More Block Commander Action!

Abe Sargent knows the obscure spells like few others! Wanting to invigorate the old Commander song and dance, Abe continues his work on the ultra fun Block Commander format!

Block Commander II: Urza’s Visions of an Exodus to the Mirage Stronghold

Hello folks and welcome back to all things Block Commander. In a recent article, I discussed the value of Block Commander as an alternate format, and then gave you a deck from Ice Age Block to illustrate how this thing works. Ice Age Block is surprisingly diverse era and there are a lot cards worth exploring by modern mages.

The basic concept of Block Commander is pretty simple. Your Commander deck, which must follow the official banlist of the format, must contain only cards printed in a certain block, with the exception of your commander.

After all, a lot of Commander playgroups can get a bit redundant. Building a 100 card deck that can’t have more than one of each nonbasic land can take some time. It’s not like folks are usually building a new slate of decks each week. So Block Commander steps in to help out.

That’s it for the rules and the concept. What great is that it’s simple and easy to harness. Everybody understands how to build a Block Commander deck. And yet, underneath those simple rules, there’s a lot of opportunity for individualism and expression. There’s a lot of power. There’s a lot of flexibility.

But the best thing? Block Commander shakes things up at your table.

After doing the first block, I feel like this project has some legs. So I want to bring to you my personal builds for the next three blocks in release order: Mirage Block, Rath Block, and Urza’s Happy Block. I think you’ll find them pretty interesting.

Project II: You’re Just a Mirage

In my Ice Age Block deck, I ran the Grixis colors. It seems like a good time to try out the opposite ones. While you are not required to use an in-block leader, I would love to use one here. How about Asmira, Holy Avenger leading the team?

The problem with these early blocks is that they seriously lack power. For example, even after tossing n cards like Jolrael’s Centaur, River Boa, Melesse Spirit, Sidar Jabari, City of Solitude and other cards that barely make the cut, I realized that we need a third color, just like I used in the Ice Age deck around black/red/green. So I am adding in blue to the mix. Blue is pretty weak in the Block because of the presence of phasing. That’s a huge power issue a lot of creatures had. Although there are a few ways to harness it for the deck we’ll include. But what blue adds is an amount of power, particularly in the creature base, that will smooth things out.

Later on, when Magic has more playable cards, we can do a two color deck. For now, I need a third color. Asmira is no longer the leader. Let’s do Rubinia Soulsinger. She seems like a fun choice, right?

Blue is shallow – there are literally just twelve cards I would consider for a general deck like ours. And since Power Sink is usually best when paired with a lot of counters (as I used in the last deck), it’ll get benched for now. We have just Dissipate and Desertion. So the blue is weak in number, but not in effect . I mean sure, you could run something like Flash, Polymorph, or Flux to add numbers to your cards. Impulse, Inspiration, Ancestral Memories are all there in case of serious card needs. A creature-light deck might value things like Pendrell Mists. There are a few tricks like Teferi’s Veil or Relearn as well running around.

And then maybe some gold stuff like Pygmy Hippo, Reparations, or Teferi’s Honor Guard. As we’ll dip into that arena myself! Let’s look…

And there’s the Bant-esque Rubinia deck with a bunch of good stuff and some decent control as well. One of the things I love about this build are who your winning conditions are. Archangel? That’s old school good. We have a quartet of Dragons – Mist Dragon, Canopy Dragon, Alabaster Dragon, and Pearl Dragon. Those are all pretty cool. Bringing the beats with non-red Dragons is sexy-keen. And don’t forget to swing with your Crash of Rhinos!

There are lots of funs tricks in here. Block with Teferi’s Honor Guard or Rainbow Efreet and then phase it out for later blocking. Phase out any creature with Vodalian Illusionist. You can fetch out lands with Veteran Explorer or Tithe. Don’t forget cards like Rowen, Preferred Selection, and Call of the Wild which provide slow and steady card quality and advantage. Green is the color of card advantage in Mirage Block.

And while green is the color of card advantage, white steals opposing creatures. Check out Jabari’s Influence and Debt of Loyalty to see how. The color wheel is not really fleshed out yet. We still have blue creatures that tap for damage (Suq’ata Firewalker) as an example. I emphasized defense a bit and you have some good blockers, like Sunweb and Dream Fighter. It’s not like Commander sees a bunch of small creatures attacking that often anyway, so Sunweb can still block the vast majority of the time. The Dream Fighter successfully phases out anything that it can block, and no need to worry about trample or anything tricky. Wall of Roots can be mana acceleration or blocking, whichever you need at the time.

