The War Report: Aminatou Blink

When new sets release in the Magic: The Gathering universe, I tend to focus on building some EDH decks around some of the new legendary creatures of the set, but sometimes (as with Guilds of Ravnica) there are only a handful of new legendary creatures and only some of them interest me as commanders. As such, there are times between set releases that I have to dig into the past for inspiration. There are still a ton of viable legendary creatures out there, and many of them deserve to see play even if they’ve been out for a long time. Many of these legendary creatures aren’t viable in any other format to boot. So for this edition of the column I’m looking at one of the Planeswalkers from Commander 2018 that I hadn’t yet built a deck around. I’m talking about Aminatou, the Fateshifter:

Of the Planeswalkers-as-Commanders introduced with this set, Aminatou was at first glance not something I was interested in building around. However, she came with Yuriko in her deck, so I picked it up anyway so I could build around a sweet ninja commander. Having this card on hand I decided that I should at least see if I could find something interesting to do with it, and decided that I wanted to focus on her blink ability and to find ways to exploit it. Her card selection ability is nice for setting up miracles as well, so I have included a light miracle sub theme. Let’s look at some of the cards we can have some fun with by blinking them:

Blink Targets:

All of these creatures have an enters the battlefield effect that are prime targets for blink effects. Not only will you get the original trigger off of the first cast, if this creature dies and is recurred from the graveyard you’ll get the trigger again. Or, if you use Aminatou’s ability you can then blink one creature per turn for instant value. As such, I’ve included additional ways to blink for when you don’t have your commander on the board or to blink groups of creatures at a time.

Other Blink Effects:

These cards allow us to blink one or more creatures under different circumstances. Brago is essentially a backup commander due to being a great blink enabler. With cards like Flickerwisp you can also blink enchantments, so Oath of Teferi can be blinked to blink again, or you can target Disinformation Campaign to draw cards and make opponents discard. There’s a ton of fun to be had here by blinking everything just to get a ton of ETB effects. One issue we might face though is ramping up to be effective, so I’ve included some special cards to help us out there:

Ramp

Nothing too out of the ordinary here, just some creatures that will get you land with their ETB, which can be targeted with blink effects, and one spell that is essentially Land Tax in sorcery form. I may add a Land Tax as well after I test if more is needed. Besides this there are plenty of mana rocks and a Panharmonicon to help us get extra triggers off of the ETBs.

Miracles:

These are simply the best miracles in these colors. We can pump out a bunch of Angels as a finisher, do a mass recursion to get a ton of ETB effects, bounce all non-land permanents to owner’s hands, grab an extra turn, or put all creatures on the bottom of libraries. These can be easily manipulated with Aminatou, as her +1 allows you to draw a card and then put a card on top of your library, guaranteeing that a miracle is the card you draw next turn, thereby allowing you to cast it for its miracle cost. Nice!

Otherwise I’ve included a pretty standard removal package, and enough lands to get things done on a budget. The deck is currently valued at about $190, and includes several cards from her precon as well, so consider this a budget upgrade to the base deck. You can see the full list here.

The War Report: Zombies 3.0

I’ve had a strange relationship with the new Commander 2018 product. My initial impressions were that the were a mostly crap product. This is still a bit true, as many of the precon exclusive cards were lackluster, there were no good high dollar reprints and much of each deck is chaff that won’t see play. There were the new commanders though, and those are usually worth having to brew around. I’m just focusing on the Esper and Bant precons at this point, and have already built Yuriko, Estrid and Tuvasa, though I have come around to deck ideas for both Yennett and Varina, the latter which we will be covering today. It’s funny because I went from considering not even buying these precons to actually wanting three of them to wanting to build a ton of decks out of them. Varina was written off by my immediately, but having more time to think about it, I’ve come to the conclusion that this should be my Zombie deck version 3.0. The first Zombie tribal EDH deck I build used Gisa and Geralf at the helm, then when the Scarab God released I changed to him (but kept G&G in the 99) and now I’m adding another color and keeping both the prior commanders in the 99 of the deck. But that’s not all, this is a heavily modified version of my last decklist with Scarab God at the helm. About a 50/50 split of cards from the prior build and cards I do not own (yet). Let’s take a look at our General and then see how things have changed.

