TWR: Torbran, Thane of Red Pings

This column has slowed down a little as of late because of the delay to the release of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths and Commander 2020. The release of those products was pushed back from April to this Friday, May 15th. As such, I’m still a couple of days away from getting my hands on new cards with which to build decks, and though I’ve already shared a couple of brews that I have intended on making as soon as I get a couple of the new precons, I’m still waiting. I’m super stoked for some of the cards from the main set, but I’m really looking forward to two out of the five new precons, and I think that will get me back to playing a bit more regularly and of course brewing up some new decks. Despite the fact that I’m in a bit of a lull with the game, I did manage to get some time in with two new decks last weekend (along with playing several games with existing ones). One of those I actually brewed on Friday night, put together on Saturday and played a couple of games with — this is the deck we’ll be talking about today. The other is a more competitive one utilizing a strategy I have never tried before — I’m happy to say that it worked pretty well on its first couple of games as well, but I’ll talk more about that one another time. For now, let’s look at another commander from Throne of Eldraine, Torbran, Thane of Red Fell:

When Throne of Eldraine was being teased, I pegged this guy as a must have card for a variety of decks, but didn’t really consider using him as a commander. It turns out that despite not being really into much of Eldraine at that time, that there were more cards I ended up using from the set than anticipated on top of finding a really fun commander in Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig (whom I might add will benefit from cards coming in these new products). Anyway, I came across a guide that suggested using Torbran as the general of a ping deck, which has generally been thought of as a weak option for EDH. However, once I started looking at synergistic red cards from over the years of Magic’s history, I started to see the potential. First of all, Torbran isn’t a pinger himself, but he definitely supports the idea. With him on the battlefield, he’ll increase the effectiveness of pinging units by increasing their damage output by 2. This means a card that reads tap: deal 1 damage to <target> now says tap: deal 3 damage to <target>. But Torbran doesn’t stop at amplifying pinging creatures, rather he counts all red sources of damage — something red has had added to its suite of burn in interesting ways over the years. First up, let’s check out our army of pingers.

Pingers:

Each of these creatures will tap to deal 1 damage to a target. Sometimes the target is a creature, sometimes a player, sometimes all opponents, sometimes all players. Some have haste, others have defender, but they all will eventually be able to lightning bolt at will. Three cards of note here are Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh, Goblin Sharpshooter and Syr Carah, the Bold. The first is one of the original flip walkers, and while being able to ping for only 1 damage herself, with Torbran on the board she will immediately flip int a viable planeswalker that can still do damage. The Sharpshooter is tricky to use, but is part of some combos that I didn’t originally include in this build but might at some point. Still, with him tapping for 3 damage with our commander, we should be able to activate him more than once in a turn. Combos with Kiki-jiki and Splinter Twin (also Zealous Conscripts) might be added as finishers but so far I’ve liked the way the deck has performed without being too combotastic. Lastly, Syr Carah is also from Eldraine and while she is a pinger as well, she also allows us to get some value off the top of our deck, which is certainly welcome in red.

Other Forms of Damage Over Time:

So the meat and potatoes of our strategy is to burn our opponents down faster than they can kill us. Doing it with the pingers we’ve gone over can work, but it’s going to take some time. As such, I’ve added a slew of options that will punish our opponents in their own ways. Casting spells? Electrostatic Field and Firebrand Archer will do damage just for casting them. Playing creatures? Purphoros will do 4 damage to each opponent with Torbran on the field. Playing lands? Tunneling Geopede will shoot lighting bolts for doing so. You get the picture. We’re trying to make sure that no matter what we’re doing and no matter what the board state is, you’ll still be slowly whittling away your opponent’s life totals, and at some point should be able to threaten wins. In my first game with the deck I managed to get out Purphoros and a Sulfuric Vortex, so I was dealing 4 damage a turn to each of them while only taking two of my own, then dealing more damage by playing creatures, and I didn’t even get the fun stuff like Ancient Runes or Burning Earth. Zo-Zu the Punisher also looks like a ton of fun.

