Dear Azami: When Daxos Attacks

Sean McKeown is back for the next piece in his return to Dear Azami form! He’s digging back in by helping one reader’s Commander deck out. What can Sean do to get it moving in the right direction?

Dear Azami,

I’ve been playing Commander for six years now, and have almost finished making a deck of every color combination. All I have left is U/W. The only problem is that I haven’t been able to make anything work that I like. That is, until I noticed that Daxos of Meletis is a Soldier.

I love Soldiers. One of my best friends gave me his Soldier deck years ago when he stopped playing, parts of which made it into the list below. But without multiple copies of its lords, the deck has had a real problem keeping up in most games. I’ve been trying to use the blue and Daxos to provide some support and disruption, but I still haven’t been able to survive the late game very well.

Ideally, I would like the deck to keep a UW tricky/tempo feel, but I’m flexible so long as it keep the Soldier theme. My playgroup isn’t cutthroat, but they do play strong commanders like Animar, Soul of Elements and Chainer, Dementia Master.

I’d love to hear what you have to say!


Commander: Daxos of Meletis

Creatures (23)

Archetype of Courage
Brimaz, King of Oreskos
Captain of the Watch
Catapult Master
Darien, King of Kjeldor
Daru Warchief
Etched Champion
Field Marshal
Gustcloak Savior
Intrepid Hero
Jotun Grunt
Kytheon’s Irregulars
Lavinia of the Tenth
Lieutenant Kirtar
Loxodon Gatekeeper
Lu Xun, Scholar General
Mirror Entity
Mirror-Sigil Sergeant
Oathsworn Giant
Odric, Lunarch Marshal
Odric, Master Tactician
Preeminent Captain
Sun Quan, Lord of Wu

Enchantments (4)

Coastal Piracy
Militia’s Pride
Spreading Seas

Artifacts (18)

Armillary Sphere
Azorius Signet
Bident of Thassa
Coldsteel Heart
Crystal Shard
Konda’s Banner
Lantern of Insight
Lightning Greaves
Marble Diamond
Mask of Memory
Mind Stone
Relic of Progenitus
Sky Diamond
Sol Ring
Swiftfoot Boots
Well of Lost Dreams
Whispersilk Cloak

Planeswalkers (3)

Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
Nahiri, the Lithomancer

Instants (10)

Cyclonic Rift
Lapse of Certainty
Memory Lapse
Path to Exile
Render Silent
Return to Dust

Sorceries (4)

Decree of Justice
Stolen Identity
Wrath of God

Lands (37)

Adarkar Wastes
Azorius Chancery
Azorius Guildgate
Boreal Shelf
Coastal Tower
Evolving Wilds
Ghost Quarter
Hallowed Fountain
High Market
7 Island
Kjeldoran Outpost
Moonring Island
Nimbus Maze
14 Plains
Sejiri Refuge
Tectonic Edge
Temple of Enlightenment
Terramorphic Expanse

U/W is a hard color combination to build this way; it’s easy to put these two colors together in a control build and pretty much anything can be used to make a combo deck, but when it comes to beating down in Commander, this color combination can feel a bit awkward when it tries. The “most powerful” option for a Commander in this vein would be Geist of Saint Traft; it beats down hard for its low cost, and thanks to hexproof it’s quite hard to interact with. You can even do odd things if you want to, like Populate those Angel tokens to make sure things get out of hand quickly.

Daxos of Meletis has lower power but a higher upside, being a card-advantage commander (albeit an unreliable one), and while he seems to have low power, he actually has quite a useful evasion ability to make sure that he connects. Plus, if you build it right and plan to mess with the top of your opponents’ decks, you get far more than just “draw a card” out of that card advantage ability – how much his ability is worth all comes down to the quality of the things you get to hijack.

In this case, you’re using him to supplement a beatdown plan along tribal lines and keep the action going, so we’ll try to optimize in that direction while still keeping things interesting and fun. You noted that your biggest problems seemed to be that the deck could have very unequal draws: put enough lords together and you’ll get somewhere, but without that you end up mired in the late stages of a game you’re frankly not favored to win.

That says one thing to me: don’t try. I won’t suggest we go the full “jerk” route and try to keep everyone stuck in the early stages of the game with Armageddon effects and nastiness like Winter Orb to capitalize on your early-game beatdown plans, but it does strongly suggest focusing on the existing aggressive direction of this deck and don’t give the table long enough to trap you in that inevitable quagmire. Mostly that means streamlining; this deck should be playing early drops in the first few turns of the game, not playing mana rocks, and the “good stuff” Commander cards like Return to Dust need to make room for things that are part of Plan A instead. If it’s not contributing to the beatdown or at least making our opponents’ lives difficult while we’re at it, it’s going to have to go.

