With the release of Gatecrash this past weekend, it's officially available, and we can get our hands on as much product as we want. This set's harder to "see" than Return to Ravnica was, with fewer things pulling us in obvious directions, and this rudderless confusion seems like it will last at least a little while as we try to wrap our brains around the contextual usefulness of cards like Domri Rade and Gideon, Champion of Justice, neither of which is as straightforward and obvious as Jace, Architect of Thought. Thus, we seem to be a little more confused than normal at this juncture.
Fortunately, this is not rocket science; I don't have to figure out what this set means for Legacy (if anything) or how the Standard metagame will shake up as it plays out—this is Commander we're talking about. I just get to dig into the new set and see what I can do with all of these wonderful new toys. My two favorite decks right now are both Gatecrash guilds: one is a nasty, recursive Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter deck that will be putting several extort cards and other goodies from the Orzhov guild to work, and the other is a Simic deck of middling repute.
I have at this point spent far longer than I should have with Experiment Kraj at the helm of this goofy "good stuff" U/G deck, trying to amuse myself with the always-different gameplay possible with a commander that is able to borrow activated abilities from other creatures. It's not an easy thing to enjoy, though I wanted it to be—colored mana rules prevented me from borrowing any ability that had an off-colored mana in the cost, and most Commander creatures these days have come-into-play abilities rather than activated abilities to use while in play, so I was mostly copying my own abilities and trying to get a smile out of playing Morphling for the shenanigans that could ensue.
But the alternatives had been bleak: go the Momir Vig route, which no one seems to find fun, or switch over to Edric, Spymaster of Trest and have a deck that feels incredibly parasitic as it snowballs into ever-larger attacks and inevitably shuts the table down with a few Time Warp effects chained together. So, obviously enough, the printing of a new guild leader is something I have been looking to since Return to Ravnica showcased new legendary creatures for each guild. I have been looking forward to finally have a new option for some time now, and this blank card with blue and green mana had me enthusiastic to pursue it long before it had an identity.
Now we know who the new leader of the Simic Combine is, and it's quite a potent leader indeed to play with. Time to build a new deck, methinks.
Experiment Kraj was goofy and sort-of fun but not really powerful. The synergies I kept trying to build in just weren't helpful. The other two options just combo off as their primary focus and do it too readily, and you either built to take advantage of the commander or it was no good for you at all. The highs were astoundingly high, and the lows were ignominiously low. Five-mana 2/2 do-nothings are even worse than six-mana 4/6 do-very-littles, after all, and with my abject refusal to build a blue-green combo machine, I was offered no middle path.
Prime Speaker Zegana gives us that middle path; as a six-mana card draw commander, it's easy to abuse with Bounce or Flicker effects if you want to try to break it in half as a combo engine, but even when you decline the offer to break the game, Prime Speaker Zegana is still amazing and priced just expensively enough that her straightforward use will be hard to repeat over and over again in a degenerative fashion. We can refuse to use cards like Cloudstone Curio or Capsize that let us go off with the Prime Speaker and still have an excellent commander, which means we don't have to hone our deck as narrowly as Edric or Momir Vig ask us to and can enjoy a powerful, rough-and-tumble commander without needing to build degeneracy into it.
Without any other creatures in play, Prime Speaker Zegana is the most overcosted Elvish Visionary we've seen yet; with even just a humble 3/3 in play, you get a smallish commander for the cost but draw four cards in the process, meaning that six mana was spent casting Opportunity and happened to also net a 4/4 while we're at it. We're going to need to build around the desire to have friends to work with, but we don't need to warp our deck decisions or anything—just playing a reasonable bunch of creatures in our Commander deck will see immediate rewards, helping to reload our hand and maintain late-game relevance by always having options in-hand to work with and plays we can make.
Experiment Kraj always suffered from petering out and not being relevant anymore, leaving me as just a speed bump to anyone who could get around the creatures I'd accumulated to do battle with. Prime Speaker Zegana seems perfectly poised to never have to worry about that particular problem because the commander at the helm brings a fresh salvo of cards to work with, letting us build a grindy advantage machine... My favorite type of Commander deck, one that can play at a high level but isn't designed to overpower anyone, letting the "power" come from playing well and anticipating the flow of the game yet to come.
