I've been playing since '93 but I've really only gotten into the Commander format in the last year and a half or so. Since then I've built several decks some competitive others for fun. I have been reading all the back issues of 99 Problems and Dear Azami and I must say I really enjoy them. There are a lot of random cards out there that I like to play for "shock factor." Things like Withering Boon and Darkness and Telekinesis.
Your articles give me new ideas with some obscure cards sometimes; it gets the creative juices flowing so to speak. Anyway I'd like to submit a deck idea for you to maybe see another perspective on how this deck could be built. The main theme of the Halfdane deck is to use your opponents' decks against themselves: heavy emphasis on copying and minor theme on stealing.
Most people don't expect to fight their own deck. I really don't want this deck to turn into another counterspell deck (I built Ertai Wizard Adept for that) so I have kind of omitted counterspells on purpose. I know counterspell.dec is usually the least amount of fun to play against but I have to make exceptions for people that want to be jackasses and play things like variations of your Ad Nauseam deck and combo kill the table on turn 4. Though I can definitely make exceptions for things like Desertion Spelljack and Commandeer since they are very much on theme of using the opponents' decks against themselves if you think those kinds of counterspells are beneficial.
I thought about using Tutors to be able to get whatever I need out of the deck since all three colors have pretty good Tutoring abilities but I don't know if that would push it over the top and not make it fun anymore. Maybe another perspective will help me decide.
As you can see money is not much of an issue.
1 Dominating Licid
1 Followed Footsteps
Need to Buy:
- Dakkon Blackblade (possible beef for Halfdane)
As you can see with Halfdane there are some fun things and cute little interactions that I decided to add:
-The "stealing" package: fits in with sac to the lands as well.
- Baton of Morale / Concerted Effort: The one problem that I ran into with doing nothing but copying is that my creatures are usually never stronger than the opponent's. They all usually have different creature types and colors once they come onto the field so most "Anthem effects" don't really work as well as they possibly could. I want my creatures to be able to fight theirs and survive. Banding is amazing if you know how to use it properly and I really would like to keep the Baton of Morale in.
- Erratic Portal / Crystal Shard-Equilibrium: I think being able to reset your Shapeshifters and enters the battlefield effects and maybe pull some stuff on the opponent's creatures is pretty good. :3
Thanks a lot!
I really like what I'm seeing here Zander. This is my kind of deck.
When Sean tossed me the keys to the Dear Azami master suite for the week and told me to help myself to whatever was in the cupboards I immediately keyed in on your list for a few strong reasons. I have a bit of a soft spot for nostalgia so I tend to go looking for the oldest and rarest commanders possible when I sit down to work out a new list for myself. Don't get me wrong I like a good Kresh the Bloodbraided list as much as the next guy but I love me some Angus Mackenzie or perhaps a nice foil Radiant Archangel. That's what I'm talking about.
Halfdane certainly fits this bill (at least for those of us who don't have a Magic Online account) and he brings me right back to the days when packs of Legends were severely rationed and cost upwards of thirty dollars each due to a severely underestimated print run.
The good old days… It almost brings a tear to my eye. (I'm sure if I had a bank statement from back then it would absolutely bring a tear to my eye. But I digress…)
The other reason that your list jumped out at me was because of the themes you chose to build around. I've come to appreciate that the true value in a Commander game is through interaction. I tend to frequently attack mass-land destruction and "prison" strategies in this format because I'm interested in actually playing the game as opposed to being forced to sit back and do nothing while someone else goldfishes their deck for an hour or two. To me Commander is the most fun when I'm always in the middle of things responding to effects trading attacks and never sitting idle.
After all my time is valuable! (Somewhere at this very moment my wife is laughing hysterically…)
This is why copy/steal strategies are something I can get behind one hundred percent. You asked for another perspective and the answer is simple: I totally dig what you've done with the place. We do have a few things to address however; your cardboard feng shui is a touch off. While you do adhere nicely to your main themes there are some extra odds and ends that are starting to pile up around the edges. We've got some landfall a Shapeshifter tribal thing happening token generators and a bunch of cards designed to get value from your own creatures. That's a lot of directions to go in with one deck.
Now don't get me wrong—I'm a huge fan of doing everything to excess (I'm like the fired up crazy yin to Sean's methodical and logical yang).But I think in this case we can do ourselves a greater service by focusing on a few powerful themes and doing them right.
