The Ghost In The Machine

Bennie Smith recaps his sweet win with a Game Day brew and shows you one of the sweeter M15 Commander candidates you could possibly want to battle with!

Barring any unforeseen hiccups, by the time this goes live on Friday, my daughter and I should be pulling into a campsite on Kerr Lake, a great spot at the
Virginia/North Carolina border just west of Lake Gaston. A gaggle of the extended Smith family is going to be there for much fun and R&R. But before I
get to packing for the trip, I did want to share a few Magic stories from this past weekend as well as a new Commander deck featuring a legend from Magic


Last weekend was Magic 2015 Game Day, and as has become a bit of a tradition, Richmond Comix held a Commander tournament prior to the Game Day Standard
tournament. What’s particularly sweet is if you played in the Commander event, your entry fee for Game Day was waived. So… my two favorite Magic formats
back-to-back? Count me in!

Of course, a Commander tournament isn’t really Commander at its finest because the prizes associated with winning the event brings out the “mean
decks” in abundance along with a Spike demeanor that makes playing in them a bit nerve-wracking. I’ve tried bringing my regular fun decks tweaked with a
little bit of “mean” spice in them, but they just get steamrolled by the combo decks, so this time around I tried something different-I brought the Jalira,
Master Polymorphist deck I wrote about a few weeks back. The deck is stuffed to the
gills with permission spells with the goal to stymie the fast combo decks long enough for all of us to actually have a shot at playing a decent game of
Commander. I also have the ability to end the game pretty quickly if I can activate Jalira a few times and attack with Blightsteel Colossus. I took some
feedback to heart though and swapped out the two other non-legend upgrades from Scourge of Fleets and Stormtide Leviathan to Tidespout Tyrant and Nullstone
Gargoyle. I also added Stifle and Trickbind.

I have to admit I did feel a little bad about bringing this deck because I know I personally don’t enjoy playing against people with a lot of
counterspells, but I resolved to keep the permission in reserve for emergencies. As luck would have it, my four-man pod included a Commander shark-a local
competitive tournament Magic player who only plays Commander if there are prizes on the line; he only plays fast combo storm decks, and his goal is to win
all of the prizes at the end and sell them on his online Magic store (no splitting of prizes among the last table). He’s a nice guy personally, but his
approach to Commander is very much the antithesis to the spirit of the format, and having him sit down at my table made me very glad I was bringing the
mean with Jalira and infinite counterspells. Also at the table was a guy playing Nekusar, the Mindrazer, and a lovely gal playing Merieke Ri Berit.

She tells us that she’s very much a casual player, so Nekusar and I warn her that the game might be over pretty quickly because the other guy is going to
try and kill us all on the first couple of turns. Since Nekusar and Merieke Ri Berit both have Blue, I’m hoping they might be able to lend some permission

I win the die roll, and my opening hand includes three Islands, Remand, Arcane Denial, and Spell Crumple so I happily keep, feeling pretty good about all
of us surviving the early game so long as Spike doesn’t kill us on the very first turn. Thankfully he does not, only playing a Mana Vault, but on the
second turn he thinks for a bit and then casts a Ritual spell, and I hit it with Arcane Denial. On his next turn he casts another Ritual, which I Remand.
He shrugs and passes his turn. On his third turn he casts the Ritual again, and I target it with Spell Crumple. This time Spike counters back, but Nekusar
adds his own permission to the battle, and the good guys win.

At the end of my fourth turn Merieke Ri Berit pauses the game a moment and says “not sure if this will do anything interesting, but what the heck.” She
then casts Aethermage’s Touch, revealing the top four cards of her library, including a Magister Sphinx! She puts it into play and sets Spike’s life to
ten. She then untaps, draws her card for the turn and attacks Spike to five-Wow, a 35 point life swing! At the end of the turn she bounces Magister Sphinx
back to her hand, where it is sure to knock one of the other two of us to ten once she gets up to seven mana. Can’t say that I’ve ever seen an Aethermage’s
Touch kick quite so much ass before!

Unfortunately for Spike he had used his Mana Vault on an earlier turn, so his life ticks down to four. He passes the turn, and when the next guy plays his
Commander Nekusar, Mindrazer, Spike goes ahead and scoops it up since he needs to be able to play draw-seven spells to go off.

Whew! We all breathe a little easier and settle in for a bit more relaxed game of Commander… but not too relaxed, because Nekusar starts playing out
Liliana’s Caress, Megrim, and tries to play Underworld Dreams (which I’m able to counterspell). He’s digging for some draw-sevens himself, and I try and
figure out a way to stop him long enough for me to activate Jalira and kill him.

