Bands With Awesome: a Commander Blog will be going on a short hiatus while I close on a house, get moved into it, and destress from all of the above.
We’ll be back on September 23rd!
Bands With Awesome: a Commander Blog will be going on a short hiatus while I close on a house, get moved into it, and destress from all of the above.
We’ll be back on September 23rd!
Just about everyone who’s writing about Commander at some point does something akin to the “Top 10 Generals” list. You’ll find the same names popping up on pretty much all these lists, with little deviation – Sharuum the Hegemon, Kaalia of the Vast, Animar, Soul of Elements, Jhoira of the Ghitu, Uril, the Miststalker, Rafiq of the Many, Zur the Enchanter, and Gaddock Teeg are names you’ll see over and over.
I’m not going to do one of these lists, because honestly? I can’t imagine anything I have to say on the subject can possibly add positively to the discourse. What I am going to do this week, however, is run down 25 generals that I believe have slipped under the radar.
What are the criteria by which I selected these 25? Well, simply put, personal taste. The sample of legendary creatures are those that have worthwhile abilities or characteristics, that have either been overshadowed by other generals, or just plain under-utilized. You won’t find the likes of Jedit Ojanen on this list, as awesome as his card art is. What you will find are legendary creatures who have little reason not to be run as general, but for various reasons aren’t. These are generals who, if you search a database, you will only find a couple of decklists for, as opposed to the dozens you will find for more popular dudes like Rhys the Redeemed.
So, without further ado, here’s 25 under-rated generals!
Thelon of Havenwood: The poor Green-Black Thelon has been mostly overshadowed by Ghave, Guru of Spores, who does his job better in most ways. What Thelon does have going for him over Ghave is a cheaper casting cost, and a much smaller target painted on his back. If you want to go straight Thallid/Fungus Tribal, then he’s probably your guy. Thelon lends himself well to a Tokens strategy, from where you can either go Swarm Aggro, Control, or Combo.
Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs: Kazuul is mainly a victim of his color; Mono-red is not terribly popular in the format. His ability is fairly unusual – Red doesn’t generally carry much in the way of taxing effects. I like the potential to use him in a “scratch my back” style of politics. You let an opponent hit you with a creature that doesn’t do much damage, but lets him draw a card or something, and you get an ogre token for it. He’s got other possibilities though – like Ogre Tribal, or some insane Pillow Fort deck that wants to punish those who attack you through red’s chaos effects.
Melira, Sylvok Outcast: I would venture a guess as to why she’s not as popular in Commander as she is in Modern: her color identity limits her combo potential. Sure, you can’t sacrifice a Kitchen Finks infinite times with her as your general, but just think of the possibilities she possesses when paired with Cauldron of Souls! Certainly there has to be a deck possible that uses her to abuse cards like Woodfall Primus, Phyrexian Hydra, Aboroth and Essence Warden.
Lady Evangela: It must be the $20+ price tag that is scaring players off, because Lady Evangela is a strong general. She’s cheap to cast, gives access to three colors, and her ability fogs a single creature. She’s the best Pillow Fort general in Esper colors, and a strong contender in the field of Political and Control archetypes. It’s hard to believe she isn’t played more, though to be fair she shares the same colors as Sharuum the Hegemon, Zur the Enchanter, Sen Triplets, and Merieke Ri Berit, so that probably has something to do with it.
Michiko Konda, Truth Seeker: There is a type of card in Magic called a “Rattlesnake.” Rattlesnakes are those spells you want played in full view of your opponents in order to deter them from doing something, usually attacking you. Michiko Konda’s fangs are clear as day – you attack me, you sacrifice a permanent (on top of what I’m going to do to you that you DON’T see). Nonetheless, despite her clear usefulness, she hasn’t seen much action as general compared to other mono-white legends like Darien, King of Kjeldor and Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero.
Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch: It could be because she just came out in Dragon’s Maze, but it appears that the Commander brewmasters of the world have very little interest in the Rakdos champion. You would think that with the number of creatures available that come into play with counters on them (via Unleash, Devour, Undying, and various other means) that there would be some crazy aggro decks out there with her at the helm.
Ascendant Evincar: This guy would make an excellent Mono-Black control general. It’s like having a Night of Soul’s Betrayal in your Command Zone. For “mono black general,” he’s competing primarily with Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed, Maga, Traitor to Mortals, and to a lesser degree, Kagemaro, First to Suffer. All have their merits, but I like Ascendant Evincar if my primary win condition is creature-based.
Thromok the Insatiable: This guy was seriously hyped when he came out in Planechase 2012. Devour X? That had never been done before, and if you sacrifice 5 creatures on the way in, your general is a 25/25! As awesome as this sounds, unfortunately, Thromok runs up against some harsh realities in Commander – he has no other abilities. No trample or evasion, so his “instant-kill through general damage” is stopped by a 1/1 Saproling token. Nonetheless, I can’t help but envision a Doubling Season-powered nightmare deck full of hydras and tokens, with creatures capable of possessing +1/+1 counters in the triple digits.
Adamaro, First to Desire: Adamaro is another victim of being mono-red, but for three mana, he possesses a potentially amazing power-to-cost ratio, making him a strong Voltron general. In a format where the prevalent wisdom is “no matter what, run Reliquary Tower,” certainly SOMEONE at the table has a hand full of cards. Admittedly, red’s options for putting cards in their opponents’ hands is limited, but there’s a good amount of equipment support available – so he’s got solid support for the Voltron plan.
Halfdane: Halfdane is another “forgotten brother” in the family of Awesome Esper Generals. Running Halfdane as your general means that when it gets to your turn, you will at the very least be tied for the biggest creature on the board. This means he can support a variety of strategies – but if you’re wanting a thievery deck in Esper colors, then he should be at the top of the list.
Patron of the Kitsune: Mono-white is not exactly short of options for a Lifegain general. You’ve got Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendant, Atalya, Samite Master, Gerrard Capashen, and Kiyomaro, First to Stand to name a few. What Patron of the Kitsune offers is a reactive lifegain plan – allowing you to pursue something more akin to mono white control than “racing to eighty hojillion life for the win.”
Tsabo Tavoc: He’s the Magic: the Gathering equivalent of Deathstroke the Terminator – he’s a general who specializes in killing other generals. He’s not very popular primarily because single-target destruction is not valued highly in the format. However, even having Tsabo in the Command Zone slows down the game – players don’t cast their generals until they have means of protecting them. This makes him valuable as a Control general.
Ayumi, the Last Visitor: Historically, Legendary Landwalk has not been considered a good ability, because legendary lands are few and far between. However, with the changes in the Legendary rules with Magic 2014, Legendary Lands are becoming more popular, and Ayumi’s evasion ability is becoming more relevant. Even though she has 7 power for 5 mana, she is still overshadowed as a Voltron general by the mono-white Kemba, Kha Regent. So she’s never going to be top-tier – but she is a very playable general if you want something a little different.
Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius: The Return to Ravnica version of the Izzet guild leader is generally considered weaker than its Guildpact version, Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind. Since you can run both versions in the same deck (and even have both in play at the same time), the Dracogenius usually loses the General slot to the Firemind. That being said, if you’re wanting to focus more on the burn aspect of a Blue-Red deck than the draw aspect, the Dracogenius is probably the better general.
Masako the Humorless: I have a particular fondness for generals who “change the rules of the game,” and doubly so for those with Flash. Mono-white aggro is an archetype that has been largely unexplored in the Commander world, and I can think of no general better to experiment with than Masako. She allows you to attack all-out in the mid-game without regard for your own safety, then flash in whenever you’re under attack so you can still defend yourself. That, to me, seems solid.
Rubinia Soulsinger: Bant is a strange color combination where Commander is concerned. Each Bant general lends itself almost exclusively to one particular archetype.Phelddagrif is the quintessential Group Hug commander. Jenara, Asura of War and Rafiq of the Many are pretty much exclusively Voltron generals. Angus Mackenzie is a Pillow Fort guy. Rubinia has the distinction of being Bant’s Thievery general, but white and green are not popular thievery colors. This tells me that players who are used to mono-blue and blue-black thievery decks won’t be prepared to fight against a Bant thievery deck.
Kuon, Ogre Ascendant: Kuon often finds himself listed amongst the 99 cards of a Sacrifice Control deck, but rarely as the general. He’s usually overshadowed by Sheoldred, Whispering One and Anowan, the Ruin Sage. What I like about Kuon is his casting cost – he comes into play faster and gets the sacrifice engine going as quickly as turn 3 (barring some Dark Ritual shenangians) if you’ve done proper setup.
Mishra, Artificer Prodigy: At first glance, it’s pretty obvious why Mishra isn’t popular in a singleton format. This is because people aren’t using him creatively. When tweaked for Commander, his ability might as well read, “whenever you cast an artifact spell, you may shuffle your library.” If you can’t make use of that, you’re not even trying (or at the very least don’t own a Sensei’s Divining Top.) Consider also creatures like Thada Adel, Acquisitor. “Oh, you have a Sol Ring in your library? Awesome, I’m gonna cast it. Then I’m going to grab my own out of my library and put it into play.” Look past the obvious, and Mishra can become amazing.
Iname, Life Aspect: I would guess that Iname, Life Aspect’s low popularity is at least in small part due to players not understanding how his ability interacts with the Commander replacement effects. The good news is Iname’s ability only cares that you sent him to the Exile zone – not that he got there. So, it hits the graveyard. You choose to exile it, but it goes to the Command Zone instead. Nonetheless, you still get to put any number of Spirits from your graveyard into your hand. I’m sure there’s more than enough green Spirits to make this worthwhile.
Boris Devilboon: Even I have to admit this card looks pretty weak. However, it also looks pretty fun to me. Some crazy brewer out there has to be able to do SOMETHING with a guy who produces Demon tokens. He wouldn’t be a bad general for a Demon tribal deck either, giving access to the Rakdos demons that mono-black can’t cast.
Joven: You see the place in the background of his art? “Snarg’s House of Sin.” That’s the kind of art theme that just begs a deck to be built around it. Or, if you’re more interested in function than form, Joven is repeatable artifact destruction, in a format with plenty of non-creature artifacts. You can even play around with Liquimetal Coating to make him able to destroy any non-creature permanent. While he lacks the punch of larger creatures from better sets than Homelands, there seems like a great deal of untapped potential here.
Borborygmos: Red-Green has a problem in the Commander format, and that problem is Jund. Pretty much anything you can do with Red-Green, you can do better by adding black. The Gruul guild leader is no exception to this unfortunate rule, and a 6/7 trampler for 7 is not exactly special in this format. Sure, he makes your creatures bigger whenever he connects with an opponents’ face, but this is a format where sweepers are popular. All is not lost though… think of him as a late-game puncher for Red-Green Aggro. Or perhaps paired with some Hydras?
Skyfire Kirin: Red has a strange all-but exclusive mechanic, the ability to steal opponent’s creatures until end of turn. It’s become so ingrained in the color that spells likeTraitorous Blood, Traitorous Instinct and Act of Treason are being printed at common. It’s the mechanic that was attached to red’s portion of the Primordial (Molten Primordial) cycle. Molten Primordial is considered the weakest of the cycle, and the entire “Treason” mechanic is not well-valued in any format, Commander included. I think, however, that Skyfire Kirin could make use of the mechanic properly as general, because it’s cheap to cast, and you can reliably make use of it through spirit and arcane spells. I think it’s worth brewing up.
Sliver Legion: You won’t find nearly as many Sliver Legion decks on the ‘net as you will decks featuring the other two legendary slivers. This is a shame, because Sliver Legion is potentially one of the most explosive aggro generals in the game. It’s probably the cost of an efficient five-color manabase more than anything that scares people away from building a Legion deck. That, or not wanting to play aggro in a multiplayer format.
Kaysa: Believe me, I totally get that mono green has no shortage of solid legendary creatures to fill the general slot. As an elf, she’s outclassed by the likes of Ezuri, Renegade Leader, and as a druid, she stands in the shadow of Seton, Krosan Protector. As a “green lord,” she’s in competition with Baru, Fist of Krosa. Nonetheless, she’s so versatile that I can’t believe she’s not played more. It’s a rare green deck that can’t use a Gaea’s Anthem out of the Command Zone.
1 Ajani Goldmane
1 Ajani Vengeant
1 Ajani, Caller of the Pride
1 Chandra Nalaar
1 Chandra, the Firebrand
1 Elspeth Tirel
1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
1 Garruk, Primal Hunter
1 Jace, Architect of Thought
1 Jace, Memory Adept
1 Liliana of the Veil
1 Liliana Vess
1 Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
1 Ral Zarek
1 Sarkhan Vol
1 Sorin Markov
1 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
1 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
1 Venser, the Sojourner
1 Vraska the Unseen
From the journal entries of an unknown nethermancer…
“Day one: I have landed upon a very strange plane, unlike any I have ever seen. Magic warps the land in indiscernible ways. There are no settlements within sight in any direction, and no signs of life anywhere. I dread that I have discovered a new, terribly dull plane and will take my leave before the fortnight.
Day two: ULTIMATE POWER!!! I am uncertain the exact means, but I am able to call upon the void in ways only the most epic of nethermancers have touched! Today, I bested an impossible hydra, sporting one hundred twenty-two heads – a terror unfathomable, and vanquished effortlessly with my new, sudden power. I may never leave this plane.
Day three: I must leave this plane as soon as possible. I, who gaze into the abyss twice before breakfast daily, have not been so horrified since completing my basic nethermancy studies. I have realized today that I am not alone upon this plane. There are others. Other planeswalkers – and I must assume this plane gives them the same incalculable power that I possess. I have always known that I am never alone, but today? Today, I properly fear that knowledge.