I find that a lot of players often skip past Quirion Elves these days. They used to get played in a ton of two-color decks with green and something else. They work fine in three-color decks as well. As they are both an Elf and an accelerant, they are good for a lot of deck builds out there. Take another look at them!

Anyways, the deck is basically done as you can see above. I made sure to include flexible answers to all sorts of problems. Do artifacts or enchantments got you down? Aura of Silence, Disenchant, and Creeping Mold are here to help. Afterlife to kill a creature. The Mold handles lands as well. You have Uktabi Orangutan to assist in artifact control. We also have recursion, countermagic, and three tutors. Get what you need!

There are some other routes to consider from this era. Want to hose instants and responses? City of Solitude is out there. You could cast Nature’s Resurgence to restock, and then look at cards like Nettletooth Djinn, Natural Order, and the Diamond collection: Sky Diamond, Marble Diamond, and Moss Diamond.

Alright, what’s next?

Rath Cycle!

Project III: From the Rath

My initial take on Rath Cycle would be a RecSur deck with Recurring Nightmare and Survival of the Fittest, but Recurring Nightmare is banned from EDH. So instead let’s up Counter Burn, another classic deck from the era. I think we can have our first two-color deck. Tempest and friends are very thick in great cards.

Now I want to apologize a tad for the three counter-ish control decks. The early era had great spells but bad creatures, so the best way to even things up when playing with modern decks is to run a control deck that plays into that advantage. This is the strength of the time, and I want to play into that. We have great cards that can exchange on a one for one basis with stuff like Lightning Bolt, Dark Banishing, Swords to Plowshares, Disenchant, Counterspell, and more. No creatures from this era are so powerful that they could never be printed again. But tons of spells are.

So will his be the last time we’ll hit up a counter-based control deck for a while? I don’t know. We’ll see!

Here’s the counter-burn deck, built around a certain Goblin from Commander 2015. I think you’ll agree that having him at the helm of a deck with a lot of buyback spells is pretty intriguing. I also think that this deck proves a fun place to evoke an old strong Pre-constructed deck called The Sparkler. It was one of those decks that was used to sell a set, and it had a ton of counters, burn, and just three creatures, two of which were Walls and the last was Mogg Fanatic. Welcome back Sparkler!

One of the main features of this deck is the burn aspect. There are two red X spells in the Rath cycle – Rolling Thunder and Fanning the Flames. Both of those are quality, since one can be reused and the other and can blow out multiple targets and teammates. Along with those are a lot of other burn spells – Shock, Lightning Blast, and you can poke stuff with Searing Touch. I layered in multiple ways of doing damage onto other cards, so you can either gang tackle a wounded animal, or just smash from long range without bothering to attack an opponent. Leading this fight is Cursed Scroll, but it is by no means the only entry. Joining their Scroll Brother slings Fireslinger, Mawcor, and Rootwater Hunter, and shoot, even Bullwhip. Sacrifice that Mogg Fanatic. And Shard Phoenix has to be here too. The burn part of this deck is fully in place.

What about the counters? Rath Cycle was heavy with good counters. We have Dismiss and Forbid, both powerful options, along heavy stalwarts like Counterspell and Spell Blast and Power Sink. That’s right, the original Tempest set has four counters that are all solid entries. Interdict, also in Tempest, is pretty good too, and it releases itself. I didn’t even need to include Mana Leak because of how set we are in counters! Now take a looksee at Ertai, Wizard Adept. Repeatable counters for the win.

Now every counter-burn deck needs some utility as well. Can we draw us some cards? Whispers of the Muse, Emmessi Tome, Sift, Merfolk Looter, Scroll Rack, and Treasure Trove will all give us cards and card quality. Some of those are seriously heavy hitters. We can steal stuff with Dominating Licid, Helm of Possession, Legacy’s Allure, Steal Enchantment, Legerdemain, and don’t ignore Reins of Power (a card that was winning games before Insurrection was even a pause in some designer’s head). We can blow up some stuff too – Shattering Pulse, Starke of Rath, Blood Frenzy. And what we can’t burn, counter, destroy, or steal we’ll just bounce with Capsize, Equilibrium, Erratic Portal, Tradewind Rider or tap down with Puppet Strings and Mind Games. That’s a lot of answers to a lot of potential problems for a two color deck that’s limited to just one block.

