I should start by explaining that I’m not a speculator or anything like that, but I do tend to follow Magic finance trends, just so I know what’s going on and don’t screw myself over on a trade or buy something that’s overpriced and on the decline. And, occasionally, I even get the chance to get out in front of a spike. It’s very rare, because I’m honestly not clever enough to see them coming, usually, but this is one of those rare moments when I did see it. Roughly one hour after the EDH Rules Committee posted the most recent update, announcing the removal of Rule #4 entirely from the format, I was on tcgplayer.com buying myself a foil copy of Sen Triplets. I paid $30 for the foil and by that Friday they were sitting at $70 or more. Eventually they settled down a bit and are now about $65 but that’s still more than twice the price before the announcement.
So, why did the removal of Rule #4 tip me off to this potential spike? Well, Rule #4 was the rule that said you could only produce colored mana if that color was in your commander’s color identity. Running City of Brass in “normal” Magic means you can make all five colors, but in EDH, you are limited to the colors of your own deck. So for instance, in a Sen Triplets deck, cards like Chromatic Lantern and City of Brass still are capable of only producing White, Blue or Black mana. Attempting to tap Chromatic Lantern for, say, Green would result in a colorless mana being added to your mana pool instead. This made Sen Triplets, in my opinion at least, a fairly unplayable commander. Obviously, it could be a metagame call – if Green and Red are by some measure the least represented colors in your playgroup’s meta, Triplets could work fine, but if you see any reasonable amount of Green/Red/X decks, you’re likely to have a bad time.
But the removal of Rule #4 changes that. Now, if you are playing against a Gruul deck and manage to snag a Forest from their hand, you can use that Forest to cast their Green spells. And Chromatic Lantern now makes casting any card of any color almost trivial. All of this means Sen Triplets are now much more functional and open-ended than before. You stand a reasonable chance of being able to hijack your opponents’ spells no matter what colors are being played. Now, lest I take credit not due to me, I should say that I was hardly alone in figuring this out – the RC’s announcement specifically called out Sen Triplets as one example of a card that would benefit from the removal of Rule #4, but the way in which they did so really seemed to underplay the effect. Actually, a lot of people online seemed to think this made Triplets “a little bit better” but I felt the difference would be more pronounced.
And, honestly, I had been meaning to acquire a Sen Triplets for a while. It’s just one of those cards I would have sworn I already owned a copy or two of, but one day I realized that somehow I actually owned zero copies, and had intended to rectify that. However the price tag was already a bit high for a card that I didn’t really have any high expectations for using. It was just a cool card with a cool, unique effect, so I wanted at least one just in case. Well, the “just in case” scenario dropped in my lap suddenly, but I hadn’t yet procured my just-in-case copy so it just seemed like a now-or-never sort of deal. I opted for now, and pulled the trigger as quickly as I could and I’m certainly glad I did.
Anyway, I figured I’d give them a try and build a deck around them, and take some comfort in the expectation that, if the deck turned out to be a dud or I just didn’t like it much, I could probably flip the card for a small profit.
I haven’t played the deck all that much, yet, but so far I’m definitely digging it. Here’s the current list:
Master of Etherium
Muzzio, Visionary Adept
Sharuum the Hegemon
Sphinx of the Steel Wind
Soul of New Phyrexia
Path to Exile
Swords to Plowshares
Return to Dust
Wrath of God
Open the Vaults
Thirst for Knowledge
Thopter Spy Network
Tezzeret the Seeker
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
21x Dual Lands of various type
City of Brass
Temple of the False God
As you can see, we are an Artifact deck, with a lot of the usual suspects, but initially that’s not what I set out to build. It just sort of grew organically from the needs of the deck, and my not wanting to build a generic Esper Control deck. Which is what this deck was starting to look like, before I changed tracks and went full-on Artifacts. But I still didn’t want this to feel like a Sharuum deck that’s just playing the wrong commander. I really wanted Triplets to be the centerpiece of the deck, so I didn’t initially want to go this route, but somehow I ended up here anyway.
