The Kitchen Table: Llawan’s Insane Discount Prices

After building a Commander deck around Aboshan, Cephalid Emperor, Abe couldn’t resist making one commanded by Llawan, Cephalid Empress to go with it!

A few days ago I built a Commander deck around unsung hero of the Cephalid race Aboshan, Cephalid Emperor. Because Aboshan is an odd duck for Commander, my deck ended up going into some interesting places. Of course, I added her highness, Llawan, Cephalid Empress, to the deck in order to enjoy the company of her husband.

Once the deck was built, I really saw an opportunity for my next Commander project. Let’s do a double dose of Cephalid love and rock a deck built around Llawan rather than her husband. Despite both being Cephalid leaders, a Llawan deck is going to care about very different things than an Aboshan deck. I took Aboshan into a tribal and tempo place at the same time, but Llawan is about something a little different. What sort of a deck could you build around a monocolored general that hoses just opposing blue creatures?

There are basically two directions you can take Llawan. One is to change her text to hose different colors. That’s flexible, but you still only hose some of the creatures at the table barring an incredibly lucky pairing against three green decks or something. The other choice is to turn opposing creatures blue. I decided to push the second concept because I can control it.

Painter’s Servant is the obvious tool of choice. It’s so good with the commander that I have multiple ways of finding it and protecting it. Since I already had it, I decided to toss in a Grindstone to combo off. (For those unaware, the Servant makes all cards the color of your choice even in libraries. Tap the Grindstone to mill someone, and it will mill their whole deck.)  I’ve written about combos in Commander before, and I don’t mind when someone adds one card to their deck to give them a combo out for when the game stalls. In this deck I can just grab the Grindstone when I have the Servant out. In fact, it will speed up the game considerably since otherwise we could be behind a Servant + Llawan lock for a while.

After the Servant I added creatures that can make things blue. Sometimes they do so by tapping (Scuttlemutt, Tidal Visionary). That’s nice because it’s mana free, but it can’t be easily abused. On the other hand, we can spend some mana to do so (Blind Seer, Indigo Faerie, Fylamarid, Metathran Transport). Note that the Fylamarid and Transport are nifty little unblockable dorks in this scheme because we tend to make creatures blue. Also note the artifact-creature modifications of Grand Architect and Neurok Transmuter. The Architect will turn opposing artifact creatures blue, and the Transmuter can turn a creature into a blue one with two activations.

A few other creature-based tricks are in the deck. Gilded Drake will enter play and then swap with an opposing creature. Then just play Llawan and bounce it back to your hand while keeping that creature you stole! Chromeshell Crab will run a similar racket from morph instead of an enters-the-battlefield (ETB) ability. I also like that Shell Skulkin will give a blue creature shroud when I spend some mana. I can use it to keep someone from equipping or enchanting one of their newly blue dudes or just to protect my own. Either way it has value.

Next I put in some sorceries/instants that play with color. One of my favorite pieces of art from the early years is Sea Kings’ Blessing; I cannot express how happy I am to get a chance to legitimately run it in a deck. Beautiful art on a card that will rock with Llawan. Sway of Illusion is a better choice because it cantrips, but both are good enough here to work. Don’t forget Cerulean Wisps to draw a card and change one color (or Govern the Guildless). We also have one artifact—the simple tap of a Distorting Lens.

Another trick with these cards is Mourner’s Shield. Just imprint a blue card when you play it and suddenly you have an artifact that will tap for two mana to prevent all damage from a blue source. With your color-changing craziness, it really helps. Just imagine using Indigo Faeries, Tidal Visionary, or Blind Seer to change that attacking nasty into a blue friend and then preventing the damage with your Shield.

Because of this deck’s artifact core (Servant, Grindstone, Shield, Transmuter, Grand Architect), I pushed that a little. I tossed in Tezzeret to search up a Servant or Grindstone or other artifact. Once I did that I moved to my artifact mana to see what I needed. Obviously, in went both artifact lands to enable Tex to tutor them up. I also included the obvious Sol Ring, Grim Monolith and Thran Dynamo for mana-making fun. Sapphire Medallion also looked useful in this deck. With those in the deck, in went Trinket Mage to do a little searching as well (getting artifact land, Sol Ring, or Grindstone was already good enough).

I looked for options to flesh out my artifacts a bit. Academy Ruins leaped in, as did typical Commander all-stars Armillary Sphere and Solemn Simulacrum. Soon enough Vedalken Shackles arrived to help out the team. I then remembered Sword of Fire and Ice. Since it gives the equipped creature protection from blue, it was deemed essential and thus added to the deck.

I thought about Sensei’s Divining Top and remembered it’s often played with Counterbalance. When I saw that many creatures bounced by Llawan would not likely stay blue for long (since they were temporarily blue) and realized that people might want to recast them immediately. That’s a good opportunity for Top and Counterbalance, so both were added to the deck. I considered Standstill and Hesitation to lock things down after a bounce or cards like Rhystic Study, but I was already too into other cards and ultimately left them out.

