Kemba

When I turned twelve, my sister bought me a kitten for my birthday. I named the kitten Princess, and she stayed with me through college and getting my own apartment and moving out of my parents’ house. I’d had her for nearly half my life by the time I joined the Navy. Since I couldn’t take care of her while I was at boot camp, my old college roommate took her in, wanting a companion for her cat.

Fast forward five years. Princess got old and developed bladder problems, and my friend could no longer take care of her. I took her back in, happy to have my furbaby back where she belonged.

A few weeks after I got her back, she died.

My friend and I buried her in a relative’s yard, with the assistance of another friend. In her honor, I decided to write about my cat deck, Kemba.

Kemba was one of my early decks. When I started playing, Scars of Mirrodin was still in circulation, and I pulled her from a pack. She immediately appealed to me, because kittens.

Most Kemba decks go hard with the Voltron—load Kemba up with equipments, make her huge and evasive, and swing out for commander damage. Mine can do that with a few cards, but that’s not the main point. Really I just want to get a bunch of cat tokens, and if I happen to win, all the better.

With that in mind, most of my equipments are low-costed, so they’re easy to play and equip. Most of my creatures are cats, because I like to hit the tribal theme. I actually got a compliment from a friend for how on-theme my deck was, even going so far as to have Grumpy Cat sleeves. (I plan to replace the sleeves soon, either with the StarCity Games kitten sleeves, or with custom sleeves with pictures of Princess from when she was little.) He did give me a hard time for not roaring when Kemba entered the battlefield, and not meowing each time I got a kitten.

So. The deck.

Equipments:

Accorder’s Shield

Argentum Armor

Armory of Iroas

Bladed Pinions

Cobbled Wings

Darksteel Plate

Dragon Throne of Tarkir

Executioner’s Hood

Fleetfeather Sandals

Grafted Exoskeleton

Helm of Kaldra

Kite Shield

Kitesail

Lightning Greaves

Loxodon Warhammer

Mask of Avacyn

Mask of Memory

Masterwork of Ingenuity

Prowler’s Helm

Ring of Thune

Shield of Kaldra

Shield of the Avatar

Skyblinder Staff

Spidersilk Net

Strata Scythe

Swiftfoot Boots

Sword of Kaldra

Sword of Vengeance

Vorrac Battlehorns

Whispersilk Cloak

As mentioned, most of these have low casting cost and, more importantly, low equip cost. People tend to be wary of Kemba, so I expect her to be killed. The lower the equip costs of my equipments, the more of them I can re-equip quickly after re-casting her.

I also went more for utility than power. Sure, Strata Scythe makes her big, as does Sword of Kaldra; but really, who wouldn’t run Kaldra-tron in an equipment deck? I’ve yet to get all three pieces out together, but one of these days it’s going to happen. And of course Argentum Armor is just good removal.

But other than those, I picked utility cards. Flying is pretty good when I can then get in there for commander damage, and of course I’m not going to sneer at an extra kitten each turn. Dragon Throne of Tarkir might seem like a nonbo with most Voltron decks, but if I can get Kemba big at all, it makes her kittens huge. Mask of Avacyn actually has a higher equip cost than I’d prefer to pay, but it can protect Kemba from getting removed in the first place, so it’s worth including in the deck.

Most people wouldn’t have thought to include Skyblinder Staff—but it meets the criteria of being low cost and low equip, and of course if I also have Cobbled Wings or Fleetfeather Sandals it means she can only be blocked by creatures with reach.

Perhaps my favorite is Ring of Thune. Vigilance means I can swing with her and still have her available to block. The upkeeptrigger means Kemba keeps getting bigger. And of course, I can cast it before Kemba ever hits the field, and the one-mana equip cost means it’s extremely easy to re-equip if Kemba gets removed.

Non-equipment Artifacts:

Caged Sun

Hall of Triumph

Leonin Sun Standard

Obelisk of Urd

Prototype Portal

Most of these are anthem effects. The only thing better than 2/2 kittens is bigger kittens. White does anthems really well, usually with enchantments; but in a deck that already runs a lot of artifacts, and therefore a lot of things that benefit from artifacts, it made sense to use artifact emblems instead.

Prototype Portal is in there to get me more equipments. Normally I’d copy something like Spidersilk Net—that’s a two mana investment every turn to create and equip. There was one game, however, where I used it to exile Argentum Armor. I only got one copy before the Prototype Portal got removed, which was arguably the correct play on my opponent’s part.

Synergy:

Brass Squire

Celestial Crusader

Crovax, Ascendant Hero

Goldnight Commander

Healer of the Pride

Indomitable Archangel

Leonin Abunas

Leonin Elder

Leonin Shikari

Mentor of the Meek

Myrsmith

Phantom General

Puresteel Paladin

Raksha Golden Cub

Salvage Scout

Taj-Nar Swordsmith

Intangible Virtue

Sigarda’s Aid

Armed Response

Nahiri, the Lithomancer

Steelshaper’s Gift

Several of these interact with artifacts. My favorite combo here is Puresteel Paladin and Leonin Shikari. With those two, I can equip for 0 at instant speed. Instant speed equip means I can equip on my upkeep before Kemba’s ability resolves, giving me more kittens from her trigger. With both cards in play, I can move my equipments around in response to, say, someone trying to target one of my creatures, equipping it with Swiftfoot Boots in response even if I have no mana open.

Others are more anthem effects. Though I don’t really need a full suite of creatures with Kemba as my commander, it helps to have a few extras in case Kemba gets killed too many times for me to re-cast her. Might as well use those creatures to buff my kittens.

Cats:

Jazal Goldmane

Leonin Battlemage

As I’ve said, I like my tribal. Jazal of course is just good, and I knew as soon as he was printed that I needed him for the deck. Since my plan is to get as many kittens as possible, if I can make all of them buff each other on the attack, so much the better. And the battlemage can give one creature a small buff—worth running in the deck due to its creature type, but otherwise not very useful.

Other:

Swords to Plowshares

Rogue’s Passage

Hour of Reckoning

Disenchant

No Commander deck is complete without at least a couple pieces of removal. Hour of Reckoning kills everything except my kittens, and I can then re-cast Kemba and re-equip. Swords and Disenchant give me at least the chance of dealing with threats. And Rogue’s Passage can make Kemba unblockable, letting me get through my opponent’s defenses.

In actual play, Kemba is far too slow to make it a good deck. Typically someone is going to boardwipe before I get enough kittens to be a threat. Even if there isn’t a boardwipe, someone is going to find a way to kill Kemba. The deck is very weak to removal of any sort.

If there isn’t a boardwipe, though, and Kemba doesn’t get killed, hoo boy. With thirty equipments in the deck, I’m going to be drawing more on a regular basis, and get an increasing number of kittens each turn.

And of course, as I stated, the point of the deck isn’t to win; the point is to get a lot of adorable kittens, which the deck does extremely well.

Rest in peace, Princess. You will be missed.

Phage

About a year ago was the release of Commander 2015. In that set were two cards that seemed custom-made for my Phage deck: Command Beacon, which can be sacrificed to place a Commander directly from the Command Zone into its owner’s hand; and Thief of Blood, which has an ETB replacement effect that removes all counters from all permanents. Command Beacon, of course, is great for Phage herself, since if she’s cast from hand that gets around her ETB lose the game; and Thief of Blood combos well with Dark Depths, immediately removing all counters and causing it to meet its trigger condition.

Phage appeals to me as a commander, because on the surface she looks absolutely terrible. I can’t even cast her without losing the game. Of course, there are ways to get around that—Torpor Orb, Platinum Angel, Sundial of the Infinite—but they don’t immediately come to mind for an inexperienced player. She’s kind of the embodiment of the format: Take something that seems on the surface to be unsalvageably bad, and turn it into a win condition.

Because I need one of a few specific cards in order to make Phage playable, I run a lot of tutors in the deck—something I try to avoid in most of my Commander decks. But with Phage, I excuse it under the philosophy that I’m only running the tutors to allow me to play my commander, to whom I should have access regardless. And not every game with Phage is necessarily going to play the same way. Yes, my wincon is my Commander, but she costs seven mana. The game might well be over by then. And of course, black is the color for tutors; I have so many to choose from, eventually I’ll have to start making choices about which to include.

Thus, while the deck is mostly built around getting Phage and giving her some sort of evasion—shadow, trample, fear—it can do other things as well. Torpor Orb keeps Phage’s ETB from killing me, but it can also give me a Turn 3 Phyrexian Dreadnought. I’m already running a lot of tutors, so it’s possible for me to search out the parts necessary to get me Marit Lage. The deck is designed to be mean, so why not an Endless Whispers so that if someone manages to kill Phage, I can make target opponent lose the game?

