Examining Commander Archetypes #2 – Voltron

The second archetype I want to talk about is unique to Commander, the Voltron archetype. Named after the famous anime series that spawned numerous spinoffs and made the world aware of giant robots, this deck archetype seeks to deal 21 General damage as quickly as possible to as many opponents as possible. This means casting the general, and then strapping as many pieces of equipment and auras as you can get onto that commander before turning it sideways to attack.


ADVANTAGES OF THE ARCHETYPE

LET’S GO ANGEL VOLTRON FORCE!!!!

1) It’s fun. As noted last week, this is the single most important aspect for any Commander deck.  Voltron brings the fun to the table in an in-your-face way. There’s nothing quite like swinging with Bruna, Light of Alabaster, attaching six different auras to her, and proclaiming, “THIS ISN’T EVEN MY FINAL FORM!!!”

2) It has a straightforward, proactive strategy. It’s not just a pile of good cards that, if used properly, will win the game. You have three goals – Cast General, Make General Ridiculous, Swing with Ridiculous General. If you accomplish these three goals enough times, you will win. 

3) It’s a self-contained theme. You don’t need to worry so much about the flavor of your deck when designing it.  People are going to remember your Jenara, Asura of War with 18 counters on it.  However your general manages to get powerful enough to do 21 damage to an opponent – that’s the theme of your deck, be it counters, equipment, enchantments, or even having a ridiculous number of cards in hand.  

4) It’s a uniquely Commander-format deck. Sure, the Bogles deck of Modern and Bant Hexproof of the current Standard also seek to attach unfair auras to untargetable and unblockable creatures as their victory condition, but those decks lack the finesse of a Voltron deck. Your deck makes maximum use of your general (which separates Commander from other multiplayer formats) and is tuned specifically to the one card you will always have available on the turn you feel is best to cast it.  You can’t get the experience of playing a Voltron deck in any other format.


DISADVANTAGES OF THE ARCHETYPE

Makes your equipment costs free – doesn’t work for free.

1) Voltron is not a budget archetype. That is not to say that budget Voltron decks cannot be built, but the difference between a $50 Voltron deck and a $300 Voltron deck is going to be much greater than it would be with a Reanimator deck. Or a ramp deck. Or almost any other archetype. You want the best equipment, and the best equipment costs money. You want Swords of X and Y (like Sword of War and Peace) because they do so much for so little mana: they provide protection, evasion, power and toughness, and additional benefits. Auras are (mostly) cheaper than equipment, but they’re still expensive. Then there’s the support cards – you need cards to tutor up those awesome auras and equipment, like Academy Rector and Stoneforge Mystic. Those girls don’t work for free.

2) The Voltron strategy is heavily reliant upon its general.  You are putting all your eggs in one basket, and that basket is easy to shred to pieces thanks to cards like Hinder and Terminus. So, you either need a backup strategy in case your general gets “tucked” (put into your library,) or you have to commit to going all-in with the general, and have multiple reliable means of getting it back into your hand or command zone.

3) You are a high-priority target.  Just showing up to the table with Uril, the Miststalker in your Command Zone is like planting a flag at the table and standing tall.  The other players are going to know what you’re up to, and they’re going to do their best to make sure that a) that general never hits the battlefield, b) it never gets suited up with enough power to hit 21 damage, or c) you get taken out before you become unstoppable.  Even if the relative skill level at the table is low, or you bring in a lesser-known Voltron general like Godo, Bandit Warlord – rest assured that once you one-shot a player with general damage, a target just got painted upon your back for subsequent games with that deck.


CHOOSING A GENERAL 

As with the vast majority of Commander decks, the first choice one must make is the general. In addition to setting the color identity of the deck, a Voltron commander dictates what kind of equipment and auras you want to include. Since equipment is (mostly) colorless, the general’s color identity means less than what is going on in his/her textbox. You want your general to have one of the following things going for them:

“I was hiding under your Batterskull, Master… because I love you!”

Speed: Consider Isamaru, Hound of Konda. He’s only a 2/2 creature with no abilities, but he costs only one mana. You can get him in play before your opponents can do anything about it – that’s something you can’t create with equipment or auras. Creatures with haste, like Skullbriar, the Walking Grave can attack the turn they come out, which is valuable in the later game when the field is clear after a board wipe.

