Dear Azami: Why Did It Have To Be Snakes?

There’s just one more bullet in the Commander 2015 chamber! This week, it’s Jess’s turn to scour the snake pits and cobra traps to turn Kaseto into the Snake lord you deserve!

I am a fan of cycles. I idealize symmetry to such a degree that I have asymmetrical ear piercings, to keep me grounded, and an asymmetrical haircut… though that one might just be because I’m a hipster. One of the first things I do when checking over a new deck is to look at the manabase to see if there are any land cycles that could be fleshed out, and when I bring in one of the Primordials I like to bring in the other on-color ones as well.

It’s a quirk, or at the very least a minor fixation.

Anyway, this is week five of our take on the secondary commanders from the Commander 2015 precons, and we’ve done everyone but Kaseto, Orochi Archmage. The problem is that no one submitted a Kaseto, Orochi Archmage list! This left me with two choices: I could take a pass on the theme of the last four columns, one short of its completion, or I could get creative.

My decision was probably foreseeable.

Coincidentally, I was well supplied to resolve this challenge. My birthday falls right before Christmas, and it can be hard to celebrate given the relative holiday clamor. This year, since the Commander 2015 precons had dropped only the month before, my birthday coincided with my possession of a significant number of unplayed Commander decks. How was I to tell whether or not they were any good?

You can see where this is going. I rounded up some of my most commanding friends, and we had a Commander party. I provided the decks and little one-page surveys for each deck, and my friends provided the animation and the feedback. While the power levels were a little uneven, this left me in possession of the following things:

1) A Kaseto, Orochi Archmage deck in need of an upgrade

2) A document in which one of my friends provides an analysis of said deck, based on one game’s worth of playtime

It’s not perfect, and I was planning on using these two elements in my column on Hipsters of the Coast (where you will eventually be able to find write-ups of some the other decks that went through this gauntlet), but with no other submissions I’m left with a stark decision: leave the cycle incomplete and skip a neat commander, or use what I have.

I am a general proponent of Plan B.

To start, here’s my initial decklist:

Kaseto, Orochi Archmage
Jess Stirba
Test deck on 01-05-2016

I was drawn to Kaseto, Orochi Archmage because I think the Snakes were one of the great parts of Kamigawa. Now, my relationship with Kamigawa is tangential at best; I wasn’t playing Magic at that time, so all I picked up was in retrospect. I play with the busted cards, like running Umezawa’s Jitte in my Legacy deck, and I once bought a box of Saviors of Kamigawa for $40 (and was unsure whether or not I got my money’s worth after I cracked it), but for the most part I know of the block because some folk found it in poor taste to mine the religion of a living people for Magic cards. I mean, I can see it; I’d be a little weirded out if Wizards ever printed out Saviors of Christianity, with a woodworking planeswalker protagonist and a legendary Fox named George. But the Snakes seemed to have fewer appropriative elements than the kami, at least to an outsider like me.

I find the relative sentience of base animals on different planes to be one of the more fascinating aspects of Magic’s multiverse, and these were Snakes with intelligence and societies. It’s a far cry from how they’re treated in Innistrad, a set with Werewolves portraying the only type of Lycanthropes, or Ravnica, where all the Snakes are science experiments.

As fascinating as it may be in terms of the flavor of the multiverse, this varying degree of agency has left Snakes a tribe that is weaker than the numbers might suggest. There are 71 Snakes in Magic, but they’re split across colors. Most (46) Snakes are mono-green, but there are just enough in other colors to keep that from being a quorum sufficient to truly support the tribal theme. This is exacerbated by the way Snakes are used in Magic: primarily as draft cards. There are about eight rare Snakes printed for the Modern format, and a not insignificant number of the rest are solely relevant for poisoning an opponent.

I’m not a huge fan of poison in Commander.

This would have been fine, but there was not a multicolor commander with a mechanical interaction with Snakes. You could use a generic tribal commander like Karona, False God, or you could pick a value commander like Edric, Spymaster of Trest, but without the direct relationship the Snake theme felt like a gimmick. I could make any type of Karona, False God tribal deck. Why was I choosing a tribe with so little support? That lacked the raw power of a tribe called Sphinx?

