Barring any unforeseen hiccups, by the time this goes live on Friday, my daughter and I should be pulling into a campsite on Kerr Lake, a great spot at the Virginia/North Carolina border just west of Lake Gaston. A gaggle of the extended Smith family is going to be there for much fun and R&R. But before I get to packing for the trip, I did want to share a few Magic stories from this past weekend as well as a new Commander deck featuring a legend from Magic 2015!
TAKING JALIRA FOR A SPIN
Last weekend was Magic 2015 Game Day, and as has become a bit of a tradition, Richmond Comix held a Commander tournament prior to the Game Day Standard tournament. What's particularly sweet is if you played in the Commander event, your entry fee for Game Day was waived. So… my two favorite Magic formats back-to-back? Count me in!
Of course, a Commander tournament isn't really Commander at its finest because the prizes associated with winning the event brings out the "mean decks" in abundance along with a Spike demeanor that makes playing in them a bit nerve-wracking. I've tried bringing my regular fun decks tweaked with a little bit of "mean" spice in them, but they just get steamrolled by the combo decks, so this time around I tried something different-I brought the Jalira, Master Polymorphist deck I wrote about a few weeks back. The deck is stuffed to the gills with permission spells with the goal to stymie the fast combo decks long enough for all of us to actually have a shot at playing a decent game of Commander. I also have the ability to end the game pretty quickly if I can activate Jalira a few times and attack with Blightsteel Colossus. I took some feedback to heart though and swapped out the two other non-legend upgrades from Scourge of Fleets and Stormtide Leviathan to Tidespout Tyrant and Nullstone Gargoyle. I also added Stifle and Trickbind.
I have to admit I did feel a little bad about bringing this deck because I know I personally don't enjoy playing against people with a lot of counterspells, but I resolved to keep the permission in reserve for emergencies. As luck would have it, my four-man pod included a Commander shark-a local competitive tournament Magic player who only plays Commander if there are prizes on the line; he only plays fast combo storm decks, and his goal is to win all of the prizes at the end and sell them on his online Magic store (no splitting of prizes among the last table). He's a nice guy personally, but his approach to Commander is very much the antithesis to the spirit of the format, and having him sit down at my table made me very glad I was bringing the mean with Jalira and infinite counterspells. Also at the table was a guy playing Nekusar, the Mindrazer, and a lovely gal playing Merieke Ri Berit.
She tells us that she's very much a casual player, so Nekusar and I warn her that the game might be over pretty quickly because the other guy is going to try and kill us all on the first couple of turns. Since Nekusar and Merieke Ri Berit both have Blue, I'm hoping they might be able to lend some permission assistance.
I win the die roll, and my opening hand includes three Islands, Remand, Arcane Denial, and Spell Crumple so I happily keep, feeling pretty good about all of us surviving the early game so long as Spike doesn't kill us on the very first turn. Thankfully he does not, only playing a Mana Vault, but on the second turn he thinks for a bit and then casts a Ritual spell, and I hit it with Arcane Denial. On his next turn he casts another Ritual, which I Remand. He shrugs and passes his turn. On his third turn he casts the Ritual again, and I target it with Spell Crumple. This time Spike counters back, but Nekusar adds his own permission to the battle, and the good guys win.
At the end of my fourth turn Merieke Ri Berit pauses the game a moment and says "not sure if this will do anything interesting, but what the heck." She then casts Aethermage's Touch, revealing the top four cards of her library, including a Magister Sphinx! She puts it into play and sets Spike's life to ten. She then untaps, draws her card for the turn and attacks Spike to five-Wow, a 35 point life swing! At the end of the turn she bounces Magister Sphinx back to her hand, where it is sure to knock one of the other two of us to ten once she gets up to seven mana. Can't say that I've ever seen an Aethermage's Touch kick quite so much ass before!
Unfortunately for Spike he had used his Mana Vault on an earlier turn, so his life ticks down to four. He passes the turn, and when the next guy plays his Commander Nekusar, Mindrazer, Spike goes ahead and scoops it up since he needs to be able to play draw-seven spells to go off.
Whew! We all breathe a little easier and settle in for a bit more relaxed game of Commander… but not too relaxed, because Nekusar starts playing out Liliana's Caress, Megrim, and tries to play Underworld Dreams (which I'm able to counterspell). He's digging for some draw-sevens himself, and I try and figure out a way to stop him long enough for me to activate Jalira and kill him.
