Greetings Commander enthusiasts! This past weekend was another Commander Challenge at The Connection Games in Vancouver, BC, Canada. October is pretty much the spookiest of months, what with Hallowe’en and all, and I was ready with my second spooky deck of the month! Last time around, I tried my luck with plant-based strategies and spooky Vampires. I had fun, but finished last. This time, I brought Zombies. Would they prevail and lift me out of the basement and into the first floor of a brand new luxury crypt?
As I mentioned in my prep post, the deck I chose was my mono-black Zombie deck, entitled Lords of the Underworld. It plays a lot of Zombie lords. Normally, the deck is helmed by Liliana, Heretical Healer, who transforms into the planeswalker Liliana, Defiant Necromancer. The deck is built to function with or without the Commander, and to use Liliana as a sort of toolbox when needed. The Zombies can be powerful but lack direction, and Liliana’s ultimate presents a good build-towards for them.
But this time I wanted to try out one of the new and cool Legends from Eldraine. This guy.
Syr Konrad, the Grim caught my eye immediately as a powerful addition to any number of concepts I run. He’s a great hedge against boardwipes, torches a lot of graveyard strategies, gives an alternate win con to a mill deck, and that’s just the start. While he has combo potential, that’s not my style, so I wanted to use him fairly. What better way to give him a good, fair test than to have him ‘on command?’
One last thing before I go to the game recaps, and that’s a recap of the Commander Challenge rules and such. You can skip the rest of this paragraph if you know them already. The Challenge is four rounds of Commander play, each timed at one hour. Each round, players are formed into pods of mostly four, and play a typical Commander game. If a round goes to time, there are a series of extra turns equal to the number of remaining players. Players get one point for each other player they eliminate, and one if they are alive at the end of the time plus extra turns. When the game is over, players vote for another player of their choice, based on whatever reason they want, and that player gets 2 points. At the end of four rounds, points are tallied, and a prize pool is drafted in order of finish. All players get prizes. I cannot say enough good things about this format, or the types of games it creates. It is entirely possible to win the whole thing just on votes.
In play order – Sydri, Galvanic Genius, the notorious sleeveless Omnath, Locus of Mana, Me, and Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow. When I say sleeveless, I mean sleeveless. Cards touching hands and the tables and everything. Some people are shocked. We agreed that he should get a jacket with tearaway sleeves to wear when he plays the deck. Maybe having some green hulk arms underneath would be fun, too.
Rather than write it four times, I’m just going to say here that all the matchups were fun, all the games were good, and all the Commanders and builds were interesting. Playing against 12 cool, unique builds is a nice luxury to have, and I hope I adequately capture what everybody was doing.
On the first turn, we all played land. Omnath added Urban Burgeoning to his.
I played Urborg, the original. I’m really happy that the first play of my day was that, in large part because it has a quote on it from Edgar Allen Poe. Who better than to herald Syr Konrad, the Grim.
If Poe lived in our times, he would probably play games like Magic and D&D.
On turn 2, Sydri fetched, Omnath added a land and a Spore Frog, I played land and Undead Augur, and Yuriko played land and Slither Blade. I mention that we all played land because it was the last time for a while.
Turn 3 opened with Sydri playing Rhystic Study. This card should be no surprise by now. I do advocate getting rid of it when you can, as soon as you can. I know other things might look nastier, but the card advantage from this thing can be scary. If you’re ever in doubt, track the draws from a Study with a D20 during a game, and ask yourself how many cards is too many. 5 cards over one round of turns isn’t that uncommon. I’ve seen 10. I’ve traced so many avalanches back to the little Rhystic snowball over the years.
Omnath, the Locus of Mana itself, was stuck on lands. The Spore Frog attacked Sydri, but otherwise mighty Omnath was one G away from getting into the game. I was left to play Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and a Crashing Drawbridge.
