Say hello to Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca!
This bad boy really does it all! Merfolk Commander players will glory in him! But with this many abilities, how should you build around him? Let's look at each ability in turn and see what Kumena really brings to the table!
Tap five untapped Merfolk you control: Put a +1/+1 counter on each Merfolk you control.
When a card asks me to tap five creatures, I want something spectacular. I want to bounce several creatures, or do a significant amount of damage. Give me something truly stellar! Putting a single +1/+1 counter on each Merfolk I control is not stellar. Admittedly, I'll have at least five creatures with +1/+1 counters on them, and there are some Merfolk-related cards that are better with creatures that have counters on them. Herald of Secret Streams makes them unblockable. With five unblockable Merfolk, even the smaller Merfolk can do some serious damage. The counters will make Prime Speaker Zegana just a little bit bigger as well.
But, is this really enough? Doesn't Beastmaster Ascension do this far better?
I picture playing my fifth Merfolk of the turn, then passing the turn. You aren't going to tap all those Merfolk until your turn is just about to start, since you'll want them available to block. This means that you are going to be sitting there, through each opponent's turn, with at least five Merfolk on the battlefield, hoping none of them attack you with anything that you must block and lose a Merfolk, since you won't be able to tap five of them. You are hoping they don't have mass removal through the entire round. Five untapped Merfolk, with Kumena on the battlefield just telegraphs your plan so much to everyone, I question whether it is worth it. Sounds like Vedalken Orrery is practically a must for this deck!
On top of that, consider what needs to happen for you to have five Merfolk on the battlefield. There is no card that gives you X Merfolk Tokens (keep in mind, I haven't seen any other cards from Rivals of Ixalan yet, so we can hope!), so you are going to have to do this mostly with Merfolk creature cards. That is going to demand a heavy Merfolk theme, which will be fine for most decks running Kumena, but it will also encourage you to overcommit. You are going to have at least five Merfolk on the battlefield, which will draw out mass removal from your opponents like honey draws flies. While other creature theme decks simply play another card that makes X tokens, you are going to have to refill your hand with Merfolk and start again.
Tapping five Merfolk doesn't sound great, but what about tapping three? Well now we're talking! You can tap Kumena and two other Merfolk at the end of your opponent's turn to draw a card, then start your turn and draw another card! When you consider the downsides I mentioned for five Merfolk, this is far easier to manage. Having three Merfolk untapped still telegraphs your move, but opponents are far less likely to act to stop you from drawing a card than they are to stop you from taking out an opponent with a massive swing from five Merfolk.
Getting three Merfolk onto the battlefield is also a lot easier than five. I know, this sounds ridiculous but drawing the fourth and fifth Merfolk will add several turns to your plans. It is that much longer that Kumena needs to stay on the battlefield drawing you extra cards. It is that much longer that you have to hope your opponents will leave you alone. It is just that much longer, meaning the chance things will go bad, goes up.
Having said that, consider what the card draw means for the tap five ability! I'm still not thrilled about what the ability does, but the ability to draw cards makes getting back to five creatures after a mass removal spell much more likely. When you are drawing extra cards each turn, it gets a lot easier to get back up to the five Merfolk you'll need to activate that ability. Although really, why not just get that sixth Merfolk onto the battlefield? Drawing two extra cards sounds even better…
So admittedly, saying "tap one" is a little disingenuous since you can't tap Kumena. Realistically, you will need two Merfolk to make this happen. Setting that aside, this is the ability that really brings Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca together. For three mana you are getting a commander that can really punish opponents, threatening lethal commander damage pretty quickly. Once you have a couple of ways to pump him, and some way to protect him, your opponents will need to be wary right away! Add Kumena to this list and enjoy swimming to victory.
Consider what just Rancor on Kumena can do. Hitting for four commander damage every turn is a powerful thing that too many opponents quickly dismiss. Then you get to the point where you draw your second pump spell and suddenly he is hitting for six damage and whatever other bonus a Sword or Jitte provides!
The deck is primarily a Voltron deck, focusing on getting Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca big enough to hammer through damage. The package of permanents that can pump Kumena are pretty predictable, but only because they are such great ways to pump creatures. Argentum Armor and Fireshrieker are two of my favorites! The Armor does some extra work, taking out nasty permanents while the Fireshrieker offers double strike, which only makes every other pump spell just that much more miserable.
I chose the Merfolk as each of them offers some way to pump or make Kumena that much more miserable. Grimoire Thief is practically made for Kumena. The benefit it offers is negligible, but it is there and I love it when an interaction you were going to do anyway is made better! Merrow Commerce gives you an extra activation for Kumena. You can tap a Merfolk to make it unblockable and swing with Kumena. At the end of your turn, you can untap both of them. Then at the end of your opponent's turn, you can tap them both, and one other to draw a card! Or if you happen to be lucky enough to have five Merfolk out, you can tap them all on your turn, then again, right before your turn starts! Once you are committed to this option, you realize that Kumena isn't a planeswalker with three abilities; you can swing with Kumena, then use three other Merfolk to draw a card!
This sounds like I have no use for the tap five ability, and plan to rely on the first two abilities to build a deck. The joy of Kumena lies in that he has all these abilities, and not just one or the other. If the tap five ability was all he could do, I'd probably take a pass, but with all these options he gets so much better. If tapping five Merfolk isn't an option, he can push the Voltron route, then switch gears if it appears that your opponents can't handle your porcine press. I do love a commander that can offer a variety of options and to find that with a creature-themed commander is not an easy task! I think Kumena will be a joy in Commander games for a long time!
I also look forward to running Kumena in casual decks that that don't require 100 cards! While Kumena can only command blue and green Merfolk, the fish clan comes in all five colors! You can spread the love to others who just wouldn't get the chance otherwise. I noticed there were several white Merfolk in the Lorwyn block that love what Kumena can do for them added to this list!
Kumena gives Merfolk a way to tap without having to swing against powerful opposing creatures. The benefits might not be huge, but you are getting double duty from these creatures this way! I have a sneaking feeling that Beastmaster Ascension or some ways to protect Kumena might be needed in this deck, but you get the gist of what is happening.
Finally, for the fans of theme decks that go beyond just creatures, I thought you might enjoy this one. I think the theme is probably too convoluted for anyone to see. It will be a miracle if anyone figures it out.