Hey Commander fans! When I play in Challenges, and I’m on the ball, I bring a second deck with me. Sometimes games go short, and it’s nice to have something different to play amid four rounds with the same deck choice. Especially if you’ve discovered it’s not your thing.
In the first December Challenge, I played Syr Carah, and didn’t really like it much. In the second one, I played something I loved from moment one. Something that I loved so much, I’m going to bring it as my second option a lot. This is my report on the second Commander Challenge in December, on the 21st. Where I played something I never thought I’d play, helmed by a Commander I scoffed at in a review of Eldraine.
Linden is one of the last Commanders I ever thought I’d play, and honestly, I’m not exactly sure what the inspiration for this deck was, exactly, but it’s Queen Stuff. That’s both the name of the deck, and what it does. You can find it here. I remember having this idea to do a King Kenrith deck based around a bunch of equipment, and some token soldiers and humans and such to take it up and defend the realm, as it were, and maybe I clued into it all being available in mono-white. Anyway, it’s hilarious. There’s no creatures, only creature-making spells and artifacts. Many of the spells dump comically large amounts of soldiers onto the field.
I trimmed the equipment down to the Kaldra artifacts and a few other standouts, and jammed in as much mana and card draw as I could. I also put in plenty of powerful flavour. Castles. Lotus gardens. The Empires artifacts. Lots of things in threes.
Things a Queen would do. Queen Stuff. It’s good to be Queen. It’s also good to be in mono-colour. White offers me amazing removal and a deep suite of versatile sweepers, and of course, the mana is very consistent. There’s also a lot of subtle bonuses you can build into your stack. In a single colour, I can stuff a ton of utility lands, including a lot of colourless options. I can do the same with mana rocks, and have them produce mana in volume rather than fix my mana. I can leverage cards that like basic lands, too. All of these, in one manabase, is a great start to a day. Like a sunrise. Here’s how mine unfolded.
Game 1 – Samut, Voice of Dissent vs. Medomai the Ageless vs. Me vs. Lord Windgrace.
I suppose you could call the Samut deck a goodstuff deck. It was packed with powerful cards. Nearly everything it played was a haymaker, and the Commander itself is no slouch when it comes to making hay. There were a few extra cool little synergies in there I’ll talk about when I get to the game.
I had to read Medomai, the Ageless. Haven’t seen it in action before. It’s an interesting build-around, as taking extra turns is something any deck would like to do, but rarely get to prepare for. It would be very easy to make this another goodstuff kind of deck, where the Commander is powerful and stands alone, and generally benefits everything else the deck does when it’s on board. Building around the extra turn itself would be a cool challenge. I think I’d go hard on upkeep triggers, with Paradox Haze being my top gear. This Medomai deck was using a lot of newer cards with some cool synergies, which was a nice surprise.
I have lost games to Lords Windgrace a lot. They are strong and resilient, and the late games are all huge slobberknockers like Avenger of Zendikar, or Valakut with Prismatic Omen out. The pilot was someone I’ve played a lot, but never on Windgrace. The pilot promised something great, and we were not disappointed. To the game!
These were a trio of strong opponents. Could the Queen survive? The Crown of Empires played pretty big for me, and I was able to power it our turn 1, with a Blast Zone into Sol Ring. I was actually the only one who did anything but play lands until turn 3, also pushing out Seer’s Sundial for some much needed card draw for mono-white. On 3, Medomai played a new, cool card: High Alert.
There’s a lot going on here for a 3 mana uncommon. I like having it in a deck like Medomai, which isn’t just a wall deck looking for some redundancy. Well I suppose it could have been, but it’s not like it’s Arcades Sabboth. Lots to like here. On my turn 3, I played Authority of the Consuls, which is one of a few cards I recommend to just about any white deck. Slowing down other decks is a great idea, and rarely as offensive as destroying their stuff outright, or preventing them from playing it at all.
From turn 4 on, it was all gas from all of us. Samut used Domri, Anarch of Bolas to accelerate into the Commander and Sunbird’s Invocation.
This is a great card to accelerate into. Medomai played Azorius Knight-Arbiter, which worked out really well with the High Alert.
