I recently put together a Ruhan of the Fomori deck that functions on a different axis than what my local playgroup is used to. In an environment of 20+ mana Genesis Waves, 20+ mana Exsanguinates, and multiple hard-cast Omniscience(s), mana is abundant and flows with equal representation across the colors. Whether it’s a deck touching green for ramp or black for Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth + Cabal Coffers + Vesuva / Thespian’s Stage, it seems that the majority of decks I play against rely on these-mana boosting (land-based) engines.
My response attempting to create a deck that capitalizes on the overabundance of lands and nonbasic lands without being the "Obliterate, Restart The Game Guy." My focus is on cards that equalize the amount of lands in play (i.e., Keldon Firebombers, Land Equilibrium, Balancing Act), cards that make playing so many lands a liability (i.e., Ankh of Mishra, Zo-Zu the Punisher), and cards that utilize lands as a non-traditional resource (i.e., Seismic Assault, Aura Fracture, Admonition Angel). The goal is to take advantage of the marquee spells and end the game quickly after they are cast.
The only "combos" in this deck are the various land destruction spells in combination with Planar Birth and an Ankh, Zo-Zu, or Admonition Angel. I tried to build the deck to be resilient to land destruction and capable of quickly rebuilding after my opponents ramp / land-based mana engines are exhausted. However, the deck has not performed in a way that can seriously compete with the high-powered decks of my metagame.
If you are loath to touch a deck that includes cards with text that reads "destroy target land," I say move on to the next submission. However, if you think there is a place in Commander for traditionally non-ramping colors to compete along the land destruction axis without ruining the spirit of the game, read on! I would love your input on fine-tuning this deck in a way that maintains the central theme without having people flip the table over . . . if that is even possible.
Ankh of Mishra
Sword of Fire and Ice
Into the Core
Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
Thanks for your consideration and time!
Welcome to another installment of Dear Azami! This week is a step back to the norm for me after a few weeks of taking the hands-on approach of building decks and playing them personally to get a solid firsthand feel for what changes to make to them. This week is special, however, in that my good friend and GeneralDamageControl.com cowriter Mr P (@thingsMrPthinks), who has been working with me in the past few articles, is going to be coauthoring this article with me.
We’re diving deep into strategy this week, deeper than I typically go, but this angle deserves a critical treatment. We’ve both put in a good amount of time and energy discussing the topic of land destruction in Commander, and Mr P went above and beyond to help deconstruct and improve the deck we feature this week as well as offer a ton of insight into the theory behind the changes. He deserves as much (and probably more) credit as I do for the words that follow, and I can’t thank him enough.
In a nutshell, Dirk, your submission is very near and dear to us both. Let’s get right to it to explain why.
I’ve mentioned it before, but our regular Commander game happens on Wednesday nights in Amherst, Massachusetts at a store called Worlds Apart Games. This is important for two reasons; the first is that we have a pretty well-defined metagame since Wednesday is run in a league-style approach similar to (and inspired by) the Armada Games league that Sheldon Menery is a regular part of and discusses frequently in his articles. This means a set of rules and use of a “points system” to encourage certain lines of play (being interactive and having fun first and foremost) and discourage others (mass land destruction and infinite combos for example). There is a decent-sized regular group of players who (I suspect) build their decks using this environment as a primary guideline.
The second reason this is important is derived from the first; our metagame is currently defined by ramp strategies. This is important because in a non-combo world ramp is the best strategy. Commander is a format about playing big things. Big things need big mana; therefore, the best way to cast big things is to use ramp. Now, the natural predator to ramp strategies is combo, which is the heart of the problem for us. We have long-since decided that we’d rather our games run long and not end suddenly when someone pulls off a turn 4 Hermit Druid combo win or resolves Curiosity targeting their Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind, so we’ve actively removed the one thing that keeps ramp strategies in check.
In our world, ramp is the best strategy.
