Swooping Isn't the Only Answer

Posted in Command Tower on March 19, 2015

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

How many Dragons will you play during your Dragons of Tarkir Prerelease?

Dragon Tempest | Art by Willian Murai

It won't be hard to find flying friends throughout the weekend, although with everyone angling for aerial aces there will be plenty in your way to victory too. For the Dragon lovers out there, Dragons of Tarkir has to be one of the greatest sets in all of Magic. And for the Commander players out there, adding an amazing new Dragon (or several) to our decks will be the natural outcome over the next few weeks.

Leaving the "Add Dragons. Mix well." cooking exercise to readers at home is only fair. So what can we talk about today?

Velis Vel

As we enter this era of All Dragons, All the Time, I wanted to remember there's more than flying doom to play in Commander. Just as Dragons of Tarkir previews started I asked you to share the best non-Dragon tribes to build around.

If you love your Dragons foremost don't worry: This is just the buffet of edible morsels your flying friends will soon feast upon.

The first to answer the call for a tribal Commander deck was Andrew, bringing the most obligatory of obligatory tribes: Slivers.

In this article about the planes in the original Planechase product, Doug Beyer wrote this sentence:

"There's an unwritten understanding among Planeswalkers that no Slivers should be summoned within Velis Vel, for fear of causing an ecological catastrophe within Lorwyn's underground."

Hello, Multiverse, I'm the Planeswalker herald of such an ecological disaster. The Skep can no longer contain our might. Evolution beckons us across the Blind Eternities. Countless planes hold potential for countless branches of evolution. From thrum to prime to queen, we will survive.

Even if the hive cannot overrun those that stand in our way, we have traveled through space and time to assimilate the greatest weapons in all the Multiverse. We can harness the mana of Alara's Maelstrom Nexus to double our forces. We have reclaimed the Legacy Weapon and can use our Manaweft Sliver enhancements to cleanse the world. We've muscled through New Phyrexia to reclaim the Door to Nothingness. Innistrad's Cavern of Souls shields us from your pathetic attempts to sever our Æther bonds. Ravnica's Implicit Maze is no challenge for the hive; we have claimed dominion over the Maze's End. Rabiah's City of Brass; the Reflecting Pools of Rath; the Mana Confluence of Theros's five rivers; even your precious Command Tower. We occupy them all.

Our four leaders, the Sliver Queen, the Sliver Overlord, the Sliver Legion, and the Sliver Hivelord, can all command the hive. Our variance knows no bounds, presenting a different texture of abilities in every conflict we engage in. Flee, weakling, and we shall meet you again wearing a different face. There is no escape from the hive.

*chittering intensifies*

Andrew's Sliver Commander

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Sliver Queen
Planeswalker (2)
1 Ajani, Mentor of Heroes 1 Domri Rade
99 Cards

If you've never played with Slivers, this is what to expect. They fuel each other, chaining together to form amalgams of abilities, sizes, and uses. Every time new Slivers are released, Slivers as a whole get stronger. With the right combination in play, Slivers feel unbeatable. With random combinations in play, Slivers feel strange and unwieldy.

Andrew uses positive Slivers—those without drawbacks—to craft a random-yet-cohesive army. Decks like these rely on getting their mana going well, so if you can sweep away the army later your Dragons can feast upon what shows up late. Yum.

Another tribe that's as classic to Magic as it is broader fantasy is the Elf tribe. Ben had an interesting look at Elves that isn't just an aggressive deck in Commander:

Elves are the kings of Commander. Nearly every deck I own has some green in it, and unless I expressly forbid them, Elves dominate my decks. My most prized mono-green deck is built for fun and power, and has had many commanders over its life, currently helmed by Yisan, the Wanderer Bard.

The plan, like many green decks, is to ferret out as many lands as possible with cards like Wood Elves or Farhaven Elf. Between fetch and mana ramp, Elves allow my commander (or one of their much larger companions) out as early as turn two or three. Yisan's job is simple: to lure as many of the fae folk onto the battlefield as possible!

Need more cards? Grab Sylvan Ranger or Elvish Visionary. Pesky artifacts or enchantments bothering you? I'm sure Glissa Sunseeker, Reclamation Sage, and Nullmage Shepherd would like to have a say in that. The beauty is that even when (not if) Yisan dies, his Elves have left behind a collection of Forests and mana to bring him back instantly, and he can serenade them out again with ease due to their low casting cost.

Elves also play nicely with Beasts, the jelly to the Elves peanut butter. Garruk's Packleader draws comical amounts of cards when Elvish Archdruid, Imperious Perfect, and friends turn any 1/1 Elf into a 3/3. Bounce creatures like Roaring Primadox ensure that cheap Elves go back to my hand, and return twice their value with more draws and fetching.

All Elves add something to the mix, and aren't crippled when some are lost. An Elf deck will always perform well. After all, the meek shall inherit the Earth! Or the Forest! Or both!

Ben's Elf Commander

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Yisan, the Wanderer Bard

Garruk's Packleader is a creature more green token decks can stand to play, but alongside ways to push a steady stream of big Elf creatures onto the battlefield it's a monster of a card-drawing engine. That's where a tribe like Elf shines: creating these value chains that lead to tons of cards and creatures under your command. (In fact, it's good enough to remain one of the only tribal archetypes viable in the Legacy format!)