Medomai started attacking early and often with the Knight-Arbiter, while they built up resources. I played Gauntlet of Power on white for a mana boost, but didn’t have many Plains. I also played Righteous Aura.
This card is so strong. It falls down hard against an army of Thopters, but it eats Voltron decks for breakfast. Windgrace played lands, and put lands in the graveyard. The ‘fetches’ from Mirage etc. worked out pretty well. Retreat to Hagra worked out pretty well, too. Before I knew it, everyone but Windgrace was down into the 33-34 life range. Everyone was loading up, and Samut killed my Authority of the Consuls and Righteous Aura with Return to Dust, so I wiped the board with a Fumigate on turn 7. It might have been a turn early, as Samut played Voyaging Satyr into Destructive Revelry off the Sunbird’s, killing Retreat to Hagra. Thematic!
Then Samut played the Commander and used the now hasty Satyr to get 2 activations out of Forge of Heroes to beef Samut up.
Samut added Utvara Hellkite. Yipes. Everyone took some heat. Medomai played Sentinel of the Eternal Watch, and I tried to draw into some answers. Lord Windgrace revealed the promised awesomeness by playing Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth to turn all the lands into swamps, then playing Kormus Bell.
Turning all the lands into creatures was pretty crazy. I approve. It was a little too crazy, and the Bell was destroyed a turn later. But not before Samut piled on with Terrastodon and Dragonlord Atarka, and attacked me down to 4 life. Medomai tried to slow it all down with Rule of Law, but Windgrace took it out with Decimate, also getting Atarka, some land, and the aforementioned Kormus Bell. On turn 11, Samut added Avacyn, which pretty much demands an answer or the Avacyn player tends to win a lot.
Nobody was able to answer it, although I pulled out a kicked Conqueror’s Pledge to make 12 ineffective soldiers. Avacyn and friends took me out on turn 12. Medomai had played the Commander on turn 11, and got off an extra turn trigger on 12 after Samut killed me. A Fairgrounds Warden took care of Avacyn, but the extra turn failed to produce any fireworks. Those were left to Lord Windgrace, who pulled out Rise of the Dark Realms, getting a huge pile of monsters.
Samut tried Breaker of Armies, and Heartless Hidetsugu, bringing everyone down by half, but it wasn’t enough, and Windgrace killed both of the other remaining players on turn 14 with an overwhelming force of mostly Samut’s creatures. Windgrace also played two Genjus. Those are Auras that turn lands into creatures. The deck looked like great fun, and like a lot of Windgrace decks, won the round.
Game 2 – Me vs. Wort, the Raidmother vs. Golos, Tireless Pilgrim vs. Lord Windgrace
Wort, the Raidmother is a great example of the wide diversity of magic that can be played through Goblins. I find myself playing against a fair amount of Krenkos and Grenzos, which lend to more aggressive strategies, so it’s super cool to see Goblin spellslinger. Being able to copy spells easily can be fun, but strays into broken really quickly. …But this is Gruul, so the spells aren’t as dangerous as if were say… Esper. I liked this deck. One card, played on turn 2, really stood out to me. It was Zhur-Taa Druid.
I’m looking at mana dorks as a more and more powerful resource, and when they have upside, like this guy here, it’s pretty great. Looking over my notes, I can say that this guy did at least 12 damage over the course of the game, all by turn 6. The druid also did this damage in small chunks over time, which draws little hate. And made mana.
What can I say about Golos decks? When I first saw Golos I thought, ‘Awwww, Maze’s End finally has a chance! This is great 5C Commander for newer players, and could even be janky fun for the rest.’ Turns out Golos is insanely good, and I’ve seen a few different builds all be dominant. I haven’t seen the Mono-Black version first hand yet, but I’ve heard. So that begs a question, and it spills into the next paragraph here…
…Are certain Commanders OP, or is it certain combinations of lands, or a critical mass of lands in general? I have watched decks that put lands into play run away with games over and over. Lots of lands I mean. More than one per turn. Or very specific ones. This is a thorny problem for a deckbuilder, because the thought of turning to Land Destruction or worse, Mass Land Destruction (MLD) is not a good thought. Cards like Ankh of Mishra and Sire of Stagnation are punishing, but are often just removed. Plus they can punish other players trying to get their normal land drops in or fix their mana via Evolving Wilds and Fetches, etc. If you’re willing to go full on Annihilator, that’s your prerogative, but that draws tremendous hate, because it often ends up being land destruction. I’m hoping for some sort of creative solution to be printed this year, maybe like a Containment Priest for lands. In the meantime, I’m going to be looking into Magic’s rich history for cards that might slow the velocity of these kinds of decks, especially those that aren’t just a meta-choice, and are powerful in their own right. But I see a lot of Lord Windgrace here, and Golos, and Green in general, playing lots of lands and using them to fuel powerful spells. As this deck did.