This is a concept deck, one I never put together myself for two reasons: one, it was cost-prohibitive. Two, the deck is based around a single card, and though it has the ability to retrieve, play, and protect that card consistently, that’s just not my personal style.
A QUICK DECKBUILDING NOTE
This is, quite obviously, not a budget deck. In fact, the TCGPLayer.com optimizer settings I use to calculate the cost of my budget decks puts this one at $437.17. And yet, you’ll note that there aren’t any single cards jacking up that price to an insane degree. No Imperial Seal, Grim Tutor or Revised dual lands.
I’m not going to set any hard rules regarding the decks I brew up on this blog. You won’t see me say, “Absolutely no card over $50.” However, I don’t want to include single cards in my decks that are that expensive unless they’re a crucial part of a theme or engine. No mana-generating land is ever that crucial, so you won’t see me using Revised duals ever, unless I need something like a Plateau in a deck that cares how many Mountains I have.
If, however, you like one of my decks and want to build it yourself, and have those expensive cards? Run them! If you’ve got a full set of Revised Duals, Zendikar/Onslaught fetchlands, and all ten shocklands, go ahead and run that perfect mana base! I’m not going to be offended, I promise.
HOW DOES THIS DECK WORK?
Simply put, this is a Doubling Season deck.
We want to tutor it up as quickly as possible, cast it, and protect it. Why do we want to do this? Well, because with Doubling Season in play we can do some utterly ridiculous things. What kinds of things, you ask?
Well, for example, we have 18 planeswalkers in this deck that can use their ultimate ability the turn they come into play as long as Doubling Season is in play. That means for four mana, Elspeth, Knight-Errant gives you an emblem making all your lands, creatures, artifacts, and enchantments (like Doubling Season) Indestructible. For four mana Ral Zerek lets you take anywhere between zero to five extra turns, depending on how good your luck is. This is only two of the eighteen insane effects you can cause from our planeswalker army.
Okay, so that’s planeswalkers. Let’s talk hydras now, and use one of my favorites, Primordial Hydra, as an example. With Doubling Season in play, you cast Primey with X=5. He comes into play with 10 +1/+1 counters. During your next upkeep, he becomes a 30/30 trampler. Next upkeep? 90/90. The upkeep after that? 270/270? After that? 810/810. He just keeps growing!
Of course, there are more subtle methods of Doubling Season debauchery. Say you cast Orochi Hatchery with X=5. It comes into play with 10 counters, and every time you activate its ability, you get twenty 1/1 snake tokens.
Saproling Burst comes into play with 14 fade counters. Remove a fade counter, and you’ve got two 13/13 saprolings. Remove another, and you’ve got four 12/12 saprolings. Remove yet one more, and you’ve got six 11/11 saprolings! So on, and so forth.
PROTECTING DOUBLING SEASON
Well, first thing’s first – you have to not die. This deck doesn’t run much in the way of creatures or tax effects, so your face is rather vulnerable. So, the deck packs seven sweepers and Storage Matrix for this purpose.
Once Doubling Season is in play, we really want it to have Shroud and/or Indestructible. Sterling Grove, Greater Auramancy, Privileged Position, Elspeth, Knight-Errant, and Avacyn, Angel of Hope will do that for us.
If there’s a chance of Doubling Season getting countered, then it’s time to tutor up Negate and/or Dispel. If your meta is particularly counter-heavy, then you may need to pull a couple sweepers for more counterspells, and adjust your mana base accordingly.
Well, that’s it for this week’s concept deck! Stay tuned for more decklists in the future!
The token archetype has representative decks in every format in Magic, and Commander is no exception. As should be obvious, the aim of the deck is to make token creatures, and then utilize them in some way to win the game. Built properly, a token deck is capable of high power levels, excellent consistency, and multiple win conditions.
Unlike other formats, token decks in Commander tend to go all-in on the token theme. While spells like Lingering Souls are excellent for 2-player formats, the higher starting life totals and much higher power level of creatures in the Commander format makes individual token creatures much less valuable. In Commander, the value of tokens is in their consistency and synergy.
ADVANTAGES OF THE ARCHETYPE
1. The Tokens archetype is extremely versatile. It is capable of more than a dozen win conditions, and token decks can easily support multiple win conditions in the same deck. I will discuss what all one can do with tokens in a later section.
There are also numerous tribal options for a token deck. Just a couple token-friendly tribes are Saprolings, Zombies, Goblins, Rats, Soldiers, Slivers, Cats, Birds, Elves, Insects, Snakes, Spirits, and creatures with the Devour mechanic. I will include a tribal token deck at the end of this article.
2. Token decks have options in all five colors. Green is usually considered the be best color for token decks simply because it has Doubling Season and Parallel Lives, which are extremely powerful cards in the format. However, all five colors have token generators and token support. This article details such generators and support cards better than I could ever hope to. Suffice it to say, they are numerous.
3. Tokens can be a budget-friendly archetype. Don’t count on it, however. I will go over the most expensive pieces of token decks, but none of those are absolutely critical to the deck’s function. One can still build a very powerful token deck on a more limited budget. For example, with $35 and Krenko, Mob Boss, you could easily build yourself a goblin swarm deck that your opponents at the table will quickly learn to fear.
4. Tokens is a self-contained theme. People are going to remember all those tokens you generated, and they’re going to remember doing math and watching numerous copies of a token creature hit the table. You’re not fighting your opponents with cards in your hand – you’re fighting them with permanents that come from nowhere.
5. This archetype is less susceptible to sweepers than other archetypes. If all your creatures die, you will be able to rebuild your army much easier through token generators than your opponents who will have to get cards out of their deck to recast.
DISADVANTAGES OF THE ARCHETYPE
1. Tokens have a converted mana cost of zero. This may not seem like a big deal, and most of the time it isn’t… but when it becomes an issue it really sucks. A single Ratchet Bomb, Powder Keg or Engineered Explosives in a Sharuum the Hegemon deck can shut your entire engine down. Hosers and Sweepers like Consume the Meek, Crime // Punishment, Culling Sun, Deepfire Elemental, Droning Bureaucrats, Forced March, Gaze of Granite, Lavinia of the Tenth, Pernicious Deed, Plaguebearer, Sever the Bloodline,Steel Hellkite, and Void all become one-sided against you. It is true that most of these spells are not played by default in Commander decks. However, if you show up to your playgroup with a Tokens deck consistently, expect to start seeing a couple of them.
2. Most tokens have low power and toughness. In fact, most tokens are 1/1 creatures. Now this generally isn’t a huge problem, since Token decks don’t need their tokens to be anything else. However, this means that you are singularly vulnerable to spells like Night of Soul’s Betrayal, Curse of Death’s Hold, Slagstorm, and Whipflare. It also means that you will either lose a bunch of life, or a bunch of tokens when faced with a particularly large creature with Trample.
3. The budget of a Tokens deck can get out of hand. Though this can be a budget-friendly archetype, the most bleeding-edge tokens technology can get very expensive. Some of the most powerful token decks run Gaea’s Cradle, which currently sits around $120. Earthcraft will set you back about $18. If you’re running green, you pretty much have to run Doubling Season, which is currently running around $14, a price which was thankfully cut from $25-35 thanks to its reprinting in Modern Masters. These are just three examples, but there are others.