The next-best answer to a deck that has ramped out of control is to play mass land destruction. This is strike two for our playgroup, but even looking at the bigger picture, mass land destruction is one of the big no-nos of the format in general. (The rest of the field past this and the aforementioned infinite combos is usually mass discard and multiple extra turns; our group naturally shuns the former, and the latter usually requires some sort of combo to make it work anyway, so that kind of works itself out organically). We’re essentially looking at a situation where the best strategy is generally accepted and the best answers to the best strategy are generally frowned upon.
Part of the reason mass land destruction is so frowned upon is that it punishes everyone equally whether or not they actually deserve to be punished. In a casual environment, it simply makes games suck by grinding them to a halt. The alternative to full-stop cards like Armageddon are selective mass-destruction cards, but even those rarely work the way they should. Take Ruination for example. In theory, Ruination punishes players for being greedy with their mana bases. However, the most greedy ramp spell ever printed (Boundless Realms) could care less about Ruination. All Ruination really does is punish people for trying to play three-color nongreen decks while occasionally doing what it theoretically does (which is to punish ramp decks.)
Essentially, Dirk, we’re saying a few things here, but chief among them is that you’re going to be walking a very fine line with this deck. We’re going to make it work though.
Now, before we continue, a disclaimer to folks out there who aren’t Dirk:
DO NOT BUILD THIS IF YOUR METAGAME IS NOT OVERRUN WITH RAMP DECKS.
This deck is a prime example of a metagame tool. Most Commander playgroups have figured out how to ramp responsibly, and playing Keldon Firebombers against a little kid who is just psyched to get to ten mana to play Krosan Cloudscraper is not nice. Using land destruction and ramp limitation as a way to combat "broken" decks is very much acceptable within the social contract; preventing people from playing anything—ever—is not.
Since we’ve gotten here . . .
The Five-Point Approach
Judging by your description, what this deck really wants to do is to prevent people from getting to ten-plus mana to play things like Omniscience and Genesis Wave to just take over or end games, with the stated secondary goal of hopefully not making the game miserable. We believe that can be done without resorting to running things that say "destroy all lands" (known as "hard resets") by focusing on the following approach:
Step 1: Manage (and by that we mean "limit") the number of lands in play without resorting to hard land resets.
Dirk, the deck you submitted already did this with things like Keldon Firebombers, Global Ruin, and Balancing Act. We’ll call these "soft" resets, and they are the core of the fair land-destruction package. By utilizing these, everyone will still have a few lands to play with, meaning no one is totally locked out of the game. You’ve noted that you don’t want to be the "Obliterate, Restart The Game Guy," but effects like Devastation do exactly that. We don’t want you to be that guy, so these effects need to be replaced with ones that fill the role in a more responsible fashion. This will be achieved by cutting the "hard resets" and replacing them with the second part of the revised strategy:
Step 2 (new!): Make it more difficult to search libraries.
To be fair, this has the potential to be "unfun," but if you want to stop people from playing Boundless Realms into Genesis Wave, you have to be willing to say "no" somewhere. Again, this deck is a metagame tool; this angle has the added benefit of turning off tutors, which most of the broken "good-stuff" decks run lots of as well. Bonus splash damage is always nice when it manages to offer something tangible.
Along the same lines:
Step 3 (new!): Counter the big spells. (This is the best answer to Exsanguinate / Genesis Wave.)
This step is crucial. As much as some people hate them, counterspells are a necessary tool to combat broken plays. The goal here is not to overdo it and run a ton of counterspells but to run enough that you will be able to say "no" to the game ender that was going to come down and cause the rest of the table to enter the scoop phase. Since this deck is trying to leverage a basic land-heavy mana base that will be a touch harder to fix colors with, we are going to try to focus on relatively cheap and easy-to-cast counters.
Step 4 (new!): Utilize a low(ish) mana curve to make it easier to come back from a soft reset.
Part of the goal of playing a card like Global Ruin or Keldon Firebombers (both of which will usually leave you with three lands) is that you can recover from them fairly quickly if you alter the focus of the deck to stay on the cheap side of mana costs. By running a decent suite of mana rocks and keeping the curve low, this deck should generally be able to cast a soft reset and follow up the next turn with something scary. This is also important because this deck needs to . . .
Step 5 (new!): Keep pressure on!
