Dear Azami: Merciless Anya

We’re still in the updating season of our newest Commander toys, and Levi Byrne has plenty to work with! Join him as he builds around one of the most misunderstood legends from this year’s offering!

Play Commander for more than a month and chances are you’ve heard at least one discussion about which colors are best in the format, and aside from a few minor changes based on individual preference they usually go something like this: green and blue jockey for first and second with the best creatures and card advantage, black is solidly in the middle thanks to its ability to kill anything that moves, and red and white come in a distant fourth and fifth. Both have access to some great cards, but large slices of the Boros color pie simply doesn’t scale well to a 40-life format. That means that both colors are almost always viewed in terms of what they can offer multicolor decks that have some part of the Sultai menace pulling most of the weight. In Commander, “Boros” is often code for “bad,” especially given the lack of a true build-around commander for the color pair.

What if we challenged that?

Dear Azami,

I decided to take your comment about Anya as a challenge to build around her. She’s a very interesting legend. She has hands down the best art in the set, but her abilities are really hard to really gauge. She promotes a game where you get everyone low but then keep everyone alive. While it may be a poor decision strategically, it’s actually really nice from an EDH perspective. Who doesn’t hate the agro deck that takes a player or two down and then runs out of steam so the first to die sits out for hours? I really think she’ll be able to end games quickly even with having to keep wounded players alive. She also changes a player’s frame of mind to care more about their life totals which generally doesn’t really apply in this format.

As far as the deck itself goes. Anya has great synergy with Heartless Hidetsugu but beyond that the combo potential really ends. I decided to focus on the unavoidable damage of red with some help from white to prevent my own demise. There are some fun tricks with life exchanges and plenty of “players can’t gain life” to keep people below that threshold. I also put a decent amount of focus on deathtouch effects that you can tack onto Ronin Cliffrider, Wojek Embermage and some others to just flat out wipe a field of blockers before they can even be declared so as to ensure damage gets through to add to the inevitability of defeat.

Let me know if you have any fun ideas to tweak it.



Anya, Merciless Angel


Basilisk Collar

Boros Signet

Commander’s Sphere


Mind’s Eye

Norn’s Annex

Quietus Spike


Sol Ring

Soul Conduit


Swiftfoot Boots

Wayfarer’s Bauble


Aurelia, the Warleader

Boros Reckoner

Burnished Hart

Fumiko the Lowblood

Guardian Seraph

Hammerfist Giant

Heartless Hidetsugu

Hero of Bladehold

Inferno Titan

Karmic Guide

Magus of the Wheel

Moltensteel Dragon

Mother of Runes

Oreskos Explorer

Pharagax Giant

Ronin Cliffrider

Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendant

Scalding Salamander

Solemn Simulacrum

Stigma Lasher

Sun Titan

Wojek Embermage


Burning Earth

Dictate of the Twin Gods


Mark of Asylum


Personal Sanctuary



Sulfuric Vortex


Witch Hunt


Boros Charm

Chaos Warp

Enlightened Tutor


Path to Exile

Return to Dust


Daretti, Scrap Savant

Gideon Jura

Nahiri, the Lithomancer


Blasphemous Act

Breaking Point


Fiery Confluence

Reverse the Sands

Tragic Arrogance

Wheel of Fortune


Ancient Amphitheater

Arid Mesa

Boros Garrison

Command Tower

Evolving Wilds

Flagstones of Trokair

Flamekin Village

Kher Keep

Kor Haven

Mistveil Plains

10 Mountain

9 Plains

Sacred Foundry

Slayers’ Stronghold

Temple of Triumph

Terramorphic Expanse

Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle

Anya, Merciless Angel is one of the weirdest legends to come out of this year’s Commander decks, and nobody quite seems to know how to evaluate her. She encourages an aggressive deck to rack up the damage quickly, but she herself is best in the midgame, as early on people won’t be under half health and late in the game there will be dead players that aren’t around to power her up. The only obvious synergy with her is Heartless Hidetsugu. (At least in color, I really wish we could run Havoc Festival here.) What she does give us is an excuse to go all-in on damage and race for the end of the game. With that in mind, let’s see what we can do with Anya.

The Creatures


Pharagax Giant Hammerfist Giant Moltensteel Dragon

All of these are a little clunky for what you want them to be doing. When it works Pharagax Giant is a very efficient way of dishing out damage, but given how irrelevant a 5/5 is in Commander, you’ll be very hard-pressed to find anyone who won’t pay the tribute. Hammerfist Giant is awkward because you don’t really want to hurt your own creatures, and six mana is a little much for a turn-delayed token hoser.

Moltensteel Dragon would be a fine choice if Anya said “player” instead of “opponent” on her abilities, but as it is paying huge chunks of life is pretty bad for a “fair” combat deck, and the Dragon is just unimpressive when you aren’t willing to go deep on its firebreathing ability.

Ronin Cliffrider Scalding Salamander Wojek Embermage

Sadly, I’m cutting your package of mass pingers. The combo with deathtouch equipment is nice, but outside of Enlightened Tutor you don’t have any way to find the equipment, and these creatures are really underwhelming without them. It’s possible that you’ve got enough X/1s running around your metagame that they’re worth running anyway, but I doubt it.


Iroas, God of Victory Gisela, Blade of Goldnight

Two of the most powerful legendaries Boros has ever gotten are getting added to our roster. Iroas makes it all but impossible to lose attackers and makes it very awkward for any opponent trying to block. Gisela stands at the top of your curve as the ultimate in damage manipulation. Because she cares about where the damage is going and not where it came from, she’ll even help your opponents beat up on each other.

