I'm asking for your help retooling one of my first Commander decks: Progenitus. I've been playing with this deck off and on for a couple of years but I haven't updated it for quite some time. I originally built it for three reasons:
I like the way that games tend to play out with this deck. For obvious reasons most opponents don't see Progenitus as an immediate threat and since the deck doesn't tend to lead off with major power plays it's usually not anyone's primary target. It also deploys defensive creatures (e.g. Fog Bank) and rattlesnakes (e.g. Michiko Konda) to discourage attackers. I often have plenty of time to develop my mana base and draw into cards like Rafiq and Finest Hour which allow me to take out an opponent with commander damage in one turn when aided by the exalted mechanic (which appears on several cards in the deck).
Since I'm not using a lot of nonbasic lands earlier versions of this deck included a strong suite of nonbasic land hate/punishment spells (e.g. Blood Moon Price of Progress and even Global Ruin a card that I liked a lot in Invasion block but ultimately removed from this deck for being too evil). From that suite Back to Basics is the only card that remains. I go back and forth about whether or not to bring back some of the other nonbasic hate. Maybe the banning of Primeval Titan will make nonbasic hate less relevant?
As currently constructed this deck has several major weaknesses. It's too linear relying entirely on Progenitus as its sole win condition. It lacks tools for interacting with opponents during their turns. Other that ramping up its mana it doesn't do such a good job of building an advantage or grinding down opponents over the course of the long game that it's designed to play. It can't do much to stop a sustained assault from one or more opponents.
The five cards that I'm always happiest to see are:
(But I'm thinking that some or all of these could be made to work harder.)
Some of the cards that aren't pulling their weight are:
Going forward I'm open to pretty much any changes but I'm not looking for it to become just another five-color good stuff deck. I definitely want to exploit some of the more powerful spells that can only be played in a five-color deck and I want my choice of commander to be relevant. Also the utility of Seer's Sundial in this deck makes me wonder if it's worth adding other spells with landfall. In terms of financial constraintsI have a good-sized card collection and I'm willing to invest money in relatively expensive cards if I think I'll enjoy playing them repeatedly over a long period of time¢€but I can't afford to drop a ton of cash all at one time.
Thanks for considering this deck and for all the work you put into writing Dear Azami. It's the only Magic column that I read every single week and I always look forward to it.
Thanks for writing in Eric. I'm glad you did because I'm a big fan of Progenitus.
I think most dedicated Commander deckbuilders eventually come around to the idea of tackling a five-color list; it's not typically an "if" but rather a "when." For me Progenitus was my go-to commander when I took the plunge. I'd seen a ton of Sliver Overlords and Queens a Reaper King a Horde of Notions and a few Karona False Gods but no one in my area felt up to the task of dealing with the Soul of the World.
(I assume this is due to the completely ridiculous casting cost. Turns out this is not without merit; good lord¢€a few helpings of 'commander tax' on top of the actual casting cost of this card make me want to pull up stakes and move to the country.
I hear Rhys the Redeemed is selling some cheap property out in the sticks somewhere¢)
Progenitus was also the card that drew me in to learning alterations. Despite sitting on roughly fifteen decks with mana bases complete with Revised dual lands I decided that the going price for a foil Conflux copy was just too steep. (I believe it was $20 at the time¢€Proggy hadn't taken off in Legacy yet.)
Clearly the thing to do was to go out to Michael's drop about $40 on paints and supplies and then try to figure out how to paint from there.
I know¢you're all staggered by the waterproof logic in my decision-making.
Anyway after a stab at a Fourth Edition Strip Mine I decided that I was ready to hit the big leagues. Here's the result:
I'm no Eric Klug but I'm pretty happy with the results.
Eric the thing that I like best about your submission is the admission that Progenitus appeals to your 'inner Timmy.' This is exactly the draw for me as well. I'm a total sucker for mechanics that are big and splashy and break the rules of the game and as I've said in the past I'm a huge sucker for a giant creature. Progenitus hits all of those marks for me.
You're also interested in steering clear of making this into another cookie-cutter five-color 'good stuff' list and I applaud that as well. Building a five-color deck is like letting a kid loose in a candy store: the options are mind-blowing it's impossible not to overindulge and it leaves you feeling pretty sick to your stomach afterward.
(Partially related side story: my son just turned sixteen months old and he experienced his first Halloween last week. Unfortunately for us he also experienced candy for the first time as well. You'd think it'd be pretty easy to stop a 28-pound toddler but apparently he hits like an NFL linebacker when he's hopped up on sugar. I had to lie and tell my coworkers I got into a bar fight so they wouldn't pick on the black eye and the limp.)