For 1 and Esper, we get a 4/4 Zombie Wizard that lets us loot for every attacking Zombie each turn. As a bonus, we also gain that much life. With her second ability you can pay 2 mana and exile two cards from our graveyard to create a 2/2 tapped Zombie token. In my prior Scarab God build, I already had some token strategy, some sacrificing, some lords and anything that really had zombie flavor. It was basically a “Zombie Goodstuff” deck, but it was never overly competitive. I feel like the shenanigans can get way more out of hand with Varina, as it should be easy for us to fill up our hand with cards due to producing a bunch of zombie tokens and then attacking with them, and when we discard things we don’t need, we get extra value by exiling those cards to make more tokens. With a mixture of sacrificing and hand manipulation we can include some graveyard tricks and get value out of cards that aren’t doing anything for us at that moment. We’ll be able to churn through our deck efficiently and should be able to find our game breaking cards rather quickly. Let’s look at our token strategy first:

Token Strategy:

Anointed Procession is quite possible the single most important white card we’ve added to the mix, as it will do some amazing things. Have it on the board and cast an Army of the Damned? How’s 26 2/2’s sound? Attack with Grave Titan and get four instead of two. Sacrifice a big creature with Ghoulcaller Gisa to get double that creature’s power’s worth of tokens. You see where this is going. There’s a fair mix of token generating spells and creatures here, along with one Planeswalker that not only gives us Zombies but is also a one sided board wipe. Aven Wind Guide is one of the only non-Zombie creatures included in my list, but it does have the Embalm keyword, so it can come back as a Zombie when it dies, and it gives all of your tokens flying and vigilance, nice! Another special note for Lich Lord of Unx, he has a nice damage + mill effect for a minimal amount of mana that could be a finisher under the right circumstances. Lastly, Zombie Infestation is sort of redundancy with our commander, but instead of exiling from our graveyard we’ll discard two cards to create a Zombie token, which we can then exile to create another and if you have procession out… well you get the picture.

Lords:

Any self respecting tribal deck should have a number of lords included in it, and I think Zombies might have the most. There are five here that give all zombies +1/+1, and most have other subtext that also provides evasion, life drain or recursion. Undead Warchief both cheapens casting costs for Zombies but also gives +2/+1 to them, and the OG Zombie Master gives our creatures swampwalk and regeneration. There is a creature that was included in the deck called Zombie Trailblazer that will change opponent’s lands into swamps so you can swing unhindered.

Drain Effects:

Besides creating a ton of tokens and swinging for the win, we have a subtheme where we drain the life from our opponents just for having our creatures changing zones. In some cases, a Zombie enters the battlefield and we drain opponent’s life and gain some in return. In other cases each opponent loses life when a Zombie dies. Shepherd of Rot taps to drain life from everyone for each Zombie you control (including you, but lifelink should help). The Merchant counts your devotion to black and then drains and gives you life. Besides some of our creatures I’ve already covered (and a couple I didn’t) that have sacrifice outlets, there’s also Ashnod’s Altar and Altar of Dementia which give us mana and mill opponents respectively. There’s also a fun card in Call to the Grave that forces each player to sacrifice a non-Zombie creature each upkeep, and since we mostly have Zombies we will be unscathed. Ditto Kindred Dominance naming Zombies.

Other Utility:

These cards all support our main themes. Casting Approach of the Second Sun and then digging it back out should be quick and easy — that’s a win. After draining everyone through the course of a game, you can finish them with a well played Exsanguinate — that’s a win. Rooftop Storm makes your Zombies free, Reconnaissance can pull your creatures out of combat so they don’t die but you’ll still get the card draw. Oversold Cemetery will get you back the cards you’re discarding to Cryptbreaker or your commander. Gravecrawler is value and be cast over and over again in a single turn if you have another zombie, and that can drain people out, especially with Rooftop Storm. There’s some other recursion here along with Fatestitcher for some untapping action, Vesper Ghoul for some extra mana, and Blood Scrivener will help us with more card draw if we end up dumping our hands into our library. Overall I think the synergies here will work much better than my prior builds and I can’t wait to test this out! You can see the full decklist here.

