The War Report: Arachnophobia

At some point or another I traded a friend for Ishkanah, Grafwidow. I have yet to build a Golgari deck, and for whatever reason this commander spoke to me more so than the ones on offer. Part of this is due to the fact that I already have a Meren in my playgroup and though I was also interested in building Slimefoot, I also have a Ghave deck in the playgroup so both of those were sort of off limits. Golgari decks tend to focus on sacrifice and recursion, but Ishkanah doesn’t really focus on either. Instead, she’s basically the go-to commander to lead Spider heavy decks due to her abilities. Let’s take a look:

This spider queen has a solid 3/5 body and Reach like most spiders, which means that she can inherently block creatures with flying and has the ability to withstand a fair amount of damage. She also has a Delirium trigger, where if you have four card types in your graveyard, she also creates three spider tokens as an ETB. Lastly, for a whopping 7 mana you can drain a single opponent for one life per spider you control. Unfortunately she doesn’t give spiders anything else, but this does mean that you can potentially finish someone off given enough spiders and a low life total. With this is mind, let’s look at the spiders and spider related cards I’ve included in the deck:

Generally speaking, most of the spiders in the game are vanilla creatures with more toughness than power and though they all have reach they don’t usually do much else. I’ve found some of the better ones and included them here, some with vigilance or deathtouch or other special abilities. Otherwise, the only other cards in the deck that have anything to do with spiders are Arachnogenesis and Spider Spawning, both of which create some extra tokens for us. Spiders are similar to walls in the fact that they have high toughness, so I’ve added Assault Formation to the mix as well, which will allow most of the spiders to hit for 5+ damage rather than 3 or less. I have included several creatures that aren’t part of the tribe but should synergize well:

Most of the rest of these creatures are insects or have something to do with insects. I’m looking for extra tokens to use as sacrifice fodder and to go wide. Some of these creatures also have some form of recursion baked in, or double as sacrifice outlets. We mainly want to be able to sacrifice and recur various creatures with ETB effects, but also make a ton of tokens in the process while allowing our bigger threats to be potential finishers. Here’s the other support cards that will help with these processes:

Here we have some card draw that also fills up your graveyard (for later recursion), a couple of win-cons in Beastmaster Ascension and Triumph of the Hordes (go wide decks will love the power boost + infect). Bow of Nylea provides deathtouch to all attacking creatures, so your lowly 1/1 tokens can take out huge blockers. Otherwise it’s a bunch of recursion (outside of the creature based recursion already included). Lastly, Dictate of Erebos will help you thin out the board as you can sacrifice little tokens to any outlet you happen to have and force your opponents to sacrifice their actual creatures. Win/win.

I’ve also included a small removal package consisting of Beast Within and similar cards. There are a couple of tutors like Green Sun’s Zenith and Diabolic Tutor, but this is a budget build ($161 at the time of this writing) so I didn’t include any single card that’s over $10. It’s not going to be as competitive as a Meren deck, but the flavor is there and that’s important too.

The War Report: PING!

The Prerelease for Guilds of Ravnica starts this weekend, and I plan to attend on Sunday to try and get my hands on some sweet new cards. When we first started seeing spoilers for the set, one of the new legendary creatures stood out to me as something I’d want to build, and I shared that build for Lazav recently. Afterwards, I took another look at the legendary creatures in the set and decided that I also wanted to brew something up for the new Niv-Mizzet, Parun. You might ask why, considering I already have a Locust God deck that does similar things, and one of the old Niv-Mizzets is already in that decklist. Let’s look at the similarities between these cards, and why I think the new Niv-Mizzet deserves his own deck:

The Locust God, Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind and Niv-Mizzet, Parun all have three things in common. They’re Izzet, they have flying, and they want you to draw cards. However, each does something that is unique as well. Locust God wants to draw cards to create hasty 1/1 fliers. He can loot for 4 cmc, and is basically immortal, as he is returned to your hand any time he dies (so he avoids commander tax). The OG Niv-Mizzet still wants to draw cards, but so that he can do 1 damage to any target. He can be tapped to draw a card and get this result. The new Niv-Mizzet however, has some interesting features. Firstly, he can’t be countered, so you don’t have to worry about that form of removal. Second, he has the same ability as the OG Niv-Mizzet, in that drawing cards allows you to ping for 1 damage each. However, he also draws cards off of each instant and sorcery spell cast. This means in a spell-slinging deck, you get double value. Let’s say you play a wheel, you’ll draw a card off the cast trigger and do a damage, so the wheel replaces itself, but then you discard all cards in hand and typically draw the same amount so you’ll do that much more damage as that spell resolves. Guess what else we can do? Storm!

The Perfect Storm:

You’ll notice, the only card listed above that even has the word “storm” on it is the new one from GRN, Thousand-Year Storm. This isn’t actually a storm build. However, in a sense it is. Thousand-Year Storm enables a quasi-storm build because it allows you to copy any instant or sorcery you cast and pick new targets. I’ve included a bunch of other spells and creatures that do the same thing. The idea here is to continuously copy spells like your wheels and continuously cycle through the deck, while pinging your opponents to death with Niv-Mizzet (both versions), Psychosis Crawler, Electrostatic Field or Guttersnipe. We’ve also included token generators like Talrand, Young Pyromancer and the new Murmering Mystic so you have some blockers but if you go off enough you might be able to end a game with them too.

Wheels + Pings:

I’ve included a comprehensive package of wheels, minus the original Wheel of Fortune because it’s super expensive. Most of these will target opponents too, so that you can disrupt their gameplan. Teferi’s Puzzle Box is probably the most fun, particularly if you can get a few of your creatures out that will ping for damage each turn.

Recursion:

I didn’t want to put a ton of recursion into the deck as we mostly want to sling spells, but we’re able to get some extra value by recurring them, so here’s a few ways to do so. Why not get an extra use out of a wheel or copy another spell?

Ways to win:

Besides wanting to wheel and ping everyone to death naturally throughout the game, we have a few finishers here to seal the deal. Because wheels can self mill you to death, I’ve included Laboratory Maniac as a fail safe. I’ve also included the Isochron Scepter/Dramatic Reversal combo and a suite of rocks that will help it go off. Paradox Engine can help with this as well, since it will untap things as you are casting all of those cheap spells. If you can generate the infinite mana, you can use Blue Sun’s Zenith or Stroke of Genius to cause an opponent to draw their library. Alternatively, you can use Pull From Tomorrow to finish off your own library with Lab Man on the board. Comet Storm will allow you to kill everyone at once give infinite mana. Omniscience is there just to make casting easier for when you get your wheels in motion, and a kicked Rite of Replication targeting Psychosis Crawler or any of the token generators should help seal a game.

Other tools:

Otherwise we have some nice tools that are on color. Consecrated Sphinx gets you more card draw, Chaos Warp is good removal, and Propaganda will help to protect you in early game skirmishes. I’ve also included nearly all of the mana rocks that can be sacrificed for card draw, which may or may not come in handy but I believe that it will. Overall I think it looks like a solid deck and though it is similar to Locust God, it wants to win in different ways, and I like that. I’ll report back after the Prerelease on my performance and lucky pulls! Til then!

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.