I am super-excited about Rivals of Ixalan and spent a good portion of the weekend before last poring over the card image gallery and brewing up deck ideas. For Standard, the card I'm most excited about is Path of Discovery. I've got quite a few full and partial decklists written up featuring the card, including adding it to my "Mono-Green Zombies" Dinos and Deserts deck I've been running for a couple of months. Merfolk Branchwalker has been doing fantastic work in the deck smoothing out draws, and I'm looking forward to attaching that ability to all of my creatures. If you're interested in my Standard brews, be sure to check out my writer's page on Facebook for decklists and ideas as well as Twitter.
There is a ton to get excited about for Commander fans, in particular the new "Elder Dinosaur" legendary creatures. For old-school Commander players who still call the format "EDH," it is kind of neat that the acronym for Elder Dragon Highlander can now refer to Elder Dinosaur Highlander. In the earliest days of the format, each player chose an Elder Dragon legendary creature to build a deck around. I wonder if people will do the same with Elder Dinosaurs?
Now that we have seen each of them, I have to say that all of them offer up some cool deck building options. Since Ghalta, Primal Hunter was given out as a special foil participation prize for the Store Championships in December, I already wrote up one deck utilizing its cool ability about a month ago . Today, I wanted to build a deck around what I've heard referred to as "Akromasaur," calling back to a previous eight-mana legendary creature also chock-full of abilities: Akroma, Angel of Wrath. I am talking about Zetalpa, Primal Dawn!
In terms of raw "word salad" volume, Akroma comes out ahead here. However, if we take a closer look, Zetalpa looks quite good in comparison. They both have flying, trample and vigilance, stellar abilities in just about any Commander game. Zetalpa's double strike is a strict upgrade to Akroma's first strike ability, and you could squint and count it as two abilities, since the ability counts as doing both first strike and regular combat damage.
You can also draw comparisons between Zetalpa's indestructible ability and Akroma's protection from red and protection from black abilities. I would say indestructible gives Zetalpa the edge here, making it immune to sweepers like Wrath of God, while recognizing the corner cases where the protection ability makes Akroma able to run past red and black blockers while Zetalpa can run into blockers of any color.
The big advantage that Akroma has over Zetalpa is haste, which is crucial on a creature you pay so much mana to cast. When you spend eight mana, you want to make sure the creature gets in at least one good attack for your investment. Zetalpa sits around and waits for all of your terrified opponents to have a go before it gets down to business. Zetalpa hits harder than Akroma so it will catch up on the damage race eventually, with both able to kill with Commander damage the fourth turn after casting.
Outside of the text box, there are some important differences. Zetalpa requires less colored mana to cast, which makes it easier to play outside of a monowhite deck. The higher toughness of Zepalta can sometimes matter when it comes to -1/-1 effects, and it is incredible in decks that care about toughness—Zepalta is a slam-dunk top-end finisher in a Doran, the Siege Tower deck.
For me personally, I think Zepalta is a more exciting choice for a Commander than Akroma, but there are certainly plenty of reasons to play the Angel of Wrath too. Let us dig in and explore what it means to follow the lead of the Primal Dawn.
The first thing we need to keep in mind is that eight mana is quite a steep price to pay for your commander, especially since we don't have access to green's mana ramp spells. However, white has had a few mana ramp spells printed over the years, like the conditional Knight of the White Orchid, along with Kor Cartographer doing a halfway Solemn Simulacrum imitation. We can also make use of the standard artifact ramping from cards like Sol Ring, Worn Powerstone, and Gilded Lotus.
But I am particularly interested in the cards from Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan that transform into lands. While the special abilities on these lands get most of our attention, for purposes of casting our expensive commander, all of these cards count as mana ramp. Since many are artifacts, we can cram a bunch of them into our deck. I may be going a bit overboard here, but I am curious to see how these play out as the core of our ramp strategy.
Since I am running a fair amount of artifacts and especially Equipment, I decided to try Inspiring Statuary as a way to provide a large infusion of mana to cast Zetalpa.
Zetalpa's abilities are great on their own, but why should we stop there? Basilisk Collar seems like a great addition, as the deathtouch works fantastic with both double strike and trample and the lifelink is always helpful. Loxodon Warhammer gives us lifelink too, but even better, it provides six addition points of damage due to double strike. Bonehoard and Sublime Archangel are some great ways to seriously boost Zetalpa's damage into one-strike killing with Commander damage.
