy speculative bubble trend, with a new price point meeting the supply and demand seeming to match the facts on the ground here.

Priced out individually, the cards we’ve suggested cost as follows:

Hopefully this will sate your urge for tap-and-untap shenanigans, letting you manipulate who’s dead and who’s alive and altering what you control and what you get to keep at your whim through the intersection of forgotten Draft commons and underutilized utility effects. This is one of those decks that gets better as you play it better, with maximum effect coming out of a strong strategic basis to your decision making, which is exactly how I like it, but it doesn’t forget to have fun in the middle, either, which is the part I usually skip over too quickly and forget about because "bashing someone with my sweet Godo deck" is itself a pretty fun thing so I tend to lose the forest for the trees.

Here we see Djinn of Infinite Deceits and Triad of Fates keeping the game working in your favor but also interesting and fun, allowing for wackiness to ensue instead of "just" being good stuff that works well in Commander. I’d rather beat someone in a game in which I maximized the value of my Adarkar Valkyrie than one in which I cast Bribery anyway, and I’d like to think most of my readers feel the same way (even though Bribery is awesome).

— Sean McKeown

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