We begin with the mana. A mix of utility lands that work with the Prime Speaker will be added, as will the recent additions to the enemy-colored dual land lineup, which means we can finally have excellent mana without having to jump through any hoops. Simple things like Hinterland Harbor and Simic Guildgate really go a long way to flesh out a color combination that at one point had to realistically consider Skyshroud Forest before things got quite so easy.
This color combination also gets to take advantage of Alchemist's Refuge, which is like my very favorite land, Winding Canyons, on steroids. I get to play both and smile because I like not being chained to my main phase when it comes to playing my cards out, as there are very real advantages to waiting as long as possible before deploying your threats in this world of sorcery-speed sweepers.
Simic Growth Chamber
Temple of the False God
Minamo, School at Water's Edge
Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers
Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
We could go a little crazier on the nonbasics, but we have a good mix of utility lands working for us already, including a few we can use with Prime Speaker Zegana to draw additional cards in a pinch by adding to her power before the card draw ability resolves. Thespian's Stage is another addition from the new set I wanted to put to work, as I'm comfortable with just how nutty it can be when we take into account the ability to copy someone's Cabal Coffers one turn and a Maze of Ith on another. At the very worst, we're talking about setting up a card that can pretend to be a basic land we don't have yet in a pinch or get double use out of things like Thawing Glaciers or Oran-Rief.
Perhaps the cutest thing you can do with it is copy a bounceland while dodging the requirement to, you know, bounce a land, and this land-full-of-options is one we're going to see break in here first in Commander before it goes anywhere else. While I do expect it to get at least some play in its time in Standard and the ability to play this in the Cloudpost + Vesuva deck has implications for Legacy as well, ours is the format it has the clearest home in because it most likely to let us take advantage of its shifting nature over the course of a game.
One land not included bears addressing, however. Prime Speaker Zegana is a Wizard, and thus Riptide Laboratory is on the list of things we could do if we tried. It's certainly not that I don't believe we could use it; it is excluded perhaps because I fear we could use it too well, that playing it at all tips us over that gentle line of comfortable play where the opponent can play their game normally without seeing the writing on the wall. A Commander who's potentially a draw 7 spell is bad enough to warrant severe concern from the opponent.
Let's be patently honest here: showing you're planning on recurring that on the cheap and every turn starts triggering something akin to an allergic response from the opponents, who will suddenly be quite convinced they cannot play their own game while you're still sitting there breathing. Could it be awesome? Yes. But sometimes, it's best to leave things out for your own good—unless and until the playgroup shows you they're ready to scrimmage at a much higher level. For all but the most cutthroat tables, this will be worth keeping on the sidelines so it doesn't get you killed over it.
We move next to the artifacts because they are a pretty natural extension of the mana base and we haven't completed it until we've added them. Some pretty typical additions are made here, but it's worth noting that we're really trying to minimize our use of this space, wanting to focus pretty heavily on creatures and thus support spells that help keep a team around. A minimalist's approach gets us the following:
In his article looking at Obzedat and the Orzhov guild last week, my cowriter Cassidy noted that when we build decks like this we're building an "unbounded price" deck because in the past it has seemed like the sky, in fact, was the limit. In actuality, the limit is my big Commander Box card pool as far as where the price is the limit, and I just so happen to have made sure I have an ugly white-bordered Spanish Mana Crypt. A Tropical Island's not too much to ask for considering I've had a blue-green deck of one stripe or another for three or four years now.
Because of this limit, you won't see a Mana Drain in this deck because I don't currently have one in my card pool; it was willfully abandoned in order to depower my far-too-broken Animar deck, even as the deck's price tag is otherwise quite high. Though this be madness, there is method to it.
Mana Crypt and Sol Ring fill early acceleration roles that are so worthwhile that I'm happy to make the tradeoff that they'll die in the first board sweeper, with industry-standards like Oblivion Stone and Austere Command being fairly typical plays you can expect to happen multiple times over the course of a game. Expedition Map is one of my top candidates for "first nonland card in every Commander deck" because you must have a boring mana base indeed not to get benefit out of it.
The other candidate is Sensei's Divining Top, which is leading in that fight changes over time, but I've seen a lot of backlash in general over Top's inclusion everywhere lately and am giving Map the first-place ribbon these days, except in colors that are so poor at drawing cards—notably white and red—which sorely need a Top-like effect far more than they value the awesome simplicity of Expedition Map.