The number-one enemy of Daxos of Meletis is Sensei’s Divining Top. This is a Top-heavy format and there’s not much we can do about that, not without going overboard in a direction that does not otherwise seem fruitful like Null Rod or Damping Matrix. As much as we might want to do things like Trinket Mage for Pithing Needle to shut down opposing Tops, that Mage is not a Soldier and our answer to opposing Tops is to attack someone else with Daxos while the rest of the team swings at anyone who like to twiddle with their decks too much.

We could build more towards making Tops useless to take advantage of the fact that this deck is running without one, but you’re going to want to have a consistent beatdown draw in every game and opponents will only draw their Divining Tops in some games, so we’ll ignore them in the deck-design phase and plan to beat them in the table-strategy phase instead. We’d be sad if all Daxos’s combat damage trigger ever offered up was a few dead lands, but all a Top will actually say to us is “attack someone else.”

As a note before we start on your mana, this submission counted up to 98 cards rather than the standard 99 – you listed ten instants but only named nine cards, so we’ve got an extra slot to fill in addition to however many replacements we make. When it comes to fixing your mana, I’m going to make six substitutions and five outright cuts… you want to play cheap Soldiers, not mana rocks, and this is not a deck that plans on skipping the early plays to rush to its six-drops.

Sol Ring is obviously ridiculous and deserves to stay, but I can’t say the same of Coldsteel Heart, Mind Stone, Sky Diamond, Marble Diamond, or Azorius Signet. Mind Stone and Azorius Signet at least have the good graces to enter the battlefield untapped so they wouldn’t get too much in the way, but I don’t think these cards are really pulling their weight and most of the reason I wanted to keep Mind Stone around was because it could be sacrificed for a fresh draw later in the game… a problem we can obviously solve by replacing it with action in the first place. We’ll make a few additions that still increase your effective mana draw so you won’t be stuck unable to play your spells too often, but they’ll do so without being mana rocks you have to spend an entire early turn casting.

Out of your actual lands, I’m cutting your High Market, four Plains, and that pesky Nimbus Maze. I like how you’ve gone pretty much down the list to make sure no affordable dual land gets left behind, but this one’s just not very good, and I don’t think this deck is actually doing very much with High Market. If your intent was to use it to prevent creature theft, it’d be better suited as a Homeward Path so you could return your wayward toys rather than sacrifice them; I don’t think that’s actually required, but I don’t know your local metagame. If that suggestion makes sense, please do take it, but for a generic Commander metagame, I wouldn’t consider Homeward Path to be that important of an addition for most decks. In their places, I’ll be adding two new cheap two-color lands and four utility lands:

My suggested alterations are going to come in two tiers. There’s “what I’d do given the assumption that you have access to a ton of Commander cards already,” which won’t spare on any of the suggestions I’d expect to find in a reasonably well-stocked Commander box, and then there’s the “budget” build, where any card over five dollars is immediately suspect and needs a darn good justification. Seven of my suggested changes were for cards over that (admittedly arbitrary) $5 mark, and two of those are here. Is it really worth cutting a basic Plains and spending ten dollars on an Eiganjo Castle? No, probably not, but if we’re assuming that your polychromatic Commander collection has one already, then it’s not a very big lift. The same is likewise true of Tolaria West – it’s close enough to a normal basic land that I wouldn’t suggest this change on a budget, but this deck has enough utility lands that I think it’s a worthwhile addition.

Besides, I absolutely love that Moonring Island is here and the other way to make sure we see it more often was to go full fetchland here, so going with Tolaria West instead is the budget option. In a vacuum I’d be going with both so I could maximize the number of games I get to apply some Moonring Island-inspired beatdowns, but then I have a well-stocked Commander box and only one deck built right now, so they’re literally just hanging around unused in a box somewhere. I suspect that in your case, with double-digit decks built already, you’re better off – some decks probably need these more, but I’d absolutely love to see Moonring Island in play more, so I’m adding several alternative ways to make fetch happen.

