Author's Note: Dear Azami was announced last week as moving to an every other week schedule. Sean however concurs that just because HE can currently only follow an every other week schedule doesn't mean there is suddenly any less interest or demand for Dear Azami week in and week out. Being flexible and willing to look at unconventional answers to the problem Sean and our illustrious editor Lauren Lee are willing to consider other individuals as guest writers or even co-writers for Dear Azami. Allow us to introduce for the day Mike Lanigan who has stood up and volunteered to give writing Dear Azami a spin for today—if you like him feel free to say so in the comments at the bottom of the column! Likewise if you too think this might be something you could do as Mike did feel free to contact Sean via the link at the bottom of the page. Sean will be back behind the keyboard for next week's Dear Azami and the week after that... well that'll depend on reader feedback and will likely surprise even Sean at this point.
My submission for Dear Azami is my Kaervek the Merciless Commander deck. It's a B/R control deck tailored to beat most combo decks and creature swarms. I wanted to build a control deck in colors not usually associated with the archetype in a format more known for infinite combos and creature swarms. The idea is to stick Kaervek by turn 4 or 5 and protect him to prevent combo players from going off using discard to further that aim. The creature sweepers are for swarm-based decks. Kaervek is usually good enough on his own to stop decks that are playing "fair" as anything they play results in the death of one of their creatures or a sizable chunk of damage to their life total.
The major problems I'm encountering are combo decks that are faster than I am and troublesome enchantments. If an opponent sticks a Mirari's Wake or Rhystic Study it can put me at a sizable disadvantage. I would like ways to speed up the deck and find more ways to deal with troublesome enchantments. Also no combos in the deck please (unless you count Exsanguinate + Reiterate as a combo)!
Here's the decklist:
Commander: Kaervek the Merciless
Lands – 36
Artifacts – 14
Instants – 6
Sorcery – 18
Torrent of Souls
Creatures – 21
Visara the Dreadful
Enchantments – 2
Planeswalkers – 2
Thanks for your consideration
Kaervek the Merciless? Now that's a commander that punishes combo! There are a few more hateful commanders out there like Gaddock Teeg but Kaervek the Merciless does a lot of work against many of the combos that are popular. As soon as I read over your deck submission I was hooked. Kaervek is a commander that I've always wanted to build so looking at your list was really enjoyable. It seems like all you want to do is have fun playing this Commander format with your friends but sometimes it's not as fun because their decks are so powerful. I think we can help you out today.
One thing I noticed about your deck was that all of your ideas about how to disrupt your opponent and control the game were good but some of them were just not very powerful. Take Monomania for example. That's a great card that never saw play in competitive Magic because of its mana cost. It seems logical that we could use it here to great effect. This logic is flawed for one reason. In this particular format you have the ability to play all the best card-drawing spells that have ever been created. The power level of the card-drawing effects in this format compared to normal sanctioned Magic is like comparing a firefighter to Superman. Sure both of them are going to put out the fire but which one is going to leap over tall buildings in a single bound to get there?
Leaving your opponent with one card in hand doesn't disable them unfortunately. Their last card could be their Mind's Eye which I was extremely excited to see you already playing. Mind's Eye can draw you out of a lot of problems you might find yourself in. No need to pull the ears off a gundark when you can just draw a bunch of cards for yourself right? With Monomania sure you get them to discard a bunch of cards but it's doubtful that will be enough to cripple them. This same principle is true for a few other cards in your deck as well.
Some of the other cards fall into a small subtheme but it's one I don't recommend playing. This subtheme is player-only damage. You have cards like Sorin's Vengeance that unless you're killing a player with it are not really going to alter a game. Lava Axe is the best card in Magic if they're at five life but if they aren't the outcome of the game doesn't change that much. Even the best of these effects—Exsanguinate—doesn't seem up to the power level you're trying to achieve in this deck. Being able to deal damage to all the players at the table is good and all but we can do better and by removing them we make room for some more disruptive cards.
To Tutor or not to Tutor; that is the question. Tutor effects are one of the aspects of Magic that drew me to the game. Before Magic I played lots of other games but in those games you basically didn't have the ability to control which cards you drew. The concept of searching your deck for the cards you wanted was brilliant when I first encountered it! It's like you're a Jedi predicting the course of the battle. Always having the cards you need to get out of a specific situation or being able to set up a tactical situation (combo) your opponent doesn't see coming seem like Jedi traits to me. Do you really want to be a Jedi in this format though?