4. Token decks come with a target painted upon their backs. Because tokens are capable of supporting so many different win conditions, your opponents have to assume that you are employing the nastiest amongst them and prepare accordingly. If you drop anything that looks like a combo piece, expect it to get destroyed. If you cast Doubling Season, it will be countered if an opponent can counter it. If you can generate tokens consistently, expect the table to ally against you, to “take you out before you get out of control.”
WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH TOKENS?
This is the part of the article where I explain the numerous win conditions the archetype can support. Well, there’s a great many things one can do with tokens, so here’s a non-exhaustive list of them:
You can swarm with them! If you can generate a hundred 1/1 Saproling tokens, you can pretty much just run over any opponent you want with them. The chances of them having enough blockers to stop enough of them is rather small.
You can sacrifice them for mana! Using cards like Ashnod’s Altar can generate absurd amounts of mana if you have enough creatures to sacrifice. What you do with that mana is up to you.
You can use them for control! Your opponents will not be happy to sacrifice their Shivan Dragon because you sacrificed one of your 1/1 Rat tokens with Grave Pact in play. But you know what? A dead dragon is one that can’t eat your face. If sacrifice control isn’t your thing, you can employ effects like Glare of Subdual to tap down an entire board.
You can devour them! Creatures with Devour love having tokens in play as they enter the battlefield. All it takes is five Goblin tokens to make Thromok the Insatiable into a 25/25 creature.
You can enhance them! Even just six 1/1 Snake tokens are a scary sight when Overrun gets cast. A Coat of Arms turns those six 1/1 Snakes into six 6/6 snakes.Beastmaster Ascension turns your weenie army into a shocktrooper horde.
You can combo with them! All you need to make Infinite Squirrels is Earthcraft and Squirrel Nest. Ghave, Guru of Spores gets ridiculous with Doubling Season, and goes infinite when you add Ashnod’s Altar. There are countless other combos you can utilize.
You can populate them! Using the Populate mechanic (like that found on Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage) allows you to make a copy of a token you control. This is more useful if your deck can create large creature tokens, like that from Slime Molding, Grove of the Guardian, or even the tokens created by Riku of Two Reflections.
You can gain life from them! Token decks have the capacity to gain a great deal of life, either by effects that gain you life when creatures enter the battlefield, like Soul Warden or Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice, or those that count the number of creatures like Congregate.
You can seek alternate win conditions! It’s not difficult to meet the conditions of cards like Epic Struggle if you can make a bunch of creatures at will. Likewise, you can easily gain the life required for Felidar Sovereign, Test of Endurance or Celestial Convergence. Or, you could generate the mana to charge up a Helix Pinnacle. Just a couple examples.
As I said, this is not an exhaustive list, and there’s many more things you can do (like use 1/1 tokens to draw a bunch of cards off Skullclamp).
CHOOSING A TOKENS GENERAL
You usually want your general to either be a token producer itself, or facilitate the use of them through one of the means listed in the previous section. Once again, this article lists all the possible token generals better than I ever could, but I’ll give a quick rundown of some generals I think are amongst the cream of the crop.
Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice: There’s a great deal to like about her. She’s only four mana, in two very desirable colors. She populates at will, and gains you life when creatures come into play, making her both generator and facilitator. She’s perfect for a Selesnya-themed deck, or one centered around the Populate mechanic. She has very little downside.
Rhys the Redeemed: In the same desirable colors as Trostani, Rhys is capable of some ridiculously-high token generation. His low casting cost means you can probably afford him any time you need him, and his second ability literally doubles your token army. His first ability generates elf tokens, so you can make use of awesome tribal elf cards like Priest of Titania, Elvish Archdruid, and Heritage Druid, amongst many others.
Krenko, Mob Boss: She is the general I see underestimated the most. Despite being mono-red, she is capable of generating an insane number of goblin tokens. She goes infinite with Ashnod’s Altar and Thornbite Staff. And when she’s not creating tokens, she’s still nestled in the shell of a Goblin tribal deck.
Ghave, Guru of Spores: Ghave is known primarily as a combo general, despite that fact that he is one of the best token generators in the game. His three colors and ability to generate both tokens and +1/+1 counters turns the number of combos he facilitates into the triple-digits. It’s hard to get that kind of combo consistency. However, Ghave is a great token commander, able to spawn out swarms endlessly with the help of Doubling Season, Parallel Lives, and Corpsejack Menace. He’s also great for Saproling tribal, and can employ almost every win condition you can imagine with his token generation and color selection.
Odric, Master Tactician: This may seem a surprising selection for a token deck, given that Odric is not a token generator himself. However, his ability changes the rules of the game such that you become pretty much unblockable. His low casting cost facilitates token aggro, accompanied with white’s crusade effects, most notably Intangible Virtue. If you can get Odric out at the same time as Darien, King of Kjeldor then you can create some absolutely scary board states.
Tesya, Orzhov Scion: She is a very strong choice for a token deck with a heavy sacrifice control element. She is capable of generating spirit tokens and has an ability that serves as a sacrifice engine.
Thromok the Insatiable: As previously noted, all he has to do is devour five tokens when he comes into play, and he is strong enough to one-shot an opponent with general damage. He likes to ride with devouring creatures like Dragon Broodmother, Mycoloth, Preyseizer Dragon, and Skullmuncher.
A SAMPLE TOKEN DECK
(Bonus geek points if you get the reference in the title.)
A Thing About Rats
1 Marrow-Gnawer Lands: 38
1 Cabal Coffers
1 Crypt of Agadeem
1 Cavern of Souls
1 Hall of the Bandit Lord
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Leechridden Swamp
1 Ebon Stronghold
1 Barren Moor
1 Strip Mine
1 Tectonic Edge
1 Temple of the False God
1 Reliquary Tower
1 Liliana of the Dark Realms Artifacts: 11
1 Phyrexian Altar
1 Ashnod’s Altar
1 Caged Sun
1 Thousand-Year Elixir
1 Thornbite Staff
1 Rings of Brighthearth
1 Coat of Arms
1 Lightning Greaves
1 Strata Scythe
This deck is a Rat tribal deck that uses tokens as an engine to empower several different win conditions.
A few cards in the deck generate Rat tokens: Lab Rats, Plague of Vermin, Pack Rat, Ogre Slumlord, and most importantly the general, Marrow-Gnawer. This deck wants to make maximum use of its general, and as such employs five different tutor effects to get it out of the library once tucked.
This deck is, in many ways, the mono-black version of Krenko, Mob Boss swarm decks. We want to use our general’s ability as many times as we can to get an army of rats on our side of the table. We maximize its ability to make rats with Thousand-Year Elixir, Thornbite Staff, and Rings of Brighthearth.
