Sharp Style, Sharper Wit: Studying Silverquill’s Impact On Commander

Sheldon Menery looks back on his time with the Commander 2021 Vision Design team and explores the possibilities of Silverquill in Commander.

Spiteful Squad, illustrated by Manuel Castañón

The entirety of Strixhaven, including Commander 2021, has been previewed, and we’re right in the middle of the Prerelease.  It’s time to start building with those sweet cards we’ve seen.  For me, the first stop is Silverquill.  I was on the Commander 2021 Vision Design team, and I was primarily responsible for the white-black deck.  Today we’re going to discuss some of my experiences as a designer; move to building a deck with the Silverquill face commander, Breena, the Demagogue; and then explore some possibilities with the other Silverquill legendary creatures.

My five-person team included team leader Ethan Fleischer, Chris Mooney, Noah Millrod, and Ken Nagle. Being the rookie, they even gave me first pick of which deck I wanted to do.  I snap-called what would eventually be called Silverquill. 

From the beginning, we knew that we wanted it to be the most political of the five decks.  With that framework alongside the worldbuilding document (it was called a document, but it was more an amazeballs web site; kudos to Doug Beyer’s team), we got to work.

In the early part of the process, you just float card design ideas. Fitting them into a deck comes much later, so in the first few meetings all we did was discuss each other’s cards.  There was plenty of feedback on stuff that was worth pursuing or didn’t seem to be working, and ideas on how to make stuff better.  It was great to sit with some very smart, skilled people and just talk about making Magic.

Sitting here a year and a half later, it’s satisfying to see some of those ideas came to fruition. For example, what became Promise of Loyalty was submitted as Taking the Vow, and it cost 3WW instead of 4W. I also submitted a creature version called Dean of the Vow that did the same thing as an enters-the-battlefield trigger.

Promise of Loyalty

One of the ideas I worked on that never came to fruition was something I called Class Pet.  The short version is that I wanted the player who controlled it to be rewarded for keeping it alive, the player who let it die be penalized, and for it to be passed around every turn.  I must have tried six different designs and none of them really got there.  That’s the life of a vision designer, though — you have to reconcile yourself to the fact that the vast majority of your ideas aren’t ever going to make it to print.

When it came to building the original draft of the decks, we got to look at all the sets that would come out before Strixhaven did.  I seem to recall something enormous from Kaldheim (which didn’t make the final cut) being in there.  I know for a fact that an exciting upcoming card, Syr Konrad, the Grim, was on my list.  Because of all the politics and some no-win scenarios that the deck put opponents into, lots of creatures would be dying.  Syr Konrad was a great fit.  He was the first card I looked for when checking out the final version of Silverquill Statement. 

One of the initial designs of the commander was a relatively large creature (a six-mana 5/5 if memory serves) that gave an opponent’s creature double strike each combat, but it couldn’t attack you. It turned out to be wildly unbalanced in the biodome.  It eventually gave way to Breena, the Demogogue, which is the first deck I want to build with Strixhaven.

The deck melds political intrigue with the idea of making it uncomfortable or impossible to profitably attack you.  Without red, it doesn’t have all the You Did This to Yourself elements, but there are certainly enough.  It then adds a +1/+1 counters theme to go tall with a few creatures, possibly even the commander.  Let’s cover some of the most critical cards.

Breena, the Demagogue

Obviously, the commander is an important part of the deck.  Her presence means that it’s simply better for players to attack your one of your opponents with the highest life total.  They draw a card, but you still get the advantage of putting two +1/+1 counters on a creature, possibly Breena herself.  Additionally, you can be the player attacking your opponent with the highest life total, in which case, you draw a card in addition to getting the counters.  I like swinging every turn with all the Thrull tokens that Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder creates, in order to keep their count down and not make him go away.  An unprofitable attack, even with one of the 0/1s from Szat’s Will or Tevesh Szat, Doom of Fools, will still net a card at the cost of only a tiny token. 


The next critical card is Inkshield, not just for what it does, but for what it represents.  Any time someone is going to attack you, they’re going to look another way if you have five mana open. The deck contains a large number of instants, and being able to bluff Inkshield, Comeuppance, or Mirror Strike is going to keep creatures off your face. 

Maddening Imp

Maddening Imp can make a player attack with everything; when you have mana open, they’re going to send their team elsewhere.  Note that Maddening Imp’s ability doesn’t care why a creature that didn’t attack, like being tapped, summoning sick, or an unpaid-for Ghostly Prison.  The creatures will be destroyed nonetheless.  There was some thought to adding Blind Obedience to the mix, but there’s only so much room in the deck.  It’s a different direction to go, but you might consider pairing Maddening Imp with Peacekeeper. 

Nils, Discipline Enforcer

Counters are really popular in Commander.  There are lots of decks that use them, from the very popular +1/+1 counters, to the age counters of cumulative upkeep, and the various counters introduced in Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, like all the ones that Crystalline Giant can give.  A merge between Baird, Steward of Argive and Kulrath Knight, Nils is going to make it pretty difficult for the Fractal from Body of Research to swing your way. 

