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Kemba Attrition


I love white decks in Commander—not because they’re good. I mean, let’s be candid for a minute: Most mono-white decks are pretty terrible relative to what other colors can do. Once you get past splashable staples such as Swords to Plowshares, Stoneforge Mystic, and Austere Command, what else is there? How much more does white have to offer?

Kemba, Kha Regent
So, I don’t like white decks because they’re powerful. Rather, I like them because they play the kind of Magic I enjoy playing most: attrition. From commanders like Darien, King of Kjeldor and Kemba, Kha Regent to value lands like Emeria, the Sky Ruin, white decks can generate a lot of free resources. The question is what you do with those resources afterward to make a meaningful impact on the game.

That’s what I love about white decks: puzzling over converting resources. For me, white decks are a glorious kind of Rube Goldberg machine. Other colors have powerful, swingy, game-ending cards such as Sepulchral Primordial, Palinchron, and Avenger of Zendikar. The white decks have grindy cards such as Angel of Serenity that you have to combine with your Trading Post and Emeria, the Sky Ruin to begin making any progress.

You don’t win because your cards are overpowered or because you’re doing something better than the rest of the table. Let’s be serious: Storm Herd does not compare well to the likes of Exsanguinate, Insurrection, Tooth and Nail, or Time Stretch. When you shuffle up these decks, you win games because you used all of the tricks available to you to do more stuff than all of your opponents and be the last player left with a threat that mattered.


My white deck of choice for the last several years has been Kemba, Kha Regent. Cats, creature tokens, and Equipment are among my favorite things, so it’s pretty tough for me to argue with this combination of effects. This particular deck started out as pure Cat Tribal Voltron, but it since has evolved into a monstrously grindy attrition deck that sometimes aggros people out with Swords.

The deck is built to accrue small advantages over the course of a longer game—one Sword hit or Trading Post activation at a time. Very few cards don’t generate some inherent card advantage, and the ones that don’t tend to make your opponents dead. Throw in a few card-advantage wombo-combos and utility answers, and we have a monster of a deck that’s a blast to play. Let’s take a look:

Kemba, Kha Regent ? Commander | Carlos Gutierrez

  • Commander (0)


This deck’s plan has four key pieces: mana, value, protection, and interaction. We’ll start with the mana and briefly run down each of these pieces.

Strong Mana

Urza's Tower
The importance of a strong mana base cannot be overstated. Without it, you’ll never be able to out-mana your opponents in such a way that you can compete with their powerful spells. You have plenty of Equipment to cast and move around, and it’s not uncommon for Kemba’s cost to hit 7 or more. You want to do all of this while casting your other spells and interacting with your opponents. These costs add up rather quickly, and all this mana has to come from somewhere.

To that end, you often spend the early turns of the game assembling powerful colorless lands such as Cloudpost, Urza’s lands, and Temple of the False God. Otherwise, you can assemble a recursion engine that lets you loop through Kor Cartographer, Solemn Simulacrum, and Burnished Hart enough times that you have enough mana to operate with. Everflowing Chalice for 5 or more is not uncommon in the midgame, and it is usually key to setting up the big turns you need to take out your opponents.


Shield of Kaldra
The whole deck and engine is built around Kemba. You abuse the extra tokens, kill people with commander damage, and rely on her as a constant source of pressure and advantage. Because Kemba is such a powerful threat, she tends to draw a lot of removal. The problem is that if she isn’t on the board, you can’t really get your value engines revving.

To that end, it’s critically important to find ways to keep her around. The very best cards for this are Darksteel Plate and Shield of Kaldra. They may be expensive, but once Kemba is indestructible, it’s pretty easy to suit her up with Swords or hexproof-granting Equipment to make her all but untouchable. You can go even deeper if you want by suiting up Indomitable Archangel with some indestructible or shroudy goodness for yet another layer of protection.


