“The world is black
The world is white
It turns by day and then by night”
— Three Dog Night
I hope that everyone had a great holiday. 2016 was a tough year to be a celebrity, but it was a great year to be a fan of Commander. Commander 2016 continues to be a gold mine for Commander fans to mine for great ideas, not least of which is the partner mechanic. While it was created as a way to solve some design issues for making four-color Commander options, as a by-product it’s given us a whole host of interesting and oddball combinations to explore. While it’s fun to imagine all the three- and four-color combinations you can come up with, sometimes it’s good to just come back to simplicity and embrace a two-color deck. Commander 2016 gives us five pairs for each enemy color combinations, and today I’d like to focus on Orzhov.
The two W/B partner legendary creatures from Commander 2016 hail from Theros. Over on the Wizards product page they give us a brief description of each of them:
Tymna is one of the few mortals on Theros to have mastered the magic of the Fates. She once served among the Battlewise of Meletis, an order that takes pride in winning battles through tactics, not force. Her career was cut short by a chariot accident that left her blind. Now, she meticulously twines the strands of destiny, the threads vibrating beneath her fingertips as her machinations play out.
As an oracle of Athreos, the god of passage, Ravos knew the fleeting nature of life. Even so, watching his beloved perish in battle was too much for Ravos to bear. He bargained to help Athreos guide the dead to the Underworld in exchange for seeing his dead lover once each year. Now, Ravos plots his beloved’s rescue, and secretly defies Athreos by escorting the dead back to the land of the living.
Both of the cards are Human Clerics, so they’d be perfect commanders for a tribal Human, tribal Cleric or even Human Cleric deck. What’s nice about having two different commanders for a tribal deck is that you’ll be able to reliably trigger tribal abilities twice as often. I briefly dabbled with some ideas for Cleric tribal because I like a lot of the synergies available to that tribe, but as I looked at the abilities of our commanders – particularly Tymna the Weaver – I didn’t really like how they lined up with what a Cleric deck is looking to do. Tymna wants you to be regularly attacking as many of your opponents as possible each turn, which matches more closely with a Human tribal deck. If I wanted to be very aggressive, then going W/B Humans could be a good choice, but I think I want to try something a little less overtly aggressive and yet still be able to leverage the abilities of Tymna and Ravos. And since Tymna is cheaper and a card-advantage engine, I think I’ll focus on that.
Okay, so Tymna the Weaver’s triggered ability depends on doing combat damage to your opponents. It doesn’t matter how much damage you do; what matters is how many different opponents are dealt damage. Consider for a moment the card Syphon Soul—it takes a little bit of life from each opponent and gives the total to the caster. For each opponent the life loss is pretty insignificant, but the total life added to the caster is often quite significant for the mana investment.
Syphon Soul usually passes by without too much fuss from your opponents. I think one key to really leveraging Tymna’s ability is to make the combat damage you’re doing relatively light, especially in the early game. The fact that you’re drawing cards will certainly raise some eyebrows, but if you’re paying life to draw a card or two extra a turn, who can get too mad about that? Now, if you’re tearing down each of your opponent’s life totals and drawing cards, that’s a recipe for putting a giant bullseye on your forehead. But a few pips here and there, and drawing a few cards here and there… maybe that can seem like a lower-level threat compared to the shenanigans your opponent might be going through.
Which makes Tormented Soul the perfect card to feed this strategy. It’s cheap. It’s dealing a point of damage each turn. It can’t block. You lose a life, and then I lose a life. I invested a card, and now I draw a card. The shadow creatures Soltari Foot Soldier and Nether Shadow are pretty much the same sort of thing, with Soltari Visionary having the added bonus of eating enchantments.
Hot Soup and Key to the City are cheap ways to make something unblockable, while Skeleton Key and Behind the Scenes will often let our small creatures be unblockable by giving them skulk. Authority of the Consuls and Blind Obedience will help too by making potential blockers enter the battlefield tapped.
Another way to discourage blocking is by giving a creature deathtouch, especially if the creature is small and will just come back from the dead anyway like Bloodsoaked Champion or Reassembling Skeleton… or from Ravos, Soultender’s triggered ability. Or something incredibly insignificant like the snake token from Ophiomancer—who wants to lose a card to that? Sometimes you can just threaten to give deathtouch with Vial of Poison or Onyx Mage without actually having to bestow the deathtouch.
Baleful Eidolon is cool in this deck. It can come down early and be a small, insignificant deathtouch creature, but then when it dies and is brought back with Ravos, you can cast it with bestow and enchant another creature.
Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim puts in some good work, not only from its efficient stats and deathtouch but being able to recoup some life loss from Tymna’s ability. I’m not sure we’ll get up to 50 life too often to use the exile ability, but it’s a nice option if the situation arises.
Deathtouch is an ability that goes pretty nicely with two other keyword abilities: trample and first strike. White and black don’t have a lot of trample effects, but we do have some first strike options. A creature with first strike and deathtouch makes it extremely unlikely someone wants to block it, so that means we’ll be getting in for Tymna triggers. If we get an Archetype of Courage along with Archetype of Finality and all our creatures have first strike and deathtouch? Wow, that’s some serious advantage in creature combat! Thalia, Heretic Cathar has first strike but also gets in on the “having your opponents’ creatures enter the battlefield tapped” game too.
Of course, sometimes you just need to remove creatures from the battlefield, either because they’re blocking your attack lanes or because they’re threatening to kill you–eventually your opponents are going to get upset by all the cards you’re drawing and want to put a stop to it. With Ravos around, you should be able to recover from creatures sweepers relatively quickly.
