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Commander Deck Doctor: Rethinking Vhati

Hello folks! I hope you are having a wonderful day today!

A few weeks ago, I penned a follow up to an article I wrote last year about the

The first article is here. In this article, I lay out the case that I believe that the game has become too homogenous, from casual gaming to tournaments and more. One clear example is Commander.

I’m not the only one to notice. Writers like Chas Andres have pointed this out as well, that Commander has changed considerably from a few years ago.

The follow up article is here. Here I discuss Commander in more detail, and give three ways to fight against ongoing pushes toward homogeneity of decks.

Commander is now Vintage. Every card is legal in Vintage, and because of that, only the best of the best make the cut in a Vintage deck. If you held a Vintage tournament Grand Prix tomorrow, it’s unlikely you’d see more than a few hundred different cards in the decklists, including the lands.

In summation, here are two key issues:

  1. Commander Decks, despite having a format that requires only one of each card and 100 cards, only uses a very, very small pool of cards.
  2. People tend to put in a card that works (the 500 or 600 accepted core Commander cards like Swords to Plowshares or Krosan Grip) rather than seek out better.

So in my article, I have three suggestions — slow build a deck over time, give other people the chance to review their stuff, or create a self-limiting sub-format for Commander that your group can use to freshen the format.

I also volunteered my own services as a deck doctor if anyone were interested, and the first e-mail came shortly after from Adam McWay. Now Adam has been a long time reader who I’ve spoken with before on various decks via e-mail.

Vhati il-Dal

Adam was one of the first to pick up and use my Vhati il-Dal deck from my Budget Commander series. It was popular, and even today, when you check out EDHREC for Vhati il-Dal, most of the ways people went are my own deck, even some unusual or outside-the-box choices, so you can see that the Vhati deck was pretty cool.

So here’s Adam’s e-mail:

Hello again Abe! It's been a while since we've spoken. In the past you've assisted me with my Thelon of Havenwood deck, and I'm sure others. I just read your "Fighting Homogeneity" article and decided to ask your help with my pet deck, Vhati!

I've been using this deck for well over a year now, around the time you came out with your budget article for Vhati. I actually ordered that list and this is what it grew to be. The link will be at the bottom of this email. I feel the need to give you a little history of my deck, as it is my baby.

It started out as a budget list, but after a while I started saving up for cards like Demonic Tutor and Strip Mine (I play Strip Mine over Dust Bowl for preference). Soon I found myself thirsty for more and eventually broke bank and purchased a Bayou. I recently sold my deck to pay for bills (I'm sure you've heard similar stories before), but now that I'm more financially secure I'm reordering my deck piece by piece and really trying to fine tune my list.

I've been asking for help from friends, people on tapped out, and randoms at my LGS. Lately the suggestions haven't been what I've been looking for, I REFUSE to play combos . . .  maybe you can help? Also please note, I play in a semi-competitive meta. Food Chain Tazri, RIP + Helm combo, Kiki combos etc. This deck needs cards like Mana Crypt and Sol Ring really badly to keep up. Since I don't combo off, my goal is to slow my opponents down, kill their win conditions and eventually grind their life totals down with beaters.

In a follow up e-mail, Adam told me not to worry about budget. So I won’t!

The bolded statements here are my own points of emphasis.

These are going to be places I think we can delve into for Adam. So let’s look at the decklist he currently has, and then my first thoughts.

Here is the first run of his deck:

Adam?s Vhati il-Dal ? Commander | Adam McWay


I reviewed Adam’s deck, and he had a lot of compliments online from the style of the deck being competitive because of elements like Mana Crypt and Ancient Tomb.

Now, for those of you who may not know the story here, I created a Vhati Commander deck as one of my Budget Commander challenges here on GatheringMagic.com for less than $40. Then I liked the deck so much that later I actually built a copy in real life and am currently running my own version.

Here’s how Vhati works:

  1. You tap Vhati to give an opposing creature 1 toughness for the turn. Good job
  2. You either shoot that creature for one damage or you give it -1/-1. Either way you have a dead dork. Good job.
  3. Repeat.

The goal of the deck is to harness Vhati offensively to kill as many creatures as possible. Vhati kills anything because you can either kill with damage or dropping the toughness to zero, which takes out indestructible creatures. Vhati wins every creature war.

So, I have experience both building and playing Vhati decks.

Let’s get started with Adam’s Version of Vhati.

Now, notice a few things about Adam’s build. It feels like he wants to be a faster Spike in order to deal with the table, but he is missing some things from his list that I feel would push him into a more reliable space.

Here are a few examples.

Adam is not playing these lands:

Golgari Guildgate
Jungle Hollow

Now both of these cards are perfect at getting your colors of mana. They perform a solid job. They are very heavily printed and you don’t see them in Adam’s list. My assumption for that is because they slow you down a turn, so cards like them are not here. Therefore, I am going to focus instead on lands that get you to Vhati more quickly by enabling a first-turn Sol Ring or such. I’m not going to suggest the scry land of Temple of Malady, for example, even though I find it worthwhile for a turn, because it enters play tapped. Ditto Path of Ancestry for an ETB tapped land that would otherwise be perfect here.

