Thursday, January 21, 2016

Just Checking In

Here’s the thing, folks – I hate making promises I can’t keep. When I came back to this blog and started getting hyped for the C15 decks I was all gung-ho to do the full series of deck updates. But I also told you I wasn’t going to do theorycrafted articles anymore, that I would base my suggestions for improving these decks on actual play experience – if I try something and it doesn’t work, I’m not going to tell you all to try it! Well, aside from Meren, which continues to be one of my favorite decks EVER, I have been very disappointed in the other four decks. I still want to talk about them, to some extent, but I am having trouble finding a way to approach these topics, given that the approach I used for Meren won’t work – I just don’t have that much to say about them.

But, just so you know where things stand, I thought I’d throw out an update or a sort of rundown on what’s going on.


Three of the 4 players in my group, myself included, have tried to make him work with a variety of approaches. But none of us have actually succeeded in not making the deck suck. Frankly, I just think the Enchantress theme is terrible in W/B – it’s a bit of a glass cannon, but G/W Enchantress decks at least get the opportunity to run all the actual Enchantress cards, which provide the deck with some CRITICAL doses of card advantage and resiliency.

Meanwhile, the Daxos deck can do some insanely powerful things, but it is extremely draw-dependent and extremely weak to concentrated opposition. Basically, even with three of us playing different variations on the deck, I have actually never seen any of our Daxos decks win a single game, to the best of my memory. Again, a big reason for the losing streak comes down to the fact that in some games, you will just straight up lose to your own draws. And when you aren’t losing to your own deck just giving you the worst run of topdecks in history, you will lose to your opponents making even a token effort to shut you down. Running good cards like Academy Rector and Enlightened Tutor, or just removing all the marginal-to-bad enchantments and replacing each and every one with an actual, legitimately good enchantment doesn’t really do much to shore up these weaknesses.

There are just so many ways to easily shut the deck down that it frequently was happening as an incidental effect of someone specifically trying to shut down a different deck. Some variation on this phrase gets uttered in almost every game containing a Daxos deck I’ve seen: “Sorry Daxos player, this is going to suck for you, but if I don’t do it that Ezuri deck is just going to win anyway!” And when the Daxos deck gets what passes as a God-draw for him and actually becomes a serious threat – basically any sweeper will set it back a few turns at least, and something like Austere Command or Back to Nature are devastating plays. Hell even an early Return to Dust can, in some cases, keep the deck from every mounting any kind of real game plan.

So. It needs to draw the right cards, in the right order, at the right time. It needs to have its key cards not answered. And once it gets rolling it needs to keep fading sweepers turn after turn until everyone is dead. I don’t know how to fix all these problems without scrapping the whole enchantress theme and going with a different commander, and a different theme altogether. I was going to swap over to Karlov instead and try that out – but about the time I came to that decision Ayli was leaked and while she certainly shares a lot of DNA with Karlov, I like her a lot more. So I’m holding out hope of getting an Ayli deck sleeved up sometime soon – I just have to acquire an Ayli first.

I would love to still give you a handful of suggestions, something you can at least start out with, but frankly I just hate that whole deck from the ground up – not just the cards in it, but the whole concept. Playing “Echantress” without the broken card draw engine that the actual (green) enchantresses provide is just pointless – enchantresses are the whole reason to play Enchantress! Drawing cards is 1000% better than not drawing cards. So, of course, my take on Daxos was simply to improve the individual card quality – cutting the marginal or even downright garbage cards that were included and replacing them with cards that don’t suck but are still mostly on theme. I also tried my best to improve the card draw, the ramp/fixing and the removal. Basically I just made it a “good stuff” deck where most of the good stuff was still an enchantment or related to enchantments. In short, shore up those obvious weaknesses as much as possible. Another take I saw, and this one actually worked a little bit better, focused very heavily on Cantrip auras like Unquestioned Authority. The basic idea was to just run out Daxos, start loading him up with Auras that say “draw a card” on them to keep the train rolling and beat down with a Voltron-ed Daxos and an army of like 10/10 spirit tokens. This version is the only one that I’ve seen really make a case for Daxos as it’s been able to pull of some impressive things FAIRLY reliably, but it still has those same issues, namely that it just never wins a game, period.


