Commander Challenge 04/29/23 – A Beacon to Bugs

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Hey out there Magic players! This past weekend was the latest installment of the Commander Challenge, a Vancouver-based casual EDH tournament. This was also the latest in a variant of these Challenges, one which really speaks to me. I’m talking about the ‘No Search’ Commander Challenge. All library search effects, like Demonic Tutor or Evolving Wilds, are banned.

I stopped playing cards that search my decks entirely a while ago, so this suits me perfectly. I could bring any of my decks! But I really wanted to do something fun in what I assumed would be a slower format, so I selected my Imoti, Celebrant of Bounty deck.

The original list and post for the deck can be found here, but I made a lot of changes for the Challenge. Something I’m making a habit of now is using my best cards for the Challenges. Before, I’d keep cards in specific decks, like my Ancient Tomb in my Eldrazi deck, and not move them around unless it was permanent. So if you start to see cards like Ancient Tomb in a lot of my lists going forward, it’s just the one copy.

Here’s the list I played. Keep reading below for tournament breakdown and changes I’d make to the deck based on playing it.

Everything With a Side of Flies

Commander (1)
Imoti, Celebrant of Bounty

Creatures (31)
Archetype of Imagination
Brass Herald
Cradle Clearcutter
Greenwarden of Murasa
Oblivion Sower
Sakashima’s Protege
Sweet-Gum Recluse
Thunderfoot Baloth
Ancient Imperiosaur
Avenger of Zendikar
Chancellor of the Spires
Colossal Skyturtle
Elderscale Wurm
Hornet Queen
Nezahal, Primal Tide
Regal Force
Waker of Waves
Wretched Gryff
Zopandrel, Hunger Dominus
Interdisciplinary Mascot
It of the Horrid Swarm
Kamahl, Heart of Krosa
Lashweed Lurker
Spotter Thopter
Stonehoof Chieftain
Vexing Scuttler
Woodfall Primus
Mockery of Nature

Artifacts (9)
Caged Sun
Coveted Jewel
Obelisk of Urd
Staff of Nin
Akroma’s Memorial
God-Pharaoh’s Gift
Spine of Ish Sah
Wizard’s Spellbook
Wondrous Crucible

Enchantments (6)
Shark Typhoon
Dismiss into Dream
Lay Claim
The World Spell
Zendikar Resurgent
Sandwurm Convergence

Spells (15)
Beacon of Creation
Advice from the Fae
Boon of the Wish-Giver
Inspiring Refrain
Interpret the Signs
Rain of Thorns
Reality Strobe
Seasons Past
Spitting Image
Blatant Thievery
Nissa’s Revelation
Scour from Existence
Aminatou’s Augury
Ezuri’s Predation

Planeswalker (1)
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
Lands (37)
Ancient Tomb
Castle Garenbrig
Command Beacon
Command Tower
Dreamroot Cascade
10 Forest
Gingerbread Cabin
Hinterland Harbor
Maze of Ith
Mosswort Bridge
Mystic Sanctuary
Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
Rejuvenating Springs
Reliquary Tower
Rimewood Falls
Sapseep Forest
Scavenger Grounds
Tangled Islet
Temple of the False God
Terrain Generator
Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth

The deck was really slow, but a ton of fun to play. Here’s how my Challenge went.

Round 1

The matchup featured Greven, Predator Captain, Bane, Lord of Darkness, and Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice. Greven was a typical agro deck with some fun surprises. Bane was designed for pure value, with a Clone recursion plan based on sneaky use of the 0/0 stat-line. Very cool.

Atraxa came with an explanation, as Atraxa decks sometimes do. It’s usually how the deck is not one of the toxic variations, and this was no different. Atraxa has baggage. It’s also the #1 all-time most-built Commander, according to This Atraxa variation was Phyrexian Vorthos, meaning it was designed to be a ‘best-of’ of the Phyrexians and Phyrexia. Still pretty dangerous, but better than turbo-poison or Superfriends planeswalkers.

My first play of the game, even before the game started, was a huge mistake. If you didn’t grok it from the list above, the deck is designed to always cascade into Beacon of Creation. While drawing the card is annoying, it’s the cheapest card I run, so it’s easy to cast and shuffle back in. But I saw it in my initial draw and panicked, thinking, ‘Oh no! My surprise will be ruined!’ or something. I’m not even sure how many lands I had.

