I feel as though I am fully immersed in Commander. The love for the format is still in its infancy and grows with each build that I imagine constructing. I have a deep love for all things Izzet and I am a blue and red mage through and through, but I have a pet deck that is far from that color combination.
Last week I introduced you to my brewed-up from the floor up creation helmed by Ikra Sidiqi, the Usurper and Prava of the Steel Legion. I've been affectionately referring to this deck as “Big Booty Tokens”. Any labor of love is going to be a process, hence the labor part; building a Commander from scratch is no different. Commander decks are also a constantly evolving thing when being built. I don’t know how many times someone has mentioned a card that would be good in one of my decks and I just forgot said card existed, or something to that effect; more on that later. Throughout my games with the deck it has felt good, but not great. There is still room for it to evolve.
The most glaring issue that the deck faces is the lack of diversified removal in the original build. That is where we will begin. Originally I was leaning hard on cards such as Assassin’s Trophy and Swords to Plowshares; those are great, but I feel I need more. In light of this I have made the following changes.
Beast Within and Generous Gift are color shifted versions of the same card. Both of these spells allow you to remove any problematic permanent at the cost of giving the controller of said permanent a 3/3 token, whether it be a Beast or Elephant. That’s pretty good for a token strategy. These removal spells create tokens, so if need be, you can use them on your own permanents to get more tokens on the board. Board wipes are generally bad for token decks and creature decks alike. The card Hour of Reckoning changes that, but with a hefty mana cost of seven total mana (4 generic mana and 3 white mana). Wait there’s more! “Destroy all nontoken creatures,” that is possibly the most perfect sentence to read when building a token strategy. This spell also has Convoke, meaning that when we do go wide with tokens the spell will be made cheaper to cast by tapping untapped creatures to pay for part of the cost through Convoke. So not only do I now have a sweeper in my deck to serve as a pressure valve on the board state, that sweeper also doesn’t kill my tokens. What more could you ask for?
In the past few years, we have seen green become the second best (and in some ways the best) color at drawing cards. That being said, the Abzan wedge should have some powerful means of card advantage, my initial list was lacking in that department. The outliers to this are Abzan Charm and Shamanic Revelation, neither of which are a repeatable source. Idol of Oblivion will remain in the deck as a redundant source of card advantage.
Ohran Frostfang pulls double duty for this deck. First of all, “whenever a creature you control deals combat damage to a player, draw a card,” and this deck makes a lot of creatures. Meaning you will regularly get to draw two to three extra cards a turn. This deck does win through combat most of the time, so you don’t want to just cash in all of your creatures in unfavorable combat to try to draw cards. That’s where this snake rears its head again. The first line of text on Ohran Frostfang is, “attacking creatures you control have deathtouch.” This ensures that any attacking that you do with your creatures will, at worst, result in a trade.
Another issue that arose during my testing with the deck is achieving victory in a timely manner and by extension getting damage through in combat.
I’ve attempted to fill in these cracks in my deck's defense. Firstly, with two different token based approaches in Emeria Angel and Scute Swarm. Emeria Angel probable should’ve been in this deck already, but I digress. The key point with the Angel is that it produces flying tokens; a solution for when the board gets bogged down. Scute Swarm is again a card that should’ve been in the deck to begin with. The swarm from Zendikar goes very wide, very fast. Meaning that your opponents may not be able to keep up with the token generation and you can attack around the creatures they may have.
Secondly, I’ve added cards that provide the deck some amount of “reach” to finish off opponents through life loss or damage. These cards are the vampire duo of Cruel Celebrant and Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose. Celebrant is a card that should be familiar to anyone who has played Standard or Historic over the past year and change. The tokens this deck makes are going to die in a variety of ways, and with Cruel Celebrant that will drain each opponent for each death. Vito is a very powerful addition to the deck considering the amount of life that this deck gains throughout the game. I have regularly ended games with a life total well above one hundred. Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose also provides a way for our army of tokens to gain Lifelink in case the stars don’t align for the deck’s general form of lifegain. Vito’s mana cost is also significantly cheaper than the card I was running in its place, Defiant Bloodlord.