Let’s begin with mana, I am making these swaps:

Out: 1 Swamp, In: Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Swamp
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

There’s really no reason not to run the Tomb of Yawgmoth here. It helps your b cost effects, like Pestilence, get all of the lands to make the mana, it works well with colorless lands, and it’s a Swamp as well. It helps Tainted Wood. It’s a strong addition to the deck.

Out: 1 Swamp, In: Command Tower

Swamp
Command Tower

I’m a little surprised that Command Tower is not in the original list. My guess is that Adam just missed it.

Out: 1 Forest, In: 1 Jund Panorama

Forest
Jund Panorama

I am not recommending Terramorphic Expanse or Evolving Wilds, because it’s not like he wouldn’t know what they are and work with the Life from the Loam already, as they have a land that arrives tapped, and cannot be used for anything else (barring Urborg being out). But Jund Panorama is different. It taps for a mana now, without a comes-into-play tapped issue. Later, when you need the land, you can sacrifice it and grab it. Also, because it taps for colorless, it can be used to activate World Breaker or cast Endbringer.

I do love Endbringer in here. It’s not in my deck, but it’s a smart call, and I want to ensure it works.

Out: 1 Swamp: In: Dust Bowl

Swamp
Dust Bowl

Adam mentioned that he wants to play a little tempo, and that he chose Strip Mine over Dust Bowl. I understand why, but this doesn’t have to be an either/or decision. You can get both all day long. Dust Bowl also helps to feed the Life from the Loam in the deck. You can use Dust Bowl for everything from Gaea's Cradle to Volrath's Stronghold. I’m not the sort of guy to recommend hitting mana lands like Command Tower, given this is just a “Semi-competitive” meta game, but it’s a useful tool for any other junk, and it’s nice to have another option after Dust Bowl. Also, colorless mana has value here, as mentioned above.

Out: 1 Swamp; In: Grasping Dunes

Swamp
Grasping Dunes

I am very happy that Adam thought to include Ifnir Deadlands. It is a brilliant card here because it can kill something you have Vhati’d, and work well with Life from the Loam. So where is Grasping Dunes? It arrives to the battlefield untapped and ready to be used, and sacrifices to toss a -1/-1 counter on a dork. Again, it is a perfect fit here. Also, it gives you a third desert if you want to sacrifice one to Ifnir, as well as another colorless maker and it doesn’t even arrived tapped to the party!

Out: 1 Forest, In: Ash Barrens

Forest
Ash Barrens

Again, I suspect this was just a miss by Adam. It’s too good not to run.

Out: 1 Swamp, In: 1 Blooming Marsh

Swamp
Blooming Marsh

Blooming Marsh fixes mana, and can come into play untapped early for Sol Rings and friends.

Out: 1 Golgari Signet, In: Everflowing Chalice

Golgari Signet
Everflowing Chalice

I love Everflowing Chalice generally, and here as well. It can still be dropped on the same turn the Signet can be, but it’s better with Sol Ring, Ancient Tomb, Mana Crypt, mana ramp and such. It’s got a lot of synergy with the deck already as is. It’s just the better class of card for a deck that doesn’t need this for mana making. Yes, it’s an obvious swap to an obvious card, but the card works here in this shell, and that’s important.

Out: Explosive Vegetation; In Expedition Map

Explosive Vegetation
Expedition Map

This might feel off, but I’m not a big fan of Explosive Vegetation in a deck like this. You already have Cultivate, Krosan Tusker, Kodama's Reach, Farseek, and Skyshroud Claim. You have cards that will get your dual lands or two cards for three mana. This doesn’t. It’s two cards for four mana at sorcery speed for lands you might not need as much as value. The Map is faster, and can get any land you want, so it can get Bayou if you need, but can also get anything from Dust Bowl or Strip Mine to Desert or Bojuka Bog.

I’d also consider pulling Skyshroud Claim for Sylvan Scrying. I love that you get two dual lands in this deck, so I am leaving it in, but it’s close, and a 4-drop spell that gets two lands locked into color smoothing may not be as a valuable as a 2-drop that gets one of any land.

I also think that Volrath's Stronghold yourself makes sense for a long-game commitment, and warrants consideration. You might also want to think about Quicksand, although that may be too many colorless lands. This also feels like a good home for Yavimaya Hollow, and if we pulled more basics for ETB tapped lands that make the right color, then I’d toss them in as well.

And that’s a good swap to fix up the mana!

Now what?

I want to pull cards that I feel are weak or not on theme for cards that are better for Vhati.

As you can see, Adam is running all of the amazing synergy cards with Vhati, like Staff of Nin, Triskelion, Desert, Pestilence effects, and the absolute death-machine of Consumptive Goo. Magewright's Stone? Thousand-Year Elixir? Great!

But I feel like there are a few cards I’d like to see here that have a better synergy with Vhati, rather than just generic good stuff.

