The Kitchen Table #410: Equinaut Commander Update

Abe recently updated his Equinaut Commander deck with cards from Return to Ravnica block and beyond. Check it out!

In November 2011, I published an article on my Commander version of the iconic deck I built called Equinaut. It’s my baby! Built around the broken interactions between Equilibrium and Fleetfoot Panther, this deck has grown from a tournament-level Standard deck back during the Invasion era to a casual deck, an online deck, and a Commander deck. I still have the 60-card version and the Commander version plus three online builds.

You can check out my full-blown Equinaut primer here. Get ready for a serious read; this thing clocks in at more than 6000 words. Equinaut is that much fun!

This enduring deck has been written about here on SCG more than any other of my decks. I only intended for it to be a fun deck in my "A Deck A Day" daily series I wrote for SCG way back when. But a lot of people emailed me about it, so I published a few more articles here and there, including a full primer (now replaced by the new one). People kept asking for more! This creature has grown outside of my control. It was even featured in the Wizards Daily Deck List on their main site. This thing is crazy!

It’s crazy fun too! Basically, you use things to do things. (It’s hard to describe easily, but you play a lot of creatures and then abuse creature triggers, creature tap abilities, and creature sizes to trigger a lot of fun things). The main tools are Equilibrium, which allows you to bounce opposing stuff if you desire, Opposition and Glare of Subdual to tap stuff down, Azorius Aethermage to draw cards and more—all off these great creatures that self-bounce other creatures. The leader of them is her majesty the Death Kitty, or as you might know her, Fleetfoot Panther and her sidekick, Kitty, Jr. who goes by Whitemane Lion during the day.

Since that deck was published, a whole lot of awesome has come along that wants to jump into the deck. We have several expansion sets of quality injected into the Equinaut conversation. Later, we’ll have the most up-to-date Commander decklist I have. So let’s look at the quality cards for consideration and then what I think of them.

Armada Wurm – This is an obvious consideration—except for the mana cost. If it cost one green, one white, and four colorless, I would throw it in. Can it make the cut? Obviously, it has the right size for a creature, and bringing a dude of equal size to the party is an ability we can really work with. But the six-mana cost can be a prohibitive location for Equinaut, and I like to keep costs low.

Blind Obedience – This can be one of the best new cards recently introduced for Equinaut (especially if you are looking for cards that are not the obvious inclusions). For just two mana, you force all of your opposing artifacts and critters to enter the board tapped. When you are bouncing them a lot via tools such as Equilibrium, this plays very well. Plus, the extort is great because you can pay a white mana anytime you play a spell and have an extra to drain your foes for one life and gain an equal amount of life back. However, with both Glare of Subdual and Opposition in the deck already, is there space for this card?

Cathars’ CrusadeNow this is an engine for Equinaut I can get behind. Every time a creature enters your battlefield, you pump the whole team permanently. Sure, you’ll self-bounce or flicker some of those cards, but the rest will swing for a lot of damage on the ground. This deck has a lot of creatures that want to swing, and increasing their size helps—plus it can help your creature fend off other big creatures in multiplayer. When they are playing Dragons and Angels and 8/8 trampling Elementals, you have Watchwolf and Dauntless Escort. This can grow them quickly…

Collective Blessing Or you could just play this. No bones, no counters to get pulled off when bouncing—just give all of your stuff a huge bonus to size. It makes everything from Birds of Paradise to Momir Vig pertinent. After all, I like pumping enough to run cards like Tolsimir Wolfblood and Wilt-Leaf Liege.

Court Street DenizenHaving creatures come into play and tap down an opposing creature for no extra mana is key to a deck that guzzles mana quickly. But I just don’t have enough white creatures to trigger it reliably.

Deadeye NavigatorThe more creatures that have enters-the-battlefield (ETB) triggers in my deck, the better this becomes. If I have critical mass, then this is a nasty engine. Otherwise, this is a weak six-mana 4/4. You know I don’t like expensive creatures. Plus, it’s hard to add mono-blue creatures because they cannot be pumped by Wilt-Leaf Liege or bounced by the Death Kitty. Only three have made the deck (Mulldrifter, Shrieking Drake, Draining Whelk).

