TWR: Stax Chain Veil Estrid

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

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

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

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

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

TWR: Building a Tier 1 Deck

Around tax return season this year, I decided to treat myself by purchasing a rather expensive decklist. My playgroup’s meta had been shifting towards more competitive options, and as such I looked at a tier list to see what commanders were best suited for the highest tiers. Having a Daxos, the Returned deck and being familiar with Enchantments matter themes, Zur the Enchanter appealed most to me. I set about building a list, but I was hesitant to build something that was too abusive. I didn’t want to be the guy with the most powerful deck at the table who made it impossible to win games for anyone else. So when I made my initial build that you can see in the above link, I decided to go for a sort of voltron build for Zur with some additional sub themes. From what I can tell through playing with the deck for six months is that having what is considered a tier 1 general means that it will win pretty consistently but won’t be considered competitive unless you build it in a particular way. A cursory Google search for competitive EDH (cEDH) decklists will show that the most consistent and reliable wins come from using a combination of cards that I didn’t have in my initial build. Well, I had some but I was coming at it from a different angle. Having played at GP Vegas against some real competition (people bringing their A game) I decided that my lone tier 1 general deserved to be played at his best. I’m not interested in having a long list of uber competitive builds, but having one that is a real show-stopper appeals to me. As such, I’ve decided to make some upgrades. I have a real competitive tier 1 decklist now, and I would like to share these upgrades with you all at this time.

New Combos:

The main win conditions for the deck are as follows:

  • Rest in Peace + Helm of Disobedience = mill opponent’s library into Exile causing them to lose on next draw step.
  • Necropotence or Ad Nauseum + Angel’s Grace or Phyrexian Unlife + Sickening Dreams = draw your library then discard to do X damage to all players but you won’t die.
  • Doomsday to tutor out Lab Man, counter spells, silence and windfall to win off Lab Man triggers and counter anything trying to stop this.

The other win condition that was in my old build that has survived the changeover is the combination of Steel of the Godhead (which makes Zur unblockable and gives him lifelink) and Empyrial Armor (giving +1/+1 for cards in hand) and Phyresis (giving Zur infect). There’s a nice interaction with Necropotence and lifelink that essentially gives you a ton of extra card draw as well.

Additional Ramp/Mana Fixing:

To make the deck’s engine hum, I also had to take a look at the mana base and ramp. I included plenty of artifact ramp already, but there were a couple of pieces that were missing — Mana Crypt and Lotus Petal. Mana Crypt is great when it comes to generalized ramp, but Lotus Petal is good for Zur in particular, because we want to cast him as quickly as possible. The petal can be the difference between casting Zur on turn 2 or 3 as opposed to turn 4. I’ve also added the needed fetch lands to compliment the shock lands already included in my initial build.

Additional Utility:

The final upgrades are spread about with some additional tutors in Vampiric and Mystical (I also added a Demonic Tutor) that will help us to find pieces needed for our wincons, or to tutor Doomsday which will accelerate things. I’ve also added some counterspells that have a competitive edge. Cards like Mental Misstep and Dispel feel like shitty versions of counterspells, but in a competitive meta, shutting down someone’s combo by countering their Sol Ring will be frustrating for them and excellent for you. Toxic Deluge is a arguably an upgrade from Damnation, only because it costs a mana less and life totals are a great resource. Finally we come to Stasis. I feel like it’s something that could help slow down a game if you need more time to get your combo pieces together, but some might say that it’s downside (keeping your shit tapped when you sacrifice it) makes it less worthwhile. I’m going to test it out and see what happens.

So there you have it. Checkout the full decklist here. I have ordered the majority of these cards at this point and will have the deck up and running again soon. A couple of the more expensive pieces will have to wait, but it will eventually be completed. I can’t wait to try it out and see how much it can crush the competition!

The War Report: NINJAS!

The Commander 2018 product launches in just a few days (on August 10th) and though I’ve already talked about the spoilers and how much I wasn’t all that impressed, upon further review I have found some decks to build out of the precons anyway. My roommate and I were discussing the possibility of going in on the complete set of four decks together and then splitting that in half. While we were both initially most interested in the Lord Windgrace (Jund Lands-Matter) deck we ended up agreeing on how to split up the four pack — I would take Bant Enchantments and Esper Top-Deck while he takes the Izzet Artifacts and Jund Lands Matter decks. As such, I have started to thoroughly look at the deck lists and since I’ve had a little time off of work I was able to brew up something out of each of the precons.

