Other People’s Decks: The Battle Of Arrakeen

In this edition of Other People’s Decks, Sheldon gives Lark the floor to show off his Dune-themed Hazezon Tamar Commander deck. Take a look!

I quite often look at the decks other folks have assembled. Usually they’re good but have been done before. Not so with Lark Ballinger’s Battle of Arrakeen.  Frank Herbert’s Dune was a formative piece of literature in my own life, so I was immediately interested in Lark’s idea. I asked him to send it along with a "small write up."  He sent me quite a bit more than that. Normally I’d do the commentary on the deck along the way, but in this case it makes more sense to have Lark tell you what drove the card choices along with a little personal background.

Before we get there, for those of you who have been following my adventures in returning to school, I’ll tell you that last week was a pretty good one. One of my research papers, "Burbage to Branagh: Henry V in Performance" has been selected to be presented at USF’s 2014 Research and Arts Colloquium. As I was reading that notification, I got a message that my short story "Josephine’s Name" will be published in USF’s annual literary journal Thread. For anyone who’d like to read it, I’ll make sure to figure out how to link it to you once it comes out. But let’s get back to this awesome deck. I’ll see you down at the wrap up.

For the longest time, winter was my favorite season. I loved how blue the sky seemed, how white the snow. And the ice I loved most of all. Ice Age was my first Magic set as well as my first foray into gaming beyond Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers. I didn’t give a whit for card mechanics or have any idea of the value of dual lands. At the time, none of that mattered. I cared only about the frozen plane of Dominaria, only had eyes for the glimpses offered through the card art. I now had a favorite season and a favorite new game.

Flash forward almost two decades later and Magic is still my favorite game (though I’ve grown to love summer in my older age.) Like many players, there were some expansions I missed out on as other things and people caught my interest. Most recently, I started playing again when Rise of The Eldrazi came out. With the release of the Commander precons shortly after that, I got sucked into the world of Commander. I now have the only way I ever want to play my favorite game.

My first Commander game was hosted by Seattle’s Gamma Ray Games. Owner Eric Logan gives capitalism a good name, providing many opportunities for gamers to connect in community. Eric, a "happily married heterosexual male," sponsors the Geek Pride float during Seattle’s annual LGBTQ Pride parade and also reaches out to women gamers with regular events. In addition to Gamma Ray Games and its Raygun Lounge, I also frequent Card Kingdom.

Before I started playing the Commander variant, I built rogue Standard decks. I was always looking for the path not traveled by other Spikes. However, I quickly tired of Standard. Keeping up with set rotations was expensive. Commander’s eternal card pool piqued my interest, as did the deckbuilding restrictions. I was intrigued by the singleton format, and the notion of a flavorful general leading my troops into battle spoke to my inner Vorthos (see, some Spikes have soft candy centers!).

Commander is a perfect format for lots of folks—those looking to try something different, those who appreciate the flavor of the game, and those who enjoy playing with some of the best cards ever printed. As MTGS user Jivanmukta said, "Commander can be Vintage as easily as it can be Craw Wurm Fiestaganza."

And with that, I present a Commander deck chock full of Wurms!

Now, for someone with a deep love of winter, it might seem surprising that the following decks are based on Frank Herbert’s Dune. What can I say? My love for fantastical worlds knows no bounds!

The first deck is based on the Battle of Arrakeen featured in the original Dune:

Forced from your home and raised among a people not your own, you have survived. Victimized by the greed and treachery of Houses Corrino and Harkonnen, you now live for vengeance. A boy no longer, you are Muad’dib, and the Fremen (Sand Warriors) chant your name. Lead your warriors into battle (In the Web of War) on the backs of the sandworms (Crush of Wurms). Watch your enemies’ defenses come tumbling down (Purphoros, God of the Forge) in the face of your wrath. And rise to seize the throne (Privileged Position) of those who would see you dead.

Here’s the decklist:

The Battle of Arrakeen is the second deck I’ve built with Hazezon Tamar as the commander. My first one was based on Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, focusing on Tarmon Gai’don, the Last Battle. Like many Commander players, I value variety, so this take on Hazezon differs from my first outing. In the Tarmon Gai’don deck, I included many cards to increase the offensive power of the tokens. With the current Battle of Arrakeen deck, I elected instead to let the Wurms provide damage support. The addition of Purphoros, God of the Forge helps with this considerably.

I’m going to briefly go over card choices, primarily from a flavor perspective but also with an eye on mechanics. After all, games are not won by flavor alone, but by every spell that proceedeth from your hand.

Paul Atreides, Muad’dib, Kwisatz Haderach ­– Hazezon Tamar

There was really one choice to represent Paul. Hazezon Tamar isn’t just in the right colors to play Wurms, but the card also has built-in Fremen in the form of Sand Warriors! ‘Nuff said, really.

Chani Kynes, of the Fremen ­– Lovisa Coldeyes

Again, this one was almost too easy. Lovisa Coldeyes fits both flavorfully and mechanically, boosting all the Fremen, I mean Sand Warriors.