Anyway, the decklist is as follows:

Phage Synergy:

Sundial of the Infinite

Torpor Orb

Abyssal Persecutor

Gauntlets of Chaos

Endless Whispers

Platinum Angel

Command Beacon

Most of these are pretty obvious. Torpor Orb keeps Phage from triggering, Sundial exiles the trigger while it’s still on the stack, Platinum Angel negates the trigger upon resolution, and of course Command Beacon gets around the trigger by putting Phage directly into my hand. Abyssal Persecutor seems at first to be counterintuitive, but with Gauntlets of Chaos or Endless Whispers I can give it away to an opponent, thus keeping myself from losing the game.

Evasion:

Akroma’s Memorial

Chariot of Victory

Sword of Vengeance

Trailblazer’s Boots

Vorrac Battlehorns

Whispersilk Cloak

Archetype of Finality

Dauthi Trapper

Filth

Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Mogis’s Marauders

Shadow Alley Denizen

Dauthi Embrace

Sewers of Estark

Rogue’s Passage

Shizo, Death’s Storehouse

Dirge of Dread

Profane Command

Of course once I get Phage on the field I want to be able to get through my opponents’ defenses. Trample, fear, landwalk, and shadow—along with straight-up unblockable—lets me get in their and touch my opponents. Deathtouch added to the trample means that even if my opponent blocks with a creature larger than Phage (not hard, since she’s only a 4/4), some of the damage is still going through. Unfortunately things like Shadow Alley Denizen are kind of a nonbo with Torpor Orb; but that’s why I have multiple options, both for evasion and for negating Phage’s detrimental effect.

Tutors:

Ring of Three Wishes

Rune-Scarred Demon

Vampiric Tutor

Liliana Vess

Beseech the Queen

Dark Petition

Demonic Tutor

Diabolic Revelation

Diabolic Tutor

Naturally, with so fragile a deck, I have to be able to tutor up the pieces necessary to make it work. Due to budget constraints, I don’t run every tutor ever printed—Imperial Seal is a bit out of my price range—but I do come close. Of my decks, Phage has probably the highest concentration of tutors with the exception of my Judgebreaker deck, which has the advantage of being all five colors.

Other Combos:

Aether Snap

Phyrexian Dreadnought

Thief of Blood

Thrull Parasite

Vampire Hexmage

Dark Depths

Thespian’s Stage

The Dreadnought combo I already described; the rest of these are designed to combo with Dark Depths. This particular combo could go in any deck that runs black (or, with the Thespian’s Stage version, any deck at all), but I chose to put it in this deck for two reasons. First, I’m already running a lot of tutors, so it’s possible to make the combo work; second, the deck is designed to be mean anyway, so if I’ve already decided to sit down with it, I’m not going to feel guilty over a Turn 3 Marit Lage. Basically how the combo works is, either I use one of the counter-draining effects to take all the counters off the Dark Depths, thus causing it to trigger; or I turn the Thespian’s Stage into a Dark Depths, at which point I have to sacrifice the original, and I’m left with a Thespian’s Depths with no counters on it, triggering its effect.

Ramp:

Caged Sun

Extraplanar Lens

Snow-Covered Swamp (x27)

Crypt Ghast

Magus of the Coffers

Nirkana Revenant

Cabal Coffers

Crypt of Agadeem

Liliana of the Dark Realms

With my commander being so costly—and likely to be killed as many times as my opponents can manage—it makes sense for me to make sure I’m going to have enough mana to cast her. I shelled out the money for Snow-Covered Swamps for this deck specifically because of Extraplanar Lens; usually I’d be fine with my opponents benefiting from my ramp, but as mentioned before, this deck is supposed to be mean. If I’m playing it, I’m trying to win—admittedly in a fun and unusual way, but I’m not going to give my opponents any advantage if I can avoid it.

Protection:

Darksteel Plate

Lightning Greaves

Swiftfoot Boots

Once I get Phage out, I want to be able to protect her, because you better believe she’s going to be a target. Greaves and Boots are pretty much my go-to cards for any Commander deck, and of course Darksteel Plate protects her from non-targeted removal.

Removal:

Ashling, the Extinguisher

Butcher of Malakir

Dread

Phyrexian Obliterator

Reiver Demon

Sheoldred, Whispering One

No Mercy

Doom Blade

Go for the Throat

Hero’s Downfall

Murder

Tragic Slip

In Garruk’s Wake

Plague Wind

One of the keys to any successful deck is removal. If I can give Phage fear, but my opponent has a black or artifact creature, what good does that do me? Also, being able to get rid of threats early on can keep me in the game while I’m working my way up to casting my commander.

Other:

Cabal Surgeon

Chainer, Dementia Master

Erebos, God of the Dead

Gray Merchant of Asphodel

Phyrexian Arena

Exsanguinate

The remaining cards are a conglomeration of things that help out the deck, or do well in this particular deck. For example, with the amount of ramp the deck can provide, Exsanguinate can be lethal on its own. Erebos and Phyrexian Arena both get me extra card draw. Chainer and Cabal Surgeon can get me creatures back from my graveyard, if for instance Platinum Angel has died. And Gray Merchant of Asphodel is just good, especially in a mono-black deck whose commander has four devotion.

The first time the deck actually saw play was Grand Prix Atlanta 2015, shortly after I finished its first iteration. I played it a couple times, it didn’t work very well, then I switched to Pirates and later to Judgebreaker, which went so well I wasn’t even tempted to switch back. At that point the decklist was still in a bit of flux, and the deck works much better now that it’s stabilized, although it can still be rather hit-or-miss.

In one game a few months back, I was playing against a couple fellow judges. I had down Sundial of the Infinite and Dauthi Trapper. A boardwipe got rid of my Dauthi Trapper, but I had Dauthi Embrace in hand. The game ended rather shortly after that. For some reason not a lot of people run cards with shadow. This was the second game of the night; the first one, Phage refused to give me the mana I needed to cast anything, and I was left rather frustrated.

Recently, when playing against a friend over lunch, I opened with a god hand. Now, the ideal starting hand would be Urborg, Dark Depths, Vampire Hexmage, Sol Ring (not currently in the deck, but an easy insert if I decided to do so), Lightning Greaves (or Swiftfoot Boots), and perhaps a Torpor Orb and a Phyrexian Dreadnaught. That would lead to Turn 1 Urborg, Sol Ring, Lightning Greaves, and Turn 2 Dark Depths, Hexmage, sac the Hexmage to remove the counters from Dark Depths, get Marit Lage, equip, and swing for 20 in the air. The Sol Ring could then be tapped to drop Torpor Orb, and the next turn I could get the Dreadnaught, equip it, and be swinging for both 20 and 12.

The hand I had wasn’t quite that good, and not only because I didn’t have a Sol Ring; it was two Snow-Covered Swamps, Dark Depths, and Demonic Tutor. So Turn 1 was just a Swamp, and Turn 2 was the tutor to grab my Hexmage. Turn 3 I played the Hexmage and Dark Depths, sac’ing the Hexmage to remove all counters from Dark Depths in order to get Marit Lage. Turn 4 I was swinging with a 20/20 flying indestructible on a board with no other flyers. Needless to say that game was over rather quickly.

I played the deck again a few days ago. Opening hand was 2 Swamps, Vampiric Tutor, and Thespian’s Stage. Once again, I was on track for a very early Marit Lage, this time Turn 4. Turn 1 Swamp, Tutor for Dark Depths. Turn 2 Swamp. Turn 3 Thespian’s Stage. On my opponent’s turn, he cast Awakening Zone, which wasn’t relevant yet but would become relevant shortly. Turn 4 was Dark Depths, to get Marit Lage at the end of my opponent’s turn. Turn 5 I was swinging with Dark Depths—and also Mogis’s Marauders, which I cast that turn. On his turn, due to the two Eldrazi Spawn tokens from Awakening Zone, my opponent had just enough mana to cast All Is Dust, getting rid of my Marit Lage and saving himself from slaughter the next turn.

By this point I’d drawn Rune-Scarred Demon and Rogue’s Passage, so when I cast Diabolic Tutor I decided to grab my Phyrexian Obliterator. Getting one of my ramp spells was a consideration, but I figured the opportunity to make my opponent sacrifice permanents was more advantageous at that time. Of course he never did sacrifice permanents to the Obliterator, electing instead to let the damage go through, which was also fine. By the time I had the mana to cast the Rune-Scarred demon, tutor out my Torpor Orb, cast it the next turn, and finally cast Phage the turn following, I had lethal on board.

