The Cryptic Commander!

With Guilds of Ravnica taking the Magic world by storm, some very important Commander 2018 was missed! Bennie writes the wrong by writing up a primer for his latest build!

Guilds of Ravnica
came out so soon after the release of Commander 2018 that I never
felt like I’d explored all that Commander 2018 had to offer before
I had shifted my attention to the shiny new set. However, what’s nice about
waiting to dig a little deeper into the Commander product was how nice the
new surveil mechanic plays with three of the commander cards from
Subjective Reality, the deck with the “top of your deck” theme. I’ve
already written up a deck featuring Aminatou, the Fateshifter, and I have a
deck built around Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow that is Ninja tribal and
pretty straight-forward. But oddly I haven’t yet brewed up a deck around
the other Esper commander, Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign, and I couldn’t even
wait to correct that oversight.

Plus, we have a whole bunch of surveil and surveil matters cards to add to
the mix. Seems like a great start to a Yennett deck, doesn’t it?


Barrier of Bones Thoughtbound Phantasm Dimir Spybug Enhanced Surveillance Nightveil Sprite Whispering Snitch House Guildmage Lazav, the Multifarious Mission Briefing Discovery Blood Operative Disinformation Campaign Whisper Agent Sinister Sabotage Notion Rain Connive Price of Fame Doom Whisperer Dream Eater

I’m very intrigued to see how big I can grow Thoughtbound Phantasm and
Dimir Spybug in this deck! There were a couple surveil cards I ended up not
choosing for the deck because they felt particularly underpowered, but I’m
not unhappy with this group of cards. I could see trimming a few of them
for space considerations.

The surveil cards give us a bunch of ways to control what’s on top of our
deck, so what are we interested in casting for free when Yennett attacks?
Well, some expensive, potent cards, right?

Big Spells for Free

Approach of the Second Sun Enigma Sphinx Luminate Primordial Sepulchral Primordial Diluvian Primordial Magister Sphinx Mind's Dilation Nexus of Fate Debtors' Knell Fated Return Spine of Ish Sah Akroma's Memorial In Garruk's Wake Rise of the Dark Realms Void Winnower

Who cares about Wrath of God or Damnation when you could cast In Garruk’s
Wake for free before anyone can declare blockers? And then follow it up
with Rise of the Dark Realms? Oh yeah baby! Fated Return is fun here since
you’ll be casting it on your turn so you’ll get to take advantage of the
scry trigger.

All three Primordial creatures are fantastic cards to cast for free at
instant speed, and obviously get so much better the more opponents you
have. Mind’s Dilation is an incredible card that I almost never play in my
decks because it’s so expensive, but if you can cast it for free, of course
you do. Nexus of Fate and Approach of the Second Sun are similarly
powerful, but they’re also cards I don’t often play with, so I’m thrilled
to have a good reason to pile them in the deck.

Top of the Deck

Temple of Deceit Temple of Enlightenment Temple of Silence Volrath's Stronghold Nephalia Academy Sensei's Divining Top Brainstorm Ponder Preordain Serum Visions Deadeye Tracker Scroll Rack Aminatou, the Fateshifter Primordial Mist Prognostic Sphinx

Of course, surveil isn’t the only way we can manipulate the top of our
deck. There’s Sensei’s Divining Top, Scroll Rack, and Aminatou, the
Fateshifter that can sit out and constantly make sure the top of our deck
has something sweet. There are one-shot spells like Brainstorm and Ponder.
Scry cards like the Temples, Serum Visions, and Prognostic Sphinx. We can
even make use of the explore on Deadeye Tracker while you put the kibosh on
opponents’ graveyard shenanigans.

Attacking with Yennett

Reconnaissance Strionic Resonator

Sadly, there aren’t any ways in Esper colors to get multiple attack steps
in a single turn so we can chain Yennett triggers that way, so we pretty
much have to rely on Striotic Resonator to copy the trigger. Since we’ve
got white in the deck we can also make use of the little gem
Reconnaissance, which will let us attack with impunity to get our trigger
and then not care if Yennett gets blocked or not. And give it

Mana Ramp

Sol Ring Commander's Sphere Darksteel Ingot Worn Powerstone

Getting Yennett onto the battlefield quickly lets you start getting sweet
attack triggers that much quicker. So I wanted to make sure to include some
number of them here. Yennett has two generic mana in its casting cost so
Sol Ring and Worn Powerstone are particularly helpful in this regard.


Swords to Plowshares Path to Exile Arcane Denial Anguished Unmaking Mystic Confluence

Esper is a color combination well known for control, but I’m more
interested in the more proactive plan of manipulating the top of my deck
and casting huge spells for free. Some of those spells can certainly
control the flow of the game, but I also want a few other ways to take care
of problems that might arise. My hope is that with so much surveil and
other ways to manipulate my library, these relatively few spells will be
found when needed.

