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Commander Top 10: Rionya, Fire Dancer

Rionya, Fire Dancer got Bennie Smith burning to build around her for Commander. See how he made the most of the triggers and tokens.

Rousing Refrain, illustrated by Izzy
Rousing Refrain, illustrated by Izzy

As a Commander content creator, I really lament the timing for the release of Commander product the same time as the base set that they’re tied to thematically. People are naturally excited to try out brand-new cards, and what I try to do every week is to explore “the new hotness.”  You know, give the people what they want!

But let’s take a look at the numbers. In Strixhaven, we’ve got 22 new legendary creatures that could have Commander decks built around them.  Commander 2021 brings us twenty new legendary creatures, with these built specifically for Commander. That’s 42 new legends for all of us to digest and figure out what if any we want to build new decks around, and which we’ll just slot into the 99 of already existing decks, and which we’ll pass on.  For now.

Adventures in the Forgotten Realms is releasing July 16, with previews starting in the weeks before. That leaves about twelve weeks between when Strixhaven previews began and when the previews for the new set begin. That means a large percentage of new commanders won’t get any love here.  And even though the twelve that I can cover in that time frame are going to be the coolest of the cool, excitement can’t help but wane over two-and-a-half months.

To further complicate things, Modern Horizons 2 drops in June, and if they follow the formula from the first time around, there are going to be new legendary creatures that Commander fans are going to want to build decks around. Those will be “the new hotness” and any excitement we’ve had for Commander 2021 legends that we’ve not yet explored will cool off considerably.

I do really like that the Commander releases are tied into the base set—I love that they help flesh out the themes and go in new directions that might not be the best for Standard but play great in Commander. There’s nothing that says that because they’re thematically tied into the base set that they have to release the same time as the base set.  What’s wrong with releasing them a month later?  That way, we can focus on being excited for the base set release for a few weeks and then we can get excited about the Commander release.

What do you say, Wizards of the Coast (WotC)?  Let each release have its own time to shine and breathe!

Speaking of Commander 2021, today I’m going to pivot away from Strixhaven legends and begin to dig into the new hotness from the newest set for Commander!  Pun intended, but red designs for Commander have been on fire lately, and that trend isn’t slowing down.  Just take a look at Rionya, Fire Dancer!

Hold me Rionya, Fire Dancer

Count the spells that I cast today

Copy creatures, get the triggers

You had a busy day today

This is a fresh new design unlike anything we’ve seen before, though it feels familiar and also very red.  Red has cards that make temporary copies of creatures that go away at the beginning of the next end step, but Rionya’s trigger has the potential to make multiple copies in a given turn. The design is interesting because it wants you to have good creatures on the battlefield to copy with the trigger, while also wanting you to be able to cast one or more instant or sorcery spells before combat. The creature side of the equation keeps us from delving too deeply into a spellslinger style of deck, and that tension provides an interesting space for deckbuilding.

Before we continue, let’s take a look at the release notes for Rionya since there is a lot going on in that text box:

The triggered ability counts all instants and sorceries that were cast before it resolves. If you cast instant spells in response to the ability, those spells will count.

The tokens copy exactly what is printed on the creature and nothing else (unless that creature is a token or is copying something else; see below). They don’t copy whether that creature is tapped or untapped, whether it has any counters on it or Auras and/or Equipment attached to it, or any non-copy effects that changed its power, toughness, types, color, and so on.

If the copied creature is itself a token, the tokens created by Rionya copy the original characteristics of that token as stated by the effect that created it.

If the copied creature is copying something else, the tokens enter the battlefield as whatever that creature is copying.

If the copied creature has {X} in its mana cost, X is 0.

Any enters-the-battlefield abilities of the copied creature will trigger when the tokens enter the battlefield. Any “As [this creature] enters the battlefield” or “[This creature] enters the battlefield with” abilities of the copied creature will also work.

That last paragraph is the important part—basically it means that copies you make of your creatures are going to do what you’d expect them to do!

Okay, let’s get cooking!

