For our third examination of the new Commander decks from WotC, we’re going to pick apart the BRG deck, commanded by Riku of Two Reflections. As the name of the deck, and it’s signature Commander’s title would suggest, the BRG wedge is all about copying, cloning, and doubling things. Do a quick Gatherer search for the word cards with the word “double” or “copy” in their rules text, and quite a few of the results are in the BRG color wheel. Red, Blue and Green all have a variety of effects that double something or copy something, whether it be creatures, spells, mana or damage.
Riku himself is a Xerox machine with legs and a bad J-RPG hairdo. Let’s get the cursory “official” decklist out of the way, and get to the Tech.
1 Animar, Soul of Elements
1 Artisan of Kozilek
1 Avatar of Fury
1 Baloth Woodcrasher
1 Chartooth Cougar
1 Conundrum Sphinx
1 Deadwood Treefolk
1 Edric, Spymaster of Trest
1 Elvish Aberration
1 Fierce Empath
1 Hydra Omnivore
1 Intet, the Dreamer
1 Krosan Tusker
1 Magmatic Force
1 Magus of the Vineyard
1 Rapacious One
1 Simic Sky Swallower
1 Trench Gorger
1 Valley Rannet
1 Veteran Explorer
1 Armillary Sphere
1 Call the Skybreaker
1 Chain Reaction
1 Collective Voyage
1 Colossal Might
1 Death by Dragons
1 Disaster Radius
1 Explosive Vegetation
1 Gruul Signet
1 Hull Breach
1 Hunting Pack
1 Izzet Signet
1 Kodama's Reach
1 Lightning Greaves
1 Prophetic Bolt
1 Prophetic Prism
1 Ray of Command
1 Savage Twister
1 Simic Signet
1 Sol Ring
1 Spell Crumple
1 Tribute to the Wild
1 Vengeful Rebirth
1 Vow of Flight
1 Vow of Lightning
1 Vow of Wildness
1 Garruk Wildspeaker
1 Command Tower
1 Evolving Wilds
1 Fungal Reaches
1 Gruul Turf
1 Homeward Path
1 Izzet Boilerworks
1 Kazandu Refuge
1 Rupture Spire
1 Simic Growth Chamber
1 Temple of the False God
1 Vivid Crag
1 Vivid Creek
1 Vivid Grove
So, there are some juicy big-mana spells and creatures that should prove fun to copy. Magmatic Force, Simic Sky Swallower, Call the Skybreaker, etc… yeah, those can win some games, especially when you have two of them.
One thing that strikes me as odd about this deck is that it contains no other ways to copy things – there is zero redundancy here, which kinda sucks, because as a 2/2 with no way to protect himself, Riku dies a lot – even more than Kaalia! One of the very first things I did to this deck was to move Champion’s Helm from the Zedruu deck into this one. Hexproof is relevant for obvious reasons, but the +2/+2 is significant because it helps Riku survive several of the “mass removal” spells included in these decks. Firespout, Evincar’s Justice, Sulfurous Blast, etc… all kill Riku unless he’s protected by the helm.
Another great option is Magebane Armor. Unlike Kaalia, swinging into the red zone is not a big thing for Riku, so protection from non-Combat damage keeps him safe from stuff like Savage Twister, Earthquake or Flametongue Kavu.
The by-now-obvious suggestion of Asceticism comes in at this point. Pretty much the go-to for green decks with fragile generals, Asceticism really shines here, where it protects Riku and the many, many creature tokens he will create.
We need to be very careful not to run too many enchantments or artifacts, as those are things Riku cannot copy. It’d be very tough and equally foolish to build a deck with nothing but Creatures, Instants and Sorceries, so a few non-copy-able spells is a necessary evil. Remember: Do not be a slave to your theme. Sticking too close to any theme can leave you with massive weaknesses and cost you games.
But, for the sake of making Riku worth casting repeatedly (because he will get killed, believe me) we’ll try to minimize the number of cards he can’t duplicate.
One of the first things I’d do is take out the Ravnica Signets. They’re great, and I’m a big fan usually, but I’d rather play a copy-able ramp spell instead. Starting off, we have Collective Voyage, Cultivate and Explosive Vegetation. Those are fine, but we can supplement those with the additions of Explore, Kodama’s Reach and Wood Elves. I’d also consider Farhaven Elf and Silverglade Elemental.
