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Commander 2016: Lack In Black!

It’s a couples’ retreat! Bennie Smith tackles Four-Color Not Black decks in Commander 2016 with Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis and partner legendary creatures!

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving holiday. Mine was particularly special because I got to teach someone to play Commander and she took to it like a fish to water! After we played, she went to Target and found a copy of Stalwart Unity on sale and picked it up. I pulled up the decklist and took a look at it again, and noticed that there are a lot of really good cards in the deck, a solid collection of great Commander staples. I know that Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis aren’t the splashiest of the new four-color legendary creatures, but I think the card is quite good and makes a great cornerstone to build a deck around.

Commander 2016 Deck Name: Stalwart Unity

Theme: Altruism

Development champion: Ken Nagle

On the mothership, lead designer Ethan Fleischer gave us some details into the color underpinnings of the themes:

“Red loves its friends. Green understands the power of symbiosis. White believes in community above all else. Blue values knowledge, and believes that it should be shared freely. Black sees selfishness as a virtue and believes that altruism only encourages weakness.

The pilot of this deck wants everyone at the table to have a good time and is eager to see what everyone’s deck can do. That’s why it’s going to help everyone out with mana, cards, and some tokens here and there. Of course, some people are suspicious of gifts, so this deck must contain a few things to make attacking its pilot difficult.”

Okay, so what are our Commander choices for Four-Color Not Black? From what’s included in Stalwart Unity, we have:

or

and either

or

Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis offers up a nice spin on the “group hug” themes that some Commander decks use. Yes, the card provides each player with a bonus that helps everyone, but the controller of Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis gets an extra bonus. The downside to many “share the wealth” cards tends to be that everyone else gets further ahead than you because you’re spending resources on those cards while everyone else gets the benefits for free.

Sometimes that’s fine, but sometimes that chafes. Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis gives your opponents the opportunity to either draw a card or accelerate a land onto the battlefield from their hand, while potentially allowing its controller to do both. When everyone wins but you win a little bit more, that’s the best. The timing of the ability is helpful too, making sure that everyone gets the benefit during your end step instead of spread out during each player’s turn, which could otherwise incentivize players to get the benefit and then destroy your card before others could get the benefit.

I’d also like to point out that Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis is a Human Soldier and would make a fantastic tribal commander for either or both of those creature types. In fact, if you wanted to make a much more aggressive deck, those tribes could support it, and I could see leaning hard on the heroic keyword mechanic, since missing the black heroic creatures isn’t really missing much.

Exploring the partner commander route for Four-Color Not Black, the choices feel a little worse than Kynaios and Tiro for what we’ve already got going in the precon deck. Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa is a fine creature that sometimes can’t be blocked and certainly makes your opponents vulnerable to small weenie hordes and token creatures. Green also gives you ways to sweep away fliers to make the blocking restriction even more potent. However, the ability and the stats make me want to push towards a “toughness matters” theme, which leads me first to Doran, the Siege Tower, which unfortunately has black mana in its casting cost.

Of the two Izzet legendary creatures we can partner with Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa, I think Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist probably works better. Sidar Kondo and Ludevic both incentivize and enable your opponents to attack each other, which is awesome. Going this route, we could push the theme of feeding our opponents more and more resources for them to kill each other, and then once they’re weakened we can move in at the end and snatch victory. Kraum, Ludevic’s Opus is too big to benefit from Sidar Kondo’s ability, and its ability plays better as one of the 99 with Kynaios and Tiro as the commander.

Okay, let’s see what we have to work with from the other cards in Stalwart Unity. Here are the brand new ones:

First off, I just want to say I really love Selfless Squire. I love that it is a “Fog” of sorts, and as a creature it’s easy to recur the card and use it over and over. Mostly I love how it weaponizes damage prevention. Commander games often come down to huge haymaker plays that quickly speed games to resolution, and Selfless Squire has the ability to spin those sorts of plays around and let you come out on top. Just imagine an alpha strike that is going to deal an obscene amount of damage to you, say 60 points. Not only do you prevent that damage, you’re left with a 61/61 creature on the battlefield, which is certainly capable of turning around and killing another player. Not just that, though, but any subsequent damage prevention effects can keep adding counters to Selfless Squire. The big downside to this card is holding up four mana for just the right moment.

