Polymorphing Commander

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Over the last few weeks we've had an increased showing at our Commander nights at my local game store, mostly people who were excited about the upcoming Commander products and wanted to get a head start on the format before the release event on the 18th.

Maybe it was the influx of new players and their unfamiliarity with the format. Maybe it's just my local playgroup. Or maybe it's just me, but something changed.

Everyone absolutely hated when someone sat down at the table with a five-color deck. It didn't matter who was playing it, what the deck did, or who the commander was, whenever someone revealed a five-color choice, the table would groan and ask if you had something "more casual" to play with. There's even been some rumblings from the internet community about this topic, like this article from Matt on the CommanderCast homepage.

Now, this kind of stigma is not altogether undeserved. I'd be willing to bet that the first five-color deck had both Sliver Queen and Mana Echoes in it. The combo decks have only gotten more unfair with the advent of the five-color Hermit Druid deck and the Oath/Tendrils deck. On the other end of the spectrum are the combo-control decks that splash every non-blue color for tutors and utility answers. These decks are incredibly powerful, and I can certainly understand how they could be off-putting at a more casual table.

That said, not every five-color deck is generic five-color control or fast combo. There's a lot to be said for having access to every color when you're building off-the-wall theme decks, where the deck just won't function well without having access to the entire cardpool. I have to say that most of the most fun and unique decks I've seen have been five-color; here's a few examples of exciting decks I've seen:

Every Prodigal Sorcerer and To Arms!/Revitalize effect in the game.

Every character from the Weatherlight Saga with Captain Sisay as the general.

Every card with horsemanship, with Karona, False God as the general.

Changeling tribal with all the best lords and Horde of Notions as the general.

This is just the first couple of decks I thought of, and all are all really interesting and are a lot of fun to play with and against. Commander is a format where anything is playable, and access to all the colors means you can build literally anything, and I can't see how that can be a bad thing. Just because these decks can be broken combo and combo-control decks doesn't mean they should be written off as being "un-casual"

In the spirit of fun five-color decks, this week I'm going to be taking apart my land deck to build a deck that is more interactive and political. Apparently, people don't like it when you play cards that are worth more than their deck (I'm looking at you The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale!), which is definitely understandable on some level. I want to build something that drops gigantic creatures into play and forces people to deal with them; there's nothing more fun than skipping straight to gigantic fatties, right? This week we're building a five-color Jalira, Master Polymorphist deck, and I can't think of a better place to start than the creatures you want to play.

The Bombs!

The two of these I'm least excited about are Iona, Shield of Emeria and Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur because they're the most non-interactive. Granted, the Eldrazi make themselves difficult to interact with because of their annihilator trigger, but they don't hate on multiple players at the same time.

Beyond that, we essentially just have a combination of the most threatening creatures in the format and the biggest utility creatures. Sheoldred, Whispering One is probably the weakest of the Jalira, Master Polymorphist targets, but a one-sided Magus of the Abyss that reanimates Child of Alara or any of the other creatures that have been dealt with seems like a really powerful effect at any point in the game.

The next most important question is "how are these creatures getting into play?"  There have been a number of decks throughout the time that I've been playing that have cheated creatures like Darksteel Colossus and Akroma, Angel of Wrath into play. The creatures might have changed, but the methodology hasn't:


Here's where the plan comes together! You always have access to Child of Alara as your general. If you Jalira, Master Polymorphist, Natural Order, or Hakim, Loreweaver your general, you will get to destroy everything and then drop a gigantic creature onto an empty board!

That's the plan, but it's not going to happen every time, so building in some redundancy is always a good idea. Mass Polymorph and Proteus Staff are both great ways to cheat on creatures, but unfortunately they don't send Child of Alara to the graveyard.

The interesting cards here are the reanimation spells, and the cards that are left out. I don't know how good the reanimation package is when there are only five creatures that can be reanimated, but it seems like a good back-up because it requires less set-up than another Jalira, Master Polymorphist. They killed your guy? You don't have to muck around finding another creatures and a Jalira, Master Polymorphist, just Reanimate the thing!

As for the cards left out, there are a few cheap options that are missing: Gamekeeper, Shape Anew, and Dramatic Entrance for example. It's not necessarily that these are bad; you could definitely run them. I just think that they're going to clutter the deck more than anything else. For example: Gamekeeper messes up your Jalira, Master Polymorphists ; Shape Anew only hits Blightsteel Colossus, and Dramatic Entrance requires you to warp your creature base so that you'll be able to use it reliably.

