Commander Challenge 22/02/20 – The Doctor is In

2020 is a year of many challenges. Chief among them are the health of our populations and the health of our environments. It’s quite a luxury to be able to play a card game when other people fight on the front lines for our health or our environment. The deck I played for the Commander Challenge on Feb 22nd was a nod to those people, and their struggle on my behalf. It is definitely up to me to do more.

For the time being, I am playing a card game and writing about it. The most recent Challenge was an opportunity for me to play my final mono-coloured deck in a series of five. The deck is here. The Commander is the above, Hua Tuo, Honored Physician, originally from Portal: 3 Kingdoms. For a really long time, I was trying to make a mono-green spirits concept work. The biggest issue was no copy of Sekki: Seasons’ Guide at my LGS.

But after taking some of what was good about spirits (death-triggers as part of Soulshift) and making that the theme of the deck, an actual playable concept grew out of the loam. Two reliable things in Commander are boardwipes, and the ability to kill creatures on demand. I’m used to seeing my creatures die. In decks that really want them to live, I jam stuff like Darksteel Plate or Assault Suit to keep them from being destroyed, or me from being forced to sacrifice them. So building a deck that wanted creatures to die seemed like a savvy choice, and a Commander that could pop them back on top was exactly what the doctor ordered.

While there are a lot of low-cost dorks that leave behind a similar dork when they die, I tried to limit the early part of my curve to land fetchers and card draw, so as not to clog up the board with useless bodies.

I chose a few midrange guys for utility, including the spider here, and Seed Guardian, as a hedge against flyers. I chose some big bodies for the top end, mostly a mix of lifegain and card draw, with some removal sprinkled in. I think I skimped on removal. I chose mostly the stuff that leaves something behind for everything it kills. Like the rest of the deck is doing, but more catch-all kill spells might have been smart.

Overall I had a lot of fun with the deck. Were I to do it again, I’d go a little easier on the tokens. I created a few boardstates that were very busy, but not actually effective in any way. Looking at you, Ooze Garden. The deck needed to be a little less fancy and run a few juggernauts that can clean up a lot of problems. Like Hornet Queen. I think the deck lacked Hornet Queen. It actually came up in one game. I correctly identified one of my deck’s weaknesses early on (flyers), but didn’t think enough about it and hedged with chumps. This is actually a common weakness for many decks, and if I’d played more proactive airborne threats like Hornet Queen, that still do a great rattlesnake impression, I might be stronger and less clogged with tokens that have no meaningful abilities. I also think I whiffed on not playing Multani, Yavimaya’s Avatar. Food for thought.

Game 1 – Daxos of Meletis vs. Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer vs. Me vs. Thassa, Deep Dwellling

This is Daxos from the early days, before he was an enchantment, or a zombie, or a demigod. Just good old Daxos of Meletis. Hard to block, takes your stuff. This build seemed pretty classic in that sense. It made Daxos harder to block, wanted to take stuff, and backed it up with control elements and some pillowforting. It was really nice to see this done with some newer cards like Cavalier of Dawn and Archon of Absolution.

Brudiclad has been a fixture in my Commander experience since his release. I play him in the 99 of my Thopulator deck, which makes a lot of thopters. I personally want to play him in decks that can add green and/or white, for things like Progenitor Mimic and the populate mechanic, but having him on demand is really powerful. The common theme of Brudiclad decks is that the pilots seem to have a lot of fun. This pilot commented about how much they loved the deck at least once. I don’t have many notes about the deck responding, so if there were counterspells or something, they weren’t drawn. But I feel like the deck could have used more disruption. Sudden Substitution would be a great fit, if it wasn’t already in there.

The version of Thassa presented with this deck was the foil constellation version. Even better, it was opened during prerelease weekend. We should all be so lucky. The focus of the deck was mill, which as the pilot admitted, can put some people off pretty effectively. Not me. I like mill, and the unique challenge it offers. I’ve also had a deck with a Conjurer’s Closet in it for a while, and while Thassa is new, I’m no stranger to this absurdly powerful effect. I’m sure most Thassa decks will start with ‘blink for value…’ but then struggle to figure out how to finish. Mill is a worthy choice, I think, especially over taking infinite turns, or decking yourself with Thassa’s Oracle in play.

The game started innocently enough, with the only waves made by anyone being a Folio of Fancies on turn 2 from Thassa, which announced to all of us that they were a mill deck.