I took a mulligan, and kept a 2 land hand, including Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth. Then I proceeded to draw exactly no lands for I don’t know how many turns. It was a lot. The rest of the table developed and did stuff.

Atraxa pushed out all manner of Phyrexian creatures. Greven pushed out the Commander and made it huge, chopping down both Atraxa’s and my life totals. While Greven is a massive Commander-damage threat, it can still be pretty techy based on paying life for things to buff it. I was really impressed by the use of Barbarian Ring in this way.

Bane played value creatures, and mostly flew under the radar until a turn after Greven cast Chaos Warp on something or other, and then stopped them cold with Oubliette on the Commander. Greven, being a red and black deck, had almost no answers for enchantments other than the Chaos Warp and was completely paralyzed.

Atraxa, for theme reasons, was playing Phyrexian Negator, and had it in play. They made an aggressive move towards Greven, who responded with Soul’s Fire on their Rotting Regisaur, targeting the Negator. Yikes. Atraxa took several steps back.

While Bane was vastly outvaluing the rest of us, they couldn’t get on top of the game. I finally got to 5 mana and played my Commander, using one of my few ramp pieces in Cradle Clearcutter, but Atraxa blew it all up, stranding me at 4 lands and making it a pretty non-game for me. At least I got to cascade, and show more or less what the deck did.

We went to time, then hard time, and the game ended with no winner. It was a bit of a carnival ride. I vowed to keep a 4 land hand in round 2.

Round 2

Round 2 included the brand new Zimone and Dina, one of the human tyranids from Warhammer 40k in Magus Lucea Kane, and a Melek, Izzet Paragon deck based around the 90’s X-Men cartoon. That’s right, all the Gambits!

4 lands! One of them was Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth which made me make a mental note to shuffle really well before round 3. But it looked like I’d be in this one!

Zimone made a very bold statement on turn 1, playing Glistener Elf. I wondered if poison counter decks would make a big resurgence after All Will be One, and it sure seems like it. Zimone added a turn 2 Prologue to Phyresis, making it look like we’d all be dead of poison in a few turns, but that plan either stalled out or Zimone wasn’t that focused on the poison kill. Hard to tell.

In the meantime, I drew Beacon of Creation, naturally, and cast it turn 4. I did follow with Imoti on turn 5, but Zimone stole it with Corrupted Conscience. Ouch. I also drew and cast Beacon a few turns later.

Also in the meantime, Magus Lucea built up a nasty board quickly. Melek brought them back down to earth a bit with Reckless Endeavor, and did one of the scariest things in Magic: started keeping track of Storm Count. Killing a whole table with Grapeshot would be a huge achievement, however. It looked likely when Melek doubled a Mana Geyser for 22 total mana, but they couldn’t find a way to use it.

Magus Lucea rebuilt quickly, playing most of the Tyranids from the precon. They’re a pretty effective bunch, and more complex than I would have thought. It started to look like they had the game in hand.

Melek tried another big storm turn but was only able to copy Chain Lightning a bunch of times. Since it wouldn’t make any difference on the table, they turned it on themselves and bowed out.

I managed to mount a tiny bit of defense with Akroma’s Memorial and a lot of insects, but Magus Lucea cast Chaos Warp on the Memorial. Lucky for me, I topdecked The World Spell and immediately read ahead to chapter 3, putting 2 permanents into play from my hand.

Since Magus Lucea was heavy on equipment and targeting their own stuff with +1/+1 counters, I dropped Dismiss into Dream. I also got Zopandrel, Hunger Dominus. But the Magus was not to be stopped, casting Curse of the Swine and turning the Hunger Dominus into boar sammitches, along with Zimone’s few remaining defenses.

Zimone and I were both low enough on life that a single attack took us both down. Watch out for those Tyranids! Especially Toxicrene!

Round 3

The final round matched me up with Hidetsugu and Kairi, Oloro, Ageless Ascetic and Atraxa from round 1. Oloro is a classic, having the first Command Zone ability that eventually became the ‘Eminence’ ability on cards like The Ur-Dragon. Atraxa of course was a known quantity at this point. But Hidetsugu and Kairi?

