Rhys-ky Business

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Let's pretend you've never played Commander before. Maybe you know a few people at the local store who play and you're a little curious. Perhaps you're normally a Constructed player, or a draft junkie, and aren't sure how to go about building a deck of 100 mostly unique cards. It's probably a little weird and just a little bit daunting.

And to make things even more complicated recently released its latest rules announcement. "Color identity? Does that change who can I pick as my Commander? Nothing makes any sense!"

Calm down there, Brosan the Protector. We're here to help. I'm going to guide you through my own process of building a Commander deck, from the ground up, using one of the newly legalized Legends. For those a little intimidated by the building process, hopefully it will provide some ideas for a framework you can follow.

We'll start with a budget-minded list as well in order to accommodate players whose collections may only encompass the newer sets. This will mean that some older/more expensive cards may be omitted from the list, but I will note them at the end.

In the past, the color identity of a Legend was determined only by the colors in its mana cost, which invalidated Legends that had mana symbols in its text box that were different than those in its mana cost (ie. the card was one color but an activated ability required a different color). Now, color identity includes all the mana symbols on the card. A number of Legends have now become legal through this rules change, including Rhys the Exiled. Rhys, strangely enough, is no longer exiled from Commander play. Let's build a deck around this bad mofo.

Introducing: Rhys the Exiled

When considering a legendary creature to command your forces you may want to break down their text into individual sections to look at all the possible ways you can build around them:

Legendary Creature - Elf Warrior

We already know Rhys is an Elf, but the Warrior type is interesting. Lorwyn block has a number of cards that make Elf Warrior tokens, which makes cards like Obsidian Battle-Axe and Bramblewood Paragon much more useful.

Whenever Rhys the Exiled attacks, you gain 1 life for each Elf you control.

Rhys has an incentive to attack. As a 3 mana cost Legend with respectable stats, he can go on the offensive pretty quickly, so Commander beatdown is a viable strategy.

You also gain life from attacking, which is a benefit which may seem subpar but could serve as a healthy buffer in a war of attrition. The more Elves you control, the more life you gain. Simple, right? Naturally, because Rhys is an Elf, and because a lot of other Elves can pump Rhys, as well as the importance of Rhys' next ability, a Tribal route is pretty much required to incorporate the most synergistic cards into your strategy.

{B}, Sacrifice an Elf: Regenerate Rhys the Exiled.

Because Rhys will moving into the red zone a lot, this ability will help keep him alive, and will deter opponents from blocking because he will come out on top of most battles. This ability also means Rhys can serve as a sacrifice outlet.

Aside: The Great Card Search

For card searching, I use and the Wizard's Gatherer database. Poring through the entire Magic catalog can be a bit intimidating but I think it's exciting to find cards I'd never seen before. The first step is always the hardest, but you just might find it as addictive as I do!

Now, with these things in mind, let's get building!

'Da Elves

One of the most straightforward get Rhys' power up is to support him lots of "lord" effects. We can start with:

Since Rhys benefits from having a lot of Elves on the table, I looked into the most useful Elf token generators:

Gearing up

If we want to beat down with our pointy-eared friend, we'll need to suit him up with only the finest of epic loots:

The key is to push Commander damage through via high power and trample. Pumping Rhys' toughness is less of a priority because he can regenerate. Strata Scythe or Nightmare Lash are nice alternatives, but with these equipment cards we're focusing on speed and evasion - our other Elves can help pump his power even further.

Sleeping with the fishes

Black's creature removal is a great complement to green's everything-else removal. We can select some of the more staple removal spells, as well as some others that play well with Rhys' sacrifice ability and Tribe:

Decree of Pain is a great sweeper that should always be considered for any deck running black, but right now I'm going to set it aside.

As for non-creature removal, there are always a few green staples I fall back on:

As well as those of the Elvish variety:

This deck is not the kind to run massive sweepers like Oblivion Stone and Nevinyrral's Disk. Why would we blow up our own stuff, if we plan on winning with a mass of Elves and superior board position? We have a modest amount of tutoring to search for any answers we need, and we always have Living Death to swing things back in our favor.

Rhys Reloaded

There are a surprising number of cards that give you card advantage. Black has staples like Phyrexian Arena and Necropotence, but I thought there were several other inexpensive cards that gave good value, card advantage-wise:

All Your (mana) Base

We're working with two colors, which is perfectly fine, especially since one of them is green. I like to start at a land count of 40 and slowly whittle my way down until I'm at a number I'm comfortable with.

Let's look at the cheaper dual lands we can use:

The number of ramp and mana acceleration cards in your deck will also factor into your land counter. It's hard to forget that we're playing a tribe that excels at, well, mana acceleration. Whether you're ramping with lands or mana producers, you have a lot of options at your disposal.

The Full Monty

Naturally, I filled out the deck with mostly Elves and Elf-related cards. Here is a basic decklist I ended up with:

Untitled Deck







Most of my decks will run about 38-40 lands and about 25-30 creatures, but I'm running 36 here because many of the spells are quite cheap. You'll want to ensure you have a wide variety of removal spells as well as multiple paths to victory (hence the miser's Exsanguinate). I also tried to include as much recursion as I could, because Elves WILL die over the course of a might say in droves.

Once you have the basic idea for your deck you can then tweak individual card selections to suit your tastes. Perhaps you want a Treetop Village as a backup plan against sweepers. Mind Slash would go great with that Nath of the Gilt-Leaf. Sanguine Bond might be hilarious. A lot of Commander decks start out as "100 cards I randomly put together from my collection," and while that's amazing, at some point you should drill down and examine your card choices.


I tried as much as possible to avoid pricier cards, even if it meant skipping out on some Commander staples. One of the entry barriers to the format is when players don't have as an extensive of a collection, and need to find a lot of older cards that may not be available to them. If I wanted to invest a little more into the deck, I'd definitely consider adding Gaea's Cradle and Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary, as well as a few other staples like Sensei's Divining Top and Sol Ring.

I hope this has given you a bit of insight into Commander card selection and deck building. If you're building your first deck, the only thing I can really say is pick your favorite cards and have a ball. No one ever nails the perfect list on their first go. Tweaking comes later; fun comes first!

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to finish building my own Rhys deck...

David Lee
@derfington on Twitter

5 thoughts on “Rhys-ky Business

  1. Thirded! I've never played Commander, but like the others I've considered it. I figured my first exposure would be the Commander rpecons this Summer, but with a good primer I might take the plunge on my own!

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