Hey MTG Maniacs! Happy start of December – and apparently, it’s wedding season in the multiverse!
Innistrad: Crimson Vow released just a couple of weeks back, and at this point most of us have had a chance to get our hands on the cards whether digitally or physically and get a feel for how everything performs. With a little bit of time to consider everything behind us, this felt like the opportune time to begin a new series of articles for you all – in this first installment, I’ll briefly introduce my own personal arsenal of Commander decks to you all, as well as what changes I’ve made to them as a result of the new influx of bloody-good cards in this spooky sequel set. You can expect a new article with each set release and see my thought process on what cards fit in and how I make those tough decisions to add and subtract cards from each list!
If that idea intrigues you, no need to RSVP – just scroll down and let’s get started!
Despite being based on Innistrad, neither Crimson Vow nor Midnight Hunt offered a lot of synergy for my oddball snow-backed mono-white self-mill life-gaining concoction. Given the specificity of the deck, I suppose that makes sense, but it’s still a bit of a shame considering the sets are from the same plane as the commander. There are several cards that were close to making the cut, but only one card felt like it fit the bill for any of the deck’s niche interests well enough to warrant cutting something.
Breathkeeper Seraph, one of the five soulbond cards in the new “Designed for Commander” slots in Set and Collector boosters, is a new angel who plays really well into the “establish an unbreakable board” strategy that the deck aims for. While she’s in play, both her and the creature she bonds to will bounce back from the grave any time they die – including if they both die to a board wipe. While the deck has plenty of Enters The Battlefield effects to abuse with this (such as Thalia’s Lancers, Angel of the Ruins, and Karmic Guide), it also adds another potential chain link to some of our powerhouse boards that can be created to dominate the game. For example, pairing Breathkeeper Seraph and Avacyn, Angel of Hope or Sephara, Sky’s Blade removes their vulnerablity to -X/-X and sacrifice effects, further locking in our divine dominance. High mana costs are easily achieved or cheated in this deck already with Extraplanar Lens and recursion like Emeria Shepherd so the cost doesn’t bother me at all.
Linden is a fine creature who works really nicely with Heliod, Sun-Crowned, but otherwise just provides a human body and some life gain if we are acting aggressive. I think we can use the room to run more impactful creatures for this slightly more combo-control oriented deck.
While it’s an incredible new tool in White’s board-wiping arsenal (due to it’s ability to circumvent indestructible), By Invitation Only simply doesn’t hit some of the synergy requirements I look for to fit cards into this deck. I can’t reliably produce enough tokens to be able to manipulate the chosen number to psuedo-Plague Wind, and other go-to Wraths in the deck like Fumigate find ways to tie into other themes in the deck or just have more general versatility. A great fit for many white decks – but this one’s a little too unusual to make it fit in the greater fabric of the deck.
I actually had Savior of Ollenbock in the list additions early on, but eventually I pulled him back out after seeing him in action on Arena. I just don’t think he’s impactful enough the turn you play him, has low toughness and no protection to last the required turn to be able to start to get his effect, and even then needs a board set up (a higher power creature and a safe swing) to start to be a mini Angel of Serenity. I can totally see him in a focused Human-tribal deck, perhaps with Red or Green for some more haste effects to start to tear down some of those barriers, but for my (snow) mana – I’ll just cast Angel of Serenity and call it a day.
My other mono-colored deck, Delina, Wild Mage – is all about trying to duplicate triggers. Nearly every creature in the deck has either an “enters the battlefield” or a “when this deals combat damage” trigger so that we can maximize the value of making as many copies as possible of them when Delina attacks. In new sets, we are looking for more of those – as well as any other potent red cards that can keep the deck running or provide powerhouse plays. In Crimson Vow, I ended up with just one new card that excited me enough to slot in.