One of my favorite parts about Commander is that each game will be quite different from the last a fun and unique experience. Your opponents have a large number of commanders to choose from and no two decks are the same. Two opponents with the same commander could be playing vastly different strategies. By not Tutoring as much I think you're allowing room for more fun and interesting stories. To sum it up my philosophy is that less is more. The other problem I have with too many Tutors is that you end up not playing enough answers. One of the problems you identified was a lack of answers to troublesome enchantments. While this is a typical problem for black/red decks there are a few ways we can make it better. Instead of running so many Tutors let's figure out what it is that you need and add some more of those cards.
One part of the deck that breaks the "less is more" Tutoring idea however is in your mana base. Although it would add a lot of expense to the deck any amount of fetchlands would help you out. Thinning your deck is great and that Badlands is going to be good every game. If you have them putting them in is an easy inclusion for me.
Speaking of your mana base that's definitely the best part about this deck. It seems like you have really put a lot of time into making it consistent and getting some utility out of your lands. Fifteen lands that produce both colors in your deck is a great way to have some built-in consistency. In addition you were able to fit in eight lands that either give you card advantage or provide some sort of trick. This mana base is exactly what I'm looking for when I'm trying to help someone with a Commander deck. That being said there are some tweaks that will make it even better. After all there's always room for improvement right? One land that would be awesome in your deck is Volrath's Stronghold but twenty dollars might be a lot for a land that just allows you to replay a creature. If you can get one it would definitely make my final list. There are a few other changes that would help here as well.
The next section artifacts made me a little skeptical that you actually needed help. I thought I might have to move on to another submission after seeing the carefully constructed section labeled artifacts. You clearly you knew what you were doing here. Normally I don't like running the top end mana accelerants like Mana Vault and Grim Monolith but if you're running those two I'd probably fit in Mana Crypt as well. Not cheap by any means but if you have the resources it seems like this might be a necessary evil due to the competitive level of your group. All the artifacts you chose serve their purpose but Oblivion Stone and Nevinyrral's Disk are standouts for any Commander deck. These two are a great way to help with troublesome permanents.
Initially I thought the Lightning Greaves wasn't going to make the final draft but after thinking it over I think you were correct to include it. Many of your creatures have activated abilities and activating them the first turn they're in play might prove crucial to the game. The shroud feature is helpful for protecting your high profile targets and is key to your gameplan of letting Kaervek do the heavy lifting.
Instants and sorceries were next on the list. These sections gave me a good idea of what you were really trying to do with your deck but they're the sections where I found most of the cards I wanted to switch out. It's not that any of the cards you're playing are bad but rather that the card choices could be improved. The first way they can be improved is power level. I mentioned earlier that some cards you chose were underpowered compared to the rest of the deck and this section provides most of the examples. The second way is building in more synergy. A few of the cards simply didn't fit with your game plan.
Overall the final section on creatures shows that you're dedicated using diverse cards that help out in a variety of ways. These creatures you chose provide you with control over every aspect of the game. Helldozer for example lets you rid the game of overpowered lands. Being able to control each facet of the game provides the subtle strength that you need to win with a control deck in this format. There's a ton of utility built into the creatures you've chosen for your deck. The changes I made in this section were minimal and a couple of them were even your idea.
All the enchantments and planeswalkers look solid but I think there's an enchantment that we can add to help you out with all of these pesky combo decks.
Sidekicks to the sideline! Some cards need to hit the showers!
Terrain Generator – You're already running a little land light so using the ability on this land will rarely come up. Even in a land heavy deck I need a good reason to be playing this. Landfall at instant speed? Sure then this land is extremely good. Most of the time it just taps for colorless mana though. Every great once in a while it may provide acceleration but usually it won't do anything meaningful. This was an easy cut to free up a slot.
2x Swamp – Another two lands need to come out to make room for some helpful non-basics. Removing basic lands and replacing them with duals is always helpful. If more multi-colored lands are available I would consider adding a few to make it as consistent as possible.
Starstorm – Mass destruction effects are wonderful and necessary; this specific one is by far the weakest in this group. Sure you get to choose the X value but with the other sweepers you're playing I find this unnecessary. You already have many ways to deal with creatures so this is getting cut to make room for better cards.
Vampiric Tutor – The fact that this Tutor is so cheap isn't as important as that fact that it is card disadvantage. With all the searching effects in the deck this one can easily be cut because you lose the card to get the Tutor effect.
Beseech the Queen – While this Tutor is better in this deck than most due to the mana restriction there will still be plenty of times when it costs more than three mana. It's also a restricted effect so sometimes you can't even get the card you want. I have played this Tutor before and been unsatisfied with it so this was another easy cut for me.