A favourite card of mine is Khalni Garden. It’s often a staple for Lord Windgrace decks because it makes an incidental chump as part of the overall land-playing machine. Among other things, a 0/1 Plant token makes a great blocker for a random attack aimed at a cat Planeswalker. Khalni Garden was Windgrace’s first play, and was played again later after a bounce land. But the plants were not to be, as Wort played Chandra, Pyromaster and picked them off each time. The poor plants were the only real targets, and nobody could really object other than the Lord Windgrace player, who could appropriately groan.
The early turns were mostly about the plant drama. I managed to play all 3 Un-set Plains in chronological order over turns 1-3. Since Linden is Queen of threes, and I’ve made a deck partly about assembling sets of threes, I’m going to tick this off in the ‘achievement unlocked’ subtab. Wort played the aforementioned Zhur-taa Druid, and got down to business. And Chandra. We all tried to build up some board presence. I had Mind’s Eye and Well of Lost Dreams online for card draw, and Windgrace had played some lands, including with the excellent Springbloom Druid. Wort was threatening, with a Primal Amulet… And Golos had been quiet. The Scout Robot Commander came down turn 5 and pulled Izzet Boilerworks, a bounce land. We didn’t get it, but Golos was fixing mana for turn 6.
Turn 6, Golos used the Commander’s ability. This fizzles sometimes. Sometimes it hits. This time it hit. Maelstrom Wanderer, cascading into Mirari’s Wake, and Sen Triplets.
Yipes. Maelstrom Wanderer killed Wort’s Chandra. Before my next turn I used Crush Contraband to whack the Triplets and the Wake. Golos agreed that those were good targets. On my turn I played Caged Sun to catch up on big mana, and copied Golos’ Thespian’s Stage with my Vesuva, for some flexibility. Wort also wanted big mana, and copied Grow From the Ashes and Cultivate. This also flipped the Primal Amulet. Wort was poised.
Golos tried the Commander’s ability again, but revealed 3 lands. The rest of us breathed a sigh of relief. Windgrace went a step farther and fired off Windgrace’s Judgement, then copying it twice with Fury Storm.
This cleaned up most of the remaining nasties and all of my card draw artifacts. Wort rebuilt fast, and replayed the Commander and another Chandra, this one the Fire Artisan. Windgrace gave Xantcha, Sleeper Agent to Wort, and drained the Goblin while drawing 2 cards. We were all in the 30-36 life range, turn 9. I had a Blast Zone, but no other play. Wort dropped Dragon-Style Twins and copied an overloaded Mizzium Mortars, then attacked Golos with Xantcha. Wort finished up by using Grab the Reins to sac Xantcha and throw her at Windgrace’s face.
Golos used Demonic Tutor, then cast All is Dust, wiping away Wort’s board, and almost nothing else.
Lord Windgrace got in on the big-mana-big-spell action, casting an 11 mana Torment of Hailfire. When that dust settled, Wort and Golos were down to 2 and 6 life respectively, and almost nobody had anything in hand or in play except Windgrace. I was still above water at 24 life, but things looked grim. I played Coveted Jewel, and drew some cards, including something extremely impactful, it turns out. Wort wasn’t going to mess around at 2 life, and fired off Volt Charge to deal 3 damage to Golos, then copied it twice. The first copy was the finishing blow on Golos, but the second had to land somewhere. Unfortunately, Wort chose me, and I cast Comeuppance. This is a bit of an obscure card, apparently. Our judge had to read it. After a consultation, Wort was credited with the Golos kill, but I got Wort.