Today, we’re looking at the “Subjective Reality” deck lead by Aminatou. I really don’t care for this card, and though the backup commanders are intriguing, I already have a couple of Esper decks and don’t think I want another. I have a Scarab God Zombie deck and though adding white to it is intriguing, I don’t think Varina is more powerful than Scarab God. I brewed a Sphinx tribal deck in Azorius a while back and gave up on ever building it, adding black to that mix could be fun, but there really aren’t enough good Sphinxes to make that deck. In any case, Aminatou and Yennet both probably have decks that could be built around them but I’m not going to bother at this point. Like the rest of the precon decks, there are the three main generals that fall under whatever color combination, and then another legendary creature that is missing one of the colors, and in this case, that is the exact creature I want to build my deck around. In all honesty the precon isn’t adding much to the deck either, but my chosen commander has spiked so it makes more sense to buy the precon than just the single — at least I’ll get some lands and staples along the way, and I can see a case for using some of the pieces elsewhere. So before we get to the new brew, let’s look at our commander:

Ninjas are one of the under-represented tribes in Magic, like Pirates/Dinos before them. With Yuriko, there is finally a proper Legendary Ninja with which to lead a Ninja deck, however there aren’t that many Ninjas in the game. I have literally included all of the black and blue Ninjas that exist, and it’s not enough to really focus on the tribal theme. There is a solution to this though, and we’ll discuss shortly. What makes this commander exciting to me is that it uses the old Ninja-exclusive keyword “Ninjutsu” but adds a clause that it can also be done from the command zone! So each time an unblocked attacker gets to one of my opponents, for a blue and a black I can return that unblocked creature to my hand and then put Yuriko down tapped and attacking. Her additional ability triggers when Ninjas do damage to a player, which means she counts towards this as well. After the damage step, I’ll reveal the top card of my library and put it into my hand (so it’s card draw each time a Ninja does damage), then EACH opponent loses life equal to the revealed card’s CMC. That’s a very effective means of burning out the table, and means we want as many Ninjas in our deck as possible, along with plenty of evasion so that we can get in and draw cards while draining our opponent’s life. First, let’s look at the actual Ninja’s I’ve included:

Ninjas:

Generally speaking, the Ninjas we have here are pretty good. Most are a reasonable CMC while having ninjutsu. Some will help me to remove other creatures, some will cause opponents to discard, and one in particular can become a copy of something else while remaining a ninja. As you can see though, there are only 10 ninjas here, 11 if you count our commander. That’s not enough for a tribal deck, but our commander really wants you to do damage with Ninjas, so I’ve included three cards to help with this. Conspiracy, Xenograft and Arcane Adaption will make all of your creatures Ninjas, and that’s a lesson learned from my Reaper King deck that would not function without them, as most of the scarecrows out there were garbage. There aren’t ways to tutor enchantments in dimir colors outside of the normal expensive black tutors, so we’re hoping for one in our opening hand or while drawing cards through the game. Not only do we want all of our creatures to be Ninjas, but we also need to get some sort of evasion so we can do the combat damage to opponents and bring more Ninjas in with ninjutsu, or just so we can trigger Yuriko’s ability, so let’s look at how we can do just that.

Evasion:

I’ve added some relevant non-Ninja creatures to the pool, some of which have baked-in evasion such as being unblockable. These will still count as Ninjas if you have one of the aforementioned enchantments out on the board, or alternatively you can use ninjutsu to swap out the unblocked attacker for a real Ninja if you don’t have the enchantment available. I’ve also included Keeper of Keys and Tetsuko to give more unblockability to your creatures. Open into Wonder can help you get through with multiple creatures and will draw you some cards in the process, and if all else fails there’s good ol’ Rogue’s Passage. Because we don’t have that many Ninjas (and we really want the real ones to use their Ninjutsu abilities) we’ll also want a decent recursion package. Here’s that:

Recursion:

Oversold Cemetary, Palace Siege (naming Khans) and Phyrexian Reclamation are going to be our best ways to recur creatures over an over again. The first two will just give you a creature from graveyard to hand, while the latter costs a couple mana and life to recur but can be done multiple times in a turn. If you have the mana, Entreat the Dead (particularly for it’s miracle cost) will net you several creatures at once. Ditto that for Patriarch’s Bidding, though that one will be more viable with one of our creature type changing enchantments on the board. The Eldest Reborn fits into multiple themes in this deck, but will force some sacrificing from you opponents and can also get you back a creature or allow you to steal one of theirs. The other two cards, Stitch Together and Mortuary Mire don’t do as much but will work in a pinch. The latter also helps with top deck manipulation, as you can put a high CMC creature on top of your library to set up Yuriko’s trigger for maximum damage. Let’s look at the other ways we can manipulate the top of our library to our advantage:

Top Deck Manipulation:

Sensei’s Divining Top is the penultimate card for doing these sorts of shenanigans. It allows you to brainstorm for a colorless mana at any point in time. Otherwise, there are poor man versions in Crystal Ball and Seer’s Lantern. In spell form, we can Brainstorm, Ponder, Portent and Dream Cache. Viscera Seer can let us Scry for sacrificing a creature, and in the right circumstances we’ll want to do so (Having an Oversold Cemetary that will bring the creature back, or having Grave Pact out will give you some benefits from your own sacrifice). There are also a couple of scry lands included that can help in a pinch. We want to mess with our top deck to give Yuriko triggers that much more effect, but also so we can draw into the cards we want. That brings me to our subtheme (besides top deck manipulation).

Theft/Force Sac:

Dimir is exceptional at a few things. One is theft. Another is Mill. I’m not going to make another mill build since I did that with Tetsuko, so instead I’m going with forced sacrifice since we have a good amount of recursion and can use these tools again and again. So above we have Evil Twin, which isn’t direct theft, but allows you to copy a troublesome creature and then destroy it with its ability. Hostage Taker, Kheru Mind-Eater and Gonti exile opponent’s cards and let you cast them. And then there’s the big three creatures that we want in a sacrifice/recursion environment: Fleshbag Marauder, Merciless Executioner, and Shriekmaw. They can force your opponents to sacrifice a creature, while you’ll just sacrifice it. Shriekmaw is usually just used for its evoke cost and then it’s sacrificed anyway. Bonus, if you have Grave Pact on the board, each time one of your creatures die opponents have to sacrifice another one, so in many cases these are two for one creatures! Keep the board wiped and you won’t need evasion to get your Yuriko triggers!

Other Notables:

Lastly, let’s look at some of the final cards of the deck, ones that don’t really fit into the other categories. I included Rona because she can do some interesting top deck stuff. You can pay 4 and tap her to exile the top card of your library and you may cast cards that she’s exiled. This means you can manipulate the top of your deck and then do so to get basically another hand of cards you can play at will. Also, when she ETBs she can exile an historic card from your graveyard for you to cast again. My favorite target here would be the lone saga: The Eldest Reborn. Also included are cards like Duskmantle Seer, Sire of Stagnation, Mulldrifter and Coastal Piracy for more card draw. Sower of Discord is an awesome demon that will cause an extra opponent to take damage off of damaging another, and Skull Storm is a finisher in this deck, particularly if you get the storm count up there.

That’s all for this brew, but I’m actually rather excited about getting to it! You can see the full decklist here. Which commander did you choose to build around in this deck?

 

TWR: Commander 2018 Spoilers

Spoiler season for the next Commander product starts today. The Commander 2018 decks were slightly spoiled last week, when we learned the themes of each deck along with the color pairings. It was rumored earlier in the year that the new generals would be Planeswalkers as they did in the 2014 product, but then it appeared that it would be something else. It turns out that the rumors were true, and each of the four decks are helmed by a new commander Planeswalker. Only one of these is making a second appearance, Saheeli Rai who was in the Kaladesh set. The others are new Planeswalkers to my knowledge. As it is the first day of spoilers we haven’t seen much from the decks, but as I have had a bit of writer’s block lately, I figured I’d use what we do know as a jump off point. So let’s start with the new faces of the decks:

I apologize for the shitty picture quality, better quality pictures don’t tend to show up until later on in the spoiler cycle. So this first new planeswalker is called Aminatou, and is a new Esper general. Esper is a great color pairing, but I’m unsure how to feel about this one. I guess it’s sort of a chaos theme, as you can mess with the top card of your library, flicker one of your permanents, but the ultimate is strange. For -6 loyalty, you get to essentially shuffle all nonland permanents to the left or right for all players. Stealing someone else’s big board is nice but what a confusing board state to resolve. I’m not sure what else will be in the deck but I don’t really care for this Planeswalker.