Orzhov Advokist and Evolutionary Escalation are interesting cards. We don’t have the +1/+1 counter theme like Breed Lethality does, but we do get some benefit. Orzhov Advokist incentivizes our opponents to not attack us, and we can try to break the symmetry of Evolutionary Escalation by picking the worst target creature our opponents control. We can also use Evolutionary Escalation as a bribe to solidify an alliance with a player. Last, we could add cards to our deck that can take advantage of our opponents’ creatures having +1/+1 counters on them.

Benefactor’s Draught is a fascinating card I have yet to see in action. In theory, if your opponents are fighting amongst themselves, this could turn an attack into an ambush, along with a huge infusion of cards for yourself. But that would require one of your opponents to cooperate and block with the creatures you’ve untapped. This is the kind of card that needs a few things to line up for it to be effective, so it’s great that at the very least you can just cast it to draw another card. I’m curious to hear any cool stories around Benefactor’s Draught if any of you have any!

The basic landcycling spells are awesome, great for fixing early on with decent effects if you draw them late and your mana is fine. I really love Sylvan Reclamation since exiling permanents tend to be the best way of handling them for good in Commander and this does it at instant speed and can potentially handle two cards for one. Ash Barrens is astonishingly good, giving basic landcycling for only one colorless mana! Plus, if you do not need the color fixing and put it onto the battlefield, it doesn’t enter tapped.

Let’s look at the nonland reprints they gave us.

This is a fantastic collection of “good stuff” cards across the four colors in the deck, so if you know anyone who is just starting out in Magic and Commander, you could certainly recommend Stalwart Unity. The quote above describing the themes of the deck mentions making attacking you difficult, and there are some great reprints that do exactly that: Ghostly Prison, Propaganda, Windborn Muse, Sphere of Safety, and Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs. Edric, Spymaster of Trest provides a great incentive for your opponents to attack someone other than you.

Cultivate and Kodoma’s Reach are prime Commander ramp spells, especially great at fixing in a deck with so many colors.

I really like the reprinted legendary creatures here. In addition to the aforementioned Edric, there is Gwafa Hazid, Profiteer; Selvala, Explorer Returned; and Zedruu the Greathearted, which all play great with the deck’s themes.

I looked at Keening Stone sideways a little bit, but then I recalled many of the games I’ve been playing with the other precons, especially Entropic Uprising. That deck has so many “discard your hand and draw X cards” effects that everyone typically has a ton of cards in their graveyard, which makes Keening Stone a powerful win condition. I don’t know that it makes the cut when moving towards a more streamlined, personalized deck, but it’s not unreasonable to think that it can still do good work.

I also was scratching my chin a bit pondering Rubblehulk, which is a fine card but felt a little out of place, until I recalled games with Kynaios and Tiro on the battlefield often end up with the controller having a lot of lands on the battlefield. You could easily get to a point in the late-game where an unblocked Kynaios and Tiro (maybe with a little help from Sidar Kondo) could get +19/+19 with a discarded Rubblehulk and kill from nowhere with Commander damage. You can pitch Rubblehulk to boost any attacking creature, so you could even use it on an opponent’s creature that’s attacking someone else. Or, if things line up well and your opponent is attacking you with just one creature, you could boost it with Rubblehulk and then cast the new spell Entrapment Maneuver to gain an army of Soldier tokens.

After thinking things through, I think there’s merit to building a group hug deck around Sidar Kondo and Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist, focusing on providing lots of resources – especially token creatures – for all my opponents to attack each other with. But I think it would require cutting a lot of cards from Stalwart Unity or just building a deck from the ground up, so for the purposes of tweaking the precon but keeping it mostly intact, I think I’ll stick with Kynaios and Tiro as the commander.

Here are the cards I’m cutting from the deck:

Howling Mine, Oath of Druids, and even Assault Suit are solid “group hug”-style cards that don’t care who the controller is, so they are solid cards to give away with Zedruu, which I’m keeping in the deck. Since I don’t have a way to reliably fetch up and keep Zedruu on the battlefield, though, the value of these cards drops a little bit. Honestly, Kynaios and Tiro provides so much “group hug”-style play all on its own – and is much fairer to its controller – that I don’t feel the need to prove the theme with too many other cards and have cut them to make room for better things.