The trick here is to temper your creative urges and try to build for the theme of the deck and you've got a decent start there already. We're in five-color land and I want to run with that theme as far as I can.
You've identified an issue with staying power and being too linear and you say the deck has issues withstanding a table's worth of concerted beatdowns. To fight this I see a decent amount of 'pillow fort' inclusions designed to stall things out to get you to the late game so that you can deploy your commander.
It's a decent approach but I think it is one at odds with the spirit of Progenitus and may be adding to the linear feel you have a problem with. I've got some new ideas that should hopefully fix all of your problems at once so let's get started.
To expand on this idea I've decided to impart an alternate strategy that kills two birds with one stone. Instead of playing a linear path that starts by hiding behind Fog effects and rattlesnake cards I'm pushing the deck to run the 'blitzkrieg' strategy instead. Instead of people running into your Wall of Reverence they'll be dealing with an onslaught of giant creatures. There's your prevention right there.
It also serves to expand your threat radius and make your deck a little less about ramping into Progenitus every single time; instead you'll be employing a who's who of other threats that allow you to come at your opponents from a series of angles with the threat of your legendary Hydra Avatar always looming overhead.
Lest he feel unloved I've also worked to embrace what you've started with the exalted theme focusing on adding and improving the suite of cards that make Progenitus a one-hit wonder.
Er¢in a good way. As in 'one attack is lethal damage' not 'Rico Suave.' (If you're not of legal drinking age let me save you the trouble of YouTubing that last one. It's three and a half minutes of your life you'll never get back.)
Oh¢I haven't forgotten the five-color theme either. In fact that theme is going to take the center stage in no time at all.
We're going to have a good time with this one Eric!
Right off the bat I'm going to respect your current design that stays true to leveraging basic lands. The easy thing to do would be to yank out twenty or so and slot in every five-color land I could find along with a helping of Revised duals for flavor. I'm not going to do that. I'm not even going to slot Command Tower or any of the shocklands. With the mana fixing you currently run I don't think there's a reason to mess with success. In fact I'm going to leverage the basics better as we get further on down the list anyway so that's added incentive to leave well enough alone.
OUT - Vesuva
IN - Thawing Glaciers
Vesuva doesn't really seem to belong here. I suppose you can use it to copy the Tropical Island or Steam Vents that just hit across the table to better fix your mana but I have a feeling this is here to leverage other effects such as Maze of Ith High Market or Strip Mine. I'd rather see you just play those effects instead.
Better yet slot in a land that continues to help you find the basics that drive your mana production. It may be slow but Thawing Glaciers is unbelievably steady locks in your color needs and even helps your love of landfall blossom and grow.
Out go the Walls and the rattlesnakes. In come huge five-color problems.
The first casualties are a pair of Walls and a Jellyfish. Fog Bank keels over to Shock Wall of Reverence is going to be phased out in favor of some superior life gain down the road and Guard Gomazoa once again is a Jellyfish.
Five colors really matter. I wasn't kidding.
Or how about a free giant legendary artifact Dragon? Draco is one of the main reasons that I want to leave your domain theme alone. Sometimes he's expensive but often he's a 9/9 flying beater for six mana. This is how we leverage cards that can't be played in lesser-colored decks.
Etched Monstrosity should follow suit nicely as well. If you use it correctly you've gained some Ancestral Recall-like card advantage stapled to a 10/10 beater that rivals your commander in size. (If you use it incorrectly hopefully you've still scared an opponent into firing off their Wrath of God prematurely...)
I'm going to take down the rattlesnakes next. Again I don't think this deck wants to hide behind a big ineffectual Spider or a Scottish farmer. I think you prevent people from attacking you by putting a big artifact Dragon between them and yourself. That seems better.
Out goes Angus and Silklash. In the 'too little too late' category Mrs. Konda is great at forcing your opponent to sacrifice a forest after their gigantic Kresh the Bloodbraided gets finished taking you down to six life or so. Sure it's sort of good at deterring a token swarm but there's a big difference between killing something off before it hits you and after it hits you.
Ethersworn Adjudicator is a little too 'good stuff' for my tastes and it doesn't have a good thematic or strategic connection to anything in this deck. Besides you're already packing a decent amount of removal and this thing soaks up a ton of mana to stay truly active.
Lastly Mistmeadow Witch is really mana-intensive and can't protect your commander to begin with. I'd much rather put something in this slot that can make a difference in your games and I have just the thing.
Five of them actually.