These examples show much greater use of Marit Lage than I’d intended when I built the deck. Then again, that’s a two-card combo that only costs me two mana to activate, which means I can make it happen much faster than I can do anything else with the deck. At some point I’d like to get my Phyrexian Dreadnought down on Turn 3, but that’s a goal for another day. Mostly I’m just happy that I took an unworkable deck idea and made it brutally good at what it does.

Lunarch

Mikaeus the Lunarch was one of the first decks I created all on my own. Back when I was first getting into the game, I pulled one in a pack, and since, at the time, he was the only white Legendary creature I owned, I decided to build a deck around him. With his ability, white weenie tokens was a natural way to go, and since I like tribal, the deck had a human tribal bent. At around the same time I’d pulled a Mikaeus the Unhallowed, and I built them as sort of duel decks against each other, human tribal versus hate humans. Unhallowed has since gone through various revisions, and at this point looks like I’m going to take him apart; but Lunarch has remained as a fun deck to play.

The core idea of the deck hasn’t changed much since its conception. It’s still white weenie human tribal tokens. The tribal aspects have been tightened, some of the token-producers removed because they don’t contribute to that theme, but the idea is still to get a bunch of little guys that Mikaeus can buff until my field becomes an unstoppable force. It’s weak to boardwipes and somewhat weak to targeted removal, but with a very low curve I’m usually able to do something to remain in the game.

Human Tribal:

Gallows at Willow Hill

Angel of Glory’s Rise

Champion of the Parish

Dearly Departed

Devout Chaplain

Elder Cathar

Herald of War

Thalia’s Lieutenant

Hope Against Hope

Repel the Abominable

Spare from Evil

Naturally with the main theme of the deck as human tribal, it makes sense that I would have cards that interact with Human creatures specifically. In many other tribal decks, I run Door of Destinies and Coat of Arms; while those would undoubtedly be good in this deck, they haven’t yet made their way onto the list. Perhaps later.

White Tribal:

Ring of Thune

Celestial Crusader

Crovax, Ascendant Hero

Paragon of New Dawns

Crusade

Honor of the Pure

Mass Calcify

Since the deck is mono-white, it also makes sense that I would run cards that benefit whit e creatures, including old cards that could also aid my opponents. I feel this falls under the tribal umbrella.

Tokens:

Captain of the Watch

Evangel of Heliod

God-Favored General

Hanweir Militia Captain

Heliod, God of the Sun

Gather the Townsfolk

In early incarnations, the deck had quite a few token-producing cards. That has decreased as I’ve narrowed its focus, but I still want to be able to make multiple creatures to benefit from Mikaeus’s effect.

Counters:

Abzan Battle Priest

Abzan Falconer

Ainok Bond-Kin

Dragonscale General

Dromoka Captain

Gideon’s Avenger

Lightwalker

Unruly Mob

Tempt with Glory

With Mikaeus’s ability to distribute +1/+1 counters to all of my creatures, it makes sense to run other things that interact with counters. Some of these give my creatures advantages—lifelink, first strike, flying—some gain advantages themselves, and some just give themselves counters that can then benefit from the other effects.

Anthems:

Spear of Heliod

Consul’s Lieutenant

Goldnight Commander

Kongming, “Sleeping Dragon”

Pianna, Nomad Captain

Veteran Armorer

White is very good at anthem effects. These effects are even better when they can affect a large number of creatures—such as a deck that is designed to get down a lot of creatures, both token and non-token.

Boardwipes:

Day of Judgment

Divine Reckoning

Terminus

White also does boardwipes very well, and it seemed prudent to have a few in the deck. Depending on play, in the future I might take them out for more anthems, since in most cases I’m going to have the most threatening board state, unless a boardwipe has previously occurred.

Planeswalkers:

Gideon Jura

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

Gideon, Champion of Justice

Kytheon, Hero of Akros

All of the Gideons have the advantage of turning into a Human creature—and of course, Planeswalkers are inherently powerful. Ally of Zendikar doubles as a token producer, and Champion of Justice is a potential boardwipe, but they all have the advantage of being able to turn into creatures but being immune to sorcery-speed creature removal.

Creatures:

Aegis of the Gods

Archetype of Courage

Boros Elite

Crusader of Odric

Fencing Ace

Masako the Humorless

Odric, Lunarch Marshal

Odric, Master Tactitian

Silverblad Paladin

Slayer of the Wicked

Soldier of the Pantheon

Thalia’s Lancers

Thalia, Heretic Cathar

Village Bell-Ringer

Basically the idea with the other creatures was to find the best humans to contribute to the deck. Since humans are one of the best-represented tribes in Magic, and the majority are white, it wasn’t terribly difficult. Many of the choices are great options for any deck that includes white, which made the decision to include them in this deck rather easy.

Other:

Faith’s Reward

Valorous Stance

These are both protection cards. While they don’t exactly fit the theme, they don’t go against it either, and they have enough use to warrant keeping them in the deck.

Lands:

New Benalia

Plains x36

Currently my mana base is extremely simple. In the future I might expand it with more non-basics, but at the moment basics provide me everything I need.

I played Lunarch on Thursday at one of the local stores. It started off strong, getting down Mikaeus on Turn 2 and quickly populating the board with white wheenie humans, which I made bigger using my commander’s second ability. But then the Scion player decided my board was getting too scary and swung at me with Scion, turning it into Balefire Dragon to wipe my board. Just as I was starting to recover from that, with both Odrics on the field and a couple other creatures, the Scion player cast Ugin, using his minus ability to exile all of our colored permanents. Bye-bye Odric. Now I was top-decking, not a good thing in a mono-white deck, especially one that relies on getting out a lot of little creatures. But hey, I still had my commander, right?

Well, yes. Until I top-decked Terminus and decided to cast it for its miracle cost, because that Narset just had to go. Mikaeus got removed two more times after that, until I just couldn’t cast him anymore. No hand, no field, can’t even cast my commander—poor Lunarch was completely out of the game.

Or so I thought. For a moment things were looking up when I got an Evangel of Heliod. Devotion was only two, but three creatures is better than none, and I had plenty of mana. Then that got wiped as well, leaving me just as bereft as before. Until I drew Angel of Glory’s Rise. Literally the only card in the deck that could have saved me at that point. I went from having no creatures on field to having about a dozen—my devotion was seven this time, with Evangel seeing all the other cards as they returned. I still couldn’t re-cast my commander, but at this point I didn’t need to.

Next turn, Scion was at 18 and Narset was at 10. There had been a Cromat player, but he had to leave. I had 18 power on the field, and Scion was the one who’d boardwiped me twice early on, but he had a blocker so I wasn’t going to be able to get all the damage through. Instead I decided to send 10 power at Narset and the seven tokens and the Evangel at Scion. Narset bounced my Angel of Glory’s Rise and somehow gained two life, going down to 6, then Swords to Plowsharesed Scion’s blocker, putting Scion at 14 after damage. Scion cast Unexpected Results into Dragonstorm; since Unexpected Results was the second spell of his turn, he stormed for 3, getting his last hasty dragon (Hypersonic Dragon), a dragon that dealt 5 damage divided as he chose upon ETB, and one other. Two damage to the Narset player and the other three used to kill two of my creatures, then swing at the Narset player for lethal. He then played another dragon, and passed turn.

On my turn, I re-cast Angel of Glory’s Rise, getting back my guys from the graveyard, and cast my draw for turn, which was Paragon of New Dawns. I swung with ten creatures, all of them at least 2/2 due to Paragon’s buff, and he didn’t have enough blockers to prevent it from being lethal.

I played it again against some friends, having loaned Unhallowed to one of them and Daretti to another. Daretti was at 11 counters and was going to bomb the next turn, so I swung at Daretti with enough to keep him in check, and swung at Unhallowed with my Abzan Falconer and another creature. Rather than try to make a deal with me and ask me not to swing at him, he cast Hero’s Downfall targeting my Abzan Falconer, which allowed the Daretti player to block my attack and let Daretti survive the turn. Naturally the next turn, she bombed Daretti, basically ensuring she would win the game.