This is incredibly important. Part of the reason that people find mass land destruction so annoying is because it extends the game, and more to the point often the people who play it end up in the same boat as the rest of the table and have no way to leverage a win anymore. This deck wants to run aggressive threats that will keep the pressure on while disrupting ramp strategies. Going in this direction should also make the deck substantially more entertaining to play, as you will be putting pressure on the game and advancing the game state in addition to running your answers instead of simply running the "all answers, no threats" deck.
In order to unpack all of this, let’s take the "package" approach in the breakdown. We’ll discuss these options further below.
Let’s start at the top.
Cheap and aggressive—perfect. Also, he kills in three "commander damage" hits, and the variance of the attack will help to keep people from exacting retribution. Regarding Step 5, you’ve picked the best possible commander in these colors.
Soft Land Resets
Again, the focus is on running mass land destruction that sets an above-zero value that is equal for all players. While this deck will run some mana rocks to get ahead, for the most part it is keeping the entire "fair" land destruction package in place to maintain balance.
The next package will change as follows:
Hard Land Resets Becomes Search Limiters
Devastation becomes Mindlock Orb
Armageddon becomes Stranglehold
Ruination becomes Aven Mindcensor
Land destruction that sets X equal to zero is miserable. Dirk, you identified that you did not want to be the reset button, and what better way is there to support that desire than to cut those effects?
They will be replaced by three cards that turn off ramp strategies by shutting off the options that cause your opponents to perform a library search. As stated, this also has the benefit of turning off tutors, which will help this deck keep the rest of the field honest at the same time it punishes ramp. The key is the statement "can’t search libraries." Mindlock Orb is the only one that is symmetrical, but this deck is relatively light on tutor effects. Stranglehold is pretty straightforward, and Mindcensor has the surprise factor, making it harder for ramp to not walk into a trap blind and waste a key spell.
Blood Moon Effects
Glacial Crevasses becomes Blood Moon
Admittedly, the moniker for this category is sometimes just mean and unfair. However, if you’re committed to this strategy, it seems like a superior option to the hard resets. The key is that it should not hurt the multicolor decks in the same way that Ruination does, as the raw mana production is left alone. (Unless you’re the Cabal Coffers guy, in which case you deserve this anyway.) The "lots o’ basics" mana base is left alone.
Glacial Crevasses is an awesome card in a grindy deck, but the overall goal is to move this thing away from being grindy. (Well . . . away from being that kind of grindy.)
Numot, the Devastator
Rimescale Dragon becomes Psychosis Crawler
Meloku the Clouded Mirror
Heidar, Rimewind Master becomes Hellkite Tyrant
Adarkar Valkyrie becomes Inferno Titan
Patron of the Moon
Trinket Mage becomes Urabrask the Hidden
Basilisk Collar becomes Shattered Angel
Zuran Orb becomes Aurelia, the Warleader
Wayfarer’s Bauble becomes Isperia, Supreme Judge
This is the heart and soul of this deck. The core of how to keep this deck from being totally miserable is to keep it focused on the primary goal of reducing your opponent’s life totals to zero. Too often when people build "answer decks" they get focused on saying "no" instead of actively advancing the game state. By focusing on relatively cheap disruptive and / or aggressive creatures, we can keep the pressure on while maintaining the keys to the castle at the same time.
Ruhan is a great general for this deck, and cutting things like Heidar (a little too situational and ultimately ineffective) and Trinket Mage (not a good enough package here and ends up a nonbo with the Search Limiters package) for things like Hellkite Tyrant and Urabrask make the deck more aggressive while maintaining the disruption elements (in this case, stealing artifacts and making opponent’s creatures enter the battlefield tapped). We are also upping the overall creature count to add more gas.
Card by card:
Rimescale Dragon costs seven and requires three mana to go online. This is too expensive plain and simple. Psychosis Crawler can ping everyone repeatedly while also being far easier to cast. We’re going to add to the draw package, so it will have the potential to do a bunch of damage.
Heidar is just too situational and doesn’t particularly affect the board enough even when he’s online. Hellkite is huge and has trample and can get you free stuff. Easy swap.
