Thursday, March 10, 2011

Mid-Week Update: March 10

Posted by ANDY aka GHoooSTS
 As Pax East grows devastatingly near, I have learned how to use Blogger's 'Scheduled Update' feature to post from BEYOND TIME ITSELF. So here's your regularly scheduled programming, completely uninterrupted in my absence.

I would like to take a moment to draw attention to an EDH/Commander Box Social being held at Pax East. If you have any interest and are fortunate enough to be attending this swanky event, swing by the Tabletop room at 9:00pm on Friday evening where you will be able to engage in the most hypest of Commander games (hopefully). No repeats of last year with that fucking cheating kid please (you know who you are). I will hopefully be doing some recording of games, talking to people about their decks and the like.

Anyway, Carlos is up in this piece with a hustle-heavy Sasaya, Orochi Ascendant deck and Mistveil Plains is doing his thug thizzle on a Stonebrow, Krosan Hero deck. Enjoy.

The Arcane Laboratory 05: Dr. Robotnik's Mean Green Mana Machine
 So the last couple of articles have had a few five color decks, with unspecified, likely expensive mana bases. So I thought I’d take a break from the absurd five color decks and take a look at some simpler, mono colored decks. Ideally, I’d like to do one for each color, staying away from the more popular generals of that particular color. As fun as it is to play with powerful generals, it’s boring to build the same Godo or Azami deck that other people are already discussing/optimizing.

Unfortunately for green, the generals and cards available really only allow for two strategies: Ramp and Voltron. So let’s look at what generals are available for green. After cutting all the ones that are just awful (don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll come back to them eventually!), there aren’t a whole lot of interesting generals. Sure, there are a lots of generals that all do interesting things, but they all want you to plays lots of lands, ramp up, and play bombs. I mean, how much difference is there between Kamahl, Fist of Krosa, and Baru, Fist of Krosa, really? What about Omnath and Azusa? Ezuri and Eladamri? There really isn’t, and in fact, I’m pretty sure that at least 40 of the non-land cards in each of these decks would be the same as in their counterpart. There might be as many as 10 additional cards difference between the various “archetypes,” but I think that’s being pretty generous.

Sidenote – The Autoinclude Syndrome
So, that said, it seems like green as a color is about as linear as it gets, and exemplifies a problem that I’ve been seeing with the kinds of cards that R&D has been printing for casual players recently. They have been printing all manner of gigantic creatures and bombs, efficient utility creatures, and I’m sure we’ve all started to notice just how homogenous some Commander decks, green in particular, are becoming. Really, once you include all the ‘best’ fatties, the ‘best’ ramp, the ‘best’ utility guys, you’ve only got 10 or so slots in the deck for cards unique to your deck, and that’s a real shame.

So what’s the point of all of this? There really isn’t one. I just wanted to complain about how I wish R&D would make more interesting fat creatures. Instead of things that are obviously powerful, or just giant beatsticks with evergreen abilities, why can’t we have things that are more interesting? Less beat you over the head powerful and more “encourages cool interactions” powerful. Consecrated Sphinx is a card that falls halfway between the two camps. You can do some pretty cool stuff with it, but you could also just run it as a glorified, curve-topping Mulldrifter.

Honestly, the Eldrazi and their  brother-in-arms Blightsteel Colossus exemplify this the most. Not only are these card-advantage generating, game-ending, giant-robot-space-tentacle monsters of doom, but they’re the ‘best’ top of the curve fatties in the game. If you can hit 10 or 11 consistently, there’s rarely another creature you’d rather be casting. The problem with these is twofold. Not only are they colorless, but they provide generically-powerful effects – things that are always relevant, but far from interesting. These effects are a known quantity, and will always be powerful and game-winning, in any deck, in almost any situation. Because they’re colorless, they can and are slotted into any deck.

This means that there are fewer meaningful interactions, because instead of playing interesting cards, people are playing the more of the same, powerful, generic “good cards.” As previously stated, this problem is exacerbated by the fact that many of the “good cards” are colorless or splashable. I mean really, why is green, the FATTY color, playing Eldrazi and Blightseel Colossus? Shouldn’t the FATTY color have the best creatures in the game? Why is it losing out to fairly vanilla, generically powerful colorless creatures? Let’s compare Woodfall Primus and Ulamog. Somehow, I don’t think that three generic mana gives you indestructibility, annihilator AND P/T buffs. That’s just not right.  