At this point Merieke Ri Berit has seven mana and slams down her Magister Sphinx and targets me with its triggered ability, taking me to ten. Since I have
no fliers currently this is a really big problem. I don’t have the mana to activate Jalira and have mana up to cast the counterspell in my hand (Forbid),
and I worry if I activate Jalira to get a blocker out there for Merieke that Nekusar will cast a draw-seven and kill us all… which is ultimately what
happens when Merieke attacks me and forces my hand, giving Nekusar the opening to kill us both and earn a spot at the top table.

It was interesting to observe how the top table finished up. I wasn’t able to watch all of it, but I kept popping by to see what was going on and this is
what I think happened: There were enough people (six players) that the combo players weren’t able to go off fast so the game stretched on a while. After
about an hour, only one player had been eliminated (Mr. Nekusar from my pod), and a Krenko deck looked to be in the cat-bird seat. He had Goblin
Bombardment and enough goblins tokens to kill any one particular opponent at the table… so he was effectively holding off every player since no one wanted
to fall on their sword to take down the big bad guy. Meanwhile, each untap step he was able to double his goblins and put yet another player under his
thumb until he pretty much was able to kill everyone at the table with Bombardment. I found it interesting to ponder if anyone put the situation to the
table before it got out of the hand that someone needed to step up and take one for the team and go after Krenko directly.


Not long after Game Day was done I sent out this tweet:

Ahhh, how sweet it is! If you’ve been following my non-Commander content you’re aware of the Blue/Black deck I’ve been tinkering around with that focuses
on some creatures with Inspire. The idea got a shot in the arm with the release of Magic 2015 when Chief Engineer gave me an in-color way to tap creatures
with Inspire without attacking or having Springleaf Drum in play. I’ve tried a few different iterations, and this is the one I took to Game Day and won:

The deck can do some powerful things, like powering out a turn 4 Scuttling Doom Engine or trading Goat tokens for your opponent’s Archangel of Thune with
Daring Thief… but I have to admit the most powerful thing the deck can do is to drop Pack Rat and start making copies. Yeah, big shock right? While this is
most certainly a different Pack Rat deck, I can’t help but figure it’s not really a better Pack Rat deck than the stock lists that are floating around, and
if I want to explore the intersection of Inspire and Convoke I probably want to dip into a different color combination.

Turnout for the Game Day Standard tournament was fourteen players, and I went 2-1 in the Swiss beating Mono-Blue and a midrange Mono-White deck before
losing in three hard-fought games against Mono-Green Devotion with a black splash for Garruk, Apex Predator.

When they handed out the Top 8 promo of full art foil Chief Engineer, I should have known that fortune would be shining on me!

I was rematched against the midrange Mono-White deck where I again exchange Goats for Archangels of Thune, and beat an aggressive Boros deck in the Top 4
who paid me the best compliment in months after losing two straight: “I have no idea what to do against your deck.” Ah, the joys of playing rogue!

Earlier in the tournament I sent out this tweet:

This young man was who I faced in the finals, and while I was thrilled that two decidedly rogue decks had made the finals of Game Day, there was no way I
was going to let the Champion playmat slip from my grasp! I knew that his deck was chock full of powerful cards – in fact it was chock full of all the
powerful cards – but his deck took a while to ramp up to the power so I basically just went with turn 2 Pack Rat both games and just went all in to kill
him before his better cards game online. I got ten packs of Magic 2015 as a nice bonus, a fantastic end to a really fun day of Magic.


I’ve done a few Commander decks based on the new legends from Magic 2015, and this week I want to dip into red with Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient! Red is a tough
color to play in Commander because so much of its power is invested in dealing damage to creatures and players. That sort of power doesn’t scale very well
in Commander-you go from trying to deal twenty points of damage to a player and handling creatures with toughness between one and five, to trying to deal
40 points of damage to multiple players and a lot more creatures that have way more toughness. The most successful mono-red decks I’ve seen over the past
few years involved either Krenko, Mob Boss aggressive decks, or Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker combo decks.

Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient gives us a distinctively new axis to consider, one that’s artifact-centric but not really focused on equipment. Before digging
further, it’s helpful to read Kurkesh’s write-up in the Magic 2015 FAQ:

· Activated abilities are written in the form “Cost: Effect.” Some keywords are activated abilities and will have colons in their reminder texts.

· A mana ability is an ability that (1) could put mana into a player’s mana pool when it resolves, (2) isn’t a loyalty ability, and (3) doesn’t target.

· The copy will have the same targets as the ability it’s copying unless you choose new ones. You may change any number of the targets, including all of
them or none of them. If, for one of the targets, you can’t choose a new legal target, then it remains unchanged (even if the current target is illegal).

· If the ability is modal (that is, it says “Choose one -” or the like), the copy will have the same mode. You can’t choose a different one.

· If the ability has X in its cost, the value of X is copied.

· If paying the activation cost of the ability includes sacrificing Kurkesh, the ability won’t be copied. At the time the ability is considered activated
(after all costs are paid), Kurkesh is no longer on the battlefield.

