Posted in Serious Fun on April 24, 2012

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.

If I had to give myself Magic creature types, I'd almost certainly be a Human Advisor Rogue. I'm a human—no doubts there—who writes and otherwise actively advocates to others... which sounds an awful lot like every advisor I've ever met.

Ghostly Flicker | Art by Raymond Swanland

The Rogue part is a bit trickier. I'm a thief. Not a take-your-physical-possessions thief, but one of mimicry. When I encounter something awesome, my first instinct is to emulate it, even if at first unsuccessfully. So when Mark Rosewater dropped the Temporal Mastery bomb at the very head of his first Avacyn Restored preview article—explaining that he was emulating something he had learned—I knew I'd try something similar soon as well.

This week everyone's talking about the entire set that has finally been revealed. Revamping the Helvault Commander deck is our goal today, and I want to start with an example of just how powerful the latest set is for us.

Sower of Temptation

There are other cards like Sower of Temptation, but it's probably the most powerful example to use here. What happens is this:

  • Sower stops by to steal an opponent's creature.
  • Ghostly Flicker flickers away Sower and the creature it stole.
  • They flicker back into play under your control, letting you keep the stolen guy and immediately steal another.

Ghostly Flicker is only a common. Welcome to Avacyn Restored.

Oh Flock!

There's no way around the obvious: Avacyn Restored is absolutely loaded with things for a Helvault deck. Angels and other creatures, with amazing triggers upon entering the battlefield; numerous ways to flicker or otherwise reset these creatures; and new white-based ways to recur and recycle the creatures that fall are all key features of the set, as well as our deck.

For those who want to see where we're starting, this is it:

Grand Arbiter of the Helvault

Download Arena Decklist

It's stronger than you might believe, and makes wonderful use of all the tools it contains. So why and how do we go about changing things? There are many reasons (aside from just having new stuff to work with) that we'd change a deck:

  • We want to specifically fight something opponents are doing.
  • We want to add or remove specific cards or themes.
  • We want to adjust how the deck feels to play—mana base, early/late game choices, etc.

The main reason I change decks is to do more of what I want to do. As I explained last week, I believe that investing in doing your deck's thing first is more rewarding than in anti-opponent measures. To that end, it's clear I'm concerned with all the latest additions Avacyn Restored brings to the core effects of our deck.

We'll start, of course, with last week's voting:

Which of the following cards from Avacyn Restored do you think belong in the Helvault deck?
Something else—odds are good it wasn't revealed in time for writing! 1068 36.0%
Temporal Mastery 608 20.5%
Restoration Angel 393 13.3%
Ghostly Flicker 218 7.4%
Cloudshift 179 6.0%
Silverblade Paladin 172 5.8%
Emancipation Angel 169 5.7%
Banishing Stroke 121 4.1%
Tandem Lookout 37 1.2%
Total 2965 100.0%

Unsurprisingly, three main things jump out:

  • Restoration Angel is a Flicker on an Angel. It makes perfect sense, and many of you agree.
  • Temporal Mastery is a badass off-theme card for the deck. However, if we're adding a miracle, this would arguably be the greatest one to add. We'll visit this as a subtheme for sure.
  • Since so many of you wanted to add something else, I checked over all of the forum and email comments. While I thank everyone who shared warm regards for my first child, nobody proposed ideas that weren't listed above.

Well, easy enough. Let's run down some options.

A Flicker of Hope

Flickering—exiling a permanent then returning it to play, either immediately or sometime later—is one of the major themes in the deck. Restoration Angel does this when she enters the battlefield, but there are many more flicker effects incoming.

Cloudshift and Ghostly Flicker are two in the same vein. While Cloudshift is restricted to just creatures, it's creatures we're most interested in flickering anyway. From playing the deck a few times, I can say with certainty that the namesake Flicker itself feel anemic as a sorcery. While resetting an opponent's Planeswalker or Equipment could be useful, doing what we want when we want feels much stronger.

I'd like to add both updated versions of Flicker to the deck, so replacing the original and Otherworldly Journey seems to fit the bill. Cloudshift is cheaper, and Ghostly Flicker has wonderful interactions with many creatures:

  • Sower of Temptation was covered at the start for today.
  • Restoration Angel lets us effectively double-flicker something else—hit both with Ghostly Flicker, then the other creature with Restoration Angel's trigger.
  • Duplicant, Phyrexian Ingester, and a host of other removal-type "enters the battlefield" creatures make Ghostly Flicker into a powerful combat trick.

The other flicker cards need to be checked as well.

One of these things is not like the other: Nephalia Smuggler. While repeated flickering is great, waiting around to be tapped a turn later can be an issue for our deck. We want to do our thing right now, which the Angel provides. Even better is Conjurer's Closet, which lets us flicker something at the end of every turn.

To bring these guys in, it's probably best to tighten up our themes. Noble Benefactor triggers upon death, rather than entering the battlefield, which makes room for Restoration Angel. Conjurer's Closet seems like a faster, and safer, version of Safe Haven.

But for flicker effects in Avacyn Restored, there's one card that's an engine above the rest.

It has soulbond, so bonus points for showing off another new mechanic. But what it does is exactly everything we want:

I can count the ways I love this guy, so I will:

  • Instant speed, repeatable flickering for almost any creature we control.
  • Since he can reset himself, all it takes is a self-flick to re-pair him with a different creature.
  • He makes any Clone-type creature we control an absolute animal.

It's story time!