End Aside

So, what green generals do I think are the most dissimilar to the standard “Ramp, bombs, win” plan? Well, here’s the problem. You see, because green is so one-dimensional, any green deck who’s game plan isn’t “ramp, bombs, win” or elf combo is going to be substantially weaker than a lot of other decks. I mean, the one thing that has NEVER changed is that green is the ramp color. So, green is brutally efficient at ramping out of the gates, and that’s something that you almost HAVE to take advantage of in order to build a reasonably powerful green deck. With that said, I’d still like to put a less traditional spin on the archetype. Do something a little different, even if just for the sake of being a little different. Here are our options:

Kodama of the Center Tree
Reki, History of Kamigawa
Sasaya, Orochi Ascendant
Various Snake Legends from Kamigawa
Hua Tuo, Honored Physician
Zuo Ci, Mocking Sage

So I’m just going to say up front that I’m choosing to build a Sasaya deck here. That’s kind of lame because it’s really just ramp done a different way, but you can generate absolutely obscene amounts of mana with Sasaya, and if I want to ramp up, I want to go big or go home. That said, I want to give my reasoning against the other legends and for Sasaya.

As awesome as Zuo Ci’s art is, he isn’t a commander I’d really consider. But look at that art!  He’s tearing that dragon’s HEART out. Moving on though, the various snake legends from Kamigawa are cool and all, but that’s a pretty boring theme. The only real warrior/shaman support comes from Morningtide, which is pretty limited. Besides, how many snakes are there in magic, much less mono green snakes?  There are 39, which is actually a pretty good number considering that there are also cards that make snake tokens. But how many of them are playable? Most of them are from Kamigawa block, which isn’t exactly known for its above-curve utility creatures. When your average creature quality is somewhere just south of Krosan Restrictor, there’s only so much you can do with a deck.

Moving on, Kaysa, while interesting, is really just another Elf or Token general, and those have been done to death. Reki is interesting, but, as you can see, most green legends are either pretty vanilla ramp-based generals, or pretty narrow theme-based generals. That means you’re moving on to legendary artifacts, and I’ve already ranted about how much I hate those once in this article. Hua Tuo, while awesome, is really slow, doesn’t generate card advantage, and is around a $50 card. That’s an awful lot for a commander who’s pretty far behind the curve.

Lastly, Kodama of the Center tree. I want to build around you SO badly. It’s like a really slow, really narrow version of card advantage that might be able to recur some random overcosted utility guys that no one remembers. It’d be a really slow ramp deck, a terrible beatdown deck, and would have some HILARIOUS synergies, I’m sure. I’m absolutely sure I’ll come back to you someday, Kodama of the Center Tree, but today is not your day.


So what makes Sasaya interesting? Well, because the condition required for flipping her is awfully convoluted. I mean, not only do you need to have 7 lands. You also have to have a number of lands with the same name. That means you’ve got to run an awful lot of lands, and only a limited number of them can be utility lands, the rest need to be generic snow-covered or basic forests. So since the mana-base is such an important part of this deck, let’s start there. Here’s what I’ve got:

The Manabase

40 Snow-Covered Forest

Deserted Temple
Scrying Sheets
Thawing Glaciers
Terrain Generator
Mikokoro, Center of the Sea

Dryad Arbor

Slippery Karst
Tranquil Thicket
Blasted Landscape

Reliquary Tower
Hall of the Bandit Lord
Eye of Ugin
Dark Depths
High Market
Blinkmoth Well

So what’s going on here? Well, first you’ve got your snow-covered lands, and your ramp suite. Scrying Sheets and Thawing Glaciers are absolutely abusrd in this deck, especially when you find Deserted Temple or Vesuva to go with them. This is a mana engine I use in an awful lot of decks, but it’s especially powerful in this one. Mikokoro is okay here, but could certainly be replaced. You just need more ways to dig for real spells instead of more lands. Terrain Generator is really good later in the game, once you’ve flipped Sasaya, and is especially powerful with effects that untap your lands. Dryad Arbor sort of fits in the same category as Terrain Generator; It doesn’t look the most powerful on paper, but it’ll be broken, I promise.

