Many things have changed for all of us over the course of 2020. Understatement of the year, right? Interestingly enough, the interest in certain Magic formats has flourished in spite of those difficulties. I’m speaking, of course, about Commander (or EDH for the old guard). This is due in part to the format’s first full fledged supplemental set, Commander Legends.
Commander Legends was initially viewed as a potential mistake. These types of sets have an unfortunate history of injecting power into a format that either doesn’t need it or doesn’t want it. That was the worry from Commander players the world over. While their concerns were warranted given the year we’ve had, they were ultimately alleviated upon the sets release.
An aspect of the set that had many players concerned was the emphasis on the use of the Partner mechanic amongst the legends in the set. Partner comes in two forms; the first is worded as “Partner with…”, followed by the specific creature card that it is partnered with. The second variation is simple Partner without the extra text, meaning it can be partnered with any other creature (or planeswalker) that has Partner. This was, again, revealed to be an unwarranted fear. The presence of these new partner creatures provides Commander players with a wide array of possibilities to build with and around.
I have spoken in recent articles and episodes of my podcast, Destroy Target Permanent, that I really want to broaden my range when it comes to Commander. I finally feel like I have done just that with my latest build.
I would like you to meet a couple of my new friends. There’s no tribal theme here; again moving away from my recent trends. When I settled on these two partners, it was because they both cared about a part of Magic’s creatures that aren’t always at the forefront of importance. That aspect is toughness matters. Prava of the Steel Legion grants my tokens +1/+4 boost as long as it’s your turn; immediately making your typically tiny tokens into real threats and protection. Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper primarily cares about the amount of toughness that your creatures have. She gains you life equal to the toughness of your creatures when they deal combat damage to a player. When you combine these two interests, you get toughness matters and tokens.
While my time and experience in the format is limited, I haven’t seen something like this yet. I set out to brew my very first Commander deck from the ground up. Gatherer has generally been my go-to tool when it comes to building decks, but this time I used Scryfall. I have become more familiar with this site, hence the switch. I began with searching for cards that allow my creatures to assign damage using their toughness rather than their power. The results did not disappoint.
These are both cards that I have wanted to play with for a while, and now I have the opportunity. Doran, the Siege Tower was the first effect of this kind and is a popular Commander in its own right. Dragons of Tarkir’s Assault Formation and Huatli, the Sun’s Heart from War of the Spark are the latest editions to the toughness-matters or big-butt “tribe”. There aren’t enough of these types of effects to justify a full focused move into this type of deck. For the time being, this will just be a feature of the deck.
Next up, I searched for tokens and all things tokens. Thankfully, we’re restricted by the Partner Commander’s color identity; because the results of just “token” were vast. The immediate inclusions that jump out are Anointed Procession and Parallel Lives. Both of these enchantments increase the number of tokens we produce. Another of the legends introduced in Commander Legends is perfect for this deck as well. Thalia de, Reverent Medium creates even more tokens depending on how many you can produce each turn. This isn’t the same effect that the two enchantments have on the board, but it’s close enough that I included it here. Second Harvest falls under this same principle, it doubles the amount of tokens you already have. It’s a one-time shot; but at instant speed, a very powerful one. Lastly, Nomad’s Assembly is a sorcery version of Second Harvest only with Rebound. I’ll trade down to sorcery-speed to get to double dip on a spell.
Now we have ways to increase the number of tokens produced by each spell, ability or effect. All that’s left is to fill out those token producers. There’s no end to the powerful token producers in the Abzan wedge of the color pie. Some of which are new editions from 2020’s set releases. Arasta of the Endless Web, from Theros Beyond Death; Tendershoot Dryad and Court of Grace from Rivals of Ixalan and Commander Legends respectively; are all powerful additions to any token strategy without a doubt. Court of Grace also gives the deck access to Monarch, providing card advantage and a little extra spice to each game. This is a section of this article that I could go on and on about. There are so many powerful token producers throughout Magic’s history. Avenger of Zendikar; Elenda, the Dusk Rose and Rhys the Redeemed are just a few of the standout creatures that can produce more than one token by themselves. These selections also showcase the variety of ways that this deck can make tokens. The slow and steady model with Rhys the Redeemed, the death trigger from Elenda and the enter the battlefield trigger from Avenger of Zendikar.