Markov Enforcer is a mono-red vampire who acts an awful like he’s a mono-green vampire, and I appreciate that a lot. He’s here to fight and have a good time and maybe make me a little bit of blood as a bonus. What I really appreciate about him, though, is how absolutely silly things get when we start to make multiples – exactly the kind of thing I’m looking for for my Wild dice-rolling commander. Each duplicate Enforcer will trigger all of the previous (still living) Markov Enforcers to fight once again – and this is not an optional trigger! If we roll hot and make a few Enforcers (not that hard with Barbarian Class!), they’ll keep fighting in a factorial fashion until the final foe is finished – or until they die from excessive violence. Even without duplication, it’s at worst a kind of expensive removal spell that leaves a blood token, which could be a lot worse.
The Tyrant is fun and silly, but ultimately will often just destroy a random land and call it a day. Give me the Vampire fight club, that’s a lot more controllable while still doing very silly things when we duplicate them.
Mirage Phalanx is so close to being what I want in this deck, but it triggers after I can make duplicates of it. While it would certainly allow me to create more duplicates of my other creatures, it lacks the raw single-turn impact of Rionya, Fire Dancer to create several duplicates (especially when played on a Jeska’s Will turn). I would be very enticed to play it in a deck that easily generated multiple combats, though, as each duplicated phalanx can also soulbond and create even more duplicates each combat – but that’s not what we are up to here!
One of my newer decks, Shadrix Silverquill, also has some very specific needs. The deck is entirely built around maximizing Shadrix’s beginning of combat trigger to grant me the most benefit and limit the opponents’ gain. While there are a number of cards in this set that look for +1/+1 counters and make tokens, a lot of them aren’t quite in the control-oriented vein that the deck approaches the game from. There are two new additions to the deck from Innistrad: Crimson Vow:
Adding: Haunted Library
Replaces: Call the Coppercoats
Haunted Library is a stupendous and cheap new enchantment that lets us turn extra mana into fresh, flying creatures for doing what we already want to do – keeping the board clean. Even if we aren’t the one casting the wipes, keeping mana up allows us to profit off of conflict on our opponents’ turns. It’s cheap enough to come down early when we aren’t doing more important stuff, and gives us the ability to continue to rebuild a board – which Shadrix can make more threatening – wipe after wipe. An awesome new addition to the deck!
The biggest issue with Call the Coppercoats is that you are never actually creating a board that dominates the current board. You can have more creatures than each other player individually, but unless Divine Visitation is in play, your creatures are always of a lower quality, and it takes a lot of open mana to utilize to its fullest. It’s not a bad card for the deck, as Shadrix and effects like Felidar Retreat can be leveraged to make them deadly, but it’s more proactive than reactive and controlling, and the Library fits the slot much better.
Adding: Shattered Sanctum
There isn’t a ton to say about Shattered Sanctum. These new lands are great in commander where the majority of the game is played after turn 2, and decks are less consistent so it’s less common for it to stymie your early turn development. As a two color deck, we have lots of room to fit lands like these in, so into the deck it goes, replacing a basic Plains.
It’s a white-black board wiping deck, but that doesn’t mean that Path of Peril must be played. Because our win conditions are so heavily token oriented, Path’s cheap mode will more often hurt us more than the other players. The cleave is just a more expensive Damnation, and I just don’t see the modality of it being quite worth the extra cost for its primary use here, especially when we have some cards to encourage having extra mana still after casting a Wrath – like Ebondeath, Dracolich, the newly-added Haunted Library, or comboing with Teferi’s Protection.
This is another card that I cooled on after playing with it on Arena. Sigarda’s Summons is just so expensive that it really wants you to have a board established already when you cast it. The somewhat-similar Divine Visitation is just cheap enough that you can playmake with it a little more easily, and the two can end up stepping on each other’s toes when the deck is so focused on making tokens. While it’s good to have effect redundancy, and Summons still powers up many of my non-token creatures, the count on them is low and the mana cost is just a little too high to where it feels like it will be a bit clumsy, and will feel very low impact if a board isn’t already established when it drops.
