It’s All in the Rith


Romantic Landscape with Ruined Tower by Thomas Cole (1832-1836).
Serra Angel by Donato Giancola.

One of the most interesting things to me is the process by which I build and take apart decks. Sometimes I build around a shiny new commander freshly cracked out of a new booster, but other times a new deck gets built as the result of a series of misadventures in deck-building. Today’s build is one of those. It will start out as an intentionally casual build meant to play fair and be competitive without overpowering other decks that are equally casual.

In the past month, I’ve built and taken apart a number of decks. I wrote about, built, and finally played Najeela, the Blade-Blossom. It was pretty brutal and I probably won’t play it against casual decks ever again. I took apart my Slimefoot, the Stowaway deck to free up my token doublers for Najeela and my Yargle deck because . . .  well, let’s just say I’m done with Yargle, at least for now. From some of those cards I built a deck around Virtus the Veiled and Gorm the Great. That build hasn’t done much so far, but that process resulted in my having a pile of saproling-related cards now available to be put into a deck.

I’ve also been opening Battlebond boosters at a pretty decent rate. I still haven’t come into a Battlebond Doubling Season, but I’ve had some decent pulls along the way. Two of the more interesting ones, to me at least, were these partners.

Khorvath Brightflame
Sylvia Brightspear

I had been considering putting them into my The Ur-Dragon five color dragon tribal deck, but I hadn’t pulled the trigger on it yet. I thought about building a deck around them, but if you read my articles you know I’m never excited to build a Boros ({R}{W}) deck. I thought about building tribal Red dragons with the occasional White knight thrown in for variety. Then I realized it would be a shame to build a double-strike dragons deck and not have Atarka, World Render in the mix, mostly because I own several Atarka foils and would rather have them in decks than in my binder.

The next step in this process was to think about what legendary creatures I had lying around or underutilized in other decks that could serve as a general for a deck that includes Khorvath, Sylvia, and Atarka. My path took me to my Naya Partners deck, led by Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa and Tana, the Bloodsower. It’s one of my favorite decks, but there’s a card in there that I don’t think I’ve ever even had the chance to cast. That card would be this guy.

Rith, the Awakener

Rith, the Awakener is a 6/6 flying dragon who costs {3}{W}{R}{G} and has some slightly confusing text to decipher. When he does combat damage you can pay {2}{G}, pick a color and “put a 1/1 Green saproling creature token into play for each permanent of that color.” If Rith’s trigger only looked at permanents you control, it would say as much. The only other reasonable conclusion is that it looks at all permanents on the battlefield. If it looked at all permanents IN THE WORLD, it would be super awesome, it would say so on the card, and it would probably have a silver border.

As another saproling generator who can also serve as a flying blocker, Rith made sense in my Naya Partners deck, which always struggled against flyers. He also makes a ton of sense as the general of a deck that can run Khorvath & Sylvia, Atarka, and all the saproling cards from my short-lived Slimefoot deck. I also happen to have some decent White cards in binders that are longing to be set free. I think it’s time to see what I can throw together for a “casual” Rith deck!

Doubling our Triggers

Rith’s ability is a combat damage trigger, so my instinct to give him double-strike seems right. The challenge that comes with that approach is that each time we want to use that trigger we have to pay {2}{G}. That means if we’ve positioned ourselves to have a double-striking Rith, we’ll be able to churn out a ton of saprolings. If there are five Green permanents on the battlefield (including Rith) and we get a double trigger, we’ll choose Green and then create five saprolings and then we’ll create ten Saprolings. If there are any decks at the table that “go wide”, the potential for a much bigger board is huge.

Atarka, World Render
Battle Mastery
Blood Mist

You’ve already met Khorvath & Sylvia. Atarka, World Render is an absolute beast in dragon tribal decks, but here it will help us double our triggers if we can get a clean shot in on an opponent. Battle Mastery is an aura that will do the same as can the enchantment Blood Mist. We’ll also be running two enchantments, Berserkers’ Onslaught and Rage Reflection, which will give our entire team double-strike, though the former will only affect our creatures when they’re attacking.

Making More Mana

We’re going to need a lot of mana to pay for those triggers. Rith also has no built-in protection so he may need to be re-cast a few times. We’re going to want to ramp a lot with this deck. We want to have colored permanents so we have an incentive to ramp with dorks, not rocks. Land ramp is always the most stable way to increase our ability to produce mana so for this deck I think it makes sense to try to go with a pretty robust ramp package that will focus on everything but artifacts. I’m not even running a Sol Ring, though if the deck I took apart to free up some sleeves had a Sol Ring I would have probably thrown it in.

