Four-Color Commanders: Stay Off The Red!

The debate on whether or not red is too weak in Commander can wait for another time! Bennie isn’t inviting the red cards to this week’s new build! See the list now!

I hope all my readers from the United States enjoyed their Thanksgiving holiday. I know I for one was particularly thankful for the sweet new cards we were given in Commander 2016. I was able to order the set of five recently and got them right before the holiday, and I’ve been tearing a few of them apart and updating some of my existing decks with new cards. In my past two columns I took a look at tweaking the precons Open Hostility (the four colors excluding blue) and Entropic Uprising (the four colors excluding white). This week I want to look at the four colors excluding red deck: Breed Lethality!

Commander 2016 Deck Name: Breed Lethality

Theme: Growth

Development champion: Dan Helland

On the mothership, lead designer Ethan Fleischer gave us some details on the color underpinnings of the themes:

“Green appreciates that a mighty oak grows from a tiny seed. White is the great builder of civilizations. Blue wants to expand its understanding. Black wants to increase its power. Red, acting on impulse, cares not about the future and only wants what it can have now, now, now!

“This deck features a heavy counters (especially +1/+1 counters) theme. Any of its creatures has the potential to grow into a huge threat, given enough time. This deck is for every player who is thrilled at the idea of a 64/64 Hydra.”

This week I’m going to do things a little differently. Breed Lethality seems to be the runaway hit of the five precon decks, and everyone is brewing up decks featuring Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice. On the Commander deck aggregator site EDHREC, Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice is leaving the other legendary creatures from Commander 2016 in the dust. There seems to be no shortage of decklists out there if you’re interested in tweaking Breed Lethality with Atraxa as your Commander, so I decided instead to focus on one of the other legendary creatures that caught my eye and build around that deck with no restraints on the cards I wanted to use.

I really love the design of this card. It certainly embodies a ton of Abzan flavor with the “+1/+1 counters matter” theme.

What I think is really cool is it basically staples the modular mechanic from Darksteel and Fifth Dawn onto any creature with +1/+1 counters and makes creatures that actually have modular into double-modular creatures. When I first started sketching out preliminary ideas for Reyhan, Last of the Abzan, my first step was to see how many modular creatures were available for our singleton format. I was a bit disappointed at the low number, especially if you cut the ones that are really sub-par even if they are double-modular. So it quickly became apparent that actual modular creatures weren’t going to be a focus but rather just one piece of the puzzle.

Speaking of puzzles, I had one other piece to choose—which other partner to pair up with Reyhan? I looked at all the partner legendary creatures but ultimately decided to stick with the allied color one from Breed Lethality: Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker. Adding white opened up the full Abzan color wedge, and adding blue brought along more cards that can grow the +1/+1 counters. Plus, Ishai itself can produce a lot of counters quite quickly with multiple opponents playing, and if it dies, Reyhan can distribute those counters to another creature. Turn 3 Reyhan into turn 4 Ishai is a very strong opening punch!

Last, sticking with the Breed Lethality color scheme lets us play Atraxa as one of our 99—even if she’s not our focus, she serves the deck’s plan quite well.

Okay, let’s start building the deck!

Modular Creatures

First up, the creatures that inspired me from the beginning. A few of the modular creatures didn’t make the first cut, but as I started filling out the decklist and ended up over 100 cards, I started having to make some hard cuts. I ended up settling on these modular creatures for being relatively low on the mana curve. With a couple of Arcbound creatures and Reyhan on the battlefield, you can really do a lot of work with Arcbound Ravager. Arcbound Reclaimer helps keep the gang together, bringing any back that have been killed along the way.

“Modular” Creatures

Next up are the modular wannabes! Hangarback Walker’s been cooling its jets on the bench for too long since its rotation out of Standard, so let’s put it to work here. Talk about a great place to dump extra +1/+1 counters! And Chasm Skulker is no slouch either. I’ve got most of the Abzan +1/+1 counter “lords,” giving our modular and “modular” creatures flying, trample, lifelink and deathtouch. I really like how Crystalline Crawler has the potential to produce a crazy amount of mana in this deck if we need it.