In one of the test games I played, another player played Primeval Titan. In true Commander fashion the race was on for everyone to make the most of the land-fetching Giant. I cast a Phyrexian Metamorph, paying 2 life, to copy it. I then proceeded to flicker the Metamorph twice, netting a total of six lands into play tapped. I was behind in lands, having missed dropping one for several turns after just five in play, so no one disrupted me over the two turns I did this.

Deadeye Navigator | Art by Tomasz Jedruszek

The story changes with Deadeye Navigator. With him as the engine of flickering, I would have been able to get four or five triggers, possibly even more, over the same timeframe. I have yet to encounter a green deck in Commander without Primeval Titan, so I wholly expect this situation to happen. And looking across other awesome creatures, Deadeye Navigator can effectively create all of these abilities:

  • : Gain control of target creature for as long as you control this creature. (Paired with Sower of Temptation.)
  • : Search your library for two lands, put them onto the battlefield tapped, then shuffle your library. (Paired with Primeval Titan.)
  • : Return target permanent with converted mana cost 3 or less to the battlefield. (Paired with Sun Titan.)
  • : Counter target spell. Put X +1/+1 counters on this creature, where X is the converted mana cost of the spell countered this way. (Paired with Draining Whelk.)

I could go on and on. Deadeye Navigator is our deck in a single creature, and being a fatty makes it easy to replace something like Djinn of Wishes.

Miracles and More

Temporal Mastery is, for lack of a more efficient term, awesome. Randomly draw into a "Time Walk" or cast an expensive, self-exiling—and therefore appearing fairer to a multiplayer troupe—extra turn maker. Nice stuff.

Devastation Tide | Art by Raymond Swanland

Of course, there are other miracles that could make the cut. The first is Devastation Tide. We considered Evacuation last time, and this is very similar. Resetting an entire board when we have a few Clones ripe in hand is a powerful way to reshape a stale game. Since it's a sorcery, we can't use it to save our stuff from someone else, which is why I'm leaning against it.

Terminus, while similarly awesome, is in the same boat as Devastation Tide. Since we want to flicker and copy our stuff (and others'), killing things the old fashioned way is still better for us, as we can count others to recur things from the graveyard. We can let them do that so we can capitalize on the best creatures coming back for more. For similar reasons, Banishing Stroke's usually awesome effect within Commander diminishes our opportunities here.

To get Temporal Mastery in, it's a simple check for finding something awesome that isn't on theme and that we wouldn't mind replacing. Batterskull, something some of you find annoying to be included and that I've found to be less-than-stellar when I could play it, fits the bill nicely.

Reflecting and Pools

There are two other cards I'm really excited about, although they are tangent to our themes. The first is Infinite Reflection.

Noel deCordova handled the preview for this, but the powerful pull of awesome things is too much for me to ignore. While it isn't a combo with one of my other favorite themes (tokens), it does provide some serious ammunition to our shenanigan potential. Since you can cast it targeting any creature, not just those you already control, it provides another way to make the most of our opponents' efforts. Primeval Titan, any of the non-legendary Eldrazi, or most tribal lords can turn a meager force into an unbelievable powerhouse. To make it happen, I think Minion Reflector can be replaced.

The other card is one just as powerful, but for entirely subtle reasons.

Zac Hill handled this just last Friday, but the reasons it's coming up for Commander are just the same. As the esteemed DailyMTG.com editor Trick Jarrett and I can attest, the most obviously repeatable part of Commander decks—the namesake commanders themselves—are often the targets of iterative counterspelling. Over five or so games with this Helvault deck, I cast Grand Arbiter Augustin IV three times. He was hit by a counterspell two of those three attempts.

While it's a small sample size—as Trick's data is similarly less-than-comprehensive—the fact remains that if you need your Commander to do something, you want to have Cavern of Souls or it's forbearer Boseiju, Who Shelters All handy to help force it through. It isn't that counterspells are the enemy of everyone (my own personal feelings aside) but that sometimes, when you have nothing left to do in hand or on the board, you should be able to at least get your commander onto the battlefield for a little action.

Cavern of Souls, being a handy land, can easily replace a Plains.

Are there more things we could change? Absolutely! Cathars' Crusade loves to see creatures bouncing into play repeatedly. Elgaud Shieldmate is a non-Equipment method of granting hexproof repeatedly. Mist Raven is an obvious lateral change, or companion inclusion, to Æther Adept and Man-o'-War. Emancipation Angel and Defy Death have their charms as well. The changes made today are just what I'm most interested in. If you have a similarly themed deck, I'm definitely curious to know how you'd change things up instead!

For those of you counting at home, here's a handy chart of what will change once Avacyn Restored is out: Incoming from Avacyn Restored

Currently in the Helvault Incoming from
Avacyn Restored
Flicker, Otherworldly Journey Cloudburst, Ghostly Flicker
Noble Benefactor, Safe Haven Restoration Angel, Conjurer's Closet
Djinn of Wishes Deadeye Navigator
Batterskull Temporal Mastery
Minion Reflector Infinite Reflection
Plains Cavern of Souls

And these are just the tip of the iceberg of "Things Adam is desperately seeking in premium versions from Avacyn Restored"—I didn't even touch other colors, artifacts, or lands yet!

This week's question is one I'm very curious about:


I'll be at the Sunday-morning Helvault Prerelease for Beyond Comics in Gaithersburg, MD. If you're in the area you should try to call ahead (to preregister, of course!), and I'll look forward to seeing some of you there!

Join us next week when we go old school with new school. See you then!

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