ATTN: Head Librarian Azami
My regular Commander group has different modes of play. One is "no limits cutthroat" when someone gets tired of losing. Invariably, it is like mutually assured destruction. Once someone pulls out Jhoira or you, Azami, the rest of our degenerate decks come out. Mine is Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed. You may have heard of him from over in the Three Kingdoms. Here's the thing: Xiahou Dun gets ganged up on and the game becomes an archenemy match because I have embarrassed them all one too many times with this deck when they used to be unwary. That only ups the ante, and I say bring it; I want them to throw their best at me.
I want this build to know no bounds. Oftentimes, I can hold them all off for a lot longer than one would think and occasionally eke out a win, but most of the time, I'm the first to go. We all enjoy it as a change of pace since everyone considers it like a boss fight at the end of a level in a video game and my deck represents the evil boss or something. I, however, would like to give them the best run for their money that I can. I want to hone this thing to a razor's edge. Unlike a competitive Ad Nauseam build, I want the ability to be cutthroat without the single-mindedness of how that deck wins. I want resiliency, flexibility, answers, and feeling of dread in my opponent's stomachs—that I am either going to eventually combo them out or lock the board down.
For this build, there is no limit to card price, brokenness, or raw power as long as it is Commander-legal.
- I recently switched from Maralen of the Mornsong as my commander. I liked her for the Tutor, draw denial, and three-life grind. I found that even with Winding Canyons and literally every other good Tutor in the deck, she often either just sat on the sidelines the whole game or got killed before she came around to me. Wary opponents would fetch answers just for me if I played Maralen without the Canyons.
I frequently had to invest a Tutor for an answer rather than setting up the Winding Canyons for Maralen or the other combo piece I wanted. She also counteracted all the draw effects I ran—bad synergy. I found that Xiahou Dun seemed to fit the bill I really needed: resilience and brokenness in a more recursive direction.
- I worry that I am a little light on mana producing lands (35), but I don't know exactly how many I should run. Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth has frequently made my Maze of Ith / Tabernacle / Thawing Glaciers /Dark Depths a Swamp when I really needed it, so I don't feel like I'm light due to all the artifact mana, but you tell me.
- How many combos are enough/too much? Got any more two-card mono-black combos that I haven't found? Mikaeus / Triskelion or Hexmage / Depths are great, but they are generally one-trick ponies that have little to no synergy with the rest of the deck. I pulled Mindcrank + Bloodchief Ascension—it telegraphed way too easily as it regularly got broken up before the Bloodchief Ascension came on board. Maralen + Teferi's Puzzle Box also obviously got pulled.
- I hate counterspells and black's general limited amount of instant answers. It is a two for one or even three for one with a Vampiric Tutor when I would go for a combo piece and it got countered. This is why the Vampiric Tutor got pulled. I used to run the limited instant defenses that black has—Word of Command, Imp's Mischief, Simulacrum, Sudden Spoiling—but I pulled them out as Xiahou Dun gives resilience and I thought more control/threats were better even though he can bring them back to be used again and again. Thoughts?
Without further ado, here is the list:
Xiahou Dun, the Cutthroat by Phil H.
- Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed (commander)
- Demonic Tutor
- Snow-Covered Swamps x 16
Almost made it—more of a grindy, long-term threat option:
Azami, thank you for your help. You are the Lady of Scrolls, after all, and a renowned cutthroat commander yourself.
Your dutiful student,
- Phil H., Jr. Necromancer
So, you want me to build a fair version of an unfair deck, you say? How hard can we game playing mono-black combo without playing the Ad Nauseam Tendrils deck?
Let's find out. Challenge accepted.
I think we need to go to a few extremes rather than just one of them. We want to be both faster and slower, if that makes any sense, in order to remedy the problem you had noticed with the deck. As capable as it was at sometimes running the table as intended, plenty of times it found itself overpowered and taken down. Focusing a little less on jamming the combo plan as hard as possible will allow you to actually defend yourself effectively enough to execute on your combos, so if we slow it down a notch we might actually hit the target more often. And speeding up the deck's capabilities to deploy what you are doing that little bit faster will also yield results. You're playing Lake of the Dead, after all—let's pretend we mean it!
So we're going to build in such a way to increase the rampant speed at which the deck can deploy while stabilizing against the opponent and focusing on more robust ways to get a narrower set of combo cards online. And the most effective endgame state appeared to be based on grinding the board down with a Smokestack style effect, so we're going to try and strengthen that aspect of your game as well, as strengthening your board control elements also naturally strengthens your ability to end the game from this total control point.
It may not be fun, but this is Commander with the kid gloves off, and this is happening so infrequently that the long-lingering "feel-bad" moment that comes from having Braids, Cabal Minion grind you into nothingness will not be a constant companion to your daily life. After all, your friends are all going to have a few days or even weeks to walk it off before deciding to willfully face the beast again, and there are benefits to trying to do your very worst to them, so that when you are vanquished the victory is all the sweeter.
First, we need to streamline your mana, and while you'd worried that you had too few mana-producing lands with only 35, adding all of your artifact mana into the pool made it clear you had plenty. I did note that there were a few too many colorless lands for a deck that wants to be able to use Necropotence early and often, so we're going to shift things around a little to fix that by cutting back some of the utility lands that are less than necessary:
Tectonic Edge - You already have two such effects, and I'm not convinced this would even be the right third one anyway when Dust Bowl could be used recursively without needing to draw Crucible of Worlds. Wasteland and Strip Mine cover all of your real needs, though, so we'll leave it at that.
Reliquary Tower - For the most part, you won't have your hand size go over seven, and it is not worth including this land just for those off chances where you can over Necropotence and go crazy. Being able to go crazy should still lead to overpowering wins just fine without getting to use all twenty cards you pay for—selecting the ultimate combo hand will be good enough by itself.
