One Deck, Two Directions

One of the greatest joys of Commander is the different directions you can take your deck. Bennie Smith takes this principle to the maximum by showing you a few different things you can do with one of the most popular Commander 2015 precons!

Two friends of mine recently started up a Magic podcast called TeamSteveCast, so if you like to listen to Magic podcasts give them a try! You can listen at their website or download it through iTunes. The most recent episode as of this writing had a segment where I called in and they asked me questions about the Magic Celebration at Grand Prix Atlanta. I thought it was a real good interview and enjoyed recapping the event so if you’re curious about hearing more about the Magic Celebration, be sure to check it out.

Anyway, during the course of the interview I brought up one of the things I thought was really cool about Commander 2015: a difference in approach to the legends they put in each deck. In expansions prior, all three of the legends—two brand new ones and then a reprint—could pretty much be played interchangably as commanders for the deck. For 2015, the “face” card (each of the experience counter legends) was the primary focus of the rest of the deck. The other new legends played fine in the deck, but it was really in there to inspire building an entirely new deck — though the precon deck should give you plenty of cards to get started on. I really liked this two-fold approach: a precon should be playable right out of the box, and for some people, that’s all they really want or need. But one of the best parts of Commander is that journey of discovery as you hunt down cards that play well with the legend you’ve chosen to build around. I like that when you’re ready to move on from the face legend that there’s a marker in the deck to guide you down a new path.

So far for the Commander 2015 cards I’ve written a deck focused exclusively on the insane Blade of Selves, and I’ve written a deck built to use and abuse all five of the experience counter legends. Now I think it’s time to focus on these new legends we’ve gotten, but I thought I’d do something a little different. I’m going to take each of the Commander 2015 precons and show two paths we can take using cards in the decks for each of the two new legends, and then flesh out the decks with additional cards to help make them awesome. This week we’ll take a look at two decks we can build from the Izzet color combination, Seize Control.

Path 1: Mizzix of the Izmagnus

At the end of the Commander celebration, we had a five-player throwdown where each of us played one of the precons. I let the other four players pick the decks they wanted to play, and I played the one left over: Seize Control. Izzet isn’t a color combination I gravitate to very often, and Mizzix of the Izmagnus’s focus on “instants and sorceries matter” is definitely outside of my comfort zone, but I did my best to just embrace it and have fun. The deck provided entertaining moments, but it certainly suffered a bit from having too many cards that got in the way of Mizzix’s focus. On the way home from Atlanta and in the weeks since, I’ve been turning the deck over in my mind and wanting to tweak it into the brilliant and chaotic masterpiece it truly wants to be.

Dilemma: Epic Experiment or No?

While it may seem insane to say this, I’m not sure that Epic Experiment belongs in the deck. Obviously the card can be insane in a deck focused on casting lots of instants and sorceries, but one of the things I quickly noticed while playing Mizzix of the Izmagnus is that X spells are really good for ensuring that you can keep adding up experience counters under Mizzix. Without X spells you will eventually “cap” your experience counters when no spell in your deck costs more than the experience counters you’ve accumulated. X spells are also the perfect fit in this deck because they’ll keep scaling in power the more experience you have to “pay” for the X.

Epic Experiment is an X spell, but when you hit other X spells upon its resolution you can’t pay the X cost: for each of those cards, X = 0. It seems a little bit insane, but sometimes you’ve got to kill your darlings. Epic Experiment is getting cut!

Here’s an interesting question that arises when I look at the X spells that are included in the deck: what about Repeal? Repeal bounces a non-land permanent with converted mana cost of X to its owner’s hand. What if you’ve got ten experience counters and Mizzix of the Izmagnus in play? Can you use Repeal to bounce something that costs less than ten mana? My hunch is that you can’t, but I’d love for a reader who’s a judge to let me know for sure one way or the other.

Other than Repeal, here are the other X spells we can port over into our new deck: Comet Storm, Magmaquake, Stroke of Genius, Dominate, Blue Sun’s Zenith, and Meteor Blast.