Slippery Karst, Tranquil Thicket and Blasted Landscape all fill the same role of increasing the land count without increasing the land count. Cycling into spells is really important, and the ability gets a lot more powerful with Life from the Loam and Rings of Brighthearth. These get tutored up reasonably frequently, as surprising as that may seem.

Last come the more generic utility lands. Reliquary Tower is incredibly relevant here, where you don’t often want to cast spells, but need to get up to 7 lands in hand. Eye of Ugin and Hall of the Bandit Lord are really there for the interaction between them. You could certainly cut Hall, but hasty Eldrazi are just so good. Granted, this deck is completely capable of comboing off and doesn’t necessarily need Hall. The redundancy is usually worth it though. Dark Depths is an alternate win condition, Blinkmoth well has some interesting interactions here, and High Market is there for the combo potential. You’ve got to be able to sac Eldrazi to shuffle up your bombs and cast them again.

Now how are you going to fill your hand with lands? Tons of green decks play the traditional ramp spells like Skyshroud Claim and Explosive Vegetation. This deck is going to play a lot of cards that you may or may not have heard of: Seek the Horizon absurd in this kind of deck, for example.

Land Shenanigans

Seek the Horizon
Kodama’s Reach
Armillary Sphere
Gaea’s Bounty
Scroll of Origins
Yavimaya Elder
Krosan Tusker

Sylvan Scrying
Expedition Map

Primeval Titan

Life from the Loam

Journey of Discovery

The vast majority of these are pretty straightforward; they either tutor up multiple lands, or generate card advantage or tempo of some kind. It’s worth noting which of these have activated abilities, which is incredibly relevant since Rings of Brighthearth is a huge player in the deck, and you’ll certainly have the mana to spare.

Sylvan Scrying and Expedition Map usually get Scrying Sheets first, since you need to keep your hand full and dig through all the snow-covered lands to find real spells. If you’ve already got scrying sheets, Thawing Glaciers, Deserted Temple, and Vesuva are usually the next set of cards that I consider getting.

Regarding Primeval Titan, I know that it’s an auto-include, and that it’s overplayed, and all of that stuff. The fact of the matter is that this deck can get to a point where it can cast him approximately infinite times in one turn, which makes it a LOT easier to find spells in your deck when they’re mixed with 20 lands instead of 50+. He also sets up engine pieces if you resolve him before you start doing crazy things.

Life from the Loam is REALLY sick here. It’s a draw engine with cycling lands, or single-handedly gets you to 7 lands in hand. It digs for your utility lands, stocks your graveyard for your regrowth effects, or digs for Eldrazi to recycle your graveyard. Basically any hand with Loam is almost an auto-keep, because that card gets your gameplan active on its own. If you find that Loam is good enough, you might even consider using Tilling Treefolk in the deck. It was one of the last things that I cut to get back under 99 cards in the maindeck.

Lastly, Journey of Discovery. I know that on the surface, this looks like another Gaea’s Bounty or Armillary Sphere, but this card is actually busted in half in this deck. It’s like a Dark Ritual that scales up as the game goes on, but also has the utility of getting your gameplan started early in the game. This card is what allows you to really “combo off.” If you somehow manage to flip Sasaya on turn 3 and whiff on your land drop, you can use two SC-Forest to cast Journey, and then have 15 mana up with your remaining three lands. That’s some kind of acceleration right there. Don’t even get me started about aiming Regrowths at this. That gets absolutely broken REALLY fast.

So the question of the day is: What do you DO with all this mana? Sure, you can generate more mana than any deck I’ve ever seen outside of infinite combos. Well, let’s find some timmy things to do with that mana shall we? Now, because the deck is so diluted with lands, it’s important to make the spells that we do have count for as much as possible. That means things that are hard to deal with, have an immediate impact, and can be tutored up repeatedly. Unforunately, this means we’ve got to resort to some of the cards that see play in every green deck ever:

The Tutors and Beaters

Citanul Flute
Green Sun’s Zenith
Primal Command

Nantuko Cultivator
Praetor’s Counsel

Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre

Gelatinous Genesis
Omnath, Locus of Mana
Genesis Wave

Concordant Crossroads

So, here we go, the nuts and bolts of the deck. These first three cards are sweet tutors, that let you hit the bombs that you need to consistently. Of the three, Green Sun’s Zenith is the weakest, even though it cheats things directly into play. The reason is that we’re going to have mechanisms of reusing Citanul Flute, and because Primal Command is a huge part of “going infinite” for this deck. Shuffling up your graveyard means you get to recycle your bombs, cast them over and over, and, most importantly, not deck yourself. We’ll get to the actual mechanics of “comboing” in a little bit though.