Mystifying Maze - Maze of Ith is efficient at stopping one threat when you're being attacked by three enemies—Mystifying Maze is so very much the opposite of efficient in that regard. I like Mystifying Maze as an added layer of protection in many decks, but when you can expect to be target numero uno for everyone at the table, it's just a tax on your development, not a tax on their effective combat phase. When everything's being flung at you all of the time, an awful lot of it will stick, so use your mana on that problem rather than on a land that helps defend you.
Volrath's Stronghold - The likelihood of you really wanting to use this seems very low. I've played mono-black control for years now in Commander with my #1 go-to deck being Ob Nixilis, and despite having Volrath's Stronghold in my deck literally for hundreds of games, I used it a meager handful of times and not one of them was ever necessary.
Replacing these, we'll add three more Snow-Covered Swamps to ease your colored mana access (and apparently help out that Scrying Sheets) and also add High Market to your deck, as having access to a sacrifice outlet seems like an important thing to you.
Moving on to the artifacts, I see four cards I want to cut but only have three additions to make—the fourth slot ends up going over to the creature department.
Sundial of the Infinite - This doesn't appear to actually interact with your combo pieces and instead is just a way to keep things around when you are using Corpse Dance or perhaps as a way to stretch out Infernal Darkness, Contamination, Braids, and Smokestacks. We do not require such tricks—setting up to effectively pay the fair price on Braids and Smokestacks is something you can plan for very effectively, and this is a lousy way to try to "take care of" of the enchantments' upkeep costs.
Paying the real price for each of these as part of your planning, this now only interacts with the trigger on Corpse Dance and Mimic Vat, neither of which is worth a card when you can instead just use High Market or Phyrexian Tower to sacrifice them. Those cards are going to be put to work a little harder as part of your control mechanism as well, so the focus here will shift a little.
Voltaic Key - While this can help you generate a lot of mana with a limited group of cards, or double up on Mimic Vat activations, this is actually something of an underachiever. We'll replace it with something more effective at its appointed task instead.
Mana Web - I approve of any efforts to make blue mages' lives more difficult, but this doesn't actually prevent a blue mage from manhandling your spells while the other two opponents focus on blowing up your stuff or attacking you directly. If this were Defense Grid, it would be doing a job, but instead it's sort of a half-measure that is absolutely adorable with Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth in play.
Tangle Wire - In keeping with the grind-them-down end point you aim to reach for, but as it fades away and becomes unreliable, it is not really pulling its weight. Sure, you can loop things so that every turn you sacrifice it to Smokestack, play Buried Ruin from your graveyard, and sacrifice it to return Tangle Wire to your hand in order to keep it fresh, but if your opponents have so few permanents that this is actually doing something to suppress them, you'd be better served just using some blunt object to kill them instead.
Making three additions back in, we get to add the following:
Oblivion Stone - As it is, there are entire classes of permanents you can't control. All is Dust should handle planeswalkers and enchantments handily, but even then you have no way to remove an artifact from play...yours or any opponents'. This could make your life seriously unpleasant, and Oblivion Stone can help with that while also being a reasonable defensive countermeasure to take when everyone sets up their board to beat the snot out of you.
Chrome Mox - Having a Mox in the early game is every bit as effective as having a Time Walk effect, so the additional card lost to Chrome Mox is something you can readily make up for off your massive card draw effects. Biasing the deck to do its thing as quickly as possible will help obtain the best result, and while very few people play Chrome Mox in their Commander decks.., the ones who do tend to be very serious about it and reap real results.
Trinisphere - If you've got the game locked down under the long grind of Smokestacks and things are under control via Winter Orb + Tabernacle or some such, there are very limited means for your opponents to wriggle out of your grasp and many of them involve access to free spells or very cheap answer cards that they can plan to deploy around your effects that force them to sacrifice. Trinisphere cuts off the "play a land, Swords your threat" line of disruption to your plans as well as all of the free spells and even helps keep those blue mages serious about keeping mana open on your turn for responses. Sure, they could plan to develop their board, but if they don't leave at least four mana up (you have Strip Mine effects, after all), they won't be able to interact with you at all when you make your plays.
Moving on to the spells, I have four cuts to make in order to streamline things:
Dark Ritual - I approve of this in fundamental concept but not in actual application. If you had something like Ad Nauseam to benefit off of this boost, sure, but there is very little difference between a turn 3 Necropotence and a turn 1 Necropotence. I'd rather focus on permanent mana acceleration, which is covered in this regard by adding Chrome Mox, and if we are going to play a Ritual just to play a Ritual.., we can add a much bigger Ritual effect than this if we try.
Living Death - With your low creature count, this is far more likely to favor the opponents than it is to favor you.
Diabolic Intent - With your low creature count, another Tutor effect would probably be far more efficient than this one is, especially once you account for just how many of those creatures are five- or six-drops that you don't want to sacrifice just to get a Tutor effect anyway.
Temporal Extortion - They're all your enemies. Someone will pay, and it will not be worth your time.
Adding back in, we have two Tutors, a Ritual upgrade, and one of your almost-rans gets upgraded to key addition for its benefit as a control mechanism.
Spoils of Evil - If you're going to Ritual, Ritual hard. Spoils of Evil gives you some life back if that's of relevance to you, but more importantly it turns three mana into a whole boatload of mana. With a bit of careful planning alongside of Yawgmoth's Will, you can cast it not once but twice in the same turn and go absolutely crazy in deploying spell after spell. Alongside Exsanguinate or Death Cloud, this should be a game-ender, and it's effectively a "combo piece" alongside Yawgmoth's Will insofar as you're a clever person and can probably figure out a way to win if you have that much to work with.