Oblivion Stone is there as a sweeper, of which we'll actually have very little, focusing on trading one-for-one profitably instead of many-for-one thanks to the fact that this color combination doesn't really sweep the board at all. Sword of Feast and Famine is the one Equipment card I actually want to have to augment my creatures, as the untap-my-lands side of the card will be incredibly valuable and may let us have some surprisingly awesome turns. I don't want to go brokenly in that direction—no Heartbeat of Spring plus Turnabout here—but it's well worth having even if we're not focusing on it because this color combination is not exactly adept at searching for equipment cards or Tutoring in general.
Mimic Vat is usually a good stuff inclusion in every Commander deck because getting to use one uncontested for a few turns can create such an advantage that it's worth playing even when it's not really on-theme. The theme of this deck is going to revolve around having a good creature in play so that you have board presence and Zegana can draw us a few cards, and Mimic Vat helps to keep something in play to work with even as all of the creatures die over and over again, keeping the deck moving forward.
We currently have 44 cards in the deck, leaving us room for 55 more, and knowing full well that in order to keep on-theme we're going to want to have at least 30 creatures to work with, that leaves us room for only 25 spells to make magic happen. Because we need to do so much with so little room, we can't just go down a best-of list and pick Hinder + Spell Crumple, Explosive Vegetation + Skyshroud Claim + Ranger's Path + Hunting Wilds; we're going to have to be more tactical than that. Enchantment is going to be a beloved card type because we want to get repeating effects and put our cards to work instead of focusing on one-shot effects that would be awesome but eat up deck space. We can't toss in ten counters or all six two-drop ramp spells and, and, and. Because the final and will be "and we've run out of room."
Starting with the enchantments, we begin with Survival of the Fittest because we are playing a self-respecting green deck focusing heavily on having key creatures to work with. We're trying to answer board-based problems and go with a high-quality creature build instead of a swarm-based approach... An approach which strongly favors being able to definitively determine which creature we have access to right away and every time. Lurking Predators is also an obvious addition because we want to maintain a steady board presence of creatures that are worth doing something to have around and getting an option on that every time a spell is cast is an amazing ability so long as we keep up a reasonable critter density. We've already decreed no fewer than 30, so we'll hit with fair regularity.
The next one is a bit of an oddball, though. zit's Fable of Wolf and Owl, which is not exactly a card you often in Commander, but since we're going to realistically expect that we'll be benefitting from this fairly regularly and are really rewarded for having at least one decent body in play to work with, this has a solid home here for once. Treachery will be included not because we're really focusing on a creature-stealing theme—it's only a sub-theme, after all—but because it is so darn efficient at what it does that we can't possibly exclude it. Last of the enchantments we add is Greater Good because we aren't going to be able to rely on having eight or nine dedicated card drawing spells and really need to work these 25 slots, so getting one that has a repeating effect is very key.
Moving on next to the planeswalkers, we have just two. (We would have three if I owned a Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but as I do not, we have but two additions.) Garruk Wildspeaker and Garruk, Primal Hunter are both worthy inclusions that will do a lot of good work for us; either one can add a 3/3 Beast token to the board, which helps Prime Speaker Zegana hit the minimum threshold to be worthwhile for us. One helps give us additional mana, while the other helps as a potential card drawing effect, and a potentially bonkers one at that considering the size of creatures we're expecting to hit here in order to let the Prime Speaker really shine.
Our additional mana acceleration spells are going to be very limited in how many slots we give them here. We add Explore because of how good the effect is in the early game (and because getting that small effect and drawing a card is the version of that effect I'm most interested in) and the two-pack of Kodama's Reach and Cultivate, two exceptionally solid mana-accelerant spells that provide card advantage, that little bit of ramping, and help in finding the right colors of mana to operate in a deck that has triple green and triple blue in its costs as well as GGUU in the casting cost of its commander.
This leaves us just fifteen slots to work with: fifteen slots for all of the additional card drawing we want, fifteen slots for countermagic, fifteen slots for removal spells and other tricksy shenanigans.
Four slots go to countermagic, and we want the most effective ones we can get, favoring some because they're inexpensive and others because they have the most flexibility and greatest impact. Arcane Denial is my go-to selection for a cheap counterspell in this format and has in prior decks served next to Mana Drain and managed to out-shine it at least some of the time or at least not embarrass itself the rest of the time. Muddle the Mixture is added here as well because of just how good some of the two-mana options in this deck are going to be, letting us have an option on a counterspell against noncreature spells, hitting that cheap option right where we want it to while also having some additional utility to the functioning of the deck when we're cruising along and don't need a counterspell.