Undercosted Power/Toughness: Ruhan of the Fomori is a 7/7 for four mana. Just on his card alone, you’re 1/3 of the way to that 21 damage. Sure, he has a drawback in that he attacks randomly, but you can build around that. Rafiq of the Many is a 4/4 double striker when he attacks alone – for four mana. 

Evasion: Sun Quan, Lord of Wu has Horsemanship. There aren’t many mechanisms for blocking a creature with Horsemanship, so chances are Sun Quan is going to connect to your opponent’s face. Commander Eesha has Protection from Creatures, which means she just plain can’t be blocked.

Defenses: Thrun, the Last Troll is freaking hard to kill. In addition to being uncounterable and Hexproof, he can regenerate when the inevitable board wipe happens. Tajic, Blade of the Legion is indestructible. 

Synergy: Commanders that have bonuses to auras or equipment make fine Voltron Commanders. Kemba, Kha Regent is amazing, being cheap to cast and having a backup plan (cat tokens) in case he gets tucked. Uril, the Miststalker gets bigger for each enchantment you put on him, and reaches 21 power quickly.

There are many excellent choices for a Voltron general, so what makes a bad Voltron general? Well, first of all, your general simply cannot have Shroud. Kodama of the North Tree makes a poor Voltron general – because you can’t ever cast Auras upon him, or equip him with equipment. Secondly, having a high mana cost (anything above 6) means that your general will not be on the field in the early game, and in the late game you will have difficulty affording both his casting cost, and the cost of equipping him/her so that your general will actually make an impact.

Sygg, I choose you!!!

For the purposes of brewing up a deck today, I am going to name Sygg, River Guide as general. I like Sygg for several reasons. One, he has access to white, which has a great deal of good equipment synergy cards. Two, he has built-in evasion with Islandwalk, and can give himself protection from any color he wants for two mana. Third, he’s cheap, at a mere 2 mana. Finally, he’s not an overly-played general, so you’re bringing something relatively new to the table. He’s not in the “top tier” of Voltron generals for certain, but you can find those decklists online pretty easily if you just want a cookie-cutter Voltron build.

LET’S BUILD A VOLTRON DECK!

I like the 39/20/20/20 plan. This means 39 lands, 20 equipment, 20 support cards, and 20 staples. These numbers, of course, can be adjusted as needed, but give us a pretty good starting point. We will need a backup plan, because white and blue do not have many tools to tutor creatures out of the library. There’s several options here – we could play a control game, go merfolk tribal, throw some combos in there, or fill our deck with creatures that like being equipped so we can still deal solid regular damage. There is no wrong answer, but I’m going to go with the equipment users plan.


LANDS

Use them if you have them, but don’t take out a loan for a Commander deck.

We need 39 of them. If you’ve got a Tundra, by all means play it. But I don’t, so I won’t. Same deal goes with fetchlands.  Moving past that, this deck needs to be fairly fast, so we have to avoid taplands as much as we possibly can.

Hallowed FountainMystic GateGlacial FortressAdarkar Wastes and Nimbus Maze are auto-includes.

Seachrome Coast is probably the only tapland we should consider. 

Skycloud Expanse probably couldn’t hurt. 

Calciform Pools gives us something to do with extra mana.

Academy Ruins is vital for returning important equipment that gets destroyed.

Eiganjo Castle and Flagstones of Trokair are the “SuperPlains” cards that I described last week.

Minamo, School at Water’s Edge and Oboro, Palace in the Clouds are “SuperIslands” worth running.

Rogue’s Passage is a means of making our general unblockable when all else fails.

So, our lands thus far look like this:

Lands  

Plains
(25-X) 
Island
Hallowed Fountain
Mystic Gate
Glacial Fortress
Seachrome Coast
Adarkar Wastes
Nimbus Maze
Skycloud Expanse
Calciform Pools
Academy Ruins
Eiganjo Castle
Flagstones of Trokair
Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
Oboro, Palace in the Clouds
Rogue’s Passage


EQUIPMENT

We only need to figure out 15 of them, because 5 are easy: Sword of Light and ShadowSword of Fire and IceSword of Feast and FamineSword of Body and Mind, and Sword of War and Peace. Each of these swords are cheap and give +2/+2, protection from two colors, and grant an additional benefit. Exercise caution with these swords – each one that gives protection from either blue or white (which is all except Feast and Famine) means that Sygg cannot target himself with his own ability. So make sure you’re covered before slapping on that sword.