Once we have a bunch of rats at our disposal, we have many options. We can just start swarming our opponents with them. We can feed them to a Phyrexian Altar or (the less-good) Ashnod’s Altar for mana to fuel a kill spell like Profane Command or Exsanguinate.
Or, we can turn around and play a bit of control, drawing cards off the power of Skullclamp, and cleaning up the board through judicious use of Grave Pact and Attrition. Rats are very good at hitting your opponents’ hands. I’ve included Gnat Miser, Locust Miser, Nezumi Shortfang, Okiba-Gang Shinobi, and Nezumi Bone-Reader to help move that process along.
If you want to go infinite, all you need is the general and Thornbite Staff. (And an initial rat to sacrifice.) Just don’t be a jerk about it.
If our token engine gets shut down, this is still a tribal rat deck. We’ve got rats, we’ve got Coat of Arms, and two pieces of equipment that reward us for being mono-black. It’s not hard to figure out.
1 Borborygmos Lands: 39
1 Gruul Turf
1 Gruul Guildgate
1 Contested Cliffs
1 Evolving Wilds
1 Terramorphic Expanse
1 Kazandu Refuge
1 Shivan Oasis
1 Fungal Reaches
1 Kessig Wolf Run
1 Skarrg, the Rage Pits
1 Vivid Crag
1 Vivid Grove
1 Llanowar Reborn
1 Gruul Ragebeast
1 Magus of the Arena
1 Ulvenwald Tracker
1 Advocate of the Beast
1 Beacon Behemoth
1 Bloodstoke Howler
1 Coalhauler Swine
1 Fangren Firstborn
1 Fangren Marauder
1 Feral Hydra
1 Garruk’s Packleader
1 Ghor-Clan Rampager
1 Gnarlid Pack
1 Indrik Stomphowler
1 Kalonian Behemoth
1 Keeper of the Beasts
1 Krosan Groundshaker
1 Krosan Warchief
1 Marauding Maulhorn
1 Mold Shambler
1 Protean Hulk
1 Rampaging Baloths
1 Ravenous Baloth
1 Skarrg Goliath
1 Spearbreaker Behemoth
1 Spellbreaker Behemoth
1 Terra Stomper
1 Totem Speaker
1 Valley Rannet
1 Zhur-Taa Ancient
WHAT SMASH CLUB SECOND RULE?!?
WHAT THIRD RULE?!?
Smash Club is a red-green deck that has a dash of several different archetypes. It is, at its core, a Beast Tribal deck with a heavy theme centered around the Fight mechanic. It sports a decent amount of ramp, making it able to hit hard and fast in the early and mid-game. There’s also a minor +1/+1 counters subtheme going on.
HOW DOES THIS DECK WORK?
The first thing you will notice is that the deck has almost as many creatures as lands. Thirty-five of them, to be precise, of which thirty are Beasts. The primary means of interaction in this deck is the Fight mechanic, found on several creatures and lands, as well as a few spells. It’s win condition is good old-fashioned Gruul-flavored Smack-in-the-Face.
The five that aren’t Beasts are support cards- Ulvenwald Tracker and Magus of the Arena facilitate Fighting. Advocate of the Beast gives a beast a +1/+1 counter during each of your end steps (and keeps Marauding Maulhorn from attacking a dragon or something). Keeper of the Beasts makes 2/2 Beast tokens. Totem Speaker gives you 3 life whenever a beast comes into play.
Several beasts in the deck give bonuses to beasts, or creatures with power 5 or greater (which most of your beats are, and all of them can get that powerful easily.) Krosan Warchief regenerates beasts. Ursapine gives a beast +1/+1 until end of turn for one green mana. Beacon Behemoth gives 5+ power creatures Vigilance. Spearbreaker Behemoth makes them Indestructible, and Spellbreaker Behemoth makes them uncounterable.
Within the 30 beasts are several utility creatures as well. Batterhorn doubles as artifact destruction. Indrik Stomphowler will destroy an artifact or enchantment. Mold Shambler destroys a noncreature permanent. Garruk’s Packleader lets you draw cards. Paleoloth lets you get creatures from your graveyard back into your hand.
The remainder of the beasts in the deck smash your opponents’ faces and fight their creatures. Especially Gruul Ragebeast.
For the twenty-five slots in the deck not devoted to creatures or lands…
Seven serve as tribal support: Door of Destines makes your beasts bigger. Aether Charge lets you do 4 damage to an opponent whenever a beast comes into play.Beastmaster Ascension, once on-line, gives all your creatures +5/+5. Descendants’ Path lets you cast a beast for free during your upkeep if it’s the top card of your library. Steely Resolve gives all your beasts Shroud. Fresh Meat lets us recover from a sweeper by replacing all the creatures we lost with 3/3 beast tokens. Vitality Charm has three modes, one of which lets us regenerate a beast.
The remainder have various effects. Glaring Spotlight lets you ignore Hexproof. Blessings of Nature puts a bunch of +1/+1 counters on a creature. Ancient Grudge destroys an artifact. Twice. Armed // Dangerous does what it does, which is awesome.
On the mana base, Contested Cliffs and Arena are yet more fight enablers. Llanowar Reborn gives another +1/+1 counter. Skarrg, the Rage Pits give a creature +1/+1 and Trample. Kessig Wolf Run lets you tap a whole bunch of mana to give a creature +X/+0 and Trample. All the rest produce mana. It’s not the fastest mana base, but it should be fast enough.
WHERE DOES THE DECK GO FROM HERE?
Utilizing my traditional TCGPlayer.com optimizer settings, the deck comes to a total of $30.27. While this is a respectable deck for that price, it can be much better with the infusion of some better cards.
Next, planeswalkers. We definitely want Domri Rade for his card draw and fight mechanics. Three Garruks look good. Garruk Wildspeaker generates Beast tokens and untap lands. Garruk, Caller of Beasts has three absolutely amazing abilities for the deck, and Garruk, Primal Hunter generates Beasts and draws cards.
Finally, some more beasts and beast support. Craterhoof Behemoth would be a monster in this deck, and Thragtusk is still a value king. Primeval Bounty would give us even more beasts, +1/+1 tokens, and some lifegain to boot. An Urza’s Incubator would be really nice too.
A FINAL NOTE
This will be the last budget deck I do for a while. I have enjoyed the ones I have posted, but one of the problems of evaluating a limited card pool (in this case, cards that provide excellent bang for your buck), the same cards will keep showing up over and over in different decks. I don’t want my decklists to get stale, so I’m going to take a break for a while while I brew and post decks that are a little less budget-friendly.
Definitely stay tuned!
While not exclusive to Commander, the Group Hug archetype is exclusive to multiplayer games. This archetype is political in nature – it gives gifts to the other players at the table in hopes of being the last player attacked, and then wins the game.
With a Group Hug deck at the table, players can expect the pace of the game to accelerate greatly – mana flows freely, card draw is plentiful, and many permanents will find their way onto the battlefield without ever touching the stack.
