Dear Azami: Vaevictis Back From The Dead (Again!)

Cassidy attempts to make amends with Phil by offering up a few suggestions to improve his Commander deck led by old-school legend Vaevictis Asmadi!

Dear Azami (c/o Cassidy),

At first I really enjoyed reading this column, so much that I ended up reading the previous articles that were posted before I found the series. Unfortunately my research caused me to stumble upon the most heinous of acts, and one I am reminded of every time I read one of Cassidy’s articles.

When sending one of the namesakes of the original format to the sidelines, did you even think how he must have felt? I can picture it now, him bragging to the others, “Sure, Little Nicky had his deck posted first, but I get a special live from Gen Con event!” And then not only did you replace him, but it was with another Dragon, the new “ruler” of his colors. Throw in how much taunting he probably received from his cousins and I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve caused this once great being to be suffering from psychosis in a corner somewhere, silently sobbing to himself.

I’ve taken the first steps in making amends by crafting the attached decklist. At first glance it appears to be a basic group hug deck . . . until you notice it’s really a ramp deck with the goal of the commander to not only hit for the needed 21 but for the full 40 to really drive the nail into the coffin. It’s not uncommon for this deck to kill off the most bothersome of opponents when the commander comes down swinging for 21+, but after that it gets delegated to a kingmaker between the two survivors and still does not quite deal the full 40 I’d like to see it crush. Please Cassidy, atone for your actions and make Vaevictis Asmadi into the powerhouse commander he is capable of being.

Thank you,


P.S. Honestly, it’s just really annoying to search for deck ideas and only come across a discussion where the commander is removed from the deck.

Vaevictis Asmadi
Dimir House Guard
Shred Memory
Increasing Ambition
Doubling Cube
Caged Sun
Bear Umbra
Magus of the Candelabra
Crypt Ghast
Heartbeat of Spring
Mana Reflection
Patron of the Orochi
Zhur-Taa Ancient
Keeper of Progenitus
Mana Flare
Expedition Map
Valley Rannet
Oracle of Mul Daya
Kodama’s Reach
Yavimaya Elder
Sol Ring
Liliana of the Dark Realms
Explosive Vegetation
Vengeful Rebirth
Life from the Loam
Eternal Witness
Endbringer’s Revel
Down // Dirty
Relic of Progenitus
Nezumi Graverobber
Staff of Nin
Syphon Mind
Phyrexian Arena
Bloodgift Demon
Prismatic Omen
Flesh // Blood
Alpha Brawl
Life’s Finale
Decree of Pain
Black Sun’s Zenith
Rock Slide
Savage Twister
Acidic Slime
Chameleon Colossus
Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief
Feral Hydra
Vampiric Dragon
Gemstone Array
Null Profusion
Flameblast Dragon
Hellkite Charger
Feral Animist
Armed // Dangerous
Swiftfoot Boots
Lightning Greaves
Runes of the Deus
Dragon Fangs
Primal Rage
Command Tower
Savage Lands
Blood Crypt
Stomping Ground
Overgrown Tomb
Tainted Wood
Rootbound Crag
Forgotten Cave
Barren Moor
Tranquil Thicket
Rakdos Carnarium
Gruul Turf
Lavaclaw Reaches
Raging Ravine
Jund Panorama
Grixis Panorama
Naya Panorama
Terramorphic Expanse
Evolving Wilds
Mountain Valley
Rocky Tar Pit
Bojuka Bog
Thespian’s Stage
5 Forest
4 Mountain
4 Swamp

Okay then. Not much of a chance that I can sidestep this one, eh?

First off, Phil, thanks very much for writing in and also for taking the time to comb back through the Dear Azami archives. We really appreciate it, and I’m sure I can speak for Sean when I say we can vouch for every last bit of work we’ve published here over the years. (There’s some good stuff in there!)

Interestingly, one of the articles that I’ve written and would certainly add to my list of accomplishments is the one that has deeply offended both you and a certain Jund-colored Elder Dragon Legend. For the purpose of what we want to accomplish here today, the required reading (for folks who may not have seen it yet) is here.

We also revisited the deck and the owner here.