This is almost always a good choice for mono-colored decks.

Next, we need five that give him protection. Darksteel Plate is obvious, because it makes him indestructible. Shield of Kaldra makes him indestructible. Swiftfoot Boots give hexproof and haste. Champion’s Helm gives hexproof and +2/+2. Finally, Lightning Greaves gives haste and shroud. Just remember that if a creature has shroud, he cannot equip other equipment. So use Graves tactically. 

Five equipment pieces need large power boosts. Argentum Armor gives +6/+6. Batterskull gives +4/+4, vigilance and lifelink. Sword of Kaldra gives +5/+5. Umezawa’s Jitte, once it hits once, gives +4/+4 for each subsequent hit.  The last slot is a little trickier.  I love Strata Scythe in mono-colored decks – you can expect it to give an average of +5/+5, but it can get much, much higher.  This is not a mono-colored deck, however.  So, I’m going with the recently-reprinted Fireshrieker to give Sygg Double Strike.  That’s as good as doubling his power when equipped.

With the final five pieces of equipment, we need to give important abilities. Loxodon Warhammer is good for another 3 power, trample and lifelink. Sword of Vengeance gives 2 power, first strike, vigilance, trample, and haste. Basilisk Collar is a cheap way to get deathtouch and lifelink. Quietus Spike gives deathtouch and potentially deals a lot of damage. Finally, since we have the other two pieces of Kaldra’s equipment, we might as well include the Helm of Kaldra, which gives first strike, trample, and haste. 


SUPPORT

She’ll help you find your center… and your Sword of Vengeance.

We need at least five ways of tutoring up equipment. Stoneforge Mystic and Stonehewer Giant both have means of searching for an Equipment and putting it onto the battlefield, so they are auto-includes. Enlightened Tutor is a no-brainer, as is Steelshaper’s Gift. For the fifth spot, there’s three good cards to choose from:FabricateTaj-Nar Swordsmith, and Steelshaper Apprentice. I’m going to choose Fabricate for the final slot, because the other two are creatures that can be considered for the next steps.

Next, we need support cards that let us maximize the use of our equipment. Puresteel Paladin is at the top of his game, because he lets us equip for free and gives us card draw. Taj-Nar Swordsmith lets us put low-cost equipment into play as an ETB ability – letting us find the Sword we need that has the protection colors at the time we need it. Sun Titan gets those swords (and other equipment) back out of the graveyard. Vedalkan Engineer helps us pay for equipment and equipping costs. Darksteel Forge makes our equipment indestructible (albeit at a high price, so this is mostly for late-game.)

That leaves us ten slots to find creatures for our backup strategy (in addition to the support creatures we already have). We’re looking for creatures that gain advantages from being equipped, or gain advantages from artifacts. The list is too large to go over, but the ones I have selected are Kemba, Kha Regent, Kemba’s LegionRaksha Golden CubLeonin ShikariKor DuelistLoxodon PunisherSunspear ShikariAuriok SteelshaperMaster Transmuter, and Master of Etherium.


STAPLES

There is an extremely large pool of cards to draw from, and you want to save space in your deck to include the best cards your general’s color identity gives access to. This is the part of the build with the most room for flexibility – not every Commander deck needs sweepers, or mana ramp, or card draw. When deciding the final 20 cards for a deck like this, consider the needs of your deck, and your local meta.

I would like to include five sweepers in the deck, and the more one-sided the better. Cyclonic Rift is a difficult card not to include in any blue Commander deck. Phyrexian Rebirth gives you a (hopefully large) creature to attach equipment to after the sweeping. Sunblast Angel hits a bunch of creatures that aren’t yours (assuming you cast it while your creatures are untapped) and gives you a flying body for equipment. Round out the five with the inexpensive Wrath of God and Day of Judgment

Aquitect is not an easy job to explain on a resumé.

Next thing to consider are cards that enhance our commander. Quicksilver Fountain makes a bunch of Islands for Sygg to walk through unblocked. Aquitect’s Will makes any single land an island for 1 blue mana, and lets you draw a card. Tidal Warrior might as well read “tap to make your general unblockable.”

The deck doesn’t need a great deal of mana, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a Sol Ring and an Azorius Signet.

