When I ran across the spoiler for Den Protector from Dragons of Tarkir, my first thought was one of scorn.
You see, Eternal Witness is one of my all-time favorite Magic cards. I played a ton of it while it was Standard legal, and it’s been a constant presence in
nearly all of my green Commander decks since then. I keep trying to make it work in Modern, but it always seems to end up getting cut from my lists. It’s
certainly a card I’ve kept my fingers crossed on, hoping to see it return in one of the Core sets, if not an expansion set-the name “Eternal Witness” can
easily fit into nearly any Magic-themed fantasy setting.
So imagine when I see Den Protector and all I can immediately think is how pale an imitation it is to Eternal Witness. I, who loves the morph mechanic more
than most, was profoundly disappointed. Despite my skepticism though, the Magic gods knew better and kept pressing copies of Den Protector into my hands by
having it show up in random packs at the Prerelease and prize boosters. Every time I cracked a pack and saw it staring back at me from the rare slot, my
mind started thinking… well, maybe it’s not too bad. I mean, it’s pretty good for a morph creature (or rather, megamorph), and it plays very nicely with
Whisperwood Elemental-much better than an actual Eternal Witness would.
So I decided to give it a try, and it ended up as a single copy in the sideboard of one of my last iterations of Villainous Wealth Devotion. My feeling was
that it would be handy to bring in against controlling decks that are what I’ve taken to calling “mono-removal” and have become the bane of my Green
Devotion existence. Sure, it’s all well and good that you can kill or counter every card I put into play, but would you mind actually playing some win
conditions too so we don’t end up drawing the match each time?
Something happened along the way. One time I drew Den Protector early, and I just ran it out as a two power two mana creature to start beating down. As my
opponent countered or killed every larger and more threatening creature I played afterwards, Den Protector just kept getting in there. When my opponent
slammed down Elspeth, Sun’s Champion – a Planeswalker that is generally the bane of Green Devotion decks – and made several soldiers that could endlessly
chump block any of my larger threats, I realized that Den Protector had two other abilities, one written and one implied. The first was its unblockability
by smaller creatures like the soldiers that Elspeth summons, and the other is its power being less than the four that Elspeth can otherwise sweep away. Den
Protector is like honey badger, he just don’t care, Elspeth-take another swing!
When I finally acquired my fourth Deathmist Raptor and decided to put down Villainous Wealth in favor of Green/White I took a look at my stack of Den
Protectors and grabbed a couple for the deck. Surely two copies would be fine in the maindeck, right? Megamorph her to get back a key spell from the
graveyard and have any Deathmist Raptors that happened to be dead spring back to life from the graveyard. As I played games I found myself all too often
wishing I’d draw another Den Protector. Would maybe three copies be the right number?
Around the same time I was having a conversation with my friend Kevin, who has long given me constructive criticism regarding my bad habit of getting
unintentional draws with my Villainous Wealth Devotion deck. While I put much of that blame at the feet of these mono-removal decks that do a very good
preventing me from winning but were terrible at actually winning themselves, that wasn’t really a good excuse-ultimately I was playing a deck that allowed
the mono-removal decks to steal wins from me and turn them into draws, which was hurting both my tournament performance as well as my enjoyment. He sent me
a quote from an Ari Lax column a couple weeks back that ended with “if you find yourself regularly unintentionally drawing, you are doing something wrong.”
The amazing thing with accepting blame is that you’re taking power away from outside forces and giving power back to yourself. If you’re to blame for doing
something wrong, presumably that means you are capable of doing something right and reversing the outcome.
My initial noodling with G/W straddled the line between G/W Aggro with maindeck Fleecemane Lions and Dromoka’s Command, and G/W Devotion with Mastery of
the Unseen and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. It leaned slightly more towards aggro with just two Shrines and two copies of Mastery because I wanted to ensure I
had enough colored mana to reliably land a turn 2 Fleecemane. But I was finding that Mastery of the Unseen was winning a lot more than Fleecemane Lions.
Moving towards G/W Devotion justifiably had Kevin – and myself – worried about unintentional draws given its brief and well-known history.