Nantuko Cultivator is a key part of this deck. How else are you going to cycle through all of those lands to find your real spells? By casting this over and over, obviously. Now, Praetor’s Counsel is really important too. It serves three purposes. Firstly, it’ll let you rebuy ramp and tutors and bombs and just cast them again. Secondly, it empties your graveyard of cards you don’t want to recycle into your deck, which is also really important. Thirdly, it’s a second copy of reliquary tower, which is an incredibly important effect for this deck to have. In the late game, you want to reserve at least 7 lands in your hand so that you can drop sasaya and flip her again immediately, and this enables you to do that without lowering the quality of your hand.

Kozilek and Ulamog are, hilariously enough, your utility guys. They serve three purposes. Firstly, they do stuff when you cast them, which means you’ll want to cast them as often as possible. Secondly, they recycle your graveyard AND themselves, so you’ll be able to find them multiple times with enough card drawing/Eye of Ugin action. Thirdly and least importantly, they’re giant beaters that end the game if you attack. Honestly, that almost never comes up though. The fact that they’re creatures that can be sac’d and recycle your graveyard is the most important part. It’s sort of hilarious that these are the utility guys that MIGHT win the game, the Mulldrifter and Shriekmaw of this deck.

Now, the next three cards are really interesting because they scale up with the amount of mana you can produce.  Let me start this out by saying that this is THE Genesis Wave deck. I have never seen a deck that is more capable of putting its entire library on the table by turn 4. The best part is that you can always Wave into an Eternal Witness to buyback a spell that you dumped, or just cast Genesis Wave again. This card is busted in half in this deck, and if there were ever a case that could be made for this card’s banning, it would be this style of deck.

Omnath serves two REAL purposes and one additional one that has yet to come up. The first two are to be a giant beatstick and to sacrificed to Momentous Fall or the like. The other purpose is to float mana from one turn to another, but let’s be honest. If this deck goes off, you’d better win, or you’re going to get blown out really hard after you pass the turn.

Gelatinous Genesis was my pick for a card that’s most powerful at the most different points in the game.  I mean, you could go with Wolfbriar Elemental, or any other token producer, but I like this one, because it’s more powerful if you just run it out early off of 5 or so Forests. The others are only REALLY good when you’ve already gone nuts, and at that point the win condition really doesn’t matter. This is just as threatening at all points in the game.

Lastly, Concordant Crossroads. This is how you win the game. You do a bunch of cool stuff, shuffle your deck a bunch, draw a million cards, and then you play this and bash everyone’s faces in. This is the only way I can think of for the deck to win without passing the turn, and it’s pretty good at that. Unfortunately, you can’t really tutor for it; you’ve just got to draw cards until you find it.

Now the utility! Every deck needs some cards that are just generally GOOD, most of the time. They serve a variety of purposes, and make up the backbone of any good Commander deck. These are your utility answers, your card drawing, your card selection, and other very generic and staple effects. Here go the generic answers and utility effects:

Boring Utility Stuff

Rings of Brighthearth
Garruk Wildspeaker

Sensei’s Divining Top
Sylvan Library
Seer’s Sundial
Crop Rotation

Eternal Witness
Woodland Guidance

Oblivion Stone
All is Dust
Nevinyrral’s Disk

Garruk is pretty sweet in this deck. It’s like a super Dark Ritual when Sasaya’s flipped, or another Deserted Temple to reuse utility lands. It’s just a powerful effect to have available to you. Rings of Brighthearth does so much for this deck it’s actually terrifying. You can draw a million cards with Top, copy garruk, cyclers, draw engines, all kinds of broken things. It even goes infinite with Deserted Temple if your forest produces enough mana (at least 4, I think). I’ve been having trouble finding a really good deck for Rings of Brighthearth, but this is a good fit for it, it really does everything here.