IN - Bringer of the Black Dawn Bringer of the Red Dawn Bringer of the Blue Dawn Bringer of the Green Dawn Bringer of the White Dawn
I can't possibly let a five-color matters deck pass through my hands without slotting the Bringers and their alternate casting costs. In order:
- The black Bringer is a giant trampling Vampiric Tutor each turn.
- The blue Bringer is a giant trampling Inspiration each turn.
- The green Bringer is a giant trampling Call of the Conclave each turn.
- The white Bringer is a giant trampling Argivian Restoration each turn. The red Bringer is named after the finest action-drama to come out of 1984. (It's also giant tramples and steals your opponent's best threats each turn. It's arguably the best of the bunch.)
In all seriousness welcome to the new heart and soul of your threat portfolio.
OUT - Knight of the Reliquary
IN - Maelstrom Wanderer
Don't worry...Maelstrom Wanderer isn't here just because of how potent it is. In all honesty this deck needs more ways to give creatures haste and what better way to do it than to utilize an enabler that also happens to be a large beater? I know the double helping of cascade is what gives Wanderer the reputation it has but it's important to note that you'll gain decent card advantage without hitting most of your larger threats. There's also a soft 'Maelstrom' theme popping up at this point so I'm going to run with that a bit as well. Why not?
Knight of the Reliquary gets cut because it's really only a glorified basic land Tutor in this deck. That's just not too compelling anymore. Rarely will this thing get big enough to be an honest threat and you've got a decent host of mana producers and a high land count as well so that effect isn't really necessary either.
Tweaking the Mana Fixers
As I said already you've got a really high land count and you've also done a better-than-average job of mana fixing and acceleration. Too good even¢€I may be borrowing a few slots here and there to repurpose.
In the meantime there's a little fine-tuning to be done in this area.
While I did want to leave alone your basic land setup there's certainly no harm in gently massaging how you get there in the long run.
We don't want to hook up your opponents so New Frontiers is out. Khalni Heart is a landfall matters card; it also isincredibly clunky. Journey is going to be upgraded to a better entwine option while Harrow is going to be repurposed into something¢well seriously awesome. Explosive Vegetation is going to become a multi-land search card that gets you to domain much more efficiently.
Lastly there's Life from the Loam. This deck really wants to leverage Crucible of Worlds in order to build a land base from frequent fetchland recursion. I get that Loam is a poor man's backup for Crucible but you really don't want to be dredging nonland cards with this deck. You want to be playing them. Loam is not the right tool for the job here.
For those of you who aren't currently rereading the end of that last line let's start at the beginning.
Chromatic Lantern and Prismatic Omen are sure-fire ways to make sure you're accessing the mana colors you need whenever you need them. These are both solid gold in five-color decks like this and should go a long way towards smoothing things out. Reap and Sow is your pseudo Primeval Titan replacement in that it finds you any land type at all (sidestepping the basic land restriction that most of your accelerators are bound by). It also potentially gives you an answer to other problematic lands you might encounter which is nice to have around in a pinch.
Shard Convergence is the Tutor that gets you on the domain track the quickest and Fist of Suns takes it from there turbocharging your rainbow mana base to give a discount to all of your new (and expensive) threats. There's nothing like playing Progenitus for a 50% discount and his high natural cost means that this is a really welcome form of acceleration.
And then there's Genju of the Realms. Where do I begin?
Genju is the ultimate five-color land matters solution. It repurposes your extra lands making them into serious standalone threats. It's a beater that's immune to sorcery speed removal and it comes with native recursion. This is a threat that will always be on hand and fits your theme perfectly.
Also you will never see anyone get mad after losing to this thing. Not ever. It's simply impossible.
This category is also pretty solid already. There are a few questionable cards and I see a few places that could use some improvement.
Mystic Remora¢maybe in Eternal formats but not so much in Commander. You can't really deal with the cumulative upkeep early and late the threat is diminished by opponents flush with mana to spend in order to shut you down. Instead I'm making good on my threat to continue the Maelstrom theme with Nexus. Again card advantage is really important and this is another fun and potent five-color addition that provides that in spades. Remember¢your commander costs ten so this is nearly always going to be worth it.
Compulsion is a reasonable card in this deck but again this deck wants to cast spells and not discard them unless they're lands. Trade Routes gives you another way to leverage all of the excess lands you don't need and provides you with another landfall enabler as well. (I know we're pretty much down to Seer's Sundial in this category but you clearly love that card so who am I to take it away?) Crucible should keep things in constant motion.
Tower of Fortunes is cute and all but there are better things to do with eight mana in here already. It becomes Enlightened Tutor which finds a little bit of everything: the critical Crucible acceleration through Mirari's Wake and Fist of Suns card draw¢ The list keeps going. This will be a workhorse for you without a doubt.
