The Kitchen Table #412: The Next 100 With Rhys

For his second deck in the Next 100 Project, Abe tackles commonly seen commander Rhys the Redeemed. Leave a comment and let him know what you think!

If there were a poll about which legendary creatures are most often seen as commanders, I believe that Rhys the Redeemed has a strong shot at cracking the Top 10. People love his ability to force out tokens while also being super cheap to cast. Even after he’s died twice, he’s still cheaper to play than many other commanders on their first play.

In the past, I’ve tried to stay clear of commonly seen commanders. You can find so many decks online and in real life that my column on it is hardly likely to be unique. That was until I came up with the Next 100 Project. This is a challenge to build a Commander deck out of cards that are not in my first version of the deck. I spend a few minutes dropping in the obvious cards for the First 100. I don’t pull any punches for how expensive the cards may be. Then I set aside that deck and spend a lot of time making a nice deck that uses all new cards. The only thing they have in common is their commander and basic lands!

A Rhys deck is usually handled one of two ways. One way is to run Rhys as a token lord and then to play a variety of cards that either enhance tokens or make them. Another common way is to make Rhys an Elf lord. It runs ways to make Elf tokens (such as Imperious Perfect) and Elf enablers. Both are very common Rhys decks.

I believe it would be disingenuous to build a token lord deck for the first one and then an Elf lord deck for the next. That hardly matches the theme of the Next 100 Project. So whichever track I choose, I need to make sure that both of my decks suit it. I will be running the token lord version of Rhys.

Therefore, without further ado, allow me to present my first take on Rhys the Redeemed.

Rhys the Redeemed
Abe Sargent
Test deck on 08-04-2013
Magic Card Back

This is created from several sources. I looked at about seven Rhys decks online at various places and consolidated cards here and there. Then I added a few cards that I thought were powerful enough to make the cut in the First 100. As a reminder, this is an idealized version of a Rhys deck. You may not have a Cradle; Savannah; Elspeth, Knight-Errant; or Doubling Season. Some of the cards in here are pricey.

I managed to include several types of cards. The first are cards that make a lot of tokens, such as Avenger of Zendikar and Decree of Justice. The next are cards that enhance the power of the tokens, either by pumping them like Beastmaster Ascension or by empowering them via Akroma’s Memorial. I even have creatures and planeswalkers to pump the team, like Garruk Wildspeaker; Kamahl, Fist of Krosa; and Mikaeus, the Lunarch.

After that, I added cards that suited the theme, like Sundering Growth and Aura Shards for removal, good cards like Oracle of Mul Daya, and card drawing like Skullclamp. Between a bit of ramp, a bit of creature pumping, a bit of removal, and a great land base, this deck is really able to smash Rhys out.

These cards may not be used in the Next 100. What does that deck look like?

For this deck, I dipped largely into my own ideas, but I retained a few cards from the other decks I researched in order to make a strong Next 100. There are so many cards that are good for this commonly played Commander that we have a second group of cards here that are arguably just as good as most of those in the first deck. I think this deck is quite the feature at the kitchen table and almost as powerful as the empowered one.

To begin, let’s start at the end with the mana base. Although the cards here cannot be as good as those above, we still have plenty of dual lands to choose from for this deck. We have a fetchland in Grasslands and some token-creature making that did not make the cut the first time around.

Some cards that I was surprised at their absence in other decklists online include Centaur Glade, Deranged Hermit, Citanul Hierophants, and Riptide Replicator. These cards will make a strong home among the power of the other cards. For example, Phyrexian Processor and Orochi Hatchery are great permanent sources of tokens.

This is a deck concept that is very sensitive to removal, especially of the mass kind. I tried to bring in a few tricks to fight this. First was Rootborn Defenses, which can make your entire team indestructible while also populating once. It makes a threat while saving the team. I added Fresh Meat in case the team dies. If regeneration is allowed, you can activate Asceticism. Meanwhile, creatures are protected via that plus Nim Deathmantle, and they can be brought back with Genesis.

There are a ton of token makers that didn’t make the cut for Deck #1. Here we see Conqueror’s Pledge, Increasing Devotion, and even Wurmcalling rearing its head. I couldn’t fit in cards like Sprout Swarm because of all of the great token making we already had. Beyond the spells, Awakening Zone will spit out a 0/1 dork every turn, as well as Soul Foundry, Night Soil, and Mobilization.

Then I added in creatures that make tokens. Some of them make them when they come into play, like the aforementioned Deranged Hermit. I enjoy Hornet Queen in a deck with a few flyers, especially since she brings four of her minions to the board. Not only does Geist-Honored Monk bring a few creatures to the party, but it also amps in size very quickly.

