Hey everyone! As you’re probably familiar with by now, Dear Azami’s been trying out some guest authors, and today it’s my turn. I’m Jess Stirba, I live and play in NYC (shoutout to Brooklyn!), and I write for an obscure little site with some local cred called Hipsters of the Coast. I’d say the name’s ironic, but that’s just what a hipster would say, now isn’t it? My column, Command of Etiquette, is published weekly on topics relating to Commander and casual play, and my ethos tends to be more Johnny over Spike. So! With that in mind, let’s check out this week’s Dear Azami letter:
My play group is extremely casual, and for years has played mostly old-school free-for-all-style chaos games. Recently we’ve made the switch into Commander, to wonderful success. At this point, we each only have one deck apiece, which on my budget isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We tend to be a pretty relaxed group, and our games tend to revolve around trying to create the splashiest moves or craziest game states, not necessarily going for wins. I tend to be on the extreme end of that; I rarely win but my decks usually get the most laughs and exclamations, although my occasional wins are overkills to the extreme.
To that end, I built a Rosheen Meander deck built around the idea of accumulating as much mana as possible and use it to fuel X-spells. The Mana Flare effects spread the ramp to everyone, which ends up fueling nutty game states while allowing me to build the biggest Hydra possible, to see just how many tokens I can get out of Hydra Broodmaster or Gelatinous Genesis, or to find out just how much fire I can pour into one Fireball.
With that in mind, I’d like to see if there’s any way I can streamline the deck further. I don’t mind being the first man out of the game so long as I can throw the biggest haymaker in trying to do so. What would you recommend?
I think I’m on your wavelength, Alex, so let’s see if you like what I’ve done with the solid foundation you’ve given me.
Let’s start with the mana. Generally I don’t like to go below 38 lands, particularly in a mana-intensive deck like this one; you’re at 36 to start with some mana rocks and Firewild Borderpost. I don’t like running Borderposts in decks that don’t have artifact recursion synergies or devotion needs, so here’s my first change:
Out (1): Firewild Borderpost
In (2): Rogue’s Passage, Fungal Reaches
This way you’re less vulnerable to getting set back due to some timely artifact removal. I could have added in basic land here since your deck seems to want a high basic land count – one of the drawbacks to Boundless Realms – but I instead decided to go with utility. Rogue’s Passage helps you to swing through, something with which your mostly-trample-free fatties could use a hand. Fungal Reaches is just a solid role-player, but it also ties into the new subtheme for your deck: proliferate.
See, I was initially surprised by your inclusion of Solidarity of Heroes, a Theros-block draft card I tend to undervalue. When I looked at it in the context of your deck, though, I saw that it acted as a backup Kalonian Hydra, only at instant speed and with multi-kicker. To me, this screams “counter manipulation” as a subtheme. So let’s make it mathematical!
But something had to give to allow for the space for a new subtheme, so I cut back on your burn by a fair amount. While I know that casting a gigantic burn spell is awesome, I think you’ll find that with these changes, even though you’re casting fewer Fireball-type spells overall, the ones you are casting are going to be a lot bigger.
Most of the burn spells coming out are one-for-one spells, and thus not the type of board control cards you’re going to want in a deck without a ton of draw engines. Fireball and Street Spasm, the only exceptions, are overly expensive when you’re trying to make them more than one-for-ones. Plus Street Spasm doesn’t even hit fliers, which are the creatures you’re generally going to need to kill.
Banefire stays in because it’s almost always going to land, thus making it a solid finisher, and Bonfire stays in so you have access to at least one high-powered sweeper that can get fliers. Devil’s Play, Red Sun’s Zenith, and Fanning the Flames all stay because they are reusable in one way or another. Clan Defiance stays because it is just a solid card, and Comet Storm because it can potentially kill all your opponents at once, which seems like the exact type of thing this deck wants to do.
On the other side, we’re adding Doubling Season, Primal Vigor, and Contagion Engine as your engine cards. They’re enablers of the most absurd sides of your existing plan, and they work great with Kalonian Hydra and Solidarity of Heroes. When you get more than one of those things on the table at the same time, you’re going to start going off exponentially, and that makes for some crazy beats. Ventifact Bottle might seem odd, but you don’t have a ton of instant-speed tricks to hold up, it’s a reliable way to store up Rosheen Meanderer’s mana over the course of a few turns, and it even cleanses it of pesky restrictions so that you can use that mana for normal spells on the next turn. That it works through charge counters, and thus can be influenced by our new counter-manipulation sub-theme has not escaped my attention.