Harrow is awesome in this deck, if you aren’t worried about it being countered. Remember: If you copy Harrow with Riku or Mirari, you don’t have to sac land to the copy, just the original!
I also really like Collective Voyage here, as it’s one of only two Join Forces cards I really don’t mind playing. The other is, of course the Dragon. Collective Voyage helps everyone ramp up, but this deck is likely to be able to exploit all that extra mana moreso than your opponents – they likely mulliganed a hand that was a bit top-heavy, but with this deck you want at least one BIG thing early on, and Collective Voyage can help you hit your badass stuff faster than anyone else.
If you have the ABUR Duals or Ravnica Duals, then Skyshroud Claim is often just plain better than Explosive Veggies. Getting Breeding Pool and Stomping Ground untapped is usually better than getting Island and Mountain tapped.
This deck is mana-hungry, so the biggest pitfall trap to avoid is cutting your ramp back to make room for splashy spells. Don’t do this. Run the ramp, and I assure you, you’ll have plenty of room for splashy stuff too. You’ll be re-casting Riku often, and without sufficient ramp, you’ll but JUST re-casting him, and not getting to do anything relevant.
Which brings me back to the redundancy issue. Whatever your strategy, if you are counting on having your general out to facilitate that strategy, you better bring a back-up plan. There’s a chance Riku will become too expensive to reasonably expect to cast him and still have mana to do stuff. Fortunately we have plenty of options, and here are a few:
Phyrexian Metamorph (and every other Clone variant)
I’m probably missing a few more, but this is a good start. And we don’t want to overdo it here – winding up with a handful of copy spells, but nothing to copy would suck big time. Ideally, we want a couple that copy creatures and a couple that copy spells.
Creatures tend to die often in EDH, so stuff like Echo Mage and Djinn Illuminatus are not appealing to me, as I would expect them to die before I’d gotten my mana’s worth out of them. In short, they’re bad investments. I love the potential they offer, but the fact is that they’ll rarely, if ever actually deliver on that potential.
On the flip side, I do like effects like Phyrexian Metamorph for sheer utility. They can copy a Legend to kill it, or something with an ETBF effect, or whatever. It’s easier to get a return on your investment, and they’re usually a lot cheaper than leveling up an Echo Mage.
Mirari and Minion Reflector are both highly recommended. They can do Riku’s job in his absence, survive most board-wipes and if Riku does show up, they can double his doubling power.
Spitting Image is also a strong contender, as it is both versatile and reusable. Once it’s in your graveyard, your opponents will have to think very hard about casting their generals. The reverse effect is Sakashima, the Imposter, who would be just another Clone if it weren’t for the fact that she can copy a Legend without killing it! This is handy if you want to do really degenerate things by copying Riku so you can copy everything twice instead of once, or if an opponent has a General you’d like to abuse. Having your own Damia or Karador could lead to broken things!
Kiki-Jiki is a strong inclusion as well, despite the slightly more narrow applications, simply making a hasted copy of a Primeval Titan can lead to tremendous board advantage.
I think we probably want one or two ways to copy other players’ spells. Twincast and Wild Ricochet get my votes. Wild Ricochet is just too fun and awesome, and since I chose it as the red spell, I wanted to pick Twincast to balance out the red/blue mana requirements. Reiterate is good, but I rarely have the mana open for Buyback, especially when playing a deck this mana-hungry.
Finally, Rite of Replication is probably the single best spell in the list above, as it can often end games on the spot when Kicked. It’s powerful and swingy, and can do really funny things too. A great card in any deck, it’s a perfect fit for this one.
Drawing cards is going to be important. I’ve seen the Riku deck as-is ramp up to obscene mana, and then just run out of gas after playing and copying one big creature or spell, then having nothing to do with all that mana the rest of the game.
Obviously, some creature-based draw will be great – Mulldrifter, Regal Force and Consecrated Sphinx are all fantastic inclusions. I especially like the way Mulldrifter interacts – you can evoke it for 2U, copy it for UG, draw four cards and still have a Mulldrifter token in play.
