Command Tower: Going Biggest

Posted in Ways to Play on June 21, 2016

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.

Building with Eldrazi is interesting. Thanks to Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch, playing our favorite colorless Multiverse menaces is easier than ever. When we looked at it before, taking aim at Eldrazi in Commander was an exercise left for later.

Later is knocking on the door now.

Also, handily enough, I did follow through to build an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger Commander deck. It was more a learning experience than amazing gameplay. With the whole of Innistrad getting a taste of the dimensional threat, it's a good time to revisit the idea of the Eldrazi in Commander, and talk about what I learned putting it all together.

The Best Laid Plans

Building around Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger or Kozilek, the Great Distortion is trickier than it might seem at a glance. Commander has a few rules oddities:

  • Color identity is derived from mana symbols on a card. Devoid doesn't set color identity to colorless—World Breaker stays just as green as ever.
  • Color identity applies to lands. You'll need plenty of lands that produce colorless mana and nothing else with rules text that uses a mana symbol. Wastes, the basic colorless land from Oath of the Gatewatch, is a great help.

It's also a fact that your commander—any of the Eldrazi titans—costs approximately a billion mana, and there are numerous ways to trim the cost down. Eye of Ugin is legal, unlike in Modern, but now it's a single copy among 98 other cards in the deck.

Despite the challenges, having an Eldrazi Commander deck to play is great. Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is powerful, and changes the game when it hits the battlefield. Ramping up into big mana quickly means other effects happen faster than opponents expect: an Oblivion Stone that can be popped immediately; Ugin, the Spirit Dragon arrives on your fifth turn; a Colossus of Akros with the mana to make it monstrous after untapping again—it's all big, splashy, and fun.

There's also the excitement of seeing whether things will work out or not. Asking for a ton of mana to drop some of Magic's biggest effects means everyone else is on full alert. Once friends get a sense of how your Eldrazi deck plays out, expect to see your artifacts get hit, your lands to meet Acidic Slimes, and your creatures to get removed faster. That all might sound like a downside, but it's thrilling to have a deck strong enough that it cannot be ignored.

Building a first-take at an Eldrazi for Commander led to several observations, the biggest of which was about creatures. Good, easy-on-the-mana creatures are at a premium, and there never seem to be enough. While there are lots of colorless creatures—artifacts—across Magic, they're anemic compared to the more colorful options. Things like Bottle Gnomes and Cathodion are cheap, but it's rare something colorless is comparable to Wood Elves, Mulldrifter, Big Game Hunter, or Mother of Runes. Matter Reshaper is one of a kind.

Another difficulty that required rethinking was mana: there's never enough mana in the early part of the game. Using as many mana rocks—Mana Crypt (Hello Eternal Masters!), Sol Ring, Thran Dynamo, Dreamstone Hedron—as manageable makes sense, and putting too few into my Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger deck led to more waiting and hoping for more mana than was reasonable. Not being able to cast spells for most of some games was brutal.

Related to the mana issues I discovered, the best colorless spells were often the most expensive. Other Eldrazi, powerful battlefield-sweeping artifacts, and even colorless removal all come at higher mana costs than similar colorful effects. As a function of Magic design, it makes sense, but it's a real drag to be slower than everyone else as a rule.

The final lesson was that drawing cards was slow and cumbersome. Filtering, drawing an extra or two, or even just cashing in mana rocks that can draw some all work, but if the mana rocks came together right, it was easy to empty out a hand and be left with little way to recover after everyone launched their haymakers at you.

Round 2: Build

Despite the shortcomings, the Eldrazi deck was a fun trip in Commander. Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger was fantastic removal to have on hand, and the powerful effects kept games moving in expected ways. But after discovering the deck's hang-ups, it was clear going back to the drawing board was in order—it was time for Kozilek, the Great Distortion to shine.

Kozilek, the Great Distortion (the new Kozilek, though the original Zendikar gangster Kozilek, Butcher of Truth works, too) solved the deck's issue of running out of cards. If you can dump your hand of mana rocks, getting to draw back up to seven cards was sweet. Casting it twice in a game could mean drawing eight, ten, or even fourteen extra cards!

Using what I learned, I put a new deck together and immediately jammed some games.

Kozilek, the Great Distortion Commander

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Kozilek, the Great Distortion
Sorcery (1)
1 All Is Dust
99 Cards

Addressing the creature issues necessitated clever footwork:

I piled up more mana rocks than I did for Ulamog, but made sure to add in those that could do other things: Seer's Lantern's scry is underrated, and things like Hedron Archive and Dreamstone Hedron cash in for more cards later on.

Some of my favorite plays came from randomness. "What will I get from Matter Reshaper?" "Will Haunted Fengraf get it back for another go, or will I end up with Junk Diver instead?" "I'm at nine mana and no one's noticed. Will I get to untap and reach ten?" "All I can do is cast Kozilek, the Great Distortion and hope I draw into something great to follow up with."

Most importantly, asking opponents if it felt "overbearing" or "boring" to play against the deck wasn't met with agreement: power is exciting, but it wasn't an unpleasant experience.

Maybe the Eldrazi aren't so bad after all?

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