While they aren’t X spells, there are certainly plenty of quality instants and sorceries we’ll want to port over into our deck, especially ones with additional costs like overload or kicker where our experience counters can help pay:

Blustersquall, Brainstorm, Echoing Truth, Urza’s Rage, Counterflux, Ætherize, Mystic Confluence, Word of Seizing, Æthersnatch, Mirror Match, Firemind’s Foresight, Preordain, Vandalblast, Mizzium Mortars, Mystic Retrieval, Stolen Goods, Mizzix’s Mastery, Rite of Replication, Sleep, Chain Reaction, Call the Skybreaker.

Firemind’s Foresight is particularly good in this deck; not only should it be cheaper to cast than seven mana but it can used to go get several X spells.

We don’t really want too many cards that aren’t instants or sorceries, but there are a few creatures I think we’d be interested in porting over: Talrand, Sky Summoner; Goblin Electromancer, Charmbreaker Devils, and Melek, Izzet Paragon.

Including our commander we’ve got 37 of the 62 non-land cards or so we’ll want in our deck. That’s a great start! Let’s see what else we can find.

Instant or Sorcery Matters

Nivix, Aerie of the Firemind; Overmaster, Quicken, Young Pyromancer, Eyes Of The Watcher, Reiterate, Spellheart Chimera, Pyromancer’s Goggles

Since we’re playing a lot of instants and sorceries, I want a lot of other cards that care about instants and sorceries. I could definitely cram in more, but we don’t want to dilute actual instants and sorceries too much with other cards that care but aren’t actually, if you know what I mean.

X Spells

Fanning the Flames, Devil’s Play, Illuminate, Red Sun’s Zenith, Curse Of The Swine, Molten Disaster

As I mentioned above, X spells play great with Mizzix, the Izmagnus so I wanted to add more than the ones included in Seize Control. Illuminate is a funky, clunky card that has always been intriguing, but too darn expensive to be really interesting; however, I think it could shine in this deck.

Other Spells

Cyclonic Rift, Impact Resonance, Mystic Speculation, Whispers Of The Muse, Haze of Rage, Shattering Pulse, Capsize, Spell Contortion

Mizzix’s experience counters can be used to pay extra costs on cards with overload or buyback so we certainly want to add those cards to the mix. Cyclonic Rift is super obnoxious but an auto-include in blue decks.


Reality Ripple, Lightning Greaves, Swiftfoot Boots

The deck certainly functions best when it’s got its commander in play so these two pieces of equipment can help him stick around. With one experience counter Reality Ripple becomes a one mana counter to any pinpoint removal or sweeper.

Okay, so here’s what I’ve cooked up for the first path we’ve taken from Seize Control:

Path 2: Arjun, the Shifting Flame

Arjun certainly has a good Izzet vibe, but it’s really quite different from Mizzix of the Izmagnus. Mindmoil is a fascinating card for Commander, but now that we’ve got it attached to a 5/5 legend for just one blue mana more we can build our entire deck around the effect of constantly drawing cards.

Looking through the cards we get in Seize Control we can see quite a few that support the theme of drawing cards: Brainstorm, Preordain, Faithless Looting, Desperate Ravings, Jace’s Archivist, Windfall, Psychosis Crawler, Illusory Ambusher, Mystic Confluence, Dragon Mage, Repeal, Stroke of Genius. Psychosis Crawler in particular is fantastic to our strategy and turns Arjun, the Shifting Flame’s ability into a kill condition.

Looking at the rest of the cards in the precon, I’d port these over to the new deck as well: Sol Ring, Izzet Signet, Thought Vessel, Echoing Truth, Worn Powerstone, Reins of Power, Ætherize, Etherium-Horn Sorcerer,Aethersnatch, Mirror Match. Mana development is particularly important when our commander costs six mana.

This gives us 22 non-land cards to port over into our Arjun deck, so we’ve got about 39 more slots to fill.