All of these things cost mana, so let’s talk about that next. Here are the changes I made:
Out (5): Harrow, Gruul Signet, Llanowar Elves, Thran Dynamo, Worn Powerstone
In (7): Coalition Relic, Everflowing Chalice, Explosive Vegetation, Fertilid, Krosan Restorer, Realm Seekers, Stone-Seeder Hierophant
Basically, I cut the things that weren’t on-theme and added in cards that work well with the counter-manipulation theme or lands whose output has been doubled or quadrupled. Harrow is a good spell in the right deck, but here it only advances you one land and the color-fixing is less relevant since you’re a two-color deck with light requirements. Llanowar Elves is a decent mana dork in the right context, but since it never is going to tap for more than one mana at a time and can’t produce red mana it seemed like a reasonable cut. Thran Dynamo and Worn Powerstone are both strong cards, but replacing them with Coalition Relic and Everflowing Chalice works better since we can manipulate their counters and thus ramp their output considerably north of the two or three mana you’d get from Dynamo and Powerstone. Finally, I’m not a fan of the Signet cycle in decks that aren’t really intent on casting four-drops on turn three. I just think it’s usually better to play stronger ramp, and you’ve got plenty of ways to do that already.
Explosive Vegetation is an incredibly solid ramp spell; it costs the same as Peregrination, but it puts both of the lands straight into play. Fertilid is an oft-overlooked ramp spell that has the benefit of being tied not just to a stick but to that stick’s +1/+1 counters. Similarly, Realm Seekers is a powerhouse even if you don’t have any counter-manipulation going on, but with it you’re easily looking at a giant monster that can one-shot your average opponent.
But I am particularly proud here of remembering Krosan Restorer and Stone-Seeder Hierophant. They’re both land untappers, in line with Arbor Elf and Voyaging Satyr, but they’ve both got crazy upsides to go with their higher costs. Krosan Restorer is just a Voyaging Satyr in the beginning, but in the late-game it untaps three lands at a time which is potentially a ton of mana with any of your doublers. Stone-Seeder Hierophant never untaps more than one land at a time, but it gets an untap trigger whenever you have a land come into play. This means that lands you grab with your ramp spells might as well just come into play untapped, which has the potential to be really gross.
Next, let’s look at some of the powerful cards you were running that I just don’t think work in a deck like this. I am, of course, talking about cards that go dropping creatures directly into play from your library; usually incredibly powerful, but not a great fit for a Hydra deck.
I love Green Sun’s Zenith, and I can see why you’d run it in a Rosheen Meanderer deck. But frankly, you don’t have a lot of targets for it. Right now it’s basically just running as another mana dork that you can tutor up, with potential late-game application as Kalonian Hydra or Polukranos. That is powerful, sure, but I don’t know that it’s a good fit for what your deck wants to be doing: building up towards exponential damage. Citanul Flute, on the other hand, works just as well with Rosheen Meanderer mana but has the extra benefit of being a really cheap, and repeatable, tutor for all your Hydras. Green Sun’s Zenith tutors up one thing, and between not being able to pay for their +1/+1 counters or not being green it misses a lot of your best creatures. Citanul Flute tutors multiple times, and it gets everything in your deck. Its only downside is mana efficiency, and with all those doubling effects it seems like that doesn’t need to be your primary concern.
Tooth and Nail, on the other hand, has earned a tremendous reputation as a game-ending spell. And in most decks that’s what it does; while the Emrakul, the Aeons Torn/Zealous Conscripts kill package I’ve seen in Modern isn’t legal in Commander, the Avenger of Zendikar/Purphoros, God of the Forge package tends to be just as lethal in most games. But again, since your biggest creatures are all X-spells, it’s not going to be a reliable game-ender for you. And if you know it’s not going to reliably end the game when you cast it but your opponents don’t have reason to know that or to believe it, you’re just drawing a ton of animosity and making yourself a target for what basically amounts to a minor bit of card advantage.
Let’s just draw cards instead. Greater Good is an obvious card-drawing engine in a deck like this. You’re generally going to have high-power creatures, after all, and Greater Good converts them into a ton of cards and provides you with a free sac outlet. It’s an obvious, if pricey, inclusion. Plus, it’s just a blast to actually play! Mindmoil is less obvious of an inclusion, but I think it might shine in a deck like this. There are going to be a lot of turns where you’re just tapping out to make the biggest creature you possibly can, and Mindmoil works really well in situations like this, letting you cast the best big creature in your hand and then Wheel of Fortune for more gas. And you get to do this for free, every time you cast a spell! One particularly neat interaction I like with this, though, is that Mindmoil turns every Hydra into Winds of Change, allowing you to burn it off for one mana if you don’t like your hand or need to go digging for something specific.
What’s left? The miscellany, mostly.
Even in a deck like this, I think Slime Molding and Ivy Elemental are underpowered. Wurmcalling does Slime Molding’s job but it does it much better, and Ivy Elemental is the weakest version of that creature. Polis Crusher gives you a way to deal with problem permanents while being tied to a very useful beater with bonus counter-manipulation synergies thanks to a generous boost from Monstrosity. And Fires of Yavimaya helps to speed up your clock, making up for some of your lost burn spells by letting you swing on the same turn that you drop a gigantic Hydra so you won’t miss them quite so much. That’s going to be particularly important when you play against decks full of sorcery-speed Wrath effects. And, since I cut a bunch of your X-cost burn spells, I put one more back in: Rolling Thunder. That card has the potential to be completely bonkers in the right deck, and this is that deck!
