The Fro Knows: Proliferating Victory

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Commander 2016 is the most enjoyable Commander set ever released. This is a bold statement, especially since at the time of my writing this, the set hasn’t even been released. But the fact remains that after analyzing the decklists and breaking down the power level of the cards versus the fun level, they knocked it out of the park. The uniqueness of each deck lends to all different sorts of play styles, from Saskia the Unyielding for the beatdown players to Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis for the group huggers. Breya, Etherium Shaper is perfect for those who have dreamed of jamming Muzzio, Daretti, and Sharuum in the same deck, and even Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder throws a bone for the crowd that’s all about making hilariously chaotic board states.

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However, for me, there is no more interesting Commander than Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice. I’m a huge fan of praetors and the New Phyrexia story line, and to see a new evolution to that tale put a smile on my face. Even canonically excusing the lack of Red in the casting cost as Urabrask not wanting to participate in her compleation was a nice touch. What really cements her in my mind as the most interesting of the new Commanders is that there’s just so much flexibility to how you can build with her. There’s just so much going on with her that you can really just build in a way that suits you. You aren’t getting steered in a specific direction like you do the others.

For example, one of the first avenues I explored was just a good old fashioned Commander beatdown deck. Atraxa has four keyword abilities, and all of them are ones that most Voltron-style decks have to use other cards to grant their Commanders. Flying, vigilance, lifelink, and deathtouch are fantastic abilities on an aggressive Commander, and when coupled with cards like Blessing of the Nephilim and the auras from Shadowmoor/Eventide, Atraxa becomes an incredibly powerful and aggressive creature.

However, that proved to be a little too boring for me, so I looked into exploring the aspect of her proliferate ability. Proliferate is one of those mechanics that can be incredibly broken when properly executed. My first foray into the proliferation deck was naturally an Infect deck, which used cards like Ichor Rats and Virulent Wound to put poison counters on my opponents and slowly grind them out of the game. What made this so powerful is that unlike life totals, the required poison counters to win in Commander doesn’t scale up. You only need to deal 10 poison counters to win, much like in regular Constructed. Unfortunately, this became far too linear, and it put a massive target on my head whenever I would attempt it with my proxied test deck. Once you start putting poison counters down, everyone tries to kill you before you can finish the job, which unfortunately made it unviable. As well, I’m of the belief that there is only one true Infect deck, and that’s Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon, and he should only be employed for 1-on-1 games.

My next build tried to abuse +1/+1 counters through cards like Ghave, Guru of Spores and the Arcbound creatures from Darksteel. What’s particularly nice about this route is that the pre-constructed deck for Atraxa already sets you up for this style pretty easily. I really only had to swap out about twelve cards, and those were mostly personal preferences and pet cards. This had more the feeling of a traditional Ghave deck with a little boost from Blue proliferate cards like Inexorible Tide and Thrummingbird. What also made this version so strong is that it forces your opponents to act immediately or be buried by your rapidly growing army. One thing I’ve noticed about Commander players over the years is that if they have a decent enough board state, they’re reluctant to blow it up with a sweeper, even if it destroys far more of your creatures. This gives you a lot of play in that you can both build up a few creatures into giant threats to force the sweep, then make several tokens into moderately sized attackers to go around whatever they do post-Wrath of God. If this is more your style, you’ll be very pleased by what you get right out of the box.

After all that testing, it dawned on me that there was still a way of building that I hadn’t tried out yet. One of the more powerful playstyles in Commander that has yet to really have a truly abusive shell: Superfriends.