1. Rousing Refrain

Rionya’s ability is only going to be as powerful as the number of instant or sorcery spells you can cast in a turn, and the constraint on that is going to be mana.  Which is why spells that make mana are going to be crucial in setting up a big turn for Rionya — “Ritual” spells, of which red has a fair amount.

Luckily for us, Commander 2021 brings us a new Ritual spell that’s perfect for this deck: Rousing Refrain!  For two mana you can exile it with three time counters, and at the beginning of your upkeep, remove a time counter. When the last is removed, you cast it without paying its mana cost. This gives you a red mana for each card in target opponent’s hand, and you don’t lose this mana as steps and phases end. Then you get to suspend the card and get to do this again three turns later. So basically, you get a turn where you cast a spell for free and you get extra mana to cast stuff too.  Sure, occasionally that timing will be awkward. but most of the time I imagine it will lead to some glorious haymaker turns!

Desperate Ritual Pyretic Ritual Birgi, God of Storytelling Grinning Ignus Jeska's Will Seething Song Mana Geyser

Both sides of Birgi, God of Storytelling are good in this deck. The Birgi side generates mana each time you cast a spell, making it much easier to chain together a couple of instant or sorcery spells to get a big trigger from Rionya. Harnfel, Horn of Bounty can help you dig for some more spells. 

Grinning Ignus is an interesting card here: if you make copies of Ignus with Rionya’s ability, you can activate them after combat to give you some extra mana during your second main phase.

2. Combat Celebrant

The “secret sauce” of a Rionya deck is a creature that gives you additional attack steps, and Combat Celebrant delivers. Even just one trigger of Rionya’s ability copying Combat Celebrant means that each time you exert one, it will untap the other one.  If an opponent doesn’t happen to have any creatures that can chump block and kill Combat Celebrant, then they are dead from many, many attack steps.

Sundial of the Infinite Fireflux Squad Port Razer

Port Razer does a similar thing and is a little bit more durable with four rather than one toughness.  I also really like Fireflux Squad as a copy target from Rionya—if you exile a couple of the tokens with the abilities, you can replace the tokens that will be exiled at the end of the turn with actual real creatures from your library.  Sure, it’s going to be random and sometimes you’ll reveal some small puny creatures that will just die in combat, but sometimes you’ll cheat out something huge and it’ll make everything worthwhile!

Sundial of the Infinite might be the real sauce though!  Put Rionya’s “exile them at the beginning of the next end step” trigger on the stack and then end the turn with Sundial.  Voilà! You get to keep the token creatures!

3. Terror of the Peaks

So, a good chunk of my deck needs to be creatures I’d feel good about copying with Rionya’s trigger, and the best of the bunch has got to be Terror of the Peaks. This bad-to-the-bone Dragon rarely lives a full circuit around the table, but if we can untap and generate a big trigger with Rionya, then there are going to be some Terror triggers raining down on whatever targets look promising!

Runaway Steam-Kin Dockside Extortionist Dire Fleet Daredevil Goblin Chainwhirler Leyline Tyrant Hellrider Storm-Kiln Artist Solemn Simulacrum Inferno Titan

Copying Dockside Extortionist will be sure to net a bunch of Treasure tokens later in the game and copying Goblin Chainwhirler can trim down an army of small creatures that might otherwise get in our way. Of course, Solemn Simulacrum and Inferno Titan are big and fantastic to copy and attack with!

4. Deflecting Swat

I wanted to find room for some cheap instant spells to help chain together a big turn with Rionya, and there’s nothing cheaper than free!  I anticipate there are going to be times when you’ve got Rionya on the battlefield, you say “Move to my combat step,” and some jokester will say, “I have a response first” and try to kill Rionya at instant speed.  Turn that thing around with Deflecting Swat for free and get an extra trigger with Rionya for your trouble!