As you can see, Phil, you’ve got it all wrong—I was doing Vaevictis a favor by benching him. Tyler’s deck realistically didn’t ever want to actually play its general (and possibly still has not to this day!)  At best it would have been a diversion from the game plan, and at worst it may possibly have ended in causing damage to Tyler himself. Not an ideal way to spend eight mana (plus another three each upkeep).

I’m usually a big proponent of utilizing a commander to the fullest. The addition of the commander as a critical element is what gives Commander its flavor to begin with. The ability to effectively have one card always on tap is a pretty huge strategic advantage, and not taking full advantage of this is essentially giving up a trump card in every game.

In Tyler’s case, though, he honestly didn’t have much of a choice. Jund represented the perfect blend of colors for a “lands matter” deck for obvious reasons. The land advantage brought to the table through cards like Exploration and Azuza, Lost but Seeking (not to mention the recursion of Life from the Loam) make green an essential choice for the deck. The punishing effects, such as Seismic Assault, Land’s Edge, and Underworld Dreams, solidify black and red as essential choices as well.

Really, the only thing lacking for this strategy is an effective general, which is why Vaevictis Asmadi was never anything more than a puppet commander. Because the strategy was so unique and interesting, I was prepared to forgive Tyler for this. What else was he supposed to do? The main reason for the switch was simply because Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund has haste, making it nothing more than a glorified seven-damage Fireball in a pinch. Better than nothing, but not great. Even to this day, there’s still a lack of a good option to helm this deck. If I had to suggest a swap today, it would likely be to Shattergang Brothers for no other reason than the removal potential.

You see, Phil? Vaevictis would have been miserable at the helm of that deck. In pulling him, he saw just as much play as he would if I’d left him alone! Although let’s be honest—he’s still not off the hook here.

Two Feet Of Snow Uphill Both Ways

You kids these days. You just don’t know how good you’ve got it.

Since we’re moving on to a completely new list, we’d be doing ourselves a great disservice if we didn’t at least ask the question:

Is Vaevictis Asmadi the best general for the job?

If we look at power level alone, the answer is probably no. Vaevictis was first printed in Legends a full twenty years ago. That’s two decades that the R&D team at Wizards of the Coast has had to refine card design. We’ve seen twelve core sets since then and 60—nearly 61!—expansions. That’s a ton of time to figure out how to make things better, and it’s clear WotC hasn’t been slacking.

Here’s a card that I was really excited about back when Legends was released:

Even back then I was really into green, and this represented the newest and baddest aggro force since Force of Nature. To review:

  • A converted mana cost of seven (and a full four dedicated green mana to boot)
  • A power/toughness of 6/4
  • Trample
  • A marginal at best second keyword tacked on

For the record, this was awesome too.

These days it’s downright pitiful though. Seven mana gets you this:

And this:

And even in a core set, it gets you this:

(Of course, it also used to get you this, but we all know how that played out.)

Anyway, the point is that things have gotten better in the past twenty years. A lot better. In Jund alone we have Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund; Kresh the Bloodbraided; and Prossh, Skyraider of Kher, which are all head and shoulders better than Vaevictis. Apples to apples, Karrthus is so much better than the Elder Dragon Legend it is embarrassing:

  • Just as big
  • Cheaper to cast
  • Lesser color requirement
  • No negative upkeep trigger
  • Has haste
  • Steals every other Dragon on the board and gives them haste as well

The only downside (and one that will drive this deck as it stands) is the lack of the bizarre multicolor Firebreathing ability. In a vacuum this is not even close to a fair tradeoff. Seriously—you’d need to be either crazy or very dedicated to the old school to pick Vaevictis over Karrthus as your commander.

Fortunately, today you’re in luck. I’m both of those things!

Drop An Old-School Beat(Down)

We’ve established that we’re standing by Vaevictis this time around. No swap outs happening here. We’ve hopefully come to an agreement that Vaevictis is a functionally inferior option to the other Jund aggro-slanted commander options out there. What’s now left before us is to figure out the upsides to siding with a commander that is undoubtedly going to be a tougher road to walk down.

