The War Report: Ninja Update

Despite all of the recent hype around here surrounding the impending release of Commander 2019, I still have projects that I’m always working on. Each new set brings with it new cards that can potentially replace older cards in my existing decks, and sometimes a set comes along with enough of boost to a pet project to snowball a deck into fruition. When Commander 2018 was being spoiled last year, I immediately knew that I wanted to build Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow. Ninjas aren’t exactly a well supported tribe though, basically only having cards from the Kamigawa block. I still brewed a deck around this commander, but it never really felt like it was where I wanted it to be. There were ninjas in it, there were ways to manipulate the top of the library to capitalize on Yuriko’s ability. There were plenty of unblockables and then enchantments like Conspiracy and Arcane Adaption to make sure everything that wasn’t a ninja would still count as a ninja. This still felt pretty half-assed. Enter Modern Horizons.

I ended up writing a post about my pickups from Modern Horizons, and the extra few ninjas that were put out in that set enabled this deck to feel more on theme. Gone from the original list:

Duskmantle Seer
Sire of Stagnation
Grave Pact
Fleshbag Maurader
Merciless Executioner
Evil Twin
Viscera Seer
Patriarch’s Bidding
Sakashima’s Student
Palace Siege
Tetsuko Umezawa

Some of the cards that were removed were due to the fact that they just weren’t on theme enough. Duskmantle Seer is a fine card, but it doesn’t really fit in with the ninja theme, I can’t use ninjitsu to throw it out from my hand, and well it’s a vampire. Ditto Sire of Stagnation, it’s an awesome card but I don’t really feel a lone Eldrazi is the way to go. I also had some light sacrifice theme stuff going on in the prior build that was no longer relevant, so I have removed Grave Pact, Fleshbag Maurader, Viscera Seer and Merciless Executioner. Copy effects sounded okay, but Sakashima’s Student is a little pricey, and I had some budget constraints to stick to if I wanted to build this deck before my Vegas trip. I dropped Evil Twin as well, opting to go for more theft effects rather than copy effects. Patriarch’s Bidding was also cut due to the budget, though I did splurge on Sensei’s Divining Top because it is basically required. I also dropped Palace Siege (was in for recursion but isn’t very efficient) and Tetsuko Umezawa (she’s great and all but I felt another ninja would be better in her stead).

New cards that were added were mostly from Modern Horizons, including:

Changeling Outcast
Mist-Syndicate Naga
Phantom Ninja
Azra Smokeshaper
Ingenious Infiltrator
Moonblade Shinobi
Fallen Shinobi
Cunning Evasion

These cards were a given, due to all but one of them being a ninja outright. The Changeling Outcast is a shapeshifter, but counts as a ninja without needing enchantment help. It’s also unblockable so that’s on-theme for ninjitsu tricks. The rest are pretty obvious inclusions, while Cunning Evasion is a double whammy in this deck. Not only is it protection for our creatures that can’t get through unblocked (allowing them to be returned to our hand if they are blocked) it also can fill our hand back up with ninjas that can then be dropped back onto the battle field if we have some creatures that get through unblocked. It’s cool stuff. Other notable new inclusions are:

Scheming Symmetry
Notion Rain
Aminatou’s Augury
Future Sight

These cards were put in while I was finding a better mana curve. The first is a new tutor from M20 that allows you to pick another player to give a tutor to while you tutor up something as well (cards go to top of library). A great political tool and way to set up for big Yuriko triggers. Notion Rain is a pretty decent common from Ravnica that gets you two cards and some selection with surveil. Aminatou’s Augury is a bomb and I don’t know why I didn’t think of using it sooner. You get to exile 8 cards, ramp by throwing a land onto the battlefield, and then potentially cast 3-4 cards for free. Future Sight is also a no brainer for top deck shenanigans.

The deck is finally done and playable, and I can’t wait for Vegas to try it out. Here’s the updated deck list.

The War Report: Imposters

I was interested in Morophon the moment he was teased, but because I already have a 5-color commander in Jodah, I focused on some other brews first. I kept looking at Morophon though, and I just couldn’t resist building a deck around him. Let me show you why:

Morophon is fairly unique in that he’s a colorless creature and therefore only has generic mana in his casting cost (outside of the Eldrazi titans, there aren’t many). Granted, seven mana is hard to get to on early turns but not needing any specific colors helps to get there faster. Morophon is also classified as a 5-color commander due to the WUBRG symbols appearing in his rules text. This means we not only have access to excellent mana rocks to ramp up to seven mana to cast our big boy, but we also have access to any other color’s ramp too. It should be fairly easy to get him cast early on. The major detail here is that Morophon is a Shapeshifter, so he has the Changeling keyword (which means he counts as all creature types). I’ve utilized Changelings in the past with my Reaper King build, so I already had quite a few of these laying around. There are some interesting things we can do with this tribal Shapeshifter idea, and most of it is reflected in the general. Obviously when he is played we are going to choose the creature type Shapeshifter, and then any of those spells are reduced by up to five mana to cast. He’s also a Lord for the chosen creature type, and a lord sub theme will be present in the deck as well.

Changelings:

Modern Horizons introduced a handful of new Changelings, most of which are pretty decent. I’ve also included the best Changelings that already existed and I think we cover some good ground and keep the overall curve pretty low. Some of these are sort of underwhelming, being maybe a 2/2 with Morophon on the board, but being changelings, there are quite a few ways we can give them the power to beat down our opponents. Check out the lords:

Lords:

All of the lords here are not changelings. I couldn’t see including every single shapeshifter because many of them were underwhelming. But, seeing as that our creatures with changeling count as all creature types, all of these cards will benefit them! We can give our whole team indestructible, hexproof, shroud, flying, haste, deathtouch, etc. Other cool interactions are with cards like Unesh where you get some card selection for each creature played, or the Archdruid which let’s you steal land by tapping some creatures. I wanted to throw in some of the more obscure lords that are already in my collection but that I hadn’t yet found a home for, so cards like Midnight Entourage can finally see some play and draw me some cards in the process. Of course, we want all of these lords to benefit from their own abilities too, so we have some additional utility added:

Win Cons + Fun Interactions:

Arcane Adaption and Conspiracy are cards that I’ve talked about before in other home brews, but they are just as important here. When these cards are played, we’ll name Shapeshifter again, and then suddenly all of our cards in our hand, on the battlefield and even in our library are now Shapeshifters and the synergy goes off the charts. Creatures will be pumped up, they’ll get new keywords, and hopefully this means you can get in for some damage for the win. Other ways we’re going to pump up our team is with cards like Door of Destinies and Coat of Arms which can make our army stupid big. We’ll also want to capitalize on awesome enchantments like Rhystic Study, Smothering Tithe, Kindred Discovery and Rhythm of the Wild — drawing cards, getting extra mana and giving our creatures haste or extra counters + denying enemy counter magic is what we want to do. I’ve also included a dumb alternate win con in Liliana’s Contract. I had put this into Kaalia but it’s more of an ask in that deck. Here, we simply need four creatures with changeling and for the contract to survive til our next upkeep and we win.

This deck isn’t going to revolutionize the game by any means, but it’s a fun way to use some cards that I’ve owned for a while but never used. It’s fairly budget, with the mana base and spell package it’s sitting at $265. You can see the full deck list here.

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.