Daxos played Lore Broker, and easily made the best of the looting effect. Looting is actually kind of annoying when you’re not expecting it. Breaking the symmetry of an effect like Lore Broker’s is one of the keys to playing such a card. Another is simply making sure the effect can’t hurt you. Tough to say, with allowing opponents to draw cards and fill their graveyards. Enabling opponents could even be seen as the theme of the day.

Turn three, things got going quickly. Daxos played the Commander. I played Primal Druid and Ooze Garden (turn 3 ramp) and Thassa played Sphinx’s Tutelage. I was the logical target for it on every draw, being mono-coloured, but Thassa was generous and spread it around. Not going too hard at any one opponent is a good tactic as far as getting votes is concerned.

On turn 4, Daxos connected with Thassa, but didn’t get anything to cast. Brudiclad played Tezzeret, Artifice Master, a card that I’ve seen a lot lately. I managed Lifecrafter’s Bestiary, and Thassa played the Commander. Turn 5, Daxos connected with Brudiclad, and topdecked Master Transmuter.

Daxos let it be exiled, much to Brudiclad’s chagrin. But Brudiclad played Purphoros, Master of the Forge on their turn 5, and down went the life totals. Purphoros wins games. Thassa’s Pondering Mage was a good response, but it was Archenemy at Purphoros, or we were all dead.

Over the next couple of turns, we searched for answers as Brudiclad built up an army, including Saheeli the Gifted and Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain. Daxos was able to clean up some of it with Tragic Arrogance, but Brudiclad kept building.

Daxos’ Cavalier of Dawn took out Jhoira, but Brudiclad added Slobad, Goblin Tactician instead. I had been ramping, and now tried to get into things with a Wurmcoil Engine, but it was countered by Thassa. On turn 9, Daxos finally took out Purphoros with Council’s Judgment and some support from the table. But with Daxos at 15, me at 22, and Thassa at 12, damage had literally been done.

Brudiclad dropped Scourge of the Throne, and while they had the highest life total, would have won outright after making a token copy of it with Cackling Counterpart. There were 7 thopters in play already, and had they all become dragons, courtesy of Brudiclad, the end. I made the situation slightly better by casting Beast Within on the Scourge with Cackling Counterpart on the stack, but the thopters just became 3/3 beasts instead.

Brudiclad made ready to attack someone for lethal, but Thassa stole 3 of the beasts with Domineering Will, and Brudiclad was forced to pass. I cast a Thragtusk, and copied it with Minion Reflector, then sacrificed the copy to Altar of Dementia to mill someone. While the overall impact was minimal, I did gain 10 life, putting me up to 32.

Thassa then made a big push, casting Blatant Thievery, taking the Cavalier of Dawn from Daxos, the Altar of Dementia from me, and a Tezzeret with enough counters to make an emblem from Brudiclad. That’s a definite drawback to playing Planeswalkers, is theft. Thassa made the emblem. At end of turn out came Agent of Treachery, which stole stuff like crazy from all of us.

Turn 10 found Brudiclad still pushing the pace. Brudiclad cast One with the Machine to draw 6 off Brudiclad himself. Then they tried Brass’s Bounty, which would have made 10 treasure tokens. Daxos stole the spell with Perplexing Chimera and made the treasures instead. Brudiclad still had an army built up, though.

I made a final push, drawing as many cards as I could, but my final draw was Rampage of the Clans, which might hurt Brudiclad, but still give them enough tokens to win. I was tapped out anyway. Thassa stole some more stuff, but time was called during their turn, and nothing they did was going to result in a kill. Same with Daxos, who tried Blackblade Reforged on the Commander, but even with 10 added power, was not enough to finish anyone off.

Brudiclad made things official with Coat of Arms. Daxos had reacquired the Perplexing Chimera via Order of Succession, and stole it, but I pointed out that the effect was the same no matter who controlled the Coat, and Brudiclad attacked us all for lethal. Purphoros was a major factor, doing 18 damage to each of us, for 54 total. On to game 2!

Game 2 – Angus Mackenzie vs. Saskia Unyielding vs. Xantcha, Sleeper Agent vs. Alela, Artful Provocateur vs. Me

Angus Mackenzie is a card I had way back in the day. It was in my decks because I played most of the Legends I had, regardless of how my mana was supposed to support them. Angus never really worked for me, big surprise. It was more to do with how good the cheap removal was in those days. Everybody could play Lightning Bolt, Swords to Plowshares, Terror, etc. Using your Bolt to take out the fog machine so your army can get through was a no-brainer. Since there was no Command Zone in those days (at least not where I was) Angus just died and maybe appeared again in a future game, to do the same. Commander makes a big difference for this kind of card, what with big mana, and the Command Zone, and tailored builds. I’ve put up a whole paragraph without mentioning what this specific Angus deck was, and that’s by design. I’m leaving this one to the play-by-play.