Out of the rest of your artifacts, I want to make just three more substitutions. Those five empty slots are going to end up being more spells and creatures, but I wanted to replace Lantern of Insight, Fireshrieker, and Well of Lost Dreams here in order to find more high-powered cards. I would rather increase your access to Moonring Island than cast Lantern of Insight, aka “Mulligan-Go,” and I don’t think Daxos of Meletis’s power level is that high that we can start being optimists about getting to play two spells a turn off the top of an opponent’s library or turning him into a real card-draw engine thanks to the Well of Lost Dreams.

This deck is otherwise lacking in lifegain, and I’m content to say “cast a big card off the top of an opponent’s deck” is already our definition of winning, we shouldn’t try to win more with the Well. For raw card count you have things like Coastal Piracy and Bident of Thassa to pay you off for doing what you’re supposed to be good at anyway.

In their place, I’d add the following:

Expedition Map is effectively Moonring Island if we want it to be or any of our other utility lands instead, and it can even kind of act like a second Armillary Sphere thanks to that Azorius Chancery. I don’t think it’s worth trying to get cute with Daxos at the cost of a card, especially so weak a card as Lantern of Insight, but spending a little time on it through the Expedition Map is acceptable to me. As an extra bonus, the Map can also supplement your creature-control capabilities thanks to that Mystifying Maze we’d added earlier.

Speaking of creature control, you don’t have very much of it, so I’m hoping to add a little bit more, preferably in the form of spells that don’t wipe your battlefield too. A battlefield with no creatures on it is a sure sign that you’re in trouble, so we want fewer Wrath effects and more ways to keep the other side of the table under control. Spear of Heliod does double duty as a creature removal effect and a lord, and Sword of the Paruns fills in on double lord duty by providing a hefty +2/+0 to your tapped attacking creatures.

I’d tried figuring out which Sword of X and Y would be the best addition for this deck, but I wound up rejecting that notion even before contemplating budget concerns. “The Paruns” would be a better “X and Y” for you here since all you really want to do is draw more and better lords to beat down harder with. That it can also do a couple of silly things like equip your Intrepid Hero or fill the role currently given to Oathsworn Giant is just an added bonus, it’s mostly just here to boost your damage output.

Moving on to the spells, there are nine I want to add. One was a “free slot” from your decklist being short a card, and another will end up being one of the five slots opened up by cutting the mana rocks. The other four free slots will move to become creatures so we can strengthen the deck’s beatdown draws. The other seven will have to come out of the existing spell base, and the first two cuts are clear:

You need to be on the battlefield to win, so these are the wrong way to clear the battlefield. When looking at your build, it struck me that Cyclonic Rift was probably far and away your best card to draw; there is probably a very high correlation to casting it with overload and winning the game in this deck. We want more things like that rather than things that wipe your side of the battlefield along the way; I love me some Rout, I assure you, but this just isn’t the right deck for it. Instead we should be aiming for these:

We don’t really want to Wrath that much, but a one-sided Wrath, now, that’s a different story. Mass Calcify leaves your side more-or-less intact while handling most of the problems you’ll run into, and while Martial Coup does clear your side of the battlefield at least it gives you an army while you’re at it. We could go further with Phyrexian Rebirth, but I don’t actually want to allow in too many cards that will take your team off the battlefield. With all of the additional lord-type effects we’re adding here, X 1/1s is better than one X/X.

There are five more cuts to be made, and they’re all of the good-stuff variety:

Spreading Seas is obviously solid, but it’s not really going in the direction we want to be headed. The same utility will be offered by our land-finding effects, any of which can make sure Tectonic Edge and Ghost Quarter show up when you really need them. Besides, when you need a troublesome land to be dead, you need it dead; making it temporarily an Island is merely an inconvenience, not a solution. The two counterspells are getting cut because I’m not convinced you want this much countermagic. You have a good number of them already, so now we want more flexibility rather than more functionality.

Meanwhile, Return to Dust is in the deck just because it’s awesome in Commander – exiling is key, as is getting a two-for-one when mopping up hard problems. But while it may be the ideal card for the job, is that job something we actually need? I’m rarely convinced the answer is yes, and I would rather have a more flexible card instead… it’d be a downright shame to have this in hand and need to kill a creature.

And while I must certainly concur that Stolen Identity is pretty awesome when it works and also that it would work pretty well in a deck like this one, I’m not convinced it’s operating on the angle we need. We can get more and better token-making on the cheap still with other Soldiers that were left on the bench, and if we’re spending this much mana I’d be more interested in another pump effect here instead.