My newest deck, built around Rayami, First of the Fallen, saw the most updates of any in this release. Rayami is built around gaining keywords, and creatures rank more highly on the “want to play” list if their keywords are more uncommon. The core of the deck is playing these creatures, as well as a variety of cheaper (or free!) kill and sacrifice effects to make it easier to rack up exiled bodies with Rayami in play. In addition, we try to employ a few extra methods of pumping up his power to help him deal faster lethal blows – because what’s the point of filling our commander with keywords if he’s not going to do the dirty work? To both of those ends, Crimson Vow brought us a really sweet upgrade to one of our keyword creatures, a potent new card to pump up Rayami – along with other nice effects, and some slick land upgrades.
Noxious Gearhulk is a perfectly good creature that does a little of everything the deck wants to do. He can be a source of Menace for Rayami, as well as killing a creature to potentially add even more keywords. His problem is that Cemetery Desecrator, in many situations, does everything he does, but better and more times. His effect provides -X/-X, which crucially gets around indestructible (including providing another outlet to kill off one of our own Gods to grant Rayami Indestructible!), it can also hit both Planeswalkers and random counter-gaining problem cards (Black Market, anyone?) and it acts as additional graveyard hate to shore up creature Rayami misses or hit potent non-creature cards. He also has the potential to do it over again when he dies – however, we do have to keep in mind that if Rayami is in play, the death is replaced by exile, and the Desecrator will not get its second trigger. But in situations where Rayami is waiting in the wings, Desecrator provides the same benefit Gearhulk did, but twice instead of once! The only stipulation is having a high enough mana value card to exile to ace the target you want – but as we are playing Commander, more often than not it will not be a problem.
Add Glorious Sunrise to the pile of powerful green card-drawing enchantments, sure, but for the extra mana, we get a card that has synergistic uses in way more decks than the boring, more-mana-efficient enchantments like Guardian Project. As our creatures are already pretty sweet in combat thanks to a pile of abilities, constant access to +1/+1 and trample can make our attacks scarier, as well as helping Rayami reach one of his damage breakpoints (7 power for 3-shot kills, or 11 power for 2-shot kills). Being able to triple the mana output of a land can let us cast a strong creature or get our commander back into play and still keep mana up for sacrifice or kill spells, and gaining life – well, this isn’t the deck for that, but it’s nice that it’s an option. I love flexible cards, so this one is right up my alley and fits nicely with the deck.
It had to boot something out, and as much as I love Memory Deluge for its raw card advantage and digging power, at the end of the day it was just a card draw spell and Glorious Sunrise does that as well as synergizing with other parts of the deck. I’ll be sure to find a deck in the future that can slot Memory Deluge and perhaps find some more synergies with it so it stays in the list!
And the least exciting changes, of course, are our new lands. The only possibly interesting thing to discuss is how the basics were chosen to be replaced – while losing Memory Deluge dropped our blue requirements a bit more, we are already low on Islands at 2 and don’t want to be locked out of getting to 3 blue (for Sea Gate Restoration // Sea Gate, Reborn) if its needed, so we instead picked 1x Swamp and 1x Forest to swap out.
I do try to keep my basic count a little higher as I’m playing checklands (like Drowned Catacomb) so I did consider dropping non-basics instead, but the gain felt very marginal moving from one type of non-basic to these, and I wanted to gain the most from the new additions. With fetchlands and Blighted Woodland, it feels like we should still have enough access to at least 1 basic land to be able to keep most checklands powered most of the time.
My take on Tazri, Beacon of Unity is with a very rigid structure. I wanted to show off the power of the combined forces of Warriors, Wizards, Clerics, and Rogues, and to accomplish that I built the deck using precisely 9 of each class – plus 2 creatures who count as all classes – and in particular I chose the creature who either provided team-wide buffs to amplify power, or strong constant effects to help keep cards flowing.