The first reason that I can think of is a dedication to the original legendary creature guard. I’ll admit it—I’m a total sucker for old-school commanders. Among my current active decks, I have Angus Mackenzie and Hazezon Tamar sleeved up, and I keep making R/G decks for the sole purpose of playing Livonya Silone. My Thraximundar deck has become a dual commander deck too, with an old battered copy of Tetsuo Umezawa sleeved and ready to go if I decide I want a slightly different flavor of Grixis Control.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and we as Magic players are prone to falling victim to it more often than the average person. Players draw emotional connections to cards that they cross paths with at one time or another, and those bonds can be really powerful things. Maybe you won’t part with that Jace, the Mind Sculptor you cracked at the Worldwake Prerelease because you called the shot, declaring that you were about to open one while seated for deck construction, and it actually paid off. Maybe you have a Grandmother Sengir Commander deck because she was the first legendary creature you ever pulled out of a pack. (My condolences if this describes you.) Maybe you won a Pro Tour Qualifier back when Mirrodin and Kamigawa blocks were Standard legal, and you’ll never take apart that Death Cloud deck as a result.

Whatever it is, I get it. In this day and age, you can log on to the Internet and buy a copy of any card you want, which takes a certain amount of mystique out of the equation. Having a connection to a specific card is a great reason to build a Commander deck, and if I were going to build Vaevictis Asmadi, this would be my primary reason for doing so. (In fact, despite the abomination that was the Chronicles expansion, I still have my Legends copy of Palladia-Mors, and there’s a deck always on the tip of my tongue there.)

The other reason that we would build this deck however is a little more straightforward. The original Elder Dragon Legends were all 7/7 fliers with three-mana upkeep costs based on their color identities. From there they all got a second ability set that I’d like to say represented their color combinations but more likely was pulled out of a hat at random. Palladia-Mors got trample, Chromium got completely shafted with rampage: 2, Arcades Sabboth granted your untapped creatures +0/+2, and Nicol Bolas apparently won the lottery and forced anyone he dealt combat damage to directly to discard their entire hand.

It’s okay—Magic has a history of doing this. Blue gets Ancestral Recall; white gets Healing Salve. No one said life is fair.

Anyway, Vaevictis Asmadi was granted Firebreathing for each of his color identities. Besides being a weird templating example, it also kind of goes a long way toward messing up his flavor. We all know dragons breathe fire and that Firebreathing Dragons are fed by red mana. How does black mana accomplish the same thing however? And from there try to explain green Firebreathing. Go ahead—I’ll wait.

Fortunately, what this awkward design lets us do is potentially represent a single lethal commander damage attack in one swing. Given enough available mana (and no errant Flying Men to get in the way), Vaevictis is able to eliminate a player in one attack phase. Not even Bolas is strong enough to pull that off. This ability will be the key to making the deck tick with him at the helm.

In order to do this (as you correctly identified, Phil), the deck is going to be a “big mana” deck. It has to have the capability to cast and protect Vaevictis and then be able to get into the red zone uncontested in order to really be effective. Fortunately, this strategy opens the door for other mana-hungry endeavors as well, so there is easy room for synergy.

The problem with a deck that goes for the Voltron alpha strike like this is that the first time you pull it off you will also simultaneously draw a gigantic bullseye on your back as the entire rest of the table immediately learns to rightfully fear you. If you want to be able to take this strategy all the way to a win, you’ll need to find a decent balance between offense (evasion and removal jump immediately to mind) and a solid defense.

The Keys To Success

Right off the bat, I want to leverage the following:

  • Mana doublers/mana ramp
  • Added evasion providers (and by evasion I mostly just mean trample)
  • Enabling extra combat steps
  • Ways to protect Vaevictis directly
  • Strong card advantage to fuel the whole thing

I want to address the following:

  • Not enough protection
  • A decided lack of decent card draw
  • An increase in ways to take advantage of big mana
  • Concern regarding land count
  • Mitigating tuck effects

I’m sure some other odds and ends will come to the surface as we progress here, but those represent our main talking points. Let’s dive right in.

