One Fish, Two Fish

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I wanted to start off this week by talking about some of the feedback that I got about mono-white decks from last week's article. In general, the responses that I got were pretty negative; some of you who don't share my enthusiasm for white in this format. The seems like the two most common commanders are Akroma, Angel of Wrath and Isamaru, Hound of Konda, which isn't really that surprising to be honest. These are probably the most iconic white Legends from recent Magic history, and fit nicely into two of the most popular Commander deck types: [card Wrath of God]Wrath[/card]-based control, and Voltron decks.

That said, white has a lot more depth to it than these two commanders and archetypes. Today, I want to take some time to briefly go over other features that define mono-white, and the roles that different commanders can play for these archetypes. Based on contributions by you, the readers, there are three well-defined archetypes that play to white's strengths:

1. Wrath-Based Control

Commanders: Akroma, Angel of Wrath, Mageta the Lion, Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, and Konda, Lord of Eiganjo.

Let's be honest for a minute. This is a deck everyone builds, or thinks about building, shortly after being introduced to the format. When the format is described as a "Haymaker Format" that's defined by card advantage and giant creatures and spells, a white deck that runs all the best sweepers and Ivory Masks seems fine: the Wraths keep the board stable and net card advantage, the Masks protect you from huge spells, and your commander either provides a win condition or lends consistency to your plan of Wrath'ing all the problematic permanents away.

This kind of approach can be very powerful, as long as it's backed up with enough efficient spot removal, rather than just infinite clunky Planar Cleansings. This strategy also gets worse as people start running more efficient threats, and more must-answer threats that will force you to spend a Wrath of God on a single creature. That said, if you want to sweep the board, white is by far the color that's best suited to do it!

2. Voltron

Commanders: Isamaru, Hound of Konda, Eight-and-a-Half-Tails, Kemba, Kha Regent

This is another one of the most popular archetypes in the format, and for good reason. First, these kinds of decks are a great foil to the wrath-based decks since you can always recast your general and be up cards in the short-term. These are also popular because they are one of very few aggressive approaches to the format, since the 20 life buffer makes it so much harder to kill one player, let alone a whole table of players.

To be completely honest though, I don't think that white is a very good color for supporting a Voltron strategy. The problem is that the choices that you have access to don't increase their own clock, like [card Godo, Bandit Warlord]Godo[/card] and Rafiq of the Many. The other problem is that they aren't terribly good at protecting themselves, like Sygg, River Guide.

Here's what it boils down to: white certainly has the most efficiently costed aggro generals. The problem is that other decks will just play mana dudes or mana rocks and trump your commander with a more powerful and more resilient one. While white is a superb support color for aggressive decks, since it gives you cards like Stoneforge Mystic and Steelshaper's Gift, I don't think that it's very good as a primary or mono-colored aggressive deck.

3. Tokens

Commanders: Kemba, Kha Regent, Darien, King of Kjeldor, Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

And last, but not least, there are token decks. Most token decks are green, and for good reason. Green is usually better at ramping up into things like Avenger of Zendikar, pumping tokens with things like Overrun, or even gets cards like Doubling Season to put it completely over the top. However, in my opinion, white has the two best commanders for producing tokens over time. Untapping with [card Kemba, Kha Regent]Kemba[/card] or [card Darien, King of Kjeldor]Darien[/card] puts you in a great position to start taking over the game.

While green may be the best color for aggressive token decks, white is the best color for controlling token decks, as having access to cards like Diversionary Tactics, Catapult Master, Knight-Captain of Eos and other cards that allow you to use your tokens to control the board and grind out advantages over long games.

It's worth noting that these three strategies are all going to have two things in common with one another: Equipment and Wrath effects. These are the two things that white is best at, and the best way for white to generate card advantage. Consequently, both will play a prominent role in any white-based Commander deck.

That said, there is another approach that white can take to a multiplayer game: a permanent-based attrition or resource denial plan, rather than a Wrath-based plan. Some of the commanders that come to mind that emphasize this plan are Yosei, the Morning Star, Hokori, Dust Drinker, Kataki, War's Wage, and Michiko Konda, Truth Seeker, all of which allow you to deny key resources to other players while developing your own position without much trouble.

I'm still looking for suggestions and comments about what kinds of white decks you see all the time, what secret tech you have, and what kind of deck I could make that's a fairly unique approach to this color. Right now, I'm leaning towards a [card Kataki, Wars Wage]Kataki[/card] deck, but to be honest, it's mostly because the Twitter crowd threw the gauntlet by saying that it'd be a terrible deck.

For The Fish Among Us

All of that said, I do have a deck that I'd like to take a look at before I max out my word count. I received a few emails asking for different takes on a Sygg, River Guide list, some asking for help with a budget build, and some wanting a take that didn't focus on equipment and general damage. I figured I'd try my hand at accomplishing both of these, and building an attrition-control deck with Sygg protecting key Merfolk.

