Last week, we got our first peek at three of the five legendary crime lords from Streets of New Capenna. Be sure to check out Sheldon Menery’s column this week going over two of the three, but today I’m doing a deep dive on the leader of the Obscura family: Raffine, Scheming Seer!
This cool Sphinx Demon is cheap to cast for just three mana of the Esper color combination, with the static abilities of flying and ward 1. It also has an ability called connives X that triggers whenever you attack, not necessarily when Raffine attacks, so if you cast Raffine in your first main phase, you can take advantage of the ability right away.
While we haven’t been given the full mechanical breakdown of connives X, the reminder text of the ability seems pretty straightforward:
Even though you’re not typically going to end up with more cards in your hand than you started with, sifting through some extra cards can be quite powerful, especially if you’re going to use the graveyard as a resource. What’s nifty about this ability is that you can lean as hard as you want into it with lots of attackers and a bunch of +1/+1 counters added to a creature each combat, or just simply use it as a way to see one or two extra cards each turn as you slowly grow one or more creatures over time.
Let’s dig in!
To maximize the connives ability of our three-mana commander, we’ll want a lot of cheap creatures that attack early and often. The Esper color combination gives us access to a fair number of cheap creatures that leave behind creatures when they die, like Doomed Traveler and Doomed Dissenter, which gives you some resilience to battlefield sweepers. Nested Shambler seems particularly good in this sort of strategy, since you can pile on some +1/+1 counters and when it dies it will create Squirrel tokens equal to Nested Shambler’s power.
There are also good spells like Raise the Alarm, Secure the Wastes, and Bitterblossom that can churn out multiple token creatures to support a go-wide strategy.
Cards You Want in the Graveyard
Pitching cards to the graveyard for profit can help leverage the connives ability. Creatures like Bloodsoaked Champion and Master of Death can come back from the graveyard. Then there are the Incarnations that can bestow benefits when they’re in the graveyard, like Wonder and Glory.
I also really want to consider cards with flashback here, particularly ones like Deep Analysis and Lingering Souls that are actually cheaper to cast for their flashback cost than their regular mana cost. Especially Echo of Eons, with its flashback cost of three at half its normal cost.
The connive ability is really awesome for supporting reanimation strategies, letting you discard large and expensive creatures to the graveyard while you dig for ways to reanimate them. The Esper combination has a bunch of high-quality reanimation spells like Reanimate and Victimize, and the new black Dragon Junji, the Midnight Sky. I also really like Blood for Bones here, since you can get a creature back to your hand that you can later pitch to the connive ability if you’re not interested in casting it.
Creatures to Reanimate
If we’re leaning hard into the reanimation theme, we’ll need some high mana creatures worth the trouble, and Esper has no shortage of good ones. Angel of the Ruins offers great utility and can even cycle itself into the graveyard if something unfortunate has happened to Raffine. Sepulchral Primordial is a nice target for the later stages of the game when your opponents have some high-quality targets in their own graveyards. Reya Dawnbringer is an investment for later turns, reanimating a creature as a trigger during your upkeep.
Doom Whisperer is certainly cheap enough to cast on its own, but it’s big enough and useful enough to cheat out early if you can. Its surveil ability works quite nicely in conjunction with Raffine’s connive ability, and since it has flying and trample, it’s a fantastic recipient for the +1/+1 counters.
Card Draw Matters
Even though the connive ability is neutral on netting you extra cards due to the discard, you are still actually drawing cards and potentially quite a few of them, so we might want to consider cards that care about you drawing cards. Chasm Skulker is fantastic, since it grows from the connive ability on its own, and you can either double up with the +1/+1 counters or grown another creature alongside it, and when the Skulker dies, it produces a bunch of Squid tokens that can keep the connive party going. And since they have islandwalk, you can potentially attack unblocked if any opponents have Islands.
Psychosis Crawler turns connive into a direct assault on your opponents’ life totals, so you can’t expect to keep it around very long. Plan on triggering it the turn you cast it, if you can, to maximize the effect.
Since the connive ability doesn’t require mana, it pairs quite nicely with Tolarian Kraken, letting you tap down and freeze potential blockers when you attack.
Another way to extract value from connive is to play cards that care about discarding. Amonkhet delivered on this front with cards like Curator of Mysteries and Archfiend of Ifnir, and Modern Horizons got in on the action with Lazotep Chancellor.
Containment Construct is a potent two-mana artifact creature from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty that quite nicely exiles any cards you discard and lets you play them this turn, and since its trigger is a may ability, it gives you the flexibility to discard one or two big creatures to the graveyard while you also exile a reanimation spell or two that you plan on casting this turn. It’s so good with Raffine that I’d strongly consider reanimating Containment Construct if your opponents kill it!
Of course, the all-star in a Raffine deck is going to be Bone Miser, which takes any of your self-discard and turns it into resources you can use. Discarding noncreature, nonland cards is one way to turn connive into net positive cards drawn, and the other two abilities are quite amazing too, giving you 2/2 tokens or two black mana. Keep in mind though that the black mana Bone Miser gives you from the connive ability will happen during your combat step, so you’ll need an instant-speed way to use it.
Cards with the madness ability are another way you can leverage the discard side of connive, with Big Game Hunter being a great choice here since there’s almost always going to be something big you want to destroy. Call to the Netherworld and Grave Scrabbler are nice in that they net you an extra card when you bring a creature from your graveyard back to your hand. From Under the Floorboards and Gisa’s Bidding provide extra bodies for your go-wide strategy.
+1/+1 Counters Matter
Wizards of the Coast (WotC) seemingly prints cards that care about +1/+1 counters in every set these days, so there is no end to the cards you might add to your deck in this regard. I’ve called out a few stand-outs above, and particularly love Hangarback Walker. It’s a great choice to add the counters too since when it dies, you’ll instantly spit out an army of 1/1 Thopters that can keep the connive train going. Elenda, the Dusk Rose is another great recipient of the counters with a much-appreciated lifelink appeal. Bloodtracker is another great candidate for the connive +1/+1 counters; on being answered, it will give you cards, even if exiled or bounced.
There are some cool cards that provide benefits for any creatures you have with +1/+1 counters we might want to add to this deck. Abzan Falconer gives flying, Abzan Battle Priest gives lifelink, and Herald of Secret Streams makes creatures unblockable. Alharu, Solemn Ritualist rewards spreading the +1/+1 counters around by giving your 1/1 Spirit tokens with flying if the battlefield is swept by something like Wrath of God.
There are 65 Sphinxes and 114 Demons in Esper, so it’s possible you could build a tribal deck around Raffine. The creatures in this group tend to be rather large, so they could certainly play well with a light reanimation strategy. Cards like Patriarch’s Bidding, Haunting Voyage, and Heirloom Blade can push this even further.
You might consider Dream Trawler for the deck, even if you don’t go Sphinx tribal. It’s definitely a card you want to attack with early and often, and has the ability to protect itself from targeted removal so it makes a great recipient for the +1/+1 counters. It’s lifelink ability can really help keep ahead of your opponents’ counterattacks as well.
What do you think? Are there any cards I overlooked that play awesome with Raffine, Scheming Seer?
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