One of the most exciting parts of spoiler season is seeing the new legendary creatures that beg for Commander pilots everywhere to experiment with. For a few weeks right after a set is released everyone is trying to break some new legend or find the most interesting new interactions.
Around this time, at least in my shop, there's a huge influx of new decks. It's the best time to be playing Commander. Everyone is trying something different and the breath of fresh air encourages people to tweak their old decks as well.
Unfortunately, I haven't found any of the legends from the last few sets that interesting or exciting. It's not that they're weak. Griselbrand and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, for example, are obviously game-endingly powerful. But they don't encourage you to think critically when building with them.
The only two recent legends that have provided interesting constraints to deck builders are Glissa, the Traitor and Grimgrin, Corpse-Born. It's been a long time since the community got as excited about a legend as it did about Glissa, the Traitor. This is because she's moderately powerful with a narrow effect to build around, as opposed to oppressively powerful with a generic effect.
In short, it requires some deck-building moxie to make a deck with Glissa. Griselbrand just gets thrown wherever and crushes games without any setup or support.
So how do the legends from Avacyn Restored measure up? Well, they're all gigantic with swingy effects so they should be fun to play with. Being so expensive is a strike against them, but they do have some absurdly fun effects so lets see what can be done with them.
The Elite of Avacyn Restored
We'll start with the set's namesake. Avacyn is going to range from vanilla to unbeatable depending on how your metagame functions. Her power level is completely dependent on whether your opponents play Swords to Plowshares and Ashes to Ashes, or Wrath of God and Doom Blade. I usually ask more out of my eight-drops.
My biggest issue with Avacyn, however, is that she is indicative of the power creep so common in legendary creatures these days. It feels like we've lost all conceptualization of size and scale in the modern legends. Compare Avacyn to Akroma, Angel of Wrath or Olivia Voldaren to Jenara, Asura of War-- the older creatures look ridiculously underpowered.
All told, Avacyn is sweet. I think she's better as part of your 99 than as your Commander, but if you do play in one of those metagames that skimps on exile effects, she might be worthy of an upgrade.
Sigarda is a vanilla beater as far as Commander is concerned, but that might be just what you're looking for. Most green-white decks are full of small value creatures or token makers. If your entire deck is composed of utility guys, you might want a Commander that can beat down. Commanders like Saffi Eriksdotter, a popular option for decks like this, aren't good at applying pressure.
This is my pick for second-best legend in Avacyn Restored for Commander.
She's a lot like Edric, Spymaster of Trest with regard to political trickery. Attacks against you do little damage and have to fight through an effective 10/10 first striker, whereas attacks on other players do double damage. This is a huge motivation to send the troops to other players.
Unlike some giant creatures, Gisela has a profound impact on the board when she resolves. Eating x/10's like they're nothing and halving all damage to you is pretty absurd. Think about Gisela with Manabarbs, for instance. Everyone else has to pay two life for each mana while you get to ignore the effect. And we thought Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger was oppressive.
Now we're talking! This angel has a huge effect when she hits the board, and in the right deck easily threatens lethal in one hit.
I'm excited for Bruna for two reasons. First of all, she is that most beloved of cards, the value creature. I'm already happy paying six for a 5/5 flier with vigilance, and this one comes attached to a free Retether!
Second of all, her effect requires interesting decisions in deck building, unlike a creature attached to a removal spell or mana doubling effect. Bruna is more [card Glissa, the Traitor]Glissa[/card] than Griselbrand, which means you'll need to build around her to make her good.
The trick will be providing other avenues of attack and resiliency to prevent the deck from being one-dimensional. You can't just roll over to graveyard hate or spot removal. You will need creatures and spells that interact favorably with auras before you can consider going all-in on that plan. It's definitely possible to build a Bruna deck with just a few auras, but what's the fun in that?
I've already shared some of my thoughts on this guy and they haven't changed much. I've played multiple games with and against three flavors of the Griselbrand combo deck. It reminds me of the [card Azami, Lady of Scrolls]Azami[/card] High Tide storm deck I built when I was first getting into the format, in that both decks are minimally interactive. Griselbrand is even more ridiculous because it's a draw engine in one card and has a huge upside in lifelink. I still expect it to get the banhammer sooner rather than later.
Of these, I think Bruna is the most interesting. Her ability provides card advantage, recursion and a way to cheat on mana, but most importantly it is the most build-around-me of those available. I think she provides the most opportunities for something interesting.
There are a few problems to overcome when building with Bruna. Let's start by making sure we can cast her early, since I think this deck will be better off aggressive rather than controlling. Then we'll look at cards to combo with her, and finally try to build in some resiliency to disruption.
The Mana Base
There are two ways to build this deck's mana base.
You could build for stability with a high land count and plenty of mana rocks, and plan on casting Bruna turn four or five most games. But what if we want to cast her sooner, on turn three, say? We will have to make sacrifices if we want to run a truly aggressive deck in Commander, and the first one is going to be the long-term stability on our mana base.
