Ordering In

Posted in Serious Fun on May 15, 2012

Have you ever been overwhelmed by options? Say, for example, you sit down in a diner. It's a 24-hour joint, so you can order breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert any time of day. Let's also say you're traveling to a Magic event (perhaps for Grand Prix Minneapolis this weekend, or Grand Prix Anaheim next weekend, as I am) so you won't be back again. You have one chance to sample something you might never see again.

Gisela, Blade of Goldnight | Art by Jason Chan

How do you choose?

There are a lot of strategies, but the one I prefer is to simply try what the locals are having. What's the special everyone else is enjoying? What's the place known for? What's the most common order coming out of the kitchen? With a few well-placed questions and some patient observation, you dramatically increase the odds of what you're about to step into will be something worth remembering.

I hope that analogy helps you understand why I ask you all a question every week. Here's the one from last week.

Which legendary creature from Avacyn Restored should Adam make a deck around next?
Gisela, Blade of Goldnight173228.7%
Bruna, Light of Alabaster120820.0%
Sigarda, Host of Herons81713.5%
Avacyn, Angel of Hope5689.4%

What's really awesome about this particular poll is that after a day or so, long after many of you are clicking through to read the article, the poll was at a very close tie between Gisela and Griselbrand. While the final result tipped the scale to Gisela, it didn't seem right to leave such a close race at that.

Today, we're playing both good and evil. I hope you're ready.

(And before we get too far, I just want to gently remind everyone that when I build Commander decks I build them from whatever I have in my Commander Box. Not every card and combination will be available, so if "something obvious" is missing please let me know—you could help me add the next neat thing to my collection!)

    Hell Hath No Fury Like an Angel Scorned

Let's look at Gisela, Blade of Goldnight.

You know what this heavenly creature reminds me of?

Yeah. I've seen Angel-themed Commander decks before, but Gisela isn't your usual type of Angel. She's a battle-hardened killing machine who empowers the Planeswalkers who summon her (that is, us) to create a cataclysm for our foes. Note her wording:

This is the same type of wording as featured on a very different enemy-colored commander: Edric, Spymaster of Trest.

Everything dealing damage to our opponents gets in on the deal, which in Gisela's case means the damage is doubled. This firmly draws me to three ideas:

  • Assemble an army of well-equipped Angels.
  • Discourage attacks against us.
  • Have enough mana to make both happen.

Let's start with the easiest piece: Angels.

Akroma, Angel of Fury; Akroma, Angel of Wrath; Avacyn, Angel of Hope; Basandra, Battle Seraph; Linvala, Keeper of Silence; Razia, Boros Archangel; Reya DawnbringerLegendary Angels for a legendary army.
Adarkar Valkyrie, Aegis Angel, Angel of Jubilation, Angelic Arbiter, Baneslayer Angel, Firemane Angel, Herald of War, Indomitable Archangel, Pristine Angel, Sunblast Angel, Victory's Herald, Voice of AllThe main force of Angelic retribution: protection, gaining life, recursion, resetting, destruction, power boosting, and more are all featured.
Avatar of Fury, Emancipation Angel, Figure of Destiny, Mana-Charged Dragon, Taurean Mauler, Transcendent MasterThey aren't all Angels, but a few blessed conscripts can't hurt.
Decree of Justice, Entreat the AngelsHeavenly armies air-dropped onto the battlefield.

There isn't too much to say here. Angels come in mostly large-sized flavors, giving Dragons a run for the money, and pack a plethora of useful abilities. The general goal is to play some Angels and make the most of the flying host. That's half of Gisela's shtick.

The other half is to incentivize opponents' attacks elsewhere.

Archon of Justice; Avatar of Slaughter; Hoarding Dragon; Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs; Kuldotha Phoenix; Righteous Aura; Windborn MuseDon't attack us!
Furnace of Rath, Order // ChaosLet us help you attack them!
Ajani Vengeant, Evangelize, Oblation, Return to DustWe're going to get this out of the way for everyone.
Akroma's Vengeance, Austere Command, Flowstone Slide, Hallowed Burial, Oblivion Stone, Planar Cleansing, TerminusEverybody start over.
Angelic Renewal; Defy Death; Emeria, the Sky Ruin; Miraculous Recovery; RecoupWe can get right back into the game.

I've pulled out the usual spread of things that clear the battlefield and exile annoying things, but any excuse to slam Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs onto the table is good enough for me. And with the abundance of Angels flying around we'll usually get to make the most of him.

Of course, all these goodies are only wonderful when our plan is fully powered.

Eternal Dragon, Gift of Estates, Knight of the White Orchid, Land Tax, Thawing Glaciers, TitheLet's get our Plains onto the battlefield.
Boros Signet, Coalition Relic, Everflowing Chalice, Sol Ring, Temple of the False God, Thran DynamoI don't always play Sol Ring, but when I do it's awesome.
Arid Mesa, Battlefield Forge, Boros Garrison, Clifftop Retreat, Plateau, Rugged Prairie, Sacred FoundryThe usual suite of red and white mana makers.

Many of you are huge fans of Sol Ring and other little artifact mana sources. I don't always like to break them out, but the overload of high-flying and expensive-to-cast Angels makes me want to hurry up and cast them. The results of this entire mash up looks like this:

Gisela to the Rescue

Download Arena Decklist
Planeswalker (1)
1 Ajani Vengeant
Enchantment (3)
1 Righteous Aura 1 Land Tax 1 Angelic Renewal
100 Cards

Just like every Commander deck I make, I ended up with a few more ideas than I had room for and found a few more I felt I wanted. While Angels are powerful in their own right, handing them almost all of the powerful Swords from both Mirrodin blocks—Sword of Light and Shadow, Sword of Feast and Famine, Sword of War and Peace, and Sword of Fire and Ice—ensures we'll have very good odds to bring out Gisela and connect with a defending Planeswalker.

