The War Report: The Rumor Mill

We’ve known for a while that the new Commander 2019 decks would be releasing in August, as they have years prior. Spoiler season hasn’t quite begun yet, so we don’t know what sorts of mechanics or colors to expect from the precons, but that changed ever so slightly once this image (and others like it) started popping up around the internet:

Clearly this is a website that belongs to a wholesaler, it appears that this listing was put up before it should have been, but that’s the nature of the Internet — someone is always watching. What’s important here is the line “Each deck has a returning keyword ability as its main theme. The four featured abilities are populate, flashback, morph, and madness.”

We now know what the themes of the Commander 2019 decks will be, or at least we should get some confirmation soon, as August isn’t too far away. This sounds believable though, particularly with recent sets bringing back old mechanics that maybe haven’t been fleshed out enough. For those of you not familiar with the keywords, here’s a breakdown of each:

1GreenWhiteTap: Populate(Create a token that’s a copy of a creature token you control.)

Populate is part of a token strategy and can easily be combined with abilities like convoke to have powerful turns. The keyword has been exclusive to G/W so far, so it would make sense for that to be the colors of this deck, but there may be a splash of something else. It’s not a very exciting mechanic as tokens tend to prefer going wide rather than tall, and populate only copies one token, but I suppose if they are 10/10 Eldrazi’s that’s not too terrible. We’ll have to see how the commander(s) abuses this mechanic to find out its worth.

Flashback 1Blue (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then exile it.)

Flashback is the most represented keyword in this selection. We have seen this stapled onto countless cards and it is usually quite useful if not a little expensive. Cards played from the graveyard with flashback will go into exile and though there are tricks for getting cards out of exile it’s probably best to just get the double value out of each spell with this keyword and move on. I’d say the most prevalent colors that use flashback are Grixis, but I don’t think we really need more Grixis commanders. I still think this is likely the deck that has some of the best cards in it though.

Morph 2BlackGreenBlue (You may cast this card face down as a 2/2 creature for 3. Turn it face up any time for its morph cost.)

I don’t like morph. It has its boons on the occasional card, but overall it just feels too slow. Essentially you want to play a big creature that does something cool after morphing, face down as a 2/2, then morph it into its bigger, badder self at the right time to surprise people. I wouldn’t advise letting morph creatures get through with combat damage, as the morph can be activated before damage is applied so you’ll have something worse coming at you with no blocks declared. It’s sneaky and I’m sure there are some cool things you can do with this mechanic, but it’s simply not my style. I won’t even venture to guess the color pairing because I believe the mechanic is present in all colors.

Madness 1Red (If you discard this card, discard it into exile. When you do, cast it for its madness cost or put it into your graveyard.)

Madness is another mechanic that I remember being a thing when I first got back into the game (my friend had a Rakdos vampire deck that did some disgusting things with madness and Smuggler’s Copter) but one that I didn’t use. The thing is, if you are drawing a bunch of cards and then having to discard (or using looting spells) you can get a nice engine going, as madness costs are almost always cheaper than the normal CMC of the card, so discarding it and then casting it on the cheap can be really efficient. However, if you can’t discard then you’re sitting on dead and expensive cards in your hand. My thought is that a different color pairing might work better than Rakdos, but I’d wager this deck is going to be janky.

We should be hearing more about the set and you know I’ll be here with spoilers when they come out, so we’ll discuss more soon. The second piece of information to leak is in the following image:

We’ve known about the next set coming out in September for a while, it was code named “Archery” and little other information has surfaced until now. When I first saw this it was just a rumor, but it has since been confirmed from a breakfast at the San Diego Comic Con occurring right now. The next major MTG set will be known as Throne of Eldraine, and apparently the artwork is littered with Fae. So a new plane and a bunch of fairies. Sweet, I guess? Honestly it doesn’t really matter what the theme is, new planes are awesome and we should get some new mechanics, new creature types and other support for existing themes so it will likely be awesome despite my implied negativity. A larger announcement is coming this evening at Comic Con, so I imagine there will be more stuff about C19 and this new set within a few hours. I look forward to thinking and writing about that as well.