Estrid is our Bant general, another decent color pairing. You can untap enchanted permanents, create an aura at will to give totem armor to a permanent, and then throw 7 cards in your graveyard and get all of the auras back onto the battlefield. I like enchantress themes but this one seems kind of meh. I mean, being able to throw auras on stuff and then untap it is great, I suppose with a Chain Veil you can do some stupid stuff with this deck, so I’ll hold my opinions until we know more.

Saheeli is making her second appearance since Kaladesh, but this version of her seems a bit less busted. Making tokens is good for protection, making spells cheaper based on controlled artifacts seems okay too, and being able to make a ton of copies is alright but still underwhelming.

Representing the Jund color pairing is Lord Windgrace. If nothing else, this guy is probably the best deck just because you can use both The Gitrog Monster and Omnath, Locust of Rage in it due to the colors. This means a shit load of lands matter cards can be used together and I like that. This guy plays into the strategy by allowing you to discard a land to draw two cards, return lands from your graveyard and then destroy 6 permanents and get 6 tokens. That ultimate is a pretty good wipe and 6 2/2’s isn’t bad either. At this point this is the deck I’m most interested in, but again we’ll have to see how the rest of the deck looks.

They didn’t give us many other spoilers, but let’s take a look at what we have seen so far.

This guy is likely one of the sub-generals in the Saheeli deck. Bad colors for most token decks, but giving all tokens haste is nice. You’ll get some 2/1 tokens each turn as well, so that’s not terrible.

So draw 3 cards and get a 3 mana generating rock for 6 cmc. Not bad. But, it can be stolen from you if they don’t block. A decent political card but not really worth it in my book.

Echo Storm is interesting. It allows you to copy artifacts, which can be nice but then also basically storms off of the amount of times you’ve cast your commander. In theory it sounds like you could do some busted things with this card, but I’d prefer to see it in action before I make my mind up about it.

A commander-only land, this one is interesting. Your commander will get a +1/+1 counter or a loyalty counter on it just for tapping this land the same turn you cast your commander. It’s also a colorless mana source, so why not use it? Decent.

A 2 mana artifact that allows you to draw a card for two mana. Not really worth it in my book.

This one is kinda lame unless you’re running an artifact deck but it’s clear that with enough mana you’ll be able to tap and untap this one for some shenanigans.

Improvise is making a comeback! This spell will let you thin out your deck and potentially grab a few artifacts in the process, but nothing super special.

I’m assuming this one is also a sub-general for Saheeli. I also foresee some busted things happening with that ability, and it’s pretty versatile as well. Izzet players rejoice.

Quite possibly my favorite card that was spoiled today. The Treasure Nabber will steal you Sol Rings and other mana generating artifacts for a turn, which in turn should help you spend big mana. This guy will be joining my Krenko deck once I get my hands on him.

Last but not least, another Legendary knight but in red, which means it won’t be played in any knight decks. If you can get through with combat damage, you’ll give your enemies 1/1 tokens that can’t attack you, meaning this is a political piece. When Varchild dies, you’ll get all the 1/1 tokens. It’s okay but nothing special.

That’s all for today’s spoilers. I may revisit this again when there is another sizeable chunk or just wait for the complete spoilers. See anything you like?

The War Report: Draw, Mill, Go.