One of my favorite new cards in the set is Selfless Squire. I love how it weaponizes damage prevention. Note that it can keep gaining counters if you use other methods to prevent damage after it’s already on the battlefield. I don’t really have much of that going on, but I’ve included it here as a way to prevent a big spell or attack from killing me and translate that into a whole bunch of +1/+1 counters to mess around with.

I like that we can take advantage of blue’s copy spells with The Mimeoplasm and Altered Ego while still supporting the +1/+1 counter theme.

+1/+1 Counters Matter

There is no shortage of cards that play nicely with +1/+1 counters in our four colors. In fact, there are so many that I’ve had to leave some good ones on the bench. The most glaring example is Doubling Season, which I’m sure is rather shocking. My justification is that I’m not really leveraging Doubling Season to its full potential here (no planeswalkers, relatively few token creatures), and considering I don’t own infinite copies of the card, I’ll leave the copies I do have in the other decks where they currently reside. And it’s not as if we’re lacking in ways to add counters and even double them. We can certainly make use of the new, incredibly powerful Deepglow Skate.

I like Ordeal of Nylea in our modular and “modular” deck since it pretty reliably provides both mana fixing for our four-color deck and some mana ramp. Ordeal of Thassa provides a little bump of card drawing.

Sage of Hours gives us the potential of taking multiple turns if everything falls the right way, and most of them involve Evolutionary Escalation, so it’s not like it’ll be a huge surprise. I’ve steered clear of tutor cards so that taking multiple turns is the occasional surprise rather than a reliable machine.

Staying Alive

The biggest weakness with putting so many of our eggs in Reyhan’s basket is mass removal. If there are no creatures to receive the Last of the Abzan’s bounty, all our hard work is for naught. Since we’ve got both modular and “modular” creatures in the deck, my mind turned to artifact creatures with indestructible that had “Darksteel” in their name. Darksteel Juggernaut got cut from the list when my five-mana slots were overflowing with good choices, but I like the cheapness of Myr, the vigilance of Sentinel, and the flying of Gargoyle.

Selfless Spirit does good work at protecting the entire team from mass removal in one shot, and Nim Deathmantle does what it does so well, bringing back creatures from a premature death. Last, there’s Cauldron of Souls, which does amazing work in a deck chock-full of +1/+1 counters to cancel out the -1/-1 counters from persist.


I had an initial 100-card list with lots of sweet cards before I remembered I might need to interact some with my opponents. So I went to the chopping block and made room for some removal spells. I thought about including Wrath of God and Damnation as sweepers of my own, but I made a decision not to include cards with two or more of the same color mana at four or less so that I could spend my early turns making sure I had one of each of my four colors first, so I went with Toxic Deluge and Duneblast as my mass removal spells. I’ve got Seasons Past in my list of “removal” spells mainly as a way to get back removal spells among other cards. Even though I’m playing green and black, I don’t have much room for graveyard recursion so that I can focus on my theme, but Seasons Past can provide a little of that.

So when the dust settled, here’s what I ended up with:

Magic Card Back

I was pleasantly surprised that many of these cards were already included in the Breed Lethality deck, so it was obvious that the designers were seriously pushing the +1/+1 counter theme.

How would you go about building a deck around Reyhan, Last of the Abzan? What legendary creature would you partner it with? Are there any other cards I should have considered?

New to Commander?

If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:

Commander write-ups I’ve done
(and links to decklists):

Zurgo Bellstriker (Bellstriking Like a Boss)

Dragonlord Ojutai (Troll Shroud)

Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund (Dragons, Megamorphs, and Dragons)

Dromoka, the Eternal (One Flying Bolster Basket)

Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest (Tempests and Teapots)

Tasigur, the Golden Fang (Hatching Evil Sultai Plots)

Scion of the Ur-Dragon (Dragon Triggers for Everyone)

• Nahiri, The Lithomancer (Lithomancing for Fun and Profit)

Titania, Protector of Argoth (Titania’s Land and Elemental Exchange)

Reaper King (All About VILLAINOUS WEALTH)

Feldon of the Third Path (She Will Come Back to Me)

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant (Calling Up Ghouls with Sidisi)

Zurgo Helmsmasher (Two Times the Smashing)

