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.

Partner

With the spoiling of Commander 2016 came the advent of a new mechanic—partner. This allows you to have not one but two commanders, and gets around the issue of trying to create four-color legendary creatures in order to have a four-color deck (an issue also solved by the five four-color legendaries spoiled with the decks).

My first reaction is violent denial of WotC’s right to change the rules of my pet format. How dare they come up with this two Commander rule? Who do they think they are? It’s one Commander, and ninety-nine cards. That’s the way it’s always been.

Of course, this isn’t the first time WotC has messed with the Command Zone. In Commander 2013, the Commanders interacted with the Command Zone—all in different ways, which rubbed my OCD the wrong way. And then Commander 2014 had the Planeswalker Commanders, which I surprisingly had no problem with—probably because when I first started playing, I was under the impression that Planeswalkers could be Commanders, so the idea wasn’t completely foreign to me. And I really liked the Experience counters from Commander 2015.

Of course, none of those actually changed the number of cards in the library, or messed with the mechanics of casting your Commander. Still, isn’t part of the fun of Commander its versatility? If it had never changed, we’d still be limited to the original Elder Dragons, and no two people could have the same Commander—or general, as it was called back then. Commander damage wouldn’t be limited to combat damage, and you wouldn’t be able to die to your own Commander.

Those of you who follow my blog might also remember my rant about the new tuck rule from about a year ago. But so far, that rule has only benefited me—I’ve yet to encounter a situation where I wished my opponent couldn’t send her Commander to the Command Zone rather than the hand or library.

So—what’s the likely outcome of this Partner mechanic? Gut reaction aside, it’s actually pretty cool. You can mix and match the Partner Commanders to get different color combinations, or even use Partners of the same colors to have an alternate Commander you can access at will. That’s pretty cool. So. What options do we have?

Silas Renn, Seeker Adept—Deathtouch; whenever he deals combat damage to a player, you may cast target artifact card in your graveyard this turn. (Blue/Black)

Vial Smasher the Fierce—Whenever you cast your first spell each turn, deals damage equal to the spell’s CMC to an opponent chosen at random. (Red/Black)

Tana, the Bloodsower—Trample; whenever she deals combat damage to a player, create that many Saproling tokens. (Red/Green)

Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa—Flanking; creatures your opponents control without flanking or reach can’t block creatures with powers two or less. (Green/White)

Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker—Flying; whenever an opponent casts a spell, put a +1/+1 counter on it. (Blue/White)

Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder—ETB or attack, target creature you control gains double strike and lifelink until end of turn. (Red/White)

Kydele, Chosen of Kruphix—T: Add C to your mana pool for each card you’ve drawn this turn. (Blue/Green)

Ravos, Soultender—Flying; other creatures you control get +1/+1; at the beginning of your upkeep, you may return target creature card from your graveyard to your hand. (White/Black)

Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist—At the beginning of each player’s end step, that player may draw a card if a player other than you lost life this turn. (Red/Blue)

Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper—Menace; whenever a creature you control deals combat damage to a player, you gain life equal to that creature’s toughness. (Green/Black)

Akiri, Line-Slinger—First strike, vigilance; +1/+0 for each artifact you control. (Red/White)

Thrasios, Triton Hero—4: Scry 1, then reveal the top card of your library. If it’s a land card, put it onto the battlefield tapped. Otherwise, draw a card. (Blue/Green)

Tymna the Weaver—Lifelink; at the beginning of your postcombat main phase, you may pay X life, where X is the number of opponents that were dealt combat damage this turn. If you do, you draw X cards. (Black/White)

Kraum, Ludevic’s Opus—Flying, haste; Whenever an opponent casts his or her second spell each turn, draw a card. (Red/Blue)

Reyhan, Last of the Abzan—ETB with three +1/+1 counters; Whenever a creature you control dies or is put into the command zone, if it had one or more +1/+1 counters on it, you may put that many +1/+1 counters on target creature. (Green/Black)

So, first thing I notice—the enemy color combinations each get two Partner Commanders, and the allies only get one. That upsets my sense of order. The second cycle of enemy Partners aren’t adding anything to the possible color combinations.

The second thing I notice is that most of the Partner Commanders really aren’t worth running without the back-up of a second Commander. Akiri is okay, but it gets way better with Silas Renn’s ability to return artifacts to play. Kydele is fine for mana-ramp, but it’s Thrasios that will help you draw the cards to make it worthwhile—or you can use Kydele’s ability to pay for Thrasios’s scry. Reyhan is pretty good, but why would its command zone clause be relevant unless you’re also running Ishai?

Also—the fact that these Partner Commanders open more opportunities for four color decks, without needing to come up with more four-color cards—a prospect which is extremely difficult—makes me quite happy. When there’s only one option for a certain deck archetype, anyone who wants that archetype is forced to play the same deck—and part of the fun of Commander is that any deck is viable. With the Partner Commanders, plus the four-color Commanders, we now have seven different ways to make each of the four-color combinations. That’s way better than having a single way for each combination, which is what it would have been had they not come up with the Partner mechanic. So, really, the only way it could be improved—is to create more cards with Partner, in order to provide more options.

Overall, I’m cautiously optimistic about this new mechanic. It opens up new deck archetypes that have thus far been unavailable in sanctioned play, while skirting the problem of trying to design multiple four-color legendary creatures. I look forward to seeing what kinds of decks people build around these new commanders.

(Please comment below with your commanders and archetype if you plan to create a Partner commander deck.)

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.