Yuriko used the opening in Omnath’s defenses to attack, and Ninjitsu’d in the Commander. The top card was a land, however, which didn’t hurt, but probably salted poor Omnath up a bit with envy. Yuriko replayed Slither Blade.
On turn 4, Sydri played Mystic Remora, a long-overlooked common from Ice Age that’s basically Rhystic Study’s little sibling.
Sydri was poised to draw a lot of cards, but when the next play was Trinket Mage, and the pull from the library was Thopter Foundry, I heard the ticking of a clock.
Omnath again had no land, and was unable to do anything. The Spore Frog loomed large, but it was an uneventful turn.
I was a little stuck on mana myself, with a handful of 5-drops like Dictate of Erebos, and my only 3 drop being the BBB-costed Zombie Trailblazer. I played City of Shadows and passed.
Yuriko played the excellent Halimar Depths, which I covered in my Blue land special, then attacked into Omnath again. Omnath wouldn’t waste the Frog, so Yuriko connected, and revealed a Mothdust Changeling, hitting us all for 1.
Turn 5 was extremely uneventful. Sydri played Sydri, Omnath played (no land) Ugin’s Conjurant for 2, I played land and passed, and Yuriko played Talisman of Dominance, a good old mana rock. Turn fives are often hot and wild, so I’m surprised by this relative calm. Sydri did draw several cards, however.
Sydri opened turn 6 by letting the Remora expire to age counters, then played the Thopter Foundry and an Aetherflux Reservoir. I put an exclamation mark next to it in my notes. Reservoir usually means business.
Omnath was still stuck, and was even forced to discard. I played Phyrexian Tower, and sacced my Undead Augur to draw a card and make some additional mana to cast Sol Ring. I was also holding up Sudden Spoiling, for what, I wasn’t entirely sure, as I wasn’t running much to get rid of the dangerous artifacts massing near Sydri.
Yuriko played Rogue’s Passage, then cast Never on my Crashing Drawbridge, getting rid of it as a blocker. Yuriko attacked me, but I cast Sudden Spoiling. I probably should have let it through, but I felt like I needed to be interactive when I still could.
On turn 7, Sydri tried playing Arcum Dagsson. Yuriko responded with Perplex. Sydri declined to discard. Lucky for us?
Omnath drew, discarded and passed. Mana screw really sucks. Even in Commander Challenge, where you might get votes out of sympathy, it’s still better to be involved. On my turn, I played Bontu’s Monument, a really strong play for me all day, and my Commander.
Yuriko didn’t let Syr Konrad spend any time on the table, and cast Aether Gale, getting him and five of Sydri’s nastiest artifacts.
Yuriko attacked me again, now that I was open, but Sydri sent Yuriko packing with Swords to Plowshares.
Sydri kept the train rolling right along on turn 8, playing Aetherflux Reservoir again, and followed with both Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek. Most of you probably know about the Modern ‘combo’ this creates. You can sac the Sword to make a thopter, which brings back the sword attached to the new thopter. You can make as many thopter as you have mana, and if you can turn the thopters into mana or some other game-ending proposition, well you win.
Sydri passed, all tapped out. I’m happy to see that. Playing a powerful combo but leaving it open to the opponents to try and deal with is my kind of Commander play. Too often, the powerful combo is buried in layers of redundancy or protected by countermagic or something, and requires too much of my deck’s focus to try and stop it. Sydri was playing haymakers, but it never felt oppressive. And speaking of no feeling oppressed, Omnath finally drew that third land and played the Commander. I didn’t have much of an answer to the Thopter/Sword, but thought I might get a little traction shutting off some death triggers by playing Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. Kalitas doesn’t address tokens, though, or non-creature artifacts.
Yuriko played Augury Owl, a must-have for the ninja decks, and tapped it to give the Mothdust Changeling flying. Both the Changeling and Yuriko connected with Sydri, producing a pair of topdeck triggers. The reveal was Siren Stormtamer and Arcane Adaptation. The table dodged another flurry of shurikens, but soon, all of Yuriko’s creatures would be ninjas.