Saskia is a pretty aggressive Commander that forces you to make an enemy. This can be a tricky bit of politics to manage, or your route to a quick kill. Sometimes I’m sure you come off a hero by slaying the table’s bogeyperson. Since Saskia is 4 colours, the options for what to include are pretty wide open. You can’t go wrong with aggressive goodstuff, and that’s what I would characterize this deck as. Stuff like Xenagos, God of Revels, and God-Eternal Rhonas. It wasn’t all gods, but indestructibility was definitely a thing, and nothing was played that wasn’t to the power level of the cards named.

I have a Xantcha deck, but I don’t think it has too much in common with what was played here. The pilot characterized theirs multiple times as tons of instant speed removal, which is interesting. I think the deck would normally play as more tempo than control, with the removal to keep things off balance, and lots of tricks to passively lower life totals to where a player could be killed with Xantcha activations. Mine is meant to more pass Xantcha around and cause havoc, while keeping my shields up. I intend to revisit the deck in future, and this was a subtle new way to think about it. There is one card that we both play, that made a crazy early appearance, but I’ll get to that.

Rounding out our group of five was Brawlstar Alela, Artful Provocateur. I’ve seen this build a few times now, and it’s quite strong. The deck leverages very few actual creatures, and instead wants to drop mana rocks early and often to both play the Commander and start making faeries. Then the deck piles it on with anthem effects (ie. +1/+1 to all your creatures) to both make the faeries bigger and make more faeries. Backed up with some of the best removal and disruption that blue, black and white can offer and the deck works out pretty well. It does have an unusual weakness that was found right away in this game, in circumstances that were pretty unique. The only time I’ve ever seen a game like this was during the brief period of silver-bordered legality.

Angus Mack went first. I have to giggle a little. The opening play was Magus of the Vineyard. We were off to the races!

Saskia was in a little bit of disbelief over this, as we all were. An untapped land drop meant starting turn 1 with 3 mana to work with. Saskia played Wayfarer’s Bauble and cracked it. An awesome turn 1 play! Xantcha was not to be outdone, with a play that delighted me, but produced a few groans: Spellshock!

Clearly this was going to be a wild one. Alela just played land, and I played Sakura-Tribe Elder. Turn 2 was fairly sedate, with some ramp and some mana dorks (Faeburrow Elder from Saskia). Alela was given Xantcha to play with, and I played a Carnage Altar. I’m pretty sure Saskia thought this meant I had a combo in me. Fair enough, it’s an obscure card, but I’m just sacrificing for card draw.

Turn 3, Angus Mackenzie upped the mana ramp by a couple orders of magnitude, and played New Frontiers for 6.

We all had a lot of mana now. How much is a lot? Well, Saskia hardcast Stonehoof Chieftain on turn 3, and still had mana for Snake Umbra on the Faeburrow Elder.

Xantcha played Thaumatic Compass, flipping it into Spires of Orazca right away on endstep.

Alela used the same endstep to destroy Spellshock with Seal of Cleansing. While not as far-reaching as Purphoros in game 1, Spellshock was able to deal 20 damage total over the course of 3 turns. Not bad. Alela then got rid of their unwanted Xantcha creature with Anguished Unmaking. I finished up the round with a Wurmcoil Engine. Turn 4, Angus upped the ante again, this time with Tempting Wurm.

We were all a bit stunned. Especially when after the dust settled, Saskia was sitting pretty with Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite in play. Nothing the rest of us played compared.

But Angus wasn’t done, and played Order of Succession, which ended up giving Elesh Norn to me. Alela got my Wurmcoil Engine, and Xantcha got Alela’s Commander.

Angus was done for now, and Saskia took over, playing God-Eternal Rhonas and attacking Alela with a huge Faeburrow Elder. When Alela blocked with the Wurmcoil Engine, Saskia tried to cast Arcbond on the Wurmcoil Engine. Alela didn’t let anyone even think about how that would have gone, and cast Dovin’s Veto on Arcbond, countering it.