Emancipation AngelIn a deck that has too few self-gating creatures, this is an automatic inclusion. (In a deck that needs more flyers, this is an automatic inclusion too!) It unquestionably goes in.

Experiment OneWhy this guy? Excellent question. First of all, I like creatures that cost just one mana because they are the best to self-bounce, so if he’s not working for you at the moment you can self-bounce him for more triggers. And if he is working, you may have a 4/4 or 5/5 beater to swing. It’s hard to replace my current beat team.

Faerie ImpostorI am currently running Shrieking Drake, and this is essentially a 2/1 Shrieking Drake, right? But the Drake allows me to bounce itself and trigger a whole host of abilities over and over again. This forces me to bounce something else, so it is not a combo engine by itself. There is a reason Arctic Merfolk is not in the deck. I wanted a self-bouncer for one mana that could be used on itself. Can it make the cut as a mono-blue one-mana self-gating with those limited options?

Fiend Hunter – Despite being in Innistrad (which was out last time we talked), I missed this because I did not have enough instant flicker or self-bounce effects. You play it, put the ability on the stack to exile something, then bounce or flicker the Hunter in response. The leaves play ability goes first, nothing comes back, and then the exiled creature leaves forever. With the right set up, this is amazing.

Goldnight CommanderTake another look at Cathars’ Crusade. This guy pumps your whole team temporarily when a creature joins your team. That pumps them permanently. Which would you rather have? But this is a creature, so it triggers all of the other creature triggers, while the Crusade doesn’t. You have to stay away from having too many engines and not enough braves.

Loxodon SmiterIt has everything you want from a pure attacking body—it’s green and white, which is key for cards like Knight of New Alara and Tolsimir Wolfblood. It’s a 4/4 for three mana with two abilities, and that’s cool too. But it has a few problems. Neither of those abilities help it while in play, and it’s not like your opponent was likely to counter a 4/4 for three mana at the multiplayer table anyway. If your metagame is discard heavy, then run this.

Master BiomancerIn the "makes things bigger" engine category, it’s less abuseable than CC (Cathars’ Crusade) but more permanent than GC (Goldnight Commander) and yet just puts counters on the creature that entered the battlefield. It’s not very team focused, but it is cheap at four mana.

Prime Speaker ZeganaDrawing cards is very good for winning in multiplayer, and this guy can draw you quite a few cards. The only issue is the double green and double blue of the Speaker’s cost.

Restoration AngelWe already know how powerful this Angel is from Standard and casual play ever since release. The combination of flash and self-flicker (on a non-Angel, not on herself) can dole out some pain. As mentioned before, flying is key, and flash plus the self-flicker can trigger some abilities (but not others like Equilibrium or Azorius Aethermage).

Somberwald Sage At first you might look past this and keep searching for the sexy cards that make Equilibrium tick. Take another look. It taps to make three mana of any one color for creature spells. Considering how often you will play and replay creatures, this has serious benefits. Don’t shirk past a card just because it’s not sexy.

Soul of the HarvestInstantly outclasses Primordial Sage, which was already in the deck. So the real question isn’t if this will make the cut but if Primordial Sage will stay in!

Sylvan PrimordialPrimeval Titan was pulled a while back for its banned status. Sure, it worked here well, but that’s why it was banned—it worked well everywhere! This may be the next sexy Titan. You get to destroy two or four cards when it arrives on the battlefield, and it brings a bunch of Forests with it to the party. With dual lands, it has strong synergy in a deck that wants more removal and more land fetching. Can it make the cut at seven mana?

Trostani’s Selesnya’s Voice – This guy can be downright unfair at times. But how much life gain do we need? The populate ability is not that useful—we have a handful of effects that make 1/1 dorks but not mana.

Zameck GuildmageWhat’s this thing doing here? Excellent question. Let’s look at some of the recent candidates for inclusion listed above: Prime Speaker, Cathars’ Crusade, Master Biomancer, Experiment One. Now consider old stuff like Forgotten Ancient and other new hotness such as Gavony Township and Cloudfin Raptor. If your deck begins to slide towards this +1/+1 counter theme, this becomes a powerhouse of card advantage.