But of course there was still Windgrace, and board full of lands and permanents, like a couple of Nissas and Titania and Kamahl. I stopped an alpha strike with a Dawn Charm, losing my Coveted Jewel in the process, but that was all. On my final turn, I played the Queen and Eiganjo Castle. I also had Castle Ardenvale, and copied it with Thespian’s Stage. 3 Castles! Then I bowed to superior forces. Off to game 3!
Game 3 – Me vs. Inalla, Archmage Ritualist vs. Feather, the Redeemed vs. Selenia, Dark Angel
The Eminence Commanders are an interesting bunch. I use the Ur-Dragon myself, both for Dragons and Changelings. I’ve see the Cat deck kill someone on turn 4 or 5. Edgar Markov was the bogeyman of the format for a while, and got banned in 1v1 I believe. That leaves Inalla, who is powerful, but hasn’t seemed to have warped any of the Commander meta around her. I haven’t seen her much at all, really. I tried her out in my Changeling 99, but the CMC was at odds with when I wanted the effect. Better to just be in the command zone and copy a bunch of wizards. That’s what this Inalla deck did. Make wizards, copy wizards for value. Lots of great wizards have an ETB effect, which making a copy effectively doubles. Seems pretty obvious to me. Some sneaky tech, and access to Grixis’ suite of cool spells made this a powerful build.
Feather builds have been common since the card was released. They seem quite strong, although there’s definitely a few ‘best things you can do’ that are tough to not play. That terrible sentence was trying to say that the decks can’t help but be similar and linear. So much hinges on the Commander. As you will see, that can be a problem. If I were doing a Feather build, I’d look into some threat diversity, starting with Assemble the Legion.
Rounding out the group was Selenia, Dark Angel. She counts as an Angel, whatever Feather says. This is a pretty classic, old-school Commander from way-back-when. Being able to arbitrarily pay a pile of life can set up some devastating combos, including out-of-nowhere kills. The Selenia player can stack the Commander’s triggers any number of times, paying whatever life that is, before bouncing her. Then you use something like Children of Korlis to gain it all back, all the while triggering some other lifeloss/gain card(s) like Sanguine Bond.
And then someone’s dead. So Selenia might look innocuous, but you have to keep an eye on decks like this. Plus white and black in combination offer tons of great removal. Classic.
I’m reading my notes for this game, and it looks like a horse race. I do a sort of table thing, with columns for players and rows for turns, and the 4 columns here look like the paths of racers. Each deck did its own thing, and the race was getting and/or keeping an edge. I played strong mana early, including my ‘combo’ of saccing a Flagstones of Trokair to either Lotus Vale or Lotus Field. You have to watch out for land destruction, playing Lotus Lands, but the Queen must have gardens.
I played Mind’s Eye, Staff of Nin, Bag of Holding, Empowered Autogenerator and Caged Sun. Goodstuff. This kind of stuff is the backbone of my deck. Card draw and mana. These are the sort of cards that can let you play a Commander like Linden, because they keep your hand full and spells accessible, regardless of the actual power of the Commander.
Inalla, like I said, loaded up on Wizards. Inalla’s first ten turns are full of cool plays. Tribute Mage (copied) pulled up Fellwar Stone and Sundial of the Infinite, which would allow the wizard token copies to stick around. Puppeteer Clique, Venser and Timestream Navigator made appearances, but every edge found an answer.
Feather did what Feather does best, and played the Commander, but was forced to do it over and over. When Feather did stick, it was neutralized by Gideon of the Trials, played by Selenia.
Feather played Dousing Dagger, which I’m liking more and more, for a number of reasons, but it was wiped out along with the Sundial by my Blast Zone.
Selenia went into defense mode early, getting the Gideon emblem immediately, along with Norn’s Annex and Triskaidekaphobia. Like the Zhur-Taa Druid previously, the damage this card did was pretty surprising. 28 total, or 7 for each player. Do your creatures do that much?
On turn 11, things weren’t anywhere near settled. I used a Wrath of God to level the field, but everybody built right back up again. Feather played the commander over and over, but Selenia or Inalla took care of it each time. Inalla had some turns that looked like they’d end with all of us dead, but the payoff wasn’t there. Around turn 13, I found myself with a pretty strong board presence of buffed, lifelinking Soldier tokens. I nearly doubled my life total with one big swing, bringing me up to 50, and put my opponents each at just over half that. Suddenly I was on the offensive, with my opponents getting dangerously close to both 0 and 13.