Adarkar Valkyrie is nice and all, but we are going to replace it with something aggressive in Inferno Titan that clears out blockers for Ruhan and doesn’t eat removal before summoning sickness wears off most of the time anyway.
Trinket Mage doesn’t do enough here, while Urabrask does a lot everywhere. Regular readers also know how strongly haste is valued around here.
Rimefeather Owl gets to stay basically because he has the potential to be huge. Note that Rimefeather and Patron of the Moon are the only seven-drops left in the deck.
Basilisk Collar is some life gain. Shattered Angel is some life gain that also beats down. Life gain that is pretty damn good against ramp at that.
Zuran Orb is cute, but the potential to abuse it with Land Equilibrium is pretty huge and we don’t want you to be tempted. We’re going to replace it with Aurelia, who can do a lot of damage, especially with some of the other stuff here (Ruhan, we’re looking at you.)
And while Bauble is okay, it’s not spectacular, especially after we cut Trinket Mage and replace it with Mindlock Orb. Isperia will potentially draw a ton of cards and is an evasive beater as well. This deck is going to eventually draw attention to itself, so having a pseudo-rattlesnake like Isperia is nice.
Annoying Land Things
Zo-Zu the Punisher
Ankh of Mishra
Sword of Fire and Ice becomes Acidic Soil
Pairing an aggressive creature package with stuff that punishes people for playing lands is how this deck is going to get there. We’re going to add Acidic Soil essentially as another thing that makes ramping especially painful. It hurts to cut a card as good as the Sword, but it doesn’t seem to serve any purpose here other than just being good.
Also, your sacred cow makes a delicious hamburger.
Talisman of Progress becomes Chromatic Lantern
Coldsteel Heart becomes Darksteel Ingot
Crucible of Worlds
This deck wants to keep up by playing mana rocks, and it gets to keep a couple of deck searchers because of their added value with Seismic Assault and this deck’s need to keep cards in hand in general. We’re swapping out the B team with the premium blend.
(Side Note: We understand that this deck runs a "Snow" subtheme, but it didn’t make your opening explanation paragraph, so we have to assume that it isn’t nearly as important as making functional improvements on the deck as a whole. I hope we’re right; sorry if we aren’t!)
Sunder becomes Counterspell
Planar Birth becomes Rethink
A few pieces of countermagic get added to the mix. Rethink is easy to cast and should nearly always be a hard counter (and it gets mad style points for the fact that everyone will have to read it). Counterspell could be Dismiss, but Dismiss costs four and this deck wants to be mostly tapped out each turn. Your mileage may vary.
Sunder gets cut for being miserable, and Planar Birth gets cut because it seems counterintuitive with the theme of the deck.
(And because the "combo" you described that includes it doesn’t seem too strong anyway. I doubt you’ll miss it.)
Expedition Map becomes Boros Charm
This deck doesn’t have any lands that are especially worth finding, and we’re trying to cut search-your-library effects to begin with. Boros Charm is nice utility (it gives Ruhan double strike, which seems like it could be a thing), and it also makes your team indestructible. Note also that it does not combo with the land destruction we kept in, keeping it well within the realm of fair. (Boros Charm plus Armageddon roughly equals Forge[/author]“]Darksteel [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] plus Mycosynth Lattice and Nevinyrral’s Disk to the collective mana base, and we all know how well that goes over.)
Draw / Dig
Price of Glory becomes Rhystic Study
Need for Speed becomes Windfall
Aura Fracture becomes Mystic Remora
This deck is light on card draw. We added in Isperia to combat that, and Rhystic Study and Mystic Remora are very solid here with the mana limitation theme. (Well, Remora does have that cumulative upkeep thing, but the draw is passive, which is the key here, and it is really cheap to cast and keep around for a few turns.) Windfall is a nice way to take advantage of other people’s draw engines while turning off hand sculpting.