Kaseto, Orochi Archmage solved this problem for me. The deck’s still not set up to be a powerhouse, but at least now it has a figurehead within the tribe and a theme worth building around. You still miss out on the black snakes, which are the ones with the removal stapled to their bodies, but snakes are slippery, and Kaseto, Orochi Archmage fits that flavor.

In my little tournament, the Snakes ended up fighting against Kalemne, Disciple of Iroas and Mizzix of the Izmagnus.

Here’s what my friend M had to say before the match:

Why did you choose this deck?

I’ve never been able to play a snake deck before, and I’ve always wanted to play a snake deck.

What are your expectations for the deck?

I’m not entirely sure, which is also part of why I want to try it. I assume it will try to spit out lots of tokens and have ways of protecting them from getting Wrathed? Expecting it to be pretty aggressive.

After the match, in which Mizzix wiped the floor with the other two decks, M wrote the following:

How was your game?

It went well, but I realize I should have been more aggressive towards Mizzix’s control.

What was the coolest thing you got to do?

Mystic Snake @ Mizzix’s Time Stop, as he tried to counter Kalemne’s Crib Swap pointed at her own general that Mizzix stole and made gigantic. I tried to use Kaseto’s many target abilities with Willbreaker or Dismiss into Dream, but MIzzix interrupted each attempt.

Were there any annoying countersynergies?

I didn’t notice anything countersynergistic!

What was the most frustrating moment of the game?

Playing against Mizzex once it stabilized!

Best card/Worst card?

Best may have been Mystic Snake? Worst looked like Cobra Trap. Cobra Trap seemed not to be able to be cast for trap cost, but hardcsasting for six seems great still! Patron of the Moon might be tough? Honestly, I may not have seen enough cards in our game to get a good impression.

Other thoughts?

Overall, seems very consistent and synergistic! Would love to pay again! Want to get a better feel!

M’s a total sweetie, but there were a couple of things I gathered through the explanation of the game. First, the deck could use some more interaction; second, the deck could use some protection against disruption. I would add in a third: more draw to find the relevant pieces.

Earthquake Weather

Out (1):


In (1):


First off, I wanted to bring in Pendelhaven. I had been debating it when I made the deck, but there should be enough 1/1s to keep the card live, and holding it up has the potential to provide cover for trickier interactions.

Other notable lands? For starters, there’s Blighted Cataract, Blighted Woodland, and Myriad Landscape. Since this deck is mana-hungry, it’s nice to have some ways to ramp, and these don’t take up slots otherwise occupied by Snakes and enablers.

The Drawing of the Dark

Out (2):

Biomantic Mastery Momir Vig, Simic Visionary

In (3):

Cold-Eyed Selkie Skullclamp Seshiro the Anointed

Initially I had cut Cold-Eyed Selkie, as I am far less appreciative of that card than I should be. My thought was that there weren’t a ton of anthems, so it’s mostly going to be an off-tribe Thieving Magpie, but that’s my habit of min-maxing synergies coming out. An off-tribe Thieving Magpie with evasion is fine for three mana, and if I get Beastmaster Ascension online, that’s a big game. And, now with Pendelhaven in the mix, there are more ways to pump her than there were.

Also, there are a few more pump options in the protection section.

Biomantic Mastery is a good draw spell, but it’s a draw spell. This deck wants bodies, and it wants to be drawing cards before it can afford to sink seven mana into a sorcery. Similar logic governs the exclusion of Momir Vig, Simic Visionary, because Vig is a high-value target you can’t trust to survive an untap. You want to play him and then follow up immediately with another creature, to get at least a card’s worth of advantage out of it. That’s going to take a little too long to be useful.

Skullclamp, on the other hand, does some of these things. It eats the Snake tokens that are spit out by Sosuke’s Summons or Cobra Trap (though the latter is not long for the deck). It pumps your more powerful cards, such as Chameleon Colossus. It also serves as pseudo-protection, since you can slam the clamp on someone’s head and be rewarded when they remove the creature in question.

