The Kitchen Table: Aboshan, Cephalid Commander

Abe has been taunted by Aboshan, Cephalid Emperor for years, so he finally builds a Commander deck around him. Take a look at the result!

Have you ever been taunted by a legendary creature? Every time I search for a legendary creature to build a Commander deck around, the list begins alphabetically with Aboshan, Cephalid Emperor. And he taunts me. He wants me to construct a deck around him. I can feel it. I sense it. But I usually move on. I head elsewhere. I look for other cards. But all of the time Aboshan is there, just outside of the range of vision, haunting my memories and thoughts.

It is finally time. Today I’m going to build that Aboshan deck and finally put the specter to rest!

This deck begins with a lot of Cephalids. If the card was playable by any stretch of the imagination and a Cephalid, it made the cut. In went some good cards, such as Cephalid Broker, Looter, and Sage, with their ability to filter through the deck. Cephalid Illusionist is an odd way to Maze of Ith something when needed. Just block with something and then prevent all damage to and from it with the Illusionist.

Meanwhile, Cephalid Retainer duplicates the tapping nature of his highness Aboshan. The wife joins the party. She bounces and seals all opposing blue creatures, which helps keep the tempo on. Callous Oppressor can tap to steal a creature. Choose an opponent with creatures to protect that you aren’t likely to target to select the creature type. Then tap it to take the powerful creature from someone else. Don’t forget the havoc a simple Amoeboid Changeling can grant. (Plus Adaptive Automaton will usually become a Cephalid when it arrives on the battlefield).

For a Commander that wants a lot of Cephalids in play to make virtual Oppositions from, this is a small body of workers, so I added a few tricks. First of all, I added Opposition itself. That way you can tap down blockers, attackers, artifacts, or even lock off mana. It’s frosty! Then I added Xenograft and Unnatural Selection. The first makes your creatures Cephalids without any effort, and the second can spend a mana per creature. Having a commander with the ability "U, tap a creature: tap target permanent" is pretty strong. Plus you can often play tricks on other creatures with the Selection.

I wanted more bodies, and the obvious option that jumped into my head was Homarid Spawning Bed. Homarids were the blue sea race introduced in the first tribal set (Fallen Empires), and Cephalids were the blue sea race introduced just before the second tribal block. The Bed allows you to sacrifice a blue creature to spit out some 1/1 Camarid tokens. It really punches your army quickly because the creatures actually have power. It would probably just churn out 0/1s if the card were printed anew.

This works very well with Xenograft and friends to fuel Aboshan, or it can fund a powerful Opposition without the tricks. I then added a few other cards that spit out tokens. Orochi Hatchery will make X tokens for a five mana tap based on how much mana you have available when you cast it. Even for six mana, paying five mana a turn for three 1/1 Snakes is a powerful addition of creatures to your board state. Another is Riptide Replicator, which can make blue Cephalids. Put a little mana it in and you can make 4/4 or 6/6 creatures quickly. Other creature makers include Urza’s Factory, Mimic Vat, Master of Waves, and Rite of Replication.

A fun trick I tossed in is the game-ending Day of the Dragons. It turns everything you have in play into a 5/5 Dragon token. That’s a pretty powerful swing. (Play Aboshan after and use him to lock down ground pounders while you tap out to swing in the air). When the enchantment bites it, any exiled creatures come back (if they are a card and not a token creature). It’s a nice all-in sort of card for this deck.

The deck needed a lot more tempo. In went a variety of creatures to up that element. Sometimes this means tapping stuff down. The Gulf Squid is a fun in-flavor creature, and you can tap it to just lock down a creature. You can keep it tapped to keep the creature from bothering you, or you can untap it and grab something else if a juicer target arrives. Plus, who wants to waste a removal spell on it? So it’s likely to stick around for a while.

Frost Titan is a beater extraordinaire who will also tap stuff down for an extra turn when it arrives to the party and when it swings. Lorthos is another in-flavor way of locking stuff down. Attack, pay eight mana, and then tap eight things for an extra turn. Very few defenses can hold up to that much tapping, so it enables an alpha strike without fear of reprisal. The Theros infused Shipbreaker Kraken will become monstrous and tap four creatures until someone ends the Kraken’s life. That’s another tapper McGee.

With all of that tapping, a humble planeswalker like Tamiyo, the Moon Sage becomes one of the most broken cards in the deck. Tapping is so reliable that I added Theft of Dreams as a cheap way of drawing a bunch of cards.

I also added some different tempo effects, like bouncing. In addition to Llawan, look at Alexi, Zephyr Mage. She will bounce a whole team quite easily, and she’s usually worth the two cards. I like to bounce creatures that are about to die as well, so she can save my team or bounce yours. Tidespout Tyrant is downright nasty as a bounce engine. Play a card and bounce any permanent. There are a lot of good choices in Commander!