More Card Drawing

Whirlpool Rider, Arcane Denial, Remand, Izzet Charm, Molten Psyche, Whirlpool Warrior, Wheel of Fortune, Magus of the Wheel, Teferi’s Puzzle Box, Whirlpool Drake, Geth’s Grimoire, Memory Jar, Mindmoil, Magus of the Jar, Consecrated Sphinx; Kozilek, Butcher of Truth; Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur

The Whirlpool creatures from Apocalypse are the perfect creatures to add to the theme. Kozilek is helpful not only for the additional card drawing but also its ability to shuffle cards from your graveyard back into your deck will come in handy. Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur is a brutal card but quite expensive, and I think it works here because any time you draw it too early you’ll always have a way to trade it in for a different card. Geth’s Grimoire works nicely with the “wheel” effects that hit all your opponents too.

Card Drawing Matters

Ivory Tower, Library of Leng, Jace’s Erasure, Empyrial Plate, Sphinx’s Tutelage, Cerebral Vortex, Chasm Skulker, Diviner’s Wand, Venser’s Journal, Alhammarret’s Archive, Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind

So we’ve established that this deck will draw a ton of cards—now what? Rather than using the card draw power to help assemble a particular combo, I thought we should include more cards like Psychosis Crawler where we can turn the act of drawing cards into win conditions. Jace’s Erasure and Sphinx’s Tutelage can mill out players who don’t play ways to reset their graveyard. Chasm Stalker can get gigantic, and if killed, turns into lots of little islandwalking Squid tokens. Diviner’s Wand can attach to Arjun for free since it’s a Wizard and gets a huge boost from the card drawing and enables you to win with commander damage if you need to. Empyrial Plate can turn any of your creatures into a threat if you’ve stocked enough cards in your hand.

Other Cards

Pongify, Rapid Hybridization, Scroll Rack, Nim Deathmantle, Shattering Pulse, Jhoira of the Ghitu, Ice Cauldron, Thran Dynamo, Foil

I picked these cards to round out the rest of the deck. I wanted some pinpoint removal available specifically for Notion Thief since any opponent playing that will pretty much be a disaster for this deck. If Notion Thief is highly played at your Commander table, I’d recommend having more ways of getting rid of that pest!

The way the deck churns through cards, there are going to be times when you’ve got a card you want access to but can’t cast before it gets put on the bottom of your deck with Arjun or discarded to some of the other cards and effects in the deck. Jhoira of the Ghitu lets you suspend those sorts of card for the low, low price of two mana… assuming you have time to wait four turns. Ice Cauldron is one of my favorite weird cards, and it works perfectly here letting you exile cards you want to keep and cast later (this works even if Ice Cauldron is destroyed). Nim Deathmantle is another favorite card of mine and works nicely here with cards like Whirlpool Warrior, Magus of the Wheel, and Magus of the Jar that sacrifice for their effects.

Okay, so here’s what I’ve cooked up for the second path we’ve taken from Seize Control:

Arjun, the Shifting Flame
Bennie Smith
Test deck on 12-10-2015

So what do you think of the two paths taken to change Seize Control? What cards would you add that I didn’t? If you have any questions about what choice for what to include and not include from the precon deck, please ask!

Zurs on the Lam

Before I go, I wanted to put the word out to anyone who went to Grand Prix Atlanta, and in particular, anyone who was in or around The Command Zone. I took four copies of Zur the Enchanter out of my Modern Doran/Zur deck and got them signed by the artist Pete Venters on Sunday and assumed they made it back into the deck box I had with me. However, the other day I went to play Modern and realized that all four of them are missing. I don’t remember what I did with them after getting them signed so it’s entirely possible I left them on a table or dropped them somewhere as I left. If you or anyone you know ran across the cards and wasn’t sure where they came from, please reach out to me and let me know. I’ll pay for shipping them to me and send you something cool as a reward for keeping them safe.

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, Visonary 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)

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)

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)

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)

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!)

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)

Varolz, the Scar-Striped (scavenging goodness)

Vorosh, the Hunter ( proliferaTION)

Xenagos, God of Revels (Huge Beatings)

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