Turn 9 saw Sydri play the amazing Academy Ruins, then followed with Voltaic Construct and Tribute Mage. Tribute Mage went for Time Sieve. Answers were needed.
Omnath put Boar Umbra on the Commander, and grabbed more Forests with Nissa’s Pilgrimage, but that was it.
I played Mikaeus, the Unhallowed, but again, that was it.
Yuriko played the Arcane Adaptation, and managed to sneak 2 ninja hits through Sydri’s thopters-on-demand, but the topdecks were another land and Ponder. Yuriko Pondered, but passed the turn. Sydri played the Time Sieve, and after a brief hash-out of how that worked, took all the turns and won. How does it work? Well, with 5 thopters, easily made by the Foundry/Sword combo, an extra turn is generated. Sydri had lots of mana, so netting thopters every turn was elementary until there was more than enough to kill us all in a swing or two. That’s discounting whatever the draws and plays on those extra turns were. On to Game 2!
I won the dice roll and went first, followed by Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer, Kenrith, the Returned King, and Grenzo, Dungeon Warden. I was really excited to see Kenrith in play for the first time. On turn 1, we all played land, and that was mine and Brudiclad’s turn 2 also. Kenrith played Swiftfoot Boots, and Grenzo played Metallic Mimic on (surprise!) Goblins.
On my turn 3, I played Cemetery Reaper, one of my many Zombie lords. Brudiclad played Goblin Rabblemaster and sent the first token at Kenrith.
Kenrith was content to play a bounce land and pass, and Grenzo played Helm of the Host off of Ancient Tomb’s 2 colourless mana.
On my turn 4, I played Phyrexian Arena. This deck plays as much card draw as I could reasonably stuff into it. More cards = more Zombies!
Brudiclad made more tokens and attacked Grenzo this time. Kenrith played another bounce land and then Ghostly Prison to keep the heat off. Always a good move.
Grenzo cast an ominous Dark Petition and passed. Still not sure what was chosen.
On my turn 5, I played another Zombie lord, Risen Executioner. I have mixed feeling about this guy, who always seems to be needed as a blocker at the worst times.
On my endstep, Brudiclad cast Fact or Fiction, giving the choice to Kenrith, who made a pile of 5 and one of 0. Brudiclad took the 5, obviously. It was mostly mana accelerants and land, which Brudiclad played, attacking Grenzo with Goblin tokens as well. Kenrith played the Commander and passed. The King had returned.
Grenzo also played the Commander, right after Frogtosser Banneret, a Goblin cost-reducer. Grenzo was down at 29 life by this point, but still looking incredibly dangerous with the Helm of the Host in play.
On turn 6, I played Liliana’s Mastery, which has done really well for me. The number one predator of Zombies is boardwipes, and having a lord that sticks makes up for the lack of another Zombie body.
Brudiclad played a Wurmcoil Engine, which is a scary card for Brudiclad to run. Grenzo continued to take a pounding from Goblin tokens.
Kenrith played Trophy Mage and searched for a Chromatic Lantern, then put it in play and attached the Swiftfoot Boots to Kenrith.
Grenzo played Cabal Coffers, then activated the Commander 3 times, but whiffed all three times. On turn 7, I played Relentless Dead, adding to my growing horde.
Brudiclad made the probable play of the game, casting Fated Infatuation on the Wurmcoil Engine, making a token copy. Grenzo got more attacks, and dropped to 15.
Kenrith tried Tainted Remedy, which is a quick, nasty drain out with his lifegain ability. Brudiclad managed to fire off a Confirm Suspicions in response, countering the spell and making 3 Clue tokens.
Grenzo tried activation after activation of the Commander, but managed only a Mogg War Marshal for some potential blockers. On my turn 8, I dropped Grave Pact, needing some way to get rid of the impending onslaught of Wurmcoil Engines.