Puresteel Paladin
Value is the heart and soul of my Commander decks: Emeria, Nim Deathmantle, and Trading Post. Even Angel of Serenity is just a way of grinding out extra cards to make sure you’re the last one with a threat. Mimic Vat for value creatures is as awesome here as it is anywhere else. Nim Deathmantle is still stupidly unfair, especially with sacrifice outlets like Mortarpod. Toss in a Skullclamp or a Basilisk Collar, and we’re well on our way to taking over a game.

My two favorite cards are Puresteel Paladin and Mentor of the Meek. Mentor should be pretty obvious, but Puresteel Paladin does one cool trick that I’ve written about once before. Sacrifice your Equipment to Piston Sledge, and Faith's Reward everything back for an enormous burst of card advantage in the late game! Is it good? It absolutely isn’t, but it’s among my favorite cute interactions from a bad Standard deck I enjoyed.

Even Stonehewer Giant does a pretty good impression of a value engine. This deck is good at making creatures die, so the Giant’s first target can be Thornbite Staff. From there, you can go off with Mortarpod and other crazy nonsense to put most of the Equipment in your deck onto the battlefield.


Mangara of Corondor
At some point, you have to actually stop your opponents from doing things. The easiest way to do that is to clear their creatures out of the way and just kill them. Mortarpod or Thornbite Staff with deathtouch is a good place to start when you’re dealing with creatures. Leonin Bola does a fine Glare of Subdual impression. Having the ability to leverage your tokens to break a stalemate is crucial to keeping pretty on the rest of the table.

Sometimes, though, it’s a card that’s the problem instead of a player. In that case, Mangara of Corondor and Angel of Serenity are the effects you’re looking for. With both of these, you can use their abilities and sacrifice them with that on the stack. With Mangara, that lets you save him to kill additional permanents later. With Angel of Serenity, it means you are able to exile creatures instead of giving your opponents their guys back.

With Emeria, Nim Deathmantle, and Mimic Vat as recursion engines, you have access to as many of these effects as you need once you’ve found the first one.

So that’s the plan. No single thing that this deck does is excessively powerful. The trick is that when you develop a strong mana advantage, you can do a lot of little things. These small interactions and edges add up over the course of a game. As long as you can keep your value engines going, everyone else will eventually run out of cards, and you’ll be the last one with threats on the table. To that end, redundancy and resiliency are critically important. The goal is to build your deck such that your various engines can feed into one another.


I’ve always been of the opinion that good decks never stop evolving. Over the years, Kemba has changed pretty significantly, but nothing has promised to change Kemba up more than this week’s Magic: The Gathering—Commander (2014 Edition) previews. It starts with the awesome ramp tool that is Myriad Landscape and abusable mana rocks like Commander's Sphere and Unstable Obelisk. There’s also the promise of fun, swingy Equipment like Assault Suit. But the biggest potential change is the new white Planeswalker Nahiri.

Nahiri, the Lithomancer
Stoneforge Mystic is back, and she’s found a spark. Besides the awesome story that goes along with Nahiri, we have a set of abilities that’s basically custom-designed for white-based attrition decks. There aren’t many cards that can compare favorably to Elspeth, Knight-Errant, but Nahiri does. For an extra mana you have a +2 that nets a guy and moves Equipment around for free. In Commander, that’s a pretty strict upgrade. You also have some additional resiliency to removal with her ability to rebuy Equipment.

The question is whether Nahiri replaces Kemba as the commander of this deck—or if she fits better into the ninety-nine. Having consistent access to both creatures and Equipment recursion is powerful, and Nahiri would open up a ton of deck-building space by letting you cut some copies of Darksteel Plate and Champion's Helm effects.

However, What Nahiri lacks is Kemba’s ability to run away with a game, either by overwhelming opponents in Cats or by just stealing a game with commander damage. This style of deck needs an abundance of resources, and Kemba gives you a lot more to work with, even if Nahiri is more flexible. White decks need at least one powerful thing going for them, and while Nahiri is new and exciting, Kemba is still more powerful.

Whispers of the Muse

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