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Commander Top 10: Beledros Witherbloom

Another new set, another exciting batch of Commander cards to brew with! Check out what Bennie has in mind for Beledros Witherbloom!

Beledros Witherbloom, illustrated by Raymond Swanland

All of the cards for Strixhaven have been previewed and I have to say I’m incredibly stoked for this set as a Commander fan!  2020 was supposed to be The Year of Commander — and it very much was! — but I have to say after Kaldheim and Strixhaven, I think the Commander party has yet to stop.  With the notable exception of the Quandrix legends in the main set, I find nearly all the legendary creature designs to be interesting, fresh, and powerful in ways that are niche and really push a certain way to build your deck to fully unleash the full potential. I really can’t wait to dig into building decks around a bunch of them right here in the coming weeks, so keep coming back!

This week I’m jumping feet first into a deck built around the founder of the Witherbloom school, Beledros Witherbloom!

When I first started playing Commander it was known as Elder Dragon Highlander (EDH), and it thrills me to see five new Elder Dragon legends we can build around to get a little of that old-school Dragon flavor.  What I really love about Beledros, and just about all of the new Golgari legends from Strixhaven, is that they feel so distinctively different from Golgari legends we’ve gotten over the years. As a long time fan of the black and green color combination in Magic, I have rarely been inspired to build a Golgari deck for years, in large part because so many of the legends are just miserable to play against.

While these are all quite fun to build around, a great deal of my enjoyment in Commander comes from my opponents all having a good time playing too, and these commanders are often quite frustrating to play against.  So, in a way, I’ve been a bit “homeless” as an old-timey Golgari mage.  I still have my Glissa, the Traitor deck (printed ten years ago), and created a black and green Commander deck from a black legend and a green legend with partner (Armix, Filigree Thrasher and Ich-Tekik, Salvage Splicer) but I’ve been hankering for something new.  The Witherbloom school delivers the goods for me, so let’s kick things off with Beledros!

Just looking at the edges of the card, a 4/4 flying Dragon for a whopping seven mana isn’t going to get far in Commander, so that rules text better be something special.  And, fortunately, it is!  First, we’re getting a Verdant Force.

Pest creatures are naturally a bit better than Saprolings unless you’re pressing hard on Saproling synergies, and gaining life can be quite useful in the right deck — especially this one considering Beledros’s activated ability, which costs a whopping ten life to use.  While we might be a bit hesitant to use this in tournament formats, in Commander we have more starting life and a lot more ways to gain life.  And being able to untap all your lands once per turn is big game.  Just think of the work these cards do in Commander:

But the ability is even better than these because you get to do this at any point during your main phase, letting you double the mana without being broken up by a combat step or waiting for your end step.  It’s much more like this:

So, the question is — would you spend ten life to cast a Turnabout for your own lands for zero mana once during any turn?  I think the answer is a resounding yes!  Assuming you’ve got seven lands on the battlefield to cast your commander, you get to untap those lands to essentially cast your commander for free and have seven mana to do whatever else you may want to do.  If you leave your lands up, you could potentially have fourteen mana available during an opponent’s turn, and if Beledros survives back around to your own turn, that’s fourteen or more mana you could have during your own turn.  That’s the sort of mana that does bonkers stuff in Commander.

And that’s just the floor of this card! 

Here’s the thing: Beledros Witherbloom limits the number of times you can activate it to once per turn… but if Beledros leaves the battlefield and comes back, you have a fresh “new” version of the card that can activate the ability again.  We’re playing black and green. There are a ton of ways we can pull this off, either getting lots of die triggers, enter the battlefield triggers, and potentially even generating extra mana assuming we have enough life to keep going.

Oh yeah… we’re playing black and green! There are a ton of ways to gain life too!  In fact, that’s kind of Witherboon’s thing, right?

Let’s get brewing!

1. Reshape the Earth

The first thing I went looking for were cards that could give us a big payoff for the large amount of mana we could potentially generate on our own turn, and Reshape the Earth certainly qualifies. For nine mana you get to search your library for up to ten land cards — any lands, so nab ten special non-basics — and put them onto the battlefield tapped.  Oh yeah, Beledros’s ability untaps all your lands so if you’ve got another activation, untap those extra ten lands and do something spectacular!  And now, even if Beledros dies, you can easily pay the commander tax several times over.

