Convertible Commander: Phage the Untouchable

Phage the Untouchable
Phage the Untouchable is a funny card in Commander. More casual players often recognize she can be a serious beating but struggle to see how she could be playable in the format, at least as a general. The Command Zone isn’t your hand, so casting her will just commit suicide, so why do that? Maybe Phage really is untouchable.

But players who have messed around with other formats, or have seen another deck with her, or simply have a pretty vast knowledge of the game might see her as a builds-herself deck full of obvious cards to enable her, making her a one-hit kill for each opponent. She is definitely strange. We have to jump through some hoops to use her as a commander, and those hoops are limited — there are no functional duplicates. So the best way to look at her is probably as a combo deck: get together the right group of cards, cast the correct spells, win the game. Of course, with combo in Commander, we can’t run four of each piece, and that means there are a ton of slots left over. We can do whatever we want with them.

I think a hyper-aggressive or even tokens build of Phage would be really neat. I’d love to see that deck. We could either sacrifice all the tokens for fun and profit or simply aggressively attack life totals every way possible (and in Black, that’s a lot of ways) and keep the Phage combo as an accidental hit every now and then. That would be cool. However, regulars of this column know I’m a fan of grindy, controlling Black builds, so if I’m going to build Phage, I’m going to build her to slow . . .  everything . . .  down.

Let’s start with that difficult Commander. We have four ways of getting Phage out. They are:

Command Beacon
Torpor Orb
Sundial of the Infinite
Platinum Angel

To cast Phage from our hand, we have to get her into our hand. Command Beacon sacrifices itself to do that. Normally this is useful to avoid the Commander Tax after multiple recasts, but in our case it allows us to avoid death. Torpor Orb means her Enters the Battlefield Effect (you die) doesn’t trigger. (It also stops opposing Primordials and the like from doing anything other than showing up. Banisher Priest ain’t banishing nothin’.) Sundial of the Infinite ends the turn immediately, but importantly for us, it clears the stack. When Phage is cast, the spell checks to see where she was cast from, and if it’s anywhere other than our hand, her whole “I kill you now” thing goes on the stack. So, we can cast her from the Command Zone, put her “death to us” ability on the stack, then just . . .  end the turn, clearing the stack, including that ability. We don’t die. We can’t, y’know, do anything else that turn, but we don’t die. Platinum Angel, of course, means we simply can’t die, which is great when something tries really hard to kill us.

That’s probably the order of best to worst, too. Command Beacon is nice because it doesn’t cost us any extra mana, doesn’t screw with the rest of our turn, doesn’t mess up anything else we’re doing, and can be done at instant speed, which could matter at some point. Torpor Orb is nice, too, but it tends to draw a lot of hate because people like to run creatures which do stuff in EDH and they get cranky when you stop them. Sundial tends not to draw any hate (though in this deck it probably should), but it costs us an extra mana and it means we’re done for the turn. There will be a whole turn cycle before we can do anything else, which is a lot of time and a lot of cards drawn to figure out how to deal with the now rather alarming threat. Platinum Angel is our least good option, because a Krosan Grip, or Murderous Cut, or any of the other myriad cards played in this format all the time which can destroy a creature or an artifact at instant speed mean they kill it with Phage’s ability on the stack and we’re done. (Though Lightning Greaves can help with that, I suppose.)

Magus of the Coffers
So what else are we up to? Well, we’ve got an expensive commander, so we’ll want some mana. We’re far from any kind of budget build here, so we may as well lean into it and run the cards we want; along with the Swamps, we’ve got a Cabal Coffers/Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth package, in addition to Vesuva, Thespian’s Stage, and Deserted Temple to bump those up even more. Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, too, can make a bunch. Temple of the False God helps a little, and Volrath’s Stronghold is a funny way, should Phage die, to put her back in our hand (so maybe there are four and a half ways to cheat Phague out). Just let her go to the graveyard, then return her to the top of the library and draw her. We’ve also got a few ways to double our mana, like Caged Sun, and add a ton more mana, like Magus of the Coffers. And plenty of mana rocks. This deck will make a lot of mana. You might want to bring an abacus.

We’ve got some tutors in here, because, let’s face it, we’re playing Phage. We’re not trying to make friends. We can search up any card with most of them, but Expedition Map can get us Command Beacon or one of the mana pieces. While it will be tempting to grab that Torpor Orb, really we want to start with plenty of mana. Get the lands first, then draw into one of the solutions or search for it after the mana is humming. We’ve got lots of draw as well, from Sign in Blood and its ilk to Phyrexian Arena and friends, so we’re already likely to draw another tutor or one of the combo pieces, but it will help to have access to the 7 mana we need to cast Phage before we actually set up to cast her.

Black’s biggest weakness is its inability to destroy artifacts and enchantments. Some colorless spells can help, so we’re running Nevinyrral’s Disk, Oblivion Stone, and All is Dust. Perilous Vault would be a good one to add in an artifact- or enchantment-heavy meta. What we can do, though, is destroy the crap out of creatures, so we’ve got roughly a million ways to do just that. Mostly we’re running mass removal, with some fun versions like Killing Wave (which is great when we can also make a million mana), but we’ve got a few point removal spells as well for the occasional problem child. We’re running just enough tutors we’ll most often be able to go find the thing we need to solve the problem, as long as it isn’t killing us right now.

We’ve also got a couple of cute cards with Phage. Endless Whispers makes it a real problem to kill her, because most likely we’ll just have it come back to the person who killed her and kill, well, them. Temporal Extortion is a really fun card in Black which sees very little play, but most often your victim is going to pay that life, because otherwise we’re going to get a second hit with Phage. Rogue’s Passage and Key to the City make our girl Unblockable, and Swiftfoot Boots and Lightning Greaves protect her and, if we can, let us attack the turn she enters. Grim Discovery can buy back our Command Beacon if things get really dire.

So we’ve got this nifty combo deck which is going to make all our friends pretty annoyed every time we want to play it. The thing is, we put a bunch of cash and resources into a pretty awesome pile, and we want to get to play it! So what if we change a few things and make it so Phage is there for color identity only, and we promise not to mess with her?

We’re going to go for Mono-Black superfriends. We’re rather limited, because there aren’t a ton of ‘walkers in the color, but we can do pretty well and it gives us enough cards to remove all our kitchy Phage stuff. We pull the three enablers (extra style points if you bring a basic Swamp to swap in for Command Beacon) plus Endless Whispers, Temporal Extortion, and five other cards, then swap in nine ‘walker pals and a creature from before his spark reignited (though Karn Liberated or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon would fit in nicely and could serve as a reasonable win condition). We’re going to play a much less focused game with this deck. The tutors are there now purely to go get an answer we might need, while the planeswalkers make our opponents nervous and we ultimately attempt to beat down with a Rune-Scarred Demon or something. More often than not, playing this version of the deck is going to feel more like an endless level of a video game: eventually you’ll lose, but how long can you hold off the rest of the players before they can break through your wall of board wipes?

How would you build Phage? Is it worth it to run Withering Boon plus graveyard-to-hand stuff for more ways to get her out? Did I miss another way to get her out? Are more tutors called for? Or should we just do away with them and let the deck either work or not on its own? What else should we know? Tell us in the comments!

Decks like this are a neat way to challenge yourself and a table, though I do recommend caution because most people won’t like it more than once in a while, and watching another player count to 47 mana can be annoying. But if you like to sweat the choices and make sure no one is doing anything unless you let them, this deck might be for you.

Thanks for reading.

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