Library manipulation effects are always really powerful. Card advantage is king in Commander, but card selection is just as important, especially in this deck. Harmonize is okay, but not great, since odds are you’ll only hit one spell in the three cards. The ability to dig three deep every turn, set up your Scrying Sheets and whatnot over the course of a full game is more powerful than drawing three once or twice by recurring Harmonize. Also note the combo between Sylvan Library and Abundance. Crop Rotation is a lot better mid combo than a lot of other choices, since it doesn’t require a land drop. Fetching Thawing Glaciers mid-combo is absolutely insane, since you’ll have tons of ways to untap lands and get additional activations.

Your regrowths are just generically good. Use on your wraths or your ramp spells, your card drawing engines, and other missing combo pieces. They’re an important part of the deck’s engine, especially since two of the three get shuffled in when you recycle your graveyard.

Lastly, your wraths. These don’t actually hurt you that much if you’re careful with Sasaya. If you flip her once, then dump all the lands out of your hand, if she gets blown up, you’ll be hard pressed to find a way to win the game. However, if you hold onto at least 6 lands at any given time, it won’t be that hard to find a way to flip her again. Moral of the story: play cautiously, and don’t be afraid to blow up Sasaya. If you find you don’t like the wraths, or need more spot removal effects, don’t be afraid to throw in Woodfall Primus, Acidic Slime, Desert Twister, and other similar cards either in addition to, or in place of the wraths. It’s definitely possible to build this as a mono-green control style of deck that combos off once you hit a critical mass of pieces. So what are the combo pieces?


Winter Orb

Greater Good
Momentous Fall

Candelabra of Tawnos

Cloudstone Curio

Winter Orb may not be a combo piece, but it might as well be. Only untapping one land isn’t a big deal when every single one of your lands is the equivalent of a Gaea’s Cradle. Also, combos with Blinkmoth Well for ultimate power!

Greater Good and Momentous Fall are two additional mechanisms to cycle through your deck. Greater Good is one of the cards that’s a real engine here, since sacrificing Eldrazi is sweet, recycles your stuff, and draws a million cards. Sidenote: have you ever drawn 50 cards off of an Omnath? I have.

Candelabra of Tawnos is hilarious here. It’s overkill to the highest degree, and I love it. This is like a Mana Reflection, except more cost effective and easier to abuse.

Cloudstone Curio is the card that makes the deck tick. Keep casting alternate Eldrazi, or Eternal Witness.  Use Dryad Arbor to bounce other creatures, or bounce your various utility lands to get additional uses out of them. Cast another artifact to bounce Candelabra, then use Candelabra to generate even more mana, that’s an infinite combo right there.

So how do you combo? You generate obscene amounts of mana, and tutor up a way to draw some cards.  Nantuko Cultivator maybe, or Kozilek. Draw your cards, then tutor up another way to draw some cards.  Eventually find a Greater Good or some such. You can loop various creatures with either Cloudstone Curio or just shuffling in and drawing more cards, eventually you’ll sort through most of your deck, and have most of it in your hand. You can alternate casting Primal Command and shuffling Eldrazi into your deck to recycle and draw into the cards you want to keep casting. If you can generate enough mana, you can go infinite and cast Ulamog a couple hundred times, then Gelatinous Genesis to win the game.

I know that description is sort of vague, but it’s hard to really explain how to combo off since it’s incredibly dependent on what you draw, especially because of the sheer number of lands in the deck. It’s really easy to fizzle once you start going off. The best advice that I can give is this: either build the deck and goldfish the hell out of it, or take out the combo cards and add more fun timmy cards. Keep in mind though, the more generic Timmy cards you add, the more this deck becomes a bad version of Omnath or Azusa.

As always, I’m looking for constructive criticism and I’d like to know what kind of content you’d like to see. I’ve got a small database of decks I want to build, but I think it’s more useful to talk about decks that people want to see instead of just building whatever my inner-Johnny is excited by this particular week. If you’ve got some criticism, a deck idea or just a decklist you’d like looked at, shoot me an email at


1 comment:

  1. FYI - The Cloudstone Curio would not be able to bounce the Candelabra of Tawnos because it only works on non-artifact perms.

    The only other problem I find with this is that you were trying to shy away from a mana ramp deck but thats all this deck ended up being.

    Not to say this deck doesn't look like a lot of fun to pilot. It's definitely given me some inspiration to try to build this one myself.