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Life(link) Partners: Tymna and Bruse Tarl


The five decks a lot of people will be playing this weekend are the five Commander 2016 Preconstructed decks that release on Friday. I'm planning out my desired modifications to them this week so that, when I pick the decks up, I have all the cards ready to go to create exactly what I want.

But those Preconstructed decks enable a whole lot more than four-color decks . . . 

No Longer Wedged

Tymna the Weaver
Besides having a deck for every combination of colors starting Friday, my biggest excitement is that the world gets more wedge commanders. The first Commander product did the world a great service by offering the world more than the Planar Chaos Dragons and Doran, the Siege Tower; there were now multiple directions to go in those colors. For most of the wedges, I bought the individual commanders I thought most interesting (Tariel, Reckoner of Souls; Animar, Soul of Elements; Karador, Ghost Chieftain; Zedruu the Greathearted; and The Mimeoplasm) and built around them.

That was already five years ago, and those decks — among my first Commander decks — largely feel old. I converted Zedruu the Greathearted to Numot, the Devastator because the flyers were what I liked about that deck; I started work on converting Tariel to Queen Marchesa but never bought a Marchesa in time. Now that the two-color partner commanders are coming out, the world has enough choices to last a long time.

So this week, I've got everything planned out to replace my Tariel deck, which had sweepers for days but an awful curve and a repetitive style, with lifelinking partners: Tymna the Weaver and Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder. Partnering them implies a deck with a love of combat and uses for gaining life, but they don't imply how quick or beefy the beats have to be, unlike some other Mardu commanders. What I've built feels fresher than my Tariel deck for sure, and it feels fresher than most Mardu decks I've seen.

A Note About Building with Partners

Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder
Besides that a partner Commander deck means your starting library is 98 cards instead of 99, having access to two commanders changes the complexion of deck-building a lot, if my first couple days of working with the concept are any indication. The primary upgrade is that building around two cards allows a much broader orbit than building around one, and you have reason to go to one commander or the other at different points in the game.

The easiest way to describe what I'm talking about is contrasting partners with Isamaru, Hound of Konda. Isamaru is great at a single point in the game; although having frequent access to Isamaru is great, after the first few turns you'd typically rather cast something better. Building around a card like that can leave you vulnerable in other segments of the game. What's the Isamaru deck's endgame, if any? What does an Emrakul, the Promised End deck do if it's attacked in the first several turns? With partnered commanders, these questions take on less importance, as you can curve out with commanders and play one or the other based on the game situation. The converted mana costs of all the partners are narrow, but their optimal deployments vary widely. Maybe you want to partner commanders that naturally curve into each other (I favor this approach). Maybe you want to partner commanders where one's good when you're ahead and the other's good when you're behind (another deck I'm building favors this approach). Solving those usual Commander problems by just having another commander is a huge deal when deck-building, and if you haven't experienced it yet, you're in for a fun time.

A Note About Building Seven Decks At One Time

As someone who had enough judge credit from working at my local game store to buy the Preconstructed decks but not enough other money to buy other cards for them, for now I'm building only out of my collection. I think this Tymna/Bruse Tarl deck is quite good with the current restriction of not buying cards for it, but if you're screaming at the decklist and its forgetful idiot of an author to include a certain something, the first explanation is that the author doesn't own it or has it tied up in another deck. (The second explanation is that the author is a forgetful idiot. That explanation is never too far away.)

On to the Deck Itself

The lands aren't interesting at all, so for sake of concision I'm omitting them other than to note I have 40. This is a typical land amount for me; I know it's more than the usual (the mean of the five Preconstructed is 38.2 lands), so I figured it was worth mentioning.

So what does this deck want to do? The partnering of Bruse Tarl and Tymna wants at least one creature to get through, at which point Tymna is a postcombat Phyrexian Arena. Bruse Tarl mitigates Tymna's life loss; Tymna gives Bruse Tarl more good creatures to beef up. It's a nice quid pro quo.

The temptation with two lifelink-centered commanders is to find as much lifelink as possible and jam it in the deck - but then there'd be nothing for Bruse Tarl to give lifelink to. The better approach is to find cards that gain life or care about it in various ways, from lifelink to triggered-ability lifelink to being happy some life was gained. Some big creatures are also necessary in case the small creatures aren't good enough even with lifelink, and enchantment removal is important considering how much this deck has problems with Sulfuric Vortex, Rain of Gore, Leyline of Punishment, and Tainted Remedy.

