Lost in the Wilderness

Samut, Voice of Dissent
With some Commander decks, you know exactly how you want to build it right away. You know just what cards to dig out of your collection, which ones you want to buy or trade for, which ones you'll get excited about when you find a foil in a booster. But sometimes you only have a vague idea, and it takes you a while to find your way to the deck. That's how it was for me with Samut, Voice of Dissent. It was an interesting journey, and what the deck turned out to be surprised me both with what it can do and how much fun it is to play.

The journey began when Samut was first spoiled, before Amonkhet was even released. My brother and I were looking at her and the suite of keywords she brings (double strike, vigilance, haste, and flash!) and decided she would make an awesome commander. When we tried to figure out what the deck would look like, we ran into a stumbling block that I'm sure is common to a lot of Commander deck-builds — if the focus is on using Samut's ability to grant haste to other creatures for rapid attacks out of nowhere, should the deck include creatures that already have haste on them?

On one hand, playing a creature with haste when Samut is on the battlefield is a waste. On the other hand, commanders get killed a lot in commander games, so you can't be sure you'll always have Samut around to give your creatures a speed boost. Having haste creatures gives the deck's mechanical theme some resiliency. So the initial build of this deck (I say "build" but it was really just the "pull cards out of binders and boxes that look neat and put them in a pile" stage) included a lot of creatures like Boggart Ram-Gang, Blitz Hellion, and Hell’s Thunder.

At that point I picked up a foil Samut, and then . . .  the pile of cards sat there on the Magic table next to the unsorted cards and piles of tokens. And it sat there. I just didn't have a clear concept in my head for what the deck was going to be. So the pile of cards literally got dusty. If you look at the date this article was published and the release date for Amonkhet, you'll notice the pile of cards sat there for almost a year.

Eventually I knew I had to either build the deck or put the cards back into the proper boxes. I sat down and sorted everything into piles, as you do. That's when I got my second idea for the deck. A "savage wilderness" theme! I love theme decks! Building around a theme kind of gets you off the hook for deck-building because you're just cutting all the cards with machines or cities or civilized beings in them, and adding in lots of Gruul cards and cards with wilderness themes. But even at this point — and I say this as someone who loves themed Commander decks — it just wasn't very exciting.

If you look at the deck list below, you'll notice the wilderness theme is still present (I even carried it through to my choice of basics — no Ravnica basics, just card art with actual trees and rugged mountain peaks, please). That's because building to the theme revealed an interesting mechanical angle. A lot of the "wild" cards were big creatures, high on the mana curve. I had a bunch of mana artifacts in the pile, but they didn't fit the theme at all. I had a lot of gGreen ramp spells too, the usual suspects like Cultivate and Explosive Vegetation. They fit the theme but felt predictable and boring. So I cut most of the mana rocks and all of the ramp spells, and came up with the idea that made the deck.

The idea was really serendipitous. First, I'd just recently played a game with a "Simic Good Stuff" deck, and I'd dropped Dictate of Karametra, then watched all the insane plays everyone at the table made with the barrels of mana they had available. Then, while working on the Samut deck, I found Overabundance. It's perfect for the wilderness theme, and it got me thinking about a different way to play a Big Mana Commander deck. Double everyone's mana, but have a lot of expensive creatures to play so that you can effectively take advantage of it better than everyone else. Breaking the symmetry!

Mirari's Wake
Mana Flare, Mirari’s Wake, Zhur-Taa Ancient, Keeper of Progenitus, even Zendikar Resurgent, you're all in the deck (Dictate of Karametra is notably absent, as I didn't have an extra copy, but feel free to add yours). All the haste creatures are out. There are some other options to include, if you're feeling hungry for even more mana: Heartbeat of Spring, Magus of the Candelabra, and Mana Reflection will do nicely. Let's assume Candelabra of Tawnos is outside your price range, and Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger is unnecessarily harsh. To be honest, the current number of mana doublers in the deck feels about right, though I might add an Enlightened Tutor to help find one on demand.

When it comes to the top end creatures, you have a lot of options, and there's clearly room here to include your own favorites. I chose not to run any Eldrazi, for instance, although this is the perfect deck to get full advantage of cast triggers and Annihilator triggers. It depends how mean you want to be to your friends. Having a few tutors (Fauna Shaman and Worldly Tutor are here, and that new reprinting of Eladamri’s Call will fit right in) helps you set up huge out-of-nowhere attacks. One of the best options is Pathbreaker Ibex, which unleashes insane alpha strike combat phases. Elvish Piper in your hand sets up powerful turns with as few as six lands on board, assuming one mana doubler. Play Samut, cast the Piper, use the hasty Piper to drop something monstrous onto the board and immediately attack with it. The many different ways you can play into a massive attack makes this feel at times more like a combo deck than a beatdown deck. It also sets it apart from the usual Big Mana decks. Samut makes things happen very suddenly.

You might notice that Samut's colors also happen to be the colors of Ixalan's dinosaur tribe. If you've been looking for a home for your dinos but don't feel like building the obvious Gishath, Sun’s Avatar build, this is a good place for them. Charging Tuskodon, Etali, Primal Storm, Verdant Sun’s Avatar, and Goring Ceratops are powerful beasts and you've got all the mana in the world to cast them. Regal Behemoth and Zacama, Primal Calamity will do amazing things in this deck as well. Samut doesn't give you a good way to take advantage of the Enrage mechanic, however, so a lot of the Enrageosaurs don't make the cut.

Keeper of Progenitus
Let's talk about the mana base. It relies more on basic lands than most three-color decks. That's partly to make Keeper of Progenitus better, partly to reduce your vulnerability to non-basic land hate, and partly as a sort of deck-building challenge. We've all built plenty of decks full of every possible dual land variant we have available. Samut could use a full complement of fetches (slow and fast) and probably a Terramorphic Expanse, but right now the mana base works quite well, and it's a refreshing change to sit back with a full spread of basics in front of you.

There are some weaknesses to be aware of when playing this deck. While it has an aptitude for spewing an entire hand onto the battlefield in a single turn (note how awesome Rhonas’s Monument is when this happens), it does not have a consistent draw engine. Shapers’ Sanctuary will get you a few, and Soul’s Majesty or Primordial Sage can refill your grip, but if you hate being in topdeck mode, adding Greater Good and Elemental Bond will help keep the cards flowing.

You are, of course, vulnerable to creature removal, especially someone 86ing Samut before the attack step. Asceticism is a possible answer, along with the usual suite of Commander staple equipment, but honestly, I don't think it's necessary. It's ok for decks to have Achilles' heels. Speaking of which, Kismet, Authority of the Consuls, and Thalia, Heretic Cathar — and all the cards with similar effects — are a real downer for Samut. This deck is not in the business of having answers to opponents' problem cards. Sure, you've got Bane of Progress and you can take out selected targets with Gruul Ragebeast triggers, but you're pretty much at the mercy of enchantments and artifacts. If that's a problem for you, Conclave Naturalists and Acidic Slime are obvious adds.

Samut ended up being an incredibly fun deck to play, and it accomplishes the original idea we had an entire year ago (hitting opponents with surprise haste attacks) in a completely different way than I expected. The wild-combo-like turns you can pull off are always exciting. Perhaps the most surprising thing about this deck is that I haven't come up with a clever name for it yet. If you have any ideas, or any suggestions for high-cost creatures I should be including, let me know in the comments!

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