In addition we need to address some fundamentals. I'm a little nervous with some of your basic metrics; I'm seeing a borderline low land count (I count 36) without much in the way of mana fixing or acceleration. You have next to no Tutors (which is something you rightfully pointed out yourself) and very little card draw to keep things moving. Past the handful of steal effects (and a few copy effects like Evil Twin that also serve lethal double-duty) there is a lack of dedicated removal.
While I fully admire your chutzpah for going all-in on your themes I think we can make a few changes that will serve to make our erstwhile Legends-era copycat a bit more consistent and resilient without taking it over the top. Our goal is a decklist that can get off the ground and stay moving with the best of them at all times. It should be a blast to play because it is designed to always be playing.
So let's do some damage shall we? (And by that I mean that I just charged a bunch of takeout to the room. Dinner is on Dear Azami…)
Fixing a Hole (or two…)
I broke down your deck list by type and almost drowned immediately under the flood of copy effects you've included. We're talking almost a full third of your total list lands included! Now in theory copy effects are great when it comes to gaining value through subsidiary benefits such as dropping Clone targeting your opponent's Primeval Titan to net some mana acceleration.
The big issue I see however is that at the end of the day you still need to get Prime Time through to deal some damage before you can actually have a shot at winning the game. That's hard to do when (as you noted) your creatures are never really stronger than your opponent's creatures.
We'll mitigate this not just by making your creatures better (we'll do this to a degree) but by increasing the focus on making your opponents' creatures yours. We're going to be taking a little off the top of Mount Mimic in favor of some good old-fashioned thievery to clear the path and gain some real value (after all Primeval Titan works better when it's not running head-long into a second Primeval Titan). We'll improve on your creature…err…improvements but focus on some standard resources: a little draw some Tutors and some extra mana to leverage the lower land count that I think you can get away with here.
Be warned—I like to do my trimming with a logging chainsaw. (Seriously. You should see the hedges in front of my house.) Things are going to change up here considerably.
OUT – Mirror Entity Cairn Wanderer Call to the Kindred – First to go is the Shapeshifter tribal theme. As far as I could tell you had Shapesharer and Call to the Kindred to take advantage of this strategy. Two cards out of 99 (and with few ways to dig for them) is too much of a narrow case to be taking up space and forcing you to play cards like Cairn Wanderer which always seems to be outclassed by whatever creature it is grabbing an ability from.
Like my eighth grade basketball coach used to tell me frequently we can do better here.
I can see a case made for Mirror Entity since it can arguably make Halfdane huge but we've got better things to spend our hard-earned mana on. Since both creatures eventually revert to their smaller normal selves I'm hesitant to focus much on either ability when we can just find better cards.
OUT – Sentinel Shape Stealer – Sentinel seems to exist only to interact with your Commander. (I suppose he can chump-block something too…) Shape Stealer is a little more aggressive but serves the same purpose and since a majority of creatures has a balanced power-to-toughness ratio (or a slant towards more power) this thing just doesn't seem to live through combat without some third-party modifier.
OUT – Phantasmal Image – We're going to cull the rest of the low-hanging Shapeshifting fruit here while we're at it. Phantasmal Image is great in other Constructed formats but here it dies to the abundance of Wrath effects as well as anything else that even looks at it funny for a second. (There's nothing more embarrassing than folding to Yavimaya Hollow.)
OUT – Renegade Doppelganger – This guy only copies your stuff and then only until the end of your turn. It's a potentially tricky way to find a blue source of haste but let's face it: most of your guys are just copying other things anyway. Let's cut out the middleman.
OUT – Shifty Doppelganger – It's open season on Doppelgangers today apparently. Ol' Shifty is really just a glorified blue Sneak Attack. We should be getting better value out of our creatures since they tend to be precise surgical instruments and not giant red piles of brainless muscle. I'm all for throwing a Dragon Tyrant at someone's head but we're in blue here. We're sophisticated. (Hey! You in the back…stop laughing!)
OUT – Riptide Shapeshifter – This is just a Polymorph with legs and we're cutting the Polymorph without legs shortly. A one-time creature Tutor isn't worth flushing away all of the other goodies you'll be shuffling off before you hit something relevant.
… Unfortunately there's a Homarid tribal player sitting between the two of you.