What about Magic 2013?

Healer of the PrideGaining two life looks great. This is exactly what Equinaut needs, right? Two life per iteration? The problem is that existing cards would be better, such as Soul Warden. Adding in life for every creature played including my foes would net me more life. Where’s Soul Warden in my deck? I have more important things to do that to gain a bunch of life. I don’t want to be at 90 life—I need things besides gross life triggers.

Roaring PrimadoxIt will self-bounce any creature for no mana down during my upkeep, and it’s a 4/4 beater. Is this another engine? Getting a self-bounce is pretty keen without any mana. But I don’t want to be forced into it, so it’s not all good.

Yeva, Nature’s HeraldHow many creatures in this deck are green? Considering that, how broken in Yeva is my deck? She rocks. I always want to find space for cards like Leyline of Anticipation or Vedalken Orrery. This counts as a 4/4 beater and gives flash to the vast majority of my creatures base. That’s a power incentive.

I initially wrote this article before the release of Dragon’s Maze, but I waited to finish it because I thought there might be some good cards in here worth considering. I was certainly right about that! Here are cards that I believe are in the conversation for Equinaut.

Dragon’s Maze:

AetherlingBecause it self-flickers for one blue mana, you might think about running this in any deck with a lot of ETB triggers like Aura Shards. I do not, so I am not seriously considering it.

Battering KrasisAll of the value of Experiment One and other evolve creatures, but with trample and at three mana. I feel that we’ve gone too heavy into evolve at that point.

Beck // CallThe power of Beck in this deck can yield two or four cards on some turns, but you really want this to be an instant. I don’t feel the card drawing is worth adding a sorcery. Plus the Call is weak.

Bronzebeak MoaSure, it’s just a 2/2 creature for four mana, but it has the perfect colors and pumps considerably anytime something arrives in my battlefield. Since that happens a lot, people will be wary of attacking into it with mana open, plus you can play two or three creatures and suddenly have an 11/11 Moa smashing houses. I think this fits the deck quite nicely.

Deputy of AcquittalsYes, it’s worse than Whitemane Lion. But it is a key self-bouncer, and it is unquestionably heading into my deck.

Lavinia of the TenthIf your metagame includes a lot of lower casting cost permanent that this hoses, then add it in. Mine does not, so Lavinia is not included.

Plasm CaptureI’ve discussed the power of Mana Drain before as a brilliant counter. Could this four-mana version make it too?

Renegade KrasisIf you are running many +1/+1 counters, then this is a great card to consider alongside them. Creatures like Master Biomancer and engines such as Cathars’ Crusade benefit tremendously from this.

Scion of Vitu-GhaziCloudgoat Ranger almost made the cut the first time I built this Commander version of Equinaut. But I would play the Ranger before this because it makes one more dork and this deck often can’t use the populate for something bigger than a 1/1 anyway.

Species GorgerAbove I discussed how Roaring Primadox does not work because it forces a bounce that does not always fit into your plans. This doesn’t work for the same reason.

Trostani’s SummonerThis comes close. But at seven mana, it is too rough on the mana base—I have to stay away.

Voice of ResurgenceThis is something interesting. Could it replace a 2/2 for two mana in the same colors, like Qasali Pridemage, Gaddock Teeg, or Saffi? The one issue is that I want to keep my guys from dying, but I do tend to have a lot of bodies in play. This might encourage people to stop playing stuff in my turn.

As you can see, we have a lot of cards to consider from Dragon’s Maze alone!

I skipped things like Ghostly Flicker, Goldnight Redeemer, Mist Raven, Centaur Healer, and Geist-Honored Monk. Not everything is good enough in this deck to warrant consideration. This list also does not include good utility spells like Urban Evolution, just those cards that really work for the deck.

With that assessment over, what does Commander Equinaut look like post-Return to Ravnica block? I’ve made some interesting changes. Take a look!