Anafenza, the Foremost (Anafenza and Your Restless Dead)

Narset, Enlightened Master (The New Voltron Overlord)

Surrak Dragonclaw (The Art of Punching Bears)

Avacyn, Guardian Angel; Ob Nixilis, Unshackled; Sliver Hivelord (Commander Catchup, Part 3)

Keranos, God of Storms; Marchesa, the Black Rose; Muzzio, Visionary Architect (Commander Catchup, Part 2)

Athreos, God of Passage; Kruphix, God of Horizons; Iroas, God of Victory (Commander Catchup, Journey into Nyx Edition)

Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient (Ghost in the Machines)

Jalira, Master Polymorphist (JaliraPOW!)

Mishra, Artificer Prodigy (Possibility Storm Shenanigans)

Yisan, the Wanderer Bard (All-in Yisan)

Selvala, Explorer Returned (Everyone Draws Lots!)

Grenzo, Dungeon Warden (Cleaning Out the Cellar)

Karona, False God (God Pack)

Child of Alara (Land Ho!)

Doran, the Siege Tower (All My Faves in One Deck!)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (my Magic Online deck)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (Shadowborn Apostles & Demons)

King Macar, the Gold-Cursed (GREED!)

Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind ( Chuck’s somewhat vicious deck)

Roon of the Hidden Realm (Mean Roon)

Skeleton Ship (Fun with -1/-1 counters)

Vorel of the Hull Clade (Never Trust the Simic)

Anax and Cymede (Heroic Co-Commanders)

Aurelia, the Warleader ( plus Hellkite Tyrant shenanigans)

Borborygmos Enraged (69 land deck)

Bruna, Light of Alabaster (Aura-centric Voltron)

Damia, Sage of Stone ( Ice Cauldron shenanigans)

Derevi, Empyrial Tactician (Tribal Birds)

Emmara Tandris (No Damage Tokens)

Gahiji, Honored One (Enchantment Ga-hijinks)

Geist of Saint Traft (Voltron-ish)

Ghave, Guru of Spores ( Melira Combo)

Glissa Sunseeker (death to artifacts!)

Glissa, the Traitor ( undying artifacts!)

Grimgrin, Corpse-Born (Necrotic Ooze Combo)

Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord (drain you big time)

Jeleva, Nephalia’s Scourge ( Suspension of Disbelief)

Johan (Cat Breath of the Infinite)

Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo’ Myrs)

Karona, False God (Vows of the False God)

Konda, Lord of Eiganjo ( The Indestructibles)

Lord of Tresserhorn (ZOMBIES!)

Marath, Will of the Wild ( Wild About +1/+1 Counters)

Melira, Sylvok Outcast ( combo killa)

Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker ( Outside My Comfort Zone with Milling

Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis (evil and Spike-ish)

Nicol Bolas (Kicking it Old School)

Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius ( new player-friendly)

Nylea, God of the Hunt ( Devoted to Green)

Oloro, Ageless Ascetic (Life Gain)

Oona, Queen of the Fae (by reader request)

Phage the Untouchable ( actually casting Phage from Command Zone!)

Phelddagrif (Mean Hippo)

Polukranos, World Eater (Monstrous!)

Progenitus (

Fist of Suns and Bringers


Reaper King (Taking Advantage of the new Legend Rules)

Riku of Two Reflections (

steal all permanents with
Deadeye Navigator + Zealous Conscripts


Roon of the Hidden Realm ( Strolling Through Value Town)

Ruhan of the Fomori (lots of equipment and infinite attack steps)

Savra, Queen of the Golgari ( Demons)

Shattergang Brothers (Breaking Boards)

Sigarda, Host of Herons ( Equipment-centric Voltron)

Skullbriar, the Walking Grave ( how big can it get?)

Sliver Overlord (Featuring the new M14 Slivers!)

Thelon of Havenwood ( Campfire Spores)

Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice ( new player-friendly)

Uril, the Miststalker (my “more competitive” deck)

Varolz, the Scar-Striped (scavenging goodness)

Vorosh, the Hunter ( proliferaTION)

Xenagos, God of Revels (Huge Beatings)

Yeva, Nature’s Herald (living at instant speed)