Welcome back to Magic Gatherings!
So! How about that Pro Tour, huh? I started out the weekend with a preview for PT Oath of the Gatewatch, and watching coverage was so much fun that I even came back to update my thumbnail guide to Modern after the first day of competition. By the end of the day on Saturday, there was only one story: the Eldrazi crushed everything. Six Eldrazi decks (albeit in three different flavors) made the Top 8, including eventual winner Jiachen Tao—a performance for the ages and a level of dominance we’ve not seen in, well, maybe ever. Fast mana is still good, it turns out.
Modern will be in the spotlight again on the first weekend in March, when three separate Grand Prix around the globe (Detroit, Bologna, and Melbourne) will feature the format. In the meantime, players will do their best to adapt. I suspect something will be banned from the deck eventually (Eldrazi Temple would be my bet), but R&D tends to like to be hands-off in situations like this, at least for a little while, and the consensus from the pros I’ve read has been “this deck might be unbeatable, but the community should at least have a shot first.” Stay tuned.
This week, I’m back on Commander, continuing the mini-series I have going on building decks around the heroes of Zendikar. I’m also experimenting with a shorter format, so it’ll be just one deck this time. Our fearless leader? The obligatory Ally commnader, General Tazri.
A friend and I once chatted about building a deck around [mtg_card]Kaalia of the Vast[/mtg_card], a legend from the first set of Commander decks who has similar tribal predilections. I groused that most Kaalia decks wound up looking the same; he quipped back, “Building a Kaalia deck is not so much an exercise in deckbuilding as it is an exercise in reading.”
I figured that [mtg_card]General Tazri[/mtg_card] would have a similar “deckbuilding” arc: find all the Allies, throw them together, and add lands. To my surprise, there are actually a lot of options—after Oath of the Gatewatch, there are over ninety Ally creatures in Magic, and that doesn’t even include spells like [mtg_card]Unified Front[/mtg_card] that can produce additional Ally creatures. There’s space for personalization in building a deck like this, particularly when you’re selecting the non-creature spells that advance your Ally plan.
Before we get there, though, we should break down Tazri herself. She’s a mono-white Ally legend, but since she has a five-color activated ability, we can play cards of any color in her deck. Her stats aren’t anything special, but her enters-the-battlefield trigger is a nice one: tutor up any Ally you like and put it in your hand. Once she’s in play, she can pump those Allies up with her activated ability. It’s a variable ability, but the ceiling is pretty high: with five Allies in play, and five colors among them, you’d add 25 power to the board, which should be competitive with most board states your opponents can muster.
All My Allies
Put it all together, and there are several themes you can develop: good Allies for Tazri to tutor up, going wide with allies, and using tribal cards or anthem effects to further pump your team. In the spirit of trying something a little new, I’ll discuss my card selections theme-by-theme. Hopefully that makes it a little easier to tailor the list to the cards you happen to own or really want to play:
- Ally Abilities—An important aspect of building tribal decks is making sure your creature count stays high, even as you work in enough spell-like effects to interact with your opponents. Creatures that have good ETB or activated abilities pull double-duty here. Fortunately, Tazri has plenty options. Various Allies let you destroy artifacts ([mtg_card]Tuktuk Scrapper[/mtg_card]), force discard ([mtg_card]Bala Ged Thief[/mtg_card]), reanimate opposing creatures ([mtg_card]Agadeem Occultist[/mtg_card]), draw cards ([mtg_card]Sea Gate Loremaster[/mtg_card]) and more. Tazri lets you find the right one for any situation, so you can maximize cards that would otherwise have variable impact on the game. [mtg_card]Tajuru Archer[/mtg_card], for instance, could be marginal in some games but insane in others, and Tazri can call him up when he’s the right Ally for the situation.
- Token generation—Ally abilities tend to encourage two play patterns: going wide, and/or casting a creature every turn. Some Allies count the number of Ally creatures you control, which means you want to have a lot; others trigger each turn, every time an Ally enters the battlefield under your control, which means you want dependable effects. Generating Ally tokens helps both ways. Cards like [mtg_card]Captain’s Claws[/mtg_card] or [mtg_card]Retreat to Emeria[/mtg_card] are nice, pumping out free Allies for doing stuff you’d do anyway. Tazri herself likes having plenty of creatures around anyway: more creatures means each time you activate her ability, you are effectively putting more power on the table. Tazri doesn’t pump non-Ally creatures, though, so generating lots of kinds of tokens doesn’t matter so much. It’s fine if you get the extra tokens essentially for free (i.e., [mtg_card]Turntimber Ranger[/mtg_card]), but less so if you have to pay anything for it (i.e., [mtg_card]Grovetender Druids[/mtg_card]).
