Zendikar Rising Standard Set Review with Ali Aintrazi
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Teysa on a Rakdos Budget


When you play with the same group for week after week, some commanders become the property of particular players. My friend Brad runs a Gonti, Lord of Luxury deck and I can't imagine any of us building one. That is Brad's deck. I might have my own idea for the commander, but it is Brad's commander. Even if my idea is completely different, or would use completely different cards, it doesn't matter. Brad has been playing that deck for long enough that running it myself just wouldn't be right.

I feel the same way about Andy's Teysa Karlov build. I've talked about this deck in the past, but never provided a list. Andy has been playing this build for a little while now and has had a chance to make some improvements here and there.

Teysa Karlov | Commander | Andy's Build

Andy has been playing Commander now for about two years. He started out playing some 1v1 Commander with me, then joined my Thursday group. We welcomed him in with open arms and he has jumped in with both feet. We pointed him to a single color build for his first commander, then made sure he wasn't paying a ton for some basic commander cards that the group as whole has in abundance. This just kept going and now Andy has four decks and plays a ton of Arena. He is always looking for his next Commander deck to build, with a focus on fun and budget. His Teysa deck is one of my favorites.

I sat down with Andy a little while ago (sorry Andy, but when Unmander calls, I need to build!) and we talked about the deck and where he sees it going.

What inspired you to build Teysa Aristocrats? Did you see the deck elsewhere? Did you already have the commander and get inspired that way?

I've been itching to make some sort of Token deck, and with Ravnica Allegiance, I really enjoyed the mechanic Afterlife. That led me to looking for a cheap commander that would give me the most value from things like Afterlife. Teysa is cheap money-wise but also CMC-wise, so it's easy to keep her out. On top of her death trigger ability, she cares about tokens.

The deck's value is just over $200. Was there a budget aspect to building? I know a number of my decks come about because I realize I have several of the basic cards.

When building decks, I always try to keep the whole deck under $100 and each card under $5 (unless I already own them). This forces me to look at what I already own, which by any Standard isn't a "good collection." It also makes me analyze cards in other, more expensive decklists, and see what compromises I can make. Other than a handful of cards in this deck, they're generally all under $5 each. The ones over $5 were either staples in Black Commander decks (Lightning Greaves, Chromatic Lantern, and Crypt Ghast) or I found very cheaply/already had. I had found Ashnod's Altar while browsing some singles at my LGS, and, though it's white bordered, it was priced at $4, so well within my budget. I splurged a little for Black Market because it has such strong synergy with Teysa, and would end up being the only card I would actually spend over $5 for. As for Godless Shrine, I pulled from a booster, so I played the lottery and just happened to win.

What do you like about the deck? What do you dislike?

With this Teysa deck, I don't feel like I have to have an ideal mana base in my opening hand. I generally look for 2-3 lands, and hope that they create both colors. This deck tends to run very quick, with only four cards with a cumulative mana cost of six or higher. Even so, with as much ramp as this deck has, it tends more toward playing many things on a single turn, to try to set up some synergies with Teysa and Blood Artist effects.

Something this deck does well, that I like doing, is that I can get a bunch of creatures and token creatures out, then maybe wipe the board, or wait for someone else to wipe it for me. With the latter, it gives me time to build my board up more, creating an impending and inevitable exchange of life, as Blood Artist triggers double (as well as Zulaport Cutthroat and Falkenrath Noble triggers), so rather than each person losing 1 life, it starts to add up with every creature's death.

Teysa herself is an all-star in this deck, as she's easy to cast at any point in the game. She can stick around to double some triggers, and when she dies, it won't be the end of the world. On top of all these Aristocratic strategies, gaining advantage from the death of our own creatures, Teysa promotes the tokens to being vigilant and lifelinkers. This lets me attack in with my weenies, and if they die, I still get the lifelink, and death triggers are on the stack. If they are let in, then I get some damage in and lifelink heals me up, while my tokens stand at attention ready to defend (and hopefully die).

It was hard for me to figure out what I didn't like about this deck because it was the first deck that I made that I felt like I was getting consistent wins. That said, when I first started playing this deck, what I didn't like about it was that it seemed too consistent. I felt like I was painting a target on my back, all while building up a board of very small creatures and if anyone did anything to them, they'd pay! At first this felt petty, and while it's exactly what Aristocrat style decks wanted to do, at times it felt like I was winning because I was lucky enough to have enough creatures out and enough death triggers to ping everyone to death. There were times that I felt the frustration from my opponents for their being punished for my creatures dying. While, I still feel that sometimes, I've more come to terms with this deck just being built better than my other decks, and this is just sometimes how it feels to win.

Are there cards you are thinking of cutting? Are there cards you want to add?

The cards in this deck that are potentially on the way out are mainly Command the Dreadhorde and Thrilling Encore. These cards, while funny to pull creatures from other people's graveyards, don't synergize well with tokens and, more importantly, are very expensive in this deck. Command the Dreadhorde needs to end the game because I will be spending a lot of life to get big creatures from my opponents' graveyards. I could end up sacrificing them if necessary for more life drain, but it is still a big risk. Thrilling Encore doesn't play nicely with tokens, and holding up five mana for that one sweet turn can be taxing on a small mana base. There have been times in games where I have Thrilling Encore and a board wipe in hand, which would allow me to kill everything, drain a bunch of life from my opponents and then get everything (including their creatures) back to hopefully sacrifice them for more draining shenanigans, but there seems to generally be two problems with that set up. First is that I almost never have enough mana to play the board wipe and Thrilling Encore in the same turn (rendering it useless). Second, by the time I do have enough mana to play both, the board wipe usually drains everyone to death before I would be able to get their creatures out on my board.

(Note: since we talked, Andy has also looked at pulling Ill-Gotten Inheritance. It just doesn't do anything that makes it belong specifically to this deck.)

The deck seems to be performing well in our group and seems to move up my list of high threat decks for our group. Are you happy with current results? The deck seems to start most games as life gain, then develops from there. Are there weaknesses you are noticing?

I love this deck because it feels tuned enough to win here and there, but casual enough that I'm not going to win every game, or when I do, it'll be many turns in.

As a Commander player, I know that board wipes come quickly, often, and out of nowhere. The way I try to pilot this deck is to always be gaining life, so that those turns I can't get enough creatures out to block or sacrifice or have specific abilities, I can take a few shots to the face. I feel like I'm always trying to build, destroy and rebuild my board state, and get as much value out of every step along the way.

This deck falters if any of my opponents do not let up in attacking me. I very quickly lose footing in being able to build a board state back up, lose life faster than I'm gaining it and possibly don't find the graveyard recursion I need in time. Sure, they'll have to take some life loss in trying to take me down, but once everyone starts targeting me, this deck cannot stand up against a relentless assault from three other players. The best it could do in those situations is hope that Zulaport Cutthroat or Cruel Celebrant takes them all out or the targeted triggers of Falkenrath Noble or Blood Artist takes out the meanest of them.

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