Animist’s Awakening is a little less precise but a bit easier to cast with less mana, and if you have spell mastery you then get to untap whatever lands you found.  Exsanguinate has always been a stellar card in Commander for big mana decks, and it does a lot of extra heavy-lifting here in recovering your life loss from Beledros. Finale of Devastation where X=10 is probably a game-ender, especially if you have a fair number of 1/1 Pest creature tokens gathered on the battlefield.

2. Ashaya, Soul of the Wild

Oh look! One of my favorite cards from recent sets found another perfect home.  Beledros untaps all lands you control and with Ashaya on the battlefield all your creatures are Forests and ergo they’re lands.  This could be a handy way to give your team pseudo-vigilance if you’ve attacked on your turn by untapping all your lands during an opponent’s attack step.

I scared up some other cards that card about lands, especially ones that untap:

Thawing Glaciers might be too cute, but I just love the idea of playing it on my turn, untapping it with Beledros and getting to use it right away.  If you get an engine going with Beledros dying and coming back and untapping your lands again you can use it to get an extra mana each time.  Winding Canyons is another great way to use Beledros’s untap ability during an opponent’s turn, letting you cast creatures as though they had flash.

Ulvenwald Hydra ramps you from six mana to seven, ensuring you can cast your commander the next turn, and Blackblade Reforged can equip to Beledros and turn it into an actual attacking threat — let’s face it, a 4/4 Dragon isn’t exactly terrorizing the skies.  But an 11/11 or bigger?  Now we’re talking!

3. Willowdusk, Essence Seer

When I went hunting for cards to help get our engine going, one card that popped up was the face commander from the Commander 2021 Willowbloom precon, Willowdusk, Essence Seer!  If we’re losing ten life each time we activate Beledros, that means Willowdusk can add a huge amount of +1/+1 counters to some creature.  And since we’re looking for ways to gain life in this deck to offset Beledros’s activation, that side of the equation can fuel her ability too: hold one mana back on a huge Exsanguinate and you can dump a game-winning number of counters on even something as small as a 1/1 Pest.

Since Sanctum of Eternity is a land, if you have enough lands to activate Sanctum and recast Beledros, you’ve got your engine online; any mana over ten is extra. 

I also really like the synergy between Plumb the Forbidden and Sedgemoor Witch.  If Beledros has generated enough Pest tokens, you can sacrifice them to Plumb the Forbidden and make copies, and Sedgemoor Witch will replace them.  Since the Pests gain you life when they die, they’ll replace the life you lose from Plumb.  Drawing a bunch of cards for two mana sounds quite sweet!  I also like Tend the Pests in the mix here: if Willowdusk has made some creature huge enough and someone points removal at it, you can sacrifice it to Tend the Pests and make a whole bunch more Pest tokens.

Poison-Tip Archer snipes life from your opponents as creatures die, and lots of creatures are likely dying in this deck over and above the normal course of a Commander game. Sidisi, Undead Vizier easily exploits a random Pest lying around to go fetch up a piece of your engine, and Kodama of the East Tree spills value all over the place, especially if you’re replaying Beledros several times during your turn.

4. Nim Deathmantle

The recursion engine of choice is Nim Deathmantle since its triggered ability will bring back Beledros when it dies for just four mana, so depending on how much your sacrifice engine costs for mana, you can start generating extra mana during your turn depending on your life total situation.  Even without using it as an engine, it’s pretty easy to untap your lands on an opponent’s turn in response to Beledros dying so you have enough mana to bring back Beledros.

We have a few other one-shot recursion spells that can let us use Beledros a few times in a given turn:

5. Disciple of Griselbrand

We talked about sacrifice outlets, and one of the best ones for us is Disciple of Griselbrand.  It only costs one mana to activate, and you gain life equal to the creature’s toughness.  Beledros only has four toughness inherently, but if it’s being equipped by Nim Deathmantle, that goes up to six.  Equipping Blackblade Reforged before the sacrifice nets us life in the transaction. 

