While the initial response to seeing Sharuum as a Commander is to kill that player before they do anything particularly degenerate, our playgroup has created a slightly different set of parameters for our games. We ban “infinite” plays, be it turns, mana, forced draw, life gain, or damage (no Disciple of the Vault in this deck). Furthermore, we have banned Mindslaver and mass land destruction as they seldom lead to an enjoyable evening amongst friends. These “restrictions” have allowed all players at the table an opportunity to play Magic rather than stacking their decks with counterspells to stop everyone else from casting spells.
Sharuum is arguably hampered the most by these restrictions, and what started years ago as a griefer STAX deck designed to survive Possessed Portal in a six-man game while laughing manically, or simply combo out, has evolved into a deck that must win in a semi-fair fight. There have been countless iterations and changes with this deck over the years, and in many places I've sacrificed power in an attempt to promote synergy, versatility, and consistency. I have even removed some of my “sacred cows” in attempts to optimize the deck.
I'm not a wealthy man, but with a little Legacy play in my history and a passion for Commander I have managed a few of the more difficult-to-come-by cards via trade/hiding bank statements from my wife. While I am looking to remain within my groups house rules mentioned above (which deflate traditional Sharuum strategies), I would like to unleash your Beast Within on this article. If your recommendations are expensive, albeit optimal, I will do my best to work towards that lofty goal. I have many more years to work on this deck, even if I can't bring myself to procure all your suggestions at once (such as the ever elusive Mishra's Workshop).
Commander – Sharuum the Hegemon
Sensei's Divining Top
Cauldron of Souls
Sphinx of the Steel Wind
Thank you in advance for the imparting of your wisdom,
P.S. I included my deck list via an Excel sheet, I would be happy to resend in a different format if you preferred.
Brian is trying to trick me into using his submission this week. I just know it.
First, I submit to you this article, which I wrote eight months ago on Sharuum.
Next, we are introduced to Brian, an individual with a pretty pronounced love for Sharuum the Hegemon yet a history of having playgroup issues with her. He has had a bit of a hard time reconciling the older, more predatory version of his build with an audience that has moved on to wanting to play the game.
Precisely what I was fighting with in the afore-mentioned article.
Brian plays in a group that bans “...infinite plays, be it turns, mana, forced draw, life gain, or damage... Mindslaver and mass land destruction as they seldom lead to an enjoyable evening amongst friends.”
I've written about it here on StarCityGames, on my Commander blog at GeneralDamageControl.com, in the Official Commander forums, and likely anywhere anyone will at least to pretend to listen to me, but this is exactly what our Wednesday Night Commander group has banned as well.
Brian plays a little Legacy, and has a reasonable old-school collection because he throws out credit card receipts before his wife has a chance to see what kinds of purchases he's making.
I also play Legacy, and since my wife reads Dear Azami, I absolutely in no way, shape, or form do the underhanded and deceitful things that Brian is talking about here in order to hide getting my hands on the Mana Drain and Unlimited Forcefield that currently reside in a few of my decks through gross misuse of shared household funds.
Because that would be wrong and irresponsible. Yes. That's exactly it. Not me, sir...
This is the shocker, though. Brian brews in Excel. And formats things nearly exactly the same way I do. That's just too weird.
I could almost believe that I submitted this deck myself. I'm off sweep my living room for bugs and hidden cameras.
Well played, Brian!
A Changing Of The Guard
I know I look at Esper decks quite frequently, but I'm especially excited about this one because of the impending release this Friday of the Commander 2013 pre-con decks. There's a ton of buzz about these things, and I actually took the day off from work to get my hands on the whole set. (Right... wife reads the column. I meant “took the day off to catch up on housework.”)
I've also been lamenting the fact that I still don't have a deck in Esper colors in my collection, despite trying to find a good balance in power for years now. It's easy to go too far and end up with a hated combo-machine, but it's really easy to back off the gas just a bit from there and end up with something that simply can't keep up with other aggro strategies out there.
Fortunately, this is all changing with the printing of Sydri, Galvanic Genius.
Now, I know that we've had access to Karn, Silver Golem for a very long time, but cutting off all colors to run him at the helm means losing out on a ton of goodies in these colors. Blue draw, blue and black tutors, white and black removal, and awesome tri-color beaters like Sphinx of the Steel Wind aren't possible with everyone's favorite scowling artifact animator.
