A Tribe Called Life

Occasionally, I like to build underdog commanders as 75% decks. Sometimes they’re underdogs for a reason — their effect either isn’t obvious or maybe it’s a bad version of a deck that already exists so why build it? Sometimes it takes people a long time to figure out exactly what the deck needs (that was certainly the case with Mairsil this year) and by the time we figure it out, it’s been 3 weeks and another set has been released with 20 new Legendary creatures and a difficult nut to crack falls by the wayside. However, the commanders no one is talking about are good targets for me. I won’t be influenced unduly by what others are building and we’re less likely to run into The Rafiq Problem when people don’t think they know exactly what our deck is all about. We’re free to pursue our aims and what our deck does will reveal itself in due time, possibly after it’s too late for them to do anything about it.

One issue I have with trying to build decks right now is that so much of the new cards hamstring you into building a tribal deck. I’m sure the pendulum will swing back and I’ll be comfortable with tribes soon but for now, I need a break. When I started this project, it was convenient to go that route because tribal synergy is powerful and it means that just getting pieces in play was more important than the specific pieces, meaning your deck would be good if you just played Magic rather than sequencing things in a manner that basically required you to play tutors. The tendency for tribal decks to easily find the power/consistency “sweet spot” we long for in a 75% build lent me to pursuing that build path way too often. By the time we got tribal decks that coincided with the tribal themes from the surrounding sets, I was all about not ever seeing tribal decks again. Ixalan is making that difficult, especially if you look at what other people are building.

So let’s not look at what other people are building. I found a Legendary creature that does what I want creatures to be doing in this format, is a great build-around, and which is in a tribe but doesn’t force us to build a specific tribe if we don’t want to. It’s under-the-radar so we won’t be that influenced by what others are doing and it’s fun enough that I will like playing the deck. It’s also a card that a lot of people said “I’m not sure that’s good enough for what I want to do with it” which means if we build the best deck we can, it’s likely to hit that 75% sweet spot. Doing something fair but doing it so often and consistently that we get an advantage means we’re going to be able to put ourselves ahead, but we’re less likely to be targeted by opponents. Best of all, this isn’t going to bore us to build, read about or play with. Let’s see what we’re working with.

Vona, Butcher of Magan

Vona is a Vampire Knight. I don’t particularly want to build a Vampire tribal deck with this at the helm as it doesn’t scale particularly well with Vampire abilities that aren’t “lifelink”, and lifelink is a pretty inefficient way to try and gain life 7 at a time. I’m not building a Knights tribal deck that I can’t play Knight of the Reliquary in under any circumstances, so that’s out, also. Luckily, if our tribe is “gain some life” and maybe a subtheme of “untap creatures” we can get some mileage out of this Vindicate on a stick. We can’t use it as an Instant and we can’t get lands, but what we can do is try and use Umbral Mantle and Paradox Engine to make them sorry they were born. If they complain about your high life total, give them an even lower one with Sorin Markov or maybe Tree of Perdition. Since I want to make sure I can reduce my life total by quite a bit in a single turn before I pass off that low total with Magus of the Mirror, I think we can focus on untapping Vona a ton rather than trying to win with a high life total, meaning we cut cards like Felidar Guardian and focus on cards like King Macar, the Gold-Cursed and Honor-Worn Shaku. This is going to be a blast to build.

Tree of Perdition
This deck looks like it might be a pile and it might be a lot of fun to play. Let’s go in depth with some of my conceptual choices.

I like the idea of getting multiple untaps with Vona, if necessary. Being able to fritter away like 49 life then swap totals with someone appealed to me, as did the idea of killing key creatures and stealing them with Beacon of Unrest or Animate Dead. You are going to be controlling everyone’s life totals and determining who has what life, so being able to pay a ton with lots of Vona activations or drawing a swath of cards with Necropotence right before you set someone else’s life to 1 is useful. Vona makes you pay a steep price, but cards like Magus of the Mirror ensure you’re playing with the casino’s chips and that means you can be a little reckless.

I like Paradox Engine and such so I used some cards from a King Macar deck including Macar himself. Pain Seer should do some work here as well. I added some straightforward “Tap to do a thing” cards, too, since it’s tough to tap Macar and Seer conveniently. If you want to go deeper into this strategy, I would add some spells with buyback for when you get Engine going and some more creatures with tap abilities like Royal Assassin. Your big mana creatures like Revenant and Crypt Ghast can get cut for more tappers and you can add Thousand-Year Elixir, etc. Even cards like Oracle En-Vec are worth exploring in this framework.

If you want to go a more traditional lifegain build, remember to first add back in the cards that give you a big payoff. Felidar Guardian, Test of Endurance, Rhox Faithmender, etc. The idea of my deck is to pay a ton of life to make everyone miserable with Tree of Perdition and Reverse the Sands, but you can gain quite a bit of life if you build for it. Boon Reflection makes sure you can dome them with Aetherflux Reservoir if you want. You can cut the Paradox Engine package and just check EDHREC for a generic lifegain build if you want.

You’re not required to build a vampire deck with Vona, which is nice, but if you do, there are benefits. I included quite a few vampires just because their abilities synergized with what I wanted to do. Add in cards like Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle, Sanctum Seeker, a few more Sorins and Bishop of the Bloodstained and you have a lot of synergy. It’s not what I wanted, but it’s there for the building. We build tribal because sometimes it’s very powerful in its synergy and vampires, especially now, are no exception.

What do we think? Am I trying to do too much? Which build path appeals most to you? Would you have made different choices? Let me know in the comments section and remember to share this article on Facebook and Twitter to let your friends know you have excellent taste in reading material. Until next week!

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