Grim Harvest - For when you're playing the control game, this is a very solid control piece to capitalize on your creature package. Alongside your commander, this lets you loop the recursion not just to your creatures but to any black spell as well. So even though it doesn't look quite as good with creatures like Bloodghast and Graveborn Muse—there's no real interaction there—it will always work with at least one powerful creature from your opening hand thanks to Xiahou Dun being awesome.
Increasing Ambition, Diabolic Revelation - If Vampiric Tutor had to get cut due to the fact that you were coming out on the wrong end of card advantage exchanges, then Tutors that can get multiple cards for a single card's use have to be powerhouses. Later in the game an Increasing Ambition can get Cabal Coffers and an easy flashback right there to get two cards right now that end the game, while Diabolic Revelation just does that straight up the first time. Assembling two cards of your choice can effectively equate with winning the game, so these two will be downright unfair when you put them to work.
Moving on to the creatures, we have three cuts and four additions, all of which are designed to help improve your overall control game plan and give you more resilience when you slow down and focus on keeping alive as a win mechanism rather than just aiming to combo off as soon as possible. First, we have the cuts:
Mindslicer - As effective as this is, it's more likely to backfire by halting your ability to do what you want to do. Sure, you can set things up cleverly with Scroll Rack or Sensei's Divining Top, but you have three people trying to beat the stuffing out of you, and willfully emptying your hand makes it far easier for them to do so—the enemy has three draw phases for every one of yours. If you want this sort of an effect, Myojin of Night's Reach would be the highly effective version in that casting it and using it probably leads to the game ending right there—you'll still have all your cards to work with, while they'll be crippled.
Golgari Thug - It's more cute than it is effective, and I don't see you really pulling off a dredge-based game plan profitably even though your commander gains access to your graveyard as a matter of course. The work you have to put into being able to dredge every turn—casting and sacrificing the Thug—would be better spent actively advancing your game plan instead of crossing your fingers and rolling the dice on seeing three new cards a turn that you can maybe access.
Grave Titan - Efficient, certainly. But we need more than bare-bones efficiency to take over a board, and while this may be a solid stop sign by providing three strong blockers right away to halt an aggressive plan it would be better to use this slot to just nullify all of the creatures instead. That is an option, so we'll build around that plan instead.
Adding back in, we have four slots we can fill:
Kagemaro, First to Suffer - When people are going all Archenemy on you, recurring Kagemaro via Mimic Vat, Corpse Dance, or Grim Harvest will shut down all of the creatures at minimal cost turn after turn. You already have solid recursive elements to work with, so all you need is a creature to go with them that will allow you to turn your mana into a mechanism for killing their cardboard. Doing so allows you to grind out all of the player at the same time even if they are gunning for you.
Sheoldred, the Whisperer - You have Buried Alive and Reanimation effects, but your Buried Alive was previously working with your commander, your recursion elements, or your Living Death. Living Death, however, was far more likely to benefit the opposing team than your own—you don't really have much in the way of creatures, after all, and you also don't have a lot of graveyard suppression to cut down on their graveyards, so having cast Damnation or any similar effect prior to Living Death makes it a dead card. If you Buried Alive for three things and have a Reanimate effect for one of them, Sheoldred comes with the Reanimation effect for the other two built right in, maximizing your utility while cranking up the power.
Kokusho, the Evening Star - Recurring Kokusho and stuffing it down a sacrifice outlet will casually kill a lot more people than you think it will. Gaining fifteen life while you're hitting the opponents for a large chunk of damage is an excellent way to wear them down, and you're able to do so time and time again thanks to both your commander and your recursion elements.
Geth, Lord of the Vault - You have access to infinite mana, but not actually very much of anything to do once you get it. Geth, however, gives you the ability to turn a little black mana and however much colorless you have into an entire army to work with—and with more than just a little black mana, he instead kills opponents one at a time at your leisure.
Putting it all together, we have the following decklist:
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Triskelion
- 1 Bloodghast
- 1 Coffin Queen
- 1 Crypt Ghast
- 1 Fleshbag Marauder
- 1 Graveborn Muse
- 1 Vampire Hexmage
- 1 Braids, Cabal Minion
- 1 Geth, Lord of the Vault
- 1 Kagemaro, First to Suffer
- 1 Kokusho, the Evening Star
- 1 Mikaeus, the Unhallowed
- 1 Sheoldred, Whispering One
- 1 Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed
- 19 Snow-Covered Swamp
- 1 Barren Moor
- 1 Bojuka Bog
- 1 Buried Ruin
- 1 Cabal Coffers
- 1 Deserted Temple
- 1 High Market
- 1 Lake of the Dead
- 1 Maze of Ith
- 1 Polluted Mire
- 1 Strip Mine
- 1 Thawing Glaciers
- 1 Thespian's Stage
- 1 Vesuva
- 1 Wasteland
- 1 Boseiju, Who Shelters All
- 1 Phyrexian Tower
- 1 The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
- 1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
- 1 Dark Depths
- 1 Scrying Sheets
- 1 Basalt Monolith
- 1 Chrome Mox
- 1 Crucible of Worlds
- 1 Expedition Map
- 1 Grim Monolith
- 1 Helm of Obedience
- 1 Mana Crypt
- 1 Mana Vault
- 1 Mimic Vat
- 1 Oblivion Stone
- 1 Rings of Brighthearth
- 1 Scroll Rack
- 1 Sensei's Divining Top
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Smokestack
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Trinisphere
- 1 Winter Orb
- 1 Contamination
- 1 Grave Pact
- 1 Infernal Darkness
- 1 Leyline of the Void
- 1 Necropotence
- 1 Phyrexian Arena
- 1 Corpse Dance
- 1 Entomb
- 1 Grim Harvest
- 1 Spoils of Evil
- 1 Mox Opal
- 1 Beseech the Queen
- 1 Black Sun's Zenith
- 1 Buried Alive
- 1 Damnation
- 1 Death Cloud
- 1 Decree of Pain
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 1 Diabolic Revelation
- 1 Exsanguinate
- 1 Grim Tutor
- 1 Increasing Ambition
- 1 Mind Twist
- 1 Promise of Power
- 1 Reanimate
- 1 Yawgmoth's Will
- 1 Bitterblossom
- 1 All Is Dust
As always, you will receive a $20 coupon for participation in this week's Dear Azami, and while you did say "price was no object" in your pursuit of Commander apotheosis, we actually came in on a pretty neat budget rather than dipping into the expensive cards you'd think might be hanging with your Grim Tutor, Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, Mana Crypt, and Xiahou Dun.
