As I'm writing this, we're on the edge of the first wave of Aether Revolt spoilers. Now, it's way too early for us to have much concrete information (the bafflingly early first wave of revealed cards aside), but there is one piece of information that I want to highlight because it's relevant to Commander: It's been confirmed that Yahenni is getting a card in the upcoming set as a legendary creature. Now, we don't have any information on the card itself yet, but after a year of disappointing and bizarre legendary creatures like Ulrich of the Krallenhorde and Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist, it feels like Wizards has finally gotten a hold of how to push fan excitement behind a particular character. I can only hope that Yahenni's card lives up to the amazing quality of the stories they've featured in.
Azorius and Izzet have always been two of my favorite guilds, and when Khans of Tarkir was released and gave Jeskai a name and a fleshed-out identity, it became my favorite tri-color group. I love the focus on reaping rewards from casting spells. The issue with Jeskai in the realm of Commander, though, is that no commander choice really gives me that “tempo” fix. Narset, Enlightened Master is probably the closest, but when I tried running a deck with her at the helm, the table hated me out of the game pretty quickly. I tried telling them my deck wasn't “that” deck, but fear does what it does.
Commander 2016 gave me some new “Jeskai” options, though, thanks to the partner mechanic. Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker hit home for me pretty quickly, as I love cards like Taurean Mauler and Sunscorch Regent. Neither of the Boros legends seemed to fit my plan, so that left the two Izzet creatures.
Frankly, I don't even know what Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist is up to. It seems like a worse Edric, Spymaster of Trest to me, and I must admit that if I were one of the many clamoring for Ludevic to receive his own card, I would be disappointed. Kraum, Ludevic's Opus, while being my last hope, is actually pretty in line with my plans. It hits that sweet spot of helping me when my opponents do stuff and being a reasonable creature in its own right. So, I have the speaker of Ojutai teaming up with a flying, two-headed Zombie. Man, I love Magic.
The bottom line of this deck is that I want my opponents' actions to benefit me as much as possible, and I want to force these actions whenever I can.
Despite how my preamble may have sounded, this is not meant to be a full-fledged judo deck. I am not trying to win off the backs of my opponents' decks. Keep Watch, Desertion, and the like were kept out of the deck for a reason. Rather, I am doing my best remora imitation and feeding off my opponents' efforts.
Ideally, I want to prevent my opponent from gaining traction on the board, hence the bounce spells. Note that I am leaning away from actual kill spells because I want my opponents to recast their bounced spells…I just don't want the spells to do much beyond get cast. Hence the Torpor Orb that shuts down enters-the-battlefield effects and static effects that slow down my opponents' critters (Blind Obedience, Urabrask, etc.). Also, if creatures are cheated onto the battlefield, I don't get my rewards, so Hallowed Moonlight and Containment Priest seemed reasonable inclusions.
I plan on winning through commander damage. Depending on how games play out, Ishai and Kraum may not be very large, so making them unable to be blocked for a turn is helpful. Thassa, Whispersilk Cloak, and Marchesa's Smuggler bolster this idea.
My biggest concern for the deck is how to get Ishai to be beefy quickly after its been killed. I tried finding safety nets to minimize the impact of this happening (Citadel Siege, a handful of Proliferate cards), but it will still knock me down a few pegs. Is there a way I can save my counters after death? Or is there a way to rebuild the counters quickly?
Last, but maybe most importantly, is there a flaw in my gameplan that could use some retooling? I haven't seen a deck do this without going into full judo territory, which I would prefer not to do. This is more of a deck that rides others' coattails until I'm strong enough to win.
Here are some cards I would prefer not to get cut:
- Bastion Protector (I have two Commanders, so this critter is twice as helpful).
- Possibility Storm (I want my opponents to cast spells, but I don't care if they cast the spells they want).
- Wild Invocation (Some people may not want to cast spells; this works to ensure that they cast them anyway).
- Charmbreaker Devils (I love the repeatable recursion aspect of this card despite the random nature of it).
- Taurean Mauler/Sunscorch Regent (The flavor pair of these two with Ishai makes me too happy).
I love Jeskai, and I love the idea of these two commanders working together. I am willing to use a budget of $80 (including the store credit) to renovate this deck idea.
The partner mechanic has interested me ever since the first set of decks were spoiled, but the lack of inherent cohesion between most pairs kept me from tackling a submission with them until now. Even if the mechanical link isn't too strong, the oddball pairing of Ishai and Kraum actually does wonders for enabling a well-thought-out deck with a coherent identity, namely profiting off of your opponents casting spells.