Notable Inclusions:

Since it’s red, we have a few ways of making a large chunk of mana. As such I included cards like Electrodominance, Jaya’s Immolating Inferno, and Comet Storm as potential finishers off of a big swing of a turn. Dockside Extortionist can give you a bunch of treasures at once, Neheb the Eternal is a mana engine, and mid to late game Mana Geysers can net a ton. We also have Past in Flames to get back some of these spells if we need to later on, while Outpost Siege is extra card advantage. The version of Chandra I included is also pretty busted, simply because she can’t be countered and immediately gives our opponents an emblem that deals them damage each turn, which is perfect for this deck. Since we aren’t running board wipes due to having lots of ways to remove problematic creatures with our pingers, I’ve included some in the form of creatures that when paired with Torbran essentially end up being partial board wipes on top of doing damage to our opponents at the same time. Lastly, Ghirapur Orrery can help us ramp but that effect is symmetrical. However, if you find yourself with no cards in hand (as many red/burn decks do) we get to draw 3 cards which is likely going to help us more than our opponents. Plus it’s about the only nice thing this deck does.

In testing it has worked well, but I can suggest adding Kiki-Jiki, Splinter Twin and Zealous Conscripts if you’re looking for a way to end stalled out games. I may do so myself.

The War Report: Life is but a Cycle

With Commander 2020 still a few weeks out, I’m stuck only brewing up ideas for the new decks rather than actually playing with the cards, which I should have been doing by now, but you know, “all this shit going on.” I already talked about one of the sub generals that I’m excited to build with Xyris, but today I’m going to take a look at one of the face commanders. Specifically, we’re talking about Gavi, Nest Warden who is the leader of the Timeless Wisdom deck. This is otherwise known as “the cycling deck.” Let’s take a look at our general:

Gavi is a solid 2/5 for 5 CMC requiring Jeskai colors. This should be playable by turn three as long as you get your colors early, so it’s not a bad rate. Gavi allows you to play 0 for the cycling cost of your first cycle per turn. She also rewards you for cycling, as your cycle draw will create a 2/2 boros “dinosaur cat” (yes they are starting to reach with these weird combinations but that’s Magic I guess). So there are some obvious directions we can go with this, as cycling is a recurring mechanic that’s been around for a long time so there are a ton of cards to support the strategy. We also know that there are some cycling cards with additional effects that come off of cycling the card, but the activation cost is usually high. With Gavi, you can cheat some powerful effects by cycling, or if nothing else you can literally replace a card in your hand for free each turn while also making a 2/2 token. That means we can lean into cycling effects pretty heavily, but have some support for the token strategy as well. I’m sure these will be the two main strategies for the deck, but some people will lean more heavily in one direction or the other. I’m looking for a synergistic balanced approach. So first, let’s look at the cycling cards in the deck.

Cycling:

I’ve split up this section into multiple parts because when the galleries get too big they don’t display all that well. Plus, each are in different card categories and will likely be used under different circumstances.

Lands:

I’ve included most of the available cycling lands in these colors. All of these cost either one or two to cast, but in the case of Ash Barrens, it’s just color fixing instead of card draw. Still, each of these can be utilized as land drops as needed, but they do mostly come into play tapped, so they are a little slow. To compensate I’ve added a considerable amount of better lands for the rest of the base, so these should be powering your token engine and card draw engine.

Enchantments:

Enchantments in the deck tend to focus on a variety of utility while still being able to be cycled away. Most of these will provide some sort of reusable benefit if they hit the battlefield, but can also be cycled away themselves if the circumstances aren’t right. As a bonus, both Decree of Silence and Shark Typhoon have extra abilities if you cycle them, which is free if done at the right time. Remember, you get a free cycle PER TURN so even on your opponent’s turns you can cycle DoS for a free counterspell, or get an additional bounce effect off of Astral Drift.