Diabolic Tutor – I like the fact that this is basically a more expensive Demonic Tutor but four mana is a lot for this generic effect. If you didn't have access to a Demonic Tutor this would make an acceptable replacement but since you have plenty of ways to get what you want I think this needs to be cut as well. I do like Increasing Ambition a lot though so that one will stay in the deck. Yes it costs five originally but the flashback ability to Tutor for two cards is worth the extra mana.
Torrent of Souls – This was one of those cards that I didn't feel was synergistic with your deck. Reanimation effects are great but this card relies on you getting something in your graveyard which you have no way to set up other than creatures dying naturally. Beacon of Unrest while the same effect lets you utilize the creatures in other players' graveyards as well. In addition you can grab an artifact not just a creature. Since we already have Beacon of Unrest it seems safe to cut Torrent of Souls.
Sorin's Vengeance and Exsanguinate – Being "just" fancy Lava Axes both of these got the axe. Neither of these cards is going to have enough of an impact on the game. We can do much better and find a similar effect but one that also provides other options.
Cabal Conditioning and Monomania – Neither these is very good at what they do. With some single player discard in the deck already I think we can choose to be a little more reactive by playing some other cards. Seven mana for a discard spell is just way too much. Similarly leaving them with the card of their choice doesn't seem to be the best we can do either.
Anger – Having to hard cast Anger isn't something you want to do regularly. Sure it can be an early blocker but it really wants to be in the graveyard and we have no way to get it there other than casting it and waiting for it to die. Lightning Greaves is there still for this effect so like Torrent of Souls Anger gets asked to leave the team.
Bogardan Hellkite – When I first started playing Commander I liked Bogardan Hellkite and included him in some decks. What I found though is that he doesn't quite cut it. Five damage isn't enough to kill the good creatures and is also not enough to kill a couple of small but important threats. Often you'll kill one small creature that's giving you problems and then just deal the extra couple points to a player. This spot can be filled with a higher-impact card.
Vengeful Pharaoh – An easy reason to remove this creature is to cut down on the intense mana costs in the deck. While that alone is not reason enough there are a few other reasons I felt he should be removed. First of all the fact that he must be in your graveyard is problematic. Additionally taking some damage is ok but we'd rather not if we can avoid it. Worse yet a savvy opponent can pick a rotten creature to have to kill in order to clear the way. Finally even when everything is in order and all the stipulations are met he only destroys one creature. That last reason is why I don't like playing a lot of counterspells in Commander.
Mana-Charged Dragon – This dragon isn't half-bad. I don't think your opponents will ever add to the firebreathing effect but he's good enough on his own. This was a case where we needed to make a cut and Mana-Charged Dragon wasn't essential.
Out: Terrain Generator 2x Swamp Starstorm Vampiric Tutor Torrent of Souls Sorin's Vengeance Exsanguinate Cabal Conditioning Monomania Beseech the Queen Diabolic Tutor Anger Bogardan Hellkite Vengeful Pharaoh and Mana-Charged Dragon
Will the real super heroes please stand up? Who's joining the fight?
Spine of Ish Shah – This was the very first card I added to the deck. Your problems with troublesome permanents are over if you have access to this card. Seven mana can be a lot but with all of your artifact mana it shouldn't be too difficult to hit. This is a card I try to keep in mind when I'm building a new Commander deck because it goes in so many decks.
Phyrexia's Core – Any time I add Spine of Ish Shah Phyrexia's Core is usually the next card that comes in. Gaining a small amount of life can be helpful sure but using your lands as a sacrifice outlet can be extremely useful. With your two-color mana base being so stable you can afford to run a couple of colorless sources with basically no drawback.
Shadowblood Ridge – I've spoken about how amazing the artifact mana can be in your deck but sometimes it can be a liability. There will be plenty of times that you have extra mana and nothing to do with it because you've used all of the colored mana you have available. This innocent-looking land from Odyssey does a great job of turning your colorless mana into something usable. I love this cycle of lands and include them quite often in my decks. They're very affordable but often forgotten.
Kozilek Butcher of Truth – Mentioning you were thinking about adding an Eldrazi or two was such a great idea. Not only is his card-drawing ability relevant and powerful but annihilator is one of the most powerful effects a control deck can muster in Commander.
