Children have the most vivid imaginations. As we enter adulthood, we seem to lose some of our freedom of access to use that level of our imagination. Whether that is a good thing or a sad thing, I’ll let you decide.
Magic the Gathering gives us the ability to be as creative and imaginative as we want, in many different ways. Commander is possibly the most expressive deck building formats we currently have access to. You have the power to choose your Commander and walk into battle side by side with the tools and weapons that you have chosen to put into that deck. Many of the Commander players find great joy in the act of building their decks. We all love going through the process of choosing the specific cards, card art and card styling that they want in their decks. This is one of my favorite aspects of any type of Magic.
“Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.” - Lewis Carroll
Pir, Imaginative Rascal uses his powerful imagination as his weapon in Valor’s Reach on the plane of Kylem. Toothy, Imaginary Friend is the fruit of that imagination and his partner in the arena. Click on either of the cards below to see the current build.
Both of the cards I’ve mentioned above were released in the set Conspiracy in 2014. This was also the introduction of the Partner mechanic, which is stated as the following in the rules text. “You can have two commanders if both have partners”; and Partner with [card name] as “When this creature enters the battlefield, target player may put [card name] into their hand from their library, then shuffle”.
Our Commanders are both, Pir and Toothy; so let’s examine what that means for the construction of our deck. Pir, Imaginative Rascal, cares about adding counters to the permanents that we control; and Toothy, Imaginary Friend wants to gain as many counters as possible. With that in mind, I decided to build the deck as a +1/+1 counters theme. There is a light theme of counters of other sorts in the deck as well in loyalty counters for Planeswalkers and growth counters for Simic Ascendancy.
My first stop was to find creatures and other permanents that get counters as an aftereffect. I’m referring to creatures such as Chasm Skulker, Managorger Hydra, Nadir Kraken and Plaxcaster Frogling. Each of those creatures accrue counters as I go about the typical game actions. Chasm Skulker and Nadir Kraken both gain counters when you draw cards; since this is a blue deck, we have plenty of card draw. The hydra gets counters when anyone at the table casts any type of spell, this is the same way Forgotten Ancient places counters on itself as well; the same goes for Champion of Lambholt. Plaxcaster Frogling is a class of creature that has counters when it enters the battlefield as a part of the creature's templating.
In addition, I also wanted to play cards that would gain counters through other types of game actions and plays. The Evolve mechanic is perfect for this category, leading me to Gyre Sage and Fathom Mage. While this manner of counter accumulation requires other creatures entering the battlefield, the results are powerful enough to justify the extra hoops to jump through.
Of course we don’t want our creatures to do all of the heavy lifting themselves. That brings us to the various spells we have that place counters on our creatures and such. There is quite a list to choose from in these colors. Renata, Called to the Hunt and Rishkar, Peema Renegade are some of the more advantageous creatures that grant counters. Verdurous Gearhulk, Loyal Guardian, Master Biomancer and the planeswalkers Jiang Yanguu, Wildcrafter and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar all have the ability to add counters to multiple creatures; whether at one time or over the course of a few turns. These are some of the examples of the type of engines that can really get everything rolling in a deck like this. I do have an extremely powerful artifact in this deck that I believe would fall under this umbrella of cards and that’s Ikoria’s The Ozolith. If you have yet to play with or against this card at a Commander table, you may think that this card can’t be too much of a powerhouse. Just take my word for it that, believe me, this card is the real deal. The inherent downside to continually adding counters to the creatures that you control is that when an opponent kills one of those creatures, you lose all of the hard work. That is elevated by the presence of The Ozolith. When a creature leaves the battlefield, the counters are moved to the artifact and you then have the option to move said counters at the beginning of combat on your turn.
“I'm no biologist, but how many cells do single-celled organisms have?” - Harry Block (Orlando Jones)
Now that I have the ability to add counters to my permanents, you must understand that adding counters one at a time just isn’t going to cut it.