COMMANDER: ATRAXA, PRAETOR’S VOICE

Planeswalkers

Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver

Garruk Wildspeaker

Garruk, Apex Predator

Garruk, Primal Hunter

Jace, Architect of Thought

Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Jace, Unraveler of Secrets

Karn Liberated

Kiora, Master of the Depths

Kiora, the Crashing Wave

Liliana Vess

Liliana, the Last Hope

Narset Transcendent

Nissa, Vital Force

Nissa, Worldwaker

Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath

Ob Nixilis Reignited

Sorin, Lord of Innistrad

Sorin, Solemn Visitor

Tamiyo, Field Researcher

Tamiyo, the Moon Sage

Teferi, Temporal Archmage

Ugin, the Spirit Dragon

Venser, the Sojourner

Vraska the Unseen

Planeswalker Enablers

Call the Gatewatch

Creeping Renaissance

Deepglow Skate

Deploy the Gatewatch

Doubling Season

Oath of Gideon

Oath of Jace

Oath of Liliana

Oath of Nissa

The Chain Veil

Proliferate

Contagion Clasp

Contagion Engine

Thrummingbird

Inexorible Tide

Tezzeret’s Gambit

Spread the Sickness

Viral Drake

Colour Fixing/Ramp

Sol Ring

Golgari Signet

Simic Signet

Dimir Signet

Azorius Signet

Cultivate

Kodama’s Reach

Explosive Vegetation

Sakura-Tribe Elder

Farseek

Tempt with Discovery

Chromatic Lantern

Darksteel Ingot

Fellwar Stone

Solemn Simulacrum

Sweepers

Wrath of God

Duneblast

Merciless Eviction

Portcullis

Final Judgment

Lands

Temple Garden

Hallowed Fountain

Overgrown Tomb

Watery Grave

Godless Shrine

Breeding Pool

Verdant Catacombs

Misty Rainforest

Polluted Delta

Flooded Strand

Exotic Orchard

Reflecting Pool

Arcane Sanctum

Command Tower

Seaside Citadel

Temple of the False God

Mana Confluence

City of Brass

Opulent Palace

Sandsteppe Citadel

Evolving Wilds

Ash Barrens

Murmuring Bosk

5x Forest

3x Plains

3x Swamp

3x Island

Atraxa feels almost tailor-made for a Superfriends deck, which focuses on using multiple planeswalker abilities each turn to gain control of the game. With the sheer amount of proliferation in this list, the potential to fire off multiple ultimate abilities in the same turn can be utterly devastating. Can you imagine a turn where you can tell one opponent Jace, the Mind Sculptor is exiling their deck, another that Ob Nixilis Reignited is dinging them for 2 life every time someone draws a card, and another that Sorin, Lord of Innistrad is stealing three of their best creatures? I’ve designed the deck in such a way that you can amass emblems to the point where your opponents are locked out of the game, and you’re the only one capable of winning.

The deck hinges on both the proliferation theme and the fact that Doubling Season and Deepglow Skate can double the loyalty counters on your planeswalkers, since neither cares about what kind of counters get doubled, nor what permanents said counters are on. This lets you potentially ultimate planeswalkers the same turn you play them, springing backbreaking abilities well before your opponents can react. As well, since planeswalkers are a fairly new card type as far as removal goes, there really aren’t that many ways of dealing with them once they’re in play save for attacking them. Thus coupling the deck with the proper board wipes vastly prolongs the lifespans of your planeswalkers while your board is relatively unscathed.

What’s even scarier is just how many of the planeswalker ultimate abilities combo together. For example, with Doubling Season in play, you can play and ultimate Tamiyo, the Moon Sage so whenever a card goes to your graveyard, you get it back to your hand. Then, you can ultimate Tamiyo, Field Researcher to play your spells for free. Finally, you can then use Jace, Architect of Thought’s ultimate to continuously ultimate over and over, for free mind you, to cast every spell from everyone’s deck. While not nearly as savage, even something simple like combining the ultimates of Nissa, Vital Force and Nissa, Worldwaker to draw a card for every basic land left in your deck while simultaneously making an army of 4/4s is still pretty damn fun. Couple that with Garruk, Apex Predator to turn those 4/4s into 9/9s whenever they attack the player unfortunate enough to get his emblem.

Thanks to Oath of the Gatewatch and Eldritch Moon, going planeswalker “tribal” has never been easier. The Oath cycle of enchantments allows us to colour fix with Oath of Nissa, manipulate our draws with Oath of Jace, make blockers with Oath of Liliana, and even jumpstart our loyalty counters with Oath of Gideon. Furthermore, Call the Gatewatch lets us tutor out whatever planeswalker we want, and Deploy the Gatewatch does its best See the Unwritten impression by putting any two planeswalkers from our top seven cards directly into play. This is fantastic for speeding up the process because planeswalkers can be a bit costly to cast in the early stages of the game.

Finally, because we’re four colours and Green based, we have access to a plethora of mana fixing and ramp. Beyond the usual Ravnica signets, we have Cultivate, Kodama’s Reach, Explosive Vegetation, and even Farseek to get us to the mana we need to actually cast our planeswalkers. As well, these spells help fix our colours, which given how many of our spells are double coloured is absolutely necessary. I’ve also included several lands capable to producing multiple colours, and even Chromatic Lantern, which turns all of your lands into rainbow lands for only three mana.

I’m incredibly excited about this Commander set, and I feel like Atraxa might just be the most flexible Commander we’ve seen in quite some time. There are guidelines to building, but nothing nearly as strict as previous Commander releases. Where before you would have Kaalia of the “jam as many dragons, demons, and angels as you can” or Nahiri, the Equipment-monger, Atraxa feels far more open to interpretation. There are enough ways to build her without feeling stale, and that’s the mark of a great Commander product. If you’re thinking of dipping your toe into the Commander format, you won’t go wrong listening to Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice.

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Hapless Researcher: Delirium in Modern By Les Walderman


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This past weekend, Delirium made itself known during the modern portion of the Magic Worlds Championship. A staggering ten out of the twenty-four players were playing a BGx “Rock” deck with some component of Delirium featured in their deck. For the most part these decks were of the Abzan variety, but there were a couple of diehard Jund players as well. What is perhaps most interesting is that players from several teams and countries were playing the archetype and that it was the most popular archetype at Worlds this year. Like I have done in the past, I think it is interesting to look at the genius of the deck and see how the deck has evolved over time.