Prismatic Geoscope just doesn’t seem worth the mana and time investment outside of a full five-color deck running plenty of basic land types, but in the right deck (I’m envisioning Legacy Weapon) it seems nuts. I’ve also cut two of the basic landcycling cards because we already have some great green mana ramp spells that color-fix and I’m adding a few more to the deck that I think are just better cards.

Here’s what I’m adding to the deck:

I felt the need to add Phelddagrif, one of the original “group hug” cards. It feels a little weird to put it in a deck alongside red cards, but there you go. A few years ago, Wizards changed the ruling that you owned tokens you made for other players or else Phelddagrif would make a heckuva team up with Zedruu, but both cards are still fine in supporting the theme.

I wrote about how much I loved Selfless Squire, and I wanted to add some additional ways to prevent damage to the deck, so that’s where Constant Mists, Deflecting Palm, Invulnerability, Comeuppance, and Reflect Damage come in. All are great Commander cards anyway, but they’re fantastic in conjunction with a Selfless Squire on the table. I imagine games will play out where opponents will keep you around until they’re ready to just take you out in one fell swoop, so cards like these are particularl good for turning the tables.

I added Slumbering Dragon as an additional disincentive for attacking me, and it works nicely with Evolutionary Escalation. Speaking of Evolutionary Escalation, between that and Orzhov Advokist, I added Cytoplast Manipulator and Experiment Kraj to take advantage of putting those tokens on opponents’ creatures. I also tweaked the manabase a little bit by adding Breeding Pool and Reflecting Pool to make generating double blue a little easier.

I mentioned mana ramp and mana fixing, and I added Sakura-Tribe Elder and even Embodiment of Spring to help with that. Coiling Oracle is a solid early play that helps ramp sometimes too.

Last up are Mother of Runes and Boros Charm to provide some protection to Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis since, as noted in the deck description, some people are suspicious of gifts. Here’s what the deck looks like with my adjustments:

Commander


Definitely not the huggiest of group hug decks, but I think it has enough to keep you around in the game for a while but still give you a fighting chance once death is on the line. What do you think? Do you like my Commander choice or would you go a different route?

We do have other options utilizing partner legendary creatures to build our deck outside of what’s found in Stalwart Unity. The enemy-color legendary creatures from Invent Superiority and Entropic Uprising give us four different partner configurations that are also Four-Color Not Black. Pair one of these…

…with one of these:

What sort of themes do these various configurations suggest? Bruse Tarl, Boorish Hero could play into the more aggressive, heroic-centered build I mentioned above, and Thrasios, Triton Hero is small enough to come down early and start attacking. We could dip into cards like Ink-Treader Nephilim, Mirrorwing Dragon, and Zada, Hedron Grinder for some serious heroic action.

Akiri, Line-Slinger would need a huge reimagining with a lot more artifacts, though if we went back to artifacts like Howling Mine, then Kydele, Chosen of Kruphix could really churn out the mana.

The allied-color partner cards from Breed Lethality and Open Hostility give us one last option for Four-Color Not Black:

We could totally reimagine Four-Color Not Black as a control deck with lots of sweepers and then use these two Commanders as our win conditions once we can protect them while controlling the board. Imagine Become Immense and Berserk on Tana, the Bloodsower! But that there is a deck for another day.

Which way are you planning to build your Four-Color Not Black deck?


New to Commander?


If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:

Commander write-ups I’ve done
(and links to decklists):

Zurgo Bellstriker (Bellstriking Like a Boss)

Dragonlord Ojutai (Troll Shroud)

Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund (Dragons, Megamorphs, and Dragons)

Dromoka, the Eternal (One Flying Bolster Basket)

Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest (Tempests and Teapots)

Tasigur, the Golden Fang (Hatching Evil Sultai Plots)

Scion of the Ur-Dragon (Dragon Triggers for Everyone)

• Nahiri, The Lithomancer (Lithomancing for Fun and Profit)

Titania, Protector of Argoth (Titania’s Land and Elemental Exchange)

Reaper King (All About VILLAINOUS WEALTH)

Feldon of the Third Path (She Will Come Back to Me)

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant (Calling Up Ghouls with Sidisi)

