Prime Speaker Vannifar is one of the Ravnica Allegiance cards that got me most excited. We all love a good value chain with Birthing Pod, so a commander version doubles the pleasure. We dream of what spicy five-drops we'll sacrifice our Solemn Simulacrum to go get, and our imaginations start to run wild. A fun and interesting deck can't be far behind. Unfortunately, when I looked over my shoulder, there was nothing there. Or at least nothing I was excited about.
There are some cards which are pretty obvious powerful synergies with Vannifar. My hope was to build the not obvious deck. That meant throwing Intruder Alarm and Paradox Engine off the raft right away. Sure, they're strong, but that's what everyone else is building. With very little effort, you can get into an infinite combo with Vannifar plus Intruder Alarm. That's not really my style and it's not something I want to subject my playgroup to. I figured some staples and old friends would be okay. Who doesn't want a chance to play Coiling Oracle?
There were some tribal paths available, but none really resonated. Ooze tribal occurred to me, but looking at the list left me a little cold. Vannifar is also an Elf and a Wizard, but both of those tribes have been done to death. Modular creatures might have been the most compelling suggestion, but with only 13 of them, I didn't see a good path. The raw +1/+1 counters angle occurred to me as well, but I already have a Prime Speaker Zegana deck that does that. Tribal strategies discarded, I thought that if we're going to sacrifice things, I wanted to get some use out of the graveyard, but Simic colors really aren't all that great at that kind of recursion. I was at a dead end.
So I did what any reasonable person would do. I built a Muldrotha, the Gravetide deck.
Don't despair, Vannifar fans, she's still here. If you don't want to go the combo route, it just feels like she belongs as one of 99 instead of at the helm—although I'll tell you I haven't completely given up; I'm going to do a little more research and sketch out one of those super-thematic decks, a la Lark Ballinger's Battle of Arrakeen, which I featured nearly five years ago (tempus really does fugit). More on that to come.
Back to Muldrotha. It adds the graveyard recursion piece which Vannifar alone was missing. There's still that nice value chain for Vannifar and Birthing Pod. With Muldrotha, we can then recast the sacrificed cards. There's also a lands sub-theme, since Tatyova, Benthic Druid is also a card I've been itching to play a little more, going along with more staple choices such as Oracle of Mul Daya and Courser of Kruphix. Finally, the other permanent types, such as artifacts, enchantments, and planeswalkers had to be represented, since Muldrotha can cast those as well. Here's what the final list looks like:
- 1 Bottle Gnomes
- 1 Burnished Hart
- 1 Duplicant
- 1 Filigree Familiar
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Treasure Keeper
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 1 Aura Thief
- 1 Battlefield Scrounger
- 1 Bone Shredder
- 1 Coiling Oracle
- 1 Disciple of Bolas
- 1 Elvish Visionary
- 1 Farhaven Elf
- 1 Genesis
- 1 Glen Elendra Archmage
- 1 Oracle of Mul Daya
- 1 Pelakka Wurm
- 1 Phyrexian Ingester
- 1 Progenitor Mimic
- 1 Protean Hulk
- 1 Puppeteer Clique
- 1 Reef Worm
- 1 River Kelpie
- 1 Seedguide Ash
- 1 Symbiotic Wurm
- 1 Thragtusk
- 1 Wood Elves
- 1 Woodfall Primus
- 1 Yavimaya Elder
- 1 Courser of Kruphix
- 1 Perplexing Chimera
- 1 Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle
- 1 Keiga, the Tide Star
- 1 Kokusho, the Evening Star
- 1 Prime Speaker Vannifar
- 1 Rashmi, Eternities Crafter
- 1 Tatyova, Benthic Druid
- 1 Kiora, Master of the Depths
- 1 Kiora, the Crashing Wave
- 1 Liliana, the Necromancer
- 1 Ob Nixilis Reignited
- 1 Birthing Pod
- 1 Commander's Sphere
- 1 Mimic Vat
- 1 Nim Deathmantle
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Tormod's Crypt
- 1 Attrition
- 1 Dictate of Erebos
- 1 Greater Good
- 1 Guardian Project
- 1 Hibernation's End
- 1 Oversold Cemetery
- 1 Phyrexian Reclamation
- 1 Zendikar Resurgent
- 1 Sudden Spoiling
- 1 Journey to Eternity
- 1 Damnation
- 1 Decree of Pain
- 1 Kodama's Reach
- 1 Praetor's Counsel
- 1 Rise of the Dark Realms
- 1 Skyshroud Claim
Here's a handy chart dividing the creatures up by converted mana cost.
