Romancing With A Random Commander

Abe Sargent’s Random Commander Series is some of the most fun and crazy inspiration you’ll get for everyone’s favorite casual format! Today he’s got an extra special rendition of the column that features one of Magic’s most underrated sets!

Hello folks, and welcome to the next iteration of our random Commander challenge! The goal of this series is quite simple. According to Gatherer, there are 625 legendary creatures in Magic right now. Add in the five planeswalkers you can run and pull the five banned ones, and we have 625 legal options for Commander as of today. That is a metric ton of options.

Now, how many of them do you actually see? How many have led a Commander deck in your playgroup? At the local card store? This is one of the great issues that I’ve seen in local metagames. The same 40-50 commonly played Commanders get used again and again.

The goal of this challenge is simple. I head over to Gatherer and then let the Gods of Magic and Chaos determine which card I’ll build around today. I simply hit the random card button until a legal option appears, and then I build around it. As Mark Rosewater has stated many times, restrictions breed creativity. Some of my best decks and concepts have come about when I was forced to build around someone that I wouldn’t normally.

Who will it be this time? Let’s find out!

I hit the “Random Card” button and…..

Whoa! The very first card I hit is a legendary creature. So here we go!

I was wondering when we’d finally hit a Portal Three Kingdoms legendary creature. There are a lot of legendary creatures from the set. Luckily, we didn’t get someone like Lady Zhurong, Warrior Queen; some generic horsemanship creature; or one with this ability that only affects itself, such as one of Liu Bei’s Tiger Generals, Huang Zhong, Shu General. (I’ve read the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the story that the set is based upon).

Who is Yuan Shao? Well, in the early pre-Three Kingdoms era, one of the big bads of the time was a tyrant who had seized control of the Emperor and held him hostage. His name was Dong Zhou. (And yes, he has a card: Dong Zhou, the Tyrant.) Dong Zhou had created an untenable situation, and our good Yuan Shao created a coalition of various leaders, warlords, advisers, and more to break the stranglehold of Dong Zhou. So Yuan Shao is an early leader that’s essentially “good,” if you will.

All of the major players of the day followed him, from Cao Cao, Lord of Wei to Lu Bu, Master-at-Arms to the Oathbrothers of Liu Bei, Lord of Shu; Guan Yu, Sainted Warrior; and Zhang Fei, Fierce Warrior. There were numerous characters that assembled under Yuan Shao’s banner to fight against Dong Zhou. Ultimately, there were a number of factions fighting against each other in their ranks and Yuan Shao wasn’t able to keep them together, so he squandered the great counsel he got. Cao Cao defected, and others also headed out. He neither deposed Dong Zhou nor defeated Cao Cao in battle, and ultimately, he was pretty ineffective.

How did Dong Zhou fall? That is an interesting story. Lu Bu was brought in as an adoptive son of Dong Zhou since he was the greatest warrior of the time and Dong Zhou feared assassination at all times because of the many evil things he’s done. A loyalist court minister to the emperor named Wang Yun was ruminating over the state of affairs and how he could bring down the tyrant Dong Zhou. He spoke with his ward: Diaochan, Artful Beauty, one of the most popular and beautiful maids of Dong Zhou. She led and struck up a romance with Lu Bu, and slowly, she turned Lu Bu around. One day when Lu Bu was about to visit her, she pretended to commit suicide, and Lu Bu “stopped” her. She claimed she was violated by Dong Zhou. Lu Bu pledged to her his allegiance and then headed out. A few days later, he launched an attack on Dong Zhou and assassinated him, thus bringing an end to the tyranny of Dong Zhou.

I love this stuff. I could talk about it for hours. Anyways, now that I’ve set the stage for the early few chapters of the book and who Yuan Shao is, let’s move on to the game.

Yuan Shao is one of the few general options from the set who grants an ability of some sort to all of your stuff. That makes him very interesting and build-able Commander.


All right, let’s take you for a spin.

Now you’ll note that this guy is the opposite of Goblin War Drums or the new menace mechanic. Your stuff can’t be blocked by more than one creature per attacker you send. So if you are going to bring it, then bring it hard!