Xantcha then played Sorin Markov, which is often a prelude to a quick kill. It was just an uptick however. This time.

Alela overloaded Winds of Abandon to clean up the board on their turn. We were all grateful for more land. If there were any left in our decks at this point.

Turn 5 rolled around. Yes, it was only turn 5. Angus wanted yet more to happen, and talked me into assisting with Game Plan, drawing us all a new mittful of cards.

Then Angus cast Weird Harvest for 11. Then the Tempting Wurm reappeared.

A lot of things came down into play. This was Saskia’s boardstate afterwards. It was the most impressive, for sure.

I mentioned this game finding a weird weakness in Alela’s deck. Well, that deck had very few creatures in it, and as the pilot described, was very low to the ground. Ramping and putting stuff into play didn’t help much at all. The deck would rather have everyone stall on mana so it could operate quickly. Weird Harvest resulted in a few anthem creatures like Adaptive Automaton, and Archetype of Imagination, but not much else.

Xantcha wasn’t able to put much in play, but what they did, counted. Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet was the key play, shutting off graveyard interaction.

I was able to play a ton of stuff, but as you can see in the picture above, Urabrask was out, and my stuff was tapped. We all expected some sort of Saskia overrun, but Angus then followed up with Humility.

Saskia was taken aback, but was not to be stopped, casting Austere Command and getting the enchantments and low CMC creatures. With Humility out of the way, and all my stuff tapped, Saskia pointed everything my way. With Kalitas out, I wasn’t able to sacrifice creatures to draw or gain life or anything, so I died.

Xantcha’s turn was next, and they had picked up 11 zombie tokens from creatures dying while Kalitas was out. If that wasn’t enough of a threat, Xantcha cast Mana Geyser on a turbo-ramped board, then copied it with Dualcast.

That was enough to cast the Commander, give it to Alela, and then kill the Faerie Queen with Xantcha activations. There was enough mana to do the same with Saskia as well. Angus Mackenzie spent one final turn trying to stop Xantcha’s lethal zombie hoard with Blazing Archon and Perplexing Chimera, but Xantcha had tons of removal ready, and Angus conceded. What a game. I initially wrote down that we went 8 turns, but it was actually 6. We went almost the full time as well. Wow. On to game 3!

Game 3 – Aminatou, the Fateshifter vs. Meren of Clan Nel Toth vs. The Partners Akiri, Line-Slinger and Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker vs. Me

I’ve played against this Aminatou deck a lot recently. One of the things it does very well is steal opposing stuff. It also copies that stuff, too. This can be a tricky strategy, because often times you are getting a card that is meant to synergize with another person’s deck. Sure you can copy the Eldrazi Titans and such and get full value, but copying or stealing something from a tribal deck might leave you wanting. I don’t know if this Aminatou deck plays Order of Succession of Perplexing Chimera, but Aminatou can blink cards you own, not just control, so those might find some sweet use.

Meren of Clan Nel Toth is my benchmark for a powerful Commander, and a deck style I always try to prepare for. Graveyard hate is just the beginning. The really nasty stuff that Meren decks tend to run are Dictate of Erebos/Grave Pact. Why so nasty? Well forcing someone to sacrifice their creatures ignores stuff like indestructible and protection. It laughs at hexproof, shroud and regeneration. And Meren decks are always having their creatures die. It’s what they do. Death and ETB triggers are the gas, although the self-sacrifice of cards like Sakura-Tribe Elder is usually a staple, too. I built my Hua Tuo deck in part to respond to decks like Meren, and Dictate of Erebos in general. This is an exciting matchup for me!

For the umpteenth Challenge in a row, I’m also playing against the Partners deck. I have played against minimal other partners in that same time, too, so until another deck rises up, this is ‘The Partners.’ This is one of my favourites, as it’s a model of synergy. Armies in a can (ie. permanents that make creatures) are the driving force, and it has a very strong artifact sub-theme. It can go wide and tall at the same time, while also milling you and providing an alt-wincon involving indestructible lands. This game showed that it might need to consider Scavenger Grounds, and think twice about Altar of the Brood on turn 1 sometimes. If you’re reading, Partners, I picked up a Mace of the Valiant this weekend, and I think it would be a slam dunk in your deck.

The game began with lands and a turn 1 Altar of the Brood from the Partners. While this is an intimidating play, it may have worked in both Meren’s and my favour. Meren’s especially. We all ramped or just played lands for a few turns, until on turn 5, Aminatou topdecked Temporal Mastery and took an extra turn.