Brudiclad didn’t disappoint, playing the Commander and readying for attack. Kenrith played a single point Cyclonic Rift to bounce it, but Brudiclad countered with Arcane Denial. I was holding up Murderous Rider/Swift End, and used that to keep Brudiclad from overwhelming us with Wurmcoils.
Brudiclad attacked me anyway, and while I should have made sure I killed the token copy of the Wurmcoil, I was saving my on-board skulls for next turn and the hopes of a bigger sequence. There were a few trades, and some Grave Pact triggers killed King Kenrith and several other creatures, but Brudiclad was undented. Kenrith played Ashiok, Dream Render, and nuked the graveyards. Kenrith followed with Fathom Mage as well.
Grenzo finally hit off a Commander activation and played Krenko, Mob Boss, who was immediately suited up with the Helm of the Host and made 6 Goblin tokens. Grenzo was at 13 life however, and wasn’t long for this game.
On my turn 9, I played Gray Merchant of Asphodel with 15 skulls in play, killing Grenzo outright.
Brudiclad was able to replay the Commander, and this time, neither Kenrith or I had an answer. 8 Wurmcoil Engines came my way, and only the life I’d gained from Gary saved me. I let Gary die with some reanimation shenanigans in my hand, fully prepared to Gary 3 or 4 times next turn. It was not to be, however, as Kenrith used Ashiok to nuke my yard. I went into turn 10 with 44 life points and slim hopes. I played Erebos, God of the Dead, shutting off the lifegain from the Wurmcoils at least.
On Brudiclad’s turn, 11 Wurmcoils came my way. I could block all but 7, which would leave me at 1 life, but Kenrith intervened and gave them all trample, and I was dead. Kenrith tried one last ditch effort with Evra, Halcyon Witness, but it was countered by Spell Swindle.
Kenrith scooped to over a dozen Wurmcoils, and we were off to game 3!
This game featured Tuvasa, the Sunlit, Golos, Tireless Pilgrim, Myself, and Oloro, Ageless Ascetic. Tuvasa got out to an extremely spicy start with a first turn Mirri’s Guile. The rest of us played land.
Land was the theme for turn 2, and I added a Fellwar Stone as well. Tuvasa missed the turn 3 land drop despite the Guile. Golos played Coalition Relic, a mana rock in bad need of a reprint.
I followed with one of my favourite Zombies, Zombie Trailblazer. Watch out, Maze of Ith!
Oloro played Elixir of Immortality and joked about how that vision of immortality falls a little short. No kidding.
Tuvasa played Serra’s Sanctum, the kind of land I might turn into a Swamp later if it got out of hand.
Golos played Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, and I played Undead Augur and Crashing Drawbridge. Oloro played land, but gained life, up to 48.
On turn 5, Tuvasa played the Commander. Golos played Sol Ring and Life from the Loam, bringing back a cycle land.
I played Agent of Erebos, nuking Golos’ yard to remove the Loam.
Oloro played Rhox Faithmender, going to 50.
Tuvasa started loading up the Commander with Auras, going for Alpha Authority and Unquestioned Authority. Tuvasa swung at Golos as a 4/4, unblocked.
Then came Golos’ turn 6. There’s a few cards in Magic that shouldn’t really be played for free. When they are, the game changes drastically from free-for-all to archenemy, and sometimes the archenemy is not to be stopped.
Golos activated the Commander’s ability and flipped… ready for it? Panharmonicon and Omniscience.
I wrote down a lot of stuff after that, but it was frantic and doesn’t really tell the story. What really happened was that, post Omniscience, the only consequential plays were Tuvasa’s landing a Detention Sphere on it briefly, then that Sphere being toasted by a Maelstrom Pulse.
That’s an appropriate card to play against Detention Sphere. It was one of many many many many cards to ensure we were dead in a myriad of ways. Tuvasa went down first in a large attack. But Golos had to pass and I got one more turn. I held mana up and passed, hoping for one tiny possibility. Golos had played a Grave Titan, and combined with Panharmonicon, had a sizable number of Zombies.