We've already got a super-secret hidden enchantment sub-theme going on with the likes of Debtors' Knell Equilibrium Leyline of Anticipation Copy Enchantment and several others. Rector lets us take that theme and leverage it even further; we gain incredible mana fixing with Land Tax strong draw with Phyrexian Arena recursion with Phyrexian Reclamation and a nod to our steal theme with Take Possession.
A quick note here—I tend to steer clear of enchantments that need to stay on something in order for you to retain control of it but Split-Second pushes this selection over the edge. Wait for the Oblivion Stone player who gets cocky and passes the turn. You'll thank me.
We've stolen a few extra slots to buffer our draw and Tutor options with Demonic and Vampiric Tutor Mind's Eye Fact or Fiction and Top. I know I know…good stuff inclusions. They're called that for a reason though right? In all seriousness your list was hurting for some consistency and that means a nod to some proven performers. We haven't completely sold our souls yet.
OUT – Preacher – I'm not knocking the effect believe me. But…
IN – Merieke Ri Berit - … For the same converted cost she kills off whatever she grabbed when she untaps or goes away. That's an upgrade.
OUT – Roil Elemental – This is a tough cut. Ever since this thing was printed I've tried to leverage it in nearly every deck that has blue in it. The sad truth is that Roil Elemental has a gigantic bulls-eye painted on it; nothing is scarier than a permanent that has the potential to single-handedly steal every creature on the board. We don't want to grind the game to a halt and we certainly don't want the attention this brings with it.
Not to mention that it probably dies before you untap for your next turn anyway and the rest of the table will still attack you anyway for a few more turns for the bad taste it left in their mouths.
IN – Keiga The Tide Star – Instead we'll slot a big-bodied evasive threat that also plays the rattlesnake role very well. We can also leverage Keiga with our sacrifice effects without needing her to stay on the board and we gain reusability with the Phyrexian Reclamation we added earlier. This is more like it.
OUT – Dance of Many – I like the cheap utility. I don't like the upkeep cost or fragility.
IN – Thada Adel Acquisitor – Thada is on-theme and plays so many solid roles. Early game she finds you a Sol Ring or Coalition Relic; once things get going she becomes the ultimate Swiss-army knife finding you everything from Oblivion Stone to Memory Jar to Wurmcoil Engine. Don't forget that you don't need to cast what you find; if you pick up the Arcum Dagsson deck and see Mindslaver or Blightsteel Colossus in there somewhere yank it out and let it stay exiled.
For bonus points then convince the Omnath player that Arcum was absolutely going to target him with both.
OUT – Steal Enchantment – The cost is appealing. The narrow focus is not.
IN – Spelljack – You called this one; we get a much-wider scope with this include. As much as I hate to admit it it's never a bad thing to have a counterspell on hand for when someone tries to resolve Tooth and Nail. It's better yet when you get to follow up by doing the same thing for free.
OUT – Concerted Effort – As you mentioned you need a way to make your creatures better than your opponents' creatures. The problem I have with Concerted Effort is that it just needs way too many things to fall in line to work. You need it in play and you need a creature copying something that has the keyword ability you want and then you need an additional creature to gain any value. Remember what we said about Shape Stealer? The same goes here…in order for your guy to be relevant you need an opponent with a relevant guy as well first. Congrats on your stalemate!
IN – True Conviction - What we're really looking to get in order to break the creature stalemate is first strike; here we get a bonus second strike a decent shot of life gain and it's relevant even with only one creature in play. It's a great late-game Academy Rector target.
OUT – Mirror Gallery – The humor value of creating an exact replica of an opponents' commander wears off as soon as you realize that you'd be better off if they didn't also have one as well.
IN – Debt of Loyalty – Instead wait until someone inevitably kills off said commander and just take it permanently. This is one of my all-time favorite combat tricks.
OUT – Baton of Morale – Sorry Zander. It's just not staying. I tried… I really did. The value this card provides pales in every conceivable comparison to what might instead occupy the slot and I just couldn't do it. We're playing creatures that copy and steal here not green-based token swarm (where this might actually be okay…but you didn't hear me say that…)
Props for attempting to bring banding back though. Keep fighting the good fight!