- 1 Argothian Elder
- 1 Krakilin
- 1 Krosan Restorer
- 1 Stone-Seeder Hierophant
- 1 Magus of the Candelabra
- 1 Fertilid
- 1 Feral Hydra
- 1 Keeper of Progenitus
- 1 Apocalypse Hydra
- 1 Protean Hydra
- 1 Oracle of Mul Daya
- 1 Arbor Elf
- 1 Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger
- 1 Primordial Hydra
- 1 Zhur-Taa Ancient
- 1 Savageborn Hydra
- 1 Vastwood Hydra
- 1 Kalonian Hydra
- 1 Polukranos, World Eater
- 1 Nylea, God of the Hunt
- 1 Polis Crusher
- 1 Mistcutter Hydra
- 1 Voyaging Satyr
- 1 Heroes' Bane
- 1 Hydra Broodmaster
- 1 Realm Seekers
- 1 Heartbeat of Spring
- 1 Exploration
- 1 Mana Flare
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Fanning the Flames
- 1 Rolling Thunder
- 1 Kodama's Reach
- 1 Fires of Yavimaya
- 1 Citanul Flute
- 1 Explosive Vegetation
- 1 Ventifact Bottle
- 1 Greater Good
- 1 New Frontiers
- 1 Doubling Season
- 1 Mindmoil
- 1 Wurmcalling
- 1 Coalition Relic
- 1 Rites of Flourishing
- 1 Banefire
- 1 Comet Storm
- 1 Everflowing Chalice
- 1 Gelatinous Genesis
- 1 Cultivate
- 1 Contagion Engine
- 1 Red Sun's Zenith
- 1 Devil's Play
- 1 Bonfire of the Damned
- 1 Boundless Realms
- 1 Chromatic Lantern
- 1 Clan Defiance
- 1 Primal Vigor
- 1 Astral Cornucopia
- 1 Peregrination
- 1 Dictate of Karametra
- 1 Solidarity of Heroes
As regular readers of this column will know, for participating in this week’s Dear Azami, Alex will be receiving a $20 coupon to the StarCityGames.com Store, which should help dampen the cost of some of the suggested upgrades – except for the two priciest suggestions, Doubling Season and Greater Good, that coupon basically covers everything else:
|Fires of Yavimaya||$0.49|
Once you start getting up towards Doubling Season things get a bit pricey, but I would strongly suggest trying it out because playing with it on the board is hilarious and wonderful, although people will be concerned that you might be trying to use it to insta-Ultimate planeswalkers. But if you don’t love any of these changes, or want some more room to play around once you give it a shot, here are some of the other cards I considered:
Clockwork Dragon – While it’s not an X-spell, it is a mana sink that gets huge, and it holes up some of your vulnerabilities in the air.
Vigor – This card got weirdly expensive at some point, although it does seem like it would be a great addition to your deck because of your new focus on manipulating all sorts of counters.
Azusa, Lost but Seeking – I know why this card got expensive (hint, Summer Bloom.dec), but it provides added redundancy for Exploration and Oracle of Mul Daya.
Vernal Bloom – I wasn’t sure if you had enough Forests to best take advantage of this mana doubler, but it is pretty powerful and reasonably cheap to acquire.
Contagion Clasp – I had considered bringing this in with Contagion Engine, but ultimately I decided against it. It’s a lot higher variance than the Engine, and I’ve had plenty of times when I had a Clasp on the table that wasn’t worth activating, like those times it’s going to be a worse Dragon’s Blood.
Caged Sun – This was halfway between Vernal Bloom and the degenerates below in my opinion: not super-friendly, and I wasn’t certain if you had enough green sources to take full advantage of it.
Mana Reflection / Doubling Cube – Neither of these had the same friendly vibe as your other Mana Flare effects, and they’re both pricey… but they do double your mana pretty darn well.
No matter what, though, remember to have fun! It sounds like you’re a fellow Johnny after my own heart, so if you end up enjoying the exponential mana/counters plan, you have another option you can consider: branching out into white to run Marath, Will of the Wild. That commander isn’t as good as Rosheen Meanderer, at least when it comes to having fun, but adding white gives you access to Mirari’s Wake, Brightflame, and Aurelia’s Fury. And Mirari’s Wake, at least, is a very good card.
Anyway, Alex, I hope you’ve enjoyed what we’ve done with your deck. I personally found your use of land untappers with mana doubling effects to be fairly revelatory, and have since used that tech to speed my Kruphix, God of Horizons deck up by at least a turn. Sure, it makes a ton of sense when you think about it, but that’s what I love about Commander: the design space is so large that there’s always more to learn, and new deck tech to see. So, thank you! It has been my pleasure and honor to work on your deck.
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