- Anthems—Anthem effects, named for [mtg_card]Glorious Anthem[/mtg_card], give global benefits to all your creatures. They’re a great way to make large swarms of creatures—maybe large swarms of Ally tokens?—more threatening. Say you play [mtg_card]Unified Front[/mtg_card] for four Ally tokens. Four 1/1s won’t mean a lot in most Commander games. But if you have a [mtg_card]Collective Blessing[/mtg_card] giving all your creatures +3/+3, or if you get to add four +1/+1 counters to each creature you control with [mtg_card]Cathars’ Crusade[/mtg_card], that’s a bigger deal. [mtg_card]True Conviction[/mtg_card] gives all your creatures double strike and lifelink—pretty nice when your commander can hand out a hefty power bonus to everyone.
- Tribal cards—Allies have gotten a lot of love in the last two sets. Still, “creature types matter” is a big theme in Magic, and there are lots of flexible tribal-boosting cards that let you name the creature type they support when they come into play. These can do lots of things: [mtg_card]Urza’s Incubator[/mtg_card] is a great cost-reducer, [mtg_card]Aphetto Dredging[/mtg_card] represents a lot of card advantage, [mtg_card]Steely Resolve[/mtg_card] helps keep your Allies safe, and [mtg_card]Door of Destinies[/mtg_card] threatens to get out of hand as the game goes long. I skipped a few classics like [mtg_card]Coat of Arms[/mtg_card], but don’t let me stop you from playing your favorites.
- Removal—As the list stands, I’ve skimped on removal in favor of producing more threatening boardstates. Allies like Murasa Pyromancer and Tajuru Archer help break up your opponents’ plans, but if you find that your local group requires a more—shall we say—assertive approach, by all means salt to taste.
- Lands—Tazri’s a pricey Commander, and one you’ll always want to recast if she is removed. That means lots of mana is the order of the day. For this list I’ve erred on the side of having more land cards, so that you can make your land drop each turn—something I’ve generally found to be underrated in Commander, but which quietly contributes to a lot of wins. It’s possible this is a flawed approach; I could see the case for more land-search, which would slightly improve your odds of drawing useful spells as the game goes late. As for the lands themselves, the sky is the limit. I’ve build this to be budget-friendly, but if you have fetchlands, shocklands, battle lands, and the like, you should definitely run them. [mtg_card]Cavern of Souls[/mtg_card] would be great, too, if you’re so fortunate.
Put it all together, and you’ve got a fun-looking list that offers a lot in terms of customization. If you wanted to go in a completely different direction, I feel pretty sure there’s potential for a combo list based around [mtg_card]Halimar Excavator[/mtg_card]. That’s not my speed, but if you build that deck I’d love to see it!
And here’s the deck on TappedOut, so that you can see card images and everything.
Around the Planes
While the Pro Tour was playing out, a someone discovered leaked packs of the upcoming spring set, Shadows over Innistrad, for sale on a Dutch website. Images of the cards from the sales post and from the person who purchased the cards are up on reddit in several threads, if you care to look. Wizards has been having a lot of trouble with leaks lately; Kozilek and Wastes were spoiled early, and after that, almost all of Oath of the Gatewatch‘s mythics. Wizards compounded the issue by suspending some Magic judges in the southeastern US, who were part of a Facebook group which apparently routinely had spoiled cards ahead of the rest of the internet. (The suspensions, punishment for not saying anything to Wizards about the spoiled cards over a long period of time, were successfully appealed.)
The Shadows Over Innistrad cards look pretty exciting, but the larger community has been silent on them, either because of the Pro Tour’s impact (the Eldrazi have given us a lot to talk about!) or because of a desire not to dissect the leaked cards. It could also be that people are unsure of what they can say about leaks at the moment. In any case, while I debated devoting this article to the spoilers, I ultimately decided to wait until previews start. They’re there, if you want to look, and I’ll have more commentary on the set design in due time.
In the world of Magic art, longtime favorite artists Wayne England and Christopher Rush passed away last week. Rush, in particular, anchored the art for the earliest Magic sets, and drew iconic pieces like Black Lotus and Lightning Bolt. Wizards made some touching tribute pages you can see here and here; they also made multiple wallpapers from each artist’s most recognizable pieces.
I’ll be back on Friday with something that’s both old and new. See you then!