TWR: The Game Knights Effect

I titled this post “The Game Knights Effect” because it was something the guys over at The Command Zone podcast mentioned in a recent show, where they were talking about how people watch their sub-series “Game Knights” and often times that seems to effect stats of the commanders that they play during the show over on EDHREC. Basically, when they pull out one of the new commanders and brew around it, people who watch the game play thereby get inspired and want to build their own versions of that deck, so there is a spike in that commander’s deck stats on the popular aggregate site. Funnily enough, I then watched one of the recent Game Knights episodes, where the guys were covering Modern Horizons and created some decks with new legendary creatures. Jimmy was playing a version of Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis and I really loved what his deck could do during the episode. Not only did he have some of the more splashier plays, but the deck was built solely around graveyard shenanigans and outside of some reanimator strategies I haven’t really built a deck of this style. I also haven’t found the right Golgari commander for me, and since this one appealed so much I decided to go ahead and make my own brew. Let’s take a look at our general:

The basic stats are pretty good on this card. Hogaak is an 8/8 with trample for 7 CMC. That’s not really enough to outright win games but he’s a solid beater for a decent price. What makes him unique to date, is that first line of text that reads “you can’t spend mana to cast this spell.” Of course, that would make this card useless by itself, so of course we can pay for him with two other keywords: Convoke and Delve. The former allows you to tap creatures to pay mana for him, and the latter lets you exile cards from your graveyard to pay the mana instead. Another nice feature is that he is able to be cast from the graveyard, so there is no need to ever pay commander tax unless someone exiles your graveyard and you have to move him back to the command zone. Obviously this is the kind of deck that not only wants to make cheap creatures in order to convoke, but also wants to manipulate the graveyard as much as possible. That means having recursion, sacrifice effects, and other graveyard friendly keywords. As such, I utilized Gatherer and EDHREC to throw this build together, starting first with delve searches, and then diving into dredge as well. It turns out there isn’t a lot of cards with those abilities in these colors, but I took what I felt would work best, along with some great Golgari staples printed in recent sets, and a few hidden gems. That along with the base that Jimmy made for me, and I have a deck that looks pretty solid, doesn’t cost too much and should be fun to play!

Graveyard Manipulation:

There’s a lot here so I’m not going to go over the individual cards. Suffice to say that everything I put into the deck should have some sort of synergy with our overall game plan. The name of the game is self milling, and that means dumping cards into our graveyard by either using tutors like Buried Alive or Entomb, or sacrificing creatures to Altar of Dementia. Most of the cards that give us some selection like Grisly Salvage or Satyr Wayfinder dump the excess cards into our graveyard, so we can put the spells into our hand and creatures into the graveyard just to cheat them back into play. We can also do the same sorts of things with land. The Gitrog Monster forces us to dump lands but also allows us to play an extra per turn, and if we have Crucible of Worlds out, we can throw them right back onto the battlefield. We also have a ton of cards that will check the graveyard for an amount of creatures or lands and then recur them or give us a benefit for doing so. We want to be moving cards from zone to zone often, because it will allow us to draw cards or trigger other effects that will help us maintain a dominant board state.

Recursion:

Our recursion package is set to get lands and creatures back at a rapid clip. Bonus, if we are targeting creatures like Avenger of Zendikar or Deep Forest Hermit, we’ll get a bunch of ETB token creation triggers to boot, and those are great sacrifice fodder to get our engine going. Use an Eternal Witness to bring back Avenger, and then sacrifice it to get another benefit, then bring it back the next turn with Genesis in our graveyard! There are shenanigans to be had and it’s such a different style than I’m used to — but I love a good value engine.

Other Tools:

We’ll want to use these cards in different scenarios differently, but overall our goal is to draw cards off of sacrificial lambs, play things from the graveyard, and then get more triggers to keep the cycle going. Most of the inclusions should be self-explanatory at this point, most have effects that will be beneficial to recur over and over again. There’s a pretty standard Golgari removal package included, and overall I think it will be pretty solid. Something I haven’t tried before, so some testing will be required. I’ll get back to you on this one. You can see the full deck list here.

TWR: New 2020 Build: Kykar

Core Set 2020 just finished being spoiled and hasn’t even been released yet, but I couldn’t wait to brew around one of the new legendary creatures. I wouldn’t say that it’s the color combination, because Jeskai is definitely not as effective as Grixis or Esper, but we’ll take what we can get when we have such a cool commander to build around. I’ve made several other brews that featured token strategies, but this one feels like the ultimate token commander that doesn’t really want to turn creatures sideways. I know that sounds counter-intuitive but check him out and we’ll talk about it:

Kykar is a new Bird Wizard that is trying to compete with other famous Bird Wizards like Derevi. We won’t know if he’ll be as competitive until the community gets their hands on it, but I’m still excited to sling some spells and smash face with some tokens. Kykar is a 3/3 for 4 CMC that has flying, but has the triggered effect of creating 1/1 flying spirits every time you cast a non-creature spell. Bonus, you can sacrifice spirits for 1R, which means if you’re making a ton of tokens you’ll be able to make some extra mana to cast more spells to make more tokens. But I think we can take it further than that with a bunch of ways to make tokens, and hell, we might as well use Divine Visitation and turn those 1/1’s into 4/4 angels while we’re at it! This isn’t the first time I’ve brewed a token focused deck, nor is it the first time I’ve put together a spell slinger deck, but this combines the best of both worlds and I think suits my playstyle pretty well. First up, let’s look at our token strategy:

Token Strategy:

Not only does our commander create tokens by casting non-creature spells, but there are plenty of other creatures in the deck that also trigger token generation from casting instants or sorceries. These aren’t new cards, and I’ve talked about most of them in the past. Basically, with or without your commander you should be getting tokens off of each of your spells cast, and then we have some additional support. Mentor of the Meek can draw us cards for an extra mana per spell (the tokens will trigger his ability), while Impact Tremors will do a damage to each opponent for each token generated. Anointed Procession will double up our tokens and if we have Divine Visitation out then our 1/1’s are suddenly 4/4’s and we’re swinging for lethal pretty quickly. Lastly, Metallurgic Summonings isn’t going to make us too many big tokens due to the deck being pretty low to the ground, but it can still supplement us with some 3/3’s and 4/4’s and that’s not nothing.

Spell Slinging Strategy:

A selection of cards here that support the spell slinging portion of the deck (though the two ideas feed each other well). Guttersnipe can do some nice damage to all opponents if left alone for long enough, while Niblis of Frost can tap down blockers and threats alike after casting spells. Taigam protects our instants and sorceries from counter magic, and can also give our spells rebound if we time them properly. Narset lets us filter through the top of our library for a needed spell, while Ral does damage for casting spells and can let us copy them periodically. Past in Flames is nice recursion for spells and can set up an explosive turn, while Electrodominance does some damage and gets a spell cast for free. Lastly, Jeskai Ascendancy fits both strategies as when we cast spells, we get a small anthem along with getting to loot. Start stacking some of these effects, and your one mana cantrips can a whole bunch more.

Other Synergy:

Our support package provides some utility that can be abused with some of our other strategies. The brand new Tribute Mage from Modern Horizons is great for searching up some of our mana rocks, but was put into the deck to specifically tutor our Isochron Scepter. Trinket mage is there to tutor Skullclamp (to use on our tokens to draw more cards) but can alternatively grab a Sol Ring. You can then use Mystical Tutor to grab Dramatic Reversal (or something else if the circumstances call for it) and use Enlightened tutor to grab a Basalt Monolith for the infinite mana combo. Smothering Tithe and Rhystic Study will help us get more cards and more mana which is always a good thing in these kinds of decks. Last on the tutor front, we have Plea For Guidance which can grab Anointed Procession and Divine Visitation at the same time, or whatever else is needed at the time. Lastly, we have three wheel spells that were included specifically because of the new Narset I linked above. Her static ability says that opponents can’t draw more than one card per turn, so if she’s on the board and we cast one of these spells, our opponents will dump their hand and get one card, while we’ll get the full hand. Card advantage for the win!

Otherwise the deck has a pretty standard land base and most of the spells are removal, counterspells and cantrip or draw spells. You can see the full decklist here.

The War Report: Mail Day Part Deux

I’m not sure if this will become a regular part of this column, but I once made a post about a “Mail Day” of mine and explained the rationale behind that. It’s been a while since I made an order of singles, I only bought packs of the last set, War of the Spark. Since Modern Horizons’ release, I took a deeper look at the set and found that there weren’t actually that many cards I really wanted. It also turns out that Modern Horzions is priced more like a Masters set, so box and pack prices are a bit prohibitive and there are only a couple of money cards that would justify one of those purchases. As such, I tallied up how much it would cost me to pick up nearly every card in the set that was desirable to me, and it turned out to only be about $40 so I pulled the trigger. The cards arrived earlier this week, and now on my days off I was finally able to slot them into the decks I chose them for. I figured at this point I can show you the cards I picked up and where they are going (and why).

