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Heating Up Commander With Torbran, Thane Of Red Fell

Burn usually isn’t seen as a winning strategy in Commander, but what if you could make all your numbers just a little bit bigger? Bennie Smith breaks out the Snow-Covered Mountains for Torbran, Thane of Red Fell!

It’s so exciting to have the entire Throne of Eldraine card image gallery available to peruse, and Magic fans everywhere are having a great time plotting and brewing up decks with the new cards. As a Commander player, I paid particularly close attention to new legends I could build around, and one card in particular really made my eyes pop: Torbran, Thane of Red Fell!

I mean, at a quick glance, a 2/4 Dwarf Noble for four mana isn’t anything to write home about, and a cursory read of the text box only seems mildly interesting:

If a red source you control would deal damage to an opponent or a permanent an opponent controls, it deals that much damage plus 2 instead.

Now, baseline this means that Torbran is actually going to be dealing four damage with its power rather than two, so an effective 4/4 for four in red is at least in the ballpark of playable. But that text box applies to every red source you control that deals damage to stuff other than your own stuff. That is actually super-exciting on several fronts!

First, a major slice of red’s color pie is its ability to deal damage to creatures and players, and it’s carefully balanced to be threatening but not dominating in duel formats with starting life totals of twenty. While red is scary when it comes to dishing out damage in those environments, when you crank the starting life total to 40 and add multiple opponents, suddenly many of the scariest cards in red’s arsenal become barely playable. But add two extra points of damage and the math starts to become scary again. For one red mana, Lightning Bolt deals five damage to any target? Sign me up!

Next are spells or effects that split up the damage output. For instance, when you attack with Drakuseth, Maw of Flames, instead of dishing out four and three and three damage, it dishes out six and five and five damage, plus hits for nine.

If you make multiple creatures with one card, each of them will hit harder. Hanweir Garrison effectively makes two 3/1 red Human creature tokens and also hits for four instead of two.

But the very best part of Torbran’s ability is how it breaks the symmetry of global damaging spells and effects. Activate Pyrohemia for one red mana, and you and creatures you control take the regular one point of damage, but your opponents and creatures they control take three. You can activate this three times without killing Torbran, but your opponents and their creatures have taken a whopping nine points of damage! Cast Anger of the Gods, and conveniently Torbran lives through it while all your opponents’ creatures take five damage.

The Throne of Eldraine release notes had some clarification for Torbran, Thane of Red Fell:

The additional 2 damage is dealt by the same source as the original source of damage. The damage isn’t dealt by Torbran unless Torbran is the original source of damage.

If another effect modifies how much damage your red source would deal, including preventing some of it, the player being dealt damage or the controller of the permanent being dealt damage chooses an order in which to apply those effects. If all of the damage is prevented, Torbran’s effect no longer applies.

If damage dealt by a source you control is being divided or assigned among multiple permanents an opponent controls or among an opponent and one or more permanents they control, divide the original amount before adding 2. For example, if you attack with a 5/5 red creature with trample and your opponent blocks with a 2/2 creature, you can assign 2 damage to the blocker and 3 damage to the defending player. These amounts are then modified to 4 and 5, respectively.

Clearly Torbran was made to get red’s burn back into the Commander arena, so let’s get brewing!

Direct Damage

If you have enough Snow-Covered Mountains, Skred seems worth playing alongside Scrying Sheets for some occasional card draw. The extra reach from Torbran means it turns into a Terminate two turns quicker. How about Inferno Titan—so long as you split the three points of damage among three targets, each point turns into three!

Sweeper Damage

With Torbran, Blazing Volley does three damage to each creature an opponent controls! Goblin Chainwhirler dishes out three to each opponent and each creature and planeswalker they control, and then deals five points of first strike damage. Fiery Confluence damage choices get much juicier with two extra points added to each one.

Go Wide

Impact Tremors hits each opponent for three points of damage whenever a creature enters the battlefield under you control! Tilonalli’s Summoner making tokens that deal three damage instead of one is quite an upgrade!

How about Hostility? Assuming Torbran on the battlefield, you cast Blazing Volley to deal three damage to each of three opponents. Instead, Hostility prevents that damage and you’ll make nine 3/1 Elemental Shaman creature tokens with haste that each attack for five damage—you’ve just turned one red mana into 45 points of damage!