I’ve already talked about this here, but to reiterate my issues with Mizzix – my group has a sort of truce on countermagic. It’s not a strict ban, but just kind of a handshake deal where we largely avoid countermagic but, you know, running Mystic Snake in an Ezuri deck just makes too much sense to pass up. Point being, these “Instants and Sorceries matter” decks are very hard to interact with in an environment that shuns countermagic. It feels a bit exploitative to win off a huge Epic Experiment when you know there’s basically a 0.00000001% chance anyone is going to have a counterspell handy to stop you. And, more than that, we are definitely an anti-combo playgroup – where we might not enforce the countermagic policy very strictly, our stance on just combo-killing the table is a bit more firm.

So my idea was to switch over to Arjun and make the deck revolve more around permanents on the battlefield that can still be interacted with in a counterspell-free environment. A worthy cause, but I failed here, too. The first game I played with Arjun was a blowout. The turn after I cast Arjun I swung for 36 general damage thanks to a Diviner’s Wand, he got bounced in response, so a few turns later I recast him, and then won, at Instant speed, in response to a Planar Cleansing by casting Stroke of Genius for X=0 just to trigger Arjun and, in turn, my Sphinx’s Tutelage. I drew enough cards to deck everyone, with room to spare. Technically, yeah, this could have been stopped by a Krosan Grip on my Tutelage or any number of other spells that actually are commonly-played, but this still felt very combo-ish. Basically you’re forcing your opponent, not just to have an answer, but to have that answer (and the mana to cast it) right that second. So it failed in my goal of not being a combo deck in spirit even if it technically wasn’t a combo deck.

I could just not run Tutelage and cut Diviner’s Wand, as well as the Niv-Mizzet/Psychosis Crawler stuff – basically anything that says “If you let me untap with this in play I’m almost certainly going to win”… but then I’m pretty sure the deck has ZERO chance of winning. I just can’t figure out how to do this in a way that is fun, doesn’t feel like a combo deck and doesn’t exploit our group’s social contract considerations.

But, for those of you whose interests have been piqued by my comments on the deck, I can tell you that there are only about ten or so cards that I would consider absolutely essential to the Arjun plan – the rest of the deck you can figure out on your own. But if you want to build around Arjun this is the recipe you want to start with and then season to taste:

•  Diviner’s Wand – You will probably never pay for that activated ability, but you don’t need to anyway. It equips to Arjun for free, and synergizes perfectly with her triggered ability to make Arjun a one-shot killing machine,
•  Alhammaret’s Archive – Thought Reflection is already in the precon deck. Keep it! And supplement it with this, because the effect is explosive, but also very critical.
•  Scroll Rack/Gustha’s Scepter – These are great at helping you hold on to key cards that you don’t want to cast right now, but don’t want to lose to Arjun’s moil when you do cast something else.
•  Archmage’s Ascension – I don’t think there’s ever been a deck so well-suited to this card – Arjun makes powering it up trivially easy, and once it is powered up, it makes Arjun’s moil effect work for you rather than against you.
•  Psychosis Crawler/Niv Mizzet –  Duh. Obvious synergy with Arjun, good at winning games.
•  Sphinxe’s Tutelage – You might also want Jace’s Erasure. I really don’t think that’s necessary, though. Either Tutelage is either going to get the job done on its own or milling isn’t the right line anyway.
•  Chasm Skulker – Just cute, really, but it can get scary big quite rapidly.
•  Time Spiral – Seems like a nonbo with Tutelage, but trust me, if you’re going to win that way it’s going to be off one or two Arjun triggers or not at all, so you don’t have to worry about it. You’re not going to spend countless turns whittling away at libraries only to undo that work with Time Spiral. But your own library tends to whittle fast – more importantly once you get an Archive or Reflection into play alongside Arjun, you can easily get to the point where you lock yourself out of the game (you have 50 card in hand, Arjun triggers, says draw 50, but Reflection says “No, draw 100” and you’re like “Oops! I lose!”) – so having something like Time Spiral, Wheel of Fortune, etc is important to reset your handsize to prevent decking yourself. I just picked Time Spiral because getting my graveyard back was really important, too.
•  Leyline of Anticipation/Vedalken Orrery – What if you have more than one card in your hand that you really need to cast? Well, when you can cast everything at instant-speed, that’s a lot easier.

So basically, just get yourself an Arjun and the above 10 to 12 cards, and the rest of the deck can pretty much be whatever you want it to be – spells, artifacts, whatever.