I have to say I was quite excited when I went to the card database, selected “Artifact,” plugged “:” into the text field and hit search (sorted by mana
cost). What sort of crazy shenanigans would I uncover?

Suffice to say, more than enough shenanigans to populate a sweet new deck! Here’s what I’ve brewed up, with notes on particularly sweet Kurkesh combos
below it:

I know 38 lands plus 9 additional mana sources is a lot, but Kurkesh shenanigans are going to demand a lot of mana, and I want to make sure I’ve got that
base covered.

First, from a flavor perspective I love how Kurkesh’s boon companions in his artifact shenanigans are two goblins-Goblin Welder and Slobad, Goblin
Tinkerer. You’ve got to admit it’s pure candy just saying the name “Slobad.” Their abilities are so sweet in an artifact-heavy deck that I had to throw in
Ashnod’s Transmogrant so I might get the opportunity to copy their abilities with Kurkesh.

Activate Voltaic Key to untap an artifact, and then copy it with Kurkesh to untap Voltaic Key to do it again. So, for each 1R you can spend you get to
untap an artifact. There are plenty of obvious engines (Gilded Lotus, Grim Monolith) and lots of not-so-obvious ones too. I expect to be constantly
surprised by the new puzzles I’ll discover and solve in each game when playing this deck.

The “tap to draw a card” ability is what’s sweet to copy here. You’ll draw a card and then you’ll draw the Top, so for each 1R you spend you get to draw an
extra card. If you’ve got a mana engine going you can dig pretty deep into the deck for a game-ender.

When scrolling through the list of artifacts with activated abilities, it’s amazing how Kurkesh changes some of them from being so-so or downright bad to
being eye-popping amazing. Case in point is Avarice Totem. Check out this ruling from the Avarice Totem listing in Gatherer:

It is possible to activate this ability in response to itself and generate some odd combinations. For example, if you control this card and another
permanent, you can use this card’s ability and target the permanent you control. You can then use this card’s ability again and target a permanent your
opponent controls. The second usage resolves first and you get your opponent’s permanent in exchange for this one. The first usage then resolves and
swaps your other permanent for the Totem so you get it back. The net effect is that you can swap any non-land permanent you have for any of theirs if
you can activate this ability twice. Note that your opponent does get the chance to use the Totem in between the resolutions of your two usages if they
have the mana.

Normally, you’d need ten mana to pull off this sort of “cheat,” but with Kurkesh all you need is 5R. Once you get this out there watch as your opponents
are forced to keep five mana open lest you swap their best permanent for one of your extra small artifacts (or better yet, a Goat token from Trading Post).

With Kurkesh in play, Spawning Pit basically reads: “Sacrifice a creature, R: put two charge counters on Spawning Pit. 1R, remove two charge counters: put
two 2/2 Spawn tokens into play.” So once you sacrifice the initial creature, you can generate an additional 2/2 Spawn token for each 1RR you have to spend.
It’s mana hungry, but sometimes you need a perpetual blocker, and if you need a mana sink for your Voltaic Key/Gilded Lotus engine making infinite 2/2
Spawn tokens ain’t bad.

Kurkesh obviously does some nice work here, either doubling the charge counters you add or doubling the extra turns you take. The best thing is to get a
Coretapper in play too…

Some more sub-par cards gets juiced with Kurkesh-adding charges is faster but still a little slow, but it’s the other ability that’s really sweet to
copy-how about making two 9/9 Golems or destroying two permanents?

Similar to the previous two but Triassic Egg gets enough counters from just one copied activation and can immediately be sacrificed for its big effect that
you can also copy, putting two creatures into play from either your hand or graveyard.

I was looking for some ways to repeatedly sling some damage around and I think this fits the bill. While I’m playing too many lands for any one activation
to kill someone, being able to squeeze two slugs of 2-5 points of damage from each activation seems worthwhile.

I already have a big fondness for this card, but with Kurkesh out there too? Let’s see how that works: 1R, Discard a card: Put two +1/+1 counters on it. R,
remove two +1/+1 counters: draw two cards. So basically for each 1RR you get to draw two cards and discard then discard a card. Super-loot, not bad!

Sometimes you’ve got to lock down someone who’s pulling some heinous shenanigans – or cover for your own shenanigans. Spending 5R to lock down ten lands
sounds pretty sweet.

Let’s see, 2R: give two creatures flying, then 5R, tap: destroy both of them. Sure, it’s a mana hog but sometimes you’ve got to kill the two biggest
creatures on the board.

5R, tap: two Demonic Tutors sounds pretty sweet, no?

There’s much more in the deck to explore, but I need to sign off and get packing. So how did your Game Day go? See any sweet rogue brews? And what sort of
cards am I missing from my Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient Commander deck?

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:

My current Commander decks
(and links to decklists):

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)

Previous Commander decks currently on hiatus

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)