I don’t know what their plan was exactly, but it involved cloning the Commander. Something they tried several times. The Commander was down on turn 3, and both Oloro and Atraxa seemed pretty concerned. Atraxa, despite not having a full handle on how to use the card, played Spellskite.

This turned out to be the worst case scenario for H&K, and the two players completely went at each other in an absurd battle over a clone of the Spellskite. When Oloro and I looked up, both players had taken tons of lifeloss from Spellskite activations, and both were dead in a few turns.

Oloro had played an early Authority of the Consuls and it was really massive counter to my plans. They got a life for each insect I made, and those insects would come in tapped, so no hasty alpha strike or convoke. I had both Ancient Imperiosaur and Akroma’s Memorial in hand, to boot.

Before Atraxa and H&K both went down, I’d tried a Sweet-Gum Recluse that might have been enough to win also, but Oloro got me with a timely Absorb.

I was still trying to fling haymakers, but I whiffed badly on an Aminatou’s Augury, getting only a Wizard’s Spellbook and Zopandrel again. I tried to use the Spellbook to recast the Augury, but rolled a 1. Critical fail.

Nothing amounted to a win, and Oloro had a group of plucky flyers on a solid clock, and took me down. Very well played, and my kudos to an always strong opponent.

Wrap Up

I did okay in placing. Somewhere in the middle, as I expected. My prize was a March of the Machine collector booster. Inside was the ink-drawing Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur in the halo foiling. Pretty cool. Trade bait.

The best part of the day was that the deck was a blast to play. That considering one of my games was a non-game. Plenty of the decks that I build get one Challenge and then eventually come apart so I can build something new. This one has definite replay value.

But I’d make some changes. Here are my takeaways for anyone who also wants to build and play this deck:

  • Ramp was essential. If you want to tutor, landcycling abilities will help a lot. Even filtering like with Evolving Wilds will go a long way. If not, there aren’t many options. Cradle Clearcutter and some lands. If your meta doesn’t do 5+ turn games, this isn’t the deck for you.
  • Speaking of lands, Ancient Tomb, Terrain Generator and Isolated Watchtower are real ways to get to 5 mana early without sacrificing anything. Gemstone Caverns also works. Temple of the False God and Castle Garenbrig help accelerate beyond 5, but don’t get Imoti into play any earlier.
  • Lands that came in tapped were a big problem. You don’t want to have land 5 or 6 come in tapped because that’s a whole turn cycle wasted. I’d cut everything except Oran-Rief, the Vastwood which is insane in the deck.
  • The deck could also use more mana at the top end. I’d immediately add Dreamstone Hedron, and would consider any 6 mana+ rock or mana maker. I’m sure Nyxbloom Ancient would be great, but isn’t it always?
  • The deck lacked haste. It’s pretty clear that we want to win with insect alpha strikes, and it’s tough when opponents get time to plan.
  • Speaking of insect and plans, making our insects bigger is something we want our cards to do. Getting too fancy with stuff that replaces itself with a card or something is too little impact for the plan.
  • Spot removal like Duplicant seemed very low impact too. It’s tough though when single creatures like Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite can wreck the entire plan. Desert Twister might be better.
  • Cheating on mana is a big deal, but I’m not sure about the Emerge creatures, like Wretched Gryff. While I wasn’t sold on Decimator of the Provinces, and never tried it in the deck because the boost was temporary, I’d try it now over some of the others.
  • Convoke was very strong, but blue cards like Interdisciplinary Mascot seem much less good than something like Arboretum Elemental, because they can’t be cast off of just insect tokens.
  • I’m on the fence about cycling. It felt good to cycle Lay Claim and Boon of the Wish-Giver early in a couple games, but it might be just getting the best out of bad cards. In the best case, it’s like a weird cantrip with late-game upside. Colossal Skyturtle seemed strong as a cycler. It might make sense to play a bunch of cyclers just to thin the deck in the early turns.
  • It’s also a plan to cheat on mana by discarding something like Aminatou’s Augury and then casting Spelltwine. I had this combo in my hand all game 1, and discarded the Augury to hand size early on. I just didn’t get to 6 (untapped) mana.
  • I suspended Reality Strobe in one game, but it never fired. I think it and Inspiring Refrain might be too cute for the deck.

That’s all for now! Thanks for reading and I hope your Commander games are fun and stress-free!

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