Personalizing Commander 2019: Faceless Menace

Posted in How to Build on August 22, 2019

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.

Magic is pretty cool. So is Magic, which is why we're here. Commander (2019 Edition) unleashes new cards and decks for the Commander format, and jumping into the fray with a ready-to-play option is excellent for anyone interested.

But it's the magic that comes after that we can appreciate more. We've tried the decks, we've seen the flashy cards, and we have one thought on our mind: this other card would be perfect.

Updating Commander 2019 decks is a requisite part of exploring them, and getting a head start on that is what we're looking at today.

The Mirror Dimension

Faceless Menace

COMMANDER: Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer
Planeswalker (1)
1 Vraska the Unseen
100 Cards

"Faceless Menace" is a deck with three choices for a commander bundled in, and a bonus two-color commander to consider as well. The first instinct you'll have is to choose which commander the deck will truly be based around.

The principal way to look at the deck is with Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer at the helm. Almost all of our creatures are morphs, which makes Kadena's discount and draw ability when you play your first morph appealing to lean into. Leveling up your deck with morph in mind leads to several obvious cards.

  • Leyline of Anticipation
  • Brine Elemental
  • Mischievous Quanar
  • Equilibrium
  • Broodhatch Nantuko
  • Primal Whisperer

Getting the chance to cast a morph on opponents' turns is what Leyline of Anticipation does (in addition to casting anything else you'd like, of course), which makes it easier to chain all your morph creatures together. Adding powerful morphs not already in the deck support this theme too, with Mischievous Quanar copying a spell from anyone, Broodhatch Nantuko making combat a true surprise for an opponent that attacks you, and Brine Elemental adding the formidable "Pickles Lock" combo (which is using Vesuvan Shapeshifters to keep "unmorphing" Brine Elemental for its ability, which isn't particularly nice for the opponent you're keeping tapped down).

The piles of morphs we have in the deck also means Primal Whisperer can be absolutely gigantic, especially right after you dropped Ixidron to turn your opponents' creatures into faceless 2/2s. And for a flourish of a finish, Equilibrium lets you choose (and pay) to return a creature to someone's hand. Maybe you want to reply a morph from a previous turn for free to draw a card, but maybe you need to get a nasty creature off the battlefield elsewhere. Either way you get the choice, and, in a deck packed with creatures, it's straightforward to set up.

If morphing isn't your thing but copying others' creatures is, then Volrath, the Shapestealer is exactly what you want to look to. Moving away from the morph theme means finding a lot of other creatures and effects to replace them.

  • Vigor
  • Verdurous Gearhulk
  • Consecrated Sphinx
  • Evolution Sage
  • Forgotten Ancient

Volrath puts a -1/-1 counter on a creature every turn, which is a benefit when you copy opponents' creatures but a nuisance for your own. While counting on opponents to have some great creatures to copy is okay, you'll want to seed some additions of your own like Vigor and Consecrated Sphinx (both of which get better when you have two copies of them in play). Verdurous Gearhulk can put +1/+1 counters on any of your creatures that Volrath shrunk while also serving as an excellent creature for him to copy!

Evolution Sage and Forgotten Ancient both can spread counters around and support Volrath with clever options to copy. Getting another proliferate trigger from playing a land or another +1/+1 counter whenever a spell is cast opens the door to using Volrath in creative ways.

Rayami, First of the Fallen is wildly different from either of the other two commander options for the deck. Instead of adding potent creatures to our arsenal, our focus needs to be on killing the most obnoxious creatures our opponents will muster.

  • Tragic Slip
  • Go for the Throat
  • Hero's Downfall
  • Nekrataal
  • Noxious Gearhulk

We can't just exile creatures outright, so effects that can kill creatures directly are what we're focused on here. Tragic Slip can deal with even gigantic creatures given easy setup, while Go for the Throat can clear nonartifact creatures. Hero's Downfall can kill a creature but adds planeswalker protection in as well.

But gems of creatures like Nekrataal and Noxious Gearhulk pop something off and then later add a keyword to Rayami when they take their turn to die. Ensuring you can feed Rayami with delicious blood offerings will go a long way in making the experience better.

Building a Framework

Outside of which commander you choose to lean into, there are two other major ways to improve the "Faceless Menace" deck: broadly useful spells and adjusted mana options.

Powerful cards popular in Commander that aren't already in the deck are easy wins to bolster what you can accomplish.

  • Cyclonic Rift can't rescue your own things, but it can reset everyone else if you need an opening to secure victory.
  • Villainous Wealth turns any opponent's library into a treasure trove for you to plunder.
  • Pernicious Deed is powerful removal that can surgically target based on mana costs.
  • Mulldrifter flies, draws cards, and even dies immediately for you if you need it to. What a thoughtful Elemental.

  • Watery Grave
  • Talisman of Resilience
  • Simic Signet
  • Sakura-Tribe Elder
  • Breeding Pool
  • Drowned Catacomb
  • Coiling Oracle

On the mana side, there are easy upgrades hanging out in Standard, Modern, and beyond.

Sites like EDHREC and content creators like Jumbo Commander on YouTube have even more recommendations for great cards to consider. That's the easy side of things. Selecting what you swap out or remove from the deck to make room can be much harder.

One way to approach winnowing cards away is to "waterfall" down from the top by answering important questions looking across the deck:

  • Does this card help my commander shine? You get to replay your commander and can count on using them, so it's a safe bet to play it up. Rayami will still see the exiled creatures with blood counters the second and third times he enters the battlefield!
  • Is this the same effect as something that costs more mana already in the deck? Keeping the deck easier to cast ensures you get more action in the games you play. Morph is excellent for providing both early plays and options late in the game; it's a great hedge!
  • Is this a stronger version of a similar card already in the deck? Simic Guildgate can give way to Breeding Pool, and similarly Bounty of the Luxa could be replaced by Phyrexian Arena. Upgrades can be quite literal!
  • Do I like this card way more than another one? Never shy away from choosing what you want to do over everything else. Commander is a place to showcase your style!

There isn't a perfect process, but staying focused on the most important questions to answer can give you a solid start on narrowing down the next card out.

In for the Long Game

Of course, once you've made your first changes to upgrade the deck into what you want to play, I can guarantee another Magic set will have appeared. Keeping your eyes open for even newer cards to use will give you plenty of opportunity to level up your deck and practice finding the right cards to cut.

Commander (2019 Edition) comes out August 23 (that's tomorrow!). Which deck are you planning to upgrade first?

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