Tasty Deserts

Bennie Smith’s Desert-based Commander deck now has the tools it needs to thrive! See his intriguing build around Karona, False God and get his thoughts on Deserts in the new Standard ahead of SCG Cincinnati!

In the beginning, there was this card.

And it was good.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t all that good. I really wanted it to be good. It kept jumping into Standard decklists and then, as I worked on them, Shefet Monitor kept getting cut. It seemed like it should be amazing—for four mana you get to accelerate your land base and draw a card and it dodges most counterspells. Alternately, you can just play the mana cost for a giant Lizard and beat down. The problem I found was that generally you just didn’t have the time to spend four mana and not directly impact the battlefield. For four mana, people were casting Gideon, or Chandra, or Aetherworks Marvel. Cycling Shefet Monitor paled in comparison.

What would really kick Shefet Monitor up a notch would be the kind of Desert cards we could fetch up with it, but as of Amonkhet Deserts were just not very impressive. In fact, they were so unimpressive that they inspired a mission to try to build a Commander deck that was all about animating Deserts and killing my opponents with them. Deserts are supposed to be deadly!

I was about halfway done sketching out my initial ideas when it occurred to me that I should wait for Hour of Devastation, with the assumption that we were likely to get some more Deserts – hopefully some that are actually good – and maybe even a few more cards that cared about Deserts.

Well, the set has been fully previewed and my assumptions were correct! I was particularly pleased with these two sweet cards:

The appropriately named Hour of Promise promises all sorts of sweet plays. I can’t stop brewing with it for Commander and for Standard. Heck, maybe I’ll do something with it for Modern too!

Ramunap Hydra looks unassuming, and I think most people are assuming that Deserts aren’t just worth playing, so why go through all the work to make Ramunap Hydra good? I think the Deserts are going to be at least decent, and the Zombie payoff for Hour of Promise is so good that I think it’s worth going hard on the Desert theme, at which point Ramunap Hydra is a 5/5 with vigilance, trample, and reach for just four mana, which is a great bargain.

So let’s resume my quest to kill my opponents with animated Deserts in Commander. At first I tried to keep the deck just three colors, with black and red being the odd cards out. Ultimately, in order to get enough Deserts in a singleton format, I went ahead with five colors. Let’s deck a look at the stars of our show.

Just Deserts

Twenty of our lands are Deserts, which will hopefully translate to having at least one on the battlefield when we cast Hour of Promise to get some Zombies. Quite a few of them can easily make their way into the graveyard too, either by cycling or sacrifice, so that’s worth an extra pip on our Hydra.


If we’re focused on Deserts and getting them onto the battlefield, it makes sense that we should include some landfall cards to take advantage of that. Retreat to Kazandu is particularly sweet, since we can use it to boost our animated Deserts and make them more threatening.

Land Matters/Enablers

Here’s where we have our fun. I’ve been dying to play Ramunap Excavator, Tireless Tracker, Courser of Kruphix, Knight of the Reliquary, and The Gitrog Monster all in the same deck, and now is my chance. Ruin Ghost is sweet; at its base you can protect an animated land from removal by “blinking” it and turning it back into a regular land, but really what we’re looking to do here is combine it with Retreat to Coralhelm and generate a bunch of landfall triggers and Clue tokens. If we’re living the dream, we’ll “go infinite” blinking Sunscorched Desert and kill the table.

Spike Tiller; Jolrael, Empress of Beasts; and Kamahl, Fist of Krosa are favorite ways to animate my lands. If your opponent is playing battlefield sweepers, you can punish them by animating their lands in response.

Genju of the Realm on a Desert is the “achievement unlocked” part of our deck. Now that would be a deadly Desert!

Land Boost/Protection

These are the cards I want to use to boost up our aggro Desert. I’m picturing activating Genju of the Realm to animate a Desert with Rafiq of the Many and Hour of Promise on the battlefield and attacking with it alone. Twice! Maybe even discarding Rubblehulk and then casting Berserk. Oh, sorry about that life total there…

Of course, our opponents aren’t just going to sit back and let themselves get run over by angry Deserts, so I’ve included Boros Charm, Heroic Intervention, Darksteel Garrison, and Selfless Spirit to protect and preserve our natural and supernatural Deserts.

One final card to add to the mix under boosting our Deserts—our Commander!

Karona, False God is a treacherous Commander long-term, but if you’ve got enough mana and have animated enough Deserts with a particular creature type (such as Elemental), Karona can come down and give them all an added boost.


I’ll round out the deck with some five-color good stuff. Here’s how the deck has shaped up:

Karona, False God
Bennie Smith
Test deck on 07-08-2017
Magic Card Back

What do you think? Are there any great ways to animate or boost my attacking Deserts that I overlooked?

An Oasis in Standard?

I mentioned above that I’m interested in Hour of Promise for Standard and I thought I’d take a little time here at the end to talk about my initial stab at building a deck with it. It ties into the Tasty Deserts theme, right? If you’ve been following my Facebook page and on Twitter, you’ll know that I had quite a successful run in Standard with several iterations of my Green/Colorless deck over the past eight months or so. While details have changed, the overall concept has remained the same:

1. Two-drop mana creatures are quite good in the right deck, not least of which is making Tireless Tracker insane by letting you cast it on turn 3 and always get your Clue.

2. Playing one color unlocks the potential for playing lots of great colorless utility lands, which also unlocks the potential of playing powerful Eldrazi spells.

3. Ulvenwald Hydra tutoring lands onto the battlefield is powerful.

It was fun to recently see Brad Nelson discovering the power of Ulvenwald Hydra to fetch up copies of Shrine of the Forsaken Gods to help him hard-cast Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Hour of Promise gives us four more cards that can ramp hard and fetch up special lands. Here’s the thing, though—if you’re fetching up non-Desert cards and don’t have enough Deserts on the battlefield you’re running into the Shefet Monitor problem I talked about in the beginning of this column, where you’re spending all this mana and not directly impacting the battlefield. That’s why Ulvenwald Hydra is so good: you get a ramp spell attached to a giant creature.

Hour of Promise is a powerful tool, but only if you’re playing enough Deserts to get those two Zombie tokens in addition to your ramp. Thankfully, Hour of Devastation brings us some really good Deserts to make it worthwhile to just fully embrace the theme and fully unlock the power of Hour of Devastation along with Ramunap Hydra. Here’s what I want to try in the new Standard:

This configuration gives us sixteen green sources, thirteen colorless sources, and thirteen Deserts. This should give us the ability to cast Druid of the Cowl or Ulvenwald Captive on turn 2 and have early colorless sources to cast Spatial Contortion and Matter Reshaper. Fingers crossed it’s enough Desert cards to have two on the battlefield when we cast Hour of Promise so we can fetch up a utility Desert, getting the Zombie tokens, and Shrine of the Forsaken Gods, yielding enough mana to cast World Breaker. I like the idea of sacrificing Dunes of the Dead to retrieve World Breaker and get a Zombie token for the trouble.

Let me know what you think of this build and any ideas you may have to improve it. Make sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter; I’ll post my adventures in Standard there regularly!

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, Visionary 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)

Derevi, Empyrial Tactician (Tribal Birds)

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)

Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord (drain you big time)

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)

Konda, Lord of Eiganjo ( The Indestructibles)

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)

Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius ( new player-friendly)

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!)

Progenitus (

Fist of Suns and Bringers


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)

Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice ( new player-friendly)

Uril, the Miststalker (my “more competitive” deck)

Varolz, the Scar-Striped (scavenging goodness)

Vorosh, the Hunter ( proliferaTION)

Xenagos, God of Revels (Huge Beatings)

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