4: Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle; Aura Thief, Disciple of Bolas, Glen Elendra Archmage, Oracle of Mul Daya, Prime Speaker Vannifar, Rashmi, Eternities Crafter, Reef Worm, Solemn Simulacrum, Treasure Keeper
The fundamental reason to play this deck is that you like the commander. Muldrotha opens up a load of possibilities for you. Primarily, you can get back stuff that gets destroyed. Additionally, it's not a deck that just does a thing; it's a deck that you have to play. You'll constantly be checking out the state of the battlefield to see what creature makes sense to grab with Vannifar or Pod. It's absolutely a 75% deck, but once you sit down, it's all business.
You'll Like This Deck If…
…you like value. The Vannifar and Birthing Pod chains will get you there. If I had to pick my optimal sequence without having any sense of what the battlefield will be like, it would be Coiling Oracle, Wood Elves, Solemn Simulacrum, Seedguide Ash, Progenitor Mimic (because by that time there will definitely be something to copy), Protean Hulk, and Woodfall Primus.
You'll also like the deck if you enjoy a little chaos. Perplexing Chimera has led to a number of wacky game states. You just have to be careful, because once you've traded it away, someone else can dagger you back. For me, that's a puzzle worth solving.
There are some relatively recent and popular Simic cards that are fun to play with, such as Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle and Tatyova, Benthic Druid. Tatyova in particular is part of the value engine; it's solid as opposed to spectacular, but it will keep your motor running. I'm also excited to play Guardian Project for the first time.
You Won't Like This Deck If…
…you want a deck to do one specific thing. It does what it does more based on what everyone else is doing and then seeks to develop an advantage. It you want a strong battlefield control element, you won't like this one either; it has a measure of it, but it's not anywhere close to a control deck.
What Does It Do?
It casts reasonably costed spells and keeps casting them. There shouldn't be too many turns in which you sit idly by and don't affect the game state. It creates value by using each of its creatures, especially those with enters-the-battlefield triggers, multiple times—whether that's casting them again with Muldrotha or getting them back into hand with Phyrexian Reclamation or Oversold Cemetery.
The deck is designed to function without the chains as well. It'll be a fair amount slower, but it ramps reasonably well and should be able to start casting multiple spells per turn in the midgame.
Occasionally, it's going to get the graveyard full and cast Rise of the Dark Realms. That's not really a primary plan, but it'll be a memorable circumstance the few times it happens.
What Doesn't It Do?
There are no infinite combos in the deck. I suppose there might be something you could do by stealing a spell with Perplexing Chimera; stealing a creature with Keiga, the Tide Star; and/or some saucy enchantments with Aura Thief. Another thing it doesn't do is react particularly well. You'll need to do most things at sorcery speed, although there are plenty of tricks to be had with Mimic Vat. Sudden Spoiling is obviously a major league reactive card.
How Does It Lose?
Like many creature-based decks, Humility is a wrecking ball for this deck. It will have a tough time playing around sustained graveyard hate. Rest in Peace would be particularly difficult to deal with. Without countermagic and few instants, it's not likely capable of disrupting dedicated combo decks.
Battlefield Scrounger: I've recently started a running Hidden Gems series on Twitter, and this brick house from the format's earliest days was one of them. The deck is going to get to threshold in reasonably short order, so the Scrounger provides a measure of protection should someone want to play graveyard hate.
Genesis: Another card that was once huge in the format, Genesis has fallen by the wayside in recent years as creatures have gotten better and better. In this deck, especially with the modest casting cost of most of the creatures, there will be enough mana to regrow one and cast it again. Just remember that if Bone Shredder is on the battlefield and you don't pay the echo cost, it's not a legal target for Genesis. Both trigger at the beginning of upkeep and when Genesis triggers, and you have to target a creature (also remember that you don't pay until the ability resolves) that's in the graveyard, which Bone Shredder isn't at this point.