The Fix

There is a reasonable selection in this list of odds and ends that only really play fringe roles. This will give me room for enough cuts to really be able to address the bullet points above. We want to max out mana doublers (more on why later) as well as some decent defense in the way of Fog effects (more on that later as well). I want some additional card advantage, and I want to build off of Lightning Greaves and Runes of the Deus to create a better protection package. Lastly, I’m interested in seeing what I can do to up the land count, as I tend to find that 36 lands in a ramp deck might be a bit low.

The Cuts

The first and most important thing here is that we identify the magic number for this deck. That number is seventeen. The math is simple—21 commander damage to eliminate an opponent minus seven damage for native power is an even fourteen. Firebreathing costs one mana per power, and upkeep costs three mana. This dictates two things right off the bat. First, any acceleration that isn’t a mana doubler needs to be something that effectively puts lands into play to take advantage of them. Secondly, it means the magic number of lands needed to take out a player is going to be nine with a single doubler in play and six with two. This is exactly why we want to run every single one we can and also why we need to think about land count.

As a result, Sol Ring is the first card to come out. It allows us to race out to a turn 2 Mana Flare, but that doesn’t particularly help in the long run once we need to think about the colored mana requirements involved in our plan.

For a similar reason, Liliana of the Dark Realms is an easy card to pull. If her ultimate was a reasonable expectation, it would be one thing, but I don’t believe anyone in their right mind will let this stick around long enough to get there. (At least no one ever has when I’ve played it!) As a result, Lili is more often than not a four-mana tutor for a single Swamp.

Prismatic Omen is another interesting cut to consider. It does a wonderful job of turning the land concern into strict quantity over specific quality, but at the end of the day it asks you to spend two mana for no actual net gain in land. If you look at the numbers up above, it means that using this card instead of something that provides actual ramp is effectively giving your opponents a Time Walk. Let’s not do this.

Null Profusion is not a particularly useful effect in this deck. I’ll concede that you aren’t really in need of anything except Vaevictis and mana, but the only time I feel like it’s worthwhile to reduce your hand size to two is if you’re on the way to winning on the spot. (It’s the same idea as playing Meditate in Legacy Brain Freeze decks; if you intend to win on the spot, Meditate just draws you four cards for three mana at instant speed.) Since I don’t see this deck playing a ton of cards, this seems totally safe to get rid of.

While we’re on topic (sort of), I’m finding the more I look at this list that Lifegift seems to be very misplaced (or grossly optimistic at best). This is a big mana deck, but it isn’t a ramp, ramp, ramp, Boundless Realms, ramp, win kind of deck. I can see this effectively as a three-mana investment that gives you four to six life a turn, and that isn’t insignificant but isn’t really compelling enough in a format like Commander to dedicate a slot. We don’t need to waste a slot on random life gain when space is at a premium to begin with.

Let’s talk split cards for a minute. I don’t completely dislike them, but the risk of running them is that you may gain a bit of additional utility but might also mistakenly slot a card that has negative synergy with your deck. You need to be really careful when going with these things.

Unfortunately, I think the trio of Armed // Dangerous, Flesh // Blood, and Down//Dirty fall well short of the mark here. Starting at the top:

Armed // Dangerous is pretty flat all around. Gaining +1/+1 and double strike for a turn is not terrible, but it also isn’t evasion. All the double striking in the world won’t do a bit of good if someone simply parks a flying creature in front of Vaevictis. Likewise, the Lure effect is great if you table a second creature to run interference while Vaevictis gets in unblocked, and this deck does not support heavily a creature forward strategy.

Flesh // Blood would be a whole lot more interesting if commander damage was derived from any damage sources at all. As it is right now, this card represents some minor sorcery speed graveyard hate that will pump a creature up a good amount and a piece of conditional spot removal. Color me unimpressed.

Finally, Down // Dirty is nothing more than an overcosted Regrowth, unless you’re somehow interested in playing a random piece of bad discard as well. Most people in this format aren’t interested in that kind of play, so this seems like an easy cut.

I like that you’re embracing a minor group hug strategy here as well. Endbringer’s Revel is one of those cards that will just never repay you the difference between “play politics!” and “stop helping out your enemies and win the damn game already!” I do appreciate that it is a big mana dump, but a deck with minimal offensive creatures doesn’t really gain much by having this effect around. It would be a better choice to move on from this card and get into something a bit more high tech that can shore up dealing with removal for you instead.