If that number grew as a result of a large attack or two, I might be able to kill Golos with the Gempalm Polluter in my hand. I had a Sudden Spoiling to back it up, too, and stop one alpha strike headed my way.
But it was not to be, as Golos was able to make 50+ mana and cast Villainous Wealth for 54 on Oloro. Then copied it several more times to empty our libraries for the win.
I’ve never seen Villainous Wealth piles that big, and they were completely untouched. Just sent into exile. Villainous. On to game 4!
My final game of the day featured Saheeli, the Gifted, Myself, Kresh, the Bloodbraided, and Rakdos, Lord of Riots. Lots of red and black in the mix. Rakdos was undoubtedly pleased.
The first two turns were all land except for Kresh, who played a Veinfire Borderpost and Lightning Greaves as well as land.
On turn 3 Saheeli added more land, and I played Phyrexian Arena, a big performer for me on the day. Kresh added a bounce land, and Rakdos played the very intriguing Audacious Thief.
On turn 4, Saheeli played the Commander and made a Myr token. The deck was Myr tribal, which I know will speak to a lot of people.
I played Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, as well as Herald’s Horn on Zombies. Herald’s Horn is amazing. I was set up to draw a lot of cards for a mono-black deck.
Kresh played Slimefoot, the Stowaway, and equipped the Greaves on it. It’s hard to believe Dominaria is already out of Standard.
Rakdos attacked me with the Thief, then played the Commander. Scary and huge! On Saheeli’s turn 5, Saheeli also noticed the huge demon and the cool Herald’s Horn that could be used for Myr. Saheeli’s Artistry copied them both.
On my turn, I drew 3 cards for the first of what would be most of my remaining turns. I played Undead Warchief and Midnight Reaper. My Zombies were getting bigger and cheaper.
Kresh cast Murder on Rakdos, then cast Dreadbore on Saheeli, killing two Commanders in one vicious turn. Rakdos was unable to replay the demon, but settled for a Rakdos Keyrune instead. Turn 6 started with Herald’s Horn looking for Myr. Nice. Saheeli played a Prototype Portal and imprinted Alloy Myr, who taps to make a mana of any colour. Then Saheeli attacked Kresh for 6 with the Rakdos copy.
My mana situation ballooned, and I played Caged Sun and Jet Medallion. My Zombies were approaching critical mass, and were so cheap I could drop tons of them.
Kresh played the Commander, and when the he tried to slip on the Lightning Greaves, Rakdos zapped him with a Chaos Warp. Kresh got a Rakdos Signet out of it, appropriately.
Rakdos played Combustible Gearhulk for turn, targeting me. I gambled and took the damage. A Sinprodder (3CMC) and two lands were all the damage I took, so it turned out to be a good gamble. I know that deck has Eldrazi, so there’s always the chance of a killshot from nowhere.
On turn 7, Saheeli attacked Rakdos with the Rakdos copy. Life totals were all down in the low 30s. I played a pile of stuff on my turn, including Death Baron, Mikaeus, the Unhallowed, Liliana’s Mastery and Crashing Drawbridge. Massing, always massing.
Kresh played Sprouting Thrinax and Mage Slayer. Mage Slayer is expensive to equip and not easy to cast, but once it’s on there, it’s a holy terror.
Rakdos wasn’t liking how things were shaping up, and played Ob Nixilis, Reignited, using it to kill my Mikaeus.
Then Rakdos blew up the rest of the creatures with Last One Standing, leaving only a single Zombie token on my side. I drew 4 cards from Midnight Reaper, however.
On turn 8, Saheeli played Dreamstone Hedron. I was clearly a target now with my big mana and Zombie discounts and card draw, and kept pressing, casting my Commander, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, Ghoulcaller Gisa, Dreadhorde Invasion, Bontu’s Monument and Throne of the God-Pharaoh.