Spells:

Most of the spells with cycling on them have a similar design to other cards that are lesser CMC. This means spells of this nature are sort of modular in that they will do what you want them to do, but they cost more so you end up down on mana. However, cycling them is always an option, and sometimes that will give you a bonus effect or will simply draw you a card and give you a token. When every card reads “cycle this for free, draw a card and create a 2/2” they all end up being pretty good. As such, some of these are included because they are meant to cycle, and others are just decent effects that you might need at any given point in a game.

Creatures:

There are less creatures with cycling on them included in this list mainly because many of them aren’t very good. We also want to cast most of these for their effects rather than cycling them away, but in some cases it’s okay to cycle them away especially with some of the big plays we can make with our support cards.

Cycling Support:

So these cards don’t have cycling on them, but each is either affected by cards with cycling on them or benefit from the act of cycling. For example, Herald of the Forgotten returns all cards with cycling on them from the graveyard to the battlefield, so if you happened to cycle away powerful cards during the early part of the game, this could pull some good stuff out of the bin. Astral Slide is Astral Drift’s older brother. New Perpectives and Fluctuator both allow additional cycling for free. Drake Haven and Spirit Cairn will make more tokens if you have the extra mana to spend. Abandoned Sarcophagus allows you to play cards with cycling from the graveyard. You get the idea.

Other Synergies:

Our last section covers some of the other cards in the deck. They were mindful inclusions but might not be obvious as to why I included them right away. So remember how we get a 2/2 each time we draw our second card per turn? Well that happens on opponent’s turns as well, so if you have out Consecrated Sphinx you’ll get a 2/2 on everyone else’s turn, beyond drawing two cards. Ditto Alhammaret’s Archive, where your cycle effects on their turn will draw you two cards instead of one, so you’ll still get the token. These tokens entering the battlefield on each opponent’s turn will also draw you more cards off of Ephara, as you’ll have tokens entering each turn. Cloudblazer and the artifact mages were included as bounce targets for Drift/Slide, as you’ll get more value from them that way. Also, since we are making tokens all of the time, why should we limit their capabilities? Why not turn those 2/2’s into 4/4 angels with flying? Divine Visitation will do that. Anointed Procession will double those tokens you’re making, whether they are 2/2 dinos, 4/4 angels or 1/1 spirits. You can also pump up your tokens with Aven Wind Guide who gives all tokens flying and vigilance. Lastly, if you want to end a game quick, use Brallin and Curiosity to create an endless loop during your discard step. His flying shark friend Shabraz will also get huge with all of the cards you should be drawing.

All in all I think cycling is a powerful tool and is only more powerful with this commander at the helm. I’m definitely looking forward to playtesting this one come next month.

TWR: April Rules Update

The Rules Committee for the community-owned EDH format has made some rules announcements today. I wasn’t intending to write back to back posts about Magic: The Gathering, but sometimes big things happen moment to moment and talking about it while it’s fresh and relevant is the way to go. So let’s dive into it.

Companion/Lutri:

Companion is a new mechanic that comes out in Ikoria, and I’ve already spoken about how one of those companion cards was banned pre-release. The Rules Committee commented on the fact that companion can work within the rules of commander, and that they could change wording on one rule in order to make it so. Essentially this means that wish cards that were already not allowed are still not, but that companions can exist within the command zone as long as they fit within the commander’s color identity and the deck used the companion’s building restrictions. This is fine by me but I don’t see any of them I’m interested in building at this point in time. The RC also confirmed that Lutri from this cycle would be banned in commander, because it’s too easy to build around and is basically a free (and powerful) effect in any decks that can use blue and red. I see their reasoning here as well, and don’t have any further opinion on their decision here.