TWR: Tawnos, Master of Machines

Having all of these sweet new generals to build around has had me inspired to brew lately, and I’ve already written about a couple of those from two of the new Commander 2018 precons. The commanders that I covered were from the Subjective Reality (Esper) and Adaptive Enchantment (Bant) precons, which are the only two I’ve picked up so far. I’m avoiding the Nature’s Vengeance (Jund) deck mainly because my roommate was talking about building it, and our other friend already has an Omnath, Locus of Rage deck so I don’t want to make another landfall commander (at least in those colors). I am still interested in picking up Exquistie Invention (Izzet) though, and see one build path that I would shoot for once I get my hands on it. Saheeli is great and all, but I honestly think Tawnos, Urza’s Apprentice is the real showstopper of the deck:

Tawnos is a 1/3 with haste for only two mana. I love low costed commanders because you can play them early and get your game plan in motion and you don’t have to worry about commander tax becoming a burden for some time. This isn’t why we love him though, no we love him because of his two mana tap ability to copy target activated or triggered ability from an artifact source. I wish this was from any source, but being in an artifacts matter deck, this was to be expected. Basically, Tawnos is a Strionic Resonator and a Rings of Brighthearth in one, but only for artifact sources. Despite this limitaton, there are a ton of artifacts out there with activated and triggered abilities, so lets get to those!

From normal artifacts to artifact creatures, there are plenty of effects to exploit with Tawnos’ ability. Create a Walking Balista or Hangarback Walker and then double up the amount of counters you put on it per activation. When your Wurmcoil Engine dies, you can created four 3/3’s instead of two. When sacrificing clues with Tamiyo’s Journal, you can tutor out two cards, or you can double up on the clue production at the beginning of your upkeep! Any of the triggered or activated abilities on display here can be doubled and you’ll be getting tons of value for only two mana and a tap of your commander. Being an artifacts matter theme, there’s plenty of ways you can add to the value, so here are the other support cards I’ve added.

This selection of cards support our artifacts theme by either making artifact spells cost less, giving them flash, giving all artifact creatures +1/+1 or otherwise benefiting from the number of artifacts we control. Some give them hexproof and others indestructible. The Antiquities War is some recursion and a large swing after 3 turns. Storm the Vault once flipped can give you a ton of mana. Also supporting our go wide subtheme is Brudiclad who gives our tokens haste and can turn them all into whichever token type you prefer of the ones you control. We have plenty of thopter generation in the deck, so we should be able to make all of our tokens hasty fliers with him. Master of Etherium also supports this by giving tokens +1/+1 but he also goes tall dependent on the number of artifacts you control so  you might be able to get him in for big hits. The Master Transmuter will also help us to get higher costed artifacts out on the cheap. Honestly though, given the tools in the deck you’ll be able to pick and choose from going wide or going tall or comboing off. Let’s look at a couple of the game winning combos:

 

There are two ways to make infinite mana in the deck. One is the Pili-Pala/Grand Architect combo and the other is Isochron Scepter and Dramatic Reversal. These are pretty well known but I’ll briefly describe how they work.

  • With Pili-Pala and Grand Architect on the board, you pay U to make Pili-Pala blue until end of turn. Then you tap Pili-Pala using Grand Architect’s second ability, generating two mana. You then pay that two mana to untap Pili-Pala which generates a mana of any color. You can do this infinite times to create infinite mana.
  • When casting Isochron Scepter, you must have Dramatic Reversal in your hand which you will then imprint onto the scepter. Then, for two mana and a tap of the scepter you copy that spell. With enough mana rocks on the board (need at least 3 mana) you can infinitely cast this and untap those rocks just to tap them again.

Using these infinite mana combos you can fuel interactions with Staff of Domination and Filigree Sages for tap/untap shenanigans, or use cards like Sands of Delirium or Keening Stone to mill your opponent’s libraries. Another fun interaction is using Crackdown Construct and Lightning Greaves. Using the greaves’ equip ability (which costs nothing) you can bounce the equipment between the construct and any other creature as many times as you like, making an infinitely tall construct. The same can be done with Wandering Fumarole, one of the “man-lands.” Use its ability to change it’s power and toughness infinitely to make a huge construct. I’ve included a tutor suite, Mystical Tutor for Dramatic Reversal, Fabricate and Whir of Invention for nearly anything in the deck, and the Mage cycle (Trinket, Trophy and Treasure) which can pull up a good selection of artifacts from the deck. I think it’s fairly well rounded, though I wouldn’t say it’s going to be super high tier.