At that point, Daretti was the biggest threat. Two things made her not the most enticing target. First, there was very little I could do at that point to keep her from winning. Second, and more important, she’d just played her deck like she should have; it was her boyfriend, piloting Unhallowed, who had failed to utilize table politics in order to keep me from attacking him. Of course I was going to attack, when he had an Erebos and I had an Abzan Battle Priest, and I was running human tribal and he could cast Unhallowed at any time.

A few turns later, I drew Spare from Evil. Counting up my creatures, I discovered I had the potential for 27 power on the field, assuming that I removed the final counter from Lunarch in order to distribute it to my other creatures. At that point Unhallowed was at 28 life. So, I couldn’t kill him. But I could bring him within easy kill radius. In doing so I’d lose all my creatures, since he had his Commander in play. So the question was, was a suicide charge worth it?

With Daretti able to get back all artifacts, having bombed the turn we failed to kill her Commander, there was little to no chance that I would win. And the person responsible for this state wasn’t Daretti—it was Unhallowed. A suicide charge wasn’t going to change my chances of winning—they were practically nil regardless. So the question was, did I want to try to defeat Daretti, who hadn’t done anything except play her deck, or did I want to negate Unhallowed’s chances of winning?

When put that way, it was an easy decision. Similar to when I countered the land destruction player’s spells to prevent him from winning, essentially handing the game to another player, I elected for a suicide charge at the Unhallowed player. He could have allied with me and kept Daretti from bombing, but instead he chose to wait to see what I was planning to do, and punish me for the decision when I had no way of knowing that he could or would do so.

After being dropped to one life, the Unhallowed player died to a Sword of Fire and Ice trigger, then the Daretti player won with Purphoros and Myr Incubator. On the other hand, if he’d spoken up about the fact that he had Hero’s Downfall and asked me not to attack him, I’d have attacked the Daretti player, he could have killed Daretti, and he’d have had a chance at victory. Communication is key to diplomacy in Commander—when you utilize it, you increase your chance of winning.

Then, on Saturday, I played the deck against four other judges after the local judge gathering. Turn 1 I got Kytheon, Turn 2 Veteran Armorer, Turn 3 Mikaeus for 2—usually I’d have cast him Turn 2, but I wanted the Veteran Armorer that turn. Turn 4 I got Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, since one of my opponents had cast Call to the Grave and I needed a way to create creatures I could sacrifice. Of course at that point I no longer wanted to transform my Kytheon, because then I’d have to sacrifice it.

Not long after, Kytheon was bounced to my hand. I drew Terminus, revealed it to the Miracle trigger, then elected not to Miracle it because I wanted to attack first, and had the mana to hard-cast it. I bombed Gideon to get the emblem, minused Lunarch to increase my creatures’ power, and swung with them. Then I drew a Thalia’s Lancers, which I used to tutor for Heliod so I could create more tokens, since Call to the Grave was still a thing. As tempted as I was to get Odric, or other Odric, I knew I needed the tokens. Thalia’s Lancers was then copied by the zombie player, who wanted the tutor effect. I got an effect that gave something indestructible until my next turn, which allowed me to keep Thalia’s Lancers alive. Then I cast Mass Calcify, destroying everything except the evil Lancers and my creatures, in order to keep Omnath in check.

Shortly thereafter, I cast a Gideon Jura, choosing the “insult your mother” mode because Omnath was starting to recover. Tempt with Glory got me three +1/+1 counters on each of my creatures, and I managed to kill Omnath, after using Faith’s Reward to get Gideon back.

Then there were three players left—one with Nev’s Disk, which he used to boardwipe in order to keep us from killing him. At that point all I had left was Gideon, with five +1/+1 counters from Lunarch and Tempt with Glory, and Heliod, with a similar cast of counters. Heliod was no longer a creature since I’d lost devotion. The zombie player was at 13, and the other player was at 6, with one blocker after Gideon insulted his mother, as well. In order to kill him, I had to top-deck a permanent with two white in the casting cost.

My top-deck was Crusade.

I could have killed either of them at that point, but the zombie player and I had been working together, so I killed the other player, allowing the zombie player to win.

All in all, a pretty good show. Perhaps not as overwhelming as the first time I played it three years ago, when the deck just stomped all over my friends, but it’s still powerful enough to hold its own and affect the outcome of the game—even coming back for the win after top-decking on a barren field. And it’s not the type of deck that forces other players to play around it, or keeps them from being able to play their decks. They can use spot-removal to get rid of my biggest threats, or boardwipe and completely obliterate me. It’s not a deck that people refuse to play against, or target for removal first if they see it at the table; and yet it still has a decent chance at winning. Add in the tribal aspect—something you may have noticed is a running theme in my decks—and overall I’m rather pleased with the outcome.

Nemata

This one is at the request of my friend Nik Zitomer, the fungus guy. He wanted me to do a deck tech on a fungus deck, and Nemata is my Saproling/Fungus fun deck, that is surprisingly able to win games. I built the deck because I love tribal, and upon seeing Nemata’s ability, and knowing a lot of cards, fungi especially, that either created or dealt with Saprolings, I couldn’t resist. I had a Saproling tribal subtheme in one of my other decks, which gave me an opportunity to pull those cards and co-opt them for Nemata, where they were more useful and thus more fun.

Naturally most of the deck revolves around cards that create Saprolings. There aren’t any actual Saproling cards in Magic, only Saproling tokens. Most of the creatures that create Saprolings are Fungi, which gain spore counters on their controller’s upkeep and have an ability that removes spore counters to create Saprolings. The deck is not at all optimized—for instance, Coat of Arms would improve the deck significantly, and Adaptive Automaton would probably be a good addition, along with any permanent that gives my creatures trample. But the point isn’t to win as many games as I can; the point is to get a bunch of adorable Saprolings and occasionally turn them into an army that stomps all over my opponents.

Fungi:

Feral Thallid

Fungal Behemoth

Mycoloth

Psychotrope Thallid

Savage Thallid

Spore Flower

Sporemound

Sporesower Thallid

Sporoloth Ancient

Thallid

Thallid Devourer

Thallid Germinator

Thallid Shell-Dweller

Thorn Thallid

Utopia Mycon

Vitaspore Thallid

Most of these interact with Saprolings, although not all of them do. Some of them, while they don’t create Saproling tokens, still get spore counters, which can become Saprolings if I have Sporoloth Ancient. Even those that wouldn’t normally get counters can get them with Sporesower Thallid in play.

Other Creatures:

Dreampod Druid

Elvish Farmer

Jade Mage

Thelonite Hermit

Verdant Force

Verdeloth the Ancient

All of these creatures do interact with Saprolings, either by creating them or by buffing them. Earlier versions of the deck had some creatures that were just good for the deck, but I decided to take them out in order to make the deck more on theme.

Saproling Creators:

Druidic Satchel

Sarpadian Empires, Vol. VII

Greener Pastures

Night Soil

Saproling Cluster

Sporogenesis

Verdant Embrace

Scatter the Seeds

Sprout Swarm

Fungal Sprouting

Saproling Symbiosis

Spontaneous Generation

Naturally I want to make as many Saprolings as possible, in order to take full advantage of Nemata’s ability. With enough Saprolings, I can swing all out at an opponent, sacrifice the ones that get blocked, and kill him with the remaining ones, which are now huge.

Interactions:

Doubling Season

Fungal Bloom

Life and Limb

Overwhelming Instinct

Parallel Lives

Primal Vigor

Bloodscent

Second Harvest

Parallel Evolution

Cards like Doubling Season and Second Harvest are pretty obvious: They increase the number of tokens I’m getting. Doubling Season has the added advantage of also increasing the rate that apore counters are placed on my Fungi, essentially quadrupling the number of Saprolings I can make. Life and Limb, of course, turns my Forests into more Saprolings, but it also turns my Saprolings into mana. Overwhelming Instinct gives me card draw, which I probably need to replenish my field. Bloodscent allows me to sacrifice a single Saproling in order to get the rest of them through, enabling me to swing in for the win even against an opponent who has a stronger board presence.

Buff:

Tower Above

Predatory Rampage

Overrun

Hunter’s Prowess

Enlarge

Tribal Unity

Sylvan Might

Strength of Cedars

Stampede

Resize

Primal Boost

Might of Old Krosa

Might of Oaks

Giant Growth

Echoing Courage

Awaken the Bear

These cards are vital to the function of the deck. They allow my harmless little Saprolings to get big enough to deal actual damage. Even without Nemata in play, something like Overrun can buff my Saproling army enough to take out one of my opponents.