For budget builds, I generally set the budget at about $40, and use StarCityGames pricing as a baseline. Unfortunately, the more traditional Merfolk lords like Lord of Atlantis, Merrow Reejerey, and Coralhelm Commander are cards in competitive formats and likely out of range of the budget, so we'll have to try something a little different:

The Fish

The "Lords"

Tapping and Untapping

Thus far, the deck is trying to take advantage of the "tapping/untapping" mechanic that was emphasized for Merfolk in the Lorwyn/Shadowmoor block, with some additional synergies thrown in. Synergies as small as Stonybrook Schoolmaster letting you get two activations out of Patron Wizard, and as game-breaking as Voidmage Prodigy and Lullmage Mentor giving you the ability "U: Counter target spell."

The deck is essentially built on the premise of building up a small army of Merfolk tokens, and using those to both control the board, control the stack, and draw tons of cards by various mechanisms. [card Sygg, River Guide]Sygg[/card] and countermagic help you protect key merfolk once you find them, but the biggest problem is going to be getting some Merfolk to start with. There are, of course, tons of tutors and other cards that would help alleviate this problem, but the vast majority of those are well outside of a $40 budget. here's what I've got instead:

Card Selection

The hope here is that any given hand will have either an engine card like Lullmage Mentor or Summon the School, or a couple of ways to dig through your deck and find one. The mana base it really going to want to have shuffle effects, like Flood Plain and Terramorphic Expanse, to help with cards like Soothsaying and Information Dealer.

Besides the card selection, there are also a number of ways to actually pull ahead on cards that seem like they could be very powerful. Coastal Piracy rewards you for the tokens you're hoping to generate, and along with the lords like Patron Wizard might make it worth considering a Merrow Commerce here. I don't think I can quite bring myself to do it yet.

We have to keep in mind that this is going to be a very slow deck to get started. You have to find and be able to cast one of several three- and four-mana engine cards, and then have several turns with them in play before you actually start making any progress. Unfortunately, most of efficient removal spells and countermagic are well outside the budget of this deck, but let's take a look at what's available:

Countermagic and Removal

These are obviously not the best counterspells and removal spells in the format, but they get the job done. You even get to play quite a few really unique counterspells that people certainly aren't going to try to play around. I mean, really, who plays Unified Will and Abjure? Obviously this deck would love to have Hinder, Spell Crumple, and Cryptic Command, along with the rest of the suite of tier 1 countermagic, but I don't think that they're absolutely necessary.

The removal suite is actually where I think the deck is suffering the most. There really aren't that many great removal spells that aren't outside of the budget for this deck. The thing that I like least about this deck is how reliant it is on countermagic to handle pretty much every threat. You have two ways to remove artifacts and enchantments, and one way to remove creatures. Granted, you also have Opposition and Aphetto Grifter but those aren't "real" removal.

Finally, let's round out the deck with some more wizards and some trinkets! This set of cards should provide a little more utility and card advantage to the deck, and hopefully give the deck some additional resiliency:




That basically rounds out the decklist, sans lands. I really like the utility that this last set of cards provides, since they give you some capacity to answer almost anything, given enough time to find the pieces you need. Weighing in at $39.91, here's the final decklist:

[deckbox did="a119" size="small" width="560"]

If you've got a little extra to spend on the deck, these are a few of the cards that I think do the most for the deck with the least investment. In no particular order, and with a short explanation:

Before I wrap this up I some exciting news. I managed to win a Grand Prix Trial this past Saturday, meaning that Grand Prix Pittsburgh will be the first Grand Prix I'm attending in several years. If you're a fan of Commander, I'd love to try to meet up with some people for Commander games after I scrub out of the main event.

Beyond that, I've been getting a lot of feedback recently and I want to keep the momentum up! If you've got comments about the article or questions about decklists, I'm always glad to get constructive feedback. If you just want to talk about the format, particularly if you're heading to GP Pittsburgh, leave a comment, shoot me an email, or hit me up on Twitter!

Carlos Gutierrez
@cag5383 on Twitter

One thought on “One Fish, Two Fish

  1. I always love this exercise. My friend and I decided to build $50-limit decks and I ended up heavily modifying the precon Riku deck by keeping about 30% of the cards and adding a ton of ramp, recursion, card draw, and more high-end creatures as well as having a defender subtheme to help out during the earlier stages. In the end I built a monster: I even had enough cash left over for Consecrated Sphinx and Lightning Greaves (admittedly, Sphinx pushed the deck over $50 after Jace and SFM were banned but it was under $50 at the time). But man was I surprised by its power. Who knew doubling all of your ramp spells, draw spells, and creatures was so good in EDH. 😉

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