With the seven slots left open, I found three more “top of the library” cards worth including and four spells I really wanted to add. Two of them hit that “over $5” budget cap, but I’d want both of them even on a tight budget – they’ve proven their worth to me, and one of them even has a good long tournament history in 60-card decks much like this one to advocate for it as well. Expensive first:

Admitting that I have in fact played Tithe in Standard just goes to show how I am an old fogey as far as this game of ours is concerned, but it also means I have first-hand experience using a cheap two-for-one effect to develop my board in the early game and bring the beatdown. It’s like Armillary Sphere, except you only have to pay one mana, not four, before you get to make your next land drop – oh, and it can find dual lands too, which was part of why I wanted to make sure to add a second Island that happened to also be a Plains card as well. You could go further and add Land Tax, but that would be more of a “too” rather than an “instead” in my thinking and we are paying attention somewhat to both the budget and the slots.

Mystic Confluence is technically a counterspell, technically, but it’s also a card draw spell and a multi-target bounce spell as well, so it’s going to do something crazy every time you cast it. “Counter target spell, bounce target creature, draw a card” is ridiculous, but “bounce three target creatures at instant speed” might just be a game-winning play. It’s well worth the cost it asks for, both in mana and in price.

Unexpectedly Absent fills in for that Return to Dust I’d cut, giving you an “answer” card that is just as strong, even more flexible, and probably half the cost – and one that works with your Commander too. So does Azorius Charm (admittedly with a bit of a hoop to jump through) and Oust (with a time delay, as it goes two down rather than on top of your opponent’s library). I wanted more things that work with Daxos in order to pay you off for that powerful trigger of his, and frankly I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the missing instant was Unexpectedly Absent anyway; it just seems so obvious. I’m no mind-reader, but I am a pretty good mind-guesser, so we won’t leave home without it.

Aura of Silence is a bit of a weird call here, but we want it for the enforced delay effect even more than for the Seal of Cleansing effect. It’s not actually supposed to Disenchant anything; it’s here as a disruption effect to buy us more time to tap creatures and apply judicious violence. That it can also do that on top of making our opponents unhappy is just awesome. And Dictate of Heliod fills the “more lords” role well; we want lords that can survive a battlefield wipe as well as lords that can attack, but there is no card that fills that very-narrow sample set. Instead we’ll have a good number of both – you’ve got your Equipment-based mass pump effects, your creature-based ones, and now a few stray enchantments that will play on the table and keep your Soldiers big enough to be relevant.

Ready to Fight!

There are eight creature cards I wanted to add to your team, and four of them came from other sections; we’ll need to find the four Soldiers that were most underperforming previously and cut them from the team in order to reassign those slots. Etched Champion is very likely going to have Metalcraft active, but unfortunately it’s still not a Soldier and we don’t get to have anything crazy like Cranial Plating, so I’m not convinced it’s pulling its weight here.

Oathsworn Giant is expensive and only provides a defensive boost, and neither of those qualities call out to me in a beatdown deck; it’s more of a “pillow fort” kind of card than a lean, mean aggro machine. Loxodon Gatekeeper is interesting but not actually that strong, while Lu Xun, Scholar General is really just a Thieving Magpie that happens to be on-tribe. I’m not convinced we want anything like a Thieving Magpie, and we can do much better than just “draw a card” from each attack at this point on the mana curve if we’re willing to put a few more expensive cards to work.

We have five Soldiers to add back in, plus three creatures that are not of the right tribe but are right for this deck. If you think this is the part where I add in Solemn Simulacrum because it’s awesome in every Commander deck, well…

Four cheap additions and one expensive one. Precinct Captain is an incredibly high-powered Soldier, and anything that compares favorably to a card like Bitterblossom deserves consideration in your beatdown deck. The token-generation side of this deck is every bit as good at getting ahead as the card-draw side of the deck, and if you get to put them together or play Precinct Captain on turn 2 and Opposition on turn 4, then things are already going your way.

Veteran Swordsmith is another cheap lord to help make sure you draw enough of them to hit that critical mass you’d described as your likeliest indication of victory, while Enlistment Officer is the oft-forgotten Ringleader that even I had to look up to make sure it actually lurked somewhere deep within the mists of time. I’d rather take my chances that it will hit two or more cards immediately than rely on Lu Xun, and I’d rather get paid in advance than have to successfully attack multiple times with an underpowered creature too.

Benalish Commander is an odd one, giving you something to do with a lot of mana or just something worthwhile for three mana, and it scales up quickly with your other token-generating cards to get very big very soon. I don’t think it gets much respect at all, but this seemed like exactly the kind of deck that would appreciate its quirky charms. And that last addition is another pricey one, but given just how on-theme it is for what you’re trying to accomplish, even on a tight budget the $10 for a Hero of Bladehold would be a strong investment. Both a token-maker and a lord, the Hero goes even further by putting those tokens onto the battlefield tapped and attacking. We wanted to improve the deck’s aggressive capabilities, and you can’t get much more aggressive than that.