(As a slight aside, Terese Nielson certainly went for it on this artwork. There's a ton of cool stuff packed into the frame, a good amount that suggests nods to cards of years past, and then there's Sydri herself – equal parts steampunk and 80's hair-metal guitarist.)
Anyway, the aggro thing. Lord knows I've complained in the past about how there hasn't been a decent commander option for Esper that pushes an aggressive red-zone strategy; commanders in these colors usually just want to steal things, combo out, or in the case of Dakkon Blackblade sit around and look like a member of GWAR. This is all well and good, but it doesn't particularly open the doors to new strategies.
Sydri still leans on artifacts, but she does so in a way that synergistically allows for some pretty aggressive attacking to happen. Artifact decks are packed with higher-cost odds and ends (think Thran Dynamo, Staff of Nin, Darksteel Forge) that serve some solid functional purpose. In this deck they continue to do that while also being able to attack for a whole bunch too. Add in Sydri's other ability, and you're looking at an indestructible 9/9 lifelinking, um, death-toucher. Pretty sweet, and it also plays well with existing creatures too; Sphinx Sovereign is pretty compelling with a few extra combat-related keywords attached.
So... a good balance of abilities that play nicely with creature and non-creature artifacts alike, and suggest being aggressive. This is precisely why the first and most important change to the deck here is an easy one that will increase the utility and function of the deck, while simultaneously relieving some of the heat that Sharuum naturally draws.
OUT: Sharuum the Hegemon
Under The Hood
Now that we've got that out of the way, we can go to work editing the balance of the deck to increase your play options. Right now, things are pretty focused:
- There's a substantial Salvaging Station package.
- There's a decent nod to moving creatures in and out of play to abuse enters-the-battlefield triggers.
- There's a pretty hefty devotion to tutors.
Past that, you've done a good job of adding in a who's who of staples and otherwise awesome cards: from Solemn Simulacrum and Oblivion Stone to Swords to Plowshares and Sensei's Divining Top, and then old-school (and expensive) hits such as Moat, Mana Drain, and The Abyss (the latter of which is a very solid option in an artifact deck.)
It's a good-looking deck, but it does seem to lean on a pretty narrow strategic view. I'd really like to jump in with some diversified options that increase your toolbox utility and also provide Sydri with some late-game animated beatsticks. I want to add in some additional trinkets for the... er... Trinket Mage, give you some interesting interactions with a few additional utility options, and cut down your lands (forty-three?!?!?!) in favor of a few good mana-producers. (Ever attacked with a Darksteel Ingot before?)
Let's dive right in!
Like I said, forty-three lands by my count is a really high number. I think this is as high as it is to make up for the fact that you don't run a ton of draw, and next-to-no mana rocks or other accelerators. There's an overabundance on multi-colored mana-producing lands as well, and I think we can streamline things a bit and add some extra functional odds and ends in the process.
Right off the bat, we'll realign a few basic lands with their artifact equivalents. You run a reasonable amount of tutors (including Trinket Mage), and it's nice to have the out in a pinch.
I know this is legal, and I know that it allows you access to every color of mana needed with each fetch land due to the duals and shock lands you run. This is one of those strange moral standpoints that I adhere to, however, so I'm pulling all of the off-color fetch lands. Between your duals, shocks, and options like Command Tower, you'll have no problem getting the mana you need in the right colors without it feeling like taking the easy way out.
Besides, a little variety and chance never hurt...
Somewhere in your focus to adhere to the strategy vectors in your deck, I think you lost focus on some of the basics that should be addressed in just about every deck. This package bolsters your mana a bit more, and covers the bases that need covering.
Strip Mine – or at least a land destruction effect – is one of those things you shouldn't do without. In a pinch, it keeps the combo guys in check by nipping Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth or Cabal Coffers in the bud, hates out a problematic Maze of Ith effect, or takes down potential game-winners like Emeria, the Sky Ruin and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. It simply isn't a good idea not to pack an answer to the lands that can be huge uncounterable problems.
You already have a nod to blinking creatures, which is very relevant with Sharuum but also with many other creatures in your deck. With a little extra massaging, you'll have some recursion to add another angle to this attack, making a quick sacrifice outlet a must-have. Besides, it's good to have around if someone is playing with steal effects as well.
Tower of the Magistrate is a really niche pet card, but it has some intensely cool interactions in an artifact deck. On a basic level, it makes it possible to keep Swords of X and Y in check, and offers a great way to deal with the shroud and hexproof from Lightning Greaves and Swiftfoot Boots. Take aim at the creature that would end up wearing that equipment and watch it fall right off.