Most longtime players of Magic have seen what a player dedicated to the Elf plan can do, so it's no surprise to find it in Commander as well. But Commander celebrates other tribes and styles, including one that's as cute as it's surprisingly well-supported in Magic. Kevin's choice of tribal warfare is the cat's meow:

If your question is to be taken literally, the best "suited" creature tribe for a Commander deck would unquestionably have to be Cat. Just take a look at my Kemba, Kha Regent deck and you will see that she gets suited up like no other tribe ever possibly could. Kemba, Kha Regent just gets stronger and stronger and calls more Cats to her side as she suits up with armor and weapons that could easily be considered the Equipment hall of fame.

She has cat friends like Leonin Shikari and Taj-Nar Swordsmith who help her get suited up, and her predecessor Raksha Golden Cub can step in and suit up for her when she is out of commission. Cats are so well suited that even other tribes pay homage to their greatness by lending a helping hand, such as the Kor (Nahiri, the Lithomancer and Stoneforge Mystic), Humans (Puresteel Paladin and Steelshaper Apprentice), and even a friendly Giant (Stonehewer Giant). Let us not forget the most powerful suit, Assault Suit, because when Kemba, Kha Regent puts that thing on, your opponents have no choice but to take the gift that is given to them and bash each other with what I believe is the best "suited" tribe for Commander!

Kevin's Cat Commander

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Kemba, Kha Regent

Kevin let the Cat out of the bag with a pun on my question and a way to swarm the battlefield with power meowers. I've built, and played against, several Kemba, Kha Regent decklists before and they're always fun. Making tokens every turn is a strong move in most Commander games, and creating an impressively equipped leader to beat down with as well satisfies plenty of players.

The most recent round of Commander preconstructed decks added plenty to some tribes, and Jazal Goldmane does a great white impersonation of Kamahl, Fist of Krosa here. Using one Cat leader to power out an army, then summoning another to enhance them all should scratch the itch of even the most ardent Cat lover.

While all of these small fries on the ground look like easy prey for Dragons, those flying monsters aren't the only way to take the air in Commander. Amanda is looking forward to From the Vault: Angels as a way to add even more to her tribal Commander deck:

There are many different types of creatures for tribal but the one that I chose is tribal Angels. I know it sounds weird, but please hear me out. The reason why I chose Angels is because I feel like it'd be pretty neat to have an angelic deck. Well that and the main reason, this is actually a dedication deck to someone I knew. Gameplay-wise, Angels can actually work well together, mixed in with a few Humans and Spirits.

The deck that I have is an Akroma, Angel of Wrath angelic tribe deck. As commander, if anyone has a red or black spell, she has protection from it. Avacyn, Angel of Hope helps keep my stuff on the field in case I have to throw a Wrath of God to stop my opponents from having a bigger army than I can. Aegis of the Gods gives me hexproof while Archetype of Courage gives all of my creatures vigilance. The biggest thing that this deck has going for it is Sublime Archangel, which gives exalted when a creature attacks on its own. Pumping up my Angels is Obelisk of Urd and Hall of Triumph. Karmic Guide lets me bring back my Angels and a few other creatures from the graveyard to the battlefield. So, say if Avacyn, Angel of Hope gets stuck in the graveyard, I can bring her out with Karmic Guide.

Ugin, the Spirit Dragon fits into the deck because of his final ability. Angels are the protectors, while Ugin, the Spirit Dragon's ability is a buffer and helps to revive me when I lose health. Luminarch Ascension is great in multiplayer because of the fact that as long as you don't have a board that the players want to wipe, you can add quest counters.

Amanda's Immortal Akroma Commander

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Akroma, Angel of Wrath

I've seen lots of "Angel Commander" decks that headline Avacyn, Angel of Hope. I typically refer to Avacyn as the Angel of Despair, given how disruptive she is to keeping a multiplayer game moving well. When you have an indestructible battlefield of flying fatties and supporting Equipment and enchantments it doesn't take long to take over the game.

Amanda includes the obviously amazing Angel in her list, but Avacyn is a sideshow to everything else going on. Ramping into flying protectors and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon means Amanda's deck can both beat down early and sustain itself late. Sticking to one color makes mana issues all but evaporate, making Angels appearing a predictable thing.

Who said miracles weren't possible?

Their Doom!

Soon you'll be able to make the most of a new wave of cards thanks to Dragons of Tarkir and we'll all be digging through our decks to make room for new and exciting additions. In light of that, this week's question is one that some of you have considered before: How do you decide between adding more power or taking some away from your Commander decks?

  • Feedback via email, in English
  • 300-word limit to explain how and why you change power level
  • Sample decklist (does not count against word limit)
  • Decklists should be formatted with one card per line with just a leading number, such as "3 Mountain"—just a space (no "x" or "-") between the number and the card name, without subtotals by card type (Submissions that don't follow this rule will be ignored.)
  • Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column)

I generally find the first pass of my decks weaker and "loose" compared to decks I've taken through the wringer of battle and tweaks. Recently, at PAX East, I played my Pharika, God of Affliction deck to another amazing victory:

My next round of updates for Pharika will be with an eye on easing some of the consistency and power she brings. The deck eschews many of the classic powerful spells you expect, so it's in the synergy between cards I have to start considering breaking down a step.

As much as I like winning games of Commander, it shouldn't take Avacyn, Angel of Despair to keep me down. Join us next week when we dive into the essence of what makes Commander, well, Commander. See you then!

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