Unstable Sums: Baron Von Count in Commander

Baron Von Count
A quick look at the most-played Rakdos commanders reveals a lot of hard hitters and tribal leaders. Finesse is not a Rakdos strong suit by any means. You certainly can build Grenzo, Dungeon Warden with finesse synergies, and to a lesser extent The Scorpion God's up for some shenanigans, but by and large, Rakdos commanders love to smash.

Unstable is a breath of fresh air (do the Rakdos want fresh air?) in providing several new angles of attack. Mary O’Kill is difficult to build with, but The Big Idea is a lord for die roll cards, and Grusilda, Monster Masher is both aggressive and combo-loving.

Last, and definitely not least, is Baron Von Count. Baron Von Count is a combo commander, but not in the usual way. Instead of storming out or going infinite, he wants you to cast a card with the numeral 5 in the mana cost, text box (including flavor text), or power/toughness box, then one with a 4, then so on down to 1, at which point he'll destroy target player. That's asking for a substantial card flow and a mana investment on par with Door to Nothingness. On the flipside, a lot of cards with those numerals in them are independently useful, and almost every spell has a mana cost, so building a good deck that sometimes combos out is easily attainable.

That's what I've done, and I can't wait to play Numeral tribal in Commander.

The Drawbacks

So what can't Baron Von Count do? As a 3/3 for {1}{B}{R} with no evasion or protection, it's what I like to call a "fragile enchantment" — a permanent you wish would be easier to protect than a small creature. Keeping Baron Von Count around long enough to finish his countdown takes either protection or negotiation with opponents, e.g., "I'll use this to dispatch our mutual enemy if you make sure he lives."

The Advantages

As hinted at in this article, Rakdos decks usually have to interact with the opponent to get stuff done. Outside Kaervek the Merciless, Baron Von Count is the most rewarding commander in the colors for just building a board and doing your thang. As Mark Rosewater notes in his FAQ+, there's currently no obvious way to counteract "destroy target player"; hexproof and Stifle's progeny are the main foils to the ability.

Given how many hard-to-attack decks do so through enchantments, the bane of Rakdos's existence, bypassing a board state to destroy a player is valuable, and I think that will up the chances that deal-making to protect your Baron might actually work. Sphere of Safety's not as scary when nobody has to attack that direction anymore.

The Deck Types

Having done a lot of weird searches to get a sense of what you can do with the Baron, there are a few clusters of cards that work well:

Level up creatures — They have multiple powers and toughnesses and levels that take the place of saying "as long as this creature has X or more counters on it." Zulaport Enforcer and Nirkana Cutthroat have 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 on them, and Guul Draz Assassin's only missing the 5.

Planeswalkers — Even without getting to use the starting loyalty numeral (it isn't in the text box and it isn't a power or toughness), Planeswalkers have plenty of numerals on them. For now, Chandra, Torch of Defiance is the only Planeswalker with all five numerals. But Chandra, Torch of Defiance is also a very good card regardless, as is Sorin Markov, whose 1 in "target player's life total becomes 10" is independently relevant.

Vehicles — Vehicles have power and toughness printed on them that are typically larger than their mana costs, and the crew numeral is often different as well. That makes them naturally great for the deck, especially since it can give you low casting cost 5s (like Cultivator’s Caravan). Renegade Freighter is a 4/3 for 3 mana, has crew 2, and gets +1/+1 and trample when it attacks; that's about as good as you can ask for.

Megamorph — Megamorph's reminder text discusses casting a 2/2 for 3 generic mana and putting a +1/+1 counter on the card when it turns face-up. That's a great start to hitting all the numerals. To move the doom counter, you'll need to hard-cast the creatures, though.

Monstrosity — Monstrosity has a mana activation and a numeral associated with how many +1/+1 counters the creature gets when it's monstrous. Ember Swallower has all five numerals; so does Wildfire Cerberus, although it's not as playable.

Transform cards? — This is a gray area; do those little power/toughness indicators on the front side of double-faced creatures count as being in the text box? They're not in the Oracle text, so to be safe with playgroups already having to accept an Unstable Commander, I haven't pushed it. But Conduit of Storms gets a whole lot better if you can add that 5/4 in the bottom right to your numeral arsenal.