Thirdly, I’ve added the enchantment Behind the Scenes. The enchantment provides all of your creatures with Skulk, a mechanic from Shadows Over Innistrad that means they can’t be blocked by creatures with a higher power. The enchantment also has a built-in mana sink that can pump your creatures for +1/+1 per activation. The really cool part of this mechanic in this deck, is the interaction between Skulk and the effects of Assault Formation and like. Skull still cares about the power of your creatures when you attack and check for blockers, but our creatures are dealing damage based on their toughness. Now just think about how much damage will pile up when you add Prava of the Steel Legion to the mix.
A couple odds and ends that I’ve added to this version are Grave Titan, Ashnod’s Altar and Castle Ardenvale. I feel these additions are fairly self explanatory. Recurring tokens production, bursts of mana from sacrificing tokens and an additional land that can make tokens. I’ve also made a couple updates to the land base, mainly replacing some lands with better versions and adding the on-color fetchlands.
Out: Defiant Bloodlord, Regna, the Redeemer; Requiem Angel, Elenda, the Dusk Rose; Swiftfoot Boots, Abzan Charm, Soul Warden, Vizkopa Guildmage, Harrow, Reach of Branches, Austere Command, Decree of Justice, Nomads’ Assembly, Rootborn Defense, Blighted Woodland, Orzhov Basilica, Selesnya Sanctuary, Plains, Terramorphic Expanse
Allow me to start off by saying that I am confident in all of the cuts I have made, say for one; Rootborn Defense. This is a very powerful effect in general and even more backbreaking for opponents in this deck. Currently it is at the top of my list of cards that may be added to the deck.
Now onto the rest of the cuts. The majority of these cards are cut for one of three reasons, mana cost, efficiency or flexibility. Defiant Bloodlord, Requiem Angel and Regina, the Redeemer all fall under the issue of mana cost; all three of them are costly considering the effects that the cards provide. Austere Command and Reach of Branches fall into this category for the most part. These two also have a small issue with efficiency. Austere Command does provide tons of flexibility, but there are cheaper options for any of these effects. Reach of Branches is inefficient, plain and simple. While it is a cool and unique card, in the end, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze.
Abzan Charm, Soul Warden and Vizkopa Guildmage and firmly in the category of cards cuts for efficiency sake. If these are effects that I feel the deck still wants access to, I have already added what I feel are better cards. Soul Warden just isn’t needed with the amount of life that this deck gains incidentally. I’ll also add Decree of Justice, Nomads’ Assembly and Harrow to this group as well. While they are not necessarily inefficient, they down result in the deck having too much of a good thing; mass token production. Which I would consider inefficient in and of itself.
Lastly, Elenda the Dusk Rose just doesn’t provide the bang for your buck if you aren’t attempting to combo with her. Elenda is a very powerful creature, but again I don’t feel it’s worth a slot. The five lands that I cut were replaced by the on-color fetches (Marsh Flats, Verdant Catacombs, Windswept Heath) and the two on-color Commander Legends lands, Undergrowth Stadium and Vault of Champions.
I have a couple cards in mind that I plan on trying out in the coming week, if I’m able to get a game together that is. One of them is Aetherflux Reservoir and with the amount of life that I’ve accumulated in my games, it may be a perfect fit. I’m also considering Mirari’s Wake, Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa, Angel of Destiny and Vindicate. All of these cards have merit for consideration in this deck and I will report back at a later date with more updates.
This deck has become a labor of love for me, and I will continue to tune it to we’re I want it to be. Kaldheim is right around the corner, so who knows what new toys I may get. I’ve really enjoyed building this deck from the ground up and it has reinvigorated my love of deck building. You can count on there being more original Commander decks from me.
Good luck, I hope you lose!