Commander Gets Stranger Things!

Secret Lair x Stranger Things has Bennie Smith’s Commander imagination all fired up. He explores how to build around the MTG crossover and shares his first list.

Eleven, the Mage, illustrated by Pauline Voss

I’ve been a big fan of the Netflix show Stranger Things since it premiered in 2016.  The core group of kids played Dungeons & Dragons in the mid-1980s, and since I was also a kid who played D&D in the 1980s it pushes all my nostalgia buttons. The show does an excellent job of bringing the 80s to life, between the clothes, the hairstyles, the video arcade, the mall, and the music soundtrack. 

There’s also a heavy Stephen King vibe to the show, from the otherworldly monsters that menace the small town, to the girl with psychic powers that saves the day. If Eleven threw fireballs she could be Charlie from King’s novel Firestarter. Not only was I playing D&D back then, but I was also a huge fan of Stephen King horror. One of the appeals of horror books for me is wondering how would I react to the supernatural horrors that come knocking at the doors of everyday people—would I muster the courage to stand and fight, or would I run screaming in terror?  With Stranger Things, I get to see kids just like I was faced with a variety of terrible challenges.

Needless to say, when I heard that Stranger Things would be coming soon to a Secret Lair near me, I was stoked, and as of last Thursday we get to see the cards themselves. 

By the time you read this, I’ll have already pulled the trigger on buying a copy of Secret Lair x Stranger Things from the October Superdrop.  I know it’ll be a while before I have the cards in my hands to sleeve up and put into decks, but it’s not too soon to start plotting and planning!  Spoiler warning if you haven’t seen the show but plan on watching it at some point: I’ll likely be talking about relationships between the characters in the show, so if you feel that will spoil things for you, jump out now.

The friends forever mechanic means that only two of these can “partner” up as your commanders, so figuring out how to best pair them up is going to be a first step. 

The cleanest option is to pick Eleven, the Mage and Mike, the Dungeon Master as your commanders, which gives you access to all five colors, and you can run all the other Stranger Things cards in the 99.  Several of the other cards have the investigate mechanic, which could help in drawing enough cards to unlock the full potential of Eleven’s attack triggered ability.

Eleven, the Mage Mike, the Dungeon Master

This pairing also works flavor-wise since Eleven and Mike become romantically involved.  Eleven’s powers make her a potent weapon if the fight against various monsters, but it does take a toll on her, and Mike is very active in trying to protect her from harm; both of these aspects are nicely realized in the card mechanics, especially when you think about them teaming up.

I’ve heard some concerns from folks that Eleven’s abilities make her an overpowered threat on par with Narset, Enlightened Master, but I don’t think the card is nearly as good.  For one thing, you’ve got to jump through a lot of hoops to get that one single free spell cast, and Eleven doesn’t have hexproof or any other way to protect herself.

When I build an Eleven and Mike deck, I’m going to build an aggressive deck where I can attack with Eleven a bunch to draw an extra card each time I attack and use Mike to protect her from removal as well as to bring back creatures with enters the battlefield effects when they die.

To help keep my hand full, I’m probably going to make use of some buyback spells and other ways to draw cards:

Sprout Swarm Shattering Pulse Allay Mystic Speculation God-Eternal Kefnet Alhammarret’s Archive Painful Truths Pull from Tomorrow Toski, Bearer of Secrets Ohran Frostfang Chromatic Orrery Azor, the Lawbringer

If we’re feeling particularly bold, we could play Peer into the Abyss, which is also a Stranger Things flavor win.

Peer into the Abyss

For the Mike side of the equation, here are the sort of creatures I’m going to want to have around to bring back with his ability:

Solemn Simulacrum Eternal Witness Mulldrifter Baleful Strix Cloudblazer Llanowar Visionary Regal Behemoth Scholar of the Ages

There are all sorts of creatures with awesome enters the battlefield abilities to bring back with Mike, but the ones I highlighted above help keep your hand full, which is what we want with Eleven.

Another romantic pairing in the show is between Lucas and Max, so why not pair them up as commanders in another deck?  This gives us access to the Temur colors.

Lucas, the Sharpshooter Max, the Daredevil

I really like that you could cast Lucas on Turn 2 and follow it up with Max on Turn 3 if the Temur mana works out. Lucas’s ability wants artifacts around for his tap ability, and Max plays well with her ability that lets you untap a creature and investigate.

I’d probably want a fair number of cheap artifacts that draw cards you can sacrifice to Lucas and enable you to cast two spells a turn to enable Max’s ability.

Chromatic Star Terrarion Alchemist’s Vial Implement of Combustion Implement of Ferocity Elsewhere Flask Golden Egg Ichor Wellspring Prophetic Prism Spare Supplies

Another way to boost Lucas’s ability is to give him deathtouch, if destroying the creature is better than goading it.

Basilisk Collar Quietus Spike Saryth, the Viper’s Fang Nightshade Peddler

To help enable Max’s trigger, I’m thinking we may want to pepper in some spells with cascade.

Maelstrom Wanderer Imoti, Celebrant of Bounty Sakashima’s Protege Throes of Chaos Bloodbraid Elf Etherium-Horn Sorcerer Sweet-Gum Recluse Shardless Agent Aurora Phoenix

I’d also want to look for other creatures you might want to untap with Max’s triggered ability.

Kiora’s Follower Emry, Lurker of the Loch Brash Taunter Incubation Druid Parcelbeast Voyaging Satyr Prime Speaker Vannifar Ezzaroot Channeler

For the final pairing of the Stranger Things kids, that leaves Dustin, Gadget Genius and Will the Wise for an Esper Commander deck.