Chandra Stuff

Many of Chandra’s planeswalker card abilities revolve around damage or making multiple Elemental tokens, so it makes sense to put them in a deck with Torbran to scale them up nicely for multiplayer. Many of them also provide raw card advantage too, so that gives our mono-red deck some much-needed gasoline. With Chandra’s Regulator and borrowing The Chain Veil from Liliana, we can leverage Chandra’s abilities even more.

Red Card Support

Firebrand Archer, Thermo-Alchemist, and Electrostatic Field get much scarier when they’re dealing three points of damage to each opponent.

Embermaw Hellion and Jaya, Venerated Firemage provide backup to Torbran’s ability, but if you have two of these or all three, then games are going to end in a hurry!

Satyr Firedancer gets really juiced up by additional points of direct damage and hitting opponents’ creatures for even more. While I don’t have too many actual Dragons in this deck, the ability to turn all my Chandra planeswalkers into 4/4 flying Dragons that hit for six damage is too much of an epic play to pass up. Besides, I can make just one Dragon with Sarkhan and it will protect nearly as well as three Dragons if Torbran is on the battlefield.

All the damage dealing capacity in the deck can be undone by mass lifegain, so we definitely want to run Tibalt, Rakish Instigator. Plus, the Devil tokens are incredibly potent with Torbran!

Interaction

Enchanter’s Bane and Burning Earth are often just punishing nuisances, but add on extra damage from Torbran and they can quickly become game-ending. Viashino Heretic can make the more expensive artifacts your opponents play into quite the liability with Torbran. Goblin Bombardment turns any creature into a Lightning Bolt.

Card Draw/Selection

Even though many of the Chandra planeswalkers grant us virtual or genuine card draw, I want to squeeze in some more. Risk Factor seems like a sure bet when you’re pressuring everyone’s life totals.

How about the new Throne of Eldraine card Syr Carah, the Bold? I think it’s good enough to build an entire Commander deck around, but it does solid work in the 99 of Torbran. Tap to deal three damage to any target instead of one? Sign me up! Plus, the ability to play extra cards from the top of your library can potentially chain together some pretty big turns.

Mana Ramp

Last but not least, some mana ramp to get Torbran online fast and juice up our spells. I’ve kept my mana curve a bit on the lower side to make it easier to take advantage of the temporary card draw abilities, but we’ll still want to have extra mana when we can. I’m really looking forward to seeing how much red mana I can generate from Neheb, the Eternal with Torbran shenanigans!

Sweet deck! Let’s see how close we are to 100 cards.

Converted Mana Cost

Number of Cards

0-1

8 (including lands that don’t produce mana)

2

17

3

15

4

12 plus commander

5

9

6

6

7+ and X

3

71 total cards plus 39 mana-producing lands equals ten cards too many, so we need to make some cuts! Let’s see what we can trim.

These are all nice planeswalkers, but they don’t seem to get too much benefit from this deck’s gameplan.

I like the idea of getting back some instants or sorceries with Charmbreaker Devils, but I want to keep my mana curve as low as I can, so something needs to go. Dictate of the Twin Gods can certainly pump our damage-dealing gameplan even higher, but the potential for helping my opponents finish me off has put me off it, especially since I don’t have too much lifegain in the deck. I have a fair amount of sweeper effects, so I think it’s safe to trim Sweltering Suns. I’d like Legion Warboss a little more if it was creating more than one Goblin token a turn.

When I first started thinking about Torbran scaling up burn for multiplayer, one of the first cards I thought about was Flame Rift. But honestly, I think it’s one of the weaker cards in the deck at this point so I’m okay with cutting it. Harsh Mentor and Bloodfire Dwarf are harder cuts, but I don’t see any that I don’t want more, so those are the last two.

Okay, so here’s how the deck ended up:

Commander

What do you think? Are there any cards I’ve overlooked? If you see any new cards from Throne of Eldraine that should find a home here, let me know!

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!

Also, come play Commander with me! Coming up November 8th is Magic Fest Richmond right here in my hometown, and I’m planning on hitting the Command Zone there at least one of the days. The following weekend, November 14-17, is the always spectacular SCG CON! Their Commander Celebration has set the standard for incredible Commander experiences and I’ll be returning as a special guest, so I’ll be in the Command Zone all weekend playing Commander!

But that’s not all—Star City Games will be putting on #CommandFestDC December 13-15th and I’m thrilled to announce that I’ll be one of the special guests there. Stay tuned for more details as they become available!

Deck Database

I’ve been writing about the Commander format and Magic: The Gathering in general for nearly two decades. Visit the Star City Games article archives for tons of content dating back to January 2000!

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