IN – Dominate – This is the card that should have been first on your list when you built this deck. Dominate is the definition of your theme and is the best of both worlds: it hits at instant speed while also being a permanent theft. The only card in this vein that I prefer over it—Cauldron Dance—is not in your colors here.
OUT – Echo Chamber Soul Foundry Minion Reflector – We're also pulling out the token suite as it just doesn't seem to fit the deck mechanically. It is also incredibly fragile due to the huge amount of artifact hate out there and you don't have much to protect it in your deck. Minion Reflector is arguably the best of the bunch here as you don't need to stick your neck out by exiling a creature to imprint (Foundry) or let your opponent choose (Chamber) to give you those sweet Quarum Trench Gnomes instead of his Griselbrand. (Yeah…no clue who's playing those two cards in the same deck. Gimme a break huh?)
If we were getting a permanent token (a la Prototype Portal or Mirrorworks) I'd be a little more interested. Considering the decent existing options this deck already has as well as the need for some mana acceleration/fixing I'm okay letting this sub-theme slide.
OUT – Erratic Portal Capsize – We're trimming down on the bounce spells in favor of some permanent removal. I realize that some of the utility inherent in these cards is the chance to gain value out of your own creatures but with Crystal Shard and Equilibrium (and more Tutors to find them if needed) we can afford to make a few cuts.
IN – Vindicate Banishing Stroke – While the former should come as no surprise in a deck running black and white the latter is a rising star in my opinion. The utility—being able to hit a creature enchantment or artifact—is a rare flexibility and is exactly the sort of thing this deck can use. Better yet it gets around indestructibility. In a pinch you can pay retail but aggressive Sensei's Divining Top use will guarantee that you get the discount exactly when you need it.
OUT – Soothsaying – We've already slotted Top which performs most of the same roles this does at a significant cost reduction while also allowing you to draw a card in a pinch.
IN – Knowledge Exploitation – We've lost all but one of our Rogues (well…fake Rogues anyway) but it's hard to deny the utility of this Bribery for instants and sorceries even at full price. In a large game it is always what you need it to be. I love the flexibility of punishing the Time Stretch abuser grabbing Akroma's Vengeance for a timely board wipe or refilling and untapping via a Time Spiral. It's also a perfect way to round out the theme of your deck.
OUT – Polymorph – You know I'm not a fan of Riptide Shapeshifter so that takes care of personal use. Now that we've added improved removal options it doesn't make sense to be giving our opponents a consolation gift for removing their creature anymore.
IN – Cultural Exchange – Remember it targets the player not the creatures. Hexproof and shroud have got nothing on this thing.
OUT – Cackling Counterpart Back from the Brink – As we wind down toward the end of the non-land cards you'll see we've basically rendered these two obsolete through other inclusions. Phyrexian Reclamation is both cheaper than Brink and it also gives you your actual creature back as well as the possibility of limitless further uses that Brink can't offer due to the "exile" clause. Cackling Counterpart is a solid card but in this deck we'd rather be copying our opponents' creatures. The flashback option is so telegraphed that it rarely works the way you expect it to.
IN – Austere Command Decree of Pain – For my money these two are the best two mass-removal spells in the format. Both offer incredible flexibility with Austere providing us the targeted board wipe that we need for all permanent types and Decree giving us another potentially huge shot of card draw.
Finally we can give our mana base a readjustment:
OUT – Zoetic Cavern – It would be better to slot colored mana generation in this slot.
OUT – Lonely Sandbar Barren Moor Secluded Steppe – Our count of enters the battlefield tapped lands was a bit too high to be comfortable in the early game. I opted to leave the Ravnica block bouncelands due to the additional mana they provide over the extra draw the cyclers offer. (We've addressed that in the maindeck already.)
OUT – Cavern of Souls Thran Quarry Tolaria – You and your banding…jeez. Quarry goes because it's too risky and since we've removed our tribal theme for the most part Cavern is just an expensive waste of space.
IN – Thawing Glaciers Phyrexian Tower Vault of the Archangel – We can use the space we have for an additional sacrifice outlet (Tower) one of the best land Tutors in the game (Glaciers) and another shot in the arm for your creatures (Vault).