We have a few other bounce and tap effects to consider from spells as well. Capsize is arguably the best Unsummon / Boomerang effect for Commander. Just turn six mana into a bounced card. Aetherize will bounce an entire attacking team of dorks. If someone comes your way, make sure to punish them. You can also send back a team that attacks someone else in order to set them back a bit. Other mass bounce spells include Cyclonic Rift, which is an absolute requirement in a deck like this, and the surprisingly underplayed Inundate.

With all of that bounce, Frozen Aether seemed like a nice adjunct in order to slow people down a bit more. Then look at Cryptic Command. You’ll assuredly counter/bounce or counter/tap a lot more than counter/draw. Plus, you have the potential for a devastating end of turn bounce/tap that leads into a nasty alpha strike. Additionally, we have some modest land destruction in Strip Mine, Wasteland, and Dust Bowl. Feel encouraged to knock out an annoying nonbasic—look in particular for cards like Tolarian Academy and Gaea’s Cradle.

Using the tempo aspect of the deck are a few other cards. One of the last cards I pulled was Propaganda, and I’m still looking for a way to slip that into the deck. Nevertheless, consider the power of Rhystic Study here. It’s great for Commander generally and one of the power cards of the format. But in a deck like this? It’s crazy. We have Rishadan Port, which I wouldn’t touch in most Commander decks. So we have a few ways to scratch the deck’s tempo-tastic themes.

Then I needed some good emergency removal. The second-to-last card I yanked was Oblivion Stone because it hits my board position so badly. I like an emergency removal card, but it just didn’t fit here. So in went Duplicant and Phyrexian Ingester—both of which will exile a creature in play. Steel Hellkite can swing and smash in the air. With my mastery of tapping stuff, we can hopefully hit and activate it to destroy some stuff on the table as needed. Another removal ability is Karn Liberated, who can exile cards or permanents. I never use its ultimate ability; it’s not necessary.

Tawnos’s Coffin is a great way to take care of a creature by exiling it. Just exile the creature and then forget about it until you untap the Coffin. Note that you can use it to Flicker something with an enters-the-battlefield trigger of your own if you want. Otherwise, just exile that nasty card and leave it. Finally, we have some counterspells to assist as well. Draining Whelk is a valuable flyer + Dragon + counterspell body. Counterlash enables me to cast something for free when I counter the right card (usually used to drop my own creature for free). Desertion will steal a creature or artifact or counter anything. Spelljack takes it and makes it yours. So there are a lot of great counters there (plus Cryptic Command and the emergency cheap Dissipate to exile something annoying).

To that group I tossed in some mana searching. I didn’t add a lot—a monocolored deck doesn’t need as much. The always useful Solemn Simulacrum and Armillary Sphere leaped into my deck, where they were joined by Tolaria West.

This deck also required some card drawing and more creatures for combat, fuel for tapping, and to sacrifice to the Spawning Bed. I began with Flow of Ideas, which is perfect in a mono-blue deck. Then I added creature-based card drawing: Sphinx of Uthuun, Sphinx of Magosi, Consecrated Sphinx, and Mulldrifter. I particularly enjoy the Mulldrifter here. (I am not a judge, so I may be wrong, but I believe you can evoke the Mulldrifter, put the sacrifice trigger on the stack, and then activate the Spawning Bed to sacrifice it for five 1/1 dorks—two cards and five 1/1s for just six mana).

After that I finished off the deck with a few cards here and there and then looked it over. I made a few tweaks to get it to its final look and then considered it good.

I considered card like Levitation and Meloku, the Clouded Mirror. The first gives me the ability to better use Aboshan’s "tap all non-flayers" ability, and the second makes dorks that evade it. But I didn’t like the tempo loss of Meloku, and Levitation just didn’t make the cut, so I went other ways. Those sorts of cards are interesting "path not taken" directions you could go with your Aboshan deck.

Admittedly, I am running some expensive support cards, such as Cryptic Command, Academy Ruins, Mutavault, and Rishadan Port. You can do without these (although Mutavault is nice). Feel free to spice this deck to your taste. If you have to pull Desertion for Gather Specimens or Overwhelming Intellect or even a simple Dismiss, that’s fine. Feel free to toss in Lost in the Mist for Cryptic Command. This decklist is very malleable for your needs, and the key cards tend to be cheap: Xenograft, Opposition, Unnatural Selection, the various Cephalids, Automaton, the Spawning Bed, and so forth. Toss in Mind Games or Sleep.

I hope that you enjoyed today’s article! It’s always a fun challenge to see what one can do with an oddball general. But now I want to build a Llawan deck so her highness can be represented as well . . .

Until later,
Abe Sargent