Similar to the Evoke mechanic, stuff like Sneak Attack will achieve similar results. You can Sneak Attack something in, copy it with Riku, and while the original will die EOT, the token copy will stick around!
Eternal Witness is a big fat “Duh!”, and should have been included in this deck over Devour For Power. Fortunately they did give us Vengeful Rebirth, a card I’ve long considered too expensive for its effect and have never really played. But in this deck, it really does make quite an impact. I’ve seen it do some sick things in the Riku precon, so I’m rather surprised to find that I’m leaving it in my modified build.
Also, Izzet Chronarch has been far, far better to me than Nucklavee. Nucklavee is just too restrictive and I NEVER once got to return more than a single card with it anyway, and there was usually a Harmonize or some other green spell that I really wanted to get, so I just swapped out the Nuck for the Chronarch and I’ve been much happier.
On the spell side, we have almost boundless options, but I want to focus on the early game because this is a deck with a stupidly high curve, overall. Explore and Coiling Oracle are kinda draw/ramp in one package… in fact Coiling Oracle might be the single most egregious omission of all, in this deck. Treasure Hunt is actually pretty awesome here, too. Late game it has the potential to draw you a bunch of lands to fuel your Retrace spells, and it’ll ALWAYS give you one non-Land card, guaranteed.
At the four-mana slot, we have a variety of options. Harmonize is great, and I’m really excited to copy a Foresee. Scry 8, draw 4, for only six mana? Sounds like a great deal to me. Deep Analysis is always solid, but not necessarily the best choice in this deck.
My absolute favorite late-game topdeck has to be Fathom Trawl. Just when you run out of gas and your opponents think they finally have room to breath, this shows up and refills your hand… but it’s ALL gas! How many times have you cast a Wheel of Fortune hoping to refuel, only to draw 4 or 5 worthless lands out of that 7? How about only drawing three cards instead, but they’re ALL non-lands? Yeah, and if you copy it, it’s SIX non-land cards, every time. In this deck, Fathom Trawl is almost like casting Conflux in a five-color deck. It will break the backs of the weak and win games for the strong!
The next area to work on is early-to-midgame defense. Spitebellows is actually a fantastic card, and I’m glad they included it. We could use a Flametongue Kavu as well. I’ve already mentioned Mulldrifter as a card-drawer, but he can also be an early flier to block with. Aethersnipe is fun and we could easily use Man-O-War here too. I generally find a tempo/bounce effect like Man-O-War to be not really worth it in EDH. But with the ability to copy it, it’s value increases slightly.
Instead of the jellyfish, though, I want to suggest Temporal Spring. This card can do a pretty decent impression of a Vindicate for 1UG, but copying this putting a sizeable threat back on the library, with a comes-into-play-tapped land on top of that threat can really set an opponent back. It’s still little more than a stall tactic, but it can buy you the time you need to start dropping big threats yourself.
Plow Under is an attractive choice, but I feel like it might be a bit too mean and unfun for my opponents, so I’ll be pass, but feel free to try it out on your group.
Undo is another good bounce spell that packs just enough punch to make it possibly worth running. I still like Temporal Spring better, but if you have some fast aggro decks in your group, you should consider both.
Evacuation doesn’t really do anything extra if you copy it, but it’s probably worth including as a potential reset if someone manages to get out more creatures than you. Or you could just use Red’s arsenal of blow-up-the-world effect and massive damage spells like Starstorm and the already included Savage Twister.
All of these big spells makes me think of Jhoira of the Ghitu – which is sure to get a lot of groans and eye-rolls, as she’s degenerate and played-out as a general, but if you just throw her in here and you don’t do the whole Obliterate then un-Suspend a bunch of guys thing, she’s totally fair. You can suspend some stuff, then if you manage to keep Riku alive for it to un-Suspend, you’ll have all that mana open to copy the shit out of everything.
One of the spells included in the deck is Prophetic Bolt. I’m a big fan of this card already, but it is so much fun to copy! I love it. Fire // Ice and Electrolyze, however have not proven effective, at least for me. Even copying them has not really gotten the kind of mileage we want from them. I replaced them with Beast Within and Chaos Warp in my build. Chaos Warp is fun to copy - I never know weather to use it on my utility guy and hope for a big threat, or use it on my opponent's big threat and hope he hits a land!