We'll give you some other ways to make this workhorse earn its keep later on as well.
Finally, Buried Ruin begins to offer you the recursion package that I talked about above. There are more options that will add and improve this strategy, but it's good to start with a benchmark that doubles as a mana producer.
I've never been a fan of the Ravnica bouncelands. The pseudo-increase in mana production never seems worth the loss of tempo that occurs when you have to jump through the circles it requires to get them into play. They're even terrible topdeck in the late game too.
It's been a very long time since people in my metagame have used land destruction out of spite or to cripple a player, but I've also been on the wrong end of a Wasteland after playing one of these, too, and that's a sting you won't forget.
Again, I'm in favor of cutting back on the overall number of lands in the deck in order to increase non-land mana acceleration and tutoring. This is good for a number of reasons, the least of which is that maddening feeling you get when you keep topdecking lands instead of business spells. Let's talk specifics, though.
Chromatic Lantern straddles the line here, providing the best fixing money can buy coupled with a touch of acceleration. Attacking with a 3/3 isn't all that compelling, but it's not peanuts either, so this is getting to a reasonable place for Sydri animation.
Finally, Thran Dynamo exists to give you a solid early-game jump on mana, and be a very reasonable beater with Sydri later on.
Actually, while we're cutting land cycles for artifacts that accelerate and fix mana...
Good lord, you love all the dual land cycles, don't you? Again, these are solid options, but I really think they're unnecessary in the big picture. I typically run three sets of duals in my decks:
- Revised dual lands
- shock lands
- Core Set/Innistrad tap lands
This combination, when coupled with proper additional fixing, is all I really ever need. In this deck, with no glaring need for massive amounts of a given mana color, but a demonstrated need for artifacts to beat with, I feel even more justified making the cuts.
Okay... not all of these will be beating either, to be completely fair.
Expedition Map is a great addition to the deck's existing “trinket” package, and will allow pinpoint mana fixing and utility from all of the additions above.
Forget Sol Ring. Darksteel Ingot is the gold standard of mana rocks in Commander. In fact, I'd slot this first nine times out of ten. Before Command Tower existed, this was the go-to safe multicolor fixer. Reflecting Pool can fail to come through from time to time and City of Brass gets pretty painful after a while, but Ingot never disappoints. (Well, as long as you can hit three mana, anyway.)
It bears noting that with Sydri, it also becomes a 3/3 indestructible beater.
Finally, with all of the wonderful land options you have at your command (no pun intended), Crucible of Worlds is a solid addition. From repeating use of your fetch lands to bonus value out of Barren Moor and the other cyclers, this is now a solid source of card advantage for your deck. It loves Buried Ruin, for the record.
This section is all about diversifying things a bit. Some excess engine components, some misplaced staples, and some weaker options will make way for more utility to keep this deck moving no matter what the board state looks like.
I cut the weaker of the two Spellbomb cycles. I get that you're going all in on this Salvaging Station theme, but I shudder to think of what happens when someone finds Return to Dust and sends it packing. As a result, I want to shuttle off the weak links for some stronger ones that play ball better with the rest of the deck.
For a Commander player, I have a really developed distaste for equipment. I don't own a single Sword of X and Y at all. For the longest time, I was on the receiving end of too many instances of, “In response to your equip, kill your dude!” It just got to be too much, and I decided that I'd rather run better things that didn't set me up for an effective two-for-one.
That said, it's also important to have a solid source of haste on hand. You have some great creatures in here, and since Esper is on the back foot as far as aggro is concerned it's a good idea to be able to throw down some protection and have an instant on-switch at times. Lightning Greaves is the best card for the job.
Lastly, Liquimetal Coating is a teched-out little toy that ought to make for some cool options. Run it with Sydri to cover your non-artifact bases, or play politics with other people's artifacts. Pass out protection from the creature of your choice with Tower of the Magistrate. You even have targeted land destruction available – use judiciously, and don't be that guy.
Too closet-case and middle of the road. You already have improved function on a basic level with Silent Arbiter anyway, making this kind of clunky on a fair level.
IN: Prototype Portal
The options are endless. So many people gloss over the fact that this hits any artifact, not just ones that are creatures. You will absolutely come to love discovering some of the interesting situations that come out of playing this card. It's as close to a must-play as I can think of in my artifact decks.