Kresh made the first attempt to take me down, casting Artisan of Kozilek and sending it my way wearing Lightning Greaves. Dreadhorde Invasion has underwhelmed me every time. It was annihilated along with a token. I chumped with Syr Konrad, knowing he could be back easily.
Rakdos wrapped up turn 8 by playing Scuttling Doom Engine.
On turn 9, I again saw Aether Gale, which has been a surprisingly good card. Turns out bouncing 6 permanents takes out a lot of problems. My Gisa, Caged Sun and Throne were bounced, as well as Kresh’s Greaves, Slimefoot and Mageslayer. On my turn 9, I replayed Caged Sun, Gisa, the Throne and the Commander. Kresh attacked me with the Artisan again, taking out a land and Liliana’s Mastery, and dealing me 10 damage. Rakdos replayed the Commander after a Scuttling Doom Engine attack at Kresh, then added Soul of New Phyrexia.
Turn 10 arrived, and Saheeli played Reckless Fireweaver, an astonishingly powerful little common in the right deck. Saheeli is one of those decks for sure.
Saheeli used a Duplicant to eat my Ghoulcaller Gisa for good and handed turn 10 to me.
I have killed a lot of players in my time, with a lot of different methods. I’ve done mill, emblems, poison, game-winning/losing cards, etc. It’s tough to find a new way. A few Challenges ago, I got credit for a mill kill after I’d been killed, so that was amazing, but on this day, I found a new kill I’d never thought of before. I untapped with Syr Konrad in play, and drew cards including Bojuka Bog. After some math, I activated Syr Konrad 8 times, getting a total of 16 milled creatures from the table, dealing that many to my opponents. I then used Bojuka Bog on myself with 10 creatures in the graveyard. Syr Konrad deals damage when creatures leave the yard. With Kresh and Rakdos both under 10, this was lethal.
Saheeli took me all the way down to 4 on turn 11, but I had more than enough to finish, including Profane Command for direct life loss. We shook hands all around and went to prizes.
It’s funny that this deck was originally Liliana’s, because a Liliana, Heretical Healer deck won the day. I didn’t see much of it, but apparently it was witch-themed, and extremely witchy. Hard not to vote for that this close to Hallowe’en.
For my part, I finished pretty low down in the field, despite my kills. I’m not too surprised, as there was a lot of competition for votes. Sometimes someone else in your pod is the clear choice for votes. I did well playing, but there were more deserving vote-getters. I got some packs from Guilds and Ravnica Allegiance. I opened a Ral Planeswalker and Rampage of the Clans, which I’m pretty happy to have.
I’m behind on this post already, and need to move on, but I want to quickly address the cards I had on my bubble list for this deck. Castle Lochthwain and Witch’s Cottage only ever produced mana, but I’m still excited for their potential. Murderous Rider/Swift End was very strong, especially because the deck plays almost no other instants and little removal. Crashing Drawbridge was not consequential. Not in this deck. I don’t really need haste, and my alpha strike build too slow. I found Ambition’s Cost and Ancient Craving sat in my hand. I never had the opportunity to cast them and do something else. I had enough card draw, I think. Dreadhorde Invasion was weak. I would cut it outright. Gray Merchant of Asphodel was really powerful, and so was Grave Pact, but both are going to stay in to combat strategies that are stronger than mine. Dictate of Erebos is probably going to become Black Sun’s Zenith.
One final note, and that’s a boardstate for the ages. Here’s pics!
Pictured above is an INSANE Eye of the Storm stack.
This ‘situation’ had accumulated in the final round, and had drawn a crowd. Eventually, the head judge/organizer came over to try and help figure out the resolution. In Commander Challenge, we go an hour, and then to one rotation of turns. It helps a lot when games aren’t really resolvable, and the above is a great example. The biggest winners were the incredulous audience. Thanks as always for reading, and I hope to see you all out at the next Commander Challenge! Because of Pro Qualifiers, there may not be a Commander Challenge in Bovember, but I’m going to try and get up some fun content in the meantime, and may even go cover some casual games. Cheers!