Flipping the Protection
Be aggressive. The best defense is a strong offense. Or maybe it's the other way around? I always forget. Anyway¢
Out goes the ineffectual life gain and the protection racket that's really hard to piece together in these colors (unless Progenitus is on the battlefield in which case you should just win the game instead).
In the Web of War is a card I go to often but in here it really makes a difference. All things considered the added power for the turn a creature comes into play means that Progenitus is lethal in two attacks instead of three. That's substantial. Besides that it provides another ever-important source of haste.
True Conviction is the life gain I hinted at above. The double strike again makes Progenitus a two-turn threat and the lifelink is not insignificant in a deck that runs huge creatures like this one does.
A Little Recursion Never Hurts
I'm at a loss as to why either of these cards are in this deck. The deck has a few sorceries in it but it by no means is set up to leverage Recoup properly. Yawgmoth's Will doesn't seem to have any place in this deck either; I'm not sure what you're trying to gain from this one when most of your deck is a bit on the mana-hungry side anyway making it hard to gain full value from your graveyard the turn you play it.
Instead we'll reinvest a little more in our Reanimation suite. (To be fair we're really creating a Reanimation suite here. Six of one a half-dozen of another.)
Decks that run a limited amount of large creatures will eventually run out of gas after a board wipe has decimated its position a few times. Phyrexian Reclamation while a little expected is the card that lets you replay these threats over and over thus creating the reality of a bigger army.
Beacon is also in for the ability to get back a creature (or steal one from a neighbor) or replay that all-important and recently blown-up Crucible then get shuffled into your library and show up again in the future ready to go once again. Since this list is so tight already dual skill sets like this are very much appreciated for the added utility with no added space taken up.
And About That Nonbasic Hate¢
OUT - Back to Basics
IN - Primal Order
I'll be honest: I'm just not a fan of Back to Basics. I don't like cards that prevent people from playing their cards and I don't think ramp is all that much of a threat anymore outside of mono-green anyway with the loss of Prime Time. Still I know this is an area that you enjoy having your feet in so we're just going to switch it up for Primal Order.
My shop has a point achievement for playing a Homelands card that doesn't include the words "merchant" or "scroll" in its title so this is a safe include for me as well. Instead of shutting off the game you're punishing people instead for their mana bases. It's not quite as cutthroat as Back to Basics but with all the expectations that it will be a big swing each turn (based on the usual Commander mana bases) this is certainly a "fair" option and a strong one that still lets people play the game.
This is going to be a subtle realignment rather than a sweeping reform. I'm scratching my head a little on some of the inclusions that made it in here so we're going to do some subtle repairs.
The only time I really think it's correct to play enchant-based removal like this is when you're playing Sun Titan as well as an Enchantress draw package. There's nothing like having a board wipe not only clear out your things but also leave you to deal with the return of a card you tried to get rid of once already when Oblivion Ring hits the yard and releases whatever you put it on.
Faith's Fetters was fine in Draft but in Commander? I don't see it. It's just too clunky; the life gain is too little for the format and some things¢€triggered effects for example¢€still fall through the cracks. I'll pass.
Planar Despair is the biggest head scratcher of the bunch. If you want reasonable removal use a better card that doesn't hurt your creatures as well. This is a balanced equalizer¢€maybe your creatures are bigger sometimes but other people will play some big stuff too.
That's better! Rout provides a very timing flexible Wrath effect which is exactly what you need to deal with opponents during their turns. Plus there's nothing like running out a board wipe when your opponent is in mid-attack and completely not expecting it.
Cyclonic Rift is becoming a great role-player for me (and probably the rest of the world as well). The ability to bounce an entire opposing board is too good to pass up and it's at instant speed once again. I love this card.
And finally a better board wipe arrives in Disaster Radius. If there's one reason to sandbag Draco in this deck this is it. The Bringers always help this card to pack a punch as well so relax and be confident with the notion that you'll likely clear the board anytime you draw the card.
This deck is absolutely good to go with removal as of now. Let's look at the offense modifiers really quickly to determine if we have any places to improve upon.
Offense Modifiers Really Quickly¢
OUT - Waves of Aggression
IN - Savage Beating
We're talking very similar effects here; Waves allows you to replay it based on how many times you can afford to manage it and Savage Beating is just that¢€a brutal way to just knock out a few other players before they know what hit them. The retrace cost of Waves is a great start (since we're okay with discarding lands to an extent) but Savage Beating gives you the raw power a card like this should by adding a way to make your creatures equally more effective (double strike) as well as giving you a second attack step in one tidy package. In fact I'm not sure why I don't play this card more often.