Finally, there’s Seshiro the Anointed. I can’t believe I forgot to include this card when I was making the deck, but I did! Seshiro is a Snake-specific Bident of Thassa and a relatively significant power boost to boot. My dream is to swing in with Cold-Eyed Selkie, turn it serpentine with Amoeboid Changeling, and then draw four cards, three from the damage that Seshiro supplemented and the fourth of the Seshiro trigger directly.

Amoeboid Changeling is a good fit in any deck with significant tribal synergies and a color identity which includes blue.

Expiration Date

Out (1):


In (1):

Simic Charm

Arachnogenesis is a fun card. I’m glad they printed it, I think it plays well with Ezuri, Claw of Progress. It was a good inclusion in the precon, and I kept it around wanting to play with it. But it’s not really on theme for this deck.

Swarmyard doesn’t regenerate Snakes, after all.

Instead, I want to bring in Simic Charm. This card is a defensive counterspell, a combat trick in a format that tends to overlook those things, and a removal spell that bounces things (which is occasionally better than a mere kill spell, and sometimes worse). That’s a lot of power for a single card! Also, now that Cold-Eyed Selkie is back in the mix, it can do an impression of Ancestral Recall as well. Definitely worth a slot.

Hide Me Among the Graves

Out (0):

In (3):

Eldrazi Monument Obelisk of Urd Whisperwood Elemental

I definitely felt the deck needed to be net positive on protective cards, so I didn’t cut any cards which were playing this role. Instead, I just brought things in. Eldrazi Monument might be a bit rough in this deck, since it might not have the threat density to make the sacrifice requirement irrelevant… but it’s probably fine! At the very least, losing a card a turn to your own anthem, which also grants flying, is way better than getting wiped out by a Wrath of God effect.

Obelisk of Urd is mostly an aggressive offensive card, but it does help offset Pyroclasm and Pestilence effects. Those are rare, but certainly not useless; a well-timed Whipflare, for example, can get a deck way ahead.

Finally, there’s Whisperwood Elemental. What I like about this card is how Kaseto, Orochi Archmage isn’t a deck full of Mulldrifters. When a deck relies heavily on enters the battlefield effects, Whisperwood Elemental can be a bit of a nombo. Since Kaseto gives you reason to run more cards that only get benefit when the connect, and there are plenty of relevant bodies in your snake pit (i.e. cards with surprise deathtouch), this is exactly the type of deck that won’t get its legs cut out from underneath it by an inopportune manifest. That this serves as Wrath of God protection as well is just gravy.

On Stranger Tides

Out (1):

Patron of the Moon

In (2):

Sakiko, Mother of Summer Unstable Obelisk

M was probably right: in many situations, Patron of the Moon is just going to clog up your hand. I like it in a dedicated ramp deck, and I think there’s a fun interaction there between Meloku the Clouded Mirror, Patron of the Moon, and Lotus Cobra… but Meloku is not in this deck. Outside of a specific interaction, this is just a lategame Dragon with mediocre stats, and it’s better to put some action in that slot. This deck doesn’t need that style of Baneslayer.

Instead, a card like Unstable Obelisk provides you with ramp when you actually need it. It drops early, and while it can’t pay for Kaseto’s color-heavy ability, you can cash it in in the lategame to deal with any lingering obstacles. It’s a solid card, and this is a good deck for it… i.e. a deck with little removal and in need of some more ramp.

Finally, there’s another inexcusable exclusion: Sakiko, Mother of Summer. What I like about this card is that, when combined with Kaseto, she offers a way for you to buy back half your unblockable activation cost. She still won’t let your Snake army slip through the ranks of the enemy in any greater number, but you’ll get a fair chunk of mana back from that swing, and the deck needs green mana more than blue anyway.

The Stress of Her Regard

Out (1):

Cobra Trap

In (2):

Wasteland Viper Winged Coatl

Cobra Trap was named as a weak card, and honestly I have to agree with M. I kept it in because it is so on theme, and an instant-speed snakexplosion doesn’t seem too awful at six mana, but I think we can do better.

