Shadowy Combinations in Commander

Posted in Ways to Play on May 10, 2016

By Bruce Richard

Bruce's games invariably involve several friends, crazy plays, and many laughs. Bruce believes that if anyone at your table isn't having fun, then you are doing it wrong.

For the last couple of years, I've had the chance to attend PAX East. When a gaming convention as big as PAX East is held in your backyard, you'd be crazy not to attend. The latest video games, software, hardware, and all sorts of electronic paraphernalia are available for your perusal. Well, you and 60,000 other gamers.

This year, I really packed in a lot of Magic. With more games of Commander than I can remember and two Conspiracy drafts, I played more Magic that weekend than I had in a long time. The real joy was getting a chance to meet so many other players. Fellow writer Andrew, Norin the Wary player Ryan, he of the white-bordered Commander deck Devon, and, of course, DailyMTG writer Adam Styborski were just a few of the players we had a chance to game with.

After each game, I asked everyone about Shadows over Innistrad cards and what combos they were excited to be trying. Between them and a few other friends, I picked a few of the best to share.

When a new set comes out, I look at all the cards that make tokens and counters, and I lovingly caress my set of Doubling Seasons, knowing they are only getting better and better. While we can all recognize this as completely normal behavior, there are others, such as Ryan, who watch the new sets for Angels, Demons, and Dragons to add to their Kaalia deck. Disturbing,to be sure, but what can you do?

When talking with Ryan about Shadows over Innistrad cards, he talked about adding Angel of Deliverance. Kaalia does a great job limiting the pain of the Angel's casting cost. However, given the choice between Angel of Deliverance and Archangel Avacyn, I know which I want as my guardian Angel.

The obvious addition to the deck is Archangel Avacyn. She makes the other creatures indestructible and does a good job smacking the opponent(s) for damage. Since most creatures in this deck will have a toughness greater than 3, having Archangel Avacyn flip and do 3 damage to all creatures is not going to hurt you or your army of creatures at all.

In between games with Andrew, he mentioned he was putting Tamiyo's Journal in his Kozilek deck. The Journal offers his colorless deck another way to draw cards, something it was struggling to do.

(Andrew's linked post describes Saturday's games. His other posts bring a unique insight to the game.)

His mention of Tamiyo's Journal started me thinking about all the artifacts it would produce, which brought me to Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. It seems curious that a planeswalker that isn't Tamiyo would pair the best with her Journal, but here we are. Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas can help find Tamiyo's Journal in your deck, or Tamiyo's Journal can search for Tezzeret and get him into your hand from your library. Once the Journal is in play and making Clue artifacts every upkeep, Tezzeret is making the Clue tokens into 5/5 artifacts. Now if your opponents doesn't have a Clue, you can beat them over their heads with them!

Even Tezzeret's ultimate ability benefits from having more Clues on the battlefield. Adding three or four Clues to your artifact total costs the targeted opponent that much more life. This just gets better and better.

The only downside is deciding when you should sacrifice a Clue to draw a card. I recommend waiting until your opponent is about to kill your 5/5 Clue in combat. Snatch away that small victory your opponent is feeling at having stopped your 5/5 by drawing a card!

Both Devon and my friend Brandon mentioned Tireless Tracker. The card appears to fit into most decks with ease, although Brandon specifically mentioned Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest.

Tireless Tracker has a landfall-like ability that allows you to investigate. I have found that many casual green decks run a lot of ramp. While Cryptolith Rite is one way to ramp, another uses a variety of creatures and non-permanent spells to find lands and get them into play. This can really pile up the Clues. Harrow, Animist's Awakening, and Scapeshift are just a few ways to get multiple lands (and multiple Clues) on the battlefield. Sacrificing those Clues will make the Tracker bigger. Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest makes things truly crazy.

Sacrificing a Clue now gives the Tireless Tracker two +1/+1 counters and puts a +1/+1 counter on every other creature you control. Picture this relatively easy-to-recreate series of events:

  • Get Mazirek and Tireless Tracker on the battlefield.
  • Play Harrow, getting two lands (and two Clues) onto the battlefield at one time.
  • Play your land for the turn (and get a Clue).
  • Sacrifice all three Clues, drawing three cards, and put three +1/+1 counters on all creatures and three more counters on the Tireless Tracker.

Now, what to do with a 9/8 Tracker and a bunch of at least 3/4 creatures?

One of the games involved Jimmy Wong of the Command Zone podcast and his friend Josh. Neither had decks, so Stybs and I provided Prossh and Nissa to use. Josh proceeded to "go off" with Nissa, getting most of the lands the deck has onto the battlefield, along with so many creatures we could barely keep track. At one point, he recommended I add Concordant Crossroads to the deck, since having haste would have likely given him the win during a couple different turns.

Latter that day, I was considering Cryptolith Rite. It essentially lets you use your creatures to convoke any spell you cast. When you think of decks that can abuse this card, you should be thinking of token creatures. Tapping a handful of Saprolings ramps you very quickly into some truly nasty spells. I started going through all the big green spells that make tokens, and not surprisingly, I found many of them. Rather than pick one of them to pair with Cryptolith Rite, I looked at Concordant Crossroads.

When you play Avenger of Zendikar, you want to use your token creatures right away. With the Crossroads and the Rite out, you can play the Avenger of Zendikar, then tap all of your token creatures for mana to cast a Sylvan Offering, or even just a few of them to cast Harrow, then attack with the rest of them.

Sometimes a creature pairing is just obvious. They live on different planes, but these kids are clearly made for each other. Did any of us who have played with or against Akroma not think of her as an option? Avacyn in her various forms is great, but Akroma is an angelic wall of keywords, and Odric helps her share them. Forgetting about your other creature cards, you are likely playing several 1/1 Soldier tokens. Giving them flying, first strike, vigilance, trample, and haste is just an obvious plus. Adding these abilities to creatures that are already hexproof and/or indestructible thanks to other creatures just sounds fun. A hexproof and indestructible Akroma? Oh my, yes!

While getting your land count up to the eight mana needed to cast Akroma, I recommend various Equipment to help things along. Darksteel Plate will help keep your creatures on the table through the various mass removal effects bound to come your way. Basilisk Collar sends a clear "stay away" message, while offering you plenty of extra life.

My friend Kevin put together a 60-card deck that he is now torturing us with, featuring these two cards. At first it may not appear that the cards combo together, but trust me, they do. It can be difficult enough avoiding 13 life, but when you are trying to avoid 13, 11, 10, and 9, things get much more difficult.

But why are you avoiding all those totals? Consider what happens on Kevin's upkeep:

  • Everyone who is at 13 loses.
  • Everyone who is at 10 prays he doesn't have Hidetsugu's Second Rite, or they are dead.
  • Everyone who is at 9 or 11 hopes Kevin doesn't adjust the life totals to bring them to 10, then play Hidetsugu's Second Rite and kill them.

Triskaidekaphobia's ability to adjust life totals slightly every turn and the instant-speed nature of Hidetsugu's Second Rite complement each other and make this a great combo.

I want to thank everyone for their suggestions. Between the Clues enabling so many options and other cards working so well with entire archetypes, Shadows over Innistrad will be all over your kitchen tables!

Bruce Richard


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