The deck is extremely fun to play, as new combinations of the various party members crop up every game, and the more creatures you get in play, the more powerful your entire board becomes. For example, combining Zagras, Thief of Heartbeats and Surrak Dragonclaw creates the potent Deathtouch+Trample combination on my creatures, and adding in Grenzo, Havoc Raiser can then ensure that the trampling damage can be used to swipe cards from that player, or safely open them up for more attacks next turn. The deck also has a subtheme of keeping mana open with flash creatures like Glorious Protector and Opposition Agent, allowing us to keep mana up to either cast those creatures if needed, or activate Tazri to build up a bigger hand.
Neither Midnight Hunt or Crimson Vow have had cards that quite fit into the tight (but large) creature package in Tazri, with both sets featuring lots of creature types that aren’t a part of the Party mechanic. Because of the huge amount of creatures (38 in the 99), noncreature slots are even tighter than normal and none of the cards in either set felt like they really belonged with the rest of the deck. So no changes to report this time!
Upon returning to the game after a long hiatus, this was the first Commander deck I built. I was excited by the new set of Shrines (and Sanctum of All), the powerful new version of Sisay in Sisay, Weatherlight Captain, and the intriguing way that Companions could restrict your deck to help it be more unique. I should be very clear here that Jegantha, the Wellspring, while sometimes useful, is rarely used and exists more as an extraneous, interesting way to restrict what I can play. As you may have gathered so far, in Commander, I’m keenly interested in decks and games being novel experiences, so I try to apply interesting restrictions whenever possible. Jegantha is perfect for Sisay as it can activate her ability on its own, even though it’s fairly expensive to add to hand and cast.
The list I ended up with is heavily focused on the venn diagram overlap between Enchantments and Legendary permanents wherein the Shrines lie. It tries to maximize the size of that overlap, while still having portions of the deck that are more focused on one circle or the other. As such, card adjustments tend to want to really favor effects that fall into both categories, or generally fun multicolor control-like effects (such as Oversimplify and personal favorite Inkshield). In Crimson Vow, though we have an interesting Disturb into Enchantment theme, nothing really stands out as fitting the categories well enough to slot in – but I have hopes that Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty – as a return to the plane that originated the shrines with Honden of Seeing Winds and its ilk – will provide some more interesting options. Hopefully they don’t double any color pips in the mana cost!
Finally, we have a new deck to the Arsenal with this set – one that’s still under construction, but the list is ready to go. So, obviously, there are a LOT of new cards to this deck in Crimson Vow!
My deck for Anje, Maid of Dishonor was initially planned for one primary purpose – have a cool deck to play the Fang Frame version of Sorin the Mirthless in. I’m a huge Dracula fan, but an even bigger Castlevania fan, so I absolutely needed to find a deck to play this card in regularly. As it happened, I didn’t have a pure and dedicated single-type Tribal deck yet, and I’ve been eyeing the Madness cards for a bit hoping to get to play some of them in an interesting build. Anje works out perfectly to fit all of those requirements – enabling Madness really well, encouraging the Vampire focus, and even synergizing nicely with Sorin to keep Blood flowing.
My build doesn’t lean heavily into an “Aristocrats” (sacrificing creatures for value) playstyle, though it has some elements of it – I prefer to just make big boards and bash, and utilize Anje’s sacrifice to get extra value out of my creatures, and either keep the game clipping along, or scrounge up the last points of drain to get a kill. As it’s a newer list, it may see some additional tweaking in between sets, but because of how specific Vampires are to a handful of planes, it’s unlikely to see a ton of changes from new cards set-by-set – which is totally OK for my wallet! But stay tuned for future installments of Arsenal Update to see how it changes whenever some new Blood is released to join my army of the night.
That was a long one – future installments will not need quite as much explanation of each deck, but I do hope you enjoyed the read and getting to know me and my decks a bit more. Are there any cards I missed or should reconsider? Let me know what you think in the comments below, and stay tuned for the next Arsenal Update, coming with Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty!
Until next time!