While Gencon is fading back into the tail lights, there were plenty of fun events that are still timely that I'd like to share with you. One of the highlights of Gencon for me was a Commander Secret Santa project that Kyle put together. The idea was pretty much what you would expect from the name. We would each draw a name and build a deck for the person we drew. Each person would give a short list of things they liked and disliked for a deck, and we would build accordingly. A $50 budget was set, but for many of us, that proved to be more guideline than hard and fast rule. We submitted our names into a program that later told each of us who we had drawn. After a false start, we reset and were on our way!
I was lucky enough to get to build for Drew Sitte. I've known Drew for quite a while and finally met him in person four years ago at my first Gencon. Drew prefers his Magic a little more competitive than I do, but not by much. He enjoys a good draft and has his own Cube. He plays Commander and pretty much any kind of Magic around. Drew has taken part in my Conspiracy drafts and this year's Battlebond draft each year I've been at Gencon. Years ago he created 3D alters, cutting several copies of a card to create a version of a card that was actually three dimensional! Drew is a mix of Vorthos, Spike, Johnny, and Timmy all rolled into one.
When deciding what deck to build for Drew, I considered that most of his Commander decks are devastating, fast decks that punish opponents and bring games to quick ends. Krenko is probably the deck I associate most with Drew. However, when I play against him in Cube and other 1v1 formats, he tends towards control builds. I figured I would lean towards the control build, but I knew this would be tough sticking on the $50 limit.
I thought some more and decided that a not-so-subtle Dad joke was probably in order. This brought me immediately to a deck that featured cards involving the City's Blessing, or more appropriately, Drew Sitte's Blessing! Once I knew the deck was going that way, I started looking at the powerful cards with ascend and narrowed my search for a commander for the deck. It didn't take long to settle on Grixis colors as blue, red and black had the ascend cards I wanted to use the most. I started looking at Grixis colors and decided that Inalla, Archmage Ritualist was the commander that would best help me get the ten permanents on the battlefield that I would need to get Drew Sitte's Blessing.
I was a little reluctant about Inalla because I don't really enjoy the eminence ability. The idea that a creature can just sit in the Command Zone and give an ability that your opponents can do nothing about drives me crazy. I want my games to be about interaction and Inalla doesn't really offer that. If you never play the card you almost get a better card than if you did play it. This deck was not for me though, it was for Drew. I didn't know his thoughts on the ability when I built the deck, so I opted to run with a commander that made sense with the deck.
Once Inalla was chosen, I knew I would want plenty of Wizards in the deck to copy, so off I went. My list would start with several fun cards that used the City's Blessing to give great bonuses, all while using Wizards to get us to the number of permanents we would need. This deck was already teetering on convoluted mess and I had only chosen a commander and a handful of ascend-related cards!
The first issue I knew I would have to address would be the mana base. There was no green in the deck, so the traditional spells to search out lands were gone. This would leave me with mana rocks as a way to ramp, and those would be limited by the cost of the deck. I threw in the Signets, then started looking at some other options for two or three mana that were maybe a little off the beaten path. Fellwar Stone, Commander's Sphere and Darksteel Ingot rounded out the ramp package. If I had been thinking a little more carefully, I probably would have included Apprentice Wizard as well, since it offered mana to pay the extra to Inalla, and was itself a wizard. Serious flavor fail here!
The lands were even less exciting. I chose one of each of the lands that tap for two mana of a guild color, along with a few enter the battlefield tapped lands, Crumbling Necropolis and Command Tower, along with plenty of basic land.
This is the section that probably suffered the most when trying to cut down to budget. I hacked out Sol Ring and other solid mana rocks. With three colors or more, I normally stack decks with all sorts of dual lands including Theros temples, fetch shock lands, but those were all set aside. The deck still ran well enough, but it was going up against other Secret Santa decks. If I had completely ignored the budget restriction, better lands is where I would have blown the budget wide open.