I need more ways to deal with problematic Lands, Equipment and Enchantments in my metagame – Hull Breach is great, but it’s not quite enough. I suggest Acidic Slime and Indrik Stomphowler, both obvious staples, so I won’t spend any more time on them. They’re just good.
Primal Command is a great spell to copy. The copy has to have the same modes as the original, but it’s still usually worth it. 7 mana to Plow Under and gain 14 life? Or screw the guy playing out of everyone’s graveyards while you tutor up two creatures? Brilliant!
Doubling Season is a great card to add, but that was probably painfully obvious already, and I put it in the Ghave deck so we’ll give it a rest. It’s harder to find a deck Doubling Season is NOT good in at this point.
Same goes for Mana Reflection. While I’ve never been the biggest fan of this 6-mana enchantment, a deck this greedy should probably make good use of it. Taking the whole “doubling” theme to the extreme, we could do Thought and Rage Reflections as well, but I’m not advocating this – just throwing the idea out there if anyone wants it.
Magmatic Force has actually been pretty stellar, overall, but I’m not sure I wouldn’t rather have Bogardan Hellkite and Inferno Titan over the Force. Somehow, I managed to fit all three into my build, but it’s starting to become clear that triple R’s in the casting cost puts a serious strain on my mana base even with all the ramp and color-fixing! I may have to cut it, as I’m trying to avoid creatures that require more than two of any color to cast.
Speaking of Titans, Primeval and Frost versions are equally recommended, especially Prime Time (duh, again). All three are great when copied with Riku or Minion Reflector, and casting Rite of Replication, kicked, and then copied with Riku should pretty much end a game on the spot. Especially if you have ways to give them Haste…
On that note, obviously Fires of Yavimaya and Sarkhan Vol are going to be terrific inclusions, but In the Web of War and Urabrask the Hidden can participate if you prefer. Lightning Greaves is already in the deck, and should not be cut for anything ever! Akroma’s Memorial is just plain awesome, and grants Haste as well as a bunch of other relevant bonuses.
Other big, dumb guys that are fun to copy:
Darksteel Colossus (Or Blightsteel if you’re mean like that)
With all the huge guys we’re probably going to be running, Spearbreaker Behemoth looks promising as well. Eldrazi Monument also grants mass-Indestructibility but the upkeep is kinda tough in a deck like this – we don’t really pump out massive hordes of tokens, just a few really big ones! Probably best to just go with the Spearbreaker.
A quick note on the other Legends:
I’ve found Animar to be quite good as one of the 99 in a Riku deck. With only two counters on him, he makes many creatures cheap enough that you can cast and copy them for the original CMC of the creature. That alone is good enough, but when you’re dropping Inferno Titans for RR and Avenger of Zendikar for GG, well, you tend to win those games.
Edric is fun but he doesn’t really do much for this deck. I found him to be a largely useless card 90% of the time, and only drew me 1 or 2 cards before a Wrath came down the rest of the time. I like him much better as a general or just in some other deck than this one (I currently have him earmarked for Rafiq).
Intet is cool, and has a some synergy with Riku – she lets you play stuff for free, which frees your mana up to do other things, like copy the stuff she plays for free. But to make Intet reliable enough to be worth playing you need some additional support. Sensei’s Divining Top, Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Sphinx of Jwar Isle all come to mind, as well as Crystal Ball and Scroll Rack. If you have all these, and can find room for them, they make a fine Plan B of “getting free shit with Intet”, while interacting with your existing Plan A of “copy shit”. If not, I’d cut the Dragon for something less complicated.
Stuff like Future Sight and Oracle of Mul Daya can help too, but I don’t realy like my opponents to see what’s coming, so I’m avoiding those effects for that reason alone. Otherwise I’d say that Oracle of Mul Daya was a must-run.
Sphinx Ambassador really tickles me because you can obviously copy the Sphinx, but whenever one or both hit, you get two creatures which Riku can also copy! Bribery does the same thing, of course – copy the Bribery, get two guys, then copy those guys. It’s 11 mana to do all that, but trust me, it’s worth it.