With all that in mind, the cards in this deck go into a few categories:

Lifegain. 22 cards outside the commanders can gain life, from the single-point drip of Authority of the Consuls to the massive swing of Debt to the Deathless. Only four of the 30 creatures have normal lifelink; Exalted Angel has flying triggered-ability lifelink, which combine with Bruse Tarl for eight damage and 16 points of life (32 if Rhox Faithmender is out). Generally, Tymna appreciates having flyers to deal damage with, so the deck's Angels, along with Sangromancer, Divinity of Pride, Wingmate Roc, Sunscorch Regent, and the Dragon tokens from Dragonmaster Outcast will be the most reliable ways to draw extra cards, and most of those also gain life in some way.

Authority of the Consuls
Divinity of Pride

Things that care about lifegain/life totals. Ajani's Pridemate, Lone Rider, Karlov of the Ghost Council, Wall of Limbs (in here partly for theme and partly because I named the card), Rhox Faithmender, Felidar Sovereign, Angelic Accord, Aetherflux Reservoir, and Ajani, Caller of the Pride's ultimate all get tingly when life is gained. Several of them are happy for separate incidents of lifegain; Lone Rider and Angelic Accord are only satisfied after a certain amount of lifegain; and Felidar Sovereign wins the game at 40 life. If any deck can score multiple kills off Aetherflux Reservoir without going infinite, this is it, and this deck can get to Felidar Sovereign's 40 life or Aetherflux Reservoir's 51 (gotta save one for later!) quicker than expected.

Ways of using life. Aetherflux Reservoir is the poster child (Poster Reservoir sounds like the pin-up equivalent of Blockbuster Video) of this category, but Anguished Unmaking is as safe a play here as it could be. Seizan, Perverter of Truth is one of my favorites in heavy lifegain decks, since drawing into more lifegain means the hits just keep on coming. Corpse Augur is backup to Seizan; in this deck, the overstocked graveyard can be chosen much more often than in a typical deck.

The star of this area, however, is Heartless Hidetsugu. Although half of Bruse Tarl's triggers are from attacking, he doesn't restrict his lifelink to attacking creatures; any creature on his team is free to gain lifelink, and Heartless Hidetsugu appreciates it greatly. Even if Bruse Tarl isn't around, activating Heartless Hidetsugu before combat and swinging with a bunch of lifegain creatures can pull far ahead. Or, if you want an incredible turn for just 4 mana, activate Whip of Erebos to return a lifelinking Heartless Hidetsugu. It's widely known that Heartless Hidetsugu is a good card, but with consistent lifelink available to it, it's far better than its normal ridiculous self.

Felidar Sovereign
Aetherflux Reservoir
Heartless Hidetsugu

Utility spells. Most of these are well-known to Mardu players. Suffer the Past, Hide // Seek, Crypt Incursion, and Faith's Fetters all gain life in addition to their other uses. Merciless Eviction is a premier sweeper, Crackling Doom is premier spot removal, and Unburial Rites is premier reanimation. And any White deck of mine with small creatures and a love of combat is likely to have Soltari Visionary; this is my fifth deck with it.

Mardu's commanders as a group haven't wanted the initial Mardu spell, Fervent Charge, but this deck is all about it, pumping its medium-size creatures into beefier territory when it's very much needed. And Batwing Brume threatens death to anyone who dares swing with a bunch of creatures to lower your life total into normal range. Somebody's life total is getting changed, all right . . . 

Merciless Eviction
Crackling Doom
Fervent Charge


This deck came together pretty easily as a deck that feels like a classic combination of Mardu colors — gain life, deal damage, and draws cards - even as that combination lacked a good commander to make it happen. It took two commanders, but I think I'm going to enjoy this deck a lot. It's straightforward but has a lot of ways to gain life on various board states, and with shiny new toys like Aetherflux Reservoir it should feel novel even with its classic style.

What are you looking to partner? I've got some more partners coming up, both for four-color decks and three-color decks. For now, I'm so happy that I get to revitalize wedge strategies and get them back into heavy rotation.

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