With the StarCityGames.com Spring Standard State Champs coming up, I decided to do something a little radical for me. I decided to streamline my deck by
just playing four copies of powerful cards up and down the mana curve. Here’s what I took with me to the tournament:
My theory here was to streamline this G/W Devotion deck to cut back on the variability and have it perform similarly each game. The thought was that
simplifying the deck would allow me to make decisions faster and avoid draws, even though this deck is notorious at lengthening games with the lifegain. I
know I got some raised eyebrows from the list, since what sort of ramp deck ramps only as high as five mana spells? My feeling was that I had so many mana
sinks that ramping into something big wasn’t really necessary. Between morphs, megamorphs, manifests, and Mastery of the Unseen activations, Polukranos,
World Eater monstrosity activations, and potentially chaining Den Protectors, there is no shortage of things to use with Nykthos mana.
So, a full four Den Protectors! Let’s talk about that. I can tell you that having a Den Protector in your opening hand can make for some tough
decision-making… if you fear it may be the only one you have a chance to draw. Obviously it’s best to drop it on turn 5 as a morph and flip it over for
value and the +1/+1 counter, but if the rest of your hand has three, four, and five mana spells, it could be awkward to find time to slip Den Protector in
there for value. That’s why I actually like just running a full four copies of it here-if your hand and the boardstate suggests playing Den Protector for
two mana, then you can toss it out there without blinking, confident in knowing that there are three other copies in the deck that you can potentially play
at full value, possibly even getting back the first Den Protector if it’s in the graveyard.
Another thing with playing this many Den Protectors is that you want to ensure if you play it in the earlygame you want to be able to megamorph it for
value. Playing Windswept Heath certainly helps. Also, playing Elvish Mystics and Voyaging Satyr helps too since it’ll be in your opponent’s best interest
to kill those creatures early. Or maybe you’ve had to chump block a nasty Goblin Rabblemaster. A fantastic low-mana card like Dromoka’s Command can impact
the board early and is fantastic to get back for another round a turn or two later.
With four Deathmist Raptors, I like having four other morph creatures to help get them back from the graveyard in addition to the manifest cards.
Having found religion on Den Protectors, I felt good to be vindicated by the card’s apparent breakout at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir. I wasn’t able to watch
live video coverage from Day One because I work during the day and don’t have Wi-Fi for my phone there, but I heard rumblings about two crazy decks: one
involving Strength of the Fallen and one featuring Soul Flayer and Chromanticore. I sent out this tweet:
I haven't been able to watch the PT yet, so what's changed to make Strength of
the Fallen and Chromanticore/Flayer decks a thing?
— blairwitchgreen (@blairwitchgreen) April 10, 2015
Seth Burn gave me the scoop:
— Seth Burn (@SethBurn) April 10, 2015
While neither deck was at all similar to mine, seeing Den Protector get the nod from pros made me feel pretty good about including them in my “four-of”
everything deck, and I went to sleep pretty happy with my choice for the Standard State Champs in the morning.
I carry my old 1999 Virginia State Champion bag with me to a lot of smaller tournaments, but to add to my States mojo I dug up the felt playmat they gave
out for Top 8 from the 2008 Champs to play with too.
Perhaps my mojo was a little rusty, because Round 1 started pretty terrible. Game 1 my opponent stalled on two lands before he scooped to my on curve
Raptor, Polukranos, and Whisperwood Elemental. By the mana he played he looked like U/W Control. On the draw I kept an otherwise risky hand of Forest,
Elvish Mystic, and two Voyaging Satyrs, but I figured since he was playing U/W, it wasn’t much of a risk. Unfortunately he played Temple of Deceit into
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and hit my Mystic with Bile Blight, and when he was casting Pearl Lake Ancient before I’d drawn a second land it was time to scoop
it up. Game 3, I had a pretty good hand which included Voyaging Satyr, Voyaging Satyr, a Den Protector, Whisperwood Elemental, and three lands. I figured
even if he killed the first Satyr I could play the second one, and even if that died, Den Protector could eventually recoup. So I played my first Satyr,
and he hit it with Bile Blight. I played the second one, and he killed it with Ultimate Price. I hadn’t drawn any mana so I played Den Protector face down
needing him to just pause one turn in the assault to flip it and get back a Satyr, but of course, he had Hero’s Downfall to kill it. I go on to draw a few
cards I can’t cast while he reloads with Dig Through Time. If you read my write-up of the experience I had at the Open/Invitational weekend in Richmond a
few weeks back, you’ll understand my simmering rage at losing so terribly to yet another stupid Dig Through Time removal deck, but I did my best to smile
and be a good sport as I contemplated dropping from the tournament and finding something more pleasurable to do. Obviously the fates were telling me
Standard isn’t worth playing anymore, right?
