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Brago, the Spirit of Christmas


I really enjoy attending some of the larger conventions. Not only do I get my Magic fix, but I get to enjoy the other fun parts of my nerd lifestyle! GenCon is one of my favorite conventions for two reasons: it offers virtually everything I could want to see, and it draws my Magic friends like bugs to a buzzing Blue light.

This year was particularly fun, in large part due to the Secret Santa. My friend, Cowboy Kyle had a great idea that we do a Secret Santa deck exchange. With so many friends attending, almost 20 of us built a Commander deck for someone else in our group that was going to GenCon. There was a loose dollar cap, but it was more of a reminder that we shouldn’t be trying to ramp the power of these decks through the roof. I jumped at the chance and so did almost everyone else!

While I’ve already discussed the deck I made, I have yet to talk about the one that was made for me! Andrew Magrini drew my name and got started on a Brago deck that probably doesn’t work the way you think.

Brago Surprise | Commander | Bruce

Andrew decided to go with a Spirit tribal theme! While there are a few cards in the deck that combo well with the flickering ability of Brago, King Eternal, for the most part, Brago is a false flag for the deck. When playing the deck it is best to treat Brago as a spirit creature that can always be cast.

You also look at the deck and assume there is going to be a strong controlling aspect. When you have a creature like Brago, there comes an expectation that you will be bouncing and countering a lot of cards. Again, the deck is guiding your opponents to look for something that isn’t there. While there are a few ways to counter spells (Render Silent), and there are a few cards that bounces permanents (Cyclonic Rift), that is not really what the deck does.

So what does the deck actually do? The deck performs best playing the coy, political game Andrew loves to play. The idea is to play out your spirits, but don’t play like a rushing theme deck. Always leave mana up. You want your opponents to believe you are able to counter their spells and bounce their creatures. You want to have a hand full of cards to keep your opponents guessing. All the while you are discouraging attacks from coming your way, and getting in some damage here and there until you can take the win.

My first game with the deck was a little bizarre, since I didn’t realize what I was supposed to be doing! The deck happened to feed me a lot of smaller Spirit tokens right away, so I went with it and ran as a regular token deck. I did some damage and it worked well enough, but eventually someone played some mass removal and cleared the board. This left me sitting there for quite a while, not threatening anyone in any way, mostly because I couldn’t! Eventually I found some gas, as the deck does draw plenty of cards, but I held it in hand and let everyone work against everyone else until it was just the two of us. I dropped the hammer with Cathars' Crusade and the game was over in short order.

After that I figured out how to play the deck and started to enjoy the small interactions, but mostly I loved the bluffing game so much of the deck is built to abuse! Just as your opponents think they have figured you out, you hit them with a counterspell and it is crushing as it seems to come from nowhere! Delightful!

Much like the precon decks (I felt like that is what we were trying to reproduce) you soon want to make it your own. With a deck like this, built with some budget considerations in mind, there are some additions that are relatively easy. There are a few others that I thought just fit the theme a little better. Hitting some of the high points:

Moorland Haunt
Mana Vault
Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit

Moorland Haunt - While the deck does have a few ways to get creatures out of the graveyard, a lot of those are creatures with soulshift, and I had decided to move away from that subtheme in the deck, so this hardly seemed a downside at all. The option to use some of that mana I was trying to keep open every turn just seemed like a good idea, and another 1/1 flying Spirit is nice to have around.

Mana Vault - I know these things cost a bundle but I own one and a deck with Brago in it just makes sense. I know Andrew was trying to make Brago a misdirection play, but I wanted to play it up a little bit and Mana Vault is a great way to abuse Brago a little without becoming completely reliant.

Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit - This is another Spirit and this one also gets much better with Brago. The joy is that it is pretty good without Brago too. With 33 creatures in the deck, you don’t need Brago to feel like you are abusing Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit. When you add to it that you are, quite literally, bolstering your plan to win with attacking spirits, this card just makes good sense in the deck.

Remorseful Cleric
Guiding Spirit
Bygone Bishop

Remorseful Cleric - Anyone who reads my articles regularly knows that I believe in being able to take out a graveyard. This deck doesn’t abuse the graveyard much and the Cleric makes sure that others don’t either.

Guiding Spirit - Speaking of abusing the graveyard, this Visions throwback can really mess people up. You are mostly using it to resurrect a recently deposed soul, but occasionally you can help out an opponent out. It is also a wonderful way to respond to someone who goes searching for a land. Just respond to the search effect by putting the creature sitting atop their graveyard into their library. They’ll be happy to shuffle it into the oblivion that is their library.

Bygone Bishop - I’m not sure this card is really worth it, since the deck already draws plenty of cards, but there are several small creatures in the deck, so I think this can really work for you. Besides, a 2/3 flying Spirit that can draw you cards seems like a great idea.

While it is easy to find cards you want to add to a deck to make it your own, the hard part is making room for those cards. While some of the cards I took out were cards that were just a little underpowered, some are a little more surprising:

Deadeye Navigator
Day of the Dragons

Deadeye Navigator - I completely understand how good this card is. In a dedicated Brago deck, Deadeye Navigator is amazing, giving enter the battlefield effects multiple times in a turn. In this deck it is a little less impressive since I have fewer creatures that do that, but it is still amazing. However, it draws attention to you and brings hate like few other cards do. That is definitely not what this deck wants. When you add to that the personal dislike I have for this card, it just has to go!

Soulshift cards - I took out most of the creatures with soulshift, focusing on the ones that do nothing beyond being a creature with soulshift. I appreciate being able to get them back from the graveyard, but there are other cards I want to add to the deck that just offer so much more.

Day of the Dragons - I have tried to make this card work in the past. I love the idea of taking several small creatures and turning them all into big dragons! I pictured huge swings and killing multiple opponents with piles of dragon tokens, or having them die and watching all my creatures come back into play and getting many enter the battlefield abilities or triggers of Cathars' Crusade! Oh, it would be glorious!

It doesn’t happen. You need enough creatures on the battlefield to make it worth it. And you don’t want them to be token creatures because someone will take out your Day of the Dragons and then you’ll be left with nothing. Then if you have enough creatures to make it worthwhile, you need to have the mana to play it. Then you need to actually cast it successfully. Then you need to be able to attack with the dragons. Folks, I love to dream big, I really do, but this isn’t a dream, it’s a trap.

So the update looks like this:

Brago’s Super-Sized Surprise | Commander | Bruce

The deck has stayed true to its original aim, but I’ve pumped it up a little bit, so if things go sideways, it can still hang. So far it has played well, but I’ll need a few more games of toying with opponents before I decide on any further changes.

With the holiday season upon us, I recommend trying a Secret Santa swap if you have a regular group. Getting a chance to build a deck for someone else lets them either enjoy trying a new style of deck or gives them a new perspective on how the group sees their play style. Either way, it was a ton of fun to both build a deck for someone else, and to play a deck made just for you!

Bruce Richard