TWR: Stax Chain Veil Estrid

One of the archetypes of EDH decks that I have yet to build is a “Stax” deck. The archetype gets its name from a card named Smokestack, which essentially gets counters on it each turn and forces players to sacrifice permanents equal to the number of counters on it. There are a bunch of cards in all colors, but primarily colorless artifacts that have these sorts of effects on them. The goal of a stax deck is to slow down your opponents, but to have a gameplan in place that makes the negative effects less of a burden on yourself. Originally I brewed up a Grand Arbiter Augustin IV stax deck, but it was never actually built and then the new Commander 2018 product released and I found a new and better leader for this style. Enter Estrid, the Masked:

At first glance, Estrid doesn’t seem like a stax commander. Unlike GAAIV who inherently causes your spells to cost less and your opponents’ spells to cost more, Estrid is a Planeswalker that has a variety of effects. The reason she can be used effectively in a stax strategy is due to her +2 and -1 loyalty abilities. Her -1 allows her to place aura enchantments on permanents, which then can be untapped once per turn using her +2. With stax effects, often times you are limited to untapping one thing, or sometimes nothing at all, but with her +2 you can untap anything you control that is enchanted. That isn’t to say that we will be using her -1 to do this, it’s just an option we can use if needed. Instead, we are going to focus on Enchant Land cards and The Chain Veil to give us some combo ability. First let’s look at our main combo:

Our goal here is to get to a point where we can produce 5 mana via enchanted lands. A Wild Growth will allow a single land to tap for two mana. A Market Festival makes the enchanted land tap for three mana. Once we can produce that 5 mana, have The Chain Veil and Estrid on the board, we can gain infinite mana that can be used in a variety of ways. You’ll have to use something like Relic Ward or Estrid’s -1 to enchant The Chain Veil, then you’ll be able to untap the lands with Estrid’s +2 ability, then pay 4 to use The Chain Veil to use her ability again. The 5th mana each time you do this will add up to infinite mana. We can do even more shenanigans using cards like Arbor Elf, Kiora’s Follower, Ley Weaver or Voyaging Satyr to further untap lands or permanents. Those creatures can also be enchanted with Estrid’s -1 to use their effects further. Any of these combinations of effects can produce infinite mana with which we can use to end the game. Here’s how:

Using our Commander + TCV combo above, we can get an infinite number of Squirrel Tokens to close out a game. We’ll want something like Concordant Crossroads on the battlefield first so they will have hast though. The same goes for Luminarch Ascension and Heliod, God of the Sun — we can pump out an infinite number of tokens given our infinite mana pool. Helix Pinnacle doesn’t require us to do anything except get 100 counters on it, which is easy to do with infinite mana, but it will have to survive until our next upkeep, so you should probably try to give it a Relic Ward or Totem Armor with Estrid’s -1. Lastly, if we have the highest lift total at the table, we can burn our opponents out with a high costed Hurricane. These are the ways that we want to win, but we also want to slow the rest of the table down until we can find these pieces in our deck (which can also be done with our infinite mana combo — once Estrid is a 8 loyalty, simply -7 her to get free enchantments onto the board. We can mill ourselves until we find the appropriate pieces all on the same turn). As such, here are the stax pieces we’ll be including:

Creatures, Planeswalkers and Artifacts working hand in hand to slow your opponents down and ultimately secure you the win. Bonus with the Planeswalkers, they also benefit from The Chain Veil and it’s activated ability works for all Planeswalkers in play, so you can easily draw your deck with Teferi and get to their ultimate abilities quickly. There is another interesting interaction with these artifact pieces: I’ve included Inspiring Statuary, which allows you to use artifacts to tap for mana, and if those pieces are tapped during your upkeep the negative effects won’t hurt you. You can then get them untapped again by the time it’s your opponent’s turn with Paradox Engine or Unwinding Clock. I’ve also added a Seedborn Muse to help with this. We’ll be wanting to do a lot of tapping and untapping shenanigans, but in the end our opponents will be miffed and we’ll combo off to win the game! Probably not as consistent as Chain Veil Teferi, but I think this deck will be a lot of fun. You can see the full decklist here.