This brings me to the first random theme: graveyard hate. I think you’re running a decent amount so as not to end up too overwhelming with it but to have it on tap when needed. This is good and often overlooked. One change that needs to happen sooner rather than later though involves pulling Relic of Progenitus. You have the fixings of a decent Life from the Loam engine as well as a chunk of other assorted removal, and you just don’t want to be wiping that all out as you go after the rest of the table.

This will be a candidate for like-for-like replacement once we get back into things for sure.

Looking at the removal package, Rock Slide seems like a flexible (and instant speed) method of controlled mass removal, and the price is certainly right on the package. However, at least in my neck of the woods, there’s a healthy balance of aerial and ground creatures, and worse yet this doesn’t go to the dome of your opponents.

I’m equally not crazy about the inclusion of Savage Twister here. I’m really not down on X spells, but I also can’t get behind indiscriminate removal that blanks your side of the board as well. I’d be far more inclined to look at something like Damnation as a board wipe because it will hit well before your commander does. In this case if you’re looking to break through a defensive wall, you’ll end up killing off your win condition just as easily. Again, I like the adherence to theme and all, but I don’t want to go overboard on this stuff if it doesn’t just win the game or do something specialized (such as drawing a ton of cards with Decree of Pain or dealing with indestructible creatures with Black Sun’s Zenith).

That leaves twelve cuts to work with. A little tighter than I might typically like, but it’s something.

The New Additions

I won’t sugarcoat it—the further in I get here, the tighter the available slots seem to look. We’re going to end up needing to drop some of the desired goals at the end of the project, which is a real shame. At the same time it makes me feel good that the list seems to be in a pretty good place overall with what it wants to try to accomplish.

This seems like a good segue into dual use cards. These are the ones that do a wonderful job of filling multiple roles, making it far easier to fill gaps in the deck in the process. The first addition to really showcase this is Dregs of Sorrow. As I said above, I simply want to lean on removal that leaves my toys alone and strategically opens a path to my opponent directly at the right moment.

There is a potential downside of not being able to hit black creatures, but being able to pick and choose the targets that need to go while also emphatically refilling your hand is too strong to pass up. As an X spell it fits the theme of the deck to boot, and the draw will really help to increase the card advantage shortcoming of the stock deck.

Not too far behind is Krosan Tusker. Tusker is a reasonable beater on its own, but realistically the card might as well be an instant that finds a basic land and cantrips at the same time. Actually, for three mana that’s not terrible either. But late game you have the option of running out a six-power beater in a deck that comes off a little light in the threat department, and that’s solid dual purpose.

While we’re on the card draw front, I really wanted to get a strong hand refresh into the list. It’s clear that you’re not shy of helping out your neighbors with some of those symmetrical mana doublers, so I’m not particularly uncomfortable with adding Wheel of Fortune to the deck. It will dig you to where you need to be in a hurry and has some solid application as early game hand disruption if you feel like going down that road. It is a little on the pricey side, but this deck really would benefit from a big-time shot in the arm in the late game.

The replacement for Relic of Progenitus turns out to be Necrogenesis. You don’t get the card, but you do have a colorless mana dump that can be utilized to cherry pick the creatures out of your opponents’ graveyards at your leisure. And unlike a certain new Golgari-colored God, you get to keep the token all to yourself in the process.

Since Journey into Nyxis literally days away, I can’t help but dip my toes into the water with a few selections. The first and most obvious one is Dictate of Karametra. As it turns out, this deck is a pretty perfect place to illustrate the useful nature of the new cycle of old hits with flash upgrades. The five-mana mark is not exactly the right time to tap out to help your opponents double up on mana, so this lets you control exactly when the bonus is applied. I’m sure there are potential political applications here, but being able to access doubled up mana before anyone else is pretty key here, cutting your opponents out of the reaction equation regarding this card will play out at times as if you’ve gained a whole turn on them. And it allows you to keep up reaction mana to use until the coast is clear. I’m really coming around on these cards.