Cryptic Command is, well, Cryptic Command; the card does everything, and we'd be silly not to include it. The last addition is the six-mana answer to any problem that ails ye—it doesn't counter if the spell is untargetable or uncounterable or whatever since it doesn't affect the spell at all—Time Stop just has the magic words end the turn that let it stop spells, abilities, attack phases, and pretty much anything you can think of it can find a way to profitably interact with in some way, shape, or form.
Three slots go to card draw effects, though I am being slightly disingenuous here by including Regrowth as a card draw effect. It's close enough for the purposes of this deck for me to not sweat the details. Regrowth in this deck is being used as a cheap effect that is favorable for us somehow without being obnoxious about it; we're not really focusing on recursion too heavily, we just want to use this to hit key effects a second time.
Fact or Fiction is just a potent high-power card drawing effect, able to put three cards in your hand no matter what your opponent decides to do on the split, and since we really just want more resources to work with, three cards is a good number here, but having the potential to choose the best of five gives it the nod over other options like Harmonize that could as easily have taken this slot. The third is a new addition, as we give a try to Urban Evolution, adding an extra mana to that Harmonize in order to give the beneficial addition of "you may play an additional land this turn" a chance to prove itself and see how we like it.
Eight slots left, and five of those we give to utility spells to help control the board and keep things pleasantly favorable for us. The first of those is a vital one in this format, as I heartily approve of the effective uncounterability of Krosan Grip when answering a problem in this format and give it the first nod as utility spell of choice. The second is similar but has its upsides as well as its drawback, and that is Beast Within. We're not exactly a color combination that is well known for its ability to kill creatures at instant speed, so when we have access to an ability like this that is both flexible and powerful, it is best that we quietly say thank you and take it.
The third addition lets us go over the top of literally anything we can imagine being a problem because whatever ails you, it's almost a certainty that an overloaded Cyclonic Rift will get you out of it. Since we're not really spending a lot of slots on spells, we need to make the ones we do have count, and this one packs a mighty punch. Fourth, we have one of my pet cards in the format, Constant Mists; the ability to preferentially stop any combat that is going badly for you over and over again and in a way that barring a counterspell you simply can't say no to, it has proven itself to me time and again, saving my butt more times than I can remember.
The fifth and final utility addition is another odd duck, this time selecting Gather Specimens as a not quite counterspell, not quite Control Magic spell that has some very interesting uses and is about the best possible answer one could have to Living Death. While I've had a few games where this rotted in my hand as just a bit too expensive to be useful and not quite flexible enough to work with, the other games where my opponent cast Tooth and Nail off of Boseiju or fired off a really big Living Death have more than made up for the times I've not been perfectly happy with what is basically one mana more on my Desertion.
This leaves us three slots, two of which we are going to use on the biggest of possible spells and one of which we use on a small one—in fact almost an invisible one really. The one that doesn't quite fit anywhere else is Flash; we're used to seeing it in a different context, as part of a degenerate combo which we view as otherwise completely useless, but considering how Commander is a format chock full of creatures with comes-into-play and/or leaves-play abilities I had a positive experience trying this out in my former Experiment Kraj deck as a high-value turn 2 play that also could potentially be used in an interesting fashion later in the game.
The history of this card is a peculiar one; before it was used to sacrifice a Protean Hulk and win the game on the spot, it was literally untouched save for niche use in the sideboard of Jon Finkel's Forbidian deck as a way to play Ophidian as an instant without necessarily exposing the creature itself as a test spell. It was effectively a fair but must-counter spell for the control mirror, helping to resolve an Ophidian which would have high likelihood of taking over a game. I tried it out before the banning of Primeval Titan to excellent effect, more than once just binning Prime Time and getting two lands before trying to find some way to profit off his death and do it again, and then found it worked very well with several creatures I liked but hadn't really given much thought to before like Deadwood Treefolk.
But it really hit the sweet spot with persist creatures. If the game where I played a Primeval Titan that died on turn 2 was good, it was nothing compared to the game where I Flashed out Woodfall Primus on turn 2 because that game was not close. You don't want to go too far—Worldspine Wurm being my definition of "too far" using only cards I've played recently—but when you're already including stuff like Keiga and Avenger of Zendikar, this addition is surprisingly sexy.