Let me walk you through my thought processes. Sen Triplets tells us that we want to be casting our opponents spells, right? So obviously we need to make our mana base as flexible as possible so that we can cast those spells regardless of what colors our opponents happen to be running. First order of business, then, is getting those rainbow-lands and rainbow-rocks - Forbidden Orchard, Fellwar Stone and the almighty Chromatic Lantern. My #1 priority is being able to generate the right colors of mana to cast whatever I want from a hijacked hand.
My next thought is that my opponents may try to counteract my game plan a number of ways, and one such method is by casting their best stuff as quickly as they can. If they can empty their hand before I get Triplets online, I’m not likely to get much value out of my commander. So the mana rocks are not just about fixing my colors, they are also there to help me cast Triplets as quickly as possible, to shorten the window of opportunity my opponents have to dump their best stuff.
Next on my list of priorities is protecting my commander. Greaves, Leonin Abunas and Darksteel Forge all contribute to the goal of making Triplets harder to kill. All the mana rocks help me ramp up my mana production to keep recasting Triplets in the event I can’t protect them well enough. You’ll notice that I’ve now identified three completely different ways in which the mana rocks help us with our main game plan – help us cast Triplets faster so we can start jacking spells before our opponents dump their hands, help us re-cast Triplets in the event of their untimely demise, and help us cast our opponents spells when we do manage to stick our commander.
So at this point, I know I’m running a lot of mana rocks and a few things that protect or recur artifacts, but beyond that I’m not at all sure what I’m doing. After some thought, I realize that in addition to protecting Sen Triplets, I should also be looking to protect myself. Fortunately Esper colors offer us pretty much the pinnacle of all removal in the format, so I started pulling out things that would hopefully keep me alive. Removal, basically. But I quickly became bored just looking at the pile of cards I pulled out. It was the most generic-looking pile of Esper Control staples ever. I loved a lot of the cards – Sphinx’s Revelation, Decree of Pain, Ghostly Prison? Classics! But together in one place, it just looked like a slog of super-obvious staples that would effectively guarantee games would last forever. Yawn.
I still had concerns about what to do about the things my opponents were able to cast, though. I spent some time thinking about a “bounce” theme, where I could use bounce effects to return permanents on the battlefield to the hand of whomever my Triplets had hijacked, so that I could then cast that thing. That might be okay for a 1v1 deck but after some fiddling and theorizing I came to the conclusion this approach would be weak and slow in a 4-way game. I’d have to split my mana between paying for these bounce effects AND casting spells from hijacked hands. Even with all the rocks, that felt a bit janky to me. I kept Temporal Adept and of course Rift, but otherwise I moved away from this idea.
Finally, I remembered I’d been wanting to play Muzzio in something for a good, long while and decided he interacted pretty well with all the mana rocks and other incidental artifacts I was planning to run, and so I just embraced the artifacts plan after all. An additional benefit to this is that it provides us with a relatively strong game plan to fall back on in the event the Triplets plan goes belly up. If we find ourselves unable to rely on casting our opponents’ own spells to use against them we want our deck to have spells capable of winning, and Esper Artifacts are certainly capable of putting up a fight on their own.
There are of course a lot of other ideas I had at various points, but ultimately didn’t make it in. I considered a few cards like Annex and Vedalken Plotter to gank lands already in play. Similarly, I also considered running more Clones and Control Magics to copy or steal things that get cast. And I also gave some serious thought to running a small number of tax/prison effects, not really to completely lock my opponents out of the game, as that is not my style, but just enough to slow them down a bit, just to ensure that once I have Triplets online, they’ll still have things in their hand worth hijacking. I would at least love to find a slot for Grand Arbiter Agustin IV, and maybe Kismet/Frozen Aether, but I mainly avoided this tactic just because they aren’t particularly fun to play against and I’m already slightly worried about the kind of hate this deck could bring.
I think all of these ideas are very viable, maybe not as primary themes, but at least as small subthemes. But ultimately, I had very little room for cute, techy choices, as the artifacts theme is extremely deep and I had a very hard time just fitting THAT stuff in, let alone finding room for things that would dilute that theme and make stuff like Muzzio and Kuldotha Forgemaster less viable. Even with the list above, I still feel like there is just a bit too much tension between conflicting goals, but overall it seems to have played well enough that the tension is acceptable. Mostly I just wanted to make the rest of the deck as innocuous and palatable as possible, because my group has a bit of a thing against getting their own spells and creatures used against them. Understandable.