Zurgo Helmsmasher (Two Times the Smashing)

Anafenza, the Foremost (Anafenza and Your Restless Dead)

Narset, Enlightened Master (The New Voltron Overlord)

Surrak Dragonclaw (The Art of Punching Bears)

Avacyn, Guardian Angel; Ob Nixilis, Unshackled; Sliver Hivelord (Commander Catchup, Part 3)

Keranos, God of Storms; Marchesa, the Black Rose; Muzzio, Visionary Architect (Commander Catchup, Part 2)

Athreos, God of Passage; Kruphix, God of Horizons; Iroas, God of Victory (Commander Catchup, Journey into Nyx Edition)

Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient (Ghost in the Machines)

Jalira, Master Polymorphist (JaliraPOW!)

Mishra, Artificer Prodigy (Possibility Storm Shenanigans)

Yisan, the Wanderer Bard (All-in Yisan)

Selvala, Explorer Returned (Everyone Draws Lots!)

Grenzo, Dungeon Warden (Cleaning Out the Cellar)

Karona, False God (God Pack)

Child of Alara (Land Ho!)

Doran, the Siege Tower (All My Faves in One Deck!)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (my Magic Online deck)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (Shadowborn Apostles & Demons)

King Macar, the Gold-Cursed (GREED!)

Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind ( Chuck’s somewhat vicious deck)

Roon of the Hidden Realm (Mean Roon)

Skeleton Ship (Fun with -1/-1 counters)

Vorel of the Hull Clade (Never Trust the Simic)

Anax and Cymede (Heroic Co-Commanders)

Aurelia, the Warleader ( plus Hellkite Tyrant shenanigans)

Borborygmos Enraged (69 land deck)

Bruna, Light of Alabaster (Aura-centric Voltron)

Damia, Sage of Stone ( Ice Cauldron shenanigans)

Derevi, Empyrial Tactician (Tribal Birds)

Emmara Tandris (No Damage Tokens)

Gahiji, Honored One (Enchantment Ga-hijinks)

Geist of Saint Traft (Voltron-ish)

Ghave, Guru of Spores ( Melira Combo)

Glissa Sunseeker (death to artifacts!)

Glissa, the Traitor ( undying artifacts!)

Grimgrin, Corpse-Born (Necrotic Ooze Combo)

Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord (drain you big time)

Jeleva, Nephalia’s Scourge ( Suspension of Disbelief)

Johan (Cat Breath of the Infinite)

Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo’ Myrs)

Karona, False God (Vows of the False God)

Konda, Lord of Eiganjo ( The Indestructibles)

Lord of Tresserhorn (ZOMBIES!)

Marath, Will of the Wild ( Wild About +1/+1 Counters)

Melira, Sylvok Outcast ( combo killa)

Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker ( Outside My Comfort Zone with Milling
)

Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis (evil and Spike-ish)

Nicol Bolas (Kicking it Old School)

Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius ( new player-friendly)

Nylea, God of the Hunt ( Devoted to Green)

Oloro, Ageless Ascetic (Life Gain)

Oona, Queen of the Fae (by reader request)

Phage the Untouchable ( actually casting Phage from Command Zone!)

Phelddagrif (Mean Hippo)

Polukranos, World Eater (Monstrous!)

Progenitus (

Fist of Suns and Bringers

)

Reaper King (Taking Advantage of the new Legend Rules)

Riku of Two Reflections (

steal all permanents with
Deadeye Navigator + Zealous Conscripts

)

Roon of the Hidden Realm ( Strolling Through Value Town)

Ruhan of the Fomori (lots of equipment and infinite attack steps)

Savra, Queen of the Golgari ( Demons)

Shattergang Brothers (Breaking Boards)

Sigarda, Host of Herons ( Equipment-centric Voltron)

Skullbriar, the Walking Grave ( how big can it get?)

Sliver Overlord (Featuring the new M14 Slivers!)

Thelon of Havenwood ( Campfire Spores)

Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice ( new player-friendly)

Uril, the Miststalker (my “more competitive” deck)

Varolz, the Scar-Striped (scavenging goodness)

Vorosh, the Hunter ( proliferaTION)

Xenagos, God of Revels (Huge Beatings)

Yeva, Nature’s Herald (living at instant speed)