Kalemne herself is pretty sweet. And this deck isn’t, strictly speaking, terrible at all. It’s just that every time I play it, I am reminded of my Aurelia deck which was basically a much better, much more focused version of this deck. The one big difference, of course, is Kalmne’s subtheme of Giants and/or 5+ CMC creatures. Giant tribal is cute and fun when it works, but it’s unreliable, easy to disrupt and not the most resilient of strategies. Still, it definitely has a lot more game in all those departments than Daxos. But really this deck’s biggest sin is being a worse version of a deck I already had “solved”.

Then again, that’s probably because I’m more interested in how damned good Kalmene is at wearing Equipment than just trying to pump up her Experience ability. A few Giants like Sunrise Sovereign are pretty great, but there aren’t really THAT many of them. The whole 5+ CMC thing really pushes you to do the exact opposite of what you should be doing if you are on the Equipment plan. That is, play small, cheap, disposable creatures who can come out quickly, suit up for a few attacks and not cost you a considerable mana investment when they die.

If you do want to focus a bit more on the 5-drop approach, I can tell you this much – Sunrise Sovereign, the two Titans and Gisela were all fantastic, and I’d keep them. Beyond that, almost everything else is either bad, or only situationally good – and by that I mean you are drawing a great mix of lands, mana rocks and threats, while your opponents are presenting almost no opposition or disruption. Magical Christmasland, in other words.

Some of the key 5+ drops I added to my build include:

• Battlegrace Angel – Seriously, one of my favorite follow-ups to Kalemne that isn’t an equipment card.
• Karmic Guide – Better late-game, obv, but it’s one of the best all-around five-drops in these colors.
• Stonehewer Giant – Kind of a gimme, really, but it hits all the right notes – it’s a giant, it costs 5 and it gets Equipment.
• Godo, Bandit Warlord – Costs six, but otherwise, see above.
• Malignus – Holy shit this thing is actually a real card in this deck. Seriously. Run it.
• Iroas – Okay, not a five-drop, but still really good!
• Aurelia – She my bae, so I’m biased, but effectively gives Kalmene “Quadruple Strike”.
• Emeria Shepherd – We already know this card is nuts.
• Urabrask, the Hidden – Just plain good.
• Wurmcoil Engine – Another generically-good staple; not essential, but miles better than some of the crap in the precon.

And of course some of the key equipment I used:

• Swords of Stuff and Junk – Big fat “Duh!”. Rafiq already proved to us that a doublestriking commander wielding a Sword of power and value is a thing of beauty and terror. Kalmne is, quite possibly the only commander in existence who is even better than Rafiq at wielding swords: she has Double Strike all the time, not just when attacking; and Vigilance is huge when it comes time to defend yourself.
• Jitte – Yawn, another obvious gimme. But like the Swords, if I didn’t mention it, I’d have people telling me I should have included them.
• Tenza, Godo’s Maul – Now that the really obvious stuff is out of the way, let me tell you about Tenzo. Well, really, any equipment that grants Trample is big game for Kalmene. Tenzo is just my favorite, but Loxodon Warhamer is also pretty damn sweet. I usually find Warhammer overrated but Kalemne just wants Trample that badly.
• Sword of the Animist – The more I play this in various decks the more I love it. It’s sometimes a little awkward or slow, but it really pays off big in the end.
• Hero’s Blade – I’m not actually running this, but it’s really neat and I wanted to.
• Sunforger – Oh, we’re back to the gimmes now? Right, well, there’s no more compelling reason to play Boros Equipment than the hammer of Thor.

For more budget options, I would definitely consider Infiltration Lens and Mask of Memory to be very playable options. Kalemne will get blocked. A lot. Especially once you get her leveled up a bit. Lens means you draw when she does get blocked. Mask will let you draw when she gets through. There’s also Rogue’s Gloves but they’re pretty garbage. I’d highly prefer the Mask.

Beyond the above considerations, I’d just say this: mana rocks and removal. That’s pretty much all you need. Beefing up the card draw capabilities is always welcome, of course. But mostly you just need a handful of bombs, a handful of equipment and lots and lots of mana to cast them. You want Kalemne to hit on T3 as often as possible, and you want to be able to follow her up with either a good 5 CMC creature or a strong Equip on T4 and swing. The rest of the game is basically the same – play a sizeable threat, equip it up, swing until dead. Repeat until you win. Stop only to answer things that get in the way of this plan.

So despite thematic differences and a horrible mana curve, it’s basic game plan is identical to my previous Boros decks. I just so happens that I like Aurelia (and playing with two-, three-, and four- drops more than I like playing with five-, six- and seven- drop) a lot better. But Kalemne herself is the real deal, very solid.