Besides trying to build decks that follow different themes (like Control, Stax, Aggro, etc.) I also have been trying to represent different pieces of the color pie. I have built or brewed most of the mono-colored decks, most of the two color, several three color, one four color and a couple of 5-color decks. It turns out that I have not brewed a mono blue deck, and it just so happens that I managed to brew a mono blue deck that falls under a theme I hadn’t used either. The inspiration for this deck started off because I was looking at a particular legendary creature that came out with Dominaria, and found that it had use in the Arcades deck I wrote about a while back. I liked the card so much that I felt like it deserved its own brew, but after the first rough draft it was lacking a concise win condition. Having gone over it again, I feel like it is a little on the janky side but it now at least knows what it’s trying to do. Let’s look at the commander first:

Tetsuko Umezawa is a 1/3 for 1U that gives all creatures you control with power OR toughness 1 or less unblockable. This was a perfect fit in my wall deck, because walls typically have 0-1 power but high toughness, and due to Arcades ability they can attack, so you get a bunch of cheap cmc creatures with high toughness that can attack as though they weren’t defenders and do damage equal to their toughness while being unblockable with Tetsuko on the board. It turns out that in blue, there are a bunch of creatures with 1 or less power and 1 or less toughness so we can essentially build a deck full of creatures that can’t be blocked as long as our commander is on the battlefield. But how do we win, considering these creatures aren’t going to be hitting for much damage? The answer, is card draw and mill, two things we’re going to focus on. Let’s look at our card draw first:

Most of the card draw built into the deck comes on the back of creatures with power or toughness 1 or less, that will be unblockable and get in for damage to trigger their card drawing effects. You can double and triple down on this with a Coastal Piracy and Bident of Thassa on the board. You should be drawing at least one extra card a turn with this deck consistently, because you won’t be worried about blocking, you’ll just be swinging in for sweet card draw. Drawing cards won’t win you a game though, so how do we capitalize on this? By using mill effects as well, so that your opponents are losing cards while we are drawing them.

This selection of creatures, spells and artifacts all focus on putting cards from your opponents’ libraries into their graveyards. Each will take a particular number of cards and “mill” your opponents’ libraries a little bit at a time, though some of the enchantments and artifacts will also do this based on your card drawing, while the creatures usually have to do combat damage (but will be unblockable) to trigger the effect. Some of these effects will be reusable, but we have to mill hundreds of cards here, to win the game (each player has a deck of 99 cards to start with, so it’s a big task) meaning these effects might not be enough, but will be a nuisance as the game progresses. You might be able to mill out one opponent over the course of a game with these tricks, but it’s likely you’ll need more help, so here are some of the win cons I’ve baked in:

Win-con #1: Use Psychosis Crawler in conjuction with card draw to kill all of your opponents at the same time. This can be done over time, or all at once with a large mana cost Stroke of Genius or Blue Sun’s Zenith. The Crawler can be tutored out with Fabricate.

Win-con #2: Use Isochron Scepter + Dramatic Reversal to make infinite mana. With that mana, use Stroke of Genius or Blue Sun’s Zenith to make an opponent draw their library and lose the game. The Scepter can be tutored with Fabricate, Dramatic Reversal and either draw spell can be tutored with Mystical Tutor or Merchant Scroll.

Win-con #3: Equip Quietus Spike to any of your creatures that can be made unblockable with our Commander’s ability. Each hit will damage the player for half their life, so you should be able to make short work of them. Quietus Spike can be tutored with Fabricate, or a transumted Muddle the Mixture.

In short, you should be able to eliminate one player at a time with win-cons 2 and 3, or kill everyone at once with win-con 1. Here are some other support cards I’ve included to help you along the way:

This subpackage of creatures didn’t fit into the draw or mill categories, because they either bounce creatures your opponents control back to their hands, or can outright steal an opponent’s creature. Archaeomancer will get us back a spell from the graveyard which might be needed again, while the Phyrexian Revoker is removal for a pesky creature with a nasty activated ability. Speaking of removal, we have some of the standard blue stuff — Imprisoned in the Moon, Reality Shift and Rapid Hybridization (there are of course several counterspells in the deck for removal as well). Aetherize and Innundate will get rid of attackers coming your way and bounce them to hand, while Dissipation Field will do this to any permanent that damages you. Lastly, Frozen Aether is a nasty little stax card that causes all premanents your opponents play to come into play tapped.

For a budget deck ($105 at the time of this writing), this should be viable in most casual groups. I wouldn’t say it’s high tier and it’s pretty janky but I think I’ve made something here that should be fun to pilot and has multiple ways to go about winning. Have fun!