Anyway, I can definitely see myself going down that road, were social contract issues not such an obstacle. Such a build would likely include most of the following:
Aura of Silence
Grand Arbiter Augustin IV
Rite of Replication
Herald of Leshrac (I welcome any excuse to run this guy!)
… and probably a handful or two of other, similar effects of this variety. The rest of the deck would basically be a mix of lands, mana rocks and removal.
And if I really, really wanted to be a dick, I could see this possibly working out as a “Stax” deck with stuff like Descent into Madness and the O.G., Smokestack. Just full-on lock people out of casting stuff, while I just freely take what I want from their hands. Clearly, I didn’t want to go this route, because I like my friends, but I think it could be done. In the end, I did get to include Lodestone Golem and Ethersworn Canonist because they synergize well with our Artifact theme while hopefully slowing down everyone else’s development without being completely oppressive.
Another idea I had was to include some symmetrical draw effects - Howling Mine and friends. Keep your opponents’ hands full, so you’ll always have goodies to pilfer with your Triplets. This also seemed like a plan that had a high potential to backfire, so I kept only Temple Bell as it only works when I want it to, making it the least risky. No one’s going to fall for the “group hug” façade when you’re playing Sen Triplets!
In the end, I tried to make it so almost every card in the deck either serve the primary Sen Triplets plan, the secondary Artifacts plan, or where possible bridge the gap by serving both plans. And as I said earlier, I still feel like there is a lot of room for improvement, yet it seems to be “close enough” for the time being. So far, my limited experiences with the deck have been largely encouraging. I want to keep experimenting with the artifact angle and see if I can continue to blend the various themes more to improve the overall synergy within the deck further.
I can also see myself eventually abandoning most of the artifacts-matter theme in favor of exploring some of the other ideas I’ve talked about. It’s a strong theme, but one where it’s fairly difficult to walk that line between strong and oppressive, especially when using cards like Arcum Dagsson, Mycosynth Lattice, and other well-worn combo pieces. I’ve gone to some lengths to keep this deck from doing some of the dirtier things typical Sharuum and Arcum Dagsson decks are known for, but we have no control over what our opponents are putting into their decks, so if we happen to target an opponent who reveals a Nevinyrral’s Disk in their hand, suddenly we have the potential to assemble the old Lattice/Disk/Forge lock, which is undesired.
The artifact theme is one that allows us to run some great cards like Tezzeret, Master Transmuter and Thopter Spy Network, while simultaneously encouraging us to run more questionable things like Etherium Sculptor and Sanctum Gargoyle. I mean, I definitely feel those inclusions have merit, given the nature of the deck, but they aren’t great cards, in a vacuum. I’d love to start trimming things like Glassdust Hulk and Faerie Mechanist in favor of better, more impactful cards, but those are actually important pieces of the deck’s overall game plan. To put it another way, I like that this is a deck that has a strong Open the Vaults plan, but at the same time I dislike that part of that plan involves some rather unimpressive cards. It’s odd because I usually like it when synergies come together to make an ordinarily mediocre card into something actually playable, but in this case I’m not sure my synergies are quite strong enough to make stuff like Chief Engineer truly good, or if they’ll only prove to be good when things are already going well for the deck.
I also worry slightly about things like Darksteel Forge overshadowing our commander in terms of importance to our game plans – like, do games where Forge never makes an appearance just go horribly for me? Do I need to include even more ways to ensure Forge hits play? Does winning or losing come down to weather Forge gets answered or not? There are a few cards like this – Kuldotha Forgemaster, Master Transmuter, Tezzeret Agent of Bolas… all of these seem potentially powerful enough that once they’re in play they could become far more important to me than Sen Triplets. It’s not that we need or want our commander to be essential to our plans, or to be the absolute best plan we have at all times. I just don’t want the deck to be so powerful on its own that the Triplets basically wind up being relegated to Plan B or Plan C and that we rarely cast them in most games.