While you could quite conceivably also add another expensive and high-powered Portal Three Kingdoms card by slotting in a copy of Overwhelming Forces, as much as I love the card, I don't think it is really working as part of your overall plan. Baving a second Decree of Pain would be nice, but targeting just one player when all three want you dead doesn't really help, so just another Wrath effect or perhaps even just adding in Hex would provide more of a tactical bang for far less of a buck.
As it is, the cards we have added aren't cheap—they are only inexpensive next to the high-priced monsters you're already playing. The price of a Chrome Mox is by itself more than the cost of more than one submission I've answered in the past. But you said you wanted to be as evil as you could be - - -
*@_&%^|||#@@#|||^%&_@* - - - it isn't easy being evil - - - *@_&%^|||#@@#|||^%&_@* ... satisfying. *@_&%^|||#@@#|||^%&_@* *@_&%^|||#@@#|||^%&_@*
If you can hear the sound of my voice, you are part of the Resistance.
You didn't really think I was just going to grab a combo deck, add a bunch of staples, and expect to get away with it, did you? Check the date on your calendar and all shall be revealed. With my little prank over, let's have a look at something fun and interesting—while playing in God Mode and gunning Commander as an Archenemy format might be what the last submission was about, and that's his choice to have fun with once in a while if he wants to, I certainly wouldn't advocate for jamming the hardest combo possible instead of having the most fun game possible. So, welcome to the Resistance—let's have a little fun.
I have been playing commander for a little over a year and really enjoy the format. My friends and I play a weird mixture of competitive and casual, and I recently built my newest commander deck: Karn, Silver Golem. I love the restriction that playing no colors gives me even if building an inexpensive mana base was a little bit of a chore. I have been playing Magic on and off since I was a wee youngin, so I have a great deal of love for Karn from his role in the older sets storylines.
While I enjoy the deck a lot, it's hit a few snags recently. Mainly the lands—I don't know if there aren't enough ways to get them out or it's just bad luck, but they seem to be hidden away when I play the deck. I've looked at other Karn decks and all I see is combo decks. While I included the combo pieces, I do not want it to be the main win condition for the deck. If the deck combos out once in a while on a stalled board, that sounds good to me, but I'd rather win by converting artifacts into creatures ala Karn and beating some face with them. Like I said, I have a semi-casual playgroup, and there is nothing fun about seeing my Karn deck do the same combo trick 30 games in a row.
Also, I'm fairly opposed to the Eldrazi given that they're more awesome monsters from another dimension and are the primary enemy of giant robots (well, besides squishy humans, of course). So if you have any ideas on how to help Karn bring the mad robot beats like an electronic music festival, I would love to hear them.
This is the first time I've covered colorless, given the fact that while I may have had an artifact-themed Commander deck before, it was a Reaper King five-color artifact-themed deck and thus clearly cheating at that "not playing colors" thing. One of the things I find most interesting about colorless Commander decks is just how much of the "normal" Commander stuff you can do without access to even a single color or even the card type "instant,' which gives us a huge restriction by taking away the easy ability to interact on an opponent's turn. You can draw cards, kill creatures, go through your library Tutoring for cards, and buy things back from your graveyard all without having access to colored mana.
I first considered the value of being colorless in order to play an Eldrazi commander, and in fact were I to seek to do so myself, I would still be starting there. Kozilek, Butcher of Truth starts with a lot of card draw attached to him even if he does die to everything, and I'd want to start with "draw four cards" as my commander and trust that my opponents wouldn't actually let me annihilate them by attacking (and thus both clearing my guilt if it happened—"you did this to yourself!"— and set up the next shot of card drawing). But I'm a terrible person, so the thing that first got me interested was playing Emrakul as my commander, which thankfully got hit with a much-needed ban hammer when it was clear that every game eventually devolved to casting a tentacle-monster and far, far too many devolved to "take all of the turns" recursion.
Karn, Silver Golem inspires me to join the robot resistance at least for an evening, especially as a way to wash the combo deck grime off and embrace something pure and interesting that is not nearly as crippled as one would first imagine. You can do a lot with artifacts alone if you try, and we'll see the deck ends up in a pretty interesting place once we tune it.
We begin with the card count—your list had two duplicates, which after we trimmed left us with 97 cards, so we have two slots to fill in as we see fit. They were a land and a creature, but I don't think you actually need the 40th land alongside all of the mana artifacts you have. We end up adding a land that doesn't tap for mana but make up for the mana source by adding an Expedition Map to give us the same effective count, which means when working on your mana, I just shaved around the lands with needless downsides or no actual benefit to make room for a few more additions.
I'm going to try to honor your general desire to keep the price low, but you'll see with one of these lands it's a bit pricey—but the benefit you get for adding it is quite large and worth the price tag.
