In the beginning, there was this card.
And it was good.
Okay, maybe it wasn’t all that good. I really wanted it to be good. It kept jumping into Standard decklists and then, as I worked on them, Shefet Monitor kept getting cut. It seemed like it should be amazing—for four mana you get to accelerate your land base and draw a card and it dodges most counterspells. Alternately, you can just play the mana cost for a giant Lizard and beat down. The problem I found was that generally you just didn’t have the time to spend four mana and not directly impact the battlefield. For four mana, people were casting Gideon, or Chandra, or Aetherworks Marvel. Cycling Shefet Monitor paled in comparison.
What would really kick Shefet Monitor up a notch would be the kind of Desert cards we could fetch up with it, but as of Amonkhet Deserts were just not very impressive. In fact, they were so unimpressive that they inspired a mission to try to build a Commander deck that was all about animating Deserts and killing my opponents with them. Deserts are supposed to be deadly!
I was about halfway done sketching out my initial ideas when it occurred to me that I should wait for Hour of Devastation, with the assumption that we were likely to get some more Deserts – hopefully some that are actually good – and maybe even a few more cards that cared about Deserts.
Well, the set has been fully previewed and my assumptions were correct! I was particularly pleased with these two sweet cards:
The appropriately named Hour of Promise promises all sorts of sweet plays. I can’t stop brewing with it for Commander and for Standard. Heck, maybe I’ll do something with it for Modern too!
Ramunap Hydra looks unassuming, and I think most people are assuming that Deserts aren’t just worth playing, so why go through all the work to make Ramunap Hydra good? I think the Deserts are going to be at least decent, and the Zombie payoff for Hour of Promise is so good that I think it’s worth going hard on the Desert theme, at which point Ramunap Hydra is a 5/5 with vigilance, trample, and reach for just four mana, which is a great bargain.
So let’s resume my quest to kill my opponents with animated Deserts in Commander. At first I tried to keep the deck just three colors, with black and red being the odd cards out. Ultimately, in order to get enough Deserts in a singleton format, I went ahead with five colors. Let’s deck a look at the stars of our show.
Twenty of our lands are Deserts, which will hopefully translate to having at least one on the battlefield when we cast Hour of Promise to get some Zombies. Quite a few of them can easily make their way into the graveyard too, either by cycling or sacrifice, so that’s worth an extra pip on our Hydra.
If we’re focused on Deserts and getting them onto the battlefield, it makes sense that we should include some landfall cards to take advantage of that. Retreat to Kazandu is particularly sweet, since we can use it to boost our animated Deserts and make them more threatening.
Here’s where we have our fun. I’ve been dying to play Ramunap Excavator, Tireless Tracker, Courser of Kruphix, Knight of the Reliquary, and The Gitrog Monster all in the same deck, and now is my chance. Ruin Ghost is sweet; at its base you can protect an animated land from removal by “blinking” it and turning it back into a regular land, but really what we’re looking to do here is combine it with Retreat to Coralhelm and generate a bunch of landfall triggers and Clue tokens. If we’re living the dream, we’ll “go infinite” blinking Sunscorched Desert and kill the table.
Spike Tiller; Jolrael, Empress of Beasts; and Kamahl, Fist of Krosa are favorite ways to animate my lands. If your opponent is playing battlefield sweepers, you can punish them by animating their lands in response.
Genju of the Realm on a Desert is the “achievement unlocked” part of our deck. Now that would be a deadly Desert!
These are the cards I want to use to boost up our aggro Desert. I’m picturing activating Genju of the Realm to animate a Desert with Rafiq of the Many and Hour of Promise on the battlefield and attacking with it alone. Twice! Maybe even discarding Rubblehulk and then casting Berserk. Oh, sorry about that life total there…
Of course, our opponents aren’t just going to sit back and let themselves get run over by angry Deserts, so I’ve included Boros Charm, Heroic Intervention, Darksteel Garrison, and Selfless Spirit to protect and preserve our natural and supernatural Deserts.
One final card to add to the mix under boosting our Deserts—our Commander!
Karona, False God is a treacherous Commander long-term, but if you’ve got enough mana and have animated enough Deserts with a particular creature type (such as Elemental), Karona can come down and give them all an added boost.
