Modern Horizons 2 preview season is in full swing, and I was thrilled to be chosen to review an exclusive free preview card on Thursday on my Twitter account. If you missed it, here it is in all its Mardu glory!
Pira, the Volatile is a direct call-back to the original cycle of Elder Dragon legends from the Legends expansion.
If you don’t know the history of Commander, it began life as a format called Elder Dragon Highlander (often abbreviated as EDH), and each player would pick one of these Elder Dragons to build their deck around. There have been other Elder Dragons that have been created since these originals, including new versions of the originals, but none have ever had three wedge colors as their color identity, until now!
As of this writing I’m assuming that Piru is the Mardu version in a new five-card cycle of wedge and I’m really looking forward to seeing what the others are. But today, we’re doing a deep dive into cards you might consider playing alongside Piru.
Piru is an interesting design. It’s clearly following the pattern set from the OG Elder Dragons: eight mana to cast, including two of each color, for a 7/7 flyer with an upkeep cost of one of each mana or it’s sacrificed. The original cycle differed in their one other ability, but comparing that to Piru it looks like it’s packing two more abilities: lifelink, and a dies trigger that’s very much a callback to another cycle of legendary Dragon cards:
Specifically, Piru’s dies trigger is very similar to Ryusei, dealing damage to a certain segment of creatures. What’s neat about the design is that Piru has a built-in way to die: simply do not pay the upkeep cost and you get its dies trigger to deal seven points of damage to each nonlegendary creature. In Commander, that nonlegendary safe pass for commanders can be a bit awkward if you really need a commander to die, but luckily the Mardu color combination has no shortage of ways to deal with creatures with either pinpoint removal or sweepers.
Another cool thing to keep in mind: when Piru dies and deals that damage to all nonlegendary creatures, since Piru has lifelink, you’ll gain seven life for each creature that was dealt damage that way. Wow, that could be a ton of life there!
All right, so let’s dig in!
Play Lots of Legends
One way to take advantage of Piru’s dies trigger is to play a lot of legendary creatures in your 99. Sure, Piru won’t take out your opponents’ commanders, but they’re bound to have a lot of nonlegendary creatures rolling around the battlefield.
Break the symmetry of the trigger by having a bunch of legendary creatures out there when you cast Piru. Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose plays quite nicely with Piru’s lifelink ability. Aurelia, the Warleader comes down the turn before Piru; assuming they both survive, getting two attacks with Piru can dish out some serious damage in a single turn.
Prevent Noncombat Damage
Another way to break the symmetry is to play cards that prevent noncombat damage for your creatures. Tajic, Legion’s Edge in particular is awesome because as a legendary creature he’s immune to Piru’s dies trigger, and his own ability protects all your nonlegendary creatures. Not only will Stormwild Capridor survive Piru’s dies trigger, but it’ll also get seven +1/+1 counters in the process, becoming an even larger flying threat than Piru. An 8/10 flying Bird Goat is going to be terrifying!
Protection from Piru
A final way to break the symmetry of Piru’s trigger is to run creatures that have protection from Piru in some way. Auriok Champion has protection from red and black, and Stormbreath Dragon has protection from white. Stonecoil Serpent and Basri’s Lieutenant have protection from multicolor, and Baneslayer Angel has protection from Dragons. Akroma’s Memorial extends protection to all your creatures.
Another option is to lean into the damage from Piru’s trigger, playing cards that want to take damage. One of my all-time favorite cards is Brash Taunter, which could activate to fight Piru in response to its upkeep trigger to send seven damage at an opponent’s face, and then when Piru dies it’ll take another seven damage that you can send to an opponent’s face.
Repercussion is an enchantment that can actually end up dealing lethal damage to opponents that control too many nonlegendary creatures without protection when Piru dies. Toralf, God of Fury has a similar effect, and since it’s legendary it won’t take damage from Piru’s dies trigger. Having a Soul-Scar Mage on the battlefield when Piru dies is a way to get around your opponents having indestructible creatures, since that would effectively be -7/-7 to all affected creatures.
Sacrifice on Demand
While Piru has the ability to kill itself during your upkeep, it can be quite handy to kill it on demand if you need to sweep the battlefield at a crucial moment—like before combat damage is dealt. The Mardu color combination has plenty of ways to sacrifice your own creatures, so you likely want to include a handful of them in your deck alongside Piru. Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim and Krav, the Unredeemed are particularly nice since they’re legendary creatures that won’t take the damage from Piru dying.
When Your Stuff Dies
Some decks want their creatures to die, so you could just lean into Piru’s dies trigger as a way to take advantage of a bunch of creatures dying. Draw cards with Grim Haruspex and Liliana, Dreadhorde General. Drain life from your opponents with Bastion of Remembrance. Get all your stuff back with Gerrard, Weatherlight Hero and get a bunch of enters the battlefield triggers!
Revel in Riches doesn’t trigger from your own creatures dying, but between Piru’s dies trigger and all the battlefield sweepers available in Mardu, you can stack up a lot of Treasure tokens to help you cast Piru or potentially even just flat-out win with Revel in Riches.
One big obstacle to playing an eight-mana legend as your commander, especially in a nongreen deck, is how quickly that commander tax can put the card out of reach. Luckily for us, Mardu has plenty of ways to bring creatures back from the dead, so you can just let Piru die and go to the graveyard and plan on getting it back from there.
Nim Deathmantle is an old favorite and instead of paying the three mana during your upkeep, you can let Piru die and bring it back for four mana with Nim Deathmantle’s trigger to sweep the battlefield for seven damage during each of your upkeeps. Feldon of the Third Path is neat: you can make a copy of Piru with haste, gaining seven life if it deals combat damage, and then during your end step you’ll need to sacrifice it and get Piru’s death trigger, which Feldon conveniently dodges since it’s legendary.
Whisper, Blood Liturgist can toggle Piru in and out of the battlefield and this can be particularly effective if you’re playing a bunch of creatures that dodge Piru’s dies trigger. Chainer, Nightmare Adept is another great way to bring Piru back from the graveyard, and it gives the creature haste so you can take advantage of that sweet lifelink ability right away.
Another downside to playing such a mana-hungry creature is when something happens to it before you even get a chance to use it, so you might want to play some ways to give Piru haste. Dragon Tempest is a nice way to do that if you’re playing a bunch of Dragons in your deck. Urabrask the Hidden and Garna, the Bloodflame are nice ways to give your creatures haste and since they’re legendary they won’t die to Piru’s death trigger.
Lastly, you’ll want to play a lot of mana ramp in your deck to ensure that you can cast Piru and potentially re-cast it one or more times. Thankfully, Wizards of the Coast (WotC) has been pushing to give both red and white potent mana ramp options that you’ll want to put into your deck, particularly Archaeomancer’s Map from Commander 2021. I also really love Marshland Bloodcaster, another gem from Commander 2021. Sure, it will cost you ten life plus any commander tax in mana to cast Piru, but because it has lifelink you should be able to recoup most of that life in one combat.
Another way to ensure you have enough land is to play a large amount of quality card draw to make sure you make a land drop every single turn. Phyrexian Arena, Skullclamp, and Painful Truths are easy inclusions. If you’re feeling bold, how about Stinging Study from Commander 2021? With Piru as your commander that’s a whopping eight cards you can draw at instant speed for just five mana… and eight life!
What do you think? Are there any other cards you think would play great alongside Piru, the Volatile? And if there are any new legends from Modern Horizons 2 that you’d like me to do another deep dive on, please let me know!
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