OBJECTIVES OF THE GROUP HUG DECK
Card Draw: You want everyone at the table drawing plenty of cards. Artifacts like Howling Mine make this possible for all colors, but blue and black excel at this. More cards drawn means more cards get played. Players like playing cards, so they’ll want you to stick around in the game so they can draw more of them.
Mana Acceleration: Green is the undisputed king of this, so most Group Hug decks will want some green in them. You can let players retrieve lands through effects like Collective Voyage and Oath of Lieges, double the production of existing lands through enchantments like Mana Flare and Heartbeat of Spring, or give them mana directly with spells like Eladimri’s Vineyard. Of course, all these effects help you just as much as everyone else, so that when your opponents have finished each other off, you’ll be in position to counterstrike.
Permanent Generation: This encompasses a large category of effects that can be summarized by “cheating things into play.” One way of achieving this is through spells like Dream Halls that allow players to cast spells without needing mana. Another method is through token creation, which can be achieved via Forbidden Orchard or any of the “hunted” creatures like Hunted Horror. Spells like Gate to the Aether, Oath of Druids, and Wild Evocation allow players to bring permanents in from their library. Finally, there’s the category of “hand dump” spells, like Tempting Wurm and Hypergenesis. Permanent generation is important for a group hug deck, because it keeps your allies in the game (or if you have no allies, makes the players who are a bit behind in the game happy that you’re there.)
Lifegain: Though not strictly necessary in a Group Hug deck, life gain keeps players in the game that would otherwise be knocked out -which creates some very appreciative allies. White is the champion of this category, with heavy hitters like Arbiter of Knollridge and Beacon of Immortality.
Recursion: Also optional, getting creatures and spells out of players’ graveyards and back into their hands (or battlefields) is another great way to make friends.Exhume is almost always welcome at the table, particularly after a Windfall or Wheel of Fortune. There are a cycle of creatures, the Advocate cycle, that give you powerful effects at the “cost” of returning cards from your opponents’ graveyards to their hands. One such example is Spurnmage Advocate that lets you destroy a target attacking creature at the cost of returning two cards from an opponents’ library to their hand. In a group hug deck, that is 100% upside.
Protection: At some point it the game, players may start to decide that they have achieved all the benefits they want from your presence, and would like to take you out of the game before you can give the rest of the table your blessings. This is why you can’t just rely on politics to keep you in the game until the final two – you must be prepared to defend yourself. The ways to accomplish this are too numerous to list, but spells like Swans of Bryn Argoll that allow you to defend yourself while still hugging the players at the table are great. You can also make other players more enticing to attack through tax spells like Ghostly Prison and Propaganda, or through incentives like Edric, Spymaster of Trest.
Win Condition: If all goes well, eventually you will have only one opponent, and will need to bring him/her down to win the game. There are numerous ways of accomplishing this. General damage is always an option. In group hug decks with heavy card draw, mill is possible. Combos are fairly reliable in this archetype. You can steal your final opponent’s creatures and kill him in one fell swoop with the likes of Insurrection. This is also an excellent chance to try your hand at alternate win conditions such as Celestial Convergence.
Of course, there are some psychopaths out there playing group hug decks with NO win conditions, just to watch the world burn. Admittedly, my own Phelddagrif deck didn’t have any stated win conditions for about five months (though I did manage to win three games with it anyway – twice through mill and once through general damage). I have added Laboratory Maniac in there now, but playing just to play, with no expectations to win? It’s actually kinda liberating.
ADVANTAGES OF THE ARCHETYPE
1. Group Hug decks are fun for the whole table. They enable players to play their decks in a different way than normal, because they are provided more resources to do so. The player of a group hug deck usually has the luxury of sitting back and watching a game unfold, without worrying so much about how he/she is gonna win it. In a format that is all about epic plays, group hug decks are like epic accelerators.
2. This archetype can greatly accelerate games. By giving all players at the table more mana, cards, and resources, the big plays that the Commander format is known for can happen faster. Players who get mana-screwed or forced into top deck mode aren’t put on the sidelines of the game when a group hug deck is around, because they will get lands down in front of them and cards in their hand. Stalemates are broken faster when players are drawing more cards (and getting more answers in their hands).
3. Group Hug decks can support almost any win condition. Because the primary engine of your deck is dedicated to being one of the last two players standing, you are not beholden to any particular general or win condition. You will benefit almost equally from all the mana acceleration and card draw you are providing the table, and should have your win condition situated in your hand when it’s time to win the game. (If you even seek to win the game at all.) Have a combo you want to play? Win through general damage? Cast some big, nasty creatures? You should have plenty of resources to make that happen.
4. This archetype is fairly budget-friendly. Because the cards that make up the core of group hug decks have little value in two-player games, they tend to carry low price tags. Those with some degree of use in other formats, like Howling Mine, have generally been printed multiple times, so the supply is high (and as such, the price is low.)
5. Group Hug decks have options in all five colors. Each color has options for each, if not all, of the objectives for the archetype listed previously. This gives you a wide range of options for deckbuilding and general selection.
DISADVANTAGES OF THE ARCHETYPE
1. Despite what you might think, Group Hug decks are NOT universally loved. Be forewarned that this archetype is somewhat controversial; many players just don’t find having one at their table fun. The accelerated pace of the game can render control decks useless, and make combo decks nigh unbeatable. They also tend to create a fair amount of chaos at the table, so it’s not a good idea to play it at a table with inexperienced players. If you have concerns that your deck will create a negative play experience at the table due to the previously-mentioned issues, always ask the table first – or at least let them know that you’re playing a Group Hug deck.
2. More so than any other archetype, Group Hug decks are at the mercy of the rest of the table. Unlike every other deck at the table, the Group Hug deck is not full of threats and answers. If even one player at the table concentrates his full effort against you, you will have a difficult time remaining in the game. As this is a political archetype, you must be comfortable playing the “above the table” game, or you will not enjoy this archetype at all.
3. This archetype cannot be your primary Commander deck. The group hug archetype will “get old” much faster than other deck types, both for its pilot and other players at the table. Its ability to create fun at the table increases as its frequency of play decreases. Attempts to keep a group hug deck at the table past its welcome will resolt in player revolt, meaning the table allies to take you out before you can warp the game too much. (Or, even worse, the players start a new game without your presence.) It is the chocolate fondant of the Commander buffet – play it only on occasion, or you will quickly grow sick of it.
CHOOSING A GROUP HUG GENERAL
All five colors have something to offer a Group Hug deck. Green is probably the strongest, offering the best mana acceleration, strong permanent generation and lifegain, and a bit of card draw. If you have green in your general’s color identity, you have pretty much all the tools you’ll need, and any other colors you pick simply strengthen your deck.
White gives you the best lifegain cards, and strong recursion in the Advocate cycle. Blue gives you incredible card draw and powerful enchantments that allow players to cast spells via alternate mana costs. Red has the closest thing to sweepers that you can safely play without making other players terribly angry – spells like Warp World and Thieves’ Auction. Red also has a tiny bit of mana acceleration and card draw, plus a fun little infusion of random effects. Black gives a degree of reanimation, recursion, and card draw (albeit Black’s group hug cards tend to come at the price of the player’s life total.)
