Dear Azami: Anax-ident Waiting To Happen

This week Cassidy steps outside of his comfort zone to build an Anax and Cymede Commander deck metagamed to beat up on Edric, Spymaster of Trest.

From: Colin

Sent: Thursday, March 27, 2014 4:09 PM

To: Editor

Subject: Customer Request


I love all of the Commander decks that you make. I love to use StarCityGames.com for decks and deck ideas. I often use it to build off of my own ideas. Something I’ve noticed however is that you don’t have very much rush Commander decks. I would love it if you would go over an Anax and Cymede rush deck capable of going against an Edric, Spymaster of Trest rush deck.




Remember when your parents used to tell you that it’s good to try new things? They were probably trying to get you to eat vegetables at the time. It is a valuable lesson though (and probably not for the reasons you might think). 

I personally learned association. We’re talking Pavlov’s dog here; "try something new" equated to "gross new vegetable" nine times out of ten. I learned to cringe when my parents suggested that I go outside of my gastronomic comfort zone. This is likely why I tend to fall into the "strict carnivore" camp these days.

Possibly more importantly, the association goes deeper. On a basic level, my brain has partially hardwired itself to understand the following:

New = Bad

You could say that brussel sprouts have turned me into the ultimate creature of habit. (I knew they were evil!)  After reading this email submission, I realized that this habitual tendency carries over into my Commander deck preferences too. Going by the decklist archive I keep on my laptop, I’ve built and played over 60 decks since I started to follow the format years ago, and a quick eyeball (I’m ruling out things like "Turbo-Crap.xls" and "Don’t_Actually_Build_This.doc" for obvious reasons) puts the percentage of green decks at about 70.

Boros decks though? Exactly zero.

Here’s the real thing, and I’ll be right up front about it—I don’t particularly like Boros decks in Commander.

I’d like to be able to say that I just don’t like playing them myself, but even that’s not true. I tend to be uncomfortable with them even when they’re across the table from me. I wish I could explain the exact reasoning behind this; there’s a part of me that feels like red and white together feels a little too pedestrian and non-magical. There’s a part of me that feels like weenie horde decks are the opposite of what I personally want out of this format. There’s a part of me that can’t find a commander that intrigues me enough to build around.

Basically there are a bunch of potential reasons, and I can’t put my finger on one definitive answer. So why am I trying to tackle this list this week?

No, really. That was an honest question right there. Anyone?

Our esteemed content coordinator Cedric Phillips forwarded this submission to Sean and me directly, asking if one of us could tackle the subject for Colin. It being my week in the Dear Azami rotation, I stepped up and agreed to take a shot at it after staring at it for a few days, trying to figure out what exactly I could bring to the table that would do it justice. After all, we try to bring our experience and expertise to the decks we work on every week, and if I had neither for this color combination, what exactly was I supposed to show up with?

A few things finally stuck with me though:

If there’s a color combination I get, it’s Simic. Hands down my two favorite colors in the format, I currently have a Prime Speaker Zegana deck that is the flagship of my collection and sits at about 95 percent foiled out. On top of that I currently have a Bant deck built around Angus Mackenzie that is perhaps my favorite deck of the bunch, and I’ve had every other iteration of U/G/x decks over the last few years as well.

I also had the distinct honor of getting blown out of the water at Gen Con a few years back by an Edric deck that eventually took the entire tournament down in the face of tuned Zur the Enchanter prison decks, tuned Hermit Druid combo builds, and every other competitive deck in between. Being able to essentially metagame a deck to deal with that build from the ground up seemed like a great opportunity.

I accepted and went into the tank for a few days. Fortunately, as The Beatles said, I got by with a little help from my friends in the end.

Let’s take a look at what we’re putting up and what we’re up against before we get into the specifics.

The Enemy: Edric, Spymaster of Trest

Have you ever wanted to beat down with Shanodin Dryads and still be taken seriously? This is the deck for you. Edric himself is the master of card advantage, turning every creature that deals combat damage to an opponent into a repeatable draw engine. I’m sure the good folks in the Wizards of the Coast R&D department had some really starry-eyed intentions with this innocuous little Rogue Elf; the rules text phrasing means that even your opponents will draw cards for attacking into other opponents. Edric is supposed to be a bit of a combat arbiter, hopefully suggesting a subtle group hug effect that will ward off attacks and draw in opponents through political means. Even his flavor text suggests this.