Terrain Generator – You're not allowed to play basics, so this has no beneficial text.
Rupture Spire – Worse than having no benefits, this has an actual downside that can cause awkward draws.
Contested War Zone – While the positive effect is quite nifty and is something I've seen put to good use, you don't actually have very many creatures to use this with and really do need to consistently make your land drops. I don't know about your opponents, but I for one wouldn't hesitate to attack you just to steal a land drop, "mean" or otherwise. The drawbacks far outweigh the benefits—a land with blank text would be an improvement most of the time.
With five replacements to make, I selected the following:
Mikokoro, Center of the Sea – You've correctly identified card draw as a possible weakness of the deck, and while I tend to loathe the symmetrical card draw effects you've reached for to remedy that, those sorts of effects are perfectly viable as a bonus effect attached to a land.
Miren, the Moaning Well – You have access to a considerable amount of toughness if you want it, but are very light on the sacrifice outlets. Usually, the first such land I reach for is High Market—you get only a minimal reward, but don't have to keep up mana to prevent your stuff from turning against you—but with the possibility to gain a lot of life over the course of a game, Miren is worth the additional mana cost. By adding this life gain, I get to cut a spell that was focused on generating it, which of course makes me happy because I am curmudgeonly and hate life gain. It doesn't "do" anything, but hey, if you're not going to "do" anything, at least you still have a land in this case.
Eye of Ugin – Legendary land #3, and this one doesn't even tap for mana and only reduces the casting cost of one card, All is Dust, since you do not actually play any Eldrazi creatures. It does, however, tap to let you look through your deck and put a creature of your choice into your hand every turn if you want to, a powerful effect that well warrants the hefty price tag this still maintains compared to most of the rest of your mana base.
Strip Mine – A little bit more land control at a very low price. Tectonic Edge and Ghost Quarter both do good work, but you can give them a little extra help at minimal actual cost to the deck, and that's far better than the mono-gray "basic lands" we've cut.
Buried Ruin – I had to look twice to make sure this wasn't there already and then a third time because I still couldn't believe it. You're able to recur almost any spell you play with Buried Ruin, creature or otherwise, at basically no cost and via a recently printed uncommon at that. The only things this doesn't get back are lands, Karn Liberated, and All Is Dust. It is probably the best land you could hope for in your deck, and we absolutely have to include it.
Usually, I follow the lands section by looking at the artifacts since those are supplemental to the mana base in a lot of decks. No way I can get away with that here since "artifacts" coincides with "spells" as I usually separate a deck into four sections. But we can pull out the portions of your artifacts that are also part of your mana base into their own chunk if we try. Those are:
Alongside 38 real mana-producing lands, I don't think you need actually that many artifact sources of mana that we have to reach for stinkers like the Sisay's Ring / Ur-Golem's Eye duo. Sol Ring is not a great deal when you have to add another three mana to get it, and while it's true you can use these to beat down for four a turn with Karn in play, that's going to be true of pretty much anything you play in these slots so it's not actually a valid argument.
Out of this section alone I'm going to make four cuts, chopping it in half—Sisay's Ring, Ur-Golem's Eye, and Basalt Monolith get cut for not being terribly efficient mana sources when you need to have access to a smooth and robust mana base, and Blinkmoth Urn gets cut because I don't think it is really going to help you. While in the best-case scenario it can make a whole lot of mana, I don't think that best-case is going to come up often enough, as much more likely is that you overextend into a board wipe leaving you with nothing at all in play than rushing forward to drop big threat after big threat without anyone tripping you up.
We build this back up again with three additions:
Expedition Map – Your choice of whatever land you're missing, be it a Locus or Thespian's Stage to double up your Cloudpost, a missing Urza's piece, "just" Temple of the False God for an easy two-mana land with no additional work, or better yet a high-power utility land like Buried Ruin or Eye of Ugin. The latter lets this be both a threat and a mana source, and at the very worst thanks to Blasted Landscape this can always just turn into "draw a card" instead. But you have so very many utility lands and more than a few combos you can assemble, so every time you draw this card it's going to do something useful.
Mind Stone – The small things matter a lot, and Mind Stone is definitely small. But it's consistent as an early mana source, and when it's not mana you need, you can cash it in for another chance at a real spell instead.
Worn Powerstone – I don't like Sol Rings at four times the price, but at "only" three times the price I can find them still palatable. Worn Powerstone's coming into play tapped is worth the mana savings you get from it, since the likelihood of you playing Sisay's Ring and having an immediate follow-up that same turn with a two-mana spell was pretty small to begin with.
The fourth slot moves over to the non-mana artifacts, which we will come back to after we look at your creatures. The two extra slots are going to go to your creature count, as you have only nineteen to work with and while Karn can do a lot of heavy lifting by sending Darksteel Forge into the red zone, it would still be nice to have a reasonable creature count so you aren't too dependent on your commander to apply pressure to the board. I have just three cuts to make to your creature base, leaving us room for five additions, some of which are boring staples but they fit the needs of the deck due to the premium you pay on interacting with creatures.
Voltaic Construct – The body on this creature is rather weak, and the untap ability is one we can replicate more powerfully with other cards if that is what we really are craving. If this is an effect we want, we don't want it dying to a Pyroclasm.
Phyrexian Revoker – I don't believe that either this or Pithing Needle will reap real benefits when you can instead aim to remove the offending permanent from play. Even if I had confidence in Pithing Needle, like Voltaic Construct this is a small body prone to splash damage on creature sweepers, meaning that you won't really stop that nasty planeswalker, you'll just look like you're trying to up until you go die in a fire.
Darksteel Juggernaut – I like the scaling size and the indestructibility, but those would be real assets on defense, not necessarily having to attack every turn. This doesn't actually feel like it's helping with our plan of action then and shall lend its space to a more potent creature.