Dustin, Gadget Genius Will the Wise

All by their lonesome, Dustin and Will play well together.  Will’s investigate ability creates Clue tokens, and Dustin can tap for two mana to cast artifact spells or activate abilities of artifacts, so he provides the mana to sacrifice the Clue to draw a card.  The Esper color combination gives us lots of artifact synergies that can play well with Dustin and Will.  First, I’d lean heavily into cards that synergize with Clue tokens.

Tamiyo’s Journal Academy Manufactor Thorough Investigation Daring Sleuth Fleeting Memories Trail of Mystery Erdwal Illuminator Search the Premises Eloise, Nephalia Sleuth Gone Missing

Gone Missing is a terrible card but is quite flavorful considering Will’s adventures in the show.

Some other cards that would work nicely with tokens in general, or artifact tokens:

Anointed Procession Urza, Lord High Artificer Thopter Spy Network Whirler Rogue Marionette Master

Let’s look for cards that can help us activate Will’s ability more often:

Teleportation Circle Conjurer’s Closet Thassa, Deep-Dwelling Brago, King Eternal Restoration Angel Eldrazi Displacer Panharmonicon Ghostly Flicker Eerie Interlude Ephemerate Momentary Blink

Here are some cards we’d want to include if we really lean hard into artifact synergies:

Cranial Plating Trading Post Krark-Clan Ironworks Kuldotha Forgemaster Inspiring Statuary Clock of Omens Hanna, Ship’s Navigator Shimmer Dragon Bronze Guardian

That leaves two cards that need a home. Mind Flayer, the Shadow could easily go into the deck with Will the Wise for flavor reasons, but since it’s a legendary creature it could certainly be a commander for a monoblack deck.

Mind Flayer, the Shadow

First off, seven mana is quite expensive, but luckily for us black has plenty of ways to generate a bunch of mana.

Crypt Ghast Nirkana Revenant Magus of the Coffers Black Market K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth Cabal Stronghold Cabal Coffers Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

What’s nice about Mind Flayer, the Shadow’s ability is that it triggers on your end step, so you get to make use of it right away, and those cards remain exiled and accessible to you even if Mind Flayer is off the battlefield. But Mind Flayer is very particular about which of those cards you can use—you can only cast permanent spells from among them; so, no lands, no instants, and no sorcery spells.  Depending on your commander pod, the ability might miss so you’d definitely want to include cards like Junktroller in your Mind Flayer deck.

Junktroller Cogwork Archivist Reito Lantern The Cauldron of Eternity

The Cauldron of Eternity is an interesting consideration. If you nab a creature from your opponent from Mind Flayer’s ability or some other way and it dies, it will get put on the bottom of the owner’s library where Mind Flayer can grab it again. 

Mind Flayer isn’t a creature unless you control three or more permanents you don’t own, so I’d want a few ways that I could sacrifice one or two stolen permanents so that I could turn Mind Flayer back into being just an enchantment in the face of pinpoint creature removal or a battlefield sweeper.

Claws of Gix Infernal Tribute Ashnod’s Altar Woe Strider Phyrexian Tower Plumb the Forbidden Whisper, Blood Liturgist

Last but not least, that leaves Chief Jim Hopper.  Since he has the friends forever ability you could technically pair him up with any of the kids, but the only one that makes sense in a flavorful way would be Eleven since they have a father/daughter relationship in the show.

Chief Jim Hopper

He’d also fit into the 99 of the Eleven and Mike deck, keeping a watchful eye out for strange goings-on as well as making sure that Eleven and Mike keep her bedroom door open while they’re “studying.”

Hopper is another attack-oriented card much like Eleven, though his ability gets stronger the more you attack with nontoken creatures. A deck with Hopper would have a lower curve of creatures that hit hard or have evasion, and what’s especially nice about his ability is that if you overextend into a battlefield sweeper, the Clue tokens can be sacrificed to reload your hand.  I’d probably want to pepper in a fair number of creatures that are resistant to sweepers just to help keep up the ability to attack.

Selfless Spirit Bastion Protector Selfless Savior Adanto Vanguard Seasoned Hallowblade

We can certainly fill the deck out with cards that like attacking too.

Sun Titan Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin Aurelia, the Warleader Combat Celebrant Leonin Warleader Backdraft Hellkite

To wrap things up, I’d like to present a five-color decklist with Eleven and Mike as the friends forever commanders and all the other Stranger Things cards in the 99.  Since there are so many cards with investigate and artifact synergy, I’ve leaned quite heavily into the investigate mechanic and Clue tokens.

Lonis, Cryptozoologist Erdwal Illuminator Ongoing Investigation Daring Sleuth Tireless Tracker Trail of Evidence Ulvenwald Mysteries Thorough Investigation Academy Manufactor Chatterfang, Squirrel General Adrix and Nev, Twincasters Storm the Vault Anointed Procession Tamiyo's Journal Wavesifter Eloise, Nephalia Sleuth Junk Winder

Here’s the decklist:

Magic Card Back

Here is how the deck graphs out:

So, what do you think of all the Stranger Things cards?  Which friends forever duo are you interested in building around?

Do me a solid and follow me on Twitter!  I run polls and get conversations started about Commander all the time, so get in on the fun!  I’d also love it if you followed my Twitch channel TheCompleteCommander, where I do Commander, Brawl and sometimes other Magic-related streams when I can.  If you can’t join me live, the videos are available on demand for a few weeks on Twitch, but I also upload them to my YouTube channel.  You can also find the lists for my decks over on Archidekt if you want to dig into how I put together my own decks and brews. 

And lastly, I just want to say: let us love each other and stay healthy and happy. 

Visit my Decklist Database to see my decklists and the articles where they appeared!