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The Talrand Challenge

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Talrand, Sky Summoner
Why is this a challenge? Some of the great cards for Talrand, Sky Summoner are pricey, such as Erayo, Soratami Ascendant and Snapcaster Mage. Then, add expensive cards such as Mana Drain and Force of Will along with more casual staples such as Desertion, Cryptic Command, and Bribery to the list that are just too expensive and out of the reach of a budget list. Other key cards such as Time Warp and Time Stretch are also not eligible in any realistic budget builds. Then, add in great utility cards that you would want that also are probably too hot to handle—such as Mystical Tutor. Cards such as Caged Sun and Coat of Arms are just out of reach. Forget mana such as Sol Ring, Doubling Cube, or even Thran Dynamo. So, where does a Talrand deck go without the ability to play such strong and pricey cards? For a budget of $40 or $50, even a simple Counterspell clocks in at a buck-fifty near mint.

Considering the obstacles, I set a higher budget than normal: $50. I want to come in under $40, but I’m not sure I can do it, so instead, I just want to be under $50. Anything else is gravy.

Before we begin the Talrand deck, we need to answer some questions. First, what sort of a creature base do we run? Assuming we emphasize instants and sorceries, which ones work? Do you run Delver of Secrets? Looters? Beaters? Also, do you run something like Favorable Winds or Gravitational Shift? What about Adaptive Automaton?

Every noninstant, nonsorcery card removes synergy from the deck as fewer and fewer spells exist to trigger Talrand. So, every card that is not an instant or sorcery must be so powerful that it has to be in the deck. There are some choices I’ve seen that are not that powerful. Wonder? Lore Broker? Quicksilver Gargantuan? I’ve seen some decks with thirty to thirty-five spells total, with the rest being permanents of various sorts. Ugh.

To be fair, I once played against a deck in real life at the card store that was just lands, Talrand, and spells. That’s equally poor. Some of the best permanents will be better than the sixty-fifth instant or sorcery.

I came in under budget by a lot, so I added a few “luxury” cards such as Cyclonic Rift and Caged Sun at the end to clock in at $49.37. (Remember that all financial numbers can change not only between the writing of this article and when it is read, but even between publication of it at midnight and then later that day.)

Lunar Mystic
This deck ended up with a much smaller creature count than I initially expected, but when every spell sort of has a 2/2 flyer tacked on for free, it’s hard to keep away from them. Every spell is a creature. I liked some creatures for the deck, such as Adaptive Automaton and Tidespout Tyrant. However, I realized that if I had just three or four great creatures, people would kill them with their Terminates and such. So, I kept away from Beguiler of Wills and Lullmage Mentor. It’s like a deck with only two artifacts other than Sol Ring. If they are minor, no one will blast them, but if they are anything of value, the reduced number of targets may enhance their likelihood of being axed.

To begin, I wanted my powerful engines. I began with Favorable Winds and Coastal Piracy. With a large horde of Drakes, these should enhance their value considerably. I also wanted the powerful Cast Through Time and Sphinx-Bone Wand. With an enhanced quantity of spells running around, both of these reach epic proportions of awesome.

After that quartet of engines was included, I moved to the spells I knew I wanted. I began with counters, and I spent about a half hour looking at counters and seeing what granted good benefits for the price. I had to steer clear of Forbid, Hinder, Spelljack, and others. Therefore, I went with the exiling hotness of Faerie Trickery and Dissipate, the card-drawing deliciousness of many choices, and even the bounce of Lost in the Mist. One clever card was Traumatic Visions. With a small number of ways of finding mana in blue—and most well over my budget—the basic landcycling of the Visions can find a needed Island in a pinch. (One of the last cards I pulled was Trade Routes, and this was a 3-mana cycle with it out). It also doubles as a counter when needed. Foil is awesome here; it’s easy to have a discard for it if you need to play it free. Finally, I forced my deck into accepting Time Stop. While it can serve as a counter-like card in an emergency, or as a Fog, it’s really meant to be there as an emergency card to break if needed. It can answer anything from an Obliterate to an activated Oblivion Stone.

Wash Out
The deck needed a bounce theme. With a small number of creatures and defense, this deck requires protection. The best way to do that is bounce. But we don’t want to hurt the Drakes. The bounce has two effects: It bounces blockers out of the way so the Drakes can do their business, and it also keeps people from assaulting you for a few turns again until they reload their forces. Inundate is a great mono-blue bouncer, and it keeps all of our stuff nice and safe on the battlefield. Wash Out can call any color when played, and as long as you don’t stupidly say “blue,” it will bounce all creatures of that color. You might be surprised at how powerful the Wash Out’s bounce can actually be. Because It simply bounces all attackers, the Aetherize is a brilliant way to keep yourself safe as a Super Fog—or, you can harass an opponent that alpha-struck somewhere else on the board. Finally, I shoehorned in the expensive Cyclonic Rift, which gives me the ability to bounce everything that is not mine. All of these build in some nice defense.

Therefore, I felt just a bit more bounce was needed. Aside from Lost in the Mist, Capsize and Repulse round out the bouncing. These gave the deck a few more tools in case they were needed. If you count Spin into Myth, it counts, too. For creatures, I also added the Pongify and Rapid Hybridization kill spells. Blue has little true creature-kill, and the 3/3 ground pounder won’t get in the way of my attacking hordes of 2/2 flying Drakes. Plus, with all of the bounce around, they may not even be for long in this world. Add Reweave to my “removal” options—it’s an instant Polymorph variant for more than just creatures. You can Reweave a really nasty artifact, enchantment, planeswalker, or even land. I love Reweaving nasty lands such as Volrath's Stronghold into Swamps.