I’ll round out the deck with some five-color good stuff. Here’s how the deck has shaped up:
- 1 Azusa, Lost but Seeking
- 1 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Jolrael, Empress of Beasts
- 1 Kamahl, Fist of Krosa
- 1 Seedborn Muse
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Spike Tiller
- 1 Rafiq of the Many
- 1 Knight of the Reliquary
- 1 Lotus Cobra
- 1 Oracle of Mul Daya
- 1 Ruin Ghost
- 1 Sublime Archangel
- 1 Rubblehulk
- 1 Skarrg Guildmage
- 1 Courser of Kruphix
- 1 Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper
- 1 Jaddi Offshoot
- 1 Pathbreaker Ibex
- 1 Embodiment of Fury
- 1 Embodiment of Insight
- 1 Sylvan Advocate
- 1 Mina and Denn, Wildborn
- 1 Tireless Tracker
- 1 The Gitrog Monster
- 1 Selfless Spirit
- 1 Shefet Monitor
- 1 Ramunap Excavator
- 1 Ramunap Hydra
- 12 Forest
- 1 Reflecting Pool
- 1 Desert
- 1 Arcane Sanctum
- 1 Crumbling Necropolis
- 1 Jungle Shrine
- 1 Savage Lands
- 1 Seaside Citadel
- 1 Exotic Orchard
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Nomad Outpost
- 1 Mystic Monastery
- 1 Sandsteppe Citadel
- 1 Opulent Palace
- 1 Frontier Bivouac
- 1 Sunscorched Desert
- 1 Cradle of the Accursed
- 1 Grasping Dunes
- 1 Painted Bluffs
- 1 Desert of the Indomitable
- 1 Desert of the Fervent
- 1 Desert of the True
- 1 Desert of the Mindful
- 1 Desert of the Glorified
- 1 Scavenger Grounds
- 1 Hostile Desert
- 1 Ipnu Rivulet
- 1 Ifnir Deadlands
- 1 Shefet Dunes
- 1 Ramunap Ruins
- 1 Hashep Oasis
- 1 Endless Sands
- 1 Survivors' Encampment
- 1 Dunes of the Dead
- 1 Genju of the Realm
- 1 Exploration
- 1 Swords to Plowshares
- 1 Sylvan Library
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Fellwar Stone
- 1 Darksteel Ingot
- 1 Berserk
- 1 Terminate
- 1 Crucible of Worlds
- 1 Crop Rotation
- 1 Darksteel Garrison
- 1 Basilisk Collar
- 1 Nim Deathmantle
- 1 Tragic Slip
- 1 Boros Charm
- 1 Tempt with Discovery
- 1 Commander's Sphere
- 1 Retreat to Kazandu
- 1 Retreat to Coralhelm
- 1 Retreat to Emeria
- 1 Seasons Past
- 1 Heroic Intervention
- 1 Hour of Promise
What do you think? Are there any great ways to animate or boost my attacking Deserts that I overlooked?
An Oasis in Standard?
I mentioned above that I’m interested in Hour of Promise for Standard and I thought I’d take a little time here at the end to talk about my initial stab at building a deck with it. It ties into the Tasty Deserts theme, right? If you’ve been following my Facebook page and on Twitter, you’ll know that I had quite a successful run in Standard with several iterations of my Green/Colorless deck over the past eight months or so. While details have changed, the overall concept has remained the same:
1. Two-drop mana creatures are quite good in the right deck, not least of which is making Tireless Tracker insane by letting you cast it on turn 3 and always get your Clue.
2. Playing one color unlocks the potential for playing lots of great colorless utility lands, which also unlocks the potential of playing powerful Eldrazi spells.
3. Ulvenwald Hydra tutoring lands onto the battlefield is powerful.
It was fun to recently see Brad Nelson discovering the power of Ulvenwald Hydra to fetch up copies of Shrine of the Forsaken Gods to help him hard-cast Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Hour of Promise gives us four more cards that can ramp hard and fetch up special lands. Here’s the thing, though—if you’re fetching up non-Desert cards and don’t have enough Deserts on the battlefield you’re running into the Shefet Monitor problem I talked about in the beginning of this column, where you’re spending all this mana and not directly impacting the battlefield. That’s why Ulvenwald Hydra is so good: you get a ramp spell attached to a giant creature.
Hour of Promise is a powerful tool, but only if you’re playing enough Deserts to get those two Zombie tokens in addition to your ramp. Thankfully, Hour of Devastation brings us some really good Deserts to make it worthwhile to just fully embrace the theme and fully unlock the power of Hour of Devastation along with Ramunap Hydra. Here’s what I want to try in the new Standard:
- 3 World Breaker
- 4 Matter Reshaper
- 4 Tireless Tracker
- 3 Ulvenwald Hydra
- 4 Ulvenwald Captive
- 4 Druid of the Cowl
- 4 Ramunap Hydra
This configuration gives us sixteen green sources, thirteen colorless sources, and thirteen Deserts. This should give us the ability to cast Druid of the Cowl or Ulvenwald Captive on turn 2 and have early colorless sources to cast Spatial Contortion and Matter Reshaper. Fingers crossed it’s enough Desert cards to have two on the battlefield when we cast Hour of Promise so we can fetch up a utility Desert, getting the Zombie tokens, and Shrine of the Forsaken Gods, yielding enough mana to cast World Breaker. I like the idea of sacrificing Dunes of the Dead to retrieve World Breaker and get a Zombie token for the trouble.
Let me know what you think of this build and any ideas you may have to improve it. Make sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter; I’ll post my adventures in Standard there regularly!
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)