At this point Merieke Ri Berit has seven mana and slams down her Magister Sphinx and targets me with its triggered ability, taking me to ten. Since I have no fliers currently this is a really big problem. I don't have the mana to activate Jalira and have mana up to cast the counterspell in my hand (Forbid), and I worry if I activate Jalira to get a blocker out there for Merieke that Nekusar will cast a draw-seven and kill us all… which is ultimately what happens when Merieke attacks me and forces my hand, giving Nekusar the opening to kill us both and earn a spot at the top table.
It was interesting to observe how the top table finished up. I wasn't able to watch all of it, but I kept popping by to see what was going on and this is what I think happened: There were enough people (six players) that the combo players weren't able to go off fast so the game stretched on a while. After about an hour, only one player had been eliminated (Mr. Nekusar from my pod), and a Krenko deck looked to be in the cat-bird seat. He had Goblin Bombardment and enough goblins tokens to kill any one particular opponent at the table… so he was effectively holding off every player since no one wanted to fall on their sword to take down the big bad guy. Meanwhile, each untap step he was able to double his goblins and put yet another player under his thumb until he pretty much was able to kill everyone at the table with Bombardment. I found it interesting to ponder if anyone put the situation to the table before it got out of the hand that someone needed to step up and take one for the team and go after Krenko directly.
WINNING GAME DAY
Not long after Game Day was done I sent out this tweet:
Hell yes UB Inspired Doom takes it down!! pic.twitter.com/VSbP29hmkw— blairwitchgreen (@blairwitchgreen) August 10, 2014
Ahhh, how sweet it is! If you've been following my non-Commander content you're aware of the Blue/Black deck I've been tinkering around with that focuses on some creatures with Inspire. The idea got a shot in the arm with the release of Magic 2015 when Chief Engineer gave me an in-color way to tap creatures with Inspire without attacking or having Springleaf Drum in play. I've tried a few different iterations, and this is the one I took to Game Day and won:
- 4 Scuttling Doom Engine
- 4 Chief Engineer
- 2 Daring Thief
- 2 Desecration Demon
- 4 Disciple of Deceit
- 4 Pack Rat
The deck can do some powerful things, like powering out a turn 4 Scuttling Doom Engine or trading Goat tokens for your opponent's Archangel of Thune with Daring Thief… but I have to admit the most powerful thing the deck can do is to drop Pack Rat and start making copies. Yeah, big shock right? While this is most certainly a different Pack Rat deck, I can't help but figure it's not really a better Pack Rat deck than the stock lists that are floating around, and if I want to explore the intersection of Inspire and Convoke I probably want to dip into a different color combination.
Turnout for the Game Day Standard tournament was fourteen players, and I went 2-1 in the Swiss beating Mono-Blue and a midrange Mono-White deck before losing in three hard-fought games against Mono-Green Devotion with a black splash for Garruk, Apex Predator.
When they handed out the Top 8 promo of full art foil Chief Engineer, I should have known that fortune would be shining on me!
I was rematched against the midrange Mono-White deck where I again exchange Goats for Archangels of Thune, and beat an aggressive Boros deck in the Top 4 who paid me the best compliment in months after losing two straight: "I have no idea what to do against your deck." Ah, the joys of playing rogue!
Earlier in the tournament I sent out this tweet:
This young man was who I faced in the finals, and while I was thrilled that two decidedly rogue decks had made the finals of Game Day, there was no way I was going to let the Champion playmat slip from my grasp! I knew that his deck was chock full of powerful cards - in fact it was chock full of all the powerful cards - but his deck took a while to ramp up to the power so I basically just went with turn 2 Pack Rat both games and just went all in to kill him before his better cards game online. I got ten packs of Magic 2015 as a nice bonus, a fantastic end to a really fun day of Magic.
I've done a few Commander decks based on the new legends from Magic 2015, and this week I want to dip into red with Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient! Red is a tough color to play in Commander because so much of its power is invested in dealing damage to creatures and players. That sort of power doesn't scale very well in Commander-you go from trying to deal twenty points of damage to a player and handling creatures with toughness between one and five, to trying to deal 40 points of damage to multiple players and a lot more creatures that have way more toughness. The most successful mono-red decks I've seen over the past few years involved either Krenko, Mob Boss aggressive decks, or Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker combo decks.
Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient gives us a distinctively new axis to consider, one that's artifact-centric but not really focused on equipment. Before digging further, it's helpful to read Kurkesh's write-up in the Magic 2015 FAQ:
Activated abilities are written in the form "Cost: Effect." Some keywords are activated abilities and will have colons in their reminder texts.
A mana ability is an ability that (1) could put mana into a player's mana pool when it resolves, (2) isn't a loyalty ability, and (3) doesn't target.
The copy will have the same targets as the ability it's copying unless you choose new ones. You may change any number of the targets, including all of them or none of them. If, for one of the targets, you can't choose a new legal target, then it remains unchanged (even if the current target is illegal).
If the ability is modal (that is, it says "Choose one -" or the like), the copy will have the same mode. You can't choose a different one.
If the ability has X in its cost, the value of X is copied.
If paying the activation cost of the ability includes sacrificing Kurkesh, the ability won't be copied. At the time the ability is considered activated (after all costs are paid), Kurkesh is no longer on the battlefield.
I have to say I was quite excited when I went to the card database, selected "Artifact," plugged ":" into the text field and hit search (sorted by mana cost). What sort of crazy shenanigans would I uncover?
Suffice to say, more than enough shenanigans to populate a sweet new deck! Here's what I've brewed up, with notes on particularly sweet Kurkesh combos below it:
- 1 Coretapper
- 1 Duplicant
- 1 Junk Diver
- 1 Kuldotha Forgemaster
- 1 Mindless Automaton
- 1 Myr Retriever
- 1 Scarecrone
- 1 Scuttlemutt
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Soul of New Phyrexia
- 1 Goblin Welder
- 1 Hellkite Tyrant
- 1 Mogg Maniac
- 1 Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient
- 1 Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer
- 1 Darksteel Citadel
- 1 Great Furnace
- 18 Mountain
- 1 Blinkmoth Nexus
- 1 Cavern of Souls
- 1 Forgotten Cave
- 1 Grixis Panorama
- 1 High Market
- 1 Inkmoth Nexus
- 1 Jund Panorama
- 1 Mishra's Factory
- 1 Naya Panorama
- 1 Opal Palace
- 1 Reliquary Tower
- 1 Smoldering Crater
- 1 Strip Mine
- 1 Thespian's Stage
- 1 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
- 1 Vesuva
- 1 Winding Canyons
- 1 Mikokoro, Center of the Sea
- 1 Ashnod's Transmogrant
- 1 Avarice Totem
- 1 Brittle Effigy
- 1 Contagion Engine
- 1 Darksteel Ingot
- 1 Darksteel Plate
- 1 Dreamstone Hedron
- 1 Expedition Map
- 1 Gilded Lotus
- 1 Goblin Charbelcher
- 1 Grim Monolith
- 1 Jester's Cap
- 1 Journeyer's Kite
- 1 Lightning Greaves
- 1 Liquimetal Coating
- 1 Lux Cannon
- 1 Magistrate's Scepter
- 1 Magma Mine
- 1 Mana Vault
- 1 Mimic Vat
- 1 Mishra's Bauble
- 1 Mishra's Helix
- 1 Oblivion Stone
- 1 Ring of Three Wishes
- 1 Salvaging Station
- 1 Sensei's Divining Top
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Spawning Pit
- 1 Swiftfoot Boots
- 1 Titan Forge
- 1 Trading Post
- 1 Triassic Egg
- 1 Urza's Bauble
- 1 Voltaic Key
- 1 Welding Jar
- 1 Braid of Fire
- 1 Fork
- 1 Inferno
- 1 Reiterate
- 1 Starstorm
- 1 Predator, Flagship
- 1 Blasphemous Act
- 1 Chain Reaction
- 1 Mana Geyser
- 1 Molten Disaster
- 1 Shivan Meteor
- 1 All Is Dust
I know 38 lands plus 9 additional mana sources is a lot, but Kurkesh shenanigans are going to demand a lot of mana, and I want to make sure I've got that base covered.
First, from a flavor perspective I love how Kurkesh's boon companions in his artifact shenanigans are two goblins-Goblin Welder and Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer. You've got to admit it's pure candy just saying the name "Slobad." Their abilities are so sweet in an artifact-heavy deck that I had to throw in Ashnod's Transmogrant so I might get the opportunity to copy their abilities with Kurkesh.