Jenara, Asura of War
Abe Sargent
Test deck on 07-07-2013

Changes: Cloudstone Curio out for Aluren; Sol Ring out for Somberwald Sage; Patagia Viper out for Master Biomancer; Primeval Titan out for Prime Speaker Zegana; Primordial Sage out for Soul of the Harvest; Dust Elemental out for Emancipation Angel;  Mirari’s Wake out for Cathars’ Crusade; Tarmogoyf out for Serra Ascendant; Mystic Enforcer out for Restoration Angel; Knight of New Alara out for Blind Obedience; Fact or Fiction is out for Deadeye Navigator; Mystifying Maze out for Transguild Promenade; Nantuko Monastery out for Alchemist’s Refuge; Seijiri Refuge out for Hinterland Harbor.

Then I pulled out Dauntless Dourback and Qasali Pridemage for Deputy of Acquittals and Bronzebeak Moa. I still need to try out some of these new cards before perhaps exchanging some of the new additions for other cards from Dragon’s Maze or whatever comes next.

Why these changes and not others?

Cloudstone Curio was a great engine, about the fifth or sixth best one in the deck. I added Aluren, and it was amazing. It never worked that well in duels because it was always too much in the "win more" category. But in multiplayer, it became a house. I took recommendations from the comments of the November 2011 article and ran with it. I replaced the Curio because the deck has exactly one artifact that did not make mana. It was always getting destroyed by artifact hate. Plus, Aluren was better for the deck anyway. So out went the Curio.

The Sol Ring was tough. This deck guzzles mana, and Sol Ring makes mana very, very well. But with no artifacts in the deck, the deck is free to push into anti-artifact hate without hitting itself as the metagame requires. Plus, Somberwald Sage is just better than Sol Ring because it triggers stuff and it taps for colored mana. Colorless mana is nice and all, but there are just too many colored mana demands in the deck to make Sol Ring the obvious choice that it is elsewhere. This is just my second Commander deck I have ever built in real life or online that did not include it, but it no longer works.

Some changes were easy. I liked Tarmogoyf, but Serra Ascendant is cheaper, has flying, and is bigger sooner. That was an obvious swap. Soul of the Harvest in for Primordial Sage was equally obvious, and I didn’t have space to retain the Sage. Dust Elemental too often sucked in my hand not wanting to get played, so it came out for another self-gater. Mirari’s Wake never pulled its weight, so another five-drop enchantment was added. Knight of New Alara’s removal allowed me to weaken my gold cards for other cads as needed. The Mystic Enforcer was one such loss, and I added many quality flyers to make up for it. Patagia Viper was among the weakest creatures in the deck day in and day out.

Instead of these cards, I added another minor engine with Master Biomancer to double token all of my creatures as they arrive on the board. After pulling out Cloudstone Curio, I wanted to add a little bounce/flicker to the deck, and Deadeye Navigator sufficed. The powerful Blind Obedience joined us. It was almost Yeva—those two fought it out for the final spot—but the Obedience made it. With 25 green creatures in the deck, Yeva gave it some power. But Aluren and the new Alchemist’s Refuge reduced the need for flash from her.

The Pridemage’s death trigger was never synergetic with the deck, and I often attacked too much to trigger exalted. It was frequently a 2/2 vanilla creature. Meanwhile, the Dauntless guy is already missed. I wish I could fit in something like Faith’s Reward or Avacyn, Angel of Hope as anti-sweeper tech.

I also massaged my mana a bit with a pair of lands. Seed Spark is one of the weakest cards in the deck but always does enough to stay in over cards like Indrik Stomphowler. If they ever printed another instant creature tutor that could get anything, such as Eladamri’s Call, I would pull out the Spark for it in an instant.

I experimented with Lost in the Mist as a counter, but the cost was just too much. Cryptic Command has always been too blue as well. So we stayed the course with Familiar’s Ruse, who can restart a valuable trigger.

I hope you enjoyed this look at the update to my Commander deck after a year and a half since my last article on the subject. Build your own deck and enjoy the bouncing, flicking, and triggering fun!

Until later,
Abe Sargent