Phelddagrif is the heavyweight champion of group huggery. In addition to being in very favorable colors (green, white, and blue excel at everything you want to do with a group hug deck), his abilities are actually tailored to giving other players gifts. Finally, as a 4/4 flyer (after you give another player a card to let him grow his wings) he’s not the worst creature in the world to deal 21 general damage.
Karona, False God is a good choice if you want to use all five colors. It means that, once you cast him, every turn each player can count upon having a 5/5 hasty general that buffs their own creatures while attacking. Just be careful not to cast him when the table is in a position to gang up on one player and do a quick 21 general damage with Karona – or you’re going to find yourself on the defensive sooner than you probably wanted.
Zedruu the Greathearted is another great political general. Though he is used primarily in decks which “donate” cards like Transcendence, Steel Golem, Thought Lash, and Illusions of Grandeur – he can also be used to donate permanents that players actually want. This creates strong incentives to keep you around – if you lose the game, then all the gifts you’ve given them cease to exist.
Ruhan of the Fomori is in the same colors as Zedruu, but he plays a bit different. He is a serious threat to see 21 general damage, but since you can’t control who he attacks, you can’t really be held responsible. Ruhan is a great general for Group Hug decks that go red-heavy, and utilize random effects like Grip of Chaos and Chaos Warp.
Edric, Spymaster of Trest is in green and blue. His ability gives your opponents incentive to attack someone other than you, and is a great general if you want to play a more defensive style of group hug deck.
Braids, Conjurer Adept is mono-blue, but has built-in permanent generation. Add in blue’s card draw capabilities, and you have a viable group hug general. She trades mana acceleration for more control options – letting her bounce or counter the things she doesn’t necessarily want on the battlefield.
Nin, the Pain Artist is an unusual choice, but a viable group hug general. Like Braids, she will be primarily focused upon card draw, but has some mana acceleration capability from red. Her ability allows you to eliminate creatures you don’t want on the battlefield, while giving that creature’s controller some card draw for their trouble.
Next, let’s analyze a group hug deck I constructed for this article…
SAMPLE GROUP HUG DECKLIST
Elder Dragon Hug
1 Jungle Shrine
1 Command Tower
1 Forbidden Orchard
1 Rainbow Vale
1 Reflecting Pool
1 Rupture Spire
1 Transguild Promenade
1 Vivid Crag
1 Vivid Meadow
1 Vivid Grove
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Rugged Prairie
1 Boros Garrison
1 Stomping Ground
1 Grove of the Burnwillows
1 Fire-Lit Thicket
1 Gruul Turf
1 Kazandu Refuge
1 Rootbound Crag
1 Temple Garden
1 Wooded Bastion
1 Selesnya Sanctuary
1 Graypelt Refuge
1 Sunpetal Grove
1 Naya Panorama
1 Evolving Wilds
1 Terramorphic Expanse
1 Homeward Path
1 Reliquary Tower
1 Yavimaya Hollow
1 Forcemage Advocate
1 Nullmage Advocate
1 Pulsemage Advocate
1 Shieldmage Advocate
1 Spurnmage Advocate
1 Hunted Dragon
1 Hunted Lammasu
1 Hunted Troll
1 Hunted Wumpus
1 Charmed Griffin
1 Boldwyr Heavyweights
1 Heartwood Storyteller
1 Arbiter of Knollridge
1 Wall of Shards
1 Wall of Reverence
1 Magus of the Vineyard
1 Shizuko, Caller of Autumn
1 Diaochan, Artful Beauty
1 Felidar Sovereign
1 Venser’s Journal
1 Gate to the Aether
1 Anvil of Bogardan
1 Howling Mine
1 Font of Mythos
1 Temple Bell
1 Otherworld Atlas
1 Words of Worship
1 Spirit Link
1 Oath of Druids
1 Oath of Lieges
1 Rites of Flourishing
1 Wild Evocation
1 Eladamri’s Vineyard
1 Heartbeat of Spring
1 Mana Flare
1 Test of Endurance
1 Helix Pinnacle
1 Concordant Crossroads
1 Mass Hysteria
1 Dawnglow Infusion
1 Invincible Hymn
1 Open the Vaults
1 Weird Harvest
1 Death by Dragons
1 Wheel of Fortune
1 Reforge the Soul
1 Collective Voyage
1 New Frontiers
1 Thieves’ Auction
1 Warp World
1 Beacon of Immortality
1 Wild Ricochet
1 Crib Swap
1 Path to Exile
1 Swords to Plowshares
General Choice: Palladia-Mors doesn’t seem to offer much as a group hug general. He’s just a very expensive 7/7 flying trampler with no other abilities. This analysis is correct. I chose him simply because he is in Naya colors – Green, White and Red. None of the Naya generals have abilities that make sense for a group hug deck, but this is an excellent color combination for it. Palladia-Mors gives us two things – first, a 7/7 flying, trampling general that will help me win the game once I have only one opponent. Second, dude is just oozing style. Seriously, he looks like he either belongs on a metal album cover or a 1st edition D&D sourcebook. He’s an elder dragon – that’s old school.
Mana Base: The vast majority of decks I build on this blog will not include ABR Dual Lands and Onslaught/Zendikar fetchlands, since they will be out of reach for most players. This deck is no exception. Even though the deck packs heavy mana acceleration, the deck itself isn’t particularly fast, so there’s no reason to fear lands that come into play tapped. To that end, priority one was ensuring a consistent manabase. With 10 lands capable of producing all three colors, and 14 capable of producing two of them, I think I have that covered. The deck skews a bit green-heavy, so the mana base skews slightly that direction as well. Homeward Path is a utility land that should have a slot in most Group Hug decks (and is all but required in Karona decks), and Reliquary Tower helps me keep all those cards I’m going to draw. I kept nine basic lands in there, because I run several cards that search for them, and I wouldn’t want to deny myself the benefits of my own huggery.
Mana Acceleration: I decided this should be the focal point of the huggery, because I would be including several high-CMC cards in the deck that I would eventually like to cast. There are twelve different cards in the deck that accelerate the table’s mana.
Permanent Generation: I’m running all the Hunted creatures in my colors. I decided to leave Tempting Wurm out of this one, because this deck is seeking not to put itself at a disadvantage for political gain. One of the reasons I wanted Naya colors was to run Death By Dragons, a personal favorite that I rarely get to play. This deck is packed with cards to give my opponents (and myself) permanents on the field.
Card Draw & Recursion: Not having access to blue or black, this deck isn’t pushing the boundaries with card draw, but there’s still plenty in there. I’m running Wheel of Fortune and Reforge the Soul to complement my full cycle of Advocates.
Protection: This deck has both reactive and proactive protection, utilizing a couple walls, and Warp World and Theives’ Auction when the board becomes disadvantageous to me. The Advocate cycle, Crib Swap, Path to Exile, and Swords to Plowshares deal re-actively with direct threats.