Here are a few more cheap spells that can do some work for us:

Gut Shot Crash Through Spikefield Hazard Fists of Flame Kari Zev's Expertise

5. Krark, the Thumbless

Looking for cards that do fun things in a deck with a substantial number of instant and sorcery spells, I ran across the weird little Goblin Krark, the Thumbless. I love that, with Rionya on the battlefield, odds are pretty good it’s going to be win-win no matter how the coin flip goes. Even if you lose the flip and don’t have mana to recast it, you’ll have cast a spell this turn and Rionya will trigger. And sometimes doubling the spell is going to be absolutely bonkers!

Hall of Oracles The Biblioplex Young Pyromancer Increasing Vengeance Reiterate Primal Amulet Pyromancer's Goggles

I really love the designs of Hall of Oracles and The Biblioplex. They aren’t just awesome utility lands that go into any one- or two-color deck; they both have very niche effects and they both happen to work quite nicely with what we’re trying to do in this deck.

All the rest of these cards do awesome things in a deck with lots of red spells!

6. Surge to Victory

With the Rituals in the deck, I wanted to make sure I had some “go big” spells, and one of the most exciting new “go big” spells for red was printed right here in Commander 2021—Surge to Victory!  While any copies you make won’t benefit from the +X/+0 side of this spell, but they will get the rest of the effect whenever any of them deal combat damage to a player this turn.  If we happen to squeeze a few extra combat steps into the mix, this is likely to get way out of hand!

Throes of Chaos Volcanic Vision Brass's Bounty Blasphemous Act

Throes of Chaos isn’t necessarily a big spell, but it will count for one Rionya trigger with a decent chance of cascading into another one.

7. Anarchist

I also wanted ways to get back spells from my graveyard and prior to this past year there weren’t too many options in monored.  But the perfect card for the job has been around since Exodus – Anarchist!  Since the Ritual spells are mostly sorcery spells, you can potentially chain a couple of Ritual spells, cast Anarchist, get one back, and then go to your attack step, and when Rionya triggers, copy Anarchist a bunch of times and refill your hand.  Late-game it can get back one of our “big spells” above for another go-round.

Living Lightning Pillardrop Warden Biblioplex Assistant Charmbreaker Devils

Living Lightning, Pillardrop Warden and Biblioplex Assistant will make you jump through a few hoops to get what you want out of them, but they do let you retrieve an instant spell if that’s what you want rather than a sorcery. Charmbreaker’s randomness might not get you exactly what you want from the graveyard, but since I’m not playing reactive spells, odds are good that it’ll be something we want!

8. Duplicant

A deck like this by its nature is going to be a bit light on interaction, but Duplicant is going to do some serious heavy lifting if we can copy it with Rionya triggers!

Here are some other cards I’ve included to help interact with what our opponents are up to:

Scavenger Grounds Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle Vandalblast Lightning Bolt Gorilla Shaman Chaos Warp Shatterskull Smashing

9. Seize the Spoils

The thing about casting Ritual spells to cast other spells is that you’ll quickly find your hand running low on cards, so I wanted to have some ways to either draw or rummage, and one that I’m pretty excited about is Seize the Spoils from Kaldheim!  Not only do you get to trade two cards for two new cards, but you get a Treasure token to stick around and help you have a big turn later.

Here are some other ways I’ve added into the deck to keep the cards flowing:

Forgotten Cave Desert of the Fervent Smoldering Crater Castle Embereth War Room Skullclamp Faithless Looting Thrill of Possibility Magus of the Wheel

10. Soulbright Flamekin

First off: more people should play Soulbright Flamekin. Secondly, more people should play Soulbright Flamekin.  Giving any creature trample for two mana is surprisingly useful, especially when using it on an opponent’s large creature that’s attacking someone else.  And if you happen to have six mana available, congratulations: you’ve got eight red mana! Surely you can find something to do with eight red mana, right?

Since Rionya costs five mana and is likely to get targeted with removal often enough, I wanted to have a fair amount of ramp in the deck, so I made room for these cards:

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx Myriad Landscape Sol Ring Wayfarer's Bauble Ruby Medallion Arcane Signet Burnished Hart Neheb, the Eternal

Ruby Medallion in particular will be great for those multiple-spell big turns this deck is looking to craft!

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


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 or Commander 2021 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. 

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