Your plan to win is mostly hitting people for lethal with an arbitrarily large Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker, so having effects that make the Bird Monk unblockable makes sense. But compared to the other versions of this effect that you're running, Marchesa's Smuggler is both weak and fragile, needing a mana investment every turn and lacking the indestructibility of Thassa. It's not a bad card by any stretch of the imagination, but you're already doing better than this.
Sage-Eye Avengers fits with your gameplan reasonably well, since most opponents will just grumble and replay whatever you bounced on their next turn. The problem is, its stats are in a very awkward place for a six-drop in Commander. By the time this is down, most opponents will have something with six or more power out, so you'll need at least three prowess triggers in order to be able to profitably attack into most battlefields. Unless your metagame is almost entirely lacking in decks that play any fatties, this creature's going to get outclassed and stuck on the sidelines in most games.
Playing the tempo game means that you want to make your opponents stumble whenever possible and be ready to take advantage when they do. Aven Mindcensor counteracts people who are tutoring to find combos without completely crippling ramp spells that people need to get their decks up and running. (Remember, we want them to cast spells.)
Fatespinner is a cruel little card that often goes overlooked, but it's amazingly powerful at what it does. I could see some concern that Fatespinner would keep people from casting spells as they repeatedly skip their main phases, but in my experience with the card, the vast majority of people will choose to skip their attack step instead, slowing the game down to a crawl and leaving you as the only one getting damage in.
Selfless Squire is the start of a small theme that I'm building into the deck. Commander is a format of huge haymakers, and especially when you're looking to play a "faierer" game, you want a few ways to discourage your opponents form pointing those haymakers at you. Selfless Squire can completely negate an alpha strike against you and then swing back for twenty to 40 damage on your next turn. You won't have it every time, obviously, but the times that you do use this or a similar effect to turn the tables on your opponents will make them wary about overcommitting to an attack against you.
I know Wild Evocation was on your list of cards you'd rather not cut, but just because you want your opponents to be casting spells doesn't mean you want them casting spells for free, even randomly chosen ones. There's a similar effect you can run without the risk of giving your opponents the huge mana discount this card can represent. Wild Evocation also doesn't play well with your more situational cards, such as Boros Charm, Selfless Squire, etc.
As for Rage reflection, well, you're running white. This slot belongs to True Conviction, and that's all there is to it.
Impatience comes in to fill a similar role to Wild Evocation, except it's less likely to blow up in your face. This little enchantment comes down early and punishes reactive players or anyone who runs out of gas. Even in the face of a growing Ishai, most players will choose to play something rather than take the two damage every turn.
This might sound weird, but I think you're over-valuing card draw. Kraum should already give you a somewhat steady stream of cards, and while this is a callous stance for me to take, card draw spells that leave you behind your opponents aren't worth taking a turn off to cast them. That's why I kept Opportunity, since it replaces itself and gives you one additional card for each opponent (assuming a standard four-player game.) But I'd rather have more action spells in the slots that Weave Fate and Jace's Ingenuity currently hold.
As for Pull from the Deep, while I appreciate the recursion element you're going for, the selection of spells you're packing work best when your opponents don't know about them, or at least which ones you have. There are lots of "gotcha" moments that you want to engineer, like Boros Charming in response to a battlefield wipe or springing a Hallowed Moonlight when someone casts Genesis Wave for a third of their deck. And things like that just won't happen the second time around. You also don't have all that many sorceries, so oftentimes this card will only be at half power anyway.
This is the rest of the package that started with Selfless Squire. All three of these spells are meant to swing a crucial turn in your favor, keeping you from dying and in most cases taking the force of that attack and throwing it back at your opponent. Comeuppance and Reflect Damage both work on burn spells as well as combat damage, and Comeuppance can even function as a targeted battlefield wipe under the right circumstances.
Once again, the point of these cards isn't necessarily to have a "you did this to yourself" moment every time your opponents try to do something big, but rather to make your opponents wary of opening themselves up to the possibility of you having these and slowing down their aggression as a result. Surprise someone with these a few times and they'll be a lot less likely to gun for you in the future. And in multiplayer, having your opponents fight each other is the best kind of tempo.
I like the thought behind Mask of Avacyn, having an Equipment that sticks around and protects whatever commander you're building up to kill people with. After all, the best way to build Ishai back up quickly is to make sure it never dies in the first place. That being said, there's a more mana-efficient option out there, and you can do with an upgrade to the slightly clunky Mask.