Win Condition: I decided to take a “wait and see” approach with this deck, so that I had multiple options depending on what the board state was when the game was down to two players. If my final opponent has a pretty clear board, the Palladia-Mors starts plugging away for 21 general damage. If my opponent has a full board, Insurrection gets cast and I hit him in the face with it. If I’m drowning in mana, Helix Pinnacle hits the table. If I have a very high life total, then it’s Felidar Sovereign or Test of Endurance for the win.
So, that’s the deck! Tune in next week when I analyze a new Commander archetype!
1 Kaervek the Merciless
1 Rakdos Guildgate
1 Ankh of Mishra
1 Rakdos Keyrune
1 Armillary Sphere
1 Wayfarer’s Bauble
1 Soul Conduit
1 Pariah’s Shield
1 Urza’s Armor
1 Grave Consequences
Heh… The meaning of life. You want to know the meaning of life? Life is suffering. Give a man everything he wants, give him nothing to ever worry about again, nothing to fret over… what do you think he does? He finds a way to be miserable. He can’t help it – give him paradise, and he rejects it every time. Not at first, obviously, but eventually he realizes that perfection somehow isn’t perfect. There’s something missing… if he’s got everything he wants, he has nothing to strive for. He will never be better – this is the best he will ever be. And it’s just not good enough. He cannot live without his pain. It’s really very sad, when you think about it… Man spends his life trying to rid himself of something he just can’t live without.
But, what if? What if, instead of running away from suffering… one were to embrace it? What could one do with his life if he gave up this futile, self-defeating crusade? What could one do… with that kind of enlightenment?
This deck I assembled for $25 is the exact opposite of a Group Hug deck, though strangely it plays in the same manner. Instead of giving presents to everyone at the table so they’ll “save you for last” and fight each other, this deck hurts the entire table (including yourself) equally. When playing against a group hug deck, the question your opponents must constantly ask themselves is, “how much power can I afford to accept while my opponents’ power grows as well?” When playing against this deck, the question your opponents must ask themselves is, “how much pain am I willing to accept to watch my opponents hurt too?”
HOW DOES THE DECK WORK?
At it’s core, this is a soft-control deck, seeking to bleed the table to death through constant damage, slow down board progress through discard and sacrifice effects, and deter your opponents from taking certain actions due to no-win scenarios. A few key components of the deck include:
Constant Damage: Enchantments like Havoc Festival and Sulfuric Vortex, and creatures like Plague Spitter keep the table bleeding, until eventually life totals get close to zero. Additionally, several creatures in the deck do damage to all players (and sometimes creatures) when they either come into play (like Howling Banshee) or leave play (like Soulcage Fiend).
Timed Damage: The deck carries many spells that hurt the entire table whenever you feel pain need be brought. Earthquake and Fault Line deal X damage to all creatures and players. Acidic Soil does 1 damage to each player for every land that player has in play – so it can either be used in the early game to punish ramp, or in the late game for massive damage. Evincar’s Justice does a flat 2 damage to everything, and you can buy it back to cast again.
Brake Fluid: You want to slow the game down some, so that everyone can bleed out properly. Polluted Bonds and Ankh of Mishra damage players for playing lands. Manabarbs hurts players whenever they tap lands for mana. Citadel of Pain hurts players whenever they DON’T tap all their lands during their turn. Discard effects like those from Sire of Insanity, Mind Swords, and Scythe Specter limit your opponents’ spell options. If one player is running away with the board state, reset it with Warp World or Thieves’ Auction.
Sacrifice Control: Spells like Innocent Blood and Barter in Blood simply force all players to sacrifice creatures. Keldon Twilight keeps the board clean, and when you lose control, it’s time to break out Descent Into Madness.
Rattlesnakes: You want to keep players from attacking you, because you’re hurting yourself at the same time you’re hurting them. This is accomplished by giving players good reasons not to attack you. For example, the table might get annoyed that you cast Akki Blizzard-Herder, but they’re not going to forgive the player who causes it to die. Same deal with Abyssal Gatekeeper. This is also the greatest role our general, Kaervek the Merciless serves in this deck. He is there to announce that the player who attacks the wielder of the deck will be the target of all Kaervek’s triggered abilities. Punish your opponents for daring to challenge you.
HOW DOES THE DECK WIN?
Simply put, by taking less damage than your opponents. This isn’t easy, and will require intelligent spell casting on your part, and no small amount of above-the-table competence.
The first thing you can do is reduce the amount of damage you’re taking. Urza’s Armor is one of the best spells in the deck, reducing all damage you take by one. This negates the effects of Manabarbs, Spiteful Visions, and similar spells. Pariah’s Shield lets you redirect damage to the creature that has it equipped… and it really, really wants to be equipped to Stuffy Doll. Finally, Fortune Thief saves your bacon if you’re getting low on life – for as long as you can keep him alive.
Next, you can ensure that your opponents are taking more damage than you. Anthem of Rakdos doubles all damage taken by your opponents if you can get your hand empty. Wound Reflection makes an each opponent lose life every turn equal to the amount they already lost. Coupled with Havoc Festival or Heartless Hidetsugu, this is probably game-ending.
Finally, you have to play the game above the table – you’ve got to be political. Make your opponents aware, in no uncertain terms, that there will be consequences for opposing you. As previously noted, Kaervek the Merciless is excellent for making your opponents essentially damage each other by casting spells. Player A should know better than to cast an 8-cost spell while you have Kaervek out, because that’s 8 damage to the face of the person highest on your target list. Soul Conduit is another good way of rewarding players that have not opposed you while punishing those who have.
Of course, sometimes the entire table just turns against you – and you probably can’t defeat those odds. Probably.
WHERE DOES THE DECK GO FROM HERE?
From where I’m sitting, there’s two ways this deck could go – improve the punishing aspects of the deck with higher-power cards, or go a different direction with it.
While building this black-red deck, I couldn’t help but notice it had a heavy Rakdos flavor. You’re conducting illicit auctions, descending into madness, and embracing pain. This deck could serve as a nice shell for a Rakdos deck, if you took out a bunch of the ‘constant damage’ cards and substituted them with Rakdos cult members, and relegated Kaervek the Merciless into the deck, to be replaced as general by Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch, or maybe even Rakdos, Lord of Riots himself.
Or, if you want to stick with the “anti-hug” aspect of the deck, then there are definitely cards that can improve it. The card this deck wants most is Platinum Emperion – it makes all the constant damage one-sided. Ali from Cairo is another creature that can stop you from taking lethal damage. Defiler of Souls would have made it into the deck above, had it fit within the $25 budget. You may also want more one-sided effects like Stranglehold, and maybe more land-destruction rattlesnakes like Hurloon Shaman.
Regardless, this is not a deck that should be considered your go-to, “regular” Commander deck. Other players at the table will quickly grow sick of playing against it (and you will probably grow sick of playing with it) if played constantly. It is, however, a fun deck to play every once in a while.