In mid-August Jacob Wilson won the Magic Online Championship Series (MOCS) with what can only be described as a Jund pile. His list was essentially a homebrew designed to maximize one card: Grim Flayer. The list Wilson played is shown below:

 


In fact, Wilson’s exact words on his twitter page were “In the finals of the modern MOCS with my nice homebrew!” I especially enjoy the mana base of this monstrosity and the light splash for white for the very necessary Lingering Souls in the main deck. Wilson’s list ended up being called Lingering Jund or Flayer Jund. But, it was really the first step in adding a new mechanic into established Jund decks. This list did two things very well: make sure Grim Flayer was a 4/4 consistently by having Delirium and having huge Tarmogoyfs. I believe this to be the origin of the Flayer Jund lists; it shows that Flayer had Modern viability.

Two weeks after the MOCS was a super Modern GP weekend, with three Grand Prixes taking place all at the same time in Lille, Guangzhou, and Indianapolis. Flayer Jund lists made appearances in the Top 8s at both GP Lille and GP Guangzhou. In a non-shocking turn of events, these lists were not as spicy as the one Jacob Wilson played in the MOCS. Players realized the power of Grim Flayer. Flayers were either a three- or four-copy card in multiple Jund and Abzan lists. Additionally, players were making use of cards such as Mishra’s Bauble, Seal of Fire, Tarfire, and Engineered Explosives all to help enable the Grim Flayer engine. At this stage in the deck’s evolution it was unclear if Jund or Abzan was the better route for Delirium and Grim Flayer. Metagames shift back and forth and Jund can line up better with some metagames while Abzan can line up better against others.

Gradually, players began to shift towards Abzan over Jund with the Grim Flayer over the course of the last month. I believe part of the reason is the reliability of getting Delirium in Abzan versus that of Jund. In several matchups Jund will elect to board out many, if not all, of their hand disruption in game 2 and 3. When this is done the deck no longer has a high saturation of sorceries and is primarily made up of instants, creatures, and lands. In contrast, Abzan will most often keep in their Lingering Souls in post-board games keeping their sorcery count higher. By adding artifact and enchantment enablers, Abzan should be able to achieve Delirium with more consistency post-board than Jund. This is by no means a hard and fast rule, but it is a natural conclusion that competitive players began to realize.

The final iteration of Flayer “Jund” was seen at Worlds this weekend. This is Marcio Carvalho’s Abzan list from Worlds 2016:


 


This version of the deck has seen an increase in diversity and some interesting new additions to the Abzan archetype. Chief among these additions are Collective Brutality and Liliana, the Last Hope. Besides being a flexible and powerful card, Collective Brutality helps to keep up the amount of sorceries in the Abzan deck post-board high. Brutality is hand disruption and removal all packed into one card. Keeping the number of sorceries high post-board is important. But, players also need to consider planeswalkers and artifacts as well to make sure that Delirium can be achieved. Liliana, the Last Hope has begun to show that she has a place in midrange Rock decks. She excels in matchups where Liliana of the Veil may not be as relevant. A balance needs to be reached in order to play both Lilianas in the same seventy-five card deck. But, moving forward I believe that both Lilianas with be integral parts of midrange Rock lists.

Flayer Jund may only be skimming the surface of a much deeper well, and we may see the growth of several new decks in Modern. Traverse the Ulvenwald has begun to see play in decks like Temur and Suicide Zoo. Gnarlwood Dryad has also begun to see Modern play as a new form of Wild Nacatl. I believe that there is a lot of power to the Delirium mechanic, and tried to dig up the dirt on what the pros are working on with it. Matt Sperling of Channel Fireball wrote about the use of Emrakul, the Promised End in modern. Even though Emrakul does not technically have Delirium, her reduction in casting cost is basically a derivative of Delirium.

After reading Matt Sperling’s article, I tried to piece together a B/G Delirium Emrakul deck of my own with as of yet mixed results. The list I currently have is an amalgam of what Sperling wrote about and what I believe to be logical inclusions. Keep in mind that this list is a work in progress and it is basically going deep down the rabbit hole. If you prefer to stick to traditional Rock decks and tier one decks this “brew” may not be your cup of tea. Having said all of this, I have had positive results against tier one modern decks and I am continuing to work on refining this list. Here is the “beta” version of my B/G Emrakul deck for modern:

 



The sideboard of the deck is not included because it remains in flux based on the current expected meta-game. Unlike Flayer Jund, this deck is focused on Delirium and “ramping” up to an Emrakul.
There is a marriage of traditionally core B/G/x cards and new Delirium cards to give the deck a much more powerful late game. Some of the inclusions in the deck may seem sub-optimal or underpowered, but you must understand that the deck aims to obtain the highest amount of types in the graveyard as possible. Not only does this help to ramp out the end game Emrakul, it also produces huge Tarmogoyfs that end games quickly. Liliana, the Last Hope and Mishra’s Bauble are both cards that will eventually make roads into this deck.

Much like the Jacob Wilson Lingering Jund deck, this B/G Emrakul deck is still very raw and will take some time to refine. I hope some of you find this deck interesting, and if you have any questions about it please feel free to talk to me about it in person or on Facebook.