Armillary Sphere is falling victim to the fact that I needed to cut a card from your artifacts section to make room for the creatures I added earlier, and while the color fixing it provides is nice, it's also the only mana rock you run that doesn't actually ramp you at all.
Not only is the power and toughness boost on Champion's Helm better than on Mask of Avacyn, once you get it on the battlefield, it only takes a single mana to move it around. That makes it an actually reasonable proposition to cast one of your commanders and give them hexproof on the same turn, which is a huge benefit when compared to giving your opponents a full turn cycle to remove them. There is an argument that Darksteel Plate should be in this slot over Champion's Helm. It depends on what's a bigger concern in your playgroup: exile-based removal like Oblivion Ring and Swords to Plowshares or battlefield wipes such as Wrath of God.
The Panoramas aren't bad in your deck, far from it. But you're already running Evolving Wilds, Terramorphic Expanse, and Ash Barrens, and those can all find any of the three land types you need. Instead I'll be adding in a cycle of multicolor lands that don't force you to choose what color you need.
Not much to say here. The checklands cycle is as good now as it's ever been and will almost always enter the battlefield untapped unless it's turn 1, meaning they won't cause any bumps in your curve as you play things out.
Putting all the changes together, here's the finished decklist:
- 1 Aven Mindcensor
- 1 Bastion Protector
- 1 Charmbreaker Devils
- 1 Containment Priest
- 1 Fatespinner
- 1 Hushwing Gryff
- 1 Selfless Squire
- 1 Sunscorch Regent
- 1 Taurean Mauler
- 1 Archetype of Imagination
- 1 Dragonlord Ojutai
- 1 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
- 1 Urabrask the Hidden
- 1 Thassa, God of the Sea
- 6 Island
- 4 Mountain
- 7 Plains
- 1 Ash Barrens
- 1 Azorius Chancery
- 1 Azorius Guildgate
- 1 Boros Garrison
- 1 Boros Guildgate
- 1 Clifftop Retreat
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Evolving Wilds
- 1 Glacial Fortress
- 1 Izzet Boilerworks
- 1 Izzet Guildgate
- 1 Myriad Landscape
- 1 Mystic Monastery
- 1 Sulfur Falls
- 1 Temple of Enlightenment
- 1 Temple of Epiphany
- 1 Temple of Triumph
- 1 Terminal Moraine
- 1 Terramorphic Expanse
- 1 Warped Landscape
- 1 Champion's Helm
- 1 Chromatic Lantern
- 1 Commander's Sphere
- 1 Crystal Shard
- 1 Darksteel Ingot
- 1 Erratic Portal
- 1 Fireshrieker
- 1 Jeskai Banner
- 1 Lightning Greaves
- 1 Mind Stone
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Swiftfoot Boots
- 1 Thought Vessel
- 1 Torpor Orb
- 1 Wayfarer's Bauble
- 1 Whispersilk Cloak
- 1 Authority of the Consuls
- 1 Blind Obedience
- 1 Cast Through Time
- 1 Citadel Siege
- 1 Dissipation Field
- 1 Impatience
- 1 Inexorable Tide
- 1 Metallurgic Summonings
- 1 Mind's Dilation
- 1 Possibility Storm
- 1 Sunken Hope
- 1 True Conviction
- 1 Aetherize
- 1 Arcane Denial
- 1 Boros Charm
- 1 Brainstorm
- 1 Comeuppance
- 1 Cyclonic Rift
- 1 Dig Through Time
- 1 Dismiss
- 1 Hallowed Moonlight
- 1 Mystic Confluence
- 1 Opportunity
- 1 Reflect Damage
- 1 Return to Dust
- 1 Riot Control
- 1 Wear
- 1 Aether Gale
- 1 Recurring Insight
- 1 Treasure Cruise
- 1 Wash Out
And the additions, sorted by price:
The changes add up to $40.90, for what turned out to be a bit of a lighter edit than normal. As always, Eric will receive $20 in store credit to StarCityGames.com® to help him make these changes. Don't let the small price tag fool you, though. Both tempo strategies and Commander as a format are renowned for taking traditionally cheap cards and pushing them into the limelight through sheer force of synergy.
Often at the end of an article like this I'll mention how there are many other directions a deck could go in, but that's especially true here because of the Partner mechanic. Even sticking with Ishai and Kraum and keeping the "make opponents play spells" theme, I considered adding as many Werewolves as I could find room for as a way to heavily punish anyone who tried to hold back and rely on their battlefield presence. For a Jeskai Tempo deck, that's an amazing place to wind up deckbuilding-wise.
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