The extra turn produced Praetor’s Grasp on the Partners, which yielded Tezzeret, Artifice Master. The card just keeps showing up. The Partners played Cathar’s Crusade and attacked Aminatou with Commander Ishai, but Aminatou used Path to Exile to get rid of it.

On turn 6, Aminatou used Bribery on Meren, summoning a creature from their deck directly into play. I remarked it might be better used on me, as I had some huge beasties in my deck, but when Aminatou stopped at Hornet Queen, I was forced to say I doubted I had anything that good. The Partners were surprised, but Hornet Queen is a house.

After initially considering the Queen, Aminatou instead chose Sepulchral Primordial which really made use of the milling from Altar of the Brood. Aminatou grabbed my Wurmcoil Engine and Meren’s Kozilek, Butcher of Truth.

Aminatou looked to be in unassailable form, but Meren’s next play was Homeward Path. I think I cackled. What a response.

Meren also started putting pieces into play of their unstoppable value engine. Cards like Eternal Witness, Birthing Pod, and Multani’s Acolyte. The Acolyte was in and out of the graveyard many times over the next few turns.

The Partners used Saheeli’s Artistry on their turn to copy the Wurmcoil Engine and Aminatou’s Mirage Mirror. I got into things with Feral Prowler. At least mine’s foil. I was stuck badly on land drops, and desperately seeking a second green source.

Aminatou had milled the Scarab God, and tried to cast Reanimate on it, but Meren used Homeward Path to take Kozilek back and countered Reanimate by discarding Caustic Caterpillar.

Meren added on with Somberwild Sage and what looked to be one of their wincons, Vindictive Lich. Sacrificing the Lich every turn would deplete our resources quickly, in a way the Meren pilot could tailor to their needs.

The Partners copied Cathar’s Crusade with their copy of Mirage Mirror and played Maverick Thopterist, piling up counters on their creatures. Attacking me got me a couple of death triggers I could turn into lands, which was pretty useful. I was still behind, and used my turn 7 to cast Yavimaya Elder for a final burst.

On turn 8, Meren dropped Dictate of Erebos. This was something I expected.

Sidisi, Undead Vizier followed, sacrificing the Vindictive Lich.

Things looked pretty grim. The Partners used Crush Contraband to take out the Dictate and the Birthing Pod, but there were too many good targets on Meren’s side. More thopters appeared for the Partners, with more counters, but there wasn’t a good attack to be had. On my turn, I put out a Pelakka Wurm, for the life, bringing me up to a robust 42.

Aminatou started using the Mirage Mirror to copy Meren, and got experience counters. Meren pushed right along on turn 9, and added Hornet Queen and Archetype of Endurance.

The Partners passed without doing anything, and I was able to finally get going with Feed the Pack. I also cast a 1/1 Hangarback Walker and fed it to the pack at end of turn for a wolf and thopter. 2 chumps is better than ones.

Aminatou’s amassing of experience counters paid off, and on turn 10 was able to Mirage Mirror Meren and get The Scarab God back at end of turn. Meren started to dish it out, hitting the Partners for 12 with Kozilek, and carving 9 off Aminatou. The Partners also attacked, depleting life totals all around. I added token creatures like crazy, including a 10/10 elemental courtesy of Seed Guardian. Turn 11 saw nothing but continued aggression. Meren went hard at both Aminatou and the Partners, but a reanimated Phyrexian Metamorph copied the Hornet Queen and kept Aminatou alive. At end of turn, Meren reanimated Eternal Witness to grab Damnation. Aminatou sat vulnerable at 2 life.

The Partners attacked Aminatou with everything they had left, which would have been just enough if not for my Maze of Ith. I was able to swoop in for the last 2 points of damage to take out Aminatou.

Meren revealed Heroic Intervention on turn 12 and followed it up with Damnation. With all my defenses gone, I was swiftly dispatched. The Partners hung on for one more turn, but Tooth and Nail was enough to force the Partners to submit. It wasn’t hard to imagine what Meren could get, but it wasn’t going to take much. We were ready for the next game anyway. And also, the Angus Mackenzie experience was happening again at the table next to ours, and it was hard to ignore. On to game 4!