Proliferate is a mechanic that we first saw in New Phyrexia, where it was used to increase the number of -1/-1 or poison counters that creatures and players would accumulate during a game from creatures or permanents that have the Infect mechanic. War of the Spark brought back Proliferate for a very different reason.
In this set, and the correlating standard format, Proliferate was used to “build-up” creatures and planeswalkers in a more positive way than its original appearance. The latter is exactly what we use the mechanic for in this deck. Evolution Sage and Flux Channeler are the primary way to continuously trigger a way to Proliferate. Other ways to use the power of Proliferate are Thrummingbird, Tezzeret’s Gambit, Inexorable Tide, the new land Karn’s Bastion and Roalesk, Apex Hybrid. Each of these cars have various ways to Proliferate more and more. Though he doesn’t have the actual keyword Proliferate, the legendary human merfolk, Vorel of the Hull Clade; basically does the same thing the mechanic does only at the cost of some mana.
I would be remiss if I didn’t have a section specifically dedicated to the enchantments that double our counters when one is going to be placed on a creature or other permanent. That brings us to the aptly named Doubling Season, as well as, Hardened Scales and Branching Evolution. The first and the last are seemingly the same enchantment when it comes to +1/+1 counters on creatures. Doubling Season also doubles the amount of counters that a Planeswalker or a noncreature permanent would gain when entering the battlefield. Now that I’m thinking about it I think Deepglow Skate would fall under this section as well, though it is typically a one-shot and rarely repeatable.
“When you win, say nothing. When you lose, say less.” - Paul Brown
I would generally adhere to the adage that “it’s not about the destination, but about the journey,” but we are playing a game that’s focus is to win. So let’s get into the ways that we can help achieve that end.
Obviously, the first win condition that we must mention is beating down. A side effect of a creature gaining so many counters is that my creature can’t typically be blocked in a profitable manner. A realistic line to victory is to just take out your opponents through combat damage. Commander damage is also a possibility with this build; make Toothy, Imaginary Friend big enough and start turning it sideways.
In addition to just regular, non-evasive combat damage, we also have ways to make the creatures with counters evasive thanks to them having said counters. I’m speaking, of course, of Hadana’s Climb and the transformed side, Winged Temple of Orazca. The enchantment side adds a counter to a creature at the beginning of combat on your turn and if the correct conditions are met, the enchantment transforms into the powerful land. Simply put, Winged Temple of Orazca can deliver a K.O. In short order, if not with a single activation. The activation ability grants a creature +X/+X and flying, where X is that creature's power. The game plan here is pretty simply, make a creature large enough and double its power and swing in. The same thing goes for
I also have access to a less conventional path to victory, an alternate win condition. Simic Ascendancy gains a growth counter whenever one or more +1/+1 counters are put on a creature. At the beginning of you upkeep, if it has twenty or more growth counters on it you win the game.
“There is no "I" in team, but there is in win.” - Michael Jordan
Every deck needs it’s category of support cards. In this deck we implement the powerful new planeswalker Teferi, Master of Time. Teferi is here mainly to serve as a distraction unless I can get the proliferation rolling. Use the planeswalker to draw a few cards and mitigate some damage here or there. My removal and counterspell suite are somewhat typical for a deck with this color identity; Cyclonic Rift, Counterspell, Fierce Guardianship and Beast Within don’t need an explanation. Pir’s Whim does give us an interesting ability from game to game. Politics are a part of every game of Commander and this is our only spell that specifically allows us to play a mini-game of “Deal or No Deal”. When you cast Pir’s Whim you choose friend or foe for each player; each friend gets to search their library for a land card and put it onto the battlefield tapped, each foe must sacrifice an artifact or enchantment.
Until next time…
The next installment of my Commander Deep Dive will be a different take on the series. My next deck is An artifact based Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain deck. That particular deck was designed by a friend that was instrumental in me diving into Commander, Daniel Oney. Until next time…
Good luck, I hope you lose!