On my turn 15, the judge called time, and we had one turn each to resolve the game. Feather managed the Commander one more time, and after a flurry of spells, ending with Soul’s Fire, killed Selenia. This was on the same turn Feather started at 13 life. Well done. On the final turn of the game, I lined up an alpha strike on both Feather and Inalla. Feather cast a Temur Battle Rage, which Inalla Redirect-ed to her blocker. Inalla was left alive… I think. While I’m not sure we did our due diligence on the math, I’m happy with the outcome. It was time to move on to game 4 anyway.
Game 4 – Me vs. Sasaya, Orochi Ascendant vs. Inalla, Archmage Ritualist vs. Queen Marchesa vs. Aminatou, the Fateshifter
It was a day of high D6 rolls for me, and I found myself going first again… but something was amiss. It seemed like there was a presence… something that seemed impossible…! Could there possibly be another Queen deck? A rival Queen?! A Queen-off?!?! Oh yes. This is one of the best games of Magic I’ve ever played. Being able to use the Magic design engine to play games like Commander, Pauper, Battlebox, Draft, and other wacky formats is a lot like the English language being used for poetry, inter-office memos, casual conversation, and mathematical word problems. The brilliance is in the combination of stability and diversity. A game like this takes it a step beyond, giving it a wild RPG element that both Queen decks were set up to embrace.
Credit the Sasaya player for playing something I didn’t know existed. Very cool card. The Kamigawa snake creatures are really cool. I hope they get a spotlight in a future set. I didn’t get the best sense of how this deck worked, but if I had to guess, it was about ramping to a suite of powerful finishers. The ones I saw were Hydras. Hydras have come a long way, and there are a few that are a definite finishers. They do big mana better than any other creature archetype, and are even snaky enough to be on theme, if that was the intention.
The Inalla deck was the same one from the previous game. Again, it impressed, dropping lots of utility wizards that begged to be copied from the get-go, backing it up with timely spells. This deck is one I wish could be pointed out to players just starting up. Decks like this are what the format is all about, and this one seemed really accessible. It’s strong, interactive, and nothing in it seemed to be overwhelmingly expensive. The lines of play are complex, but not over-complicated. It will age well, with a popular tribe at the core, and can be customized endlessly. Kudos to the builder!
Normally I put my opponents in play order, but I’m going to bump Aminatou up for some reason. Aminatou was billed as the topdeck Commander, and a lot of janky thoughts have been thought about her ‘ultimate,’ but what Aminatou does best is Conjurer’s Closet on demand.
Blinking is big game. Huge game. ETBs have become so powerful and varied that there’s something for just about every situation. This post is about games played in December, but new Theros is upon us, and we have some enchantments that have ETBs, like Omen of the Sea, and a new Thassa variant that’s another Conjurer’s Closet, and blinking is big game. Just saying. The Aminatou pilot was showing off this aspect of the Commander for sure. One of the all-time chutzpah plays I’ve seen was the first time I saw Aminatou blink their Coveted Jewel. Not in this game, thankfully.
And then, finally, this other Queen. I don’t know what to say about ‘Other Queens’ (OQs) except maybe we should apply the Highlander rule. Whatever plans I had in this game immediately became ‘be the only Queen.’ I think it was totally mutual. While this OQ did employ The Monarch as she should, she was also intent on voting. This seemed quite unQueenly. We are not amused. Well, actually I’m still giggling about this game now.
While I said this is one of the best games I’ve ever played, it’s not a good one for play-by-play. For starters, we went to time and turns, and still nobody died. Sasaya played Horn of Greed early, and we all got some gas.
Sasaya got lots of land with Tempt with Discovery, played some politics with That which was Taken, and tried some Hydras late game. Polukranos, who is back as a zombie in new Theros, appeared briefly, but Inalla killed it with Go For the Throat. Glad she chose the right one.
