Commanders and Khans

Posted in From the Lab on August 25, 2014

By Mike Cannon

Mike Cannon started writing From the Lab at the end of 2012 after two years with GatheringMagic. He is an ardent casual player and loves finding uses for bad cards.

Welcome to Wedge Week, wandering wizards! Before Khans of Tarkir previews kick off next week, we're rolling out the red carpet by talking about wedges, one of the major themes of the set.

For those currently wondering whether I'm talking about carpentry or cheese, the term "wedge" is used to describe the three-color combinations consisting of one color and its two enemy colors. The name comes from the wedge shape you get if you draw lines connecting the colors on the back of a Magic card. If you want to try this at home, just grab a permanent marker and an Island, because Islands suck.

There have been two previous sets that included a wedge theme. Apocalypse was mostly focused on enemy color pairings, but included several wedge cards as well, most notably the volver cycle.

More recently, the original Magic: The Gathering—Commander decks were built in wedge color combinations in response to the desire of many players to have commander options in those colors other than the cycle of legendary Dragons from Planar Chaos. Each included its respective Dragon along with two new legendary creatures made specifically for the format. Today, I'll be breaking a few of these by throwing them in 60-card casual decks, with a number of combo enablers to back them up.

Lethal Infection

When the preconstructed Commander decks were released, The Mimeoplasm was among the first I picked up. With the ability to shove a giant pile of +1/+1 counters onto any creature, it was a great opportunity for weird shenanigans and obscure cards. Some of my favorite things to copy were nearly unplayable cards like Jodah's Avenger and Thought Gorger, that get massively better with eight or ten +1/+1 counters on them.

For murdering opponents, however, there was one card that proved to be incredibly effective: Putrefax. People generally aren't prepared to have an 18/15 with infect and trample coming at them out of nowhere. Sure it dies at the end of the turn, but someone will already be dead by then. In fact, the card was so good at instantly killing players I eventually swapped it out for Spirit of the Night after it became clear the other players weren't having as much fun. For this deck, however, I'll be putting on my meanie pants and knocking out all the bums.

For the second part of The Mimeoplasm's ability, it doesn't get much better than Death's Shadow. You can cast it for just one mana to put it in your graveyard right away, and it gives a whopping 13 counters to The Mimeoplasm. Force of Savagery is my other favorite target. Although more costly and less powerful, it's still easy to put in the graveyard and provides plenty of counters to make Putrefax lethal.

In addition to Putrefax, I've also included Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon. Although he costs another mana to give him haste, he can still be a one-shot kill provided your opponent has no creatures with flying. If you're worried about instant-speed removal, Invisible Stalker is another good option. Although it takes a few turns to win the game, it can't be blocked or killed by most removal spells. I'll also throw in Maga, Traitor to Mortals as a way to burn out your opponent without attacking. Maga can't get rid of all 20 life, but 8 or 13 isn't too bad, and you'll be left with a big creature to finish the job.

To throw the necessary creatures in the graveyard, Buried Alive and Entomb can grab them right out of your library. In case you already have what you need in your hand, Compulsion can ditch it and give you a new card at the same time. It can also help you dig through your library to find The Mimeoplasm. To get it right away, Lim-Dûl's Vault can be used to effectively search your library for any card, provided you have a few life to spare.


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When it Rains, it Spores

Ghave, Guru of Spores is perhaps the most easily broken of the commander cycles. It's effectively a giant Pentavus, with the added ability to remove counters from and sacrifice your other creatures. There are many ways to break Pentavus/Ghave, most of them involving Doubling Season or some equivalent. Therefore, I ignored Doubling Season entirely and decided to go a slightly different route.

Ghave needs two things to make creatures: Mana and +1/+1 counters. The first problem is solved easily enough. Ashnod's Altar can trade in one token for the mana to make two more. Phyrexian Altar only gives you one mana, but that's enough for a loop if you have a way to take advantage of it. For the second problem, the first card that came to mind was Blade of the Bloodchief. Every time you sacrifice a token, Ghave will get a +1/+1 counter to make a new one. Redundancy is never a bad thing in combo decks, so I'll toss in Sadistic Glee and Death's Presence as well.

Depending on which and how many pieces you have, this combo can produce infinite mana, infinite tokens, infinite +1/+1 counters, or some combination of the three. However, the combo in any form produces infinite death triggers, so Blood Artist and its big brother Falkenrath Noble seem like ideal win conditions.

I was originally going to include Pentavus as a backup to Ghave, but the fact that the combo doesn't require the ability to put counters back on means I can use Triskelavus instead. That means you can win instantly even without Blood Artist by producing a few million tokens and sacrificing them for damage.

Guru of Death

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I'm a Soul Man

The last commander I'll be looking at today is Animar, Soul of Elements. Although not the most popular of the original 2011 commanders, Animar fans seem to be particularly loyal and enthusiastic, and it's not hard to see why. Animar's ability is pretty wide open, requiring only that you have creatures in the deck. I've seen decks with only creatures and lands, decks built around casting free artifact creatures, Elemental tribal lists, and more.

When I first saw Animar, one card in particular stood out to me. Grinning Ignus gets pretty powerful when you remove the two colorless mana from its cost. Every red mana you can produce turns into two colorless and a +1/+1 counter on Animar. If you're just looking for the counters, Man-o'-War can pump them out for one blue mana each, and can also bounce enemy creatures in a pinch.

If you're looking to go infinite, Palinchron is the card of choice. Take away the five colorless in its cost and it only takes six mana to cast and return it. Each time, it will untap seven lands, giving you as much free mana as you can use and an unlimited number of counters on Animar.

If a giant Animar won't do the job, Lightning Serpent should be able to finish things off, thanks to trample. With the Palinchron combo it can be as large as you want, but even using Grinning Ignus the combination of colorless mana and counters on Animar will allow you to cast Lightning Serpent with a lethal number of +1/+0 counters.

Worldly Tutor will help find Animar, while Noble Hierarch and Birds of Paradise can allow you to cast it on turn two if you have one in hand. If not, they can be cast cheaply to add some initial counters, and then produce mana to get the larger creatures onto the battlefield. Finally, Realmwright and Prismatic Omen make sure you can take full advantage of Grinning Ignus and Man-o'-War by making all your mana red or blue as needed.

Serpent Soul

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The Kamikaze Won't Save You Now

The khans are coming.

It's been a long journey since we left Theros, but it won't be long now until the shores of Tarkir are beneath our feet. With five clans warring for supremacy, which one will you join? Although information is a bit scarce so far, I'm definitely leaning toward Mardu right now, partially because their red, white, and black outfits look super sweet. Previews for Khans of Tarkir begin next week, and I've got a powerful new card to show you that will require an unconventional hybrid strategy to take full advantage of. Check back then to get a peek of what Khans has to offer.

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