The two "big spells" are actually fairly predictable, those being Time Stretch and Praetor's Council, both utter blowouts that need no real explanation as to why they were included. Either one resolving is basically good enough to win the game off of. I don't really want to go so far as to try and make Boseiju happen to get them as uncounterable things, but I do want a few utterly monstrous spells I can potentially draw as the game goes late... And I don't want to overdo it, so two is good enough given how much card drawing we can expect to do over the course of a game.
That gives us the following final tally for spell additions:
Survival of the Fittest
Fable of Wolf and Owl
Garruk, Primal Hunter
Muddle the Mixture
Fact or Fiction
We get to add 30 creatures to the mix now, and we have to make these slots count. While we have help from things like Lurking Predators and Gather Specimens that can help bulk up our fighting force, we need to pack a lot of punch in the creature department and maximize Prime Speaker Zegana's effectiveness.
Traipsing up the mana curve, we skip zero (as most people usually do barring Kobold craziness or the irrational urge to try to kill someone with an Ornithopter) and also bypass one, not really interested in cheap mana creatures thanks to their inherent fragility. We're uninterested in some of the intriguing options we could find here if we were building our deck around them, such as Greenseeker or Drowned Rusalka, the latter of which sorely tempted me when I thought I was still going to have enough room in the deck to goof around with Sprout Swarm and giggle with it and Fable of Wolf and Owl in the deck Convoking like crazy. While I do want to explore my newfound favorite creature, Ulvenwald Tracker, in the context of Commander...sadly, not today.
Two mana gives us five additions, the first of which is oooh, scary! when most people see him but far less scary in the context of this deck (which we made sure had quite a few basic lands to dampen its impact). Hermit Druid is included here because we're very happy with both halves of what he does: get us a land every turn in the early stages of the game and fill our graveyard in somewhat slow motion so that cards like Regrowth and Eternal Witness are better than usual, opposing strategies like Living Death are worse against us than usual, and over the long game we'll have more access to Genesis or even be able to restock the deck as we flip past an Eldrazi and shuffle everything back in.
People tend to focus overly much on the hardest you can game with Hermit Druid, whereas I've been trying to focus on how efficiently it helps you make your land drops over the course of a game. So rather than skimp on basics and take advantage of the "accidental" ability to flip your deck, I want lots of them so we can make all our drops without crippling our deck if a Bojuka Bog happens.
The next two are paired, close cousins as it were, one of which you get as a little reward for being Simic. Sakura-Tribe Elder is part of our minor acceleration suite and always works as advertised, but Coiling Oracle is only sort of an accelerant. Early on, it's at the very least a cantrip, with the advantage being if the card drawn happens to be a land, you get to put it right into play. Later on, it cycles for a chance to have another spell appear and is thus a fairly invisible addition to your mana setup, and is another good creature to recur with Genesis or stick under a Mimic Vat without breaking the game and earning the ire of the table.
The last two are Gilded Drake, again as part of our creature-stealing subtheme that lets us not worry too overly much on what the opponent is doing because the worst that could happen is still within our ability to potentially contain, and Zameck Guildmage. When I realized we had the potential for a Wizard subtheme, I looked at Sage of Fables and started to run with it...then realized the new Simic Guildmage does all that and more without needing tribal synergy and with the ability to get more uses out of it if we have more mana lying around. Ultimately, I made myself have to choose between it and Master Biomancer and went with the crunchier Guildmage because it lets me convert Zegana's earned counters into cards, letting me get double mileage out of her and effectively using every part of the buffalo to gain an advantage.
Moving on to the three-drops, we're still pretty sparsely populated—the sweet spot of the deck is going to be in the four to seven range because we want meaningful drops that work with Prime Speaker Zegana to draw four or more cards if we're able and can't overcommit to smaller creatures, picking them only on utility or raw power alone. For raw power we have just one addition, Yavimaya Elder, for much the same reason Hermit Druid made the cut: who doesn't like easy access to a bunch of free cards?