That leaves ten slots remaining for “good stuff.” Once again, there are no wrong answers here and way too many cards to consider, so I’ll just list my selections: Mimic VatTezzeret the SeekerAcquireCapsizeHinderSpell CrumpleBlue Sun’s ZenithLand TaxReturn to Dust, and Mind’s Eye.


FINISHING UP

First, let’s figure out our basic lands. We have a total of 25 basic lands in the deck. Looking over the deck, it’s slightly white-heavy, but we need both white and blue on turn 2 in order to aggressively cast our general. I think 14 Plains and 11 Islands are a good start. We can always adjust later if we’re not getting enough blue, but I don’t think that will be the case.

Next, the deck needs a name. All good Commander decks need a name. So we’ve got a Voltron deck, white and blue, with a Merfolk general. I think I like “Sushi Force GO!!!” for the name of this deck. Please feel free to name your Commander deck whatever strikes your fancy.

Lastly, let’s put together the decklist based on what we have assembled thus far:

SUSHI FORCE GO!!!  

General
Sygg, River Guide
Lands: 39

14 
Plains
11 
Island
Hallowed Fountain
Mystic Gate
Glacial Fortress
Seachrome Coast
Adarkar Wastes
Nimbus Maze
Skycloud Expanse
Calciform Pools
Academy Ruins
Eiganjo Castle
Flagstones of Trokair
Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
Oboro, Palace in the Clouds
Rogue’s Passage
Equipment: 20

Sword of War and Peace
Sword of Feast and Famine
Sword of Body and Mind
Sword of Fire and Ice
Sword of Light and Shadow
Argentum Armor
Batterskull
Sword of Kaldra
Umezawa’s Jitte
Fireshrieker

Darksteel Plate
Shield of Kaldra
Swiftfoot Boots
Champion’s Helm
Lightning Greaves
Loxodon Warhammer
Sword of Vengeance
Basilisk Collar
Quietus Spike
Helm of Kaldra
Support: 20
Stoneforge Mystic
Stonehewer Giant
Enlightened Tutor
Steelshaper’s Gift
Fabricate
Puresteel Paladin
Taj-Nar Swordsmith
Sun Titan
Vedalkan Engineer
Darksteel Forge
Kemba, Kha Regent
Kemba’s Legion
Raksha Golden Cub
Leonin Shikari
Kor Duelist
Loxodon Punisher
Sunspear Shikari
Auriok Steelshaper
Master Transmuter
Master of Etherium
Staples: 20
Cyclonic Rift
Phyrexian Rebirth
Sunblast Angel
Wrath of God
Day of Judgment
Quicksilver Fountain
Aquitect’s Will
Tidal Warrior
Sol Ring
Azorius Signet
Mimic Vat
Tezzeret the Seeker
Acquire
Capsize
Hinder
Spell Crumple
Blue Sun’s Zenith
Land Tax
Return to Dust
Mind’s Eye


WHERE DOES THE DECK GO FROM HERE?

To the Commander tables, of course! When evaluating this deck, the primary question that needs to be asked is, “do I have the tools required to meet my goals?” You’re not going to win every game of Commander you play, with any deck (and if you do manage this feat you won’t find yourself frequently invited back). But you should at least be a threat at the table, and you should have means of slapping 21 general damage across a player’s face at some point in the game. 

The one thing that worries me most about the deck as built is that, despite it being a blue-white deck, it doesn’t have much action in the air. Because you’re such a huge threat on the ground, it shouldn’t be a problem, but if your meta is full of angels, demons, and dragons then it probably will be. 

Nonetheless, this decklist is an excellent starting point and looks to be a fun Voltron deck!

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4 thoughts on “Examining Commander Archetypes #2 – Voltron

  1. I’d like to build an Angel deck. Where might I purchase the cards?

    Thank you!

    • There’s lots of places to buy Magic cards online, though I favor TCGPlayer.com . It’s an aggregate site that has a whole bunch of different sellers, and you can optimize your order to get the lowest price including shipping.

      There are plenty of other sites online, too. Star City Games is known for having higher prices but exceptional customer service.

      Also consider buying cards from local game stores that sell singles. Their prices are usually comparable to online stores, you don’t have to pay for shipping, and you know exactly the condition of the card you’re buying, because you can examine the card on site.

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