A few other tricks that popped up:

  • Cavern of Souls with a boatload of Angels? Seems fine with me!
  • Homeward Path might not make many blue-packing opponents happy, but making sure everyone keeps what's theirs can be a huge help when asking for attacks.
  • Spinerock Knoll is much more attractive when the odds of 7 or more damage popping up is so good.

If this kind of high-flying, fast-bashing deck is your thing, that's great. Some of you prefer a very different type of Commander experience, though, and Griselbrand can deliver on that.

    The Dark Night Returns

Griselbrand isn't a silly mean Demon. He isn't an annoying taskmaster, requiring sacrifices or payments. He's actually quite generous, giving you free reign to convert 7 life into seven cards. If that sounds familiar, it's because it's an effect that's dominated the game over time.

As it turns out, this power is magnified the more life you have. We start with 40 life in Commander. We could potentially activate Griselbrand five times to draw thirty-five cards, all in one shot. While there are a lot of game-breaking things drawing thirty-five cards can do, we're going to focus on one specific spell: Exsanguinate. It works like this:

I've been looking at building a black-based Commander deck for some time, and Griselbrand demands to push black as hard as it can go. Making Exsanguinate a win condition in of itself isn't all that Griselbrand should be able to do. I know I'm going to want other things:

  • Some haste-granting Equipment, so it's possible to equip and swing with our lifelink, flying Demon.
  • Plenty of ways to demolish the battlefield while pulling down a few cards.
  • Some ways to keep up without relying too heavily on creatures.

It was the Demons and their toys that came up first.

Bloodgift Demon; Carnifex Demon; Dread Cacodemon; Ob Nixilis, the Fallen; Reiver Demon; Rune-Scarred Demon; Stronghold OverseerThe dark masters of our deadly battlefield.
Big Game Hunter, Bloodline Keeper, Cairn Wanderer, Duplicant, Massacre Wurm, Necrotic Ooze, Phyrexian Processor, Steel Hellkite, Wurmcoil EngineEvil recruits who stand in the darkness.
Basilisk Collar; Elbrus, the Binding Blade; Lashwrithe; Lightning Greaves; Loxodon Warhammer; Swiftfoot Boots; Sword of Vengeance; Umezawa's JitteWeapons that empower our soldiers to do even more than before.

I'm certainly short on piling up enough Demons to call this a "Demon deck" but it's a sufficient army to be battling with. Equipment like Loxodon Warhammer, Basilisk Collar, and Umezawa's Jitte can help fuel some life gain for us, which is handy with an assortment of ways to make the life go farther.

Ancient Craving, Greed, Harrowing Journey, Phyrexian ArenaMore life means more cards.
Demonic Collusion, Demonic Tutor, Diabolic Tutor, Liliana Vess, Praetor's Grasp, Vampiric TutorOur vile minions can play fetch very well.
Black Sun's Zenith, Damnation, Decree of Pain, Forced March, Killing Wave, MutilateDemolishing every creature is a very roundabout way to "gain life," but it works.
Temporal ExtortionEvery time I've seen someone cast this, that player got to take an extra turn. I think we can do that too.

We're not waiting around here. Life makes cards, cards make life, and we crush anything that starts to get out of hand before we play our gambit. And like his quasi-nemesis in Gisela, Blade of Goldnight, Griselbrand wants to come out to play as fast as possible.

Blanket of Night, Cabal Coffers, Caged Sun, Extraplanar Lens, Gauntlet of Power, Nirkana Revenant, Urborg, Tomb of YawgmothThe core of the big mana engine.
Ancient Tomb, Deserted Temple, Petrified FieldSqueezing just a little more mana out and recovering if an opponent interferes.
Armillary Sphere, Charcoal Diamond, Coldsteel Heart, Jet Medallion, Solemn Simulacrum, Star CompassA few ways to ensure we have our action early and often

You've asked for it, so there it is in all its glory: mana, beautiful mana. These empower our X spells, ensure our baddies enter the battlefield, and generally support our efforts to hit better than all. When we shuffle everything together, this is what piled up:

A Thing Called Love

Download Arena Decklist

It slices. It dices. It drains a ton of life, draws a ton of cards, and makes the most of the big-mana style that Commander is famous for. While Exsanguinate can nail everyone at once, Drain Life and Consume Spirit can function just as well for life-absorbing spell blasting. Of course, it wouldn't be Commander without a few extra options added at the last minute:

Griselbrand | Art by Igor Kieryluk

While Liliana Vess might have struck him down, the wonder of Magic makes it so we can relive Griselbrand's dark deeds for ourselves. And if you have far more powerful things to do with Griselbrand—because I know they're out there—please share them on the message boards!

    Stabbing Westward

While Gisela won the vote by a slim margin, neither she nor Griselbrand took the majority. In true representative democratic fashion, here's the follow up vote to choose the ultimate winner.

Which Commander deck should Adam take with him to Grand Prix Anaheim?Gisela to the Rescue – Gisela, Blade of Goldnight CommanderA Thing Called Love – Griselbrand Commander

Whether it's the forces of light on a march to victory or the powers of dark dropping headshots, the bonus deck I'll have on hand is entirely up to you. Note that I still have our Ghave, Guru of Spores deck on hand to double up the options for community-driven decks.

Can you feel the love yet?

Join us next week when we begin chasing the planes again. See you then!

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