Yavimaya Elder is a natural three-for-one, helping you hit your higher land drops without costing you a card, and considering how this deck will still love its tenth mana just as much as it loves its fourth, it's good pretty much in any stage of the game. The other three additions are picked based on Survival of the Fittest + Genesis being a game state we can expect to find ourselves in, so we pick the right utility creatures for the job and get to add these three:
Sylvok Replica gets added as the cheapest Disenchant effect we can get; you could play Wickerbough Elder, or Acidic Slime, or Indrik Stomphowler, but none of these rival the Replica for its cheap cost to use...and none of them work as readily with Genesis as the Replica does, by putting itself in the graveyard for immediate reuse. Eternal Witness is here just for being awesome at recurring cards, even better than Regrowth at that job because of the interaction with both Genesis and Survival of the Fittest, potentially accessing it out of either the graveyard or the library instead of relying on it being in your hand right now to use.
The last addition is Loaming Shaman to help bolster our graveyard control—currently it's pretty lacking, so we need at least one silver bullet to potentially access if things start to get out of our control. Loaming Shaman handles all of the problem immediately without any further mana investment, giving it the nod over the potentially more powerful Scavenging Ooze.
Moving on to the four-mana slot, we hit the deck's sweet spot. We supplement our countermagic lightly with Mystic Snake and Venser, Shaper Savant, the latter of which gives us a way to complement Time Stop's ability to hinder even the most exotic spells, like Boseiju'd Tooth and Nails or good old-fashioned Obliterates, a feat typical counters cannot handle and one we gain access to out of our deck via Survival of the Fittest. Solemn Simulacrum helps as a solid card-advantage play that also accelerates us and is about the best thing ever to imprint on a Mimic Vat (again, without breaking the game in half, anyway). We add yet another four-mana 2/2 by including Oracle of Mul Daya, which has the uncanny ability to go entirely crazy and accelerate you to the higher reaches of the mana curve entirely for free just given a little time undisturbed to do so.
Our next addition doesn't even have power, though its combined stats still add up to four. Forgotten Ancients is an excellent way to convert an opponent's exerted efforts into your improved board state, super-sizing your team for whatever uses and interacting very nicely with Prime Speaker Zegana. It's also no slouch with Zameck Guildmage, letting any spell your opponent plays lead to a card put in your hand, another reason to sneak in the newcomer and see what happens when we give it a try. The last addition I don't even really particularly like. I've added Phyrexian Metamorph, but it's a pure good-stuff addition, being the cheapest and sturdiest Clone effect we have access to. I'm content to hold my nose and call it a utility addition for Survival of the Fittest even as I'm a little tired of it and starting to phase it out of my decks for the near term.
Five mana gives us just four additions, starting with the aforementioned Genesis to help power up our game with a recursive aspect if we go long enough or get Survival online. Mischievous Quanar is my morph of choice for this deck to goof around with a little, making the big-mana spells all the more dangerous and letting us get double utility out of each of our spells...or letting us hijack an opponents' instead, if that is what we want to be doing.
The other two are a bit more interesting than that. I'm sort-of lying because one of the two is Thragtusk, which is yawn-tastic in Standard but is not an animal I've really seen used in Commander yet. It interacts very favorably on-curve with Prime Speaker Zegana, netting us a 6/6 and six cards on six mana or at the very least leaving behind a 3/3 if it's killed, preventing us from getting blown out the first time we cast our commander in a way that most other creature cards simply aren't capable of. It's a trick we'll probably see a lot of in 60-card decks, but we'll give it a spin in this here 99 and be happy to have a solid, grindy creature we can stick under a Mimic Vat or reuse with Genesis for some repeating life gain and board presence.
The last is River Kelpie, which I've found an excellent source of free cards in response to things like Living Death and is perfectly serviceable over the course of the game at picking up a few chip shots here and there. This really is a format where people touch their graveyards a lot, so I'm happy to give this a home knowing it's better to play at instant speed and that we have Winding Canyons, Alchemist's Refuge, and Flash to potentially help with that.
Moving on to the six slot, we have one noteworthy non-addition for much the same reason as I am wary of including Phyrexian Metamorph. I'm frankly tired of Consecrated Sphinx and want to have to work harder to overwhelm a game like that. The Sphinx just makes it too darn easy and not interesting at all. That slot was given to River Kelpie instead to be interesting and less effective while still being quite effective, and Prime Speaker's innate abilities will prevent us from missing it overly much. I simply won't be including it in my decks for a while, though I'll be polite and acknowledge this is simply a personal bias at present and don't need to go so far as to start ripping it out of submitted decks just because I happen to be tired of it.