Deathbringer Liege

A card that I’m pretty sure I put in the initial draft of the Silverquill Statement deck, Deathbringer Liege pairs with nearly every card you cast.  It makes your tokens larger, and makes those Inklings especially combat-worthy.  More importantly, it gives you repeatable creature removal.  You’ll be forcing a lot of attacks, meaning creatures will be tapped.  Tapping creatures with the white instants will keep them from being able to attack in the first place, which might be deadly with Maddening Imp. 

Cunning Rhetoric

I unfortunately can’t lay claim to this design, but it’s bonkers.  It will definitely steer people in the other direction.  If they feel compelled to attack you, you’re going to get some benefit, possibly something from their deck that will give you ammunition against them. 

Court of Grace

I wanted to introduce the monarch mechanic into the game, as once someone has taken it from us (if they can), it will point attacks in a different direction.  Court of Grace pairs nicely with Cunning Rhetoric, because if someone wants to take that crown from you, you’re going to get something out of it.  If Court of Grace plays out well enough, I might also add Court of Ambition.

Shadrix Silverquill

Highly political, Shadrix Silverquill is going to help you with card draw if you need or buff the entire team.  An Inkling is going to be the most likely thing you give to someone so that you can target yourself one of the other two modes.

Bold Plagiarist

While it doesn’t steal counters like Thief of Blood does, Bold Plagiarist is going to get fat with +1/+1 counters.  It might get a few counters that are bad for it, but the reward outweighs the risk. 

The Ozolith

There are quite some counters running around in this deck.  Some of those creatures with counters are going to die, and The Ozolith will make their deaths worthwhile. 

Felisa, Fang of Silverquill

Combine Felisa with the third mode of Shadrix Silverquill, and you’ll be rebuilding your army in no time when that sweeper happens.  She’s a little more aggressive than other creatures in the deck, which is nice at keeping other players on their feet. 

Wandering Archaic

There are going to be lots of occasions in which opponents simply aren’t going to pay the two (maybe the card should be called Wandering Tithe) and simply let you copy their spell.  There’s some politics to be played here.  You can team up with someone casting a big damage spell to take out another player who’s getting out of hand or you can tell them to go ahead and Genesis Wave for the extra two.  It’ll be just fine.  The flip side, Explore the Vastlands, is very group-huggy and I honestly can’t see it getting cast in this deck save for very extreme circumstances. 

Selfless Squire

The dream, of course, is to flash in this great reprint from Commander 2016 after someone casts Tooth and Nail entwined for Craterhoof Behemoth and Avenger of Zendikar.  Having The Ozolith on the battlefield provides a nice measure of assurance for those 100+ counters that Selfless Squire will pick up.  Of course, if Selfless Squire is just a dead card because everyone is attacking everyone else, that’s fine, too.

Westvale Abbey

In this deck, which creates many tokens, Westvale Abbey should be a big difference-maker.  It’ll keep the Thrulls from Endrek Sahr in check and it’ll provide a saucy answer to a sweeper.

Other Options

Breena isn’t the only legendary creature to bear the Silverquill colors.  As we’re exploring the college, we can talk about some ideas for building around them as well. 

Felisa, Fang of Silverquill

Felisa leading a deck on her own would be excellent with Vampire tribal, as there are enough cards that natively have counters on them.  Felisa helps on her own, which you could multiply with Strionic Resonator and Lithoform Engine.  Then there’s Necropolis Regent, which can quickly get out of hand.  Like with Breena, I’d add The Ozolith so that your creations getting killed won’t be a total loss. 

The other direction to go with Felisa is to use the recursion abilities of black to bring back your nontoken creatures, which you’ve sacrificed to an outlet like Altar of Dementia, Ashnod’s Altar, or Yawgmoth, Thran Physician.  Use creatures that natively enter with lots of counters, like Clockwork Beast, and you could go infinite with Nim Deathmantle.  Sacrifice Clockwork Beast to Ashnod’s Altar, getting seven Inklings.  Use one of them and the two mana floating to pay for the Nim Deathmantle trigger.  Repeat the process to either get an infinite army or play off death triggers like Blood Artist. 

Killian, Ink Duelist

The most interesting path here for me would be to turn Killian into a combat monster.  Firja, Judge of Valor could help with some card draw, and then you pile up cards like Silverquill Command and Beaming Defiance for the Killian buffs.  There’s even a Mesa Enchantress angle to head, with stuff like Battle Mastery, Unquestioned Authority, all the way up to Eldrazi Conscription.  You even have bestow creatures like Nighthowler and Erebos’s Emissary for a backup plan in case Killian gets killed. 

Shadrix Silverquill

With five relevant abilities (the three modes of the combat trigger, flying, and double strike), Shadrix is very much a “dealer’s choice” commander.  What speaks to me is use the +1/+1 counter ability to build Shadrix into a sizeable combat beast in relatively short order.  Other spells and abilities that grant counters, like Expanded Anatomy; Essence Infusion; Mikaeus, the Lunarch; Fain, the Broker; and Embrose, Dean of Shadow (the back face of Shaile, Dean of Radiance) would do the trick.  I’d also run some proliferation, like Contagion Engine and Contagion Clasp.

Being on a design team and working in Studio X was the kind of thing that Magic players dream about.  The reality of it exceeded even my imagination.  Getting to see the final product finally come to fruition and being able to share some of my journey is the culmination of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

Visit my Decklist Database to see my Signature Decks, the Chromatic Project, and more!