Sadly, this was not to be. Edric is better as a stingy turbo draw enabler; the player running him spends the first few turns dropping cheap creatures, with the hope that on turn 3 Edric will hit play and immediately refill their hand. The deck is a basic control shell past that, with an extra helping of Time Walk effects. Like all of them. Edric’s big turn is spread out over several big turns in reality, with enough of a draw engine in place that he can hit an extra turn spell, get in for some damage, deal with some permanents, and then take another turn and do the same exact thing until no other players are left standing. It’s not exactly a prison deck, but it sure can feel that way.

Where the deck falls flat is if other players can keep Edric off the board. It will live and die by the draw engine it puts in place, so keeping Edric anywhere but in play means facing off against a deck full of fair counterspells and Charging Badgers. It’s not exactly threatening. The Edric player will therefore benefit the most from trying to not be threatening enough to be noticed, letting the other players in the game work on taking each other out before stepping in once critical mass is reached. If no one gets another turn, even Flying Men are threatening.

(Side Note: This endgame tends to feel a whole lot like the old Erayo, Soratami Ascendant strategy of locking the board completely down by turn 2 and then applying death by a thousand paper cuts to the table with Memnite beats. If you’ve read my writing in the past, it will come as no surprise that I don’t mind taking a shot at this thing.)

Moving on . . .

The Good Guys: Boros Beats Courtesy Of Anax and Cymede

Colin asked for "rush" decks, and while that’s not accepted terminology everywhere, we’re essentially talking about weenie horde decks here. These decks are full of small cheap creatures that overwhelm by sheer numbers and by buffs applied as the ball gets rolling. Even a monstrous Colossus of Akros can only block one creature at a time, so swarming in with dozens of pumped-up little attackers will do the same damage or better in a shorter amount of time. It’s not rocket science at the core.

Things get interesting when you look at Anax and Cymede specifically. A three-power first striker with vigilance is a decent enough creature on its own, but when you mix in the heroic ability that pumps the entire team and grants trample, you’ve got a very potent and very synergistic commander at the helm. The optimal build will seek to leverage this ability by taking advantage of spells that would already improve things on your side of the board to get a free damage and evasion booster. Specifically, spells that can be reused are going to get primary slots.

We’re not going to forget that this is a deck designed to go head to head with Edric and his weenie horde of card advantage. There will have to be a significant devotion to removing Edric from play and keeping him removed. Damage or removal built into creatures will be desirable since once they do their job they can add to the beatdown.

Lastly, there needs to be a nod to card advantage. The deck we’re facing is arguably the king of card advantage in this particular strategy, so we need to take care not to get buried in a landslide of insurmountable answers and extra turns. Red and white traditionally have trouble here, so this is something that needs to be actively considered through the build.

Where We’re Not Going

The variant that I see much more frequently in my local metagame is what I would call "Big Turn Boros."  These decks operate much more like control/combo decks, setting up creature advantage engines in the early game, protecting them while seeking to keep other decks under control with the typical red/white removal suite, and then exploding into one huge game-ending attack on the back of some serious group pumps.

Think along the lines of slow attrition behind Assemble the Legion; Mobilization; and Darien, King of Kjeldor, protection from Rootborn Defenses, and an eventual single-turn explosion with Shared Animosity. I don’t mind some of those components and will likely use some combination, but this deck is playing the tempo-attrition game to make sure that Edric doesn’t explode out of nowhere and take the game over in a single combat step.

The Build

As I said before, I tanked for a bit after accepting this assignment. Fortunately two of my coconspirators at General Damage Control were available for a Google chat during the week, and we managed to cover the gamut from utility creatures to token swarm to a Goblin theme build. I ended up with an amalgamation of these themes that I feel is a good all-around blend, but I certainly wouldn’t have gotten there without the help of GDC associate editor/production coordinator Dave Schreiner (@MdaveCs on Twitter) and our prolific feature writer Sean Patchen (@SwordsToPlow). As we progress into the list, I’m going to include some portions of the chat and a good deal of the tech. These two absolutely rock.

Me: I have to build an Anax and Cymede "rush" deck for Dear Azami this week. I’m hitting a wall . . . where do I go?"

Sean:"Rush? Like the band?"