Ulamog the Infinite Gyre – Spine of Ish Shah has nothing on this guy. He's a huge beater destroys anything giving you trouble and annihilates even more permanents when he attacks. Quite the perfect fit for your deck. This Eldrazi is so powerful that some playgroups can't beat him. When I'm playing with some of the more casual players in my area I have to be careful which deck I choose because cards like this are just too powerful for some tables. This is exactly the power level you're trying to get to with your deck.
Gilded Lotus – It seems like you'll have no problems casting your spells but Gilded Lotus will give you enough mana so you can get those Eldrazi into play. Just in case you have problems with colored mana this will also help smooth things out in that regard. I wouldn't want to replace another of your artifact mana spells with this one because five mana can be a little slow but it does take you from five mana to nine mana the next turn as long as you hit your land drop so it should be pretty good.
Rakdos Carnarium – This Ravnica Block bounceland will help you be able to play a land each turn. With only 36 lands in your deck I felt rather than adding more land this might help without taking up more slots in the deck. I tend to prefer between 37 and 40 lands depending on the deck because when I've played less than 37 I've find myself with too many turns that don't involve playing a land. All the artifacts you play to accelerate your mana also help out here. Since you're able to play them so early in the game when you play this land you won't have to discard any cards. This is just another way to build in some card advantage by effectively giving you two lands for the price of one.
Batterskull – This equipment will help in a variety of ways. Even though you have many ways to deal with creature swarm decks you can still often find yourself at low life totals before you stabilize and Batterskull will help recover some of that life loss. The other key ability here is vigilance. Often when playing a control deck you can't attack your opponent because you need to leave your creatures behind to help you defend yourself. Batterskull helps you to play aggressive and defensive at the same time. It also will function as an additional creature to make sure you have a way to win the game.
Wurmcoil Engine – Just like Batterskull Wurmcoil Engine is great against other aggressive decks. This "artifact Titan" has been singlehandedly defeating small creature decks (even though it doesn't have any actual hands). All of its abilities will help you out making it a much more purposeful inclusion to your deck.
Duplicant – Some creatures in Commander are hard to deal with. Duplicant lets you get rid of many of the ones that are most troublesome. Indestructible creatures in particular can pose a problem for a deck like this unless you have a card like Duplicant available to you. Search it out and use it wisely.
Painful Quandary – This little rare is an unsuspecting workhorse. While some of your discard is unnecessary this enchantment will really put your opponents in a precarious position. Does your combo involve playing a bunch of cards? How do you play against this enchantment? If they start discarding cards rather than paying the life they'll run out of cards quickly. If they decide to pay the life and keep their cards all those fives alongside Kaervek himself start adding up rather quickly. Both options help you out toward your goal of winning the game.
Soot Imp - Bitten to death by rats? A thousand paper cuts will kill you? These sayings might be clich but they're relevant. Soot Imp may seem low impact but he does much more than you might think. If their combo involves storm or something similar Soot Imp might not allow them to combo out. Even if we're not talking about combo a turn 3 Soot Imp will often deal players five or more damage until it's removed.
Wild Ricochet – Any deck I build with red mana starts with this card in the list somewhere. You have Reiterate for a similar effect but this card is on another level altogether. Not only do you get the copied effect but you get the original one as well. Two instances of the same effect is powerful no matter what it is. Copying a Cultivate? You get two lands into play tapped and two more in your hand! This is like a one time use Doubling Season because you get two copies of the spell! It's good at disrupting many combos as well stealing the effect they are planning to use to win the game.
Comet Storm – This is the effect you're looking for in terms of finishing the game. Many tables have been defeated by this card. Start whittling each opponent's life total down little by little to set up the kill and then you can use your plethora of lands and artifact mana to machine gun your opponents. The reason Comet Storm is so good is because of the versatility it provides. Kill a troublesome creature and deal a ton of damage around the table. It can be a makeshift Blasphemous Act as well if you need it to be. This card is like combining your Exsanguinate and Starstorm into one of the Lorwyn commands.
Balefire Dragon – This dragon is the red version of Novablast Wurm. Against creature-based decks this dragon will be a nightmare. It can singlehandedly keep multiple opponents at bay if left unchecked. Six is a lot of damage that most creatures cannot survive.
In: Phyrexia's Core Rakdos Carnarium Shadowblood Ridge Comet Storm Wild Ricochet Kozilek Butcher of Truth Ulamog the Infinite Gyre Spine of Ish Sah Wurmcoil Engine Batterskull Gilded Lotus Painful Quandary Soot Imp Duplicant Balefire Dragon.