This was never an issue for the deck and I knew it wouldn't be. Wizards as a tribe offer plenty of card draw and blue and black rarely suffer for card draw even outside a Wizards theme. Sage of Fables, Sea Gate Oracle, Kumena's Awakening, Arcanis the Omnipotent, and Azami, Lady of the Scrolls were just a few of the cards that fit the theme that I knew would make getting cards in hand pretty straightforward.
When you are running with Inalla, you are going to have plenty of token creatures that are getting exiled at the end of the turn. Given that, you can probably play a little carelessly with those tokens, running them into opponents' walls of creatures with some impunity. I also figured that I would want several sacrifice options for those tokens. If they are going to die anyway, why not get a benefit for killing them moments before they were scheduled to die anyway? Ashnod's Altar would be a way to get more mana to possibly play and copy another Wizard. Viscera Seer would let you scry, setting up the top of your library for the next great draw. Barrin, Master Wizard would create value loops even better than I realized by sacrificing the copy of a Wizard to return the original to your hand to cast again the next turn.
This is where the deck would really shine. If you just assume every Wizard in the deck costs one more than it actually does, you can double its enter the battlefield effect with Inalla, Archmage Ritualist! Anathemancer punishes opponents for playing nonbasic lands – now you can hit two opponents at once or just double up the damage against one player. Archaeomancer now brings out two instants or sorceries from your graveyard to your hand. Master of Waves gets crazy. If you figure only three blue mana symbols for devotion when casting Master of Waves (and that is very low), you'll get six 3/2 creatures that turn. Even when you lose the token copy, you still have six 2/1 creatures! That is 14 mana with Ashnod's Altar out and it only cost you five mana to cast it in the first place!
Of all the Wizards, Spawnbroker has my favorite ability. When it enters the battlefield, you can exchange control of a creature you control with a creature an opponent controls, as long as their creature has equal or less power than the creature you swapped. If you pay the extra mana, you get to do this a second time! Admittedly, most of the creatures in the deck are rather puny, but you are going to exchange a token that will exile at the end of the turn with a creature that will stay on the battlefield! At worst, you are essentially destroying two of their creatures. At other times you are getting an essential cog in their decks! And don't worry, there are a handful of ways to pump your Wizards in this deck, so you'll often get a chance to steal away creatures with three or four power, all for a token that will soon be dead.
Once the whole deck was put together, it looked like this:
After watching Drew pilot it, the lack of ways to win became obvious. There was bounce, removal and plenty of card draw to recover after mass removal was played, but the deck lacked the punch to really take someone out of the game. Twilight Prophet is a great card, but it wasn't going to take too many opponents out of the game, especially with a deck that has a curve as low as this deck. While the deck won the game, it was a win based on value and a combo I didn't even see.
Remember Barrin, Master Wizard? Well, I also included Timestream Navigator. Pay an extra for Timestream Navigator and get an extra copy of the Navigator with haste. Activate its ability and get another turn after the current one. Barrin then bounces the original Timestream Navigator to your hand to repeat the whole thing on the next turn. With enough turns you eventually overwhelm your opponents.
The deck has some easy additions that were left out only due to cost. Sol Ring belongs in virtually every Commander deck and this deck is not the exception. The same could be said about Cyclonic Rift in every blue deck, and it should absolutely be here. Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir would bring the deck to a new level, and Vendilion Clique is just a great card. I'm sure Drew will find plenty of cards, just in Commander 2018 and sets coming up, that will make the deck more interesting and powerful.
In the end, this is not a deck that I would have built for me. While I don't mind some control aspects, this deck drops deep into control. I'm also not a fan of combos, particularly two-card combos that win games, so this was not a deck for me.
But then, that was really the whole point, wasn't it? The deck was not for me! I recommend building decks for other people as a way to exercise your deckbuilding chops. You don't have to give the decks away as we did with the Secret Santa, but having a night where everyone plays decks built for them, then returns the decks to the owners at the end of the night will give you the same opportunity that we had, without the cost of building a deck.
Drew Sitte gave the deck his blessing, as he loved it and it proved to be something that was completely foreign to my usual deckbuilding style. I got a chance to stretch my deckbuilding muscles and Drew got a deck that he enjoyed and can further streamline to his style of play.