Removal:

Krosan Grip

Naturalize

Unravel the Æther

Bramblecrush

Skyreaping

Removal is necessary, even in a fun deck—perhaps especially in a fun deck. If one player is dominating due to one or two cards—for instance, because he has an Akroma’s Memorial, or a Dictate of Erebos—there’s not much of a chance for me to remove that player from the game, so my best bet is ensuring I can remove his problem cards. While I can’t do much about Avacyn, I have the potential to handle just about anything else, ensuring a fair game for everyone.

And there’s the deck. Nothing too overpowered, just a lot of good synergy and adorable Saprolings. I took it to the card store to play at Friday Night Commander, so I could see it in action. Admittedly the deck I was playing wasn’t exactly the same as the decklist I have, since I just threw the deck together from cards I had on hand and haven’t gotten around to ordering the better pieces, but the core of it was the same.

The first game, I was playing against Leovold, Nekusar, and Daxos the Returned. Nekusar actually arrived late and we allowed him to bubble in the first three turns, during which he played a few lands and a signet. Daxos I’d played against before, with my Kaalia deck, and the Leovold deck I’d glanced through before the start of the night, because he was borrowing it from a friend of mine.

Leovold stole my Verdant Force, earning my enmity. I’d gotten out Nemata on Turn 5, and cast the Verdant Force the next turn, which would have netted me a ton of Saprolings over the course of the game. Leovold wound up with 11 before losing the Verdant Force, and he only lost it because he attacked with it…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

With Leovold on the field, Nekusar’s main wincon was fairly useless, since Leovold prevents all opponents from drawing more than one card per turn. So, Nekusar played Kiki-Jiki, Mirror-Breaker, and Pestermite. It’s an infinite combo which sees play in Modern. The basic idea is to copy the Pestermite using Kiki-Jiki’s ability, which allows you to untap the Kiki-Jiki with Pestermite’s enters-the-battlefield trigger, allowing you to get another Pestermite, ad infinitum. The tokens all have haste, and are exiled at end of turn; so you swing out for the win, since you can create an arbitrarily large number.

I’d had a Spore Flower since Turn 2, slowly accumulating spore counters, and when Nekusar tried to end the game, I removed three of them to prevent all combat damage that would be dealt this turn. The Nekusar player was at 39 life, and the Leovold player had potentially 38 damage on board, with the Nekusar player tapped out, as long as I sacrificed all my Saprolings so his would get Nemata’s buff—because she buffs all Saprolings, not just those I control—and cast Tribal Unity for all my mana. Leovold also had a Duskmantle Seer, so it would probably be fine, but we wouldn’t know that until his upkeep; if Nekusar revealed a land to Duskmantle Seer, he wouldn’t lose any life, and we’d be screwed. So, I attacked him with my one Saproling that could attack, bringing him definitively into killable range.

Leovold attacked, and I dutifully created three more Saprolings, sacrificing them along with the two I’d gotten from Utopia Mycon, which had been out since Turn 1. That was enough to eliminate the Nekusar player, leaving just myself, Leovold, and Daxos.

Daxos was building up a decent boardstate, including Cathars’ Crusade, which I initially took out of several decks because it’s such a headache to keep track of, but have been putting back in so I can use it to troll my fellow judges. Being a deck that generated a number of tokens, Daxos of course had some difficulty representing how large each token was, since normally they would all be the same size but Cathars’ Crusade was throwing off the math.

I knew Leovold could kill Daxos if I cast Tribal Unity, which I had in hand, and sacrificed the four Saprolings I had on board; that would give all his Saprolings, eleven total, a bonus of +11/+11 until end of turn. I indicated this to him, also pointing out that if he attacked me, I could just use Spore Flower’s ability to Fog again. After he declared attacks—all at Daxos—Daxos said he’d kill Leovold next turn then scoop to me if I saved him. While I was considering this, he tried to talk Leovold into changing his attacks to me. I determined that, with the mana I had available, I could make three Saprolings with Nemata’s ability, giving me seven total that would be able to attack on my turn. After Daxos killed Leovold, he’d have three blockers. Between sacrificing the three blocked Saprolings and casting Tribal Unity for seven, there would be forty-four damage getting through, which was more than lethal. For me, the knowledge that I could have won was enough to get me to honor my initial agreement; I am, after all, a woman of my word. Plus, in a casual game with no prize support, there’s no quantifiable difference between knowing you could win, and actually winning. My deck had the wherewithal to win on its own; I’d agreed to let Leovold kill Daxos; the most advantageous path for me would be to uphold my agreement, and thus prove myself to be a reliable ally. Daxos chose to block several of Leovold’s attacking creatures, including Verdant Force, thus killing them.

With Daxos dead, we were at a stalemate, because Leovold had Experiment Kraj, and Nemata had +1/+1 counters on her. He cast a Stunt Double copying my Spore Flower, and later got a Lighthouse Chronologist. He’d put a +1/+1 counter on Utopia Mycon using Kraj, and thus was able to activate Utopia Mycon’s ability to sacrifice seven of his Saprolings to produce seven blue mana after casting Lighthouse Chronologist, leveling him up all the way.

At that point he had two spore counters on his Stunt Flower Double, so I swung all out, knowing he’d need to block or die. He had to block with all but two creatures in order to keep me from killing him; the two he chose to keep were Experiment Kraj, because it allowed him to continue to create Saprolings; and Stunt Double, for the Fog effect. Five of the Saprolings he blocked with also survived, since I sacrificed the ones they were blocking in order to pump the rest.

The next turn, I swung again, forcing him to use up his Stunt Fog. He then misplayed, casting Villainous Wealth rather than Mind Grind for 17, which would have milled me out, since he’d already Traumatized me, and I was at 31 cards in my library, only 13 of which were lands. Because he misplayed, I was able to swing in the next turn for the win—just as time was being called.

The second game, I was playing against Athreos and Sliver Overlord. That game started off much slower—no Turn 1 Utopia Mycon or Turn 2 Spore Flower. My first play was actually a fungus on Turn 3, then on Turn 4 I was able to cast Sprout Swarm and pay its Buyback cost. I really like that card. It seems underpowered—two mana for a 1/1? Five mana if you pay the Buyback? But with Convoke, it becomes easier to cast each subsequent time, and you can cast it multiply times in a turn. Sure, five mana for a 1/1 is a bit much even as an activated ability, but since I don’t have to invest actual mana to get the effect, it evens out.

On Turn 5, Athreos was able to sacrifice his Quest for the Holy Relic in order to tutor out Loxodon Warhammer and attach it to his commander. Slivers took eight commander damage, among other combat damage. The next turn, Athreos cast Silverblade Paladin, soulbonding it to Athreos, and swinging for another sixteen commander. Slivers blocked four of it, just enough to survive at twenty commander damage and five life. He then Fetched, bringing himself down to four.

On my turn, I had four Saprolings that could attack, along with a few creatures, one of which I didn’t really care about, since it was one I’d decided to purge from the decklist but hadn’t gotten around to physically replacing. I case Predatory Rampage, giving my guys +3/+3 until end of turn. Since Slivers had four blockers, I attacked with my four Saprolings and the dude I didn’t care about. None of them actually died, since Slivers’ largest creature was a 2/2. Even though I’d just killed him, he did me a solid by destroying the Loxodon Warhammer, which actually dragged the game out quite a bit.

Several turns later, with eight Forests in play, I used Utopia Mycon’s ability to sacrifice a Saproling to create a mana, then cast Enlarge on Feral Thallid, followed by Fungal Sprouting in order to get 13 Saprolings. I should have attacked with my 13/10 trampler but was so excited about my Saprolings I completely forgot.

Athreos attacked all out; after blocks and combat damage, his commander’s ability resolved, and I chose not to return Silverblade Paladin or the other creature to his hand, in the hopes that he wouldn’t be able to play enough creatures to keep me from killing him next turn. With fourteen Saprolings on the battlefield and the mana to re-cast Nemata, who’d been killed the first time I tried to play her, I had enough to deal the thirty-five damage necessary to kill him. Unfortunately he boardwiped, and since I was at three life, there was no way I would recover in time to save myself.

Overall, the evening was a smashing success. I’d forgotten how much fun it is to play a janky deck that isn’t designed to win. Although it was neat to win the first game, and almost win the second, that wasn’t the best part of playing the deck, which should be obvious given that I gave up a guaranteed win for what seemed at the time to be my certain demise. Teaming up to prevent the Nekusar player from killing us with his infinite combo was definitely the highlight of the evening, and it was pretty cool that my janky deck was able to do that. Unfortunately there wasn’t time this past weekend to play against Nik’s Ghave deck and see who could fungus harder, but perhaps we’ll get another chance at some future event.