Esper Goodstuff

Skullclamp Basilisk Collar Mother of Runes Sea Gate Oracle Thief of Sanity Dragonlord Ojutai Mulldrifter Geode Golem Time Stop

There are some other cards I’d want in the deck that don’t really fit
neatly into the boxes above. Mother of Runes provides protection for
Yennett or other important creatures. Thief of Sanity and Dragonlord Ojutai
can expand our options. Time Stop is a great hero card that can save our
bacon when no other card could, and since it’s even we won’t have to cast
it from the top of our deck and can instead just put it in our hand off the
attack trigger.

Sweet deck! But wait… there are too many cards! Let’s figure out where to
make our cuts.

Let’s start by looking at our mana curve:

1 mana:

2 mana:

3 mana:

4 mana:

5 mana:

6 mana:

7+ mana/X-spells:

Wow, that’s a weird mana curve, huh? Well, I wanted to minimize the even
cards so that even attacking with Yennett blind we’d have a higher hit rate
for a free spell. Plus, being top heavy is kind of the point of the deck.

66 total cards plus 38 lands equal just four cards too many, which is
pretty close already! Let’s see what we can trim.

Void Winnower plays into the theme of “odd, not even” but ultimately, it’s
a big dumb creature with no evasion that is a bit of a jerk card. I like
just about all the big mana cards so I’m cutting this one.

Drawing cards and flying are nice, but I think I’m going to be getting
enough card drawing from top of the deck shenanigans that it’s not really
vital. I’m sure I’ll miss having it when I have Aminatou on the
battlefield, but we’ll be fine without it.

I like all four of the one blue mana, top of the deck manipulators, but we
probably don’t need all four. Of the four, Brainstorm and Ponder are the
better cards, so I’m cutting the other two to bring us down to our 100
cards. Yay!

Here’s how the deck ended up:

Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign
Bennie Smith
Test deck on 10-15-2018
Magic Card Back

So, what do you think? What sort of cuts do you disagree with? Are there
any cards that I overlooked?

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Deck Database

Below I’ve got links to decks I’ve written about going back to January
2017. If you want to read the associated article, just put “Bennie Smith”
and the commander name into the Google and it should pop right up. I’ve
written a lot about Commander – and Magic in general – so if you want to
explore further the

StarCityGames.com® article archives

have my articles all the way back to January 2000!

Guilds of Ravnica

Niv Mizzet, Parun

Emmara, Soul of the Accord


Lazav, the Multifarious (decklist in the comments)


Tajic, Legion’s Edge


Etrata, the Silencer


Izoni, Thousand-Eyed

Commander 2018

Aminatou, the Fateshifter


Xantcha, Sleeper Agent

, Lord Windgrace

Core Set 2019

Sai, Master Thopterist


Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma


Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire


Chromium, the Mutable


Grothama, All-Devouring


Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle

, Grand Warlord Radha
, Arvad the Cursed,

Muldrotha, the Grave Tide


Slimefoot, the Stowaway


Yargle, Glutton of Urborg

, Squee, the Immortal

Firesong and Sunspeaker


Jodah, Archmage Eternal

Masters 25

Hannah, Ship’s Navigator

Rivals of Ixalan

Azor, the Lawbringer

, Etali, Primal Storm

Nezahal, Primal Tide


Zacama, Primal Calamity


Tetzimoc, Primal Death


Zetalpa, Primal Dawn


Ghalta, Primal Hunger


Grusilda, Monster Masher


Dr. Julius Jumblemorph


Vona, Butcher of Magan


Tishana, Voice of Thunder


Admiral Beckett Brass


Gishath, Sun’s Avatar

Commander 2017

Nazahn, Revered Bladesmith


Inalla, Archmage Ritualist


Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist


O-Kagachi, Vengeful Kami


Mairsil, the Pretender


Taigam, Ojutai Master

Hour of Devastation

Razaketh, the Foulblooded

, Zur, the Enchanter
(Mummy’s Curse),

Djeru, With Eyes Open

, The Locust God, Karona, False God
(All the Deserts),Nicol Bolas, Neheb, the Eternal


Oketra the True

Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun

, Atogatog
(Cartouches & Trials),

Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons


Samut, Voice of Dissent


Rhonas the Indomitable

, Hazoret the Fervent

Kaladesh Block

Yahenni, Undying Partisan

, Nicol Bolas, Child of Alara (5
Color Energy),

Rishkar, Peema Renegade


Kari Zev, Skyship Raider


Sram, Senior Edificer

Commander 2016

Breya, Etherium Shaper


Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice


Tymna the Weaver // Ravos, Soultender

Other Commander Decks

Momir Vig, Simic Visionary

(no green creatures),

Kytheon, Hero of Akros

(Tribal Gideon)

Commander Strategy

Let’s Talk About Lands

Who Should I Attack?

Targeted Removal in Commander