Activate Voltaic Key to untap an artifact, and then copy it with Kurkesh to untap Voltaic Key to do it again. So, for each 1R you can spend you get to untap an artifact. There are plenty of obvious engines (Gilded Lotus, Grim Monolith) and lots of not-so-obvious ones too. I expect to be constantly surprised by the new puzzles I'll discover and solve in each game when playing this deck.
The "tap to draw a card" ability is what's sweet to copy here. You'll draw a card and then you'll draw the Top, so for each 1R you spend you get to draw an extra card. If you've got a mana engine going you can dig pretty deep into the deck for a game-ender.
When scrolling through the list of artifacts with activated abilities, it's amazing how Kurkesh changes some of them from being so-so or downright bad to being eye-popping amazing. Case in point is Avarice Totem. Check out this ruling from the Avarice Totem listing in Gatherer:
It is possible to activate this ability in response to itself and generate some odd combinations. For example, if you control this card and another permanent, you can use this card's ability and target the permanent you control. You can then use this card's ability again and target a permanent your opponent controls. The second usage resolves first and you get your opponent's permanent in exchange for this one. The first usage then resolves and swaps your other permanent for the Totem so you get it back. The net effect is that you can swap any non-land permanent you have for any of theirs if you can activate this ability twice. Note that your opponent does get the chance to use the Totem in between the resolutions of your two usages if they have the mana.
Normally, you'd need ten mana to pull off this sort of "cheat," but with Kurkesh all you need is 5R. Once you get this out there watch as your opponents are forced to keep five mana open lest you swap their best permanent for one of your extra small artifacts (or better yet, a Goat token from Trading Post).
With Kurkesh in play, Spawning Pit basically reads: "Sacrifice a creature, R: put two charge counters on Spawning Pit. 1R, remove two charge counters: put two 2/2 Spawn tokens into play." So once you sacrifice the initial creature, you can generate an additional 2/2 Spawn token for each 1RR you have to spend. It's mana hungry, but sometimes you need a perpetual blocker, and if you need a mana sink for your Voltaic Key/Gilded Lotus engine making infinite 2/2 Spawn tokens ain't bad.
Kurkesh obviously does some nice work here, either doubling the charge counters you add or doubling the extra turns you take. The best thing is to get a Coretapper in play too…
Some more sub-par cards gets juiced with Kurkesh-adding charges is faster but still a little slow, but it's the other ability that's really sweet to copy-how about making two 9/9 Golems or destroying two permanents?
Similar to the previous two but Triassic Egg gets enough counters from just one copied activation and can immediately be sacrificed for its big effect that you can also copy, putting two creatures into play from either your hand or graveyard.
I was looking for some ways to repeatedly sling some damage around and I think this fits the bill. While I'm playing too many lands for any one activation to kill someone, being able to squeeze two slugs of 2-5 points of damage from each activation seems worthwhile.
I already have a big fondness for this card, but with Kurkesh out there too? Let's see how that works: 1R, Discard a card: Put two +1/+1 counters on it. R, remove two +1/+1 counters: draw two cards. So basically for each 1RR you get to draw two cards and discard then discard a card. Super-loot, not bad!
Sometimes you've got to lock down someone who's pulling some heinous shenanigans - or cover for your own shenanigans. Spending 5R to lock down ten lands sounds pretty sweet.
Let's see, 2R: give two creatures flying, then 5R, tap: destroy both of them. Sure, it's a mana hog but sometimes you've got to kill the two biggest creatures on the board.
5R, tap: two Demonic Tutors sounds pretty sweet, no?
There's much more in the deck to explore, but I need to sign off and get packing. So how did your Game Day go? See any sweet rogue brews? And what sort of cards am I missing from my Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient Commander deck?
New to Commander?
If you're just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:
- Commander Primer Part 1 (Why play Commander? Rules Overview, Picking your Commander)
- Commander Primer Part 2 (Mana Requirements, Randomness, Card Advantage)
- Commander Primer Part 3 (Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
- Commander Starter Kits 1 (kick start your allied two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 2 (kick start your enemy two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 3 (kick start your shard three-color decks for $25)
My current Commander decks (and links to decklists):
Previous Commander decks currently on hiatus :
- Trostani, Selesnya's Voice ( new player-friendly)
Uril, the Miststalker (my "more competitive" deck)