OUT: Hanna's Custody
I like the fact that this is an enchantment, which makes it a bit harder to deal with. However, you run Indomitable Archangel, so you have the effect already...
IN: Fountain Watch
OUT: Cunning Wish
This is something that your playgroup clearly accepts, and if that's the case, I can see making an argument to keep it intact. It certainly allows flexibility. However, I'm not a fan of the “all eggs in one basket” approach, meaning that one counterspell invalidates a huge chunk of designed functionality. I suspect that in light of the recent changes from the Rules Committee removing the optional sideboard form the supported rules structure, you'll also have a much harder time sitting in with other playgroups you come across. Out it goes.
IN: Clock Of Omens
I love Clock of Omens. It's such a solid card in a dedicated artifact deck, allowing reuse of tap abilities, providing pseudo-vigilance for your attackers, and now with Sydri onboard, a perfect blend of the two, and all without any mana cost or tapping of its own. Animate Cauldron of Souls, attack, tap a few other artifacts to untap it and use the ability to trade your team with your opponent, and then get it all back. The options are pretty endless in this deck.
OUT: Path to Exile
You've got Swords to Plowshares in already, so I'd like to see this becomes something a bit stronger and more flexible.
IN: Austere Command
Sometimes, Oblivion Stone is too strong. You don't want to dump all of your artifacts just to get rid of a few problem creatures. Or maybe you want to get rid of a few problematic enchantments and little creatures, but you don't want Sphinx of the Steel Wind to go away as well. In a deck that runs lots of critical permanents, it's a good idea to pack the most flexible removal you can.
OUT: Mana Drain
As a lover of rare old-school cards, this one pains me to pull. Still, it effectively represents the only counterspell in the deck, and while it does provide acceleration (really, really good acceleration at that), it seems like a bit of an afterthought here; you run it because it's Mana Drain, the other reasons be damned.
This is basically Sphinx of the Steel Wind #2 now. Except this one makes every other artifact you have into mini-Sphinx of the Steel Winds as well.
OUT: Steel Overseer
I've tried endlessly to make this work. Maybe I'm just not committing to a solid artifact token theme enough. What I do know is that it simply falls a little flat when you're just improving a few big creatures at a time.
I suppose this is now a pretty hypocritical addition; still, it's too strong to pass up on. There are so many offensive and defensive tricks that it can bring to bear, and with a little recursion you've got an endless supply of flying 1/1 artifacts. Sharding Sphinx will thank you.
OUT: Baleful Strix
Great in Legacy. Here, it's just a little guy who protects you a bit and draws you a card.
Okay... I don't feel as bad about Pentavus anymore. Whatever loss of defensive posturing you lose downgrading (heh... I almost kept a straight face saying that. Almost.) to this from Baleful Strix will be more than made up in a massive landslide of card advantage. Plus, Trinket Mage, Salvaging Station, etc. 'Nuff said.
OUT: Moriok Replica
Not terrible card draw, all things considered. Although for such a small body, you could just save three mana and play Night's Whisper instead.
IN: Staff of Nin
Or better yet, add a second draw each turn and a repeatable source of pinpoint damage. And then, animate it and attack for six.
OUT: Hex Parasite
As far as I can tell, this exists to... maybe interact favorably with Cauldron of Souls? I must be missing something else here.
IN: Myr Retriever
Bag it. More artifact recursion seems just as good, or possibly better. Scarecrone plus this guy is one of several solid chain recursion engines that will make this thing a redundant force to be reckoned with.
Rounding out the cuts, I'm pulling what I see as the two final biggest offenders to the cause.
Jace is a target, plain and simple. It's not going ultimate, but people will be unreasonably scared that it will. The fateseal is really annoying for your opponents most of the time, and while a free Brainstorm is good, paying four mana for an Unsummon isn't. Take down the giant bulls-eye.
Magister Sphinx is a card I simply can't come to terms with either. This is the card that will refresh images of what Sharuum used to be back in the day. Maybe you've got tons of lifegain in your metagame, but even then, this seems like the kind of card that ends up making people feel as bad as Mindslaver does.
Just because we pulled Sharuum as the commander doesn't mean it isn't still an insanely-powerful card. It should be in here. As one of the 99, it's far less egregious than it used to be, and I'd give it the edge over Magister Sphinx in a toe-to-toe comparison anyway.