I calm down between rounds and try to pull it together. At least I wasn’t in the draw bracket, so that means I could easily run into all sorts of decks in
the loser’s bracket. Give my brew a chance!
Round 2 I sit across from a nice young fellow who’s very new to Magic. His Temur Dragon deck draws a little clunky, and mine runs like a well-oiled killing
machine, and the match is done in two. We chat a bit afterwards, and I feel a little better about the day. I cross my fingers and hope to avoid Dig Through
Time decks for a while.
Round 3 I sit down to a deck that looks like Sultai Reanimator, but when he flips over some cards to Satyr Wayfinder and reveals Strength from the Fallen,
I know what’s up! Or at least, I know there’s something funky going on that was inspired by what some pros were doing. Game 1, a fortunate early Dromoka’s
Command keeps Strength of the Fallen off the board long enough for me to go monstrous with Polukranos to clear his board. Game 2, he flips a Den Protector,
getting back Strength of the Fallen with a stocked graveyard and playing it, providing Den Protector with +7/+7 and smashing me in the face for ten points
of unblockable damage. That’s when I realized just how perfect Den Protector is in that deck-not only can it fetch back key cards from the graveyard like
Strength of the Fallen, but boosting the power of Den Protector makes it very difficult or impossible to block. Next turn he enchanted Den Protector by
bestowing Boon Satyr, giving it four power and then also triggering Strength of the Fallen. Yeah, I was quite dead! For the final game I was able to kill
his Elvish Mystic with Dromoka’s Command and keep him shy on mana long enough for my Devotion-fueled creatures to end the game quickly. I was happy to both
win the match and get to play against a cool and interesting deck.
Round 4 I’m paired against an aggro red deck that gets me down to nine before I stabilize the board and get Mastery of the Unseen flipping and gaining
life. For game 2 he beats me down to four points of life while I desperately try to find a Mastery to gain some back. I finally get burned out. For the
last game, he has to double mulligan and I keep a seven card hand with plenty of early action to take control of the board fast enough and with enough life
that I can go on offense and close the game out.
Round 5 I’m paired against another aggro red deck, and despite having turn 1 Zurgo Bellstriker both games, I’m able to stabilize the board quickly enough
to let my larger creatures take control of the game. We chat a bit afterwards, and he says that he was hoping to avoid G/W Mastery of the Unseen decks,
that they’re a bad matchup for Red Aggro. Considering how difficult I struggled against aggro decks with Villainous Wealth that makes me even happier about
my choice to switch decks!
With 86 players, we’ve got 7 rounds of Swiss and there are three undefeated players who are looking to draw two games into the Top 8. Unfortunately for my
round 6 opponent, he gets paired down to face me, and I cannot take two draws into the Top 8. He’s playing a Red/White deck that’s packing some burn and
Goblin Rabblemasters but is a bit more on the midrange side. Despite my mulligan, we have a hard-scrabble first game with both of us at four when he draws
a Stoke the Flames. For the second game, I get Mastery of the Unseen working with tons of mana and end the game at 59 life. For the last game, he has to
double mulligan but keeps a fantastic five cards that has me on the ropes, getting me down to four life before I’m able to take control of the board and
start pounding back. I keep waiting for the game-ending Stoke the Flames, but lucky for me, I’m able to kill him before that.