This brings us to the final decklist:
- 1 Duplicant
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Academy Rector
- 1 Body Double
- 1 Cemetery Puca
- 1 Clone
- 1 Cryptoplasm
- 1 Dimir Doppelganger
- 1 Dominating Licid
- 1 Evil Twin
- 1 Gilded Drake
- 1 Quicksilver Gargantuan
- 1 Shapesharer
- 1 Thalakos Deceiver
- 1 Vesuvan Doppelganger
- 1 Vesuvan Shapeshifter
- 1 Halfdane
- 1 Keiga, the Tide Star
- 1 Merieke Ri Berit
- 1 Sakashima the Impostor
- 1 Thada Adel, Acquisitor
- 3 Island
- 3 Plains
- 3 Swamp
- 1 Arcane Sanctum
- 1 Azorius Chancery
- 1 Calciform Pools
- 1 City of Shadows
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Dimir Aqueduct
- 1 Dreadship Reef
- 1 Godless Shrine
- 1 Hallowed Fountain
- 1 High Market
- 1 Orzhov Basilica
- 1 Reflecting Pool
- 1 Scrubland
- 1 Thawing Glaciers
- 1 Tolaria West
- 1 Tundra
- 1 Underground Sea
- 1 Vault of the Archangel
- 1 Vesuva
- 1 Watery Grave
- 1 Winding Canyons
- 1 Academy Ruins
- 1 Minamo, School at Water's Edge
- 1 Miren, the Moaning Well
- 1 Phyrexian Tower
- 1 Shizo, Death's Storehouse
- 1 Urborg
- 1 Crystal Shard
- 1 Darksteel Ingot
- 1 Expedition Map
- 1 Mimic Vat
- 1 Mind's Eye
- 1 Sculpting Steel
- 1 Sensei's Divining Top
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Swiftfoot Boots
- 1 Copy Artifact
- 1 Copy Enchantment
- 1 Debtors' Knell
- 1 Equilibrium
- 1 Followed Footsteps
- 1 Land Tax
- 1 Leyline of Anticipation
- 1 Phyrexian Arena
- 1 Phyrexian Reclamation
- 1 Rhystic Study
- 1 Shapeshifter's Marrow
- 1 Take Possession
- 1 Treachery
- 1 True Conviction
- 1 Banishing Stroke
- 1 Debt of Loyalty
- 1 Dominate
- 1 Fact or Fiction
- 1 Gather Specimens
- 1 Mirrorweave
- 1 Spelljack
- 1 Vampiric Tutor
- 1 Acquire
- 1 Austere Command
- 1 Blatant Thievery
- 1 Bribery
- 1 Cultural Exchange
- 1 Decree of Pain
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 1 Evangelize
- 1 Rite of Replication
- 1 Vindicate
- 1 Knowledge Exploitation
For your participation in this week's Dear Azami you'll receive a $20 coupon to the StarCityGames.com store to begin working with here. I'd typically be a little uncomfortable suggesting a $165 shopping list but since you're already using Underground Sea and Tundra mentioned picking up a Diamond Valley and well said money is not an issue I decided you probably wouldn't mind. (I bet I wouldn't be off base if I assume that you already owned a good chunk of these cards anyway.)
The top end is the killer with Vindicate Vampiric Tutor Land Tax and Sensei's Divining Top making up a full half of the cost of the total list but it drops off considerably from there. Here's what you're looking at:
|Thada Adel Acquisitor||$0.49|
|Merieke Ri Berit||$0.99|
|Debt Of Loyalty||$1.49|
|Fact Or Fiction||$1.49|
|Decree Of Pain||$5.49|
|Keiga The Tide Star||$5.99|
|Sensei's Divining Top||$13.99|
Before I head out for the day I just wanted to send a sincere "Thank you!" to Sean Lauren and the rest of the StarCityGames.com crew for having me over for the week. I had a blast. (And if anything is broken after I leave it was like that already…)
If you like what you read here today you're a Commander fan in general or you're at work or school and all of your usual favorite sites are blocked please head on over to my blog GeneralDamageControl.com. I update every Monday and Thursday rain or shine.
Thanks for reading!
Want to submit a deck for consideration to Dear Azami? We're always accepting deck submissions to consider for use in a future article like Doug's Edric Spymaster of Trent deck or Robert's Rafiq of the Many deck. Only one deck submission will be chosen per article but being selected for the next edition of Dear Azamiincludes not just deck advice but also a $20 coupon to the StarCityGames.com store!
Email Sean a deck submission using this link here!
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