Estrid:

My Estrid build is centered around the Stax archetype, so I picked up some cards that were related. Gwafa Hazid is the only non-Modern Horizons card that I picked up, his most recent reprint being in last year’s Battlebond. He can easily lock down pesky creatures, and that’s perfect for this control-style brew. Squirrel Nest was already a card I had in my list (this deck is still under construction), and it’s a potential win-con in itself. Hall of Heliod’s Generosity is a great little recursion tool for my enchantments (and this is an enchantment heavy deck). Lastly, Unsettled Mariner is another nice control piece, making this deck that much more annoying to play against. Looking forward to getting the finishing touches for this one.

Yuriko:

Another one of my decks that is still under construction, ninjas as a tribe received some great support with Modern Horizons. Here are a selection of ninjas that I felt were great for the deck, replacing some of the non-ninja creatures and making the tribe feel whole. It’s still not a 100% ninjas only deck, but cards that have Changeling like the Outcast above still count as ninjas, and I’ve still got the important enchantments in the deck that will allow non-ninjas to still be ninjas. Speaking of enchantments, I added two more to the deck. Cunning Evasion is new and it’s great for ninjas, allowing those that get blocked to bounce back to your hand (allowing you to use ninjitsu again if they have the keyword) so they won’t die. Future Sight is a reprint, but with the top-deck-matters nature of this commander, I thought it was fitting to help utilize Yuriko’s ability. Another deck I can’t wait to finish up.

Tawnos:

Tawnos is actually in a playable state right now, it’s just not as good as it can get. I still need a handful of somewhat pricey cards in order to make it go off, but this spicy tech will add to it. One of those enchantments that allows you to pick from two modes, this can help beef up a token army rather quickly, or is a win-con in itself. I really like the Phyrexian option, particularly if you already have a bunch of artifacts in the graveyard, you can potentially wipe out the last opponents within a couple of turns.

Edgar Markov:

My Edgar Markov deck has never really performed the way I want it to. Each new set for the past couple of years since his release has come with some cool new vampire toys, so it has seen a number of changes and yet still feels like it doesn’t work that well. This addition will further help me to lower the curve. I need to playtest it some more, along with making adjustments because it’s supposed to be an amazing deck and never really feels that way.

Varina:

On the contrary, I love my zombie deck, and it’s seen sweeping changes since I first created it. Starting with the Dimir commander Gisa & Geralf, it later became a Scarab God deck, and I’ve finally settled on Varina. I feel it’s the most competitive version it’s ever been, and these couple of additions should help. I already have several aristocrats style cards in the deck, and Undead Augur is another that will help me drain life from my opponents, just for sacrificing my own zombie tokens and whatnot. Cycling through this deck should happen rather quickly. Endling is a new version of the shapeshifter cards that have been around for a while — a creature that has several abilities and you can choose which to use as needed. It can be a threat on its own due to evasion and the ability to pump it up.

Krenko:

Krenko has been in a good spot for a long time. I recently added the newest version of Krenko from War of the Spark to the deck, and now we have another new legendary goblin to add to the mix — Pashalik Mons. He’s got some text that allows him to ping targets every time a goblin dies, and is a sac outlet himself. It’s a bit expensive to pay four mana and sacrifice a goblin to create two goblins, but with the right set up it can go infinite. In conjunction with the two Krenkos, this can go off quickly.

Shu-Yun:

This was the best sword added to the game with this set. Since Shu-Yun is my Voltron commander, it was a no-brainer to pick this up. Proliferate actually doesn’t do much in this deck, but since it provides counters itself that’s not terrible. The protection from white and blue is what’s really nice, and I already have most of the swords in the deck so why not?

Jodah:

People are saying that this version of Sisay is actually better than Tazri at doing what Tazri does. I’m not really interested in that style of deck though, so instead I’m going to put her where she makes the most sense — Jodah. She’s cheap to cast, so an early drop, and I’m already rushing to get to WUBRG anyway, so her ability will be usable quickly. She can tutor up most of the 18 or so legendaries I have in the deck including the Eldrazi Titans. She is also a late game threat herself given enough legendary creatures on the board.

Karador:

I haven’t really even begun to work on my Karador build, but I picked up an extra copy of Altar of Dementia and it turns out I had it on this list (and already in another deck). It’s a great card when you can use it effectively.

Not Yet Placed:

Otherwise I picked up the new Talisman cycle, a few Tribute Mages to spread around, Pondering Mage, Llanowar Tribe and Astral Drift. I’m not sure where I’m going to put these cards but I know they will get used, the rocks especially. Tribute Mage works well in Inalla or an Artifact deck where I need an extra tutor. The Tribe will go in either a mono-green or Elf heavy deck eventually. Pondering Mage is going into Inalla as well, because otherwise it’s not very good, but getting the effect twice for 6 mana is decent. Astral Drift is a card that interests me, and I think I may build a cycling deck at some point so it’s there for when I do.