At the six-mana mark, I am including Duplicant as a catchall removal spell. Even though he's been in practically every deck of mine for as long as I've been playing Commander, I haven't grown tired of him, unlike relative newcomer Consecrated Sphinx. This deck is so very light on removal that this effect is more vital than usual, which makes me all the more thankful that this color is able to search for him and reuse him better than other colors can to make up for the fact that we need to work him that hard in the first place.
Wurmcoil Engine's another solid Thragtusk-like critter to go with Prime Speaker Zegana, helping to ensure our creature won't just be killed in response to casting our commander and leave us with just a 1/1 and a card. Wurmcoil is also kind of interesting with Flash, which was where I started getting intrigued in giving it a try, not just as another way to play a card at a speed I otherwise couldn't but by willfully failing to pay the mana and getting benefits out of it. Even River Kelpie isn't terrible at that, as it leaves you with a 2/2 and a fresh card for your trouble, letting you at least draw a card to maybe draw out of a poor opening hand.
Draining Whelk gets added to the countermagic suite because it's an absurdly large Dragon after you've used it, which is good with our Guildmage and awesome with Prime Speaker Zegana; instead of Mana Drain being the bonkers counterspell of choice here, Draining Whelk is the one that sets us up for a very nice one-two punch since we'll get to draw a card for each of those +1/+1 counters. Keiga, the Tide Star is another contributor to the creature stealing subtheme and is another card that is surprisingly good to let die off of Flash while we're talking, letting it potentially say 1U: Gain control of target creature in addition to the other modes it is building up into it.
Lastly, we add Deadeye Navigator, though it is dangerously near the tipping point of combo craziness in this deck and with this Commander. Just Blinking a Thragtusk over and over is one of the more innocent things we can do; quite a few of our creatures counter spells, letting us potentially lock up a hard-control state against sorcery speed effects, and we're also packing not just Prime Speaker but quite a few heavy hitters that go crazy with this reusing them.
It's number one on my watch list in this deck for things that might be fighting too hard and need to get cut from the deck because we can potentially go absurd with the commander and make the game unfun for everyone else. I'm going with innocent until proven guilty here and watching for new evidence of crimes against opposing mages to see how distasteful his inclusion is here (and thus whether I have to face the repercussions of "cut him or we'll always attack you to death").
Moving on to the very tippy-top of the curve, we have already mentioned wanting an Eldrazi to reshuffle with, and I love Kozilek, Butcher of Truth as my go-to jellyfish alien legend monster because I like putting more cards in my hand and having a creature that supplements that overall plan is how we helped to justify fewer card drawing spells in order to cram more creatures into the deck in the first place. Mostly, though, Kozilek just makes me happy without being obscenely hard to work around since an indestructible Ulamog can be a pain in the butt for the opponents or, worse yet, for yourself in the face of a Bribery.
Woodfall Primus is added as another high-power utility creature, this time being one that works exceptionally well with Greater Good and is kind of an all-star with Flash, kicking two people back a land (or maybe even back a Sol Ring!) in the early stages of the game while keeping a beater to attack with thanks to persist. Anything with Persist is going to be of considerably higher value than average thanks to Prime Speaker Zegana's reliance on other members of the team staying in play, and this is sort of the go-nuclear option on that Acidic Slime I didn't add. We either want the most mana-efficient version or the most over-the-top version, which Woodfall Primus gives us.
... Or at least it used to before meeting new all-star contender Sylvan Primordial, who now wins the fight for "best creature to accidentally have on turn 2 with a Flash in hand" since in addition to hitting three things instead of two, you also get three Forests put into play for your trouble, which is even better than keeping a beater as Woodfall Primus lets us do. Just "having it" naturally won't happen a lot, and we've failed to include either Mystical Tutor or Worldly Tutor to bulk up the potential of this happening with any more consistency at all, but sometimes just sometimes this will accidentally be awesome. In the rest of the games, you're just going to cast it and have it still be awesome.
I almost don't understand why you get a Forest for each one you kill, but I guess they figured that, like Primeval Titan, this time the green one should be the best one. I think because of the awkward resemblance to Primeval Titan's simple resource-acquisition mode that Sheldon and the RC have to keep an eye on it, even though it doesn't get fancy nonbasics like Prime Time did.