Duplicant – Everyone gets to play one in Commander because artifacts can go in any deck regardless of colors, and every deck no matter the colors will probably want this level of flexibility, permanence, and card advantage as part of their creature removal roster unless they really just don't care about creatures enough to kill them. Unlike these other decks, you don't have a color providing you with access to creature removal—even green has Beast Within and Desert Twister at the very least if it wanted them. You don't have anything but artifacts to work with, so this addition is more critical to you because it's actually quite difficult for you to remove a creature from play at a reasonable price.
Wurmcoil Engine – Boring life gain monster that everyone plays because it's efficient. Unfortunately, it's about the most efficient and durable creature you can get anywhere near that price point, so even if it's overplayed and no longer "cool," it's still the right card for you thanks to the durability it provides and the life it allows you to claw back. You don't have very many ways to reclaim life to begin with and not every one of them is going to make the cut going forward from here, so even if it's a boring staple it's the right card for your deck. They have to become staples somehow, right?
Junk Diver – Like Myr Retriever, this is actually a stealth Regrowth with a 1/1 creature attached. You have a few sacrifice outlets already and will have a few more now thanks to my additions, but "intentional chump blocker" is an acceptable suspend mode to attach to your Regrowth effect.
Myr Battlesphere – Not only does this turn on Kuldotha Forgemaster by itself, it's a great card to get off the Forgemaster and helps power up a lot of the cards by adding a lot of permanents to play to increase the artifact count. Putting five counters on a Serum Tank is still a good side benefit, and this works quite well with a few of your other creatures, notably Lodestone Myr, Steel Overseer, and Arcbound Crusher. Also, it can do twelve to the face by itself or block five times in one turn, making it an army in a can.
Myr Welder – I'm not entirely sure what this will do when you start attaching activated abilities to it that wouldn't otherwise go along together. Even before accounting for your opponents' cards, Myr Welder has a lot of flexibility and can go a little crazy if it tries to the point where I almost wish we could add Pili-Pala just to gain access to the untap ability in addition to everything else and turn Myr Welder into a virtual shotgun alongside any real card. Dreams of Myr Welder imprinting Pili-Pala and then Trading Post are floating in my head with visions of power plays. (Unfortunately, that's all Pili-Pala would really be interacting with, so we're going to have to find another way to fall asleep at night instead of envisioning all of the crazy things we could do but are not.)
Lastly, we have your spells to work on, "noncreature artifacts that do not provide mana" being a mouthful to say. There's a little too much nothing going on with some of these cards, so we're going to pare those down and seek the most powerful versions of these sorts of effects as we can. I had something specific in mind, after all, when I took out Voltaic Construct, and we have some needs that have yet to be filled since there is so little access to creature removal or general permanent control in the deck so far. After working on board control and card advantage, we have some room left for spicy fun things still, but the large portion of what we're adding here will be keeping cards flowing to your hand or helping prevent us from getting run over by problematic creatures.
Eternity Vessel – Life gain has to be really impressive to be worthwhile, and while Eternity Vessel can do a lot over the course of a long game, it's just life gain. To really effectively use Eternity Vessel, you need the ability to activate landfall at instant speed so that your opponents can't just pick on you in one cycle of turns and take you out. Without that ability, it doesn't actually discourage attacks as not being worthwhile, it's just sorcery speed life gain that may or may not do anything. I expected to like this card much more than I did, but my experiences in Commander have led me to wander away in disappointment.
Font of Mythos, Howling Mine – You do want to draw cards, but you don't want to share. Those other people with their fancy "colored spells" and "basic lands" can find their own way to draw cards without your helping, so we'll focus on cards that let you draw cards instead.
Mycosynth Lattice – This is your one power combo in that Karn can turn anything into a creature to scuffle with and can turn lands into 0/0 creatures for one mana each. Pinning your opponents' mana for the rest of the game is not going to win you any friends even if it may win you games, and as cool as it might sound to use this to expose Necropotence or Survival of the Fittest to creature removal, that's really not what the card is being used for here and including it will bias people against you in addition to ruining otherwise fun games. Just because you can doesn't mean you should.
Pithing Needle – I don't have very high confidence this will stop anything important and would rather find a permanent removal type effect to at least some of the problems you can expect to face than to run this half-measure and expect it to hold the fort.
Ratchet Bomb – Even if this is the right effect we wanted, we'd have to ask if Powder Keg would be better—the choice between hitting lands that have another card type and hitting planeswalkers is actually an interesting one to be considered since planeswalkers are actually quite hard to effectively defend in Commander and finishing moves like Rude Awakening are in the format alongside every manland in existence. I'm not convinced the delayed removal effect is what we want though, so I've gone digging and come up with more direct ways to kill creatures and other permanents for you instead.
Scrabbling Claws – I agree you want something like this effect, but don't think this is the version of the card to use. We'll be upgrading this to Relic of Progenitus; you barely use your graveyard at all, and when you actually want to be able to answer a recursion problem you're going to lean hard enough on the card that one use of a Scrabbling Claws won't help quite enough.
Semblance Anvil – Reducing the cost on your cards is not really worth the investment of a card yourself, much less two of them. Paying full price is not a very onerous burden for your cards, and you have enough good acceleration without needing to play the B team of acceleration effects as well.
Urza's Armor – Preventing damage is fine, but the expense of the card for that effect is much too high. You can pay half that price and get 75% of that effect plus a bonus option as well, and I've replaced this with that cheaper option.