(Side note: Baron Von Count triggers off numerals in the spell's text box, so the back side of double-faced cards won't factor in.)

The Results

I tried a level up/Planeswalker/proliferate build initially, but I wasn't happy with how mana-hungry it was. Level up have nice, low mana costs to balance out Planeswalkers, but it takes so much mana to make them any good, and that's mana you'd rather spend casting spells and moving the doom counter. Guul Draz Assassin's eminently playable in Commander; Brimstone Mage, not so much. So I emphasized Vehicles in my build to curve out straightforwardly. Getting low-cost 5s is very important so you're not having to play bombs into suboptimal board states; in the later stages of the game, casting Baron Von Count for the third time and needing six more mana to cast a 5/5 is going to take too long. So keep it lean, keep it mean, and keep it a subtracting machine!


This build has 30 5s, 31 4s, 34 3s, 40 2s, and 44 1s.

Tamiyo's Journal
Besides the Vehicles, there are a few themes in here. Archfiend of Ifnir has all five numerals, and cycling adds random 2s on cards that otherwise wouldn't have them, giving them extra value. Igneous Pouncer isn't great, but a 5/1 for {4}{B}{R} with basic landcycling 2 is a 3 away from perfection.

The Baron's protection suite has usual suspects like Swiftfoot Boots (with a 1 and a 2) and Champion’s Helm (1, 2, and 3), but there's extra value from Mask of Avacyn (also 1, 2, and 3) and spells like Without Weakness and Renegade’s Getaway. Those instants also work well with Mirrorwing Dragon; the Dragon is a large part of why Invigorated Rampage (1, 2, and 4) is in here.

Just as critically, there's a bundle of one of Black's favorite things: losing life to draw cards. Erebos's draw ability has a 1 in its mana cost and a payment of 2 life; that's perfect for what we want to do. Arguel’s Blood Fast's rare transform condition — being at 5 or less life — actually matters in this deck just for providing a 5.

Flavor text having numerals doesn't come up as often as you'd like, but two cards in this deck use it to gain value: Fourth Edition Greed and the "Entry 434" Tamiyo’s Journal. Greed costs {3}{B} and has a card-draw ability off paying 2 life, but the original Greed from Legends and its Fourth Edition reprint quote Tao Te Ching 46, getting you a valuable extra numeral. (The Sixth Edition version has the same quote but a differently-formatted attribution, sadly.)

As for Tamiyo’s Journal, I had no idea until making this deck that it has several different flavor texts that fueled a puzzle. They only differ in what number entry Tamiyo has made in her journal to say that "There's more to Avacyn's madness." Since Tamiyo’s Journal costs 5 mana and has the Clue reminder text ("2, Sacrifice this artifact: Draw a card"), the "Entry 434" flavor text makes Tamiyo’s Journal a friend to Baron Von Count in a way the "Entry 922" one isn't. Given that the Journal puzzle was to solve a riddle about Emrakul, it was a wonderful coincidence that I had an "Entry 434" one. They're not sold separately in online shops, so if you need to buy one for this deck, include a special note as to which flavor text you need. If stores haven't sorted their Tamiyo’s Journals by flavor text yet, this could be a powerful incentive.

Lastly, no deck appreciates the unbanning of Staff of Domination quite like this one. Look at those tasty numerals!

I Could Change My Life to Better Suit Your Doom

I don't know how smooth this deck is going to be, or how often it will combo off, but it should function decently even if the game is hostile to protecting a Baron. The spells in this deck nearly average three numerals a card; it's incredibly hard to beat that while still curving out. And who doesn't want to play a deck in which Dismember's reminder text and Tamiyo's numbering system add value? Baron Von Count might be silver-bordered wackiness, but you can build a fully functional black-bordered deck around him without batting an eye.

If you were building Baron Von Count, would you put in different themes? Would you decrease numeral density to get better spells? Nobody knows the optimal build here, so any idea's a good one — put it in the comments and let's count down to Unstable together!


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