And, finally, I am concerned about how viable this deck will continue to be once people have gotten used to playing against it. Will they grow to hate it more and start to put more and more pressure on me, to the point where I get hated out of every game, or will they simply learn how to play around it to the point where they don’t have to hate me out, but can shut me down without needing to gang up on me? Or, going the other direction, will I tweak the deck enough to reach the point where the deck is truly an obnoxious, oppressive nightmare to play against? So while the deck seems “fine” as it stands now, it feels to me like the kind of thing that can go sour quickly, either by being too good, too annoying or just not good enough at all.
I need to make it a point to play this deck a lot more in the near future so I can start to answer some of these questions. If any of you readers have any experience with trying to make Sen Triplets work in a social/casual atmosphere, I’d certainly welcome any feedback or advice. But more importantly, I think I just need a lot more play experience with this pile to get a true estimation of its capabilities and deficits. Some decks require a lot more fine-tuning and reconfiguring than others, and this feels like one of those decks; fortunately the deck is fun enough right out of the gates that I think I’m up to the challenge.
Before I sign off for the day, I just want to tease a few other decks I have (potentially) coming down the pipeline. I have been on a bit of a deck-building frenzy lately and I still have quite a few more decks to write up, though I will say that some of them are largely untested and may prove to be disappointments.
Maelstrom Wanderer – I didn’t want to just rebuild my old “Good Stuff” MW deck, so I tried to give this one more of a theme: Dragons! That’s right, it’s Temur Dragon Tribal. It’s probably literally impossible for me to beat a Karrthus deck, but otherwise I’m pretty sure this deck is great. Only played one game so far, and I won it without casting Maelstrom Wanderer even once.
Geth, Lord of the Vault – My third attempt at a “Big Mana Black” deck, very similar to the my take on the Commander 2014 Ob Nixilis deck, but after trying a few approaches I think Geth is the best option to command this deck. I previously tried this with Erebos, but I didn’t really like that one too much, so I never posted it here.
Yisan, the Wandering Bard – I had a couple of games where I got to enjoy having Yisan and Prophet of Kruphix in play at the same time, in a Surrak Dragonclaw deck I was experimenting with for a while. When Prophet got banned, I decided to make this deck, using Seedborn Muse and Yeva, Nature’s Herald to fill the Prophet role. I’m not yet sure if this deck is unplayable garbage or utterly broken and game-wrecking. Pretty sure it’s one or the other.
Sidisi, Brood Tyrant – So far the only deck from my experiment with standard-legal EDH experiment to make the jump, successfully, to unrestricted EDH. Zombie tokens, self-mill and lots of removal and card draw! What’s not to love?
Marath, Will of the Wild – This is actually a rebuild from an old variation, but I realized recently that I never actually wrote anything about my take on Marath after the C13 decks came out. Marath was actually one of the harder decks from that series to figure out, and took me quite a while to get the deck to perform the way I wanted it to, but once I finally did, it quickly became a favorite of mine.
Edric, Spymaster of Trest – Sorry to disappoint all you Ezuri fans out there but I just never could solve the issues that were plaguing the Ezuri deck, and honestly when it comes down to it, a commander that draws me lots of cards is almost always going to beat out a commander that doesn’t. I won’t likely be writing a new article for this deck as it’s basically just an overhaul and update of my old Edric list, which you can find in the sidebar. I’ll just update that list soonish.
Stonebrow, Krosan Hero – My Angry Omnath build was successful, but it got really old, really fast. Meanwhile Stoney B has had a ton of goodies printed for him since I last had this deck sleeved up.
And I have plans to, in the near future, rebuild and revamp Wrexial, Karador, Rafiq, Aurelia and Prossh. Those are all pretty well-tread paths, but after trying new things in those colors, I am ready to go back to the tried and true favorites.
By my count, that leaves the following color combinations left for me to figure out:
Of those, the only one I’m possibly close to pinning down may be Jeskai. I’ve been continuing to try and refine my attempt at a standard-legal Narset into a “real” EDH deck that is powerful enough to be worth playing, but doesn’t do the degenerate things many Narset decks are known for. So far it’s proving a difficult line to walk, finding that gray area in between oppressive and unplayable, but I think there’s a chance I could get there.