This deck cannot solely rely on creatures to produce our tokens, everyone plays some sort of removal in Commander. That brings us to the non-creature token producers of the deck. The first card that came to mind when filling out this section of the deck was Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. Elspeth’s +1 gives you three tokens, her -3 supplies repeatable removal and the -7 provides an emblem that grants all of my creatures +2/+2 and flying! This is the perfect planeswalker for a deck such as this.
Enough gushing about Elspeth now. What’s next is just as juicy. March of the Multitudes and Aura Mutation are cards of a rare breed. Instant speed, mass token producing spells commonly come few and far between. The effect that these types of spells can have a game are potential game-ending. The sorcery side of tokens producing holds its own just as well. All three of the big token spells I’ve chosen have one thing in common, they’re X spells. Decree of Justice is a modal card that can serve as a tool for the endgame with 4/4 angels or can be cycled earlier in a game to produce a sizable force of 1/1 Soldiers at a moments notice. Finale of Glory is a different horse of the same color, only now the difference in what tokens are produced is a result of the mana you put into the spell. Finally, we have Martial Coup; which follows the same theme of “pay more mana, get more” as the previous two sorceries. This time it's in the form of a board wipe tacked onto a token making spell.
The last section of making something from almost nothing, is a couple of the enchantments in the deck that are vital ways to make out disposable creatures. Awakening Zone, Felidar Retreat and the ubiquitous Smothering Tithe. Awakening Zone is the most self-explanatory of the three; just read the card, “At the beginning of your upkeep, you may put a 0/1 colorless Eldrazi Spawn creature token onto the battlefield. It has "Sacrifice this creature: Add (C) to your mana pool." (C meaning colorless mana). Felidar Retreat and Smothering Tithe are additions to Commander that are so recent that most players already know what they do and how they do it. Smothering Tithe has become the go-to, must-include staple for any white Commander deck, enough said. Felidar Retreat allows you to choose between two different effects through it’s Landfall trigger, you either get a 2/2 Cat token or can put a +1/+1 counter on each creature you control while providing vigilance until the end of the turn. Retreat allows you to pivot from going wide and building an army to beefing up said army. This is possibly the most important token producing enchantment in the deck.
One thing is for certain when it comes to token based decks or creature centric decks in general, creatures are gonna die. Capitalizing on the death or sacrifice of creatures is something that most Magic players are all too familiar with. Requiem Angel from Dark Ascension “recycles” your tokens for you, as long as they’re non-spirit tokens that is. Turning a number of tokens on the ground into flying Spirit tokens sounds like a plan to victory. Bastion of Remembrance and Zulaport Cutthroat are from a class of cards referred to as aristocrat effects. Meaning simply that it drains opponents for typically one life per creature when creatures die. My personal favorite is Core 2020’s Moldervine Reclamation. This enchantment draws a card and gains life when creatures die, that’s not something that is in abundance in Magic.
I want to end part one of this pet project with discussing two additions to my creation from a category of cards that go unnoticed. I’m speaking of Lands. They are an essential part to any Magic deck from every format, we sometimes take them for granted. When it comes to tokens though, standard all star Castle Ardenvale and banned-everywhere Field of the Dead; this mana base has some heaters hidden in it. The Castles from Throne of Eldraine have all proven themselves powerful even in the worst of scenarios. Field of the Dead has dominated multiple formats since it arrived with Core 2020 and proven itself a roleplayer in Modern and Pioneer, which is no small feat. Field gets even better when you consider the ramp spells that are in the deck as well. As Monty Python said, “Bring out your dead!”
As you may have noticed, this is only part one of this douse of token-y goodness. I’ll be back next week with deck updates, tips and tricks and cards that I think may be additions from Kaldheim. Previews for Kaldheim start on January 7th and it can’t get here fast enough. Good luck, I hope you lose!