The Lands

We had a fairly long discussion about the mana this deck would generate. While Dave and I were fairly consistent in our aim, Sean had some different opinions and wanted to shoot higher. My main goal was to try to keep the curve low for the deck in general, which would allow for a natural land count of around 38 and no huge need to run a ton of acceleration. Sean’s goal was that same land count with ten to twelve mana producers, which is where he shoots for in most of his decks. In the end, I decided that if we kept the curve low enough—and we’re talking near Draft levels low—we could gain some space to include more utility and decrease late game dead draws.

I wanted to start with a bit of creature protection, so Kor Haven is a must. Also on that list is Kher Keep, which is on theme in our build and can act as an early chump block generator. (It’s called "The Red Kor Haven" in my neck of the woods anyway.)

Next up were Slayers’ Stronghold and Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion, two solid combat enablers that provide a decent bump in damage, haste, and effective first strike. One of the best ways to gain parity with Edric is to be able to put a creature into play that can continue to trade favorably with the swarm coming in, and these two are great ways to gain that advantage.

Keldon Necropolis is an ideal repeatable and uncounterable way to keep Edric off the board. Since we will likely be generating a decent chunk of tokens with this deck, the resources to keep this active should be easy to find.

Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle is another strong land-based damage source and a very viable closer as well. We’ll have to pay attention to the rest of the deck to make sure we run enough Mountains to get Valakut active and also to lean toward ramp spells that will fuel it.

Command Tower, Plateau, Clifftop Retreat, and Sacred Foundry are the functional (and real) dual lands for the deck. I hesitate to throw Revised duals around with reckless abandon. But one is at the low end of the cost spectrum, and help on the Valakut front is going to be worth it.

Thawing Glaciers is going to be pretty terrible early, but once the deck has gained enough of a position to keep Edric from going draw ballistic, Glaciers is going to be a great way to assist with the Valakut race and ensure that the deck naturally thins out even further as we progress toward the late game.

Terramorphic Expanse and Evolving Wilds as fetches will help as well.

Strip Mine and Winding Canyons will bring a bit of utility to the table. Another pseudo-haste enabler is a welcome addition to the mix, as is being able to strategically respond to attacks and still maintain the element of surprise. Strip Mine is a bit of simple insurance in case something problematic shows up—Gaea’s Cradle for example.

Finally, rounding out the mix are thirteen Mountain and ten Plains. Nice and simple.

The Anax and Cymede Package

Next up, we’ll look at a package designed to work with the commander of the deck. (Commanders? Can I stop and complain for a minute about Wizards doing these "two creatures on one card" things? It drives me nuts. What if Tibor is feeling a little under the weather and decides to stay home but Lumia is fine to jump into battle? What happens if one of Marisi’s Twinclaws has a dentist appointment? What do you even call them at that point?)

We decided pretty early on to look at the "bouncing enchantment" package:

Dave: Include all the bounce enchantments plus tokens . . . the really predictable stuff to trigger Anax as much as possible as quickly as possible.

Sean: I was thinking you just do Ajani’s Chosen, Sigil of the Empty Throne, and Celestial Ancient. Combine that with In the Web of War and then each Aura you cast deals at least four additional smacks.

Dave: Also maybe the Flashback and radiance spells are worth considering, especially if you include other heroic cards. Buyback stuff is pretty strong.

Let’s take a look at these in order.

Crown of Flames, Ghitu Firebreathing, Mark of Fury, Conviction, and Flickering Ward are a subset of enchantments that either return themselves to their owner’s hand automatically or at a very low activated mana cost. All provide some basic utility; Flickering Ward is likely among the best due to the protection granted, while Crown of Flames effectively triggers Anax and Cymede for two mana.

To add to this cycle, we can include Sean’s suggestions. Ajani’s Chosen and Sigil of the Empty Throne when paired up with any of the enchantments above do a fantastically efficient job of blasting tokens out onto the battlefield. Adding Celestial Chosen to the mix will also grow each creature in play with a +1/+1 counter each time an enchantment is cast. This little synergy will be the real core of the deck.

While we’re at it, gleaning some card draw here won’t hurt. Mesa Enchantress is a very powerful addition to the cycle and can keep easy pace with Edric’s card advantage once this engine is online.

Anoint and Seething Anger are the buyback spells that make the most sense. Both are actually pretty strong here, with Seething Anger making Anax and Cymede a monster and Anoint being a solid way to protect him/her. (The Oracle text has been changed to make it target now.)