Following the leader of our good Mizzix we even have ways to drop those costs with Ruby Medallion, Sapphire Medallion, and Memory Crystal. The cheaper I can make the buyback of a Whispers of the Muse or a Fanning the Flames or even a Searing Touch, the quicker this deck is going to get seriously good at the kitchen table. For a Block Commander deck, I think this one is a serious winner. (You might also consider stuff like Anarchist or Scrivener.)

Now let’s head to the last deck. Urza!

Project IV: Urza Time

Most people think of Urza’s Block as an artifact block because of cards like Tolarian Academy, Tinker, Memory Jar, and Grim Monolith. But it was actually an enchantment themed block with a bunch of enchantments that become creatures (Opal Titan, Veiled Serpent, Lurking Skirge) and you can make a creature an enchantment (Soul Sculptor) and even an enchantment a creature via other means (Opalescence). Then add in lots of cards and support and this is clearly an enchantment block.

It just makes a lot of sense to mine that territory right now.

The best color for any Block-based Commander deck is going to be in white. It rocks Academy Rector, Replenish, Opalescence, and a ton of great enchantment enablers. I also like blue for stuff like Aura Thief and most importantly, the card drawing engine of Attunement. Blue also adds Treachery and Confiscate. You can use your Rector to fetch out a way to steal and deal with something permanently.

I thought that would be it, and I hacked together this quick deck with just blue and white.

Now this deck is okay. There are even a few cards I didn’t run that I could. Enchantment Alteration. Show and Tell. Temporal Aperture. Thornwind Faeries. Wall of Glare.

But take a look at some of the cards that I have to force in. Levitate? Opal Acrolith? Serra’s Liturgy? Meh.

I’m not sold. So what I could do is add a third color that includes another enchantment set of options as well as some additional support. Here are the playable enchantments from the other colors:

Red – Pyromancy maybe? Shiv’s Embrace. Ghitu War Cry. Sneak Attack. Nah this isn’t my answer.

Black – No Mercy. Phyrexian Reclamation. Vile Requiem. Subversion. Perhaps Diabolic Servitude or Attrition. Maybe No Rest for the Wicked or Vampiric Embrace. That’s not as bad. If Yawgmoth’s Bargain weren’t banned, I’d heavily consider moving to black. But I get why it is.

Green – Abundance. Rancor. Defense of the Heart. Exploration. Pattern of Rebirth. Perhaps Greater Good or Gaea’s Embrace or Midsummer Revel? That’s not bad, and Rancor in particular is interesting to me. Don’t forget Argothian Enchantress is rocking green as well. Clearly, green is the way to move. Let’s ignore the mana issues and just embrace green too.

What trades were made? Cards like Thorn Elemental and Endless Wurm and Multani head in to bench win-cons like Radiant, Archangel and Palinchron. They give you better options to fetch up with Pattern of Rebirth and Defense of the Heart. Thran Golem and Iridescent Drake were a bit inconsistent with such a small number of usable auras, so they came out as well. I pulled some walls like Shimmering Barrier and Fog Bank for Yavimaya Elder and Yavimaya Enchantress. I was thinking about tossing in Whirlwind. We only have four flyers left, and one of those, Aura Thief, really is okay dying to a Whirlwind, and Gilded Drake can swap for something else. Let’s swap a Whirlwind for a Miscalculation.

All of those create a solid enchantment-positive foundation. Now we have stronger creatures, enchantments, and synergy. The two Enchantresses are better for the deck, and don’t forget that we can layer in stuff like Crystal Chimes, Serra’s Sanctum, and other great stuff. We have the engines of Faith Healer and Rancor/Cessation in the deck. Sacrifice the aura for life, and then replay it again and again for more life. You can also use those replays to trigger Argothian Enchantress and draw an epic amount of cards. Synergy: We’ve Got It!

Don’t sleep on things in this deck like sweeping removal (Whirlwind, Catastrophe) or other tricks like Opposition and others. You can recur Defense of the Heart or Pattern of Rebirth for more creature-fetching with a simple Tragic Poet. We got it!

And that concludes a trifecta of Block decks from Mirage, Rath, and Urza’s all wrapped up and ready to go. So what are you getting for your playgroup this year?