Attacking Each Player
Tymna wants you to attack more than one player, and luckily Commander 2015 gave us a sweet ability that helps do just that—myriad! Blade of Selves is hands-down the best, since it gives any equipped creature myriad—particularly nice to give to something like Tormented Soul that can’t be blocked. Herald of the Host is a creature with myriad and it has flying so it has a pretty good chance of getting through unblocked sometimes too.
Since I’m going to be attacking early and often, it occurred to me that mixing in some cards with the monarch mechanic might be a good idea. Not only will it help me draw even more cards, but it could encourage cards that might otherwise be staying home to block to instead attack. It’s a little risky, since I’ll likely be attacked often as the monarch, and I’m already losing life from Tymna, but hopefully the fair number of deathtouch creatures will dissuade some of the counterattacks.
I’ll round things out with some Orzhov goodies. Marchesa’s Decree plays nicely with the monarch plan, and we can build on setting up defenses from counterattacks with Ghostly Prison and Windborn Muse. Skirsdag High Priest provides additional disincentive to block and kill our little creatures since the morbid will help us crank out 5/5 flying Demons. Since many of our creatures have abilities that play nicely with our plan, Odric, Lunarch Marshal does good work handing out those abilities to all our creatures. Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni takes advantage of our plan to get small creatures past blockers, and then you can pull the Ninjutsu switcheroo and get the trigger for both Tymna and Ink-Eyes. I wanted to include Gisela, the Broken Blade and Bruna, the Fading Light, since both are solid cards in the deck overall and sometimes you’ll get the sweet meld transformation.
Last, we have to include Eldrazi Monument. Not only do we have some great sacrificial fodder in Bloodsoaked Champion, Reassembling Skeleton, and Nether Traitor already, but our good friend Ravos, Soultender can combo up with the Monument to let us sacrifice and then get back a creature we may want to cast again. Sun Titan does a solid job of feeding the Monument too.
- 1 Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni
- 1 Soltari Foot Soldier
- 1 Windborn Muse
- 1 Edgewalker
- 1 Soltari Visionary
- 1 Filth
- 1 Nether Traitor
- 1 Scuttlemutt
- 1 Stillmoon Cavalier
- 1 Reassembling Skeleton
- 1 Sun Titan
- 1 Tormented Soul
- 1 Onyx Mage
- 1 Vengeful Pharaoh
- 1 Skirsdag High Priest
- 1 Baleful Eidolon
- 1 Ophiomancer
- 1 Archetype of Courage
- 1 Archetype of Finality
- 1 Bloodsoaked Champion
- 1 Raving Dead
- 1 Graveblade Marauder
- 1 Herald of the Host
- 1 Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
- 1 Odric, Lunarch Marshal
- 1 Bruna, the Fading Light
- 1 Gisela, the Broken Blade
- 1 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
- 1 Thorn of the Black Rose
- 1 Custodi Lich
- 10 Plains
- 9 Swamp
- 1 Scrubland
- 1 Shizo, Death's Storehouse
- 1 Phyrexian Tower
- 1 Godless Shrine
- 1 Orzhov Basilica
- 1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
- 1 Mistveil Plains
- 1 Fetid Heath
- 1 Reliquary Tower
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Isolated Chapel
- 1 Vault of the Archangel
- 1 Cavern of Souls
- 1 Thespian's Stage
- 1 Temple of Silence
- 1 Opal Palace
- 1 Shambling Vent
- 1 Throne of the High City
- 1 Ash Barrens
- 1 Ghostly Prison
- 1 Wrath of God
- 1 Swords to Plowshares
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Journeyer's Kite
- 1 Darksteel Ingot
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Power Matrix
- 1 Black Market
- 1 Rout
- 1 Orzhov Signet
- 1 Path to Exile
- 1 Eldrazi Monument
- 1 Basilisk Collar
- 1 Angelic Destiny
- 1 Tragic Slip
- 1 Blind Obedience
- 1 Glaring Spotlight
- 1 Vial of Poison
- 1 Gorgon's Head
- 1 Chariot of Victory
- 1 Hot Soup
- 1 Malicious Affliction
- 1 Blade of Selves
- 1 Thought Vessel
- 1 Behind the Scenes
- 1 Skeleton Key
- 1 Marchesa's Decree
- 1 Key to the City
- 1 Authority of the Consuls
What do you think? What different cards would you have included? Which other of the two enemy-colored pairs of partner cards have you been building around?
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 Primer Part 1
(Why play Commander? Rules Overview, Picking your Commander)
Commander Primer Part 2
(Mana Requirements, Randomness, Card Advantage)
Commander Primer Part 3
(Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
Commander Starter Kits 1
(kick start your allied two-color decks for $25)
Commander Starter Kits 2
(kick start your enemy two-color decks for $25)
Commander Starter Kits 3
(kick start your shard three-color decks for $25)
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)
• Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient (Ghost in the Machines)
• Jalira, Master Polymorphist (JaliraPOW!)
• 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)
• Karador, Ghost Chieftain (Shadowborn Apostles & Demons)
• Roon of the Hidden Realm (Mean Roon)
• Vorel of the Hull Clade (Never Trust the Simic)
• Borborygmos Enraged (69 land deck)
• Derevi, Empyrial Tactician (Tribal Birds)
• Gahiji, Honored One (Enchantment Ga-hijinks)
• Nicol Bolas (Kicking it Old School)
• Oloro, Ageless Ascetic (Life Gain)
• Polukranos, World Eater (Monstrous!)
• Reaper King (Taking Advantage of the new Legend Rules)
• Roon of the Hidden Realm ( Strolling Through Value Town)
• Shattergang Brothers (Breaking Boards)
• Sliver Overlord (Featuring the new M14 Slivers!)
• Varolz, the Scar-Striped (scavenging goodness)