Bathe in Light, Rally the Righteous, Surge of Zeal, and Wojeck Siren are next up on the list. The benefits here are not quite as powerful since the spell has a finite life, but each one does hit harder due to providing their effects to any creature you have on the board if targeting Anax in addition to the commander’s trigger. The other benefit Dave pointed out is that by including other heroic creatures each one effectively becomes a mini Anax and Cymede due to radiance.

Rounding out the mix are the Flashback spells. Reckless Charge is another haste enabler and a decent bump in power, while Seize the Day breaks us into new and exciting territory: combat phase additions. This is going to be as close to a "big turn" knockout blow as this deck gets, and man is it ever strong.

Card Advantage

On the heels of Mesa Enchantress,I want to continue packing in ways for this deck to be more prolific than it is naturally. This may in fact be a big reason I steer clear of Boros to begin with; these are the two colors that have a real inability to provide strong card draw, and this is something that will make or break the deck in the face of the Simic monstrosity we’re trying to take down.

Sean: Skullclamp, Mentor of the Meek, Wheels, Sword of Fire and Ice, Ranger and Imperial Recruiter for card advantage?

Me: I’m nervous about Handing Edric a new grip of cards at any point.

Sean: Let’s throw in Sensei’s Divining Top and Scroll Rack to replace the Wheels if they make you nervous.

Mentor of the Meek is a must. Thankfully, the wording doesn’t preclude token creation, so this will allow a huge amount of card advantage. Skullclamp loves tokens as well and is an easy addition.

Imperial Recruiter is a card that we can build around; as it is right now, it finds Mesa Enchantress and Mentor, which is pretty huge to begin with. We can continue to work in additional targets as we get going.

As I mentioned already, I’m really not a huge fan of the draw 7s in this matchup. The whole purpose of the deck is to prevent Edric from finding countermagic or any of the various extra turn effects while pressing the creature advantage, so Wheel of Fortune and company aren’t getting the nod.

If we also add in Sword of Fire and Ice, we can really push a solid Equipment theme. This likely means that we also want Stoneforge Mystic; Stonehewer Giant; and potentially even Godo, Bandit Warlord. If we’re that deep, let’s go with Sword of Light and Shadow as well and even more exciting Sunforger. We already have some fantastic targets in the deck, and we can build in some more to really get some solid value out of it. (This also means that we need to be able to reuse targets even further, so let’s go back, pull a Plains, and add in Mistveil Plains to help keep the hits coming.)

And lastly, Sean is right on the money with Sensei’s Divining Top and Scroll Rack. Cheap and effective card advantage fits the deck like a glove.

Mana Fixers

As stated above, this should be short and sweet.

Land Tax is right at the top of the heap. It fits our enchantment theme, drops early, and does an amazing job of thinning the deck while making sure that no land drops are missed and Valakut is fed.  Along those same lines, Tithe can very easily fit the mold and is a Sunforgerable way to find a few PlainsMountains as well.

Weathered Wayfarer is an easy include, serving double duty as a mana fixer and another attacker to join the squad. Burnished Hart is a bit trickier since you’re getting a beater or mana fixer but not both. Still, it adds a tremendous amount of acceleration and mana fixing in the early game and isn’t a late game dead draw in this deck, so it fits the bill.

Speaking Of Tutors

I think this is pretty easy for the most part. Enlightened Tutor is going to be quintessential in the deck; it’s a Sunforger target and finds any artifacts or enchantments we need, making it essentially a tutor for any piece of utility we could possibly want to find. This is making me want to look deeper into the enchantment options we have, but we’re starting to run low on slots and still have to look toward anti-Edric effects and more beaters in general. Let’s add a choice few and move on.

Sean: Purphoros, God of the Forge is obviously a must. I’d Braid of Fire to cast instant Edric burn and dump into the God.

Great call on Purphoros. We need to figure out some instant speed options if Braid is going to work, but Purphuros, God of the Forge is insane in any token deck. His ability to pump the team up as well is pretty huge, and he makes the cut.

We discussed In the Web of War earlier, and I think it’s a great fit for the deck. Looping the bouncing enchantments to make a horde of Angels or Cats in the first main phase is great, and getting the extra +2/+0 bonus can be a game breaker. While we’re at it, Ogre Battledriver provides the same effect for the most part while also being an attacking body. In and in.

To round out the enchantments, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include Cathars’ Crusade. See Purphoros above if you’ve never seen the card in action in conjunction with tokens before, but it’s fantastic in general in any deck with a good shot of creatures coming and going.