When a white commander provides this number of keyword abilities, can Odric, Lunarch Marshal be far behind? Why, yes, I would like to give all those abilities to my creatures each combat, please!
When playing a white Commander deck, you have to have a really good reason not to include the combination of Scroll Rack and Land Tax. Hitting land drops each turn is an important part of trying to cast Zetalpa as soon as possible, and these sorts of cards can certainly help. Outside of the land fetch, we can certainly make use of Skullclamp, Thraben Inspector, and Mikokoro, Center of the Sea for some raw card draw, and I think Arch of Orazca should gift us the city's blessing consistently.
The deck looks to be running quite a few artifacts, so it made sense to include some cards where lots of artifacts-matter cards like Puresteel Paladin, Etched Champion, and Scrap Trawler. There are also some other artifacts I wanted to add, like Temple Bell for more card draw and Hope of Ghirapur to shut down an opponent's counterspells the turn I want to cast Zetalpa.
Any good white deck will want to use the many great removal spells available for Commander. I am particularly happy about Path to Exile and Settle the Wreckage here, since they can reactivate cards like Land Tax that might otherwise cease to provide you cards in the late-game once you have ramped your mana.
Eldrazi Displacer is a fantastic utility card, not only messing with your opponent's creatures but often protecting Zetalpa from an exile or –X/-X effect that would otherwise circumvent its indestructible ability.
I will round out the list with these great Commander cards. Karmic Guide, Reveillark, Sun Titan, Emeria Shepherd, and Emeria, the Sky Ruin provide good card advantage engines later in the game. The bodies from Monastery Mentor and Regal Caracal provide good defense in the early-game while you are ramping towards casting your commander, and Indestructibility provides nice emergency protection from one big threat.
Even though Zetalpa is resilient and we've lots of ramp, if games go long enough, I imagine the Commander tax plus regular casting cost could make Zetalpa difficult to recast after a while, so adding Command Beacon seemed like a good idea, especially since you can get the land back with cards like Sun Titan.
Here is the full list including the lands:
- 1 Etched Champion
- 1 Golden Guardian
- 1 Myr Retriever
- 1 Pilgrim's Eye
- 1 Scrap Trawler
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Devout Witness
- 1 Eldrazi Displacer
- 1 Emeria Shepherd
- 1 Eternal Dragon
- 1 Grand Abolisher
- 1 Karmic Guide
- 1 Knight of the White Orchid
- 1 Kor Cartographer
- 1 Monastery Mentor
- 1 Mother of Runes
- 1 Oreskos Explorer
- 1 Puresteel Paladin
- 1 Quarry Colossus
- 1 Regal Caracal
- 1 Reveillark
- 1 Sublime Archangel
- 1 Sun Titan
- 1 Thraben Inspector
- 1 Hope of Ghirapur
- 1 Odric, Lunarch Marshal
- 1 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
- 1 Basilisk Collar
- 1 Bonehoard
- 1 Caged Sun
- 1 Conqueror's Galleon
- 1 Dowsing Dagger
- 1 Gilded Lotus
- 1 Honor-Worn Shaku
- 1 Inspiring Statuary
- 1 Loxodon Warhammer
- 1 Prying Blade
- 1 Scroll Rack
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Swiftfoot Boots
- 1 Temple Bell
- 1 Thaumatic Compass
- 1 Treasure Map
- 1 Worn Powerstone
- 1 Indestructibility
- 1 Land Tax
- 1 Path to Exile
- 1 Return to Dust
- 1 Settle the Wreckage
- 1 Swords to Plowshares
- 1 Azor's Gateway
- 1 Oketra's Monument
- 1 Sword of the Animist
- 1 The Immortal Sun
- 1 Legion's Landing
- 1 Austere Command
- 1 Rout
- 1 Wrath of God
What do you think? How would you go about building this deck differently? Which of the new Elder Dinosaur legendary creatures has you most excited?
For more Commander perspective on Rivals of Ixalan, make sure to check out Mark Nestico's Competitive Commander: Rivals Of Ixalan Additions ; he gives his initial thoughts on the Elder Dinosaurs for Commander along with a bumper crop of other cards. And keep your eyes peeled for the set review by Sheldon Menery, a must-read for every Commander fan!
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)
Commander write-ups I've done (and links to decklists):