Duncan Idaho, Swordmaster – Gerrard Capashen

I wanted a character that captures Duncan’s swashbuckling charisma, and Gerrard Capashen fits the bill to a tee. I also considered Odric, Master Tactician and Fiendslayer Paladin for this role. Odric gets the Sand Warriors through, and the Paladin’s first strike ability could possibly take on opposing Sardaukar soldiers. However, for those who know the story, Duncan wasn’t invulnerable in combat, which rules out Odric, but he could also take on no less than seventeen Sardaukar soldiers! Given enough mana, Gerrard’s ability to tap potential blockers speaks to that.

The Fremen – Garruk, Primal Hunter; Sarkhan Vol; Yavimaya Elder

Commander staples Garruk, Primal Hunter; Sarkhan Vol; and Yavimaya Elder (new art, not Urza’s Destiny) capture the spirit of the Fremen’s rugged nature.

The Fremen’s Funeral Rites ­– Rest in Peace, Wheel of Sun and Moon

Good Commander decks pack graveyard hate, and Wheel of Sun and Moon—particularly when self-targeted in the absence of any recursion decks at the table—represents the fact that nothing is wasted among the Fremen. They even recycle the water contained in their dead!

The Bene Gesserit – Enlightened Tutor; Idyllic Tutor; Plea for Guidance; Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice

These sisters are known to tutor young women, making the deck’s tutors good representations of this. Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice mirrors the collective body of the order, and the populate mechanic echoes the sisters’ breeding program.

The Bene Gesserit’s Breeding Program – Doubling Season, Parallel Lives

What else to call Doubling Season and Parallel Lives?

Baron Vladimir Harkonnen – Kozilek, Butcher of Truth

We don’t want to get decked and Kozilek, Butcher of Truth helps minimize the chances of that happening. Like the Baron, he’s one deceitful bastard, and thanks to ego-memories, he might arise again . . .

Shai-Hulud ­– Autochthon Wurm, Bellowing Tanglewurm, Crush of Wurms, Engulfing Slagwurm, Novablast Wurm, Pelakka Wurm, Penumbra Wurm, Roar Of The Wurm, Symbiotic Wurm, Worldspine Wurm, Wurmcalling, Wurmcoil Engine

Several Wurm cards offer surprisingly good value in the Commander format. Against blue mages, Crush of Wurms, Roar Of The Wurm, and Wurmcalling can be forced through with Boseiju, Who Shelters All. Other Wurms leave sandtrout—I mean tokens—when they die, like Symbiotic Wurm.

Desert Dangers – Lurking Predators

I wanted to represent Paul’s limited prescience compared to that of his son Leto II, and Lurking Predators does so wonderfully. With so few creatures, it’s not often it will put a Wurm into play, but it does provide a nice scry ability. If I’d decided to include Oracle of Mul Daya, it would’ve been in the Bene Gesserit camp.

The Coming of the Worm – Lightning Surge

The air crackles with electricity, signaling the sandworm’s approach. Lightning Surge fits this flavorfully, and the mechanical damage ain’t too shabby either!

Butlerian Jihad ­– Aura Shards

Break all the thinking machines with Aura Shards!

The Desertification of Arrakis – Blood Moon

There are reasons the deck runs so few nonbasics and Blood Moon is one of them.

The Spice Cycle – Crucible of Worlds

Crucible of Worlds is fantastic when facing land destruction or just picking off problem lands with your own Strip Mine.

Melange, the Prolonger of Life, the Giver of Health – Invincible Hymn

I might be a Spike, but I do have my cute pet cards. Invincible Hymn falls into this category. It all but ensures our biggest enemy concerns are combo and Voltron.

Paul’s Journal – Scroll Rack

Scroll Rack works wonderfully with all the shuffle effects in the deck.

Paul’s Prescience – Sensei’s Divining Top, Sylvan Library

How else to describe Sensei’s Divining Top and Sylvan Library? Knowing what’s coming is good; being able to seize it is even better.

Paul Is Tested With the Agony Box – Teferi’s Puzzle Box

Teferi’s Puzzle Box gives fits to those combo players mentioned earlier.

Duncan’s SacrificeGreater Good

I’m not going to say just what Duncan gave up, but it was for the Greater Good, I assure you. Cast this before Hazezon Tamar whenever possible.

Escape To Sietch Tabr – Sterling Grove

Sterling Grove helps protect the deck’s many enchantments, offering them a safety similar to that found within Sietch Tabr.

Water of Life – Momentous Fall

It has to come from somewhere, right? Even sandworms can succumb to a Momentous Fall. But without them, there would be no Water of Life!

Paul Awakens To . . . – Mind’s Eye

Mind’s Eye is easy to use with all of our land ramping.

The Full Power of Other Memory’s Guidance – Praetor’s Counsel

Anyone can take on Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur when receiving the Praetor’s Counsel. This card symbolizes having knowledge of all that came before in your bloodline.

The Force of the Fremen – In the Web of War, Purphoros, God of the Forge

It’s important to get value out of our tokens. In the Web of War lets us accomplish this through haste, and Purphoros, God of the Forge helps deal damage even when we can’t attack right away.