Don’t forget the power of Knowledge Exploitation. It’s a tutor that plays the card and can find needed removal. If you need something taken care of, most decks at the Commander table are packing removal of various types. You can find anything from Plague Wind to Fracturing Gust, if you want mass removal, or Decimate- and Hull Breach–type cards if you don’t. While Bribery was just too far out of the budget for this deck, Acquire, surprisingly, was not. Play it, steal the best artifact from someone’s library, and drop it right out. It should turn the tables quite nicely.

Runechanter's Pike
As my deck mounted more and more instants and sorceries, in went a few more enablers. Both Mnemonic Wall and Archaeomancer will come into play and return one of those to my hand. Plus, they can block and stuff (and you can pair them with bounce like Capsize to good effect). I considered and dismissed Scrivener since it could only bring back instants. Call to Mind was a cheap addition to also tutor my graveyard for the best spell I have. My final creature choice was Lunar Mystic. Being able to pay 1 mana to draw a card when I played instants was great, and its fifty-cent price tag sweetened the deal. In a similar way, I can pay mana when I play a sorcery or instant to scry 2 with the cheap Eyes of the Watcher. While I can’t draw cards, it’s not on a fragile body, and it works on sorceries, too. With so many bodies to equip and such a potentially large size, Runechanter's Pike elevated to the decklist. I see a lot of large, flying creatures as preventing an assault from my smaller and weaker Drakes, but if I can just make one an 11/2 first striker, I can attack with it to clear out some stuff, force some awkward blocks, or dole out the pain.

Spellweaver Volute is one of those odd cards that just works sometimes, and this should be one of those times. This deck has enough ammunition to work both halves: the imprinting and the sorcery-playing. But imprinting opposing instants such as Murder, Terminate, Krosan Grip, and Swords to Plowshares works as well. It’s another way to put some spells on our side of the table to increase our options. Another odd card is Gather Specimens. You drop it and steal people’s creatures when they enter the battlefield. It often just acts as though it says, “Counter target creature spell. Put it into onto the battlefield under your control.” But, when it does something else, such as steal a bunch of tokens off a Zombie Apocalypse or Entreat the Angels, it breaks the game into little pieces.

Despite the great card-drawing we spiced the deck with in various places, I wanted to enhance it. I was able to fit in some staples, such as Fact or Fiction, Recurring Insight, Flow of Ideas, and Deep Analysis (since you play it twice, it triggers Talrand twice). I even grabbed Tidings and Opportunity and some other treasures. Some people turn their Talrand decks into a motor that has a ton of 1-mana cantrips, with the goal of speeding through their decks and spitting out a lot of 2/2 dorks. I thought about that. But Ponder and Brainstorm add up to $3.25 right there. Sleight of Hand clocks in at $3. These 1-mana cantrips often cost a lot more money that you might realize. I didn’t want to be stuck with Portent. The deck blows through cards quite quickly as it is, so I added Visions of Beyond. It can be that 1-mana cantrip if you need, but it also draws you three later on. This rare costs the same, at $1.25, as Ponder. (For this reason, I ran the Elixir of Immortality—to help keep my deck stocked with goodies as the game goes on. Feel free to use it earlier to decrease the likelihood of drawing lands later—there’s nothing to protect from graveyard removal.)

Stolen Identity
I’m in blue, so I would have felt silly without a little creature-stealing. Dominate will make a 2/2 Drake and steal something at instant speed. Ray of Command is a great way to steal an attacker and block another attacker, and if you are very lucky, they kill each other. Both Switcheroo and Legerdemain will trade a Drake for something better. Here’s your Drake, and look, I got a pretty Dragon! Thanks! Stolen Identity also works here, too. While it won’t kill a legendary creature anymore with the new rules, it will give you one of your own. Making your own Akroma, Angel of Wrath is a fine compromise to not killing another’s!

After that, I tossed in a few cards to round things out and called it a deck. Terrain Generator will throw out Islands into play. That gives me something to do when I have drawn too many cards. I wanted one final card-draw spell, so Keep Watch jumped in. I should be happy to attack with it in my hand! Sleep will lock down an opponent so that you can get in a swing with a bunch of Drakes. It also keeps those creatures down in case other players also want to exploit said player. Since that opponent cannot immediately untap his or her creatures, he or she will be open for some time. You can get in for two hits but you leave yourself open for a very angry counterattack. Others may also fill the gap. Mystifying Maze joins a deck that needs defense. Finally, I couldn’t afford most Time Warps, but Walk the Aeons was just a buck. That was an automatic inclusion. Plus, you can buy it back, so there’s that.

Some cards I considered were unable to make the cut for money reasons: Coat of Arms, Eldrazi Monument, and Gauntlet of Power. Others were considered but dismissed for space or play reasons, such as Kraken's Eye, Lapis Lazuli Talisman, and Arcane Melee.

However, Day of the Dragons was different. I could afford it, and it made my Drakes into Dragons—rawr! But I felt it was just out of flavor for my Drake deck. So, it was dismissed not for power or financial reasons, but flavor reasons.

Cards to consider if you either have the cash or the deck stock are Blatant Thievery, Guile, Sapphire Medallion, Turnabout, and Extraplanar Lens.

I went in a slightly different direction than many Talrand decks, but this seems worth it. It has everything I need to make things work. Sure, it misses many multiplayer and Commander staples as well as great expensive cards, but Magic is often more about what you do have than what you don’t. Focus on the cool interactions this deck has, and it will work.

See you next week,

Abe Sargent