Also hailing from the new set is a simple pair of new threats that can get out of hand really quickly with a big chunk of mana available. Heroes’ Bane has the potential to scale itself out of control in a hurry, which unchecked could absolutely meet the goal of skipping right over dealing 21 commander damage to just swinging in with an alpha strike for 40. A little evasion might be nice, but I’m not going to overlook exponential growth.

Hydra Broodmaster is the other additional threat addition form Nyx. My go-to monstrosity target is Colossus of Akros every time, but the scalable nature of the monstrosity trigger means that this card will get out of control in a hurry in the later game. That same seventeen mana up above will net you eight 8/8 Hydras at instant speed, which isn’t a terrible way to spend mana.

The last creature on the list to be added is pretty pedestrian: Sakura-Tribe Elder. Again this falls in line with my stated goal of having mana acceleration net a land, and the Elder fits neatly into the two-drop slot. This is good because this deck seems to have a pretty high mana curve.

The other piece of removal that I want to work into the list is Comet Storm. This is the X spell I want to see in a big mana deck like this. It kicks out as many times as needed and cherry picks targets, including opponents. This is a perfect example of what I want to see in order to guarantee that a hole opens up in the right place at the right time in your opponents’ defenses.

Upwelling is an interesting selection. With the advent of Kruphix, God of Horizons, the mana pool that doesn’t empty is going to be a recurring theme in the months to come on the Commander front. That doesn’t mean however that it doesn’t correctly fit the theme here. While it doesn’t net you a land, it does allow you a quick succession of mana growth that lets it function identically to the mana doublers that fill your list. It is symmetrical, so be warned and be wary of playing this against the wrong deck.

The last two slots are the defensive additions I was talking about earlier. In the case of this deck, it comes in the form of Tangle and Moment’s Peace. Not having access to blue means that you can’t hope to drop Vaevictis, swing in for lethal damage at one player, and then protect yourself (or your Elder Dragon) from the others, who should have sufficiently gotten the message that you are the alpha threat.

The best way to do this is to utilize the extra mana the doublers will be providing with Fog effects. You can nearly tap out, make a Voltron attack to oust an opponent, and then happily pass the turn knowing that you have all the protection you’ll need to weather the next turns if things get nasty. This is going to be your go-to surprise trump play, and it should be—people simply write off Fog effects in this format way too frequently when they nearly always end up being huge blowouts. I think you’ll like what you see here.

The Deck

Let’s take a look at where that puts us:

Vaevictis Asmadi
Cassidy McAuliffe
Test deck on 04-22-2014

The big regret is not finding space for combat phase additions like Savage Beating or Seize the Day to join the Hellkite Charger already on the list. At the end of the day I simply had to call it and move forward with the areas that needed the help more, and I really couldn’t decide on any further cuts to make space.

The other minor concern is that I was unable to address dealing with tuck effects. A timely Terminus will be a huge blow to the primary strategy of this deck. The added Hydras represent a partial answer, increasing the overall threat density of the deck in the process. This is a good thing, as I felt the initial list was a bit light on guys in order to keep the mana flowing instead.

I’m a bit happier with the mana situation than I originally thought with the addition of Sakura-Tribe Elder and Krosan Tusker. 36 lands still seems a bit on the low end in theory, but the sheer amount of mana doublers in the list means that this will be easier to overcome than might otherwise be possible. Still, it bears watching to see if it needs further tweaking going forward.

Here’s a look at the pricing for the replacement suggestions:

As always, you’ll be receiving $20 store credit to StarCityGames.com for participating in Dear Azami today, which will cover more than half of that list. You could easily repurpose Wheel of Fortune for something else like Howling Mine or Font of Mythos that will fit the role for a fraction of the cost if you aren’t feeling that $25 price tag.

Hopefully what I’ve come up with here does justice to Vaevictis Asmadi in a way that showcases exactly what he can do when he puts his mind to it (and isn’t pulled from the command zone for something newer to begin with). I think I’ve given both you and the Elder Dragon the respect you deserve here, and I consider the matter sufficiently and satisfactorily closed.

No hard feelings?

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 Steven’s Molimo, Maro-Sorcerer deck or Colin’s Anax and Cymede 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!

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