For our last three additions, we’ll be stepping off-tribe while staying on-theme:

Cloudgoat Ranger is not a Soldier, but the Kithkin tokens it makes are, which actually surprised me when it showed up on a casual Gatherer search. I’d played with the card readily during Lorwyn’s time in Standard, but all the pump effects I’d gotten came from their Kithkin race, not Soldier class. (And the occasional blowout Zealous Persecution, which didn’t care about either.) While the 3/3 body isn’t that important to us and we wouldn’t pay five mana for three 1/1 Soldiers, getting both out of the same card is a strong deal. We’d have happily played Secure the Wastes or White Sun’s Zenith if either of them generated creatures of the right type, and Cloudgoat Ranger does a reasonable impression of either of those at this point on the curve.

Our last two additions both clear the $5 mark; if staying on a strict budget, I wouldn’t worry much about the Weathered Wayfarer, but the $20 for Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite would still be worth dropping because of just how powerful that part-removal / part-pump ability is in a deck like this one. Clearing the opponent’s battlefield, or at least clearing up a hefty chunk of it, was enough to get us to add Mass Calcify in hopes of emulating the best draws with Cyclonic Rift to top them off… Elesh Norn clears the little ones off the battlefield and provides another Dictate of Heliod while we’re at it. This is the toughness-boost we really wanted Oathsworn Giant to b,e even though Elesh Norn is a Praetor rather than a Soldier.

If the entire $20 coupon provided for your participation in this week’s Dear Azami only went to cover an Elesh Norn, it’d still be worth it. We don’t have very many expensive cards in this deck, but the ones that we do have are certainly going to be expected to pull their weight. As to that Wayfarer, it’s another cheap drop that can help smooth your mana to make up for the fact that we’re cutting all of your mana rocks, it’s another way to access the strong utility lands like Ghost Quarter or Mystifying Maze, and it’s another way to put Moonring Island onto the battlefield so people can be confused by the fact that it’s even in your deck. If it were a Soldier it’d be perfect because then it could still beat down with the benefits of all the tribal lords you’re playing, but it’ll still be a strong addition regardless thanks to the card advantage it provides.

Putting it all together, we get the following:

Daxos of Meletis
Sean McKeown
Test deck on 06-07-2016
Magic Card Back

We have 26 changes, all told, and most of them are pretty inexpensive – if we cut those seven cards over $5 I’d noted as possible budget concerns, the other nineteen totaled $20.85, just a tick over the $20 store credit coupon you’ll be receiving for participating in this week’s column.

I’m going to go the optimistic route and assume that a good chunk of these cards are potentially accessible from other decks, though, rather than worry about price – especially when we’re still coming up under $100, which is the threshold where I start applying a budget more strictly on myself in the first place and start asking whether $4 for a Windbrisk Heights is really that much better in this deck than the Plains I’d be cutting for it. (As you won’t find it in the decklist above, spoiler alert: I didn’t.)

I’m also always happy to add a few interesting or goofy things that I only know about because I’ve wasted the space in my brain that my chemistry degree could have spent memorizing the periodic table on memorizing Magic cards instead, so I’m happy to see things like Oust, Tithe and Enlistment Captain put to good work here.

It’s not like I needed to remember the atomic number of Polydenum anyway. It’s not even a real element.

Pricing them all out individually, we get the following:



Aura of Silence


Azorius Charm


Benalish Commander


Cloudgoat Ranger


Dictate of Heliod


Eiganjo Castle


Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite


Enlistment Officer


Expedition Map


Hero of Bladehold


Martial Coup


Mass Calcify


Mystic Confluence


Mystifying Maze




Port Town


Prairie Stream


Precinct Captain


Rogue’s Passage


Spear of Heliod


Sword of the Paruns




Tolaria West


Unexpectedly Absent


Veteran Swordsmith


Weathered Wayfarer



Levi is off next week, so I’ll be back next week with another deck to work on and then you’ll have Levi twice in a row. After that, well, we’ll see. I’ve got a few things on my mind and a new deck idea trying to get my attention, any of which may jumble together into a column of their own as I try to show you the weird ideas my brain comes up with for things that I think maybe an entire Commander deck might want to be built around.

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