Voltaic Key – I agree that this is something you want to have as an effect; between this and Voltaic Construct it's clear that there are benefits to reaching for it. It's just that these cards aren't especially great, and you can play a more powerful version of this effect if you want to. Voltaic Key is a Sol Ring alongside Thran Dynamo or Mana Vault, or a mana rock alongside the varied Sol Ring effects. Mostly it will just try and duplicate a fun effect, and once we're not trying to use it to make mana anymore it really becomes worthwhile to go for the more powerful effect.
Welding Jar – I don't think this is actually going to protect anything, and it can be a very dead draw when it is not one of your very first plays of a game. While it's a solid effect in a deck that plays only a very few turns and doesn't have to worry about board sweeper effects—see also: Affinity, circa 2003—here in Commander you have the exact opposite conditions: long games with lots of removal available. I'd rather just play another thing worth protecting than spend a card trying to protect something else—you'll be more consistent and more powerful if you do.
Well of Discovery – We can do better as far as card drawing is concerned. For the same mana cost, you could play Staff of Nin and get the card at the start of your turn rather than the end of the turn with no drawbacks and get a free Rod of Ruin as well. I went with the more powerful route rather than focusing on the card draw having to be free, as I agree you want to draw cards but disagree with what lengths you're going to in order to get them.
Codex Shredder – You can actually play a Regrowth effect with colorless mana at a reasonable price, and I'd rather Regrow my choice of options after the fact than have to play a Welding Jar to protect one ahead of time.
Relic of Progenitus – You have minimal access to anything that helps tamp down graveyard recursion, and with the slot you are using for this effect I'd aim to use the most effective version possible. Relic of Progenitus gets everything in everyone's graveyard at the same time at the same price you were already willing to pay for Scrabbling Claws.
Tower of Fortunes, Candles of Leng, Mind's Eye – A trio of card drawing effects to help keep the cards flowing. Candles of Leng is effectively a discount on Jayemdae Tome when your deck cannot possibly have a second copy of a card, and while Tower of Fortunes costs a considerable amount of mana to use, you get one card for every two mana spent on that activation cost. But if you want a shot of cards at minimal price and with multiple cards per turn, Mind's Eye is the card of choice, giving you access to three or more cards at one mana each over the course of a turn cycle. You really do need the card draw strength, I just don't want to see you hand your opponents the same number of bonus cards as well—it's not really card advantage if it's passed around to everyone equally.
Brittle Effigy – A cheap but effective pinpoint removal spell, one of the best available to you given your strict color restrictions. Given how hard it is currently for you to remove a creature from play, any reasonable effect that does so directly will probably be worth including.
Predator, Flagship – While this can be a fair chunk of mana to commit to every turn, it allows you to kill the best creature in play each turn and can start to get a little crazy once you start getting access to additional untaps like via your Unwinding Clock. In addition to the creature removal option, this can give flying to your team, enabling the "Karn makes artifacts into huge men to kill people" plan by getting around blockers.
Crooked Scales – A lot of mana to use effectively—seven mana still only gives you 75% certainty of killing the thing you want to see dead—but there is enough certainty at a reasonable enough price to rely on Crooked Scales to keep major problems off the table or at least pointed in another direction.
Spine of Ish Sah – Karn can actually make this considerably closer to Angel of Despair than we are used to seeing since this can be a 7/7 body in addition to the Vindicate effect, but you're also able to sacrifice this for reuse with reasonable effectiveness. It's so hard for you to handle noncreature permanents with pinpoint accuracy that it's worth jumping through hoops for, and when things are going at their best, you'll actually get to go a little crazy and have a lot of fun by recurring the Spine.
Lux Cannon – Like the Spine, this can handle any problem, and thus we're willing to pay a premium to get this effect. Add in the ability to untap it multiple times in a turn cycle and suddenly this is just Vindicating stuff left and right, and we can show a lot of discretion as we grind down the board rather than the Mycosynth Lattice / Karn combo that grinds the game down to a halt and prevents the other players from actually being able to play a game of Commander. I don't think anyone would feel bad about getting owned by a Lux Cannon that was being worked hard, and the opportunities will be there to turn this onto machine-gun mode.
Spawning Pit – Adding another sacrifice outlet seemed worthwhile, as did gaining a bit of access to an effect that can generate multiple artifact creatures at low cost. Sure, it's a bit of a stretch to loop Spine of Ish Sah with Karn turning it into a creature so you can sacrifice it to Spawning Pit, but tricks like that exist all over this deck—as do things that profitably interact with putting a bunch of artifacts into play all at the same time. At the very worst, this helps keep your opponents from taking your stuff and your board from being wiped by Living Death and lets you get some benefit back when your creatures are targeted for removal.
Thunderstaff – The cheap version of Urza's Armor, this works only on damage dealt to you directly via creatures, but I've never seen a player saved by preventing one damage off a Molten Disaster. Instead of a hefty price tag of six mana, this costs only three, letting you save more life faster, and it actually has an additional effect that duplicates the Contested War Zone I felt needed to be cut so your lands didn't get treacherous on you. It's a nice intersection of defensive capability and a dash of aggressive interaction, and the price for the effect you wanted already can't be beat.
Clock of Omens – And finally we have the goofy but potentially crazy enabler that can make all of the ridiculous stuff possible. How many times can you untap a Lux Cannon each turn? I'm not sure, but I am very interested in finding out. As a mono-artifact deck, this lets you bend everything you have to the purpose of reusing a specific effect, and this is one of those cards that is absolutely terrible unless and until it is completely unfair—and in your existing shell, the opportunity to become completely unfair is entirely present. This allows you to get the most work out of a Mimic Vat that I have ever conceived of, can let you work your Liquimetal Coating hard enough to let you sort-of emulate the Karn-Lattice interaction without pissing off an entire table at once, or can turbocharge your Trading Post for more craziness than I can even begin to contemplate.