The last thing that's missing from the skeleton of the deck is more ways to make creatures without cluttering the deck with guys that mess up our Jalira, Master Polymorphists. Traditionally, this has been done with manlands of different varieties, and I see no reason to stray from that tradition:

The Manlands

Besides Dryad Arbor being a necessary evil, and just awful to Jalira, Master Polymorphist into, I'm pretty happy with the lands here. Fortunately, a large number of these turn into artifact creatures, so you could definitely run Shape Anew if you really wanted to. Child of Alara is also a creature that you can sacrifice without thinking twice about it. You don't have terribly many ways to recur a Child, but once or twice should be more than enough, right?

Like Vintage Oath decks, this deck needs to run pretty much every available cantrip, tutor, and card selection spell. This is going to go a long way towards mitigating the singleton nature of the format, and help to set up a Jalira, Master Polymorphist into specific threats, as opposed to playing the Fatty Lottery. The first few tutors and cantrips are pretty easy, since they're staples of their respective formats. But then you've got to dig a little deeper:

Card Selection

It's really unfortunate that there aren't more effects like See Beyond and Brainstorm. In fact, it's the lack of these kinds of effects that necessitates the presence of Jace, the Mind Sculptor in yet another casual deck.

However, the sheer density of tutors and cantrips makes it very likely that you'll be able to start polymorphing between turns 5 and 6, which is pretty close to ideal.

Lastly, we've got room for a few utility spells. Thankfully, the Jalira, Master Polymorphist plan already gives a ton of utility by letting us 'morph into guys like Terastodon, and Eldrazi let you shuffle up and tutor up the Terastodon again.

Because of that, I am much less inclined to run cards like Krosan Grip and Oblivion Ring, because I can just use gigantic creatures to do the same thing. Rather, the utility spells need to give the deck more consistency and resiliency to disruption.


The important interactions to note here are pretty simplistic, but still powerful. Giving gigantic creatures haste is obviously incredibly powerful, particularly when Eldrazi are involved. Lightning Greaves and Dragon Breath are the two most efficient ways to do that, as far as I can tell. Ancestral Anger is typically a good way to do that, but since it's a creature and will mess up Polymorphs, we've got to make due.

The rest of the recursion is pretty straightforward. It's usually easier to buyback a tutor or a land than to find a new one, and it's certainly more mana-efficient.

The most interesting card here is Time Spiral. Eldrazi already give you a way to rebuy all your creatures and Jalira, Master Polymorphists, but Time Spiral does more than that. It also untaps all your lands so you can chain some tutors and cheat a fatty into play the same turn you cast it. Unfortunately, it also gives every other player a chance to draw into removal of some variety, but most of the creatures in this deck have some sort of resiliency to removal.

Lastly, the manabase. I'm always of the opinion that you can add a lot of utility and flexibility to a deck through efficient use of land slots. We've got thirty-two cards left to for this deck, which is more than enough for a stable manabase and some utility lands:

Utility Lands and Mana Rocks

Typically, I advise against using mana artifacts. In my experience, they ramp you ahead for a turn or two, and then get wrathed away, leaving you down cards, and short on mana. Since this deck only needs five or six lands to function, I don't see that being a huge issue here, and the additional fixing and acceleration seems more important to me than the stability of Rampant Growth-style spells.

The utility lands for this particular deck aren't terribly interesting, but offer quite a bit of flexibility. You could certainly make space for things like Maze of Ith or [card Tranquil Thicket]Onslaught Cycling Lands[/card] and the like to go with your Life from the Loam. The additional sacrifice outlets let you use Child of Alara as a powerful control mechanism in conjunction with [card Sheoldred, Whispering One]Sheoldred[/card] and Regrowth effects, and the recursion of Volrath's Stronghold makes that even easier.

The additional manlands give a little more consistency to the Jalira, Master Polymorphist plan, though they are far and away the most expensive to activate, and are probably the weakest two slots in the deck.

Finally, you can fill out the mana base with some combination of dual lands and fetchlands and have a pretty sweet-looking deck! It's worth noting that fetchlands are incredibly important to this deck, even if they're just Terramorphic Expanse or Grasslands. They give you even more control over your draw steps with various cantrips and card selection spells, which is pretty key for a deck that wants to draw specific combinations of cards. Here's the list I end up with:

[deckbox did="a78" size="small" width="560"]

And that's another article! If you've got any suggestions or comments about this deck, I'm especially interested in them, since I'll be running this for the foreseeable future, and want to hit the "casual-competitive sweetspot." As always, if you've got questions, comments, or criticism, or just want to talk Commander, shoot me an email, leave a comment, or hit me up on Twitter; I'm always glad to talk shop!

Carlos Gutierrez
@cag5383 on Twitter

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