Ah, good ol’ Ezuri, doer of stupid things. I was pretty excited about this deck, and while it’s still probably my second-favorite of the five, it has some real issues that have greatly dampened my enthusiasm for it. I still plan to write a full article on this one, though, so I don’t want to spoil things too much. But suffice it to say, the whole “glass cannon” thing I complained about with Daxos is equally true here. It’s just better at hiding that fact and isn’t quite as likely to lose to its own draws – it’s in the two best colors for drawing cards and coming back from sweepers. But by his very nature, Ezuri’s deck is highly, HIGHLY dependant on him being in play. His abilities say “Just jam your deck full of 1/1’s and 2/2’s and don’t worry about it –when it comes time to win, I’ll take care of everything!” So winning with a bunch of tiny guys that got huge because of Ezuri is definitely a viable plan – if you can keep Ezuri around to do the buffing up. But if your opponents can keep Ezuri from sticking around it is VERY hard to win. And since Ezrui can’t put counters on himself, you have to find other ways of protecting a vanilla 3/3 dude.

I was once completely shut out of a game entirely by a stupid Firemane Avenger – a card that isn’t even really good in EDH. My opponent didn’t even need to attack me or kill anything else. All he had to do was swing at whoever was open and Helix my Ezuri. No deck should just roll over and die to Firemane Avenger! But this one did. But on the other hand, games where Ezuri doesn’t die? Those tend to go my way more often than not. He’s not nearly as linear as Kaalia and way more fun to play, but he’s still like her in that games tend to be fairly binary – were you able to keep Ezuri in play for a while? If so, you probably won, if not you almost certainly lost.

The real problem is finding a way to shore up this weakness and protect Ezuri without diluting the deck. You really NEED a critical mass of 1 and 2 power creatures to make him effective, but a lot of the better ways to keep him alive aren’t synergistic. Asceticism is great, and there are a handful of other things, but most of them don’t synergize well and you can’t really rely on drawing them every game unless you really load up heavily on them. Oh - I did try Kira, Great Glass-Spinner thinking I was a genius… until I had them both in play at the same time and realized I was actually a moron. Don’t run Kira, is what I’m saying.

Anyway, I’ll get more into the details when I eventually write up the full article, but for now I will just tell you, when the deck works it’s awesome, but games where Ezuri dies even two or three times tend to be miserable, boring slogs, and I haven’t managed to solve that problem yet. But, if it comes down to it, I will simply tell you what IS working in my build and let you sort out how to plug the leaks yourselves.


Outside of the C15 decks, I have one other deck I’m eager to talk about. I’ve mentioned it here before, but never posted a list – Karametra. I had long been searching for a G/W commander to no avail when Karametra was spoiled. My gut instincts told me she was the one I had been waiting for – but my earliest attempts at the deck were not exciting. The deck had an amazing late game, but simply living long enough to get to the late game was a real issue and it turned out to be a wildly unreliable and inconsistent deck. But the very few games I had where it actually worked as intended were pretty awesome, so I rebuilt it from the ground up and really tried to make it work. It still took a lot more fine-tuning and going back to the drawing board than I’m used to – but in the end it was worth it. It is now one of my favorite decks currently in my roster, and one of my most reliable and consistent, too. Unlike my issues with Daxos and Ezuri, I was able to find ways to overcome the weaknesses and issues of the deck and whip it up into something I dearly love to play. So I’m hoping to write that list up pretty soon. After that, we’ll see what comes next.


  1. Your comments about Karametra are exactly the kind of stuff you should be writing about :) Don't feel obligated to write about the next big thing or new shinies. Write about what you love and it won't be a chore.
    I know I would love to read articles about the process and what you found didn't work and what you changed and why.
    I can't speak for everyone but I would rather you retain your enjoyment of writing than force yourself to write about something for sake of it.

    Oh and on Ezuri , there are more options they are just really cutthroat . Ezuri infect is outright lethal , Sage of the Hours is pretty much an auto-scoop.
    I think the problem as you noticed it he is either awful and dies a lot or is hideously unfun and broken.

    1. Yeah, that's exactly what I'm trying to do - the thing is, I still managed to jump the gun a bit and when I said I was going to write about all the commander 2015 decks I was very, very enthusiastic to do so! But once I played them, my enthusiasm quickly left me, for some of them, anyway.

      And yeah, the Infect angle and Sage of Hours angle are known to me, but way outside what my playgroup is cool with. If and when I do write that article, I'll have to give a nod to those options but they aren't something I would want to explore myself.