Added to the ban list –Flash:

The other big announcement was that the card Flash was added to the ban list. This wasn’t anticipated, but it has been hotly debated in the community for a while, but that is almost solely the cEDH crowd. As someone who enjoys the hell out of cEDH myself, I am not shocked by the banning, because this card in combination with Protean Hulk (who also used to be banned, but was unbanned not too long ago) can result in turn 1 wins under the right circumstances. This is mostly due to the printing of another card that interacts with the Flash/Hulk combo, Thassa’s Oracle. I suppose the combo was still pretty broken prior to the latter card’s printing, but it took more effort with Jace or Lab Man. The argument now, is that it shouldn’t be banned just because it has taken over the cEDH meta, with most decks able to play the combo doing so; that casual players should still have access to the card. I’ve also seen the argument that if Flash was banned, that Demonic Consultation decks would be the next boogeyman as they already are a considerable chunk of the meta. Also that stax would come back with a vengeance because Fish Hulk builds wouldn’t be around to win anyway.

My opinion is that despite the fact that there are significantly less people who play cEDH exclusively as compared to casuals (as is the case in most hobby debates), I believe this was a good move by the RC. I only regret never having built my Flash/Hulk Chulane build in time. I do think Thassa’s Oracle and Demonic Consultation builds are worthy contenders for top spots, but I also know that other cards will be printed and a new normal will be set. Commander still evolves over time just like all the other formats of the game, so the new meta could be something else if they finally find a way to dethrone the partner commanders. Power creep is also a hot topic, and many people in the community think its on the rise, so its undoubtedly going to happen in the future.

TWR: The Locust God Wheels into Xyris

Since the new Commander 2020 decks were spoiled, I already knew there were going to be some new leaders I would want to brew around. The first and easiest one to tackle was more of a changing of the guard rather than a fully new brew. Let’s look at the Legendary Creatures in question, and then I’ll continue.

I created a deck around The Locust God back when Hour of Devastation was being spoiled. Initially it started as just a way to benefit off of drawing cards, so I packed in as many ways to draw cards as I could, including cycling lands and some way-too-expensive enchantments and spells. It would evolve into a more competitive build as I included the Skullclamp/Ashnod’s Altar combo and ways to tutor these artifacts, until eventually I also decided it would be a wheels deck and the focus shifted towards that with the aforementioned combo as a win-con. Decks evolve over time, and though I was happy with the way my Locust God deck was performing, I instantly recognized similarities with one of the new cards: Xyris, the Writing Storm. The main difference between the two generals is that The Locust God benefits you when you draw cards, while Xyris benefits you when your opponents draw cards. But who’s to say The Locust God can’t be a part of his own clamp/altar combo within a Xyris deck? Why couldn’t Xyris be a wheels deck? My gears were spinning. Adding green to the deck can help us to ramp and get our win cons more effectively, but there were still other swaps to be made to splash some green into our build. This is an initial draft of this concept, but I think it already builds upon the shell I already had. So as I said, Xyris benefits off of opponent’s drawing cards outside of their draw step, and wheels with him on the board means you are drawing a fresh set of cards along with creating 21 1/1 snakes. So let’s look at our wheeling package first:

Wheels:

As you can see, we have a number of wheels that come in the form of creatures and spells. Some are reusable, some deal some damage, some only affect you but most also affect opponents as well. Teferi’s Puzzle Box is particularly lethal in conjunction with Narset, Parter of Veils, who will deny opponents a hand altogether. You probably shouldn’t drop that without a clear win path though. Next up, cards that will help opponents draw more so that we can create more snake tokens:

Group Hug:

I’m hesitant to call this a group hug deck, despite the fact that all of these cards benefit our opponents by drawing them cards. Of course, we too benefit from the additional card draw, and if you stack some of these up it’s going to mean multiple snakes per turn for you, and more cards in hand on your turns. This benefits both Xyris and The Locust God, so both game plans synergize with the above strategy of giving card draw to opponents but also wheeling often to get the most benefit of it all. Speaking of wheels, let’s look at some other payouts for drawing and discarding cards throughout a match:

Draw/Discard Triggers:

Since I had already built The Locust God to also have supporting players like Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind and Psychosis Crawler, I’ve included them in the build. Newer cards that are releasing with Ikoria such as Brallin and Rielle benefit me for discard cards through wheeling or cycling. Geth’s Grimoire is built to help me draw more cards than my opponents when we do the discard and draw dance. Plenty of payouts here that work well on their own, but also can lead to win cons as well. Let’s talk about winning then, shall we?