Game 4 – Saheeli, the Gifted vs. Arcades the Strategist vs. Me vs. Oketra the True

Saheeli, the Gifted is clearly an attractive Commander. I’ve seen it played a lot, by a lot of different people. It shows up in 99s, too. I’ve seen plenty of Lord Windgraces and Aminatous, too, so the Planeswalker Commanders (some of them) have found their mark. That being said, I feel like all the Saheeli decks I’ve seen have lacked something. Maybe it’s not a lack, but I find the decks tend to put tons of stuff into play that seems to synergize at first glance, but doesn’t form a cohesive plan. Unless you’re stacking them, isolated bonuses like +1/+1 to all artifact creatures isn’t enough for Commander. Even cards that seem to be a lock with artifact decks can fizzle. Mirrorworks is one of these I’ve seen a lot, where it makes tons of copies of something like Hedron Archive, but all that extra mana and card draw don’t amount to anything. I’ve had decks like this before, that can enable themselves to anything, but don’t really have anything consequential to do. I think this Saheeli pilot had had a frustrating day. Sometimes the locked door you want opened is better kicked down than picked. I would advise this player to grab something real simple and unsubtle, like zombies and lords, and smash face with it.

Speaking of smashing face, this Arcades the Strategist deck was the most offensive-minded I’ve ever seen. When the dragon was released with Core 19, a lot of walls and defender cards popped like crazy, and since some were old and in short supply, they stayed expensive. There was expectation of a brave new archetype, but it turns out that Arcades wasn’t as popular and competitive as first imagined, despite the awesome power of Shield Sphere.

Arcades is still nothing to sleep on, and the colours together are very strong and have a lot of synergy. Also, defender creatures are pretty fun. They usually get the short end of the stick, and hardly see play outside of limited, so getting them into combat shape is pretty cool. Arcades is undeniably a fun Commander, and this deck contained some spicy tech!

Oketra the True is an odd Commander that wants you to go wide so that you can go tall. While this may seem counterintuitive, going wide in such a way that your tall gets taller, ie. through cards like Cathar’s Crusade, can be really effective. This deck did just that, prioritizing cards that dropped a few tokens into play, and small creatures with big upside, like Aegis of the Gods. Then the deck could, with a few simple cards like Cobbled Wings, turn Oketra into all the fighting force needed. A subtle exalted package backed that up nicely.

I kept a hand with Wurmcoil Engine in it. Why not have it in every game? The card itself is not cheap, but if you want a big-time performer that can go in literally every deck and be a strong, singular threat, give it a look. A reprint is long overdue. Mine is a promo foil I bought a while ago, when for some reason, the promo foil was cheaper than the regular non-foil versions. I don’t know that there are a lot of cards out there that still are like this, where one version is drastically cheaper than others, but it pays to turn over all stones. The From the Vault versions of many cards continue to be cheap, and reprint sets, like Masters and Horizons, can take a while to catch up to older prices. I have an inkling that Wurmcoil Engine was not in the Saheeli deck, and I think it is something that would help a lot.

The game started really slow, with the only non-land play in the first two turns being Brave the Sands from Arcades. Great card. I have a plan to use it something later this year. Turn 3 was similarly slow, with Saheeli playing a mana rock and me playing Ooze Garden. The Garden was an acceptable sacrifice outlet, with an intriguing payoff, but the oozes need evasion. I would look to take this out of the deck next time. By contrast, I also played Culling Dais later in this game and was extremely impressed.

Turn 4, Saheeli got going, and cast the Commander, then Master of Etherium. Arcades got their Commander online, too. I played Oracle’s Vault, which with some work, could jive nicely with my Commander’s topdeck ability. Oketra made tokens.

Turn 5 saw Saheeli cast Sunbird’s Invocation, a card that is still underrated and underplayed.

Arcades played Hover Barrier, an 0/6 flying wall, and the truly delightful Suspicious Bookcase, a card so sneaky it dodged being printed with a silver border. It does great with Arcades, too, making Commander Damage or going tall a viable option.

I got using my Oracle’s Vault, but only managed to exile Skyshroud Claim (and Zendikar Resurgent, ouch!). Oketra played Aegis of the Gods, then gave it hexproof with Swiftfoot Boots.

Turn 6, we expected Saheeli to start a flurry of casting, but the Weatherlight was the biggest play, and Sunbird’s only added a Hedron Archive.

Arcades followed up by killing Planeswalker Saheeli with aerial attacks. I drew cards with Harmonize. Oketra played the Commander and put the puss in boots, attacking me for 6. On turn 7, Saheeli crewed the Weatherlight and dug for more ammo, adding Mirrorworks to hand. When they tried to recast Saheeli, Arcades stopped them cold with Render Silent.