To sum up the process I tried to remove the cards that had the lowest impact on the game. A couple of these cards were the ones with a mini-graveyard theme because they didn't belong in this deck. The cards that replaced them should have a bigger impact and allow you a bit more versatility as well. With the changes we get the following list.
- 1 Duplicant
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Wurmcoil Engine
- 1 Avatar of Woe
- 1 Balefire Dragon
- 1 Bloodgift Demon
- 1 Bogardan Hellkite
- 1 Dread
- 1 Graveborn Muse
- 1 Helldozer
- 1 Hoard-Smelter Dragon
- 1 Massacre Wurm
- 1 Pestilence Demon
- 1 Reiver Demon
- 1 Rune-Scarred Demon
- 1 Soot Imp
- 1 Viashino Heretic
- 1 Withered Wretch
- 1 Chainer, Dementia Master
- 1 Geth, Lord of the Vault
- 1 Kaervek the Merciless
- 1 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
- 1 Sheoldred, Whispering One
- 1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
- 1 Visara the Dreadful
- 5 Mountain
- 6 Swamp
- 1 Akoum Refuge
- 1 Badlands
- 1 Blackcleave Cliffs
- 1 Blood Crypt
- 1 Bojuka Bog
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Dragonskull Summit
- 1 Graven Cairns
- 1 Lavaclaw Reaches
- 1 Molten Slagheap
- 1 Phyrexia's Core
- 1 Rakdos Carnarium
- 1 Rix Maadi, Dungeon Palace
- 1 Rocky Tar Pit
- 1 Shadowblood Ridge
- 1 Strip Mine
- 1 Sulfurous Springs
- 1 Tainted Peak
- 1 Tectonic Edge
- 1 Temple of the False God
- 1 Urborg Volcano
- 1 Shizo, Death's Storehouse
- 1 Urborg
- 1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
- 1 Tresserhorn Sinks
- 1 Batterskull
- 1 Coalition Relic
- 1 Darksteel Ingot
- 1 Everflowing Chalice
- 1 Fellwar Stone
- 1 Gilded Lotus
- 1 Grim Monolith
- 1 Lightning Greaves
- 1 Mana Vault
- 1 Mind Stone
- 1 Mind's Eye
- 1 Nevinyrral's Disk
- 1 Oblivion Stone
- 1 Rakdos Signet
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Spine of Ish Sah
- 1 Talisman of Indulgence
- 1 Enslave
- 1 Painful Quandary
- 1 Phyrexian Arena
- 1 Chaos Warp
- 1 Comet Storm
- 1 Into the Core
- 1 Reiterate
- 1 Shattering Pulse
- 1 Wild Ricochet
- 1 Beacon of Unrest
- 1 Damnation
- 1 Decree of Pain
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 1 Increasing Ambition
- 1 Life's Finale
- 1 Mind Shatter
- 1 Mind Twist
- 1 Profane Command
- 1 Promise of Power
- 1 All Is Dust
If possible try to get some of the more expensive cards like Volrath's Stronghold and Bloodstained Mire to help with the deck. I would also suggest Verdant Catacombs Marsh Flats Scalding Tarn and Arid Mesa as well for some added consistency. Mana Crypt is an option also if you want more mana acceleration but its price tag is huge.
There was one other card that I thought I might cut and I wanted to point it out. During various points working on the deck I almost cut Reiterate. This copycat seems really slow to me but these effects are quite good in Commander. There are times when I think this card could be helpful but six mana is so much to be able to play it with buyback. Don't be afraid to just cast it for three mana and be done with it.
If you hadn't specifically stated that you didn't want any infinite combos in the deck I would've found room for the Triskelion plus Mephidross Vampire or Mikaeus the Unhallowed interaction in your deck. This combo kills all creatures in play until someone removes one of your two creatures. If this combo passes your playability test I would cut the Reiterate and one other card to fit it in. Overall I'm pleased with your initial build and the changes I suggested to make it better. I think these options are going to end up being pretty affordable but let's see.
|Spine of Ish Sah||$0.49|
The total came to $50.55. That may seem like a lot but most of those are Standard playable cards—they should be easy to track down and trade for—plus there's also the hope that you might even have some of the more staple Commander cards already.
Fifteen cards may not seem like very many but that's a big change to a Commander deck. I hope I've kept the theme and concepts of your deck in tact and that these suggestions will help you be successful in your playgroup. Commander is such a great format. I encourage everyone to give it a try at least once to see what it's like. Even if you don't have a deck players usually have extras for you to borrow.
-- Mike Lanigan
@mtgjedi on Twitter
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