Winning:

There are some repeats of cards in here, mainly because they stood alone in other categories, but combined here we have several win conditions. Locust God + Skullclamp + Ashnod’s Altar is an infinite loop (that you can choose to stop when you like, or draw most of your library) you can use to likely make enough 1/1 fliers to get a win, however sometimes you need some more punch, so cards like In the Web of War and Shared Animosity are in the deck, because they will benefit both your locust tokens and your snake tokens making them hit harder, allowing you to go wide enough to get past blockers. Niv-Mizzet + Curiosity is another old time combo that goes infinite itself allowing you to ping players down, while the same card attached to Brallin can help you to end a game as well, almost incidentally. You see, if you have more than seven cards in hand come your end step, discarding to hand size will do a damage to a player, and he will draw you a card, and do a damage, but then you’ll have the extra card again, and you’ll repeat the process until you see fit to stop. Finally, I’ve included Breath of Fury because with enough locusts, you can theoretically get infinite combat steps, hopefully drawing more cards along the way to pump out more locusts. Now, let’s look at a few outliers before wrapping this up:

Supporting Cards:

These last few cards offer support for our other gameplans. Kruphix, God of Horizons allows us to create explosive turns, where perhaps we can play our commander and wheel more than once to finish out a game. Ohran Frostfang is itself a snake, so it will get the benefits from the attack based enchantments we’ve already gone over, but also gives all attacking creatures deathtouch! To top it off, our army of deathtouchers will draw us cards as they do damage to players. Seshiro the Annoited is our only real dedicated snake support, but he packs a punch. He also gives snakes the ability to draw cards off of player damage, but also pumps them +2/+2, so we’ll have an army of 3/3’s in no time! Lastly, since that is our only static buff for creatures, I’ve included Meekstone, as it will keep bigger creatures tapped down while our 1/1’s can get through turn after turn.

Overall I’m really excited for this one to be playable. I have a large portion of the cards outside of those that haven’t released yet, so I should be able to playtest this sometime next month. Up next, my personal spin on the face commander from one of the cycling precon, the other commander I’m most excited to build from the new set.

The War Report: Ikoria Spoilers

Spoiler season has been upon us for a while, and with Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths in particular we’ve been spoiled with new cards, mainly because the main set was spoiled alongside the Commander 2020 precons. I’ve already gone over the precons and my thoughts on some of the cards contained therein because those spoilers wrapped up a few days ago. Ikoria was fully spoiled this week, so I have combed through the set and pulled out my highlight cards as I tend to do around here. First up, the new promo card:

Buy-A-Box Promo:

Yeah, when I first saw this card I thought it was an April fools joke. Apparently WotC made some deal with the company that owns the old school Japanese monster properties, and made cards inspired by them. If you look closely, just underneath his name (Godzilla), you see the MTG name underneath. So they aren’t actually Godzillas, but the premium art version promos are. I guess it’s kinda cool but also pretty hokey. He’s also pretty gimmicky in the type of deck build you’d want him in. Not really interested. Let’s now take a look at the spoilers from the set, in WUBRG order:

White:

I’m surprised that I’m not very excited by many of the cards in this set. I think a big factor is that the commander sets just have more cards in them I’m excited about, but there are still some good cards here, and a lot of chaff that I’m obviously not even highlighting. There are plenty of places to see all of the cards so I’ll leave that part up to you. Anyway, these three cards I highlighted are a couple really powerful cards and then a third that is part of a cycle that I’m not overly thrilled with but they will find places in some decks. Luminous Broodmoth is a pretty interesting card because it recurs creatures without flying from your graveyard when they die, then also puts a flying counter on them. People have already figured out that combined with solemnity, you have an infinite loop if you have a sac outlet. I’m tempted to build some mono-white shenanigans. The Magistrate on the other hand is a more subtle powerhouse. He’s a 1/3 for 2 CMC but packs a powerful line of text: opponents can’t play cards from anywhere besides their hands. This hoses so many value engines it’s amazing. I’ll need a few copies of this one.

Blue:

Still not a lot of cards here in blue, but I like Shark Typhoon a lot as it is a new version of Metallurgic Summoning, but can be cycled away into one big creature alternatively. It’s expensive, but fun. Escape Protocol is more cycling goodness, as it allows you to blink your artifacts and creatures each time you cycle. The last card is part of the Mythos cycle, and it’s alright.

Black:

Not much to like in black either this time around. This is probably because much of the set is multicolored. I do like this fairly cheap exile board wipe effect with Extinction Event, and I really like the new enchantment. Bastion of Remembrance is a Zulaport Cutthroat on an enchantment, so it will be slightly harder to remove than most creatures with this effect. Definitely slotting that one into my aristocrats deck. I actually like the black Mythos, as it’s modular and not too expensive to cast.

Red:

Red actually has the most cards I’m interested in of the mono colors. A new Planeswalker Lukka enters the fold, but he’s not all that interesting. Unpredictable Cyclone is a new version of Possibility Storm and it’s not bad. The Mythos is pretty bad. Flame Spill pushes design boundaries a bit in that it is the first damage spell I’ve seen that effectively has trample stapled onto it. I also really like Footfall Crater, as it’s a cheap land enchantment that can give trample and haste to a creature each turn, along with having cycling. Finally, the Rooting Moloch is interesting in the fact that it can give one of your cycling cards flashback, and that can be powerful if used correctly.

Green:

A good showing for green this time as well, with a new version of Viven, our King Kong inspired creature (that’s actually pretty good for most green beater decks) and the Mythos is one of the better ones. Colossification is just insane in the right deck, as it gives a creature +20/+20, but it taps the creature as a downside. With plenty of ways to untap said creature in Magic, I assume this will be responsible for many commander damage deaths. I know a few I have that could use it. Finally, Barrier Breach is a fantastic value for 3 mana, letting you exile up to three enchantments.

Multicolor:

When it comes to multi-colored cards, there are far too many here I wanted to highlight so I won’t go over them individually. There are a few cycles of cards present here: A cycle of creatures that are three colored and all have mutate, the ones I’ve included are those I feel are most playable in my format. There’s the cycle of Ultimatums, that follow the design of an older card Cruel Ultimatum. I really like the mardu one the best, but many of them are pretty good. There’s a cycle of 2 color legendaries, but most of them are pretty specific and not doing things I’m doing with my decks at the moment. There’s also a cycle of 3 color enchantments and I highlighted the ones I liked best. Also, Narset makes a new appearance as a Planeswalker, and she got some extra colors back. Some good stuff is here, check out the cards above.

Colorless/Lands:

When it came to lands the biggest surprise was a new set of tri-lands, each being 3 separate land types (aka fetchable). They also have cycling and I think they’ll see play in decks that aren’t as competitive. There’s a matching set of artifacts that also tap for one of 3 colors along with having cycling. We only saw one other new land that allows card draw in decks that are running big creatures. There were only a couple of other artifacts that I liked, and one colorless creature that is essentially a ramp card and worth using in decks that need an extra one.

Overall I’m not super hyped for this set but there are some supporting cards that I’ll want to get copies of. We still have a month or so to wait so I guess I’ll get to brewing in the meantime.