Turning the Tables on House Corrino – Reiterate

Oh, Reiterate! How do I love thee? Let me count the ways! The versatility of this card is simply amazing. Protects our big spells from being countered and can also double as removal in response to others’ spells. Buying it back is cake with the number of lands we put on the battlefield.

Paul Ascends To the Throne – Privileged Position

Privileged Position protects our board from all but sweeps and has excellent synergy with Sterling Grove.

Muad’dib’s JihadChaos Warp, Oblation, Planar Cleansing, Stranglehold, Terminus

Space was tight, so the deck includes what I feel to be the bare minimum of removal/hate covering all the different permanent types/zones. Save Chaos Warp for the most difficult to destroy permanents, like utility lands. Oblation can handle planeswalkers and most anything else. When the board’s too cluttered with enemy artifacts and enchantments, use Planar Cleansing. Barring extreme situations, there is no better spell to cast than Stranglehold if you think it’ll stick. It shuts down fetch lands in the early game and prevents opponents from digging for answers. Troublesome creatures with hexproof or indestructibility can still go down, all the way down, thanks to Terminus.

Arrakis Transformed – Chromatic Lantern

Chromatic Lantern terraforms our mana base. This is especially important given how few nonbasics the deck runs.

The Spice Flow– Land Tax

Keep the lands flowing with Land Tax!

The Bounty of Arrakis – Boundless Realms, Cultivate, Explosive Vegetation, Farseek, Kodama’s Reach, Nature’s Lore, Skyshroud Claim, Mana Reflection, Mirari’s Wake

Aside from Stranglehold, these cards are the most important to cast. Ramp early and often.

The Sands of Arrakis – Cavern of Souls; Command Tower; Dust Bowl; Fire-Lit Thicket; 9 Forest; High Market; Krosan Verge; Miren, the Moaning Well; 7 Mountain; Naya Panorama; 8 Plains; Reliquary Tower; Rugged Prairie; Stomping Ground; Strip Mine; Temple Garden; Wooded Bastion

Hazezon Tamar is a big-time investment at seven mana, so make every cast count with Cavern of Souls. Alternately, name "Wurm" if you’re feeling cheeky and brave. Nothing says "Arrakis" like Dust Bowl. Oooh, the flavor makes me hot just thinking about it. The deck contains a couple spells to get Hazezon Tamar off the battlefield before the after-cast upkeep, and both High Market and Miren, the Moaning Well help out in this category. Play Krosan Verge with the same intensity as Stranglehold, getting it on the battlefield as soon as possible.

There are lots of different cards one could try out to make the tokens bigger, create more of them, or even expand on the life gain theme. The following cards are ones that easily fit the Dune theme:

Hellion Eruption
Hellion Crucible
Parallel Evolution
Beacon of Creation (introduction of sandtrout to Arrakis)
Goblin War Drums (to represent the "thumpers" from the film)
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite (filling in for the Bene Gesserit’s Mother Superior)
Mother of Runes (Mother Superior)
Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage (Bene Gesserit)
Academy Rector (Bene Gesserit)
Worldly Tutor (Bene Gesserit)
Eternal Witness (Bene Gesserit)
Kamahl, Fist of Krosa (pick a Fremen, any Fremen!)
Rhys the Redeemed (Tleilaxu ghola creator)
Duplicant (Tleilaxu Face Dancer)
Juniper Order Ranger (pick a Fremen, any Fremen!)
Garruk Wildspeaker (pick a Fremen, any Fremen!)
Beastmaster Ascension (everybody was wormback riding, those ‘worms were fast as lightning!)
True Conviction (Fremen fanaticism)
Gratuitous Violence (Muad’dib’s Jihad)
Hour of Reckoning (Muad’dib’s Jihad)
Titanic Ultimatum (convert or die, aka Fremen fanaticism)
Contagion Engine (residual poison)
Vicious Shadows (Abomination)
Proper Burial (Fremen funeral rites)
Venser’s Journal (Paul’s journal)
Elixir of Immortality (Water of Life)
Mimic Vat (Axlotl tank)
Riptide Replicator (Axlotl Tank)
Soul Foundry (Axlotl Tank)
Nim Deathmantle (Axlotl tank)
Birthing Pod (Axlotl tank)
Beacon of Immortality (The spice is life!)

Well, I hope y’all have enjoyed looking at how I’ve interpreted the world of Dune through Magic. If Sheldon lets me back, I might even do an article on how to make a Commander theme deck from the ground up. In the meantime, I’ve gotta finish testing my new Daxos of Meletis 300: Rise of an Empire deck.

Lark actually provided me with a second Dune-themed deck, but I’ll hang on to that one to feature sometime down the road. The Battle of Arrakeen is simply the one of the finest and best thought-out theme decks I’ve ever seen, balancing the thematic elements and playability. If you’d like to see your decks featured on these pages, this is the standard to shoot for.

Speaking of decks, I promised some forum denizens that I’d list the latest version of my Animar, Soul of Elements deck. I’ll drop it down below without and sign off until next week.