Deck Tech: Olivia Voldaren

Olivia Voldaren was my first Commander, from back when I was a brand new player with no knowledge of how to play the game. My then-husband threw together the deck for me from cards he had on hand. It’s undergone some major changes since then, but retained its core of vampires and hatred.

The deck speaks to me on a personal level. If I were a Magic card, I would be red-black. Maybe there would be another color—possibly white, possibly blue (my friends and I at one point agreed that Kaalia of the Vast best represented me, although now that Queen Marchesa has been printed I feel Marchesa in either incarnation might be a better fit)—but the red and black are definitely there. I’m both passionate and ambitious. Any amount of sacrifice is worth achieving my goals—I sacrificed a good three hours of sleep in order to be on JudgeCast, despite being a self-proclaimed member of the Cult of Hypnos, with a religious obligation to get eight hours of sleep a night. Vampires are also my favorite mythical species. Part of the reason I got into Magic in the first place was because vampire tribal was a thing. It’s definitely not a coincidence that my first deck was vampire tribal in theme.

Being my first and favorite deck, Olivia gets all the love. Any new cards I get my hands on are slotted to Olivia first. Akroma’s Memorial cycled through Olivia, then to Sisters of Stone Death (because the theme was deathtouch and first strike, and also, Sisters with trample is just brutal); I’m not sure where it wound up after I took that deck apart. My judge foil Damnation is currently in Olivia, even though my Teysa removal-themed deck would probably be a better fit. I’ve somewhat gotten away from giving Olivia the “best” cards from my collection now that I keep my idealized decklists on Cockatrice and order cards from StarCity Games as I acquire the funds to do so.

I don’t play Olivia much anymore, since as time progressed, she began to focus more on winning than having fun. Not to say that winning isn’t fun; but losing certainly isn’t fun, and if all my deck does is make my opponents lose, they’re not having fun. And unless I’m in a particular mood, if they’re not having fun, neither am I. Usually because they’re scowling at me and exuding an aura of salt that can shrivel even my level of cheer.

One of the great things about Olivia is that the better my opponent’s deck, the better she becomes. One of the not-so-great things is that she folds to Akroma’s Memorial, which is a staple in a lot of Commander decks. Perhaps I should run more artifact hate. The original decklist ran Smelt, which I took out because it wasn’t doing enough; then again, at the time, I was playing against decks that didn’t run a lot of powerful artifacts, and killing someone’s mana rock never seemed to be the correct play.

Olivia mostly runs vampires and removal. Red-black is great for kill-spells. It also does well hating on life-gain. As I’ve written about previously, my very first night playing Magic I practically made the life-gain player cry by playing Havoc Festival in five out of six games. Tainted Remedy is even better for that sort of thing. That on Turn 3, or better yet, Rain of Gore on Turn 2, is beautiful against the Oloro player. (I feel like Oloro is an unfair card because there’s almost no way to interact with that effect. Turning it against them seems like the perfect karma.) The thing to remember about Rain of Gore is that it doesn’t stop lifelink, since in that case it’s the damage itself causing the life-gain.

So. Let’s take a look at what Olivia has to offer.

Vampires:

Anowon, the Ruin Sage

Baron Sengir

Blood Artist

Blood Seeker

Bloodline Keeper

Bloodlord of Vaasgoth

Butcher of Malakir

Captivating Vampire

Chancellor of the Dross

Dark Impostor

Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief

Drana, Liberator of Malakir

Falkenrath Exterminator

Falkenrath Marauders

Fiend of Shadows

Guul Draz Assassin

Guul Draz Overseer

Havengul Vampire

Heirs of Stromkirk

Indulgent Aristocrat

Malakir Bloodwitch

Malakir Cullblade

Markov Blademaster

Necropolis Regent

Olivia’s Bloodsworn

Rakish Heir

Shadow Alley Denizen

Stromkirk Captain

Vampiric Dragon

Vein Drinker

Viscera Seer

Some of these cards are just utility cards that happen to be vampires, such as Butcher of Malakir. Other are vampire tribal, like Stromkirk Captain. Vampiric Dragon remains on the decklist because it’s both a vampire and a dragon—two things that I adore. Viscera Seer might be taken off the list as more and better vampires get printed; it’s only on there because my ex was a firm believer in having free sac outlets in case of boardwipe, something that was probably more relevant in his original playgroup than the one I’m currently a part of. And of course there’s Olivia herself.

For a while I ran some non-vampire creatures under the philosophy that I could just make them vampires using Olivia. Something like Heartless Hidetsugu is gold in this deck. It’s very aggro and loves cutting everyone’s life total in half. But I decided the tribal theme was more important than streamlining the deck. Deathbringer Thoctar might combo well with some of the other cards, but I’d rather have another true vampire; if I need to win that badly, perhaps I should be playing Teysa or Kaalia instead.

Artifacts:

Basilisk Collar

Blade of the Bloodchief

Coat of Arms

Door of Destinies

Heartstone

Illusionist’s Bracers

Lightning Greaves

Mask of Avacyn

Sol Ring

Swiftfoot Boots

Normally I’d have stuff like Coat of Arms and Door of Destines in a category titled “Vampire Tribal” along with Stromkirk Captain and Captivating Vampire, and Greaves, Mask, and Boots together in a category labeled “Protection.” But Olivia’s artifacts are just so all over the place I decided to lump them all together.

Basilisk Collar turns Olivia into a machine gun. Equipped to her, it becomes, 1R: Destroy target creature. With Heartstone, that price is lowered to a single red.

Sol Ring allows me to cast Olivia on Turn 2, assuming in that time I get at least one source of red and at least one source of black. This is actually one of the few decks I run the card. It’s good for acceleration but in most cases I’d rather have another card, since my philosophy isn’t about trying to win every match.

Illusionist’s Bracers is just nonsense in this deck. I had one game with Turn 1 Sol Ring, Turn 2 Olivia, Turn 3 Illusionist’s Bracers cast and equipped. After that I had enough mana to convert and steal two creatures on each of my turns. My opponents just stopped playing creatures because they were tired of me attacking them with their own threats. (Incidentally, if they’d just communicated amongst themselves, and each of them played at least one creature per turn, I couldn’t have stolen all of them, and they might have been able to team up to eliminate me.)

Removal:

Doom Blade

Hero’s Downfall

Malicious Affliction

Murder

Terminate

Tragic Slip

Ultimate Price

Urge to Feed

Victim of Night

Blasphemous Act

Burn from Within

Damnation

Dreadbore

Ruinous Path

Sever the Bloodline

Vandalblast

Urge to Feed doubles as vampire tribal. Burn from Within is good when going up against things like Avacyn; I can Burn from Within for one and then Doom Blade her for the kill. And of course removal in general is just good. Especially if I don’t have the mana to steal the creatures with Olivia. Or if she’s been killed too many times for me to re-cast her.

Enchantments:

Braid of Fire

Havoc Festival

Mana Flare

Rain of Gore

Spiteful Visions

Stensia Masquerade

Tainted Remedy

Like with the artifacts, usually I’d have divided up the enchantments into categories. Havoc Festival, Rain of Gore, and Tainted Remedy definitely belong in a category together, perhaps with Spiteful Visions as well. That last is primarily in the deck for the damage it deals, although drawing extra cards is certainly helpful. Stensia Masquerade of course is vampire tribal, and Braid of Fire and Mana Flare help me afford Olivia’s ping ability, which buffs her and lets me swing in for the kill.

Lands:

Akoum Refuge

Blood Crypt

Bloodfell Caves

Bloodstained Mire

Dragonskull Summit

Molten Slagheap

Mountain x13

Rakdos Carnarium

Rakdos Guildgate

Smoldering Marsh

Swamp x13

There’s not much to say about the lands. Thirteen mountains and thirteen swamps is deliberate due to that being my favorite number. Normally I wouldn’t include a fetch land in a Commander deck, but I pulled so many from Khans packs that I declared the next one I pulled would go in Olivia, and since I did indeed pull another, it made its way into the decklist (and the deck is probably better for it).

I recently had a chance to play Olivia against some of my fellow judges. After deciding that because it was a friendly game we could mulligan whatever way we wanted until we had a keepable hand, I wound up with a hand that had two Mountains and a Sol Ring. What I didn’t have was a Swamp, but I drew one first turn, so my Turn 1 was Swamp, Sol Ring, Mask of Avacyn, which is the best Turn 1 I’ve ever had playing Olivia. The only better Turn 1 would have been Lightning Greaves in place of the Mask.