Winged Coatl is better. If you want to surprise someone with a trap snake, you’d be hard pressed to do better than a deathtouch flier with flash… although the bloodrush ability of Wasteland Viper is definitely a contender for that title. What I love about bloodrush is that you can use it to augment or mess with one of the other players’ attacks. Given the way in which they both play nicely with the tribal theme and cards like Whisperwood Elemental, and have a reasonable shot of getting through on their own, they seem like solid inclusions.

Last Call

Out (6):

Clever Impersonator Gigantoplasm Phyrexian Metamorph Sakashima the Impostor Spitting Image Vesuvan Shapeshifter

In (0):

So how did I make room for these additions? I took out the copy effects. Clones are good, and they’re a reasonable way to fill out many of the blue creature groups, but a weird thing about Snakes is that they have a relatively high percentage of legendary members of the tribe. Clones are bad with legendaries, even with the change in the legend rule (a change that, like double-sided cards, seems obvious and even ideal in retrospect). Clever Impersonator and Phyrexian Metamorph are good in any deck, of course, but I like to keep them in decks which are more thematically appropriate, like an artifact deck or a deck where copying weird permanents is going to be regularly relevant.

Gigantoplasm was a bad fit because the X ability means you have less mana to activate Kaseto. Same with Sakshima the Impostor, who is at its best when you can hold up the bounce cost. With the relative dearth of blue in the deck, and the requirement that what of it there was be tied up to use Kaseto, that seemed an unreasonable expectation.

Spitting Image is great in a ramp deck where you expect to have spare lands, but a deck like this wants to be laying lands for as long as it can. Putting in a card that cuts against that incentive leads to play mistakes, often in periods of desperation. It’s no good lingering in a game if you’re not in a position to make an impact, you know?

Finally, there’s Vesuvan Shapeshifter. Good card, solid with Baneslayers, at its best with morphs. Given there is only one other morph in the deck (albeit a fun one to combine with Vesuvan Shapeshifter), this card doesn’t add nearly as much as its replacement could.

The List

Kaseto, Orochi Archmage
Jess Stirba
Test deck on 01-05-2016

As you can see, this deck looks a lot more rounded for the twelve changes. It still has fanciful interactions like Willbreaker/Dismiss into Dream and Kaseto, Orochi Archmage/Asceticism, but it also has a bit more tribal synergies and better ways to cycle through the deck. You can barely miss the clones, which is part of the way clones tend to be used in fiction, but not what you want out of cards in a Commander deck.

I mean, how good could it be in a deck if you don’t find yourself missing it?

The Cost

I don’t need to buy these cards personally, and unlike our submitters I don’t get $20 in store credit to StarCityGames.com when one of my decklists is chosen as this week’s deck. That having been said, I thought it was still worth pegging a financial value to these changes, and not just because that’s the structure of this column:



Winged Coatl


Unstable Obelisk


Wasteland Viper


Cold-Eyed Selkie


Simic Charm


Sakiko, Mother of Summer


Whisperwood Elemental




Seshiro the Anointed


Obelisk of Urd


Eldrazi Monument






This would be well within the budget of your average casual player. Pendelhaven isn’t even a necessary card. If I didn’t already have these cards, I could hold off on buying Pendelhaven for a later date, looking to trade for it given the opportunity.


That brings this week, and this little Commander 2015 secondary commander project, to a close. With 2015 behind us, there are plenty of exciting things to look forward to, from the impending release of Oath of the Gatewatch, what with its new take on old commanders, to the still-distant release of Shadows Over Innistrad. I am looking forward to the latter set in particular! Innistrad is a flavorful plane, perhaps due to the way in which (like Theros) it channels the myths and traditions of largely dead subcultures. And perhaps this time we’ll see the introduction of Fae into that world, something that’s otherwise been missing from that fairy-tale land.

Want to submit a deck for consideration to Dear Azami? We’re always accepting deck submissions to consider for use in a future article. 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!

Like what you’ve seen? Feel free to explore more of Dear Azami here, in the Article Archives! And feel free to check Jess’s own Command of Etiquette column on Hipsters of the Coast, for more Commander and casual content. Now on Thursdays!