TWR: Enchantress Tuvasa

I mentioned in my last post that there were two of the Commander 2018 decks that I’m interested in, and the other I plan to pick up is the Bant Enchantments set, “Adaptive Enchantment.” This is starting to feel like the sleeper deck in the series, and is easily the most versatile. Each of the four commanders in the deck are easy build arounds, though you probably will want to use cards other than what’s included here. Once again I’m not building the Planeswalker straight off the bat, but I do feel like she has potential and I’ll have a brew for her soon enough.

When I first gave the deck a once-over I was leaning towards building Kestia, but I’m not interested in a heavy aura focus because I’ve brewed two different Voltron decks and it’s such a similar idea. I am however including plenty of enchantment creatures in my build so I’ll still get card draw off of her given the chance. Estrid was disappointing to me at first, but I’ve found that I really want to find some busted combos for her, and I’m already well aware of her interactions with The Chain Veil. Arixmethes looks like a great ramp/beater (krakens and leviathans and octopi, oh my!) commander as well, which I might brew at a later time. Based on my first impressions, I’ve found that the commander I wanted to build the most is Tuvasa the Sunlit:

Tuvasa is a 1/1 for 3 CMC (bant). Not too impressive, but a cheap casting cost means an early start to the gameplan. She gets +1/+1 for each enchantment we control, which means she can be huge by the mid game. Bonus, when we cast our first enchantment each turn, we get to draw a card. So, Tuvasa is a Argothian Enchantress (draw a card for playing an enchantment) and also a Yavimaya Enchantress (+1/+1 for each enchantment you control). Two very nice effects that have synergy with the rest of the deck, and can stack when using nearly all of the other enchantresses that have been printed, and we have most of them!

Enchantresses:

As you can see, in our colors we have quite a few options when it comes to enchantresses. We even have an enchantment creature (triggers Kestia) and a global enchantment (which triggers the enchantresses) version of the effect. Lastly, the Herald of the Pantheon reduces the cost of our enchantment spells (including enchantment creatures) and gets us some life in the process. As such, the majority of the creatures in the deck are enchantment based.

Enchantment Creatures:

Kestia herself is an enchantment creature along with having the bestow ability allowing you to make another creature even bigger. She’ll always draw you a card when she attacks, but if our other enchantment creatures attack as well, you’ll draw a pile. Many of the best enchantment creatures are Gods, so I’ve included most of those that fall in our colors, and each come with their own set of boons. Ephara will draw us more cards, while Karametra ramps us and Kruphix keeps our mana pool from emptying. Gods are all indestructible and have solid bodies for their costs, but can’t attack until you have a particular devotion to their colors. This shouldn’t be an issue with the number of enchantments we plan to put out onto the board!

Enchantments:

Most of our global enchantment package is aimed at ramping us and removal for our opponents. Some light pillowfort effects like Propaganda, Ghostly Prison and Frozen Aether will slow down their attacks. Sterling Grove protects our investment, but can also be sacrificed to tutor up an enchantment, and Estrid’s Invocation can be busted if you copy the right enchantment with it. Our real aim though is to use our Enchant Land cards to create a big ass mana pool, casting enchantments to draw more cards and cast more spells more efficiently and rapidly than our opponents. This brings me to our win conditions:

Win Conditions:

With enough enchantments on the battlefield, Starfield of Nyx can win the game. Not only is it turn by turn recursion for enchantments, but it also turns all of our non-auras into creatures and help with a go-wide win. Alternatively, with Heliod and enough mana, we can pump out a ton of enchantment creature tokens, beefing up Tuvasa and use Thassa’s ability to make her unblockable taking out a player with commander damage. Do this enough times and you’ll win. Nylea’s Colossus can expedite this by giving Tuvasa double strike. You can also steal someone else’s big beater or use Corrupted Conscience on Tuvasa to give her infect and start eliminating targets. Lastly, using our ramp package above in conjuction with Krosan Restorer or Ley Weaver to tap and untap lands for a large enough amount can end a game with a high X-cost Hurricane. I’ve tried to provide options and flexibility but of course this is still just on paper at this point as the decks aren’t quite out yet.

Tutors/Recursion:

Helping things along are a suite of tutors and recursion to allow us to search for a creature or enchantment that will help us out of a bind, or pull permanents back out of the graveyard to use again. I believe this deck will be fairly competitive in casual circles and is still relatively budget. Estrid on the other hand will likely be the only high tier commander from the set, and I look forward to trying to break her. That’s all for this time, but you can see the full decklist here.