If you've got an exalted creature floating around Progenitus has just become a one-turn clock for multiple opponents. It's hard to argue with that power level.
Do You Think I'd Leave You on a Quiet Note?
Less talk. More alternate win conditions.
OUT - Ghostway
IN - Door to Nothingness
I can never seem to get Ghostway to play nice. I get what it does and I get how you use it properly but I can't shake the feeling that it would just be better to forget about the 'Blink' subtheme and go for more solutions instead in this deck.
Clearly the best way to do that is to add a crazy alternate win condition.
Door is one of those cards like Debtors' Knell¢€you recognize the power within but there's just no way that you'll be allowed to untap with it and the mana to use it. Nonetheless it's a fantastic example of a five-color showpiece and it has the late-game potential to steal unexpected wins from out of nowhere. It also plays incredibly nicely with your white Bringer offering up a way to steal a table's worth of wins with the recursion if the opening is provided.
(I'm literally begging you to play this card here. I'm dying for a report of what happens when someone actually loses a game to this card.)
Wrapping It Up
Here's the list:
- 1 Draco
- 1 Etched Monstrosity
- 1 Battlegrace Angel
- 1 Bringer of the Black Dawn
- 1 Bringer of the Blue Dawn
- 1 Bringer of the Green Dawn
- 1 Bringer of the Red Dawn
- 1 Bringer of the White Dawn
- 1 Giltspire Avenger
- 1 Maelstrom Archangel
- 1 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Qasali Pridemage
- 1 Stonecloaker
- 1 Yavimaya Elder
- 1 Maelstrom Wanderer
- 1 Progenitus
- 1 Rafiq of the Many
- 1 Chromatic Lantern
- 1 Coalition Relic
- 1 Crucible of Worlds
- 1 Darksteel Ingot
- 1 Door to Nothingness
- 1 Fist of Suns
- 1 Journeyer's Kite
- 1 Oblivion Stone
- 1 Scroll Rack
- 1 Seer's Sundial
- 1 Sensei's Divining Top
- 1 Collective Restraint
- 1 Finest Hour
- 1 In the Web of War
- 1 Maelstrom Nexus
- 1 Mirari's Wake
- 1 Pernicious Deed
- 1 Phyrexian Reclamation
- 1 Primal Order
- 1 Prismatic Omen
- 1 Rhystic Study
- 1 Sylvan Library
- 1 Trade Routes
- 1 True Conviction
- 1 Cyclonic Rift
- 1 Enlightened Tutor
- 1 Moment's Peace
- 1 Oblation
- 1 Savage Beating
- 1 Legacy Weapon
- 1 Genju of the Realm
- 1 All Suns' Dawn
- 1 Allied Strategies
- 1 Austere Command
- 1 Beacon of Unrest
- 1 Conflux
- 1 Cultivate
- 1 Disaster Radius
- 1 Kodama's Reach
- 1 Reap and Sow
- 1 Restock
- 1 Rout
- 1 Shard Convergence
Looking at the cost of the cards themselves we've got a few spicy inclusions at the top end of the price range but judging by what you already have in the deck and what you say your collection looks like I'll bet you already have a good number of these cards anyway. If you have to come out of pocket for the whole thing it'll cost you about a hundred bucks but as always you'll be receiving a $20 coupon to StarCitygames.com for your participation in Dear Azami this week to soften the blow.
29 replacements. I guess I'm back to my old ways again but this was a pretty substantial overhaul. I'm not too concerned.
Here's the card-by-card breakdown:
|Door to Nothingness||$0.49|
|Reap and Sow||$0.49|
|In the Web of War||$0.99|
|Bringer of the Green Dawn||$1.49|
|Bringer of the Black Dawn||$1.99|
|Bringer of the Blue Dawn||$1.99|
|Bringer of the Red Dawn||$1.99|
|Fist of Suns||$1.99|
|Genju of the Realm||$1.99|
|Bringer of the White Dawn||$2.99|
|Beacon of Unrest||$3.99|
So there it is. I know this is a bit of a radical departure from where it started but honestly this hits on all requested counts. Progenitus is more relevant but the deck is less linear as a whole. The increased threat density makes the deck more aggressive while also giving it added staying power. And five-color matters more than ever.
I did have some fun putting this together Eric but I stand by the fact that this deck is still very much a contender and should be a ton of fun to play. Better yet you didn't want to see more of the usual good stuff and let's face it¢€no one can look at Draco Genju of the Realm and Door to Nothingness and claim you're playing one of those decks.
I really hope you enjoy it.
Until next time
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