- Saprazzan Skerry
- Remote Farm
- Crystal Vein
- Ruins of Trokair
- Svyelunite Temple
- Ancient Tomb
- City of Traitors
- Mystic Gate
- Skycloud Expanse
- Flood Plain
- Evolving Wilds
- Terramorphic Expanse
- Cephalid Coliseum
- Tolaria West
- Adarkar Wastes
- Glacial Fortress
- Celestial Colonnade
- Hall of the Bandit Lord
- 8 Snow-Covered Island
- 9 Snow-Covered Plains
The lands for this deck are a combination of the necessary duals and basics and a bunch of high-risk two-mana lands.
The two-mana lands give you a better chance of casting Bruna on turn three. This particular combination of lands doesn't lend itself to a long game. It does, however, consistently give you six mana by turn four, and occasionally turn three.
For Bruna, I'm willing to try a less stable, more explosive mana base. I probably wouldn't try this for other similar decks. With Uril, the Miststalker, for example, you actually have to cast your auras. With Bruna, casting her is sufficient to cheat any number of auras in.
- Sol Ring
- Mind Stone
- Everflowing Chalice
- Expedition Map
- Azorius Signet
- Talisman of Progress
- Coalition Relic
- Worn Powerstone
- Solemn Simulacrum
- Land Tax
Between the artifacts and two-mana lands, you have thirteen accelerants. You could add more acceleration and jam your deck full of auras, but a plan this all-in can be disrupted easily. I'd rather cut back on the acceleration and have a midrange game to back up Bruna in the event she dies.
What are we looking for in our midrange creatures? Consider the game state we'll likely be facing when we start casting these. Bruna wins the game if she goes unanswered, so these guys only come in play when you can't smash in. What you want are small creatures that constitute threats on their own; the easiest way to do that is with a guy that tutors up auras or recurs one from your graveyard.
- Academy Researchers
- Iridescent Drake
- Auratouched Mage
- Nomad Mythmaker
- Sovereigns of Lost Alara
- Totem-Guide Hartebeest
- Sun Titan
- Monk Idealist
- Lost Auramancers
You could add things that recur creatures to give this plan more resiliency, but I think you'll only need one or two of these guys each game. You also have Replenish effects to suddenly threaten lethal damage, much like Bruna. A small number of auras and creatures like this should suffice with ample [card Merfolk Looter]looting[/card] effects to set up the graveyard.
Remember when playing not to overextend into wrath effects. Generally, I only want to play one creature at a time and make it as gigantic as possible. You can force people to use sweepers and spot removal on your random guy. Then play another one, suit it up, and start smashing again.
Given the opportunity, you also want to kill players with the most spot removal first, which will make your threats more resilient. After you've ground down your opponents' answers, you can stick a Bruna and kill them swiftly.
Auras upon Auras!
Here is the heart of the deck. A reasonable number of auras simply make things gigantic, to turn tiny guys into actual threats and one-shot people with Bruna. The interesting part, however, is the suite of Control Magic effects. Corrupted Conscience has some applications on Bruna herself, which is pretty sweet, but the [card Control Magic]Control Magics[/card] are generally destined for another use:
- Angelic Destiny
- Auramancer's Guise
- Eldrazi Conscription
- Fool's Demise
- Pemmin's Aura
- Steel of the Godhead
- Flight of Fancy
- Vow of Duty
- Vow of Flight
There are a few ideas here I'm trying out. Some may be awesome, some awful, but the fun part is finding out!
I am unsure about the [card Control Magic]Control Magics[/card], but it seems awesome to use Aura Graft and Aura Finesse as instant-speed blowouts. You have to do a ton of extra work to get the effect, but it may be worth it.
The [card Control Magic]Control Magics[/card] also make Three Dreams way better. Whereas Three Dreams usually just further beefs up your Voltron threat, here it can be used to generate card and board advantage.
Fool's Demise is this deck's Nim Deathmantle. It makes an unkillable guy with Iridescent Drake, Academy Researchers, or Bruna, Light of Alabaster. You can use it to rebuy your enters-the-battlefield effects or as yet another Control Magic. The card is flexible and powerful, and I would say underplayed on the whole in Commander.
Card Selection and Utility
- Mental Note
- Thought Scour
- Compulsive Research
- Fact or Fiction
- Mental Discipline
- Careful Consideration
- Careful Study
- Sphinx of Lost Truths
- Pulse of the Grid
I'm not sure of the correct number of cantrips and filtering spells. Right now I'm loaded up on them to keep my graveyard stocked with auras but there may be too many. If I cut some I'll probably replace them with more utility spells.
There are only five of these currently, because I would rather lean on the [card Control Magic]Control Magics[/card] and find out how good they are. Austere Command and Winds of Rath should sweep away everyone elses' stuff while leaving yours alone. Swords is simply the best spot removal in the game and Venser, the Sojourner forces through damage and acts as another threat.
Putting it all together we have the decklist I've been running:
I've had a ton of fun playing this deck so far, so I'm definitely going to spend some more time messing with it. It's not finished yet, but it's powerful and has an interesting and unique game plan. It's new ground for me; the closest I've gotten to building an aura deck before now was a Child of Alara enchantress deck. I'll be very excited to see your suggestions since I'm sure I missed some good choices!
Next week I'm going to start a series of articles on budget mono-colored decks. The Balthor article I did a few weeks ago was well-received, so I figured we'd take a look at the other colors.
@cag5383 on Twitter