Land Tax
Settle the Wreckage
Skyshroud Claim

Land Tax was one of the cards I picked up from Battlebond but hadn’t put into a deck yet. This seems like an excellent time to sleeve it up. Settle the Wreckage is a card I’ve used to great effect on my own creatures and Rith may well give me the chance to swing with a field of saprolings and sacrifice them for the chance to ramp like crazy. I’ll be running a bunch of the usual instants and sorceries, including another Battlebond reprint, Skyshroud Claim.

Fertilid
Oreskos Explorer
Knotvine Mystic

I’ll be running a few mana dorks as well. They’ll help with our colored permanent count. Fertilid is another recent reprint, as is Oreskos Explorer. I’ll also be running Lifespring Mystic as he’ll tap for any color of mana and Knotvine Mystic, who can turn one mana of any color into Naya ({W}{R}{G}) mana. Knight of the White Orchid will also see an appearance in this list. I have a soft spot for knights riding lions into battle and he’ll also help us ramp if we’re behind on lands.

Pumping Our Saps

While it might not make sense to run every saproling generator I had in Slimefoot, it makes a ton of sense to include things that will pump them up. In Magic parlance, creatures that increase the power and toughness of a specific creature type are called “Lords” and we’ve got a few saproling lords to throw into the mix.

Sporecrown Thallid
Thelonite Hermit
Tendershoot Dryad

An army of saprolings may not be very impressive, but our goal is to make that army so huge it’s capable of winning us the game. If we fall a little short in that endeavor, having our 1/1 tokens become 2/2, 3/3, or even larger will help a lot. All three of these Lords will pump our saprolings, though Thelonite Hermit will help our opponents’ saprolings as well. Tendershoot Dryad is conditional but we should have an easy time getting the city’s blessing, and it will give us an additional saproling on each player’s upkeep. I’m also running Verdeloth the Ancient, as he gives our saprolings +1/+1 and he has a kicker to let us create more when we cast him if we have extra mana.

Fists of Ironwood
Fungal Plots
Sporemound

Fists of Ironwood might seem like an odd choice but Rith doesn’t have trample so this aura will both help us get damage through and will give us a couple more Saprolings. If we connect with our general and can pay for his ability, this aura and the two tokens it generates will result in three more saprolings if we wind up choosing Green. I’ll also run some saproling generators that double as graveyard hate in Fungal Plots and Night Soil. Our last token generator will be the Fungus creature Sporemound, who will give us a Saproling each time a land hits the battlefield under our control. Our main focus will be to create tokens with Rith but a little work on this front in the early game should pay off nicely later on.

Here There Be Dragons

In a deck with Red where I’m running multiple ways to give dragons double-strike, it makes sense to run a few dragons. To start with, I’ll be running a few dragon cost reducers in Dragonlord’s Servant and Dragonspeaker Shaman. We have a dragon in the command zone so that’s a no-brainer. Now let’s get to some of the dragons I’ll be running.

Sunscorch Regent
Verix Bladewing
Savage Ventmaw

Sunscorch Regent is the kind of creature I usually avoid, as it requires you to be constantly monitoring everything your opponents do to make sure you catch every spell they cast so you can put a counter on him and gain a life. With double-strike it doesn’t take much to make this 4/3 White dragon a huge problem for anyone without flying blockers. Verix Bladewing also makes sense in a deck where we’re going to be trying to ramp a lot, as she has a kicker that will let her bring her buddy Karox to the party as well.

Savage Ventmaw is a perfect match for a double-striking Rith, as he’ll generate enough mana to pay for two triggers of Rith’s ability. As luck would have it, I also had a copy of Aggravated Assault in a binder. That will give you infinite combats with Savage Ventmaw.

Did I say I was trying to build a fair, casual deck out of cards I had lying around?

Well, “fair” is a relative term. I dislike having decks that don’t have a way to win and have no hope of competing against really good decks. This combo will give this deck a little spiciness that I won’t be tutoring for but will be happy to see when luck is on my side.

Sarkhan's Triumph
Descent of the Dragons
Destructive Urge

Did I say I wasn’t running tutors?