Like I said, Inalla played tons of great wizards and spells. It’s a pretty dense breakdown, but since we ultimately went to a draw, I’m going to highlight Watcher for Tomorrow and move on. Watcher is one of the many, many insane cards to come out of Modern Horizons, many of which are still under the radar after the turbulent 2019 releases. Clearly, copying this guy is where you want to be, but he makes a great reanimation/bounce/blink target too.
Aminatou played some haymakers like The Scarab God, Thief of Sanity and Hostage Taker. That last one goes over the line for me when it’s paired with a blink outlet. I used Path to Exile on the Hostage Taker with Aminatou (being cast) on the stack. It was unexpected, and I could tell it was a major monkey wrench in the Aminatou player’s plans. I apologize, but that’s exactly why I did it. I’ve made a few plays over the years that were critical points of disruption that the other player never saw coming. Once I destroyed a Hapatra player’s Skullclamp with the initial equip trigger on the stack. It was devastating, and they were not happy about it. I think in this case, the Aminatou player would have to concede it was the right move, and while the timing was nasty, it was necessary. If I see an avalanche coming, and I can blow up your snowball, I’m probably going to. Despite all the jank, I am trying to win games of Magic.
Well, I guess that’s a silly statement to make in a game where my objective was to Queen the hardest. But generally I want to not lose. Definitely not to the OQ!
Between the Queens, it was first a showdown of baubles. The OQ played a pair of Talismans and a Chromatic Lantern. She also had a Bloodthirsty Blade, which is a card that I love, and in this game secretly coveted. I countered with Everflowing Chalice (Queen likes a drink sometimes), Empowered Autogenerator (Empowered Queen!) and laid down the first big royal card, Scepter of Empires.
The OQ went for an Ensnaring Bridge, which is nice, but a Moat is far too expensive, and a Bottomless Pit doesn’t fit the colour scheme, so I think it was a bridge too far. The OQ played some gold card from the Command Zone. I’m not sure but I think it had a picture of a strumpet on it. Inalla agreed, and countered it with a Patron Wizard. My Everflowing Chalice should be full of Wizard Patron!
The OQ was able to land the gold card a turn later, and shamelessly take The Monarch. Now everybody knows that a Queen needs some white enchantments to make a pillowfort out of. Many historians have written books about this. Sometimes a creature will do instead, like Baird, Steward of Argive. I played Karmic Justice and Martyr’s Bond. My pillows are more like Piranha Plants.
The OQ played Solitary Confinement, which sounds appropriate, and the Protector of the Crown, who sounds overpaid. OQs. Intent on holding onto their The Monarch. Futile.
I played a Martial Coup for 6 to make 6 soldiers and kill all the other creatures, and on turn 9, decided to let my soldiers show off my secret weapon in the Queen Wars, my BOAT. That’s right, I have a boat. Conqueror’s Galleon. It’s not just a boat, I can even expand my lands with it. How Queenly. I knew the OQ was intimidated.
I couldn’t get through the Solitary Confinement however, so I used Austere Command to destroy all enchantments (and CMC 4+), including my own. I crewed the boat to take the Monarch, but the OQ had Swift End (!!!!!) and destroyed my boat. Sunk.
The game went a turn cycle past that, but that was all. Is it weird that one of the best games I’ve ever played was one where nobody won or lost? I get the sense that it might drive some players crazy. Luckily, Magic is a big deep pool. Speaking of such, it was time for prizes.
I wasn’t really thinking about how well I might do, and didn’t get a great look at the pool. I probably could have done the math and known I was in for a strong finish, regardless of votes. The Lord Windgrace from my first game of the day was the overall winner, and took the Jund Brawl precon. Good stuff!
I was surprisingly second! Rather than assess the remaining prizes, I went straight for the Mystery Box. I got a relatively low value prize, comprised of several pioneer-legal packs. My rares were lacklustre, but several of my uncommons were standouts, like Stitcher’s Supplier. Unless you’re grabbing something preconstructed, every Magic product is basically a crapshoot, so I’m happy with my prize. I’m even more happy with my placing, and even more happy than that with how the deck played. I’m glad Linden went in my estimation from a huge letdown to a beloved Commander, and I look forward to playing this deck in future.
Next time I’ll break down my first Challenge of 2020, where I continue my cycle of mono-coloured decks. I’m playing blue… will there be salt in the ocean?
Thanks for reading, and I hope you have great games!