Two of the last three additions are near clones of each other and of the Primordial cycle as well, Diluvian Primordial and Chancellor of the Spires. Living out of the opponent's graveyard is a good place to be in Commander if you can, as that is a place where some very good resources tend to stockpile, letting each of these creatures potentially involve crazy turns when they come into play. Both are abusive alongside Deadeye Navigator, to which I say to every opponent ever: just kill it then, it's just a creature that doesn't protect itself (most of the time). One Wrath will do it, so I guess you should have that Wrath then, eh?
Awkwardly, an opponent who has cast a Time Warp effect can lock a table out of the game thanks to one of these two, but at least the new one that multi-casts spells has the good graces to at least exile them for its efforts instead of let you do something no fun that no one wants to see happen.
And the last addition is boring old Avenger of Zendikar because we want to kill a table full of opponents somehow and he's about the best way I know of. I'd be bored of it if I did it more often or I'd be frustrated if it happened to me a lot, but I tend to kill Avengers as soon as I see them and thus haven't been badly burned recently.
I haven't been playing my green Commander decks as much as I've wanted to recently in the face of a lackluster commander at the helm and look forward to the simple pleasure of throttling everyone at once with Plant tokens for the first time in a while. "What I'm tired of" is contextual and hard to predict, and even though Avenger of Zendikar has now been killing people from very high life totals for years now, I'm still not tired of it in a non-combo setting. After all, it's not like I'm powering up Gaea's Cradle off of this, because then I would be bored.
Putting it all together, we have the following deck:
- 1 Duplicant
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Sylvok Replica
- 1 Wurmcoil Engine
- 1 Avenger of Zendikar
- 1 Chancellor of the Spires
- 1 Coiling Oracle
- 1 Deadeye Navigator
- 1 Diluvian Primordial
- 1 Draining Whelk
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Forgotten Ancient
- 1 Genesis
- 1 Gilded Drake
- 1 Hermit Druid
- 1 Loaming Shaman
- 1 Mischievous Quanar
- 1 Mystic Snake
- 1 Oracle of Mul Daya
- 1 River Kelpie
- 1 Sakura-Tribe Elder
- 1 Sylvan Primordial
- 1 Thragtusk
- 1 Woodfall Primus
- 1 Yavimaya Elder
- 1 Zameck Guildmage
- 1 Keiga, the Tide Star
- 1 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
- 1 Prime Speaker Zegana
- 1 Venser, Shaper Savant
- 6 Forest
- 5 Island
- 1 Alchemist's Refuge
- 1 Breeding Pool
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Dust Bowl
- 1 Evolving Wilds
- 1 Flooded Grove
- 1 Hinterland Harbor
- 1 Llanowar Reborn
- 1 Misty Rainforest
- 1 Mosswort Bridge
- 1 Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
- 1 Reflecting Pool
- 1 Scalding Tarn
- 1 Simic Growth Chamber
- 1 Simic Guildgate
- 1 Temple of the False God
- 1 Terramorphic Expanse
- 1 Thawing Glaciers
- 1 Thespian's Stage
- 1 Tolaria West
- 1 Tropical Island
- 1 Verdant Catacombs
- 1 Winding Canyons
- 1 Yavimaya Coast
- 1 Minamo, School at Water's Edge
- 1 Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers
- 1 Expedition Map
- 1 Mana Crypt
- 1 Mimic Vat
- 1 Oblivion Stone
- 1 Sensei's Divining Top
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Sword of Feast and Famine
- 1 Fable of Wolf and Owl
- 1 Greater Good
- 1 Lurking Predators
- 1 Survival of the Fittest
- 1 Treachery
- 1 Arcane Denial
- 1 Beast Within
- 1 Constant Mists
- 1 Cryptic Command
- 1 Cyclonic Rift
- 1 Fact or Fiction
- 1 Flash
- 1 Gather Specimens
- 1 Krosan Grip
- 1 Muddle the Mixture
- 1 Time Stop
- 1 Cultivate
- 1 Explore
- 1 Kodama's Reach
- 1 Praetor's Counsel
- 1 Regrowth
- 1 Time Stretch
- 1 Urban Evolution
I've just gotten my Prime Speaker in my hands now and get to give this deck a spin today, letting me fall in love with the Simic guild all over again with a well-honed deck for once instead of the goofy Experiment Kraj deck I'd been going nowhere with for something like three years now. Patience is rewarded, after all, and it's about time this evolved into something more interesting and effective...
-- Sean McKeown
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