I had Sarkhan’s Triumph in a binder as well and it seems silly not to throw it in here. Any deck trying to do too many things, like win with commander damage, win with saprolings, and win with dragons, likely isn’t going to do any of them at a really high level. My hope isn’t to make a top tier deck but to make a deck that can win at semi-competitive tables and hang with casuals as well. I still think I’m on track to do that.

My last two dragon-themed cards are pretty sweet. Descent of the Dragons will turn a huge board of saprolings into an even scarier board of 4/4 Red dragons. Destructive Urge may not be a dragon, but the art makes me want to put it into every dragon deck I ever build. This little aura can crush an opponent if it comes out early and they don’t have any way to remove it or keep from getting hit. I once won a 1v1 game with this and Elvish Mystic when my opponent just didn’t happen to get a blocker up in time and was a little short on early mana. It might not let you pick the land they will be losing, but it does pair really nicely with double-strike.

Goodstuff

It’s worth mentioning some of the random stuff that I’m going to squeeze into the deck around all my ramp, saprolings, dragons, removal and draw. This is where we find out how easily we’ll be able to finish out games if the deck is left unchecked.

Anointed Procession
Bower Passage
Bloodspore Thrinax

I had a spare Anointed Procession in my White binder, so that’s an auto-include in this deck. If I had Parallel Lives I’d run that too, but all my copies are already spoken for. Bower Passage will let Rith get damage in against opponents with flyers so long as they don’t have any creatures with the reach keyword. I’m also running Spectra Ward, though that’s about it for evasion for this list.

Bloodspore Thrinax is a bit of a trap. If I have 20 saprolings on the field, is it worth casting Bloodspore Thrinax, devouring 10 of those saprolings and then swinging with Rith and making a bunch of super-saprolings that will enter with 10 +1/+1 counters? Should I instead devour all 20 of my saprolings? Each saproling he devours will mean one less token created by Rith, so it’s a bit of a gamble. If I get greedy, devour all my saprolings and then someone exiles Bloodspore Thrinax I’ll feel pretty silly, but that’s why this card will be so fun to play in this deck. Sometimes I’ll make good choices. Sometimes I’ll overreach and my opponents will have the right removal spell at the right time. I’ve been known to high-five an opponent who made a great play at my expense (and actually mean it) and this deck might set me up to have to do just that.

Elder of Laurels
Vigor
Coat of Arms

Elder of Laurels is a fantastic way to turn a wide board into a world of hurt for an opponent. Vigor is just a great way to protect your board. It won’t keep them safe from most boardwipes but you’ll be able to attack and block without any risk of losing creatures from normal combat damage. Coat of Arms is our nuke button. If we’ve got a big board of saprolings it easily turns that board into lethal damage, though it won’t give your saprolings trample and it will help your opponents. Coat of Arms is definitely a double-edged sword but is also very much worth including here.

The Decklist

If you’ve got a bunch of castoff saproling cards from a failed or even a successful attempt to build Slimefoot, maybe the more aggressive style of a Rith, the Awakener will work for you too. Here’s the first draft I was able to throw together out of cards I had available.

It’s All in the Rith — Commander | Stephen Johnson


Final Thoughts

This build was my way to try to solve a number of problems I’ve been facing. I want a deck that plays more fair and wins by combat. I’ve been finding myself building more and more combo decks, and when I’m not building combo I’m trying to win through voltron or infect strategies and often have hexproof on my commander. Rith is an attempt to build a deck that may have a “high ceiling” but is fundamentally fair.

What do you think? Is this fair? Is it casual? Will Rith always be casual because it’s just too expensive and inefficient to be anything but casual?

Only actual play will reveal whether or not I was able to come close to my goal, but I’m looking forward to taking this deck for a spin.

My Najeela, the Blade-Blossom deck got a chance to stretch its legs in a casual game recently and it was pretty brutal. I played pretty loose and sloppy but was still able to get Bear Umbra out and later on got Sword of Feast and Famine equipped. Infinite combat steps on casual night isn’t really much fun for anyone but the player going infinite (me), so I’m going to be more thoughtful in the future about when I play that deck.

When I have a build that has never been played before I don’t mind giving it a whirl on casual night but I try to be honest about how good the deck might be, and apologetic if it turns out to be way too strong. That happened with Marwyn, the Nurturer, but I’ve also played my share of duds on casual night.

My view is that I really don’t know for sure how strong a deck will be until it’s actually seen play. Maybe that sounds strange but I’ve too often thought I had a good brew going and had it stumble coming out of the gate.

That’s all I’ve got for you today. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next week!


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