This is the card that excites me most to add since alongside Unwinding Clock this lets you do so much crazy if you try and is the version I was thinking of when I said we can do far, far better than Voltaic Key and Voltaic Construct. Neither of those ever let you use a Lux Cannon four times in a turn—Clock of Omens asks for no mana, just a plentiful board, and that is something you already planned to have in spades.
Putting it all together, we end up with the following decklist:
- 1 Arcbound Crusher
- 1 Arcbound Overseer
- 1 Arcbound Reclaimer
- 1 Darksteel Colossus
- 1 Duplicant
- 1 Etched Champion
- 1 Junk Diver
- 1 Kuldotha Forgemaster
- 1 Lodestone Golem
- 1 Lodestone Myr
- 1 Mycosynth Golem
- 1 Myr Battlesphere
- 1 Myr Retriever
- 1 Myr Welder
- 1 Platinum Emperion
- 1 Scarecrone
- 1 Shimmer Myr
- 1 Steel Hellkite
- 1 Steel Overseer
- 1 Triskelavus
- 1 Wurmcoil Engine
- 1 Karn, Silver Golem
- 1 Darksteel Citadel
- 1 Bant Panorama
- 1 Blasted Landscape
- 1 Blinkmoth Well
- 1 Buried Ruin
- 1 Cloudpost
- 1 Crystal Vein
- 1 Dread Statuary
- 1 Eldrazi Temple
- 1 Esper Panorama
- 1 Gargoyle Castle
- 1 Ghost Quarter
- 1 Ghost Town
- 1 Glimmerpost
- 1 Grixis Panorama
- 1 Haunted Fengraf
- 1 Homeward Path
- 1 Jund Panorama
- 1 Mystifying Maze
- 1 Naya Panorama
- 1 Phyrexia's Core
- 1 Quicksand
- 1 Rogue's Passage
- 1 Springjack Pasture
- 1 Stalking Stones
- 1 Strip Mine
- 1 Tectonic Edge
- 1 Temple of the False God
- 1 Thespian's Stage
- 1 Urza's Factory
- 1 Urza's Mine
- 1 Urza's Power Plant
- 1 Urza's Tower
- 1 Winding Canyons
- 1 Zoetic Cavern
- 1 Eye of Ugin
- 1 Gods' Eye, Gate to the Reikai
- 1 Mikokoro, Center of the Sea
- 1 Miren, the Moaning Well
- 1 Brittle Effigy
- 1 Candles of Leng
- 1 Clock of Omens
- 1 Codex Shredder
- 1 Crooked Scales
- 1 Darksteel Forge
- 1 Darksteel Pendant
- 1 Dreamstone Hedron
- 1 Expedition Map
- 1 Liquimetal Coating
- 1 Loxodon Warhammer
- 1 Lux Cannon
- 1 Mana Vault
- 1 Mind Stone
- 1 Mind's Eye
- 1 Mirrorworks
- 1 Nevinyrral's Disk
- 1 Oblivion Stone
- 1 Prototype Portal
- 1 Relic of Progenitus
- 1 Sculpting Steel
- 1 Seer's Sundial
- 1 Serum Tank
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Spawning Pit
- 1 Spine of Ish Sah
- 1 Swiftfoot Boots
- 1 Thran Dynamo
- 1 Thunderstaff
- 1 Titan Forge
- 1 Tower of Calamities
- 1 Tower of Fortunes
- 1 Trading Post
- 1 Unwinding Clock
- 1 Worn Powerstone
- 1 Mindslaver
- 1 Predator, Flagship
- 1 All Is Dust
As always, you will receive a $20 coupon for participation in this week's Dear Azami—yes, both of you, I did cover two submissions, after all. Price was far more of an object for you, and I think we kept the price pretty reasonable—there are a few pricy adds, but nothing in the range of the Karn Liberated you were already playing. Most of the cards are pretty cheap, for a grand total of $60 added to the deck as we improved it.
The hope is that the deck will play out much more like you intended now. There will be games where you get to pile onto opposing creatures with Predator, Flagship to keep the board free of truly problematic dudes, but then there will also be games where you animate Predator, Flagship and use its ability to fly itself into the air for five damage, which is probably the coolest use of a Predator, Flagship to date. (And if an opponent controls Skyship Weatherlight, animate it and give it flying and let them block—it'll be a Tempest Block Reenactment Society first if you do!)
You can never pick off opponents' mana base in one fell swoop via Karn + Mycosynth Lattice, but this will help keep the game interesting and keep people from holding grudges and killing you on sight, so I consider this a net positive. Instead, who knows, maybe you'll have a whole pile of Myr tokens off of Mirrorworks + Myr Battlesphere that you use with Clock of Omens and Lux Cannon to nuke a half-dozen permanents a turn that may lead to a similar place, but because there is more work involved (and more goofiness, too) those odd corner-case situations won't have the feel-bad moments that "this stupid card everyone hates + your commander" leads to.
Pricing it out, the cards we added cost as follows, for your consideration:
|Clock of Omens||$0.25|
|Candles of Leng||$0.49|
|Spine of Ish Sah||$0.49|
|Tower of Fortunes||$0.75|
|Relic of Progenitus||$2.49|
|Mikokoro, Center of the Sea||$4.99|
|Miren, the Moaning Well||$5.99|
|Eye of Ugin||$7.99|
Hopefully, this kept things a little interesting for April Fool's Day. Join us back here next week when Cassidy and I have a special surprise...
-- Sean McKeown
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 Chad's Karona, False God Ally deck or Joel's Sisters of Stone Death deck. Only one deck submission will be chosen per article, but being selected for the next edition of Dear Azami includes not just deck advice but also a $20 coupon to the StarCityGames.com!
Email us a deck submission using this link here!
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