We can also make creatures by spending some mana. Jade Mage, Selesnya Guildmage, and Nemata Grove Guardian are three ways of doing so. If you have the mana, they have the dork. Don’t forget that you can just tap the Tuskcaller for a 3/3 threat after some leveling. While Tolsimir can only have out one Voja at a time, he can also tap to produce a token.

We have a few oddballs as well. Thelonite Hermit unmorphs to spit out a few Saprolings. Meanwhile, Hero of Bladehold will make a couple of Soldiers whenever it attacks. Early on Budoka Gardener will tap to draw a land, but once you have enough lands it turns into a token-making death machine. Finally, Emeria Angel makes another flyer with every land drop.

After that, I added a pair of creatures that I feel help the team in a variety of ways. Odric can really abuse a defense if he attacks with a few other players. Juniper Order Ranger not only grows itself whenever a creature arrives on my side (including token dorks) but also pumps the freshly minted critter permanently.

Once I added those creatures, I moved to other cards that enable the team. True Conviction gives everybody double strike and lifelink. Cathars’ Crusade will massively grow the whole team with alacrity as more and more tokens are made. While Leyline of Vitality’s +0/+1 may not be that impressive, the life gain it gives can really add up over the course of a game. Glare of Subdual is particularly nasty, as you can easily tap to lock down blockers and swing with impunity with the rest of your creatures.

When you attack with a few creatures, it’s easy to trigger Overwhelming Instinct for a card. Meanwhile, you can sacrifice creatures for cards with the Carnage Altar. Growing Ranks is perfectly suitable as a free token every turn of the best one you control.

Some cards are included because of how well their powered up versions work in the first deck. You usually see Austere Command as a mass removal spell in Rhys decks because you can destroy all of the bigger creatures with it, leaving your many smaller utility and token creatures alive. Therefore, I decided to run the three-mana Retribution of the Meek for the same reason.

Another callback is Quest for Renewal for Seedborn Muse. Being able to untap and tap Rhys each turn is broken at a multiplayer table. In a four-person game, that’s at least three extra Rhys uses before your next turn, which is just sick. I think we need some exiling creature removal, but instead of running Crib Swap as probably the next best choice after Path or Swords, I went a bit higher in the casting cost with Trostani’s Judgment.

There are a lot of sorceries that are great in a deck like this. Overrun and Overwhelming Stampede are the sorts of cards that I don’t even need to discuss at length—everyone has a story about how someone snatched victory with one. Collective Unconscious is definitely a feast or famine sort of card, but I suspect that it will usually be feast. Parallel Evolution is amazing against decks that do not have a lot of tokens. Because it doubles all tokens in play, it can help an opponent, but it almost always helps you more.

I added some cards to flesh out the deck, such as mana making (Growth Spasm for the Eldrazi drone, Krosan Tusker because it’s a cheap cycle, Utopia Tree and Joraga Treespeaker for early mana, etc.), some beats (Symbiotic Wurm for tokens post-death, Woodfall Primus for removal), and utility (Primal Command, Alive // Well).

The result is a Rhys deck that looks a bit different than others but still has the power to break open a game. Cards that could be added include Earthcraft, Sprout Swarm, Aura Mutation, Crush of Wurms, and some other populate cards.

Just because a general is commonly played does not mean that you can’t have your own version. As I said above, I tend to stay clear of the most common commanders and explore others. However, since I am talking about Rhys, here is how I would build my personal deck.

Toss in powerful repeatable effects like Centaur Glade, Luminarch Ascension, Riptide Replicator, Mimic Vat, and Phyrexian Processor. Add in Seedborn Muse and Quest for Renewal. Keep in Citanul Hierophants. Run the best lands from the First 100 plus Urza’s Factory and Springjack Pasture. Run some of the great cards from the first deck that you expect in any Rhys deck, such as Doubling Season and Parallel Lives, Aura Shards, and more.

Keep in Eldrazi Monument, Akroma’s Memorial, and Mirari’s Wake. Pull many other mass pumpers or enablers like Collective Blessing or Emmara Tandris. Add in the Crusade. Keep most of the utility spells from the first one, but add in Fresh Meat and Rootborn Defenses. The result is a deck that pushes mana hard to make a ton of creatures and blast through defenses quickly.

Anyway, I hope that you enjoyed the second deck in the Next 100 Project! Let me know what you think in the comments below; I always appreciate hearing your feedback.

Until later,
Abe Sargent