Overall the set was pretty good, and there are a couple other cards I would like but I’m going to wait until they come down in price. Core Set 2020 comes out soon as well so I’ll probably do the same thing with it and pick up whatever is decent that I can use.

The War Report: Saskia Infect

I’ve written about Saskia the Unyielding before, and the time has come for an update to her deck. I originally purchased the 2016 Commander Precon that she was the face card for and utilized that deck a few times before ripping it apart to use the cards included elsewhere. Since then, I read an article that took her in a direction that I hadn’t thought of and was intrigued by, so I took that author’s idea and made it my own. That deck has honestly never seen much play. Saskia has a powerful ability, and for whatever reason it didn’t seem like I could make it work for me. Most games I was either hated off the board or ended up nearly killing two opponents before they decide to team up and remove the common threat. I also owned an Atraxa that I had planned on making into an Infect commander but after War of the Spark’s release I could only see making her into a Superfriends deck instead. I still wanted to be able to use some of the infect cards I had lying around (you might remember a build I made for Temmet a couple of years back), and then I thought about Saskia again. A commander that I think has a lot of potential but I hadn’t really given her a fair shake. So here we are, building her into an infect commander!

Saskia is a 3/4 for 4 CMC with Vigilance and Haste. Her having haste right out the gate also made me want to give our creatures some hasty options, so cards like Rhythm of the Wild and Anger are also included in the deck but not pictured below. What’s most important about her though, is her ability to allow your creatures to damage two opponents at once as long as she is on the battlefield. If said creatures have infect though, you’ll be really close to eliminating multiple opponents quite quickly. It’s not likely that she’ll ever be racing turn 3 and 4 decks, but for those in more of the midrange I’d say you could do some damage. Seeing as how this is an infect deck, of course we’re going to play with a bunch of creatures with the keyword. Let’s take a closer look.

Infect Creatures:

It seems that the majority of the good infect cards are Black and Green, while we do have a few decent artifacts as well. There are definitely more creatures than this in the game with infect, but I tried to look at those that brought the most to the table and had lower casting costs. In the case of some of the more vanilla creatures, they are just there to try and sneak in some early damage, and I’ve included ways to give them evasion if they don’t already have it baked in. As it stands, you only need to get in ten points of infect damage to eliminate a player from the game, and if Saskia is out and you can do it to two people at once, it will be a fun day.

Infect Support:

Evasion is helpful in trying to get to that ten points of infect damage. Iroas gives our creatures menace (can’t be blocked unless by two creatures at once) but also prevents damage to them, so keep in mind infect gives -1/-1 counters when damage is placed so you can whittle down opponent’s defenses turn by turn. Mirri will also help our creatures get in more often, and keeps big hordes from attacking us. There are also a couple of Proliferate options presented just so that we can keep the pressure on those that already have counters. Grafted Exoskeleton can equip to the few creatures we have without infect to give them the keyword, or a well timed Tainted Strike will also do the trick. Beyond Trailblazer’s Boots, Rogue’s Passage is another inclusion for ways to get around blockers so we can infect our opponents.

Ramp:

Four and Five color decks tend to be mana hungry, but also need to get to all four of their colors rather quickly. As such, I’ve included a very good ramp package that is a mixture of mana dorks (creatures that tap for mana), rocks (artifacts that tap for mana) and ramp spells (spells that pull lands from your library). Chromatic Lantern will help make all of our lands tap for any color, and the two enchantments Land Tax and Smothering Tithe can help us catch up if we’re behind or make for some explosive turns. Ramping quickly will help us to get more threats on the board, and from there we should be able to get early infect damage stacking. Then, we’ll use a finisher and get our well deserved victory!

Finishers:

I’ve included three finishers in case just smashing face and/or proliferation aren’t enough to get the job done. Beastmaster Ascension is a great cheap option if you have a bunch of creatures on the board, as it will instantly buff them +5/+5 and well, that’s probably game over. The same can be said of God-Eternal Rhonas, in that he doubles creature’s power the turn you play him, but if he dies he bounces to your library and can be used again later. Lastly, Triumph of the Hordes will not only pump all of your creatures and give them trample, but those that don’t have infect will get it, and yeah, you should be winning the game at that point.

Hoping to have this one finished up soon. Planning on a progress report style post soon, where I go over the status of decks I’m working on, how older ones are performing and being updated, and all that jazz. Until then!