Knowledge Exploitation is similar, but at seven mana it’s a tad more difficult to pull off. Probably worth it if you manage to do it, though. Also, it can be used in an emergency as a Wrath effect – just target the player most likely to have a few sweepers in his deck.
The money-shot for Blue (other than Rite of Replication), though, has to be Blatant Thievery. Permanent Insurrection FTW?
At this point I feel I should point out that I’m not forgetting or overlooking Time Stretch and Time Warp, etc. I’m ignoring them, because A) they’re friggin obvious, and b) LAME!
Green has the ubiquitous Tooth and Nail, and probably Genesis Wave, but I’m still trying to find something a little less overused. Praetor's Counsel is the new hotness for big-mana Green, but it doesn’t actually do anything more if you copy it, so that’s pointless. I’m actually looking at something a little less expensive for Green’s big win-the-game spell: Overwhelming Stampede. Dubbed “Super Overrun” by me, just this very minute, it seems like casting this once and copying it once should generally result in your guys getting, oh, somewhere around +18/+18 and Trample, assuming you have a Titan out, that’s +6/+6 when the copy resolves, then the original comes in and grants +12/+12. Swingy enough for you?
Red is tricky, though. Many of its game-enders and big-mana effects are damage spells, usually X-mana stuff. Then there’s Warp World and the like, which again, don’t do a whole lot copied – yeah, you get some ETBF triggers after each one, but that’s just not really what we’re looking for here. Disaster Radius is pretty keen, and I have dreams of killing the whole table buy dropping a Repercussion and then playing Disaster Radius on a board full of guys. But no, that’s not likely to happen, and Repurcussion can be a serious liability in a creature-oriented deck like this.
If you want to push the sorcery/instant theme more, and cut back on creatures it could work, though.
So neither Insurrection nor Warp World appeal to me, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t playable. Just not really contributing to the THEME per se. But as I said, don’t be a slave to the theme – if copying Warp World is what floats your boat, go for it.
One other option is to double your attack phases. Red has plenty of spells that do this, but I’m thinking of Savage Beating in particular. It’s the biggest and splashiest of them all, with the potential to give you two attack phases AND give all your guys Doublstrike! Talk about game-ending, you probably won’t even NEED to copy this one to win, but if you do, holy shit!
I feel I’m beating a dead horse with these next few cards, but Mimic Vat and Birthing Pod go hand-in-hand with any deck that care about creatures. Mimic Vat doesn’t really interact with Riku, of course, but believe me when I say your creatures will die a lot, so chucking any Titan or even Mulldrifter onto the Vat will be perfectly fine. Birthing Pod has a more desirable interaction – you can sac TOKEN copies of creatures to get ACTUAL creatures, then copy THOSE too!
If your build is really creature-heavy, Wild Pair will probably be over-the-top busted. Uh, for 10 mana, I’ll cast Inferno Titan, copy it, Wild Pair for Frost Titan, copy it too. Shenanigans abound! Free creatures! Card Advantage! WHAT HAS SCIENCE DONE?!
There is a lot of room for variety and customization with this deck – the key is to just minimize the number of things that aren’t copy-able, ramp like mad, and then just start doing everything twice!
As for the land base, I can only really give you one very important piece of advice – minimize the colorless producing lands as much as possible. Temple of the False God is great in this deck, and I’d probably run High Market as an out for opposing theft effects, but beyond that you need all of your lands to make colored mana.
I cut the Vivid lands for the Ravnica duals, and cut some sub-par stuff like Rupture Spire for the Shadowmoor/Eventide filter lands. Homeward Path wound up in the Zedruu deck where it made more sense, thus creating the need for High Market as a theft deterrent. I suppose I could make a case for Yavimaya Hollow, too, to regenerate Riku where applicable. But yeah, most important rule is: COLORED MANA!
One final idea I had, briefly, was to go with an Ally tribal theme, as Riku’s copying ability would be pretty busted with that particular tribe! However, RGU isn’t really the optimal color combination. For every all-star we’d get like Harabaz Druid and Sea Gate Loremaster, we’d also be reduced to playing turds like Seascape Aerialist and Tuktuk Grunts. Still, with some judicious use of Changelings and Xenograft, it could be done!