Malignus War Elemental Knollspine Dragon Balefire Dragon

These all scale off of damage in some way. Malignus gets some huge hits in early and then dwindles with life totals, but if there’s a big gap between the healthiest opponent and the weakest one, it can kill a straggler in one hit. War Elemental is a very old favorite that I haven’t gotten to play with in years, but from my experience it gets huge very quickly.

Knollspire Dragon offers raw card advantage in a form that this deck is uniquely qualified to exploit, and is all but unheard of in these colors. Balefire Dragon comes in as the big brother of the pingers I cut earlier. With flying it’s pretty likely to connect, and six damage is enough to take out all but the biggest monsters. Not as strong as deathtouch on the pingers, but since you don’t need to assemble the combo for the Dragon to do something, it’s a much better card, and it still works perfectly fine with deathtouch.

Zo-Zu the Punisher Scab-Clan Berserker Tunnel Ignus

One of the early builds I considered for this deck involved a lot more punishing cards and a few Armageddon effects to keep our opponents from ever reaching their endgame. I decided not to go that route, but I kept these two in as some early bodies that will rack up a lot of damage as the game goes on. In my experience, most opponents will decide to suck up the damage from cards like this and just play normally until they find some way to deal with the problem, which will often mean these marking anywhere from six to twenty damage on each opponent if you get them down early.

The Planeswalkers


Daretti, Scrap Savant Nahiri, the Lithomancer

I’ll admit to not knowing why you’re running Daretti and Nahiri. You don’t have enough artifacts or equipment to make either of them good, and without that focus they’re a mediocre looter and a bad token maker, respectively.

The Artifacts


Wayfarer's Bauble

Not much to see here. I’d rather have a basic than pay three to go find a basic, even if the Bauble does let you fix your colors a little.

The Spells


Breaking Point Browbeat Reverse the Sands

I’m not the first to say this, but cards with the “Punisher” mechanic are almost universally bad. The fact that you care about the damage more than most Commander decks doesn’t change that, especially since each opponent gets to make a choice about whether they want to pay or not.

Reverse the Sands fits into your theme of messing with life totals, and can pull off some really funny moments with the enchantments that stop lifegain. That being said, eight mana is a lot to pay for the effect, especially since there’s more than one card in here that punishes players for having or playing lands. I was okay with keeping Soul Conduit because it’s repeatable and only takes six mana at a time, but I don’t think you need two cards that fill that function.


Price of Progress Deflecting Palm

You’re already running Burning Earth and Manabarbs, so I’ve taken it a step further with this inclusion. Price of Progress will vary a lot in its utility, and sometimes people just won’t be affected at all, but in Commander no will play around it, and this is one of the most efficient finishing blows you could ask for. Deflecting Palm is a similar trick that can blow out all sorts of haymakers. It’s not the kind of card I would normally run, but since you’ve got a Sunforger package anyway, it was worth slotting in.

The Enchantments


Personal Sanctuary Transcendence Pariah

These last three cuts are a little emblematic of the entire overhaul. I’ve mostly been getting rid of the white defensive cards and adding more fire to the list. That wasn’t my intention to start off with, but I do think the end result is stronger.

I cut Personal Sanctuary because most of the cards that hurt you want to be used at instant speed, and some of the suicide cards got cut (most notably Moltensteel Dragon), so it just wasn’t pulling its weight. Transcendence is a very weird card that usually boils down to “gain around fifteen life.” Without donate shenanigans or a major pillow-fort theme, that’s not something I want to pay six mana for.

Pariah is actually the strongest of these three in a vacuum, but from what I’ve seen, people will often go out of their way to kill whatever Pariah is attached to just because it will be annoying to deal with later.


Vicious Shadows Gratuitous Violence Spellshock

Damage. Damage everywhere. Spellshock hits players for two whenever they cast anything, and given how many decks want to chain a bunch of spells together, that will most often break in your favor.

Gratuitous Violence is a fantastic card that I run in every red deck I have, but all too often it falls under the radar. This is an ideal place to show it off, and if you have even a single buff on Anya, this turns her into a monster, and with two players below half, this makes her a one-shot kill. It’s also completely asymmetrical, unlike every other Furnace or Rath effect.

Vicious Shadows turns any board wipe into a scary proposition for your opponents, especially the control players that are prone to have full hands. Triggering off of every creature that dies instead of just yours makes it a pure powerhouse for almost every deck.

The Lands


Plains Mountain Mountain Mountain

You were running just 34 lands and a few mana rocks in a deck that wants to get up to at least seven mana in every game. That just wasn’t enough for me to be happy, and I decided that I wanted to add more basics since there’s a fair number of effects here that punish nonbasics. Since literally every card that I added today has been at least partially red, I skewed the additions towards Mountains.

Putting it all together, we get the following:

The list Brian sent in was short a few cards, so I wound up adding a few more than I cut to bring the final list up to 100 cards. Here’s the list of additions sorted by price:

Mountain $0
Plains $0
Spellshock $0.25
Tunnel Ignus $0.49
Scab-Clan Berserker $0.65
War Elemental $0.69
Deflecting Palm $0.69
Vicious Shadows $0.75
Malignus $1.49
Zo-Zu, the Punisher $2.45
Gisela, Blade of Goldnight $3.99
Knollspire Dragon $4.65
Iroas, God of Victory $ 4.99
Price of Progress $4.99
Gratuitous Violence $5.49
Balefire Dragon $7.05
Total $38.62

Everything totals up to $38.62, half of which Brian can get with the twenty dollars in Starcitygames.com store credit he receives for participating in this week’s Dear Azami.

For the next three weeks, Jess and I will continue to cover the backup commanders from this year’s precon decks, and we still have Karlov, Kaseto, and Mazirek to cover. If you’ve got a unique take on them you want people to see, or just want some help tuning a deck, this is a great time to get your work featured!

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