Saheeli had nothing else to do but pass, then watch in horror as Arcades played True Conviction and halved the Saheeli player’s life total. Arcades climbed to 67 life.

I used Oracle’s Vault on my turn to get Seed Guardian into play, the reach being really valuable at the moment. Oketra passed. Saheeli tried one more push on turn 8, casting Mirrorworks, but Sunbird’s only turned up Darksteel Juggernaut and little else. They passed and Arcades finished them off on the following turn. Arcades also cast Return to Dust, dusting Oketra’s Swiftfoot Boots and my Oracle’s Vault with 3 brick counters. I guess that was easy to see coming.

I played a Thragtusk for the life points and passed. Oketra tried True Love’s Kiss on True Conviction, but the Conviction was backed up by a Counterspell.

Turn 9, Arcades attempted to alpha Oketra, but ran smack into Settle the Wreckage. After combat, Arcades cast Switcheroo, swapping their Axebane Guardian for Oketra’s Commander. On their endstep, I cast Momentous Fall on my Thragtusk for more life and some cards.

Arcades rebuilt quickly with the Commander and an 0/13 Traproot Kami. On my turn I played the ubiquitous Wurmcoil Engine. Oketra promptly cast Winds of Abandon to reset.

We all rebuilt, although Arcades had slowed considerably. I was in great position with more land than I knew what to do with. On turn 11, I had a growing board of creatures and tokens, alongside Culling Dais and Ooze Garden for sacrifice and Lurking Predators for pure gas.

While over the next couple of turns I was able to build up a massive board presence, it suffered from being ground-bound with no other evasion. I could attack into the quagmires of defenders on either side, and maybe take a big chunk out of one or the other, but I wouldn’t finish them, and would leave myself completely open. Arcades was sitting comfortably at 84 life as well. The synergy each of the two decks had outclassed me as well, as on turn 14, Arcades played Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive and nearly attacked me for lethal with an unblockable force. Which stayed untapped to block. Vigilance is a very powerful and underrated ability (by me).

Time was called. I tried to at least gain enough life to survive another round, but even attacking with my Wurmcoil Engine proved useless as Arcades cast Sylvan Reclamation on it.

Oketra was flying under the radar with a double-strike Commander and a pile of exalted enablers, and when they played Rogue’s Passage, had a clear shot at my life points. A single Oketra attack made up enough for Commander lethal, and my day was over.

Arcades went for the kill by casting Eerie Interlude to blink a bunch of walls and draw a bunch of cards, but on the final turn was only able to get Oketra down to 3 life, and both players survived. One funny thing at the end for me was a ‘smart’ choice I thought I’d made biting me in the butt a little. I played Road of Return as an alternative to Regrowth in my deck. I didn’t play many spells, so I figured it would be fine and give me some upside to recast my Commander easily. When it came up late in game 4, all I needed was to bring back my Momentous Fall, and things might have been much different. FYI: I don’t own an Eternal Witness, or I would probably play that.

It was time for prizes! The pools have been really deep lately, and this was no exception. The overall winner was a familiar face: the same winner from the previous Challenge. While they played Rakdos last time, this time it was mono-white Darien, King of Kjeldor that won it all. Lots of kills, and lots of votes, too.

The first prize was Ink-Eyes, Marrowgnawer and Pack Rat from the Secret Lair set. Second place went to Angus Mackenzie, who had no ‘wincon’ and was otherwise a Competitive Commander player. I hope they saw a format they liked. Third place took the Mystery Box, which contained the Global Series sealed product, notable for a foil dog token and unfortunately little else.

I’m delighted to say that I came fifth! I grabbed the Mardu knights Brawl deck, which netted me my very own Arcane Signet. I will play the crap out of it. Lots of other good stuff in there, too. I’m really happy with the prize, and with how the deck played. I would definitely return to it, but would also make a fair amount of changes. I’m also really glad to be done with mono-coloured decks for now. I might do a summation, because I do have some thoughts on how these decks play. Maybe this week, as there’s no Challenge until March 7th. You can help me decide what to write next! Take the poll at the bottom here, and let me know! Thanks for reading, and may you have some sweet games, and a peaceful, healthful start to 2020!


  1. That was a fun game of Commander. I’m the one with the Thassa deck. Your blog is a great read, keep up the awesome work.

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