What’s That Sunforger Doing?

I want to save a good amount of space for creatures, so let’s try to focus a few good slots on Forger utility and then round out with creatures.

The best way to arguably deal with Edric is to tuck him. He is so inexpensive to cast that any removal you throw at him will likely just be a single-turn reprieve instead of a definitive answer. In goes Chaos Warp and Oblation to try to find something a little more long term. Unexpectedly Absent is a great surprise as well in the face of a shuffle effect.

Boros Charm is also a must-have option in the Forger quiver. Double strike isn’t a bad option to have with the two Swords around and a commander that does a great job of pumping creatures to large sizes, and indestructibility for your entire board is obviously huge.

Return to Dust offers up some of the best enchantment/artifact removal out there. If you’ve been facing down any of the Theros block Gods, you know how important enchantment exile effects are, so this is an easy include.

I think it’s worthwhile to go with a few old-school standbys to round out the package. Lightning Bolt and Swords to Plowshares both do a fantastic job of dealing with Edric, so the iconic pair rounds out the package.

While We’re On The Subject Of Removal . . .

No good deck worth its salt completely skimps on board wipes. I have a few in mind.

Austere Command is my go-to spell in this department. I simply don’t leave home without it in any deck that can support white. The unreal flexibility allows you to cover the right bases in a way that always benefits you the most; I can’t bring myself to pass it up.

Sean pointed out that Hallowed Burial would be another tuck effect for our opposing commander. This is a good call.

Rounding out the trio, let’s toss in Fated Retribution. I’m a big believer in Rout, and in most cases the cost on these is going to be identical, so I’ll go for the option that gives up a bit in the "handling regenerators" category for extra planeswalker hate and the outside potential for some scry action.

Finally, The Creatures

Fourteen slots remain. Let’s get to work.

Dave: I think there are only about four heroic cards worth playing: the token maker, the Fog, the Threaten, and Hero of Iroas.

Hero of Iroas is going to help out with a few of our bouncing enchantments, so he gets a pass on that account. He would be a lot better if we removed the Equipment section and opted to go harder on Auras, but I think this deck doesn’t want to pass up the card advantage and utility the artifacts bring to the table.

Labyrinth Champion seems like a perfect fit. The same bouncing enchantments that fuel Anax and Cymede can also fuel infinite Edric removal, so this is a must include.

Akroan Conscriptor likewise has the potential to wreak a ton of havoc on Edric’s board. In a perfect world, Conscriptor is actually going to be turning Edric into a draw engine for this deck. I can’t pass that up.

I want a grip of creatures that deal damage or remove creatures outright as they enter the battlefield. I also want as many low-cost options as possible to increase the number of potential creatures in play on my side of the board to take advantage of Anax and Cymede.

Dave: Team FTK . . . such a nightmare for Edric .

Sean: Let’s start obvious: Banisher Priest and Fiend Hunter.

Here’s my wish list:

With four slots left, let’s mix it up for some last minute utility. Sun Titan adds to the recursion suite, Assemble the Legion provides a heck of a passive token army, Goblin Bombardment gives us another means for recycling creatures out for some direct damage, and Ghostly Prison will provide a decent little roadblock for Edric to try to get his entire team through in any given attack phase.

And with that, we’re there.

The Deck

Here’s the final list as it stands:

This isn’t a perfect list by any means. I’m sure there are some interactions that I’m missing, and I’d love to hear about them. I’m more than a little nervous that this deck is too spread out in different strategies and that it can’t put down enough of a solid threat density to handle Edric. I wish there were more token makers, and I wish there was space for more removal.   As it stands, though, this is a decent little shot at a metagame tool. It’s a deck designed to see exactly what can be done in the face of a specific threat and one that wants to see what it can pull off based on the commander’s natural ability.

I’m still not totally crazy about Boros in general, but this was actually an interesting exercise to put together. If anything, I have a better appreciation for exactly what the colors can accomplish when presented with a challenge. Colin, if you’re reading, I really hope this fits the bill as far as what you were looking for. I hope you can get a decent chance to take a shot or two at Edric with some of the ideas and strategies in this deck, and if you do, let me know how it goes. I’d love to see this thing notch a win or two over the Simic card advantage menace.

See you all in two!

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 Josh’s Maelstrom Wanderer deck or Joseph’s Nin, the Pain Artist 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! Be sure 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 GeneralDamageControl.com!