My friend Isaac had played Serra Ascendant on his own Turn 1, and swung at me Turn 2, swiftly earning my enmity. It was well-deserved, since he pointed out to the table, quite correctly, that a Turn 2 Olivia was much scarier than his Turn 1 Serra Ascendant (especially considering that I would soon have enough mana to steal the Serra Ascendant and then I would have both).

Turn 2, naturally, I played a land, and Olivia. Turn 3 I was able to equip with the Mask; I’d taken the gamble that no one would have removal this early in the game, and it paid off. With my remaining mana I pinged something, giving Olivia +1/+1, and swung at Isaac in retaliation for the six damage he’d dealt to me.

Turn 4 I drew Lightning Greaves, cast and equipped, pinged two more creatures, and swung at Isaac for seven more, for a total of 12 commander damage. (It might not have been the wisest choice for him to piss off the Rakdos player Turn 2.)

On Turn 5, I pinged Victor’s Mother of Runes—Victor was another judge who was playing with us. In response he tapped the MoR to give Battlegrace Angel protection from red until end of turn. With that on the stack, I pinged Battlegrace Angel, turning it into a vampire and giving Olivia her +1/+1 counter. After that I had enough mana left over for another ping, and I swung at Isaac for 10 commander, which added to the 12 he’d already taken was more than lethal.

Unfortunately round abouts that time, one of the other players got down an Akroma’s Memorial. Up until that point, he was easily handleable with what I had on board. But now his creatures had both flying and protection from Olivia, so there was no way for me to handle his board. I didn’t actually have Vandalblast in the physical version of the deck, and I wasn’t fortunate enough to draw Damnation—although even that would have only delayed the inevitable.

On Turn 6 I finally drew the second swamp I needed to start stealing things. My first take was Battlegrace Angel—I needed that life-gain, plus it was keeping me from attacking Victor. At that point I was in a good position to eliminate every player at the table except the one with Akroma’s Memorial, and I did so, then was run over by a bunch of flying elves.

Lessons learned: Unfortunately Akroma’s Memorial is a thing. I could try to run enough artifact hate to get rid of it whenever it shows up, similar to what I do with Trostani and enchantment hate (directed at things like Havoc Festival and Tainted Remedy). However currently artifact hate doesn’t seem terribly worth it, when it’s really just the one artifact that hoses my deck, and between the monetary and mana cost, it doesn’t come up in a whole lot of games. If I play Olivia more against a wider range of decks I might decide the artifact hate is worth it, even just to prevent my current boyfriend from getting too much of an advantage with his Birthing Pod.

Also, Olivia is scary. When my deck is more of a threat than a Turn 1 6/6 flying lifelink creature…I’m doing something right. When I kill three of the four other players in the game, and only lose to the one who has a card that shuts off my entire deck, I’m doing pretty well for myself. Olivia would definitely rather kill other players than win overall, and she does that quite well.

Deck Tech: Kaalia

When I first sat down to make a Mardu deck, my chosen theme was angels, demons, and vampires. At the time, vampires were mainly red in my mind, since it was shortly after the first Innistrad block. Incidentally, this was before the Mardu clan existed, so the color combination was still known as Dega, and there were only a few choices for Dega commanders.

My original commander was Tariel, because I wasn’t ready to shell out the money necessary to purchase a Kaalia, and for some reason I was determined to stick to vampires rather than dragons despite already having a vampire deck. Eventually that deck morphed into Mardu good stuff with Zurgo at the helm after Khans of Tarkir came out. I’ve been a lot happier with it since I stopped trying to force it to be something it didn’t want to be, but the idea of angels and demon still drew me.

Of course, I already had a red/white angel deck in Gisela, and with the printing of Shadowborn Apostle I decided to put together a mono-black demons deck as well. Honestly if I’d really wanted I probably could have combined the two into a Kaalia deck, but I dislike taking apart my decks, and Gisela and Shirei had their own personalities that would be lost if they got combined. (Gisela strives for one-shot commander damage, and Shirei can do such fun things as a Turn 2 Demon of Death’s Gate.)

For a while, I held off on building a Kaalia deck. There were three reasons for this. First, my husband was working on one. Why build my own deck when I could just borrow his? Second, the expense. Not only is Kaalia herself expensive, the deck requires several powerful cards that don’t come cheap. I could have cannibalized Gisela and Shirei for some of those cards, but nostalgia won out. (If there’s a Guinness record for greatest number of Commander decks owned, I’m working on achieving it. Current count is seventy-five.) Third, Kaalia decks are just plain mean. Due to Kaalia negating the need for mana, they tend to run a lot of mass land destruction, which makes the deck no fun to play against.

The first reason became irrelevant when my husband decided to move in with his girlfriend. He’s now my ex-husband, and we no longer communicate. I’ve since put together several decks that he was (and probably still is) working on.

The second hurdle was solved when I got more active with judging. StarCity Games offers store credit as one of the options for judges who work their evens. Working three of their events in a month earned me more than enough to put together the deck.

The third objection was perhaps the hardest to overcome. I dislike playing unfun decks. In putting together my own playgroup from friends who hadn’t played Magic for years, I had to focus on decks that are fun for the whole table, so my friends would want to continue to come over and play. But that group fell apart after the divorce, and recently I’ve been playing in assigned pods at the local gaming store. This means occasionally I get paired against players who have degenerate combo decks, and I care about their fun to the precise degree that they care about mine, which is to say, not at all. Besides, sometimes I’m just in the mood to wreck face. With the number of decks I have to choose from, I can afford to have a few decks that are just plain mean.

I approached the decklist with the assumption that I’d be making myself a target the minute I sat down. Some commanders draw hate by the nature of the decks they typically command. Sharuum decks have degenerate combos; Zur decks are difficult to interact with; and Kaalia decks run land destruction. Regardless of whether the individual deck in question does those things, the other players at the table are going to assume. Thus I needed ways to protect my commander and recur her if she got countered or killed. I also wanted to be able to cast at least some of my creatures without my commander to cheat them out.

Naturally the core of the deck is angels, demons, and dragons. Big, stompy creatures that I can cheat in using Kaalia’s ability. The rest of the deck is about reanimation, protection, land destruction, and removal. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the decklist.

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Angels:

Adarkar Valkyrie

Admonition Angel

Aegis Angel

Akroma, Angel of Fury

Akroma, Angel of Wrath

Angel of Deliverance

Angel of Despair

Angel of Serenity

Angelic Arbiter

Angelic Field Marshal

Angelic Skirmisher

Archangel of Strife

Archangel of Thune

Archangel of Tithes

Aurelia, the Warleader

Avacyn, Angel of Hope

Deathless Angel

Emeria Shepherd

Gisela, Blade of Goldnight

Iona, Shield of Emeria

Linvala, Keeper of Silence

Platinum Angel

Resolute Archangel

Reya Dawnbringer

Subjugator Angel

Tariel, Reckoner of Souls

Linvala is good because at only four mana, if I can cast Kaalia, I can probably cast her. Angelic Field Marshal is also four CMC, but she’s really only good when Kaalia is in play. Archangel of Thune is pretty easy to cast at five, and her ability will help buff my other creatures, Kaalia included, assuming she’s on the battlefield.

The best use for Aurelia is to play her before combat. She has haste, so she can attack that turn, giving you that sweet attack trigger. Then you can drop in two other creatures that same turn. If you cheat her in with Kaalia, you lose out on the trigger until you attack with her the next turn. That’s because her ability only triggers when she’s declared as an attacker, and Kaalia’s ability puts her onto the battlefield already attacking. Then again, if it’s Turn 5 and you have Kaalia out and Aurelia in hand, dropping her in could well be the best play.

Archangel of Tithes, though only four CMC, can be difficult to play without Kaalia’s ability because of the three white in the mana cost. However, unlike Aurelia, her ability is not a trigger, therefore you still get the benefit even if you cheat her in with Kaalia’s ability. Also, while she’s untapped, it’s that much harder for opponents to attack you, especially if you’ve recently destroyed all of their lands.

Subjugator Angel is great, because if you drop her in with Kaalia, it all but guarantees that your opponents won’t be able to block this turn. This can be good if you don’t yet have a way to protect Kaalia and the opponent you want to attack has flying blockers. It can also lead to some shenanigans second combat phase if you also attack with Aurelia.

Aegis Angel, Avacyn, and Deathless Angel can be protection for Kaalia to keep her from being destroyed; Adarkar Valkyrie, Emeria Shepherd, and Reya Dawnbringer can bring her back after she gets killed.