One obvious way to exploit Yuan Shao is to give the whole team virtual unblockability with Goblin War Drums. Your foes can’t block with just one creature, and they can’t block with more than one creature. So unless you are playing with silver bordered cards and can find half a creature to block with, they can’t block you. But that seems a bit obvious.

I’m reminded of the value of the card Krosan Vorine here. It forces your foe to block with some small creature you want to off, and then nothing else can join the party. Can I find similar concepts in red to exploit? Perhaps with things like Creepy Doll or something?

And to be fair, thisis Yuan Shao, the Indecisive. I could easily run both sorts of effects and then just play the ones that I need at the time. But I looked into it, and I find the ones that play into the first effect are just a lot more fun! To Unblockable and Beyond!

Shao is about to beat down!

Yuan Shao, the Indecisive
Abe Sargent
Test deck on 01-25-2016

And there’s your “Indecisive Deck”!

As I mentioned above, I really enjoy the red creatures that have various hit triggers. There are some interesting hit-triggers in red.

To begin, I think this deck needs some cards to slide alongside Yuan Shao and to ensure unblockability. This is where a card like Goblin War Drums comes in handy. Don’t forget to cast the cantrip spell of Gorilla War Cry, all the way back in Alliances, or cards like Atarka Pummeler and its sweet activation. I think this deck will prove to be an easy place for activating formidable. (And you could add effects like Demoralize into the deck as well).

So after we make some stuff nigh impossible to block, then we can begin to swing and smash. Red has a lot of fun hit triggers going on.

Probably one of the easiest things red can do is hit players or other creatures for damage. Normally a simple little body like Shockmaw Dragon wouldn’t make a cut in a Commander deck. But here? That creature suddenly is hitting some nearby stuff for one damage each. It may not be the best card in the deck, but it pairs nicely alongside Electryte or Balefire Dragon. Even a body like Mordant Dragon will shoot and kill another creature as well. Red has a long list of cards like this from its past that we can mine.

For example, suppose that you need to destroy an artifact. Goblin Vandal to the rescue! Or you can just steal them all with a hit from Hellkite Tyrant.

Another common hit trigger is the new red mechanic of exiling a card from your library and playing it until the end of the turn. Prophetic Flamespeaker is great at this, and the new entry from Commander 2015 is Dream Pillager. In this deck, the Dream Pillager is downright nasty. (Although you can’t drop lands from the Pillager – insert sad face here).

In other recently printed stuff, Goblin Dark-Dwellers from just-released Oath of the Gatewatch doesn’t have a lot of options, but this is one of the more obscure decks where its menace body is more desirable than the extra spell. Now what sort of hit triggers can we grab elsewhere?

Take a look at Stigma Lasher. Once you hit someone, they are not gaining life for the rest of the game. Even if Stigma Lasher is taken down, the effect still lasts. It’s a game-changer. And since you can get in a few hits with it in this deck, it’s even better. Stigma Lasher is amazing.

We have some great support cards here as well. This is not your normal saboteur deck built around smaller creatures getting into the red zone and dialing up the hits. This is no tempo-laden deck. This is a deck that drops the beats. Dragons. Elementals. Phoenixes. Gods. We have it all. This is a deck for your inner Timmy. And I want to support that.

Many of the early cards that leaped into my mind were ones that dialed up the smashery. For example, we need Relentless Assault mechanics in here. Tap your stuff and smash face for some serious damage and triggers. Then untap and do it again to the same player, or someone else! Twice the smashes, twice the damage, and twice the triggers. With cards like Aggravated Assault jumping into the deck, we are mining a quality space.

And that’s not all! As Prophetic Flamespeaker demonstrates, this deck really wants double striking funtime. So cards like Rage Reflection and Berserkers’ Onslaught are powerful additions. Now when you hit with that Rapacious One, you are going to make twice the 0/1 tokens, while a card like Falkenrath Exterminator will just load up on the counters and then blow up stuff all over the table.