Miren, the Moaning Well is a land version of Disciple but costs more mana.  Phyrexian Tower is a land that can sacrifice Beledros to generate half the cost of Nim Deathmantle’s trigger. Dina, Soul Steeper is another cheap sacrifice outlet, potentially getting big enough to be a threat in her own right, and also taking advantage of any life gain to knock a point of life off each opponent each time.

6. Eternity Vessel

Any shenanigans with Beledros are limited by the amount of life we have, so let’s add some ways to add life!  One awesome way to do that is Eternity Vessel.  Cast it once you’ve gained a bunch of life and then whenever you play a land, you get to reset your life back to that total. Thawing Glaciers is a nice way to ensure you have a land you can play each turn!

Here are a bunch of other awesome ways to gain life, big and small:

Verdant Sun’s Avatar is particularly nice here since it recoups a fair chunk of life if you’ve got your recursion engine going with Beledros, and it also gets you life each time you get a Pest with Beledros.

7. Golgari Rot Farm

Even if we don’t have Eternity Vessel, we still want to be hitting our land drops each and every turn with this deck, so in addition to a lot of the usual mana ramp suspects you’d expect in a green deck, I added Golgari Rot Farm and Guildless Commons to the deck.  Their drawback of entering the battlefield tapped isn’t too much of a drawback with Beledros’s activated ability.

8. Wandering Archaic

I’ve got a lot of deck space dedicated to maximizing the power of Beledros, but I wanted to make room for interaction with our opponents’ plans too and Wandering Archaic from Strixhaven is one of the best I’ve seen in a long while!  I’m not even sure when you’d ever want to play the back side Explore the Vastlands, but who cares?  The front side taxes any instant or sorcery spells your opponents cast unless they want to give you a copy for free.  This is a great way to double up on pinpoint removal if someone is building a pillowfort lock or has assembled interlocking pieces of a potential game-winning combo. Or sometimes they may just have to use removal on one of your own threats and you’ll get a copy for revenge purposes.

Valentin, Dean of the Vein is a nifty new card from Strixhaven that puts a damper on any creature recursion your opponents may try to set up, and is a great way to sink a bunch of excess mana if someone sweeps the battlefield of creatures. The backside of the card Lisette, Dean of the Root also does some work if you’ve assembled an army of Pests and are looking to pump them up or want to give a large creature you control trample. There’s a lot of flexibility built into this card. 

I also really like Mage Hunter as a way to snipe opponents with life drain and will be especially punishing to spell-slinger decks that are sure to be popular once Strixhaven is readily available.

9. Harness Infinity

Like any good Commander deck, I wanted to include ways to draw cards, and another new card from Strixhaven fits the bill perfectly: Harness Infinity!  This costs seven mana so it’s very likely you’ll have that amount of mana available when you activate Beledros’s ability, and since it’s instant-speed, you can cast this at the end of someone’s turn and have access to all of your mana to cast spells from your freshly stocked hand.

Arguel’s Blood Fast is another interesting card in this deck; I’ve rarely seen it transform to its backside but with Beledros’s ability, transforming this during your upkeep is a very real possibility if you want to get an extra land that’s like Miren, the Moaning Well but without any extra mana to activate.

10. Mortality Spear

Last up we have some more removal spells, and while there are a lot of great choices available in green and black, I’m again impressed with another new gem from Strixhaven — Mortality Spear!  The flexibility of destroying any nonland permanent at instant speed is well worth four mana, but in a deck where you can just “oops, I gained a life” casting this for just two mana is insane value.

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

Beledros Witherbloom
Bennie Smith
Test deck on 04-09-2021
Commander


Here’s how the deck looks graphically, thanks to our friends at Archidekt:

What do you think?  Are there any cards I’ve overlooked?  If you see any new cards from Strixhaven 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!  I’d also love it if you followed my Twitch channel TheCompleteCommander, where I do Commander, Brawl and sometimes other Magic-related streams when I can.  If you can’t join me live, the videos are available on demand for a few weeks on Twitch, but I also upload them to my YouTube channel.

And lastly, I just want to say: let us love each other and stay healthy and happy.