The rest are mostly just good, powerful creatures that would be good in any deck. The mana curve is steeper than I’d typically play in a deck, but with Kaalia it’s okay, because I should be able to cheat them out early. If I can’t, well, I’m probably going to lose. In this particular case, that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

***

Demons:

Bloodgift Demon

Harvester of Souls

Master of Cruelties

Rakdos the Defiler

Rune-Scarred Demon

Master of Cruelties is great if one of your opponents has no blockers. Swing with Kaalia, drop him in to her ability. His attack restriction is only checked when he’s declared as an attacker; because he enters the battlefield already attacking, the restriction doesn’t matter. With no blockers to be declared, MoC’s ability triggers, preventing all damage he would deal and setting the defending player’s life total to 1. That happens in the declare blockers step. Then we go to the combat damage step. MoC deals no damage because it’s been prevented, but his ability has no effect on Kaalia, who deals her 2 like normal. Now the defending player is at -1 and loses the game.

Of course this only works the once. The next time MoC attacks, he has to do it alone. Even then, he’s a good card. Unblocked, he sets defending player to 1, leaving them easy pickings next turn. Blocked, the combination of first strike and deathtouch means the blocking creature is going to die before it has a chance to deal its own damage. Or I can just keep him in reserve as a blocker, to kill any creatures foolish enough to come my way.

Rakdos is kind of a one-off effect, and I may take him out of the deck depending on how he performs. Still, I can’t pass up the opportunity to drop him in with Kaalia and thus bypass his downside while forcing one of my opponents to sacrifice half their permanents.

***

Dragons:

Balefire Dragon

Moonveil Dragon

Utvara Hellkite

All three dragons that made the final cut are rather difficult to cast. I almost have to have Kaalia on the field in order to get them down. Balefire Dragon and Moonveil Dragon are just plain good in any deck, so including them is no hardship. Utvara Hellkite is a little iffy in a deck with only three dragons, but even with only himself, I can double my number of dragons every turn. Plus, this way he’s already there if WotC prints more dragons I want to put in the deck.

***

Land Destruction:

Armageddon

Boom//Bust

Cataclysm

Catastrophe

Decree of Annihilation

Ravages of War

As previously stated, I dislike land destruction, because it means out of four players at the table, only one is actually getting to play her deck. I feel justified in running it in Kaalia, however, because, first off, I’m going to be targeted the minute I sit down, and second, if I manage to landwipe with Kaalia in play, the game isn’t going to last much longer. Without lands, no one will be able to kill my threats, most importantly Kaalia, so my boardstate will continue to increase over the next few turns until I’ve eliminated all the other players. Then I can pull out a deck that’s perhaps a wee bit more fair.

***

Removal:

Anguished Unmaking

Disenchant

Go for the Throat

Hero’s Downfall

Mortify

Murder

Terminate

Tragic Slip

Vindicate

As I’ve written about in a previous post, removal is key. There are several things that can shut my deck off, like Guul Draz Assassin, or Sheoldred, or Dictate of Erebos. I need to be able to get rid of those things if they come up. My chosen removal involves a lot of things that can hit a variety of permanents, so I’m ready for anything.

***

Recurrance:

Animate Dead

Debtor’s Knell

Phyrexian Reclamation

Breath of Life

Defy Death

Profane Command

Resurrection

Unburial Rites

Sheoldred, Whispering One

Kaalia is going to be a target. The easiest way to stop the Kaalia player is to kill Kaalia herself until she’s uncastable. Being able to bring her back from the graveyard, rather than having to send her to the command zone and pay the command tax, gives me more time to build up my mana base while my opponents futilely throw kill spells in the hopes that one will eventually stick.

***

Protection:

Darksteel Plate

Lightning Greaves

Swiftfoot Boots

Whispersilk Cloak

Not much needs to be said about being able to keep Kaalia from being targeted or destroyed once I get her out. I would like to note however that Whispersilk Cloak has the additional benefit of keeping her from being blocked, which means my opponent can’t just get down a two-power flier and be safe from my wrath.

***

Other:

Dictate of the Twin Gods

Havoc Festival

Honestly these cards could fall under the category of “acceleration,” but with only two of them it didn’t feel worth it to create said category. Both are in the deck because Kaalia depends on reducing life totals in order to win games. A turn 5 Dictate while swinging with Kaalia and dropping in Gisela means twenty-eight damage to somebody’s face. Turn 6 Havoc Festival means everyone now has a turn to get rid of something or they’re all going to die.

***

Land:

Arid Mesa

Badlands

Blood Crypt

Bloodfell Caves

Bloodstained Mire

Boros Garrison

Boros Guildgate

Command Tower

Godless Shrine

Marsh Flats

Mountain x4

Nomad Outpost

Opal Palace

Orzhov Basilica

Orzhov Guildgate

Plains x4

Plateau

Rakdos Carnarium

Rakdos Guildgate

Rogue’s Passage

Sacred Foundry

Scoured Barrens

Scrubland

Smoldering Marsh

Swamp x4

Wind-Scarred Crag

For this deck, I decided it was worth it to shell out the money for duals. Kaalia really needs to be able to hit the field by Turn 4, since she’s racing the clock to kill everyone before any of them have a chance to build up enough of a board presence to stop her. Most of the lands are just mana-fixing, although I did throw in a Rogue’s Passage to make Kaalia unblockable in order to protect her, or help Master of Cruelties get through.

***

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to play Kaalia. At the time I hadn’t yet gotten my hands on any of the duals I wanted, although it turned out they were for sale at the store where I was playing, and I was able to acquire them for store credit before the end of the night. Here then is a run-down of how the night progressed.

Game one. Opening hand had only one land, had to mulligan. Second hand had a Swamp and three Plains, no sources of red. Every card was foil. Kept, hoping for a red source that never appeared, although I did hard-cast Archangel of Tithes. From the moment I sat down the Daxos player targeted me, since there had been a Kaalia deck in his last playgroup and he had not-so-fond memories of playing against it. I felt this was perfectly fair; after all, I was playing Kaalia, and when I sit down across from a Kaalia deck, my first thought is to contain the threat. Gitrog combo’d off around Turn 6 and we shuffled up for Game two.

Game two. Opening hand had Boros Garrison, the Badlands I’d just purchased from the shop, Godless Shrine, and Nomad Outpost. Karador got down a Birthing Pod and a creature that was going to allow him to search for creatures, so I teamed up with Gitrog, casting Murder on the creature while Gitrog destroyed the artifact. Got down Kaalia Turn 4. Turn 5 I swung at Gitrog and dropped in a Gisela, dealing 14 damage, then dropped in a Phyrexian Reclamation and played Boros Garrison, returning my tapped swamp. Turn 6 I swung again, dropping in Deathless Angel for 24 more damage to Gitrog, killing him for exactsies, since he was already down 2 from some other effect. At the end of my turn, Karador exiled my Gisela, which was a fair play.

Daxos had down a Gravepact, and sacrificed a creature, forcing myself and Karador to sac creatures as well. I chose Kaalia, then returned her to hand with Phyrexian Reclamation. The recurrence I run in my deck was earning its pay. Daxos then destroyed my Phyrexian Reclamation so I couldn’t do that anymore.

On my next turn, I swung Deathless Angel at Daxos, flashing in Dictate of the Twin Gods for 10 damage.

Daxos proceeded to enchant his commander with Fallen Ideal, which was a problem for myself and Karador, since we now couldn’t keep creatures on the field. I then proceeded to team up with Karador; he tutored for Reclamation Sage to destroy the Gravepact after I returned Kaalia to the battlefield once again using Unburial Rites. Next turn I swung at Daxos, dropping in a Rakdos the Defiler. He took 18 and had to sacrifice six permanents, which effectively kept him from doing anything else, and proved that Rakdos was a good inclusion in the deck. The very next turn Karador combo’d off and won.

All in all, I was pretty happy with how the deck worked. Although that Gravepact/Fallen Ideal combo stymied me for a while, given enough time I could have drawn into Mortify, Vindicate, or Anguished Unmaking. What really made me happy, though, was the fact that everyone had a good time. At various points in the game each of us had the advantage. It was also pretty interesting actually allying with other people while playing Kaalia. Usually it’s Kaalia versus the rest of the table. Most likely it was my own mindset, rather than the decklist, that allowed that, but it’s nice to know that even with a truly degenerate deck I can still play a game wherein everyone enjoys themselves.