Don’t forget Savage Beating, which can be a Relentless Assault, a Cleaver Riot, or both. (Check out Gratuitous Violence as well. With some of our hit triggers revolving around the damage dealt, it’ll do some serious game changing smashes.)

This is an ideal home for Blade of Selves. You smash, unblockably, with a creature like Goblin Grenadiers, Steel Hellkite or Shockmaw Dragon, and it changes the game. And if you manage to equip a seriously nasty threat like Hellkite Tyrant, then you could just win right there.

Don’t sleep on Malignus. With doubling damage and other effects, it can kill people very quickly. At a normal Commander multiplayer game, there’s always someone hovering around their starting life total. If Malignus is a 16/16 right now, that will end some players, especially if amplified with effects like Relentless Assault, Gratuitous Violence, or Berserkers’ Onslaught.

I added in cards like Nim Deathmantle and Feldon of the Third Path to give the deck the ability to bring back great utility stuff that heads to the graveyard in the in the sky or beaters that were just killed. You can get some serious distance from these sorts of repeatable effects at the kitchen table.

I don’t normally run a lot of Curses, but this seemed like an ideal deck to dust off Curse of Stalked Prey as a way to build up your stuff while smashing.

Many mono-red decks wind up tossing in some serious hatred for non-basic lands with cards like Blood Moon or Ruination. I am choosing to avoid the obvious direction. I want to smash face, not smash lands. Other than a few cards like Wasteland and Dust Bowl, I’m not really going to be popping off a bunch of lands.

From unusual cards like Latulla’s Orders and Thunderblade Charge to more conventional Commander stuff like Sword of the Animist and Purphoros, God of the Forge, this is a deck with some interesting options and spins on Magic.

And all of it was made possible when my random challenge hit on an obscure mono-red commander from Portal Three Kingdoms.

This is a fun deck! And it’s the harvest that’s reaped from the random restriction. Restrictions enhance creativity. They force you to do something else.

So here’s to Yuan Shao and all of the unheralded 625 leaders out there for your decks that don’t get used that often.

Get your random on!


Did you like today’s random-tastic fun? Want to see the whole series? Here are all of the previous random Commanders that we’ve done:

1). Grimgrin, Corpse-Born – The random machine pulled out a fun little Dimir sacrifice deck all laden with lovely trimmings.

2). Yomiji, Who Bars the Way – We flipped over a mono-white legendary creature from Kamigawa who has a serious legendary permanent theme. Let’s let the good times roll!

3). Thriss, Nantuko Primus – Our good legendary leaders inspires the use of the fight mechanic to defeat foes with aplomb. And to have fun too!

4). Lady Caleria – What happens when I flip over one of the least exciting legendary creatures of all time? One of my favorite decks, that’s what!

5). Balthor the Stout – Sometimes you flip over a tribal legendary creature, and I love when it’s a odd, less obvious tribe, like Barbarians, that is being built around.

6). Verdeloth the Ancient – Man, speaking of tribes, how do you deal with this saproling and treefolk enabling leader? By hitting both themes right out of the park.

7). Mirri, Cat Warrior – Here come the Forests. Let’s make a deck that Gaea’s Liege is proud to call home.

8). Iroas, God of Victory – It’s God Time on the Random Commander Challenge. Let’s craft a red zone inspired deck that’ll make Ares downright proud.

9). Selenia, Dark Angel – I built this fun deck around cards like Lich, Worship, and Platinum Angel. Are you ready for the fun to roll?

10). The Mimeoplasm – Ooze into your next Commander match with this graveyard-based fun deck.

11). Tivadar of Thorn – What happens when you flip a small fry Knight like Tivadar? Well you could always make a fun tribal Knight-tastic deck!

12). Sydri, Galvanic Genius – She’s quite the Genius indeed.

13). Gwafa Hazid, Profiteer – Want to build a bit of a “Don’t Touch Me!” deck? Blue/White control is back.

14). Gerrard Capashen – The leader of the Dominarian Alliance against the Phyrexian Invasion, and overall protagonist for Magic for like a jillion years is here! Life gain? Tapping effects? Gerrard’s Battle Cry? Howling Mine? We got it!