Hibernation's End: Regular readers know that I'm not the biggest fan of tutors, so when I use them they're generally narrow in scope. Hibernation's End is one of those and at least in my mind fit thematically with the Vannifar/Birthing Pod chain idea. It's also nice protection against heavy counterspell decks because you're not casting the creature, you're simply putting it onto the battlefield.
Nim Deathmantle: Because it doesn't cost anything to activate Vannifar (and Birthing Pod is pretty cheap, too), we should always have enough mana to use Nim Deathmantle when we want to, getting the creature back for another use.
River Kelpie: If you're casting cards from the graveyard, River Kelpie will keep your hand full. Note that the two triggers don't just count for you, but for what anyone does. If someone has Crucible of Worlds on the battlefield and returns their fetchland, you draw a card. If an opponent has Sun Titan and gets back their Burnished Hart, you draw a card, and so forth.
Thragtusk: Talk about value engines! There are few better than everyone's favorite Beast. I was surprised when talking to some newer players that they hadn't heard of it, since it's not that old and was even in the 2017 version of Modern Masters.
This is the kind of deck that will create slightly unusual games as opposed to outright dominating your table. It's the type of deck that you'll need to tinker around with and run through its paces a few times before you get an appreciation of how it does what it wants to do—especially since what it does is sometimes dependent on what others are doing. It will test your skill in getting the most value out of the resources you have available. It should be fun, which is what the game is all about.
Question of the Week
This week's question comes from multiple sources.
What's the deal with sideboards in Commander? Can I play a Wish board?
By the official rules of the format, sideboards are not allowed. The main reason is that since Commander isn't inherently a tournament format and matches are best of one, there's no need for them. Some folks might argue that since they're not specifically prohibited, then they're allowed. That's not the case.
We used to list optional rules that players might consider and sideboards were one of them. We discovered that mentioning sideboards there created some confusion on the "officialness" of them and we heard of too many examples of players forcing their groups to let them play sideboards on that basis. Removing the rule removes the confusion; there's no longer official support for being able to bully someone into playing with them (there never really was, but some unscrupulous people did it anyway). Like with all Commander pickup games, have a discussion with the folks you're about to sit with on the parameters of the game you're about to play. If everyone's in agreement, sideboard away.
The same goes with Wish boards. As far as Wishes are concerned, Rule 13 specifically mentions that they don't function in Commander, so the official answer is no. You should expect that to be the default answer when you play in a group outside your regular one. Because of their competitive format association, side- and Wish boards carry an implication that we'd rather leave aside. We fully support your local group deciding to use them and hope you're creating fun games if you do.
Lavinia Blinks; Obzedat, Ghost Killer; Aurelia Goes to War; Trostani and Her Angels; Lazav, Shapeshifting Mastermind; Zegana and a Dice Bag; Rakdos Reimagined; Glissa, Glissa; Ruric Thar and His Beastly Fight Club; Gisa and Geralf Together Forever.
Shards and Wedges
Adun's Toolbox; Angry, Angry Dinos; Animar's Swarm; Borrowing Stuff at Cutlass Point; Ikra and Kydele; Karrthus, Who Rains Fire From The Sky; Demons of Kaalia; Merieke's Esper Dragons; Nath of the Value Leaf; Queen Marchesa, Long May She Reign; Queen Marchesa's Knights; Rith's Tokens; The Mill-Meoplasm; The Altar of Thraximundar; The Threat of Yasova; Zombies of Tresserhorn.
Adun Oakenshield Do-Over; Animar Do-Over; Glissa Do-Over; Karador Do-Over; Karador Version 3; Karrthus Do-Over; Kresh Do-Over; Steam-Powered Merieke Do-Over; Lord of Tresserhorn Do-Over; Mimeoplasm Do-Over; Phelddagrif Do-Over; Rith Do-Over; Ruhan Do-Over.
If you'd like to follow the adventures of my Monday Night RPG group (in a campaign that's been alive since 1987) which is just beginning the saga The Lost Cities of Nevinor, ask for an invitation to the Facebook group "Sheldon Menery's Monday Night Gamers."