Price of Glory is cute, but we want to leverage in more reactive spells and counters, so it goes. Need for Speed seems pretty bad in general, and Aura Fracture is aggressively-okay, but we’re replacing the occasionally useful ability to destroy an enchantment at the price of a land (which this deck is not exactly overflowing with) with Mystic Remora, which should draw an average of at least three or four cards on a bad day.
Into the Core
Return to Dust
Skred becomes Starstorm
Skred is going to do a lot of damage to one thing, but this deck is most likely going to want a scalable removal spell at instant speed. Starstorm also cycles in a pinch.
Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
Explorer’s Scope becomes Chandra Ablaze
We’re going to slot in Chandra here because her first ability is solid utility, her second ability is draw and anti-hand sculpting, and her ultimate might occasionally be relevant. She’s awesome in this deck. (She’s pretty awesome and underappreciated in general.)
Mouth of Ronom
13 Snow-Covered Plains becomes 12 plus a Terramorphic Expanse
13 Snow-Covered Mountain becomes 12 plus an Evolving Wilds
9 Snow-Covered Island
We’re going to mostly leave this mana base alone, although we will slot in two basic fetches to smooth things out a bit (and to give you something to do with that Crucible!).
We will say that as cute as Ghost Town is it’s a bit sketchy. It might be a good cut for Tectonic Edge or some other relatively innocuous utility land if you’re feeling it.
Here is the finalized list:
- 1 Zo-Zu the Punisher
- 1 Patron of the Moon
- 1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror
- 1 Keldon Firebombers
- 1 Rimefeather Owl
- 1 Detritivore
- 1 Numot, the Devastator
- 1 Aven Mindcensor
- 1 Purity
- 1 Emeria Angel
- 1 Admonition Angel
- 1 Frost Titan
- 1 Inferno Titan
- 1 Sun Titan
- 1 Psychosis Crawler
- 1 Urabrask the Hidden
- 1 Invader Parasite
- 1 Shattered Angel
- 1 Ruhan of the Fomori
- 1 Isperia, Supreme Judge
- 1 Aurelia, the Warleader
- 1 Hellkite Tyrant
- 1 Counterspell
- 1 Land Tax
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Journeyer's Kite
- 1 Pillage
- 1 Ankh of Mishra
- 1 Dingus Egg
- 1 Land Equilibrium
- 1 Windfall
- 1 Seismic Assault
- 1 Darksteel Ingot
- 1 Starstorm
- 1 Crucible of Worlds
- 1 Blood Moon
- 1 Trade Routes
- 1 Mystic Remora
- 1 Acidic Soil
- 1 Rhystic Study
- 1 Rethink
- 1 Global Ruin
- 1 Balancing Act
- 1 Boros Signet
- 1 Izzet Signet
- 1 Azorius Signet
- 1 Icefall
- 1 Return to Dust
- 1 Mindlock Orb
- 1 Armillary Sphere
- 1 Roiling Terrain
- 1 Seer's Sundial
- 1 Into the Core
- 1 Stranglehold
- 1 Chromatic Lantern
- 1 Supreme Verdict
- 1 Boros Charm
Hopefully, this will be a little smoother for you. The lower curve will allow you to stay in the game and be aggressive while actively keeping ramp in check. The mass land destruction is gone in favor of options that will continue to allow you to keep the ramp in check without ruining everyone’s lives in the process, and you have an increased draw package and some active answers to things that slip through the cracks.
Here’s the breakdown of what these changes will run you:
|Isperia, Supreme Judge||$1.49|
|Urabrask the Hidden||$3.99|
|Aurelia, the Warleader||$6.99|
That’s a grand total of $62.06, which will be mitigated a bit by the fact that we’re giving you a $20 store credit to StarCityGames.com for your participation today. I hope this is more in line with what you’re looking for, and it was certainly fantastic for us to have an opportunity to put in some work on an existing build that is designed to handle the same problems our metagame is currently facing.
Good luck with this deck, Dirk. I hope you enjoy it. Actually, let me take that a step further; take this out for a test drive. Get a good feel for how the deck does and get back in touch with us. We’d really like to know how well it works.
Thanks for reading, folks.
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 JP’s Zur the Enchanter deck or Michael’s Sen Triplets 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!
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