Jace is a bit of a Swiss army knife, so it makes sense to add one back in. A little lifegain in a pinch, a little card draw (either natively or with the goat tokens plus Skullclamp), a sacrifice outlet, and more artifact recursion, all in the shape of a potential 4/4 creature. Not half bad.
This is where I'd go with the list, Brian:
- 1 Duplicant
- 1 Ethersworn Adjudicator
- 1 Filigree Angel
- 1 Myr Retriever
- 1 Pentavus
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Scarecrone
- 1 Silent Arbiter
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Spellskite
- 1 Sphinx of the Steel Wind
- 1 Sphinx Sovereign
- 1 Sphinx Summoner
- 1 Steel Hellkite
- 1 Wurmcoil Engine
- 1 Fountain Watch
- 1 Indomitable Archangel
- 1 Sun Titan
- 1 Treasure Mage
- 1 Trinket Mage
- 1 Memnarch
- 1 Sharuum the Hegemon
- 1 Ancient Den
- 1 Seat of the Synod
- 1 Vault of Whispers
- 3 Island
- 3 Plains
- 3 Swamp
- 1 Arcane Sanctum
- 1 Barren Moor
- 1 Bojuka Bog
- 1 Buried Ruin
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Drowned Catacomb
- 1 Flooded Strand
- 1 Glacial Fortress
- 1 Godless Shrine
- 1 Hallowed Fountain
- 1 High Market
- 1 Isolated Chapel
- 1 Lonely Sandbar
- 1 Marsh Flats
- 1 Polluted Delta
- 1 Scrubland
- 1 Secluded Steppe
- 1 Strip Mine
- 1 Tower of the Magistrate
- 1 Tundra
- 1 Underground Sea
- 1 Watery Grave
- 1 Windswept Heath
- 1 Kor Haven
- 1 Volrath's Stronghold
- 1 Aether Spellbomb
- 1 Cauldron of Souls
- 1 Chromatic Lantern
- 1 Clock Of Omens
- 1 Codex Shredder
- 1 Conjurer's Closet
- 1 Crucible Of Worlds
- 1 Darksteel Forge
- 1 Darksteel Ingot
- 1 Dispeller's Capsule
- 1 Executioner's Capsule
- 1 Expedition Map
- 1 Forcefield
- 1 Glaring Spotlight
- 1 Lightning Greaves
- 1 Liquimetal Coating
- 1 Mimic Vat
- 1 Nihil Spellbomb
- 1 Oblivion Stone
- 1 Prototype Portal
- 1 Salvaging Station
- 1 Scourglass
- 1 Sensei's Divining Top
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Staff of Nin
- 1 Thran Dynamo
- 1 Trading Post
- 1 Moat
- 1 Swords to Plowshares
- 1 Vampiric Tutor
- 1 Akroma's Memorial
- 1 Austere Command
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 1 Fabricate
- 1 Open the Vaults
- 1 Transmute Artifact
- 1 The Abyss
Coming To Terms With It All
I'll take your word that you're not a voice in my head, Brian, and I really appreciate you writing in with this list. (But I'm replacing the curtains with heavier opaque ones just in case. You never know...)
The jury is out on the new Commander 2013 options, but I think Sydri will end up being a strong-yet-fair option to replace the much-maligned sphinx as your commander. With less hate up front and some new toolbox options, you should be able to have a slightly less stressful early game to set up some of the engines and synergies that are in the deck now. Come the endgame, you'll be able to bring every last permanent to bear as a potential beater as a result of the switch at the helm, which should lend itself to a really enjoyable and engaging play experience with this deck overall.
Let's get down to the money. Here are the price tags involved:
|Sharuum the Hegemon||Free!|
|Clock Of Omens||$0.25|
|Staff of Nin||$0.99|
|Vault of Whispers||$0.99|
|Seat of the Synod||$1.49|
|Sydri, Galvanic Genius||$3.99|
|Tower of the Magistrate||$3.99|
|Crucible of Worlds||$29.99|
A little pricey this week at just about $100. However, you did say “lofty” wasn't a huge deal, so I'm going to assume this is no problem in the long run to put the polishing touches on this flagship. As always, the submitter each week receives a $20 store credit to StarCityGames.com to help out with the costs, so that should be a good help. Also, I find that intercepting the mail for the bank statements, tossing them in my bag with my laptop, and putting them through the shredder at work is definitely the way to go.
Er... I mean I assume that's what you're doing. Because I'd never do that myself.
Nope. No way. Not a chance...
I'll see you all in two...
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