So that leaves me in the sweet position to draw into the Top 8 of Virginia States for the 7th round! Alright! I haven’t been able to do that in a big
tournament in a while, and it felt good to be able to eat a little food, drink a little soda, and rest my brain a bit. I end up in 5th place at the end of
For the first match of Top 8, I’m paired against a Mardu deck that dispatches me quickly in game 1. My notepad has this written down: Slash-Slash-Stoke-Stoke-Rabble-Sorin. He ends the game with 41 life as I fall under a torrent of Goblins. For the second game, I get an early
Hornet Nest in play, which buys me some time to find Mastery of the Unseen to keep my life total safely padded long enough to take the game. The last game
is a long, drawn-out affair with me not having too much going on other than Mastery of the Unseen and a lot of mana. My life total for the last game looks
like this: 20-19-20-18-17-16-14-8-9-11-9-4-3-6-4-7-2-3-7-2-4-7-5-10-5. I don’t recall the exact details, but I know there are about five turns there near
the end where if I hit one of my four Den Protectors that have yet to show up, I can retrieve a Dromoka’s Command from the graveyard and seal up the game
and match. This is five turns where I’ve got a Courser out to keep lands out of the way, I’m drawing from the deck as well having enough Nykthos mana to
activate Mastery of the Unseen two or three times a turn. I could have even just drawn a Dromoka’s Command, too. It was extremely frustrating to see
victory just slip away as my deck, which had been consistent and persistent the entire tournament, just fall flat there at the end.
The one upside is that while my opponent was stomping me with Goblin Rabblemaster, he had some sweet rk post Nixon Goblin tokens to crush me with. Check
I keep having people say that Goblin Rabblemaster isn’t good anymore because everyone is ready for them, but I sure did face down a lot of Goblin
Rabblemasters on Saturday. I won a lot of those matches eventually, but if I wasn’t playing a Devotion deck with Mastery of the Unseen, I don’t think I’d
have been nearly as successful. Goblin Rabblemaster doesn’t care if everyone is ready for him, he’s gonna master some rabble right upside your head!
Despite the disappointment of not being able to repeat as Virginia State Champ after sixteen years, it felt great to be back in the Top 8 again. I got a
sweet playmat, a sweet pin, and some sweet booster packs.
I even got to walk down the hall and grab a brewskie since we were playing in a local V.F.W. One of the local vets was kind enough to sign me in as a guest
so I could soothe a thirsty throat.
I went home and cracked open my prize packs, and I was happy to see a few of the more valuable cards in the set amongst the rares.
So I’m incredibly happy with my maindeck and incredibly unhappy with the sideboard. The Valorous Stances were great, and the Hornet Nests sometimes helped
against the red decks and sometimes just sat there looking dumb. I definitely need to figure out a gameplan and sideboard that can better beat the control
decks that seem to have my number even though this deck should be more than capable of fighting them just looking at the cards I’m running. It’s been
suggested that maybe some number of Surrak, the Hunt Caller and Boon Satyr in the sideboard might help; I do really like the idea of bestowing Boon Satyr
on a Den Protector, especially one that’s been megamorphed, making it practically unblockable.
Speaking of Den Protector, did you see the recent Durdling Around comic featuring Den Protector? It was both amusing
and educational-I didn’t even realize Den Protector had a little babushka hanging on her backside in the art until I read the comic!
I’ve got a couple other deck ideas that also utilize four copies each of Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor, but for now I’m sticking with green and white
to get in more reps and try to figure out a good sideboard, as well as a good plan for beating control decks. Do you have any ideas? I’m certainly all
ears. Have you given Den Protector a try? If you haven’t, you should. I promise you’ll be pleasantly surprised!
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 Primer Part 1
(Why play Commander? Rules Overview, Picking your Commander)
Commander Primer Part 2
(Mana Requirements, Randomness, Card Advantage)
Commander Primer Part 3
(Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
Commander Starter Kits 1
(kick start your allied two-color decks for $25)
Commander Starter Kits 2
(kick start your enemy two-color decks for $25)
Commander Starter Kits 3
(kick start your shard three-color decks for $25)
Commander write-ups I’ve done
(and links to decklists):
- • Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice ( new player-friendly)