Out: Exsanguinate; In: Screams from Within

Exsanguinate
Screams from Within

I adore Exsanguinate. It’s hard to pull it out. But it’s not pro-Vhati enough, and doesn’t have the speed Adam seems to crave either. Screams from Within does. It’s an amazing tool for Vhati, here, let me show you:

Screams from Within

Just in case you didn’t know what it did. It’s extremely powerful. Toss it on an opposing dork, tap Vhati and kill them, and then Rancor it back into the battlefield on another opposing dork.

Out: Meren of Clan Tel Noth; In: Genesis

Meren of Clan Nel Toth
Genesis

I don’t dislike Meren, but it’s hard to make work. It takes a lot of set up when it’s not your Commander, and when you do, Meren is easily answered and all of your hard work wound up doing little. Know what doesn’t take setting up? Genesis. It just costs mana, which is something this deck shouldn’t have issues with mid to late game.

Out: Liliana Vess; In Liliana, the Last Hope

Liliana Vess
Liliana, the Last Hope

Liliana Vess is one of the best planeswalkers in her color of all time, and I love her to death. She works well. But Liliana, the Last Hope is a Vhati-smashing machine who comes down two turns earlier and can be used to -2/-1 her way to smashing a ton of dorks. She’s also super-mega pricey right now due to her presence in Constructed formats, and you could look at Liliana, Death Wielder who tosses counters on them instead but costs way too much mana as a cheaper option, but this is a big change and improvement.

Out: Ob Nixilis Reignited; In Illusionist's Bracers

Ob Nixilis Reignited
Illusionist's Bracers

I love Ob in most decks as a Murder or Phyrexian Arena as needed. But Vhati doesn’t need the Murder, and it’s expensive, and easy to answer, as a ‘walker that just gets Phyrexian Arena triggers. It just doesn’t have the synergy I want. Know what does? Illusionist's Bracers! They are perfect as a mana-free way to get double Vhatis!

Out: Putrefy, In: Consign to Dust

Putrefy
Consign to Dust

I feel like Putrefy is a good example of a card that people often put into their Commander deck that suffices because it works and others do, without trying to figure out if it’s the best fit for this deck. Your Commander kills creatures. You don’t need a backup Terminate. What you do need is artifact and enchantment removal. This works for the first, but not the latter, so I am pulling it for Consign to Dust as you can strive to hit multiple options in case you have the mana and the need to turn it to card advantage.

Consign to Dust

Now you could go with Natural End to gain three life, or something more expensive for card drawing with Slice in Twain or such. But I like this card for the deck’s need better. You don’t have many of these removal effects in the deck, so squeezing out more removal from the same card seems productive.

Out: Deathrite Shaman; In Seedborn Muse

Deathrite Shaman
Seedborn Muse

I feel like this is not the deck for Deathrite Shaman. If you want a mana accelerant, having a creature in a deck with mass removal and Pestilence effects feels off, even with two-toughness. It’s not reliable as a way to cause life loss or to gain life, and I just feel it’s too uneven in here to be pertinent, even with the untapping support this deck rolls. Meanwhile, untapping your stuff, including Vhati? Yes please!

Out: Viridian Longbow: In Swiftfoot Boots

Viridian Longbow
Swiftfoot Boots

Now I have found Viridian Longbow to be a little too slow for my Vhati decks. But I do enjoy the Boots a lot, in order to give Vhati a faster tap. You only have Thousand-Year Elixir as a haste-giver to Vhati, so the Boots is key. You don’t like shroud on your guy, because you often want to untap or equip him, so hexproof trumps shroud in this build. It’s okay to add in classic Commander Good Stuff that’s on theme, and this is. But I want to move on from relying on it when it’s not, like above and some of my pulls.

I am a little surprised at the absence of Curse of Death's Hold. It’s very strong as a Night of Souls' Betrayal that doesn’t bother you. But maybe there are just too many people to deal with in a given game to focus on just one. Still, I’d keep it in mind moving forward as a potential play as the metagame may suggest.

Curse of Death's Hold
Horobi, Death's Wail

Another meta-game dependent card is Horobi, Death's Wail, who works well against folks whose only “target opposing creature” stuff isn’t already kill. But you don’t want to run into your friend with repeatable targeting effects like Crystal Shard or something.

Other suggestions include Rings of Brighthearth, Ascendant Evincar, Lightning Greaves, Caltrops, Conclave Naturalists, Skinrender, and Quest for Renewal.

Here’s Adam’s deck, updated with my above changes:

Abe?s Adam?s Vhati il-Dal ? Commander | Abe Sargent


And there we are. The deck should be a lot smoother with the mana base changes, and more consistent by pulling some of the off-theme cards like Exsanguinate for others on theme. I hope that you enjoyed it! Thanks Adam for sending it in, and I’m happy to look at any others you might want to send my way. (euplatious@hotmail.com)

Thanks for reading!

P.S. — I have been going through and adding people who have commented on my articles to my Facebook page, which is my actual page, not a quick Magic one. I appreciate folks that have invested themselves by reading my articles and such. So, if you want to come join my Facebook page, please send a friend request!

https://www.facebook.com/abe.sargent

I will respond happily and add you.


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