The next place I went was to add in creatures of heft. All of the creatures up until now are fun utility creatures that have little size, so I grabbed guys like Consecrated Sphinx and such to help out. In went Aboshan because he has to be in here!  After that I looked for good beefier options. I like the ability of creatures like Diluvian Primordial and Chancellor of the Spires to grab spells for free from opposing graveyards, so I tossed them in to get large big bodies with pertinent late game abilities. I also included Stormtide Leviathan because it’s just a fun card (and it’s essentially an 8/8 unblockable creature, so it ends games with all due haste). Other entries were Keiga and Hoverguard Sweepers. I like the Sphinx of Jwar Isle with the Counterbalance, so I tossed it in too.

After that a few more creatures rounded out the list. Venser and Mulldrifter and similar choices were added. I felt this deck really needed some flash-ability, so Teferi was the next-to-last creature added to the deck. Then in jumped both Leyline of Anticipation and Vedalken Orrery.

With a quickly diminishing section of my deck available, I felt my next needs were card draw, utility, and countering. Draining Whelk was my final addition to the creature base, joining fellow Time Spiral blue rare Teferi in the final cut. I wanted to drop the casting cost of my counters from the Aboshan deck since this deck will likely be casting more spells aggressively when comboing and need cheaper cards overall. In went cards like Counterspell, Forbid, Dissipate, and other cheap counters. The four-drop level has powers such as Cryptic Command, Dismiss, and Rewind. I added one five-drop counter in Desertion, so it lacks all of the others. Don’t forget Steel Sabotage, included to protect a Servant or other key artifact by bouncing it; you can use it to counter an artifact if needed.

Next up was card draw. Blue Sun’s Zenith is a great choice for a mono-blue deck where the heavy blue cost is no big deal. Also in went Fact or Fiction, Flow of Ideas, Whispers of the Muse, and Jace Beleren. Jace is fun to draw cards and scares people when he closes to ultimate level. Whispers is a fun utility card to draw with over the course of a game. Of course, Flows and Facts are just strong card-drawing spells in general

I had just a few spots left for utility cards. I felt Cyclonic Rift was really strong here (just like in the Aboshan deck) to supplement the bouncing that is already occurring. My final bounce choice was the always useful Capsize. Just bounce away my friends, bounce away! Temporal Mastery is fun off a Top and still a fine use of a full seven mana if needed.

Since I had some cards that rely on the amount of Islands I control (Vedalken Shackles, Flow of Ideas), I kept my nonbasic usage down. I just tossed in Halimar Depths and the two cycling lands for a bit of card massaging. The only other nonbasic I tossed in was the valuable Temple of the False God (I already put in the two artifact lands and Academy Ruins to supplement my artifacts).

There are some cards that look good at first, such as Chameleon Spirit and Inundate, that soon appear like they suck. Hey, the combination of Inundate and Llawan will bounce everything you don’t control, right? That’s an awesome tandem—except when you are making opposing creatures blue and the Inundate is a swing and a miss. Chameleon Spirit rocks with Painter’s Servant but sucks with Llawan since you bounced (and will keep from being played) all of those blue creatures so the Spirit dies.

Some of the last cards pulled were Avarice Totem, Legerdemain, Karn Liberated, Argentum Armor, Standstill, and Journeyer’s Kite. Armor and Karn were intended to give me some ability to destroy/exile offending noncreature permanents (I can bounce or steal creatures I don’t like). The Kite was a good land-producing choice. Totem and Legerdemain work with Llawan to rebounce to my hand any blue creatures my opponents may have been given. For example, spend ten mana with Totem in play and then stack triggers. You want to swap your worst blue creature for their best nonland permanent (unless they have five mana to put the ability on the stack after the first resolves. If that creature is blue, bounce it to your hand with Llawan if you care and repeat with your Totem of love.

As always, feel free to spice the deck to your taste, your card collection, and your metagame.

Building decks around Aboshan and Llawan is quite engaging because both are tempo-ish cards (tapping, bouncing) but do so in different ways with different themes needed. I intentionally tried to keep the number of duplicate cards in these decks to a minimum, so both decks have just a few cards in common besides the married pair. Just ten cards that don’t make or fetch mana are duplicates, and they are Mulldrifter, Dissipate, Consecrated Sphinx, Cyclonic Rift, Cryptic Command, Desertion, Draining Whelk, Diluvian Primordial, Capsize, and Flow of Ideas.

That concludes an interesting tandem of Commander fun! Sometimes you have to build around the legendary creatures that others are avoiding. You have to take your deckbuilding to the next level and push yourself. I tried to do that with these two articles, and getting to see cards like Sea Kings’ Blessing and Sand Squid in these decks makes me a happy clam. I hope you had some real fun and interest in two unusual Commander decks that team up for Cephalid fun.

Now you can play both decks in a fun Two-Headed Giant matchup! Llawan and Aboshan tentacle in tentacle floating down the aisle.  

Until later,
Abe Sargent