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Toxic Avengers: Ikoria War - Let's Play with Mutate

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Last week, I talked about the massive quantity of new stuff bearing down on us with Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths and Commander 2020 set to release at the same time. Faced with this onslaught of goodness I decided to start by slotting new cards into old decks. Now, we get to really dive in and build around a new commander!

Decisions Decisions

I'll be honest, I had a hard time finding a new legendary creature, or pair of creatures, that really spoke to me. So I chose to work from the bottom up, ruling out possibilities one by one.

The first two eliminations were fairly easy. I know many people who are already brewing around Gyruda, Doom of Depths (either as a commander or a Companion) and Winota, Joiner of Forces, and I wanted to avoid those well-trodden paths. I also ruled out the use of a Companion right off the bat (but stay tuned - we won't be avoiding Companions for long).

I was also able to cross out nearly all of the Commander 2020 legends, not because there aren't some intriguing choices - I will absolutely build a deck around Brallin, Skyshark Rider and Shabraz the Skyshark because it's a frickin' shark with frickin' eagle wings - but because I felt a mighty need to immediately play with what is, to my eye, the most intriguing new mechanic by far - Mutate.

Now we have a much more manageable handful of options, all intriguing:

Brokkos, Apex of Forever
Illuna, Apex of Wishes

Nethroi, Apex of Death
Otrimi, the Ever-Playful
Vadrok, Apex of Thunder

What a fun group of legends, each with its own universe of possibilities! Alas, we've still got to winnow things down. The first to go was Illuna, Apex of Wishes; I've already got a Temur deck in Riku of Two Reflections, and while an Illuna deck will certainly play much differently than Riku, I very much wanted to seize the opportunity to work in a color group that's new for me.

In Sultai we have two options - Brokkos, Apex of Forever and Otrimi, the Ever-Playful. Both deal with the graveyard, which is decidedly outside my comfort zone; Brokkos, in particular, seems fun because it's one of the rare commanders you actually want to go to graveyard. That wasn't quite enough for it to make the cut, however. Brokkos is out.

Otrimi presents a great value proposition. With trample, it allows you to swing in with your mutate creatures and/or sacrifice them for value and then get them back. I wouldn't be shocked a bit if I built an Otrimi deck one day, but with graveyard hate so prevalent in Commander (and particularly within the group of people with whom I play most often) today will not be that day.

We're down to three! Nethroi, Apex of Death has a similar feel to Otrimi in that it brings things back from the graveyard, though it puts them straight back onto the battlefield and isn't restricted to those with Mutate abilities. On the other hand, Vadrok, Apex of Thunder lets us recur noncreature cards, pushing us more toward enchantress or spellslinger style decks.

Each has a ton of potential in a format bursting at the seams with cheap but effective cards. But neither lit my fire quite like Snapdax, Apex of the Hunt, and with the help of the great folks on my Discord server it was time to start putting together a pile.

Snapdax, Apex of the Hunt

Keep it Simple

Since I'm experimenting not only with a new mechanic in Mutate but also a new (to me) color combination in Mardu, I like that Snapdax is straightforward - just mutate and burn your way to victory. As simple as it gets.

When I build a deck centered around a theme, I like to start with the obviously on-theme inclusions - so let's grab all the Red, White and Black cards with the Mutate mechanic.

Necropanther
Cubwarden
Dirge Bat
Cloudpiercer

Now this is a pile. My brain is on fire imagining all the horrifying, glorious combinations we could build with these and the rest of the nasties on the list. Cloudpiercer allows us to loot, Vulpikeet lets the monster get bigger and fly, Chittering Harvester and Dirge Bat work appendage-in-appendage with Snapdax to clear our opponents' boards, and Cavern Whisperer can empty out our opponents' hands and deny them answers.

There are a number of sub-themes and other synergies that present themselves here, but first we need to take care of the other "simple" part of the build - ramp. All the usual suspects are here; Sol Ring, Chromatic Lantern, Orzhov Signet, Boros Signet, and Rakdos Signet are going to do a lot of heavy lifting for us. We also get to take the new Savai Crystal for a spin, and I've got to say I'm very excited for this cycle. Nothing feels worse than drawing a two-color signet late in the game when you're trying to topdeck a critical answer or wincon, and having the cycling ability stapled onto these crystals makes them so much more valuable in Commander.

No big surprises when it comes to lands. We've got the full suite of matching shocklands, temples and checklands. Command Tower and Command Beacon are here, as are the available tainted lands, Tainted Peak and Tainted Field, a cycle I love and feel is criminally underplayed in our format. We end up at 35 lands, a number that I am quite sure is too low for some of you, but we have tons of other ramp in the deck (Dockside Extortionist, Cartographer's Hawk, Land Tax, Sword of the Animist, and Smothering Tithe among others) and even 35 is a bit high for my taste.

Snapdax, Apex of the Hunt | Commander | Dave Kosin


Clearly we want to Mutate early and often for value, but how we do we finish the job? That's where we call in some old, faithful friends.

We want to make the most of both Snapdax's ability and our attacks, so it's a good thing we're in Red - we have access to damage doublers like Warstorm Surge, Charging Tuskodon, Furnace of Rath, Dictate of the Twin Gods and Gratuitous Violence. If things go exceptionally well and we can get two or three of these effects out at the same time, we can easily take out several of our opponents, if not all of them, in a single turn. Aurelia, the Warleader and Savage Beating can certainly help with that, too.

There's plenty of removal in the deck, starting with Snapdax itself and continuing on with a stalwart in Living Death and a host of enticing new options: Extinction Event, Ruinous Ultimatum, Deadly Rollick, and Mythos of Snapdax could each be game-enders for us. I considered adding other classics like Wrath of God, In Garruk's Wake, Settle the Wreckage and others, but I want to see first whether the new cards in this deck can effectively get the job done on their own. I'm optimistic.

Ultimately, this deck wants to win with creatures doing damage. There are no alternate wincons here, no trap doors to sneak through when the going gets tough. Either this deck will work or it won't, and if it does work it should work very, very well.

That should give you a window into my deck-building philosophy. By and large if I'm building a deck around a theme, I'm all the way in on that theme. I don't at all have a problem with alternate wincons and Plan Bs for when the primary line isn't there. When I set out to test a hypothesis - in this case, whether I can take advantage of the Mutate mechanic and my commander's synergy with it enough to win - then that is my sole focus. Winning the game another way tells me absolutely nothing.

That fits right in with my personal philosophy on Commander. Whether I win or lose is incidental; if my opponents and I all had a fun, memorable experience, we've all won. If I sit down with my friends and say, "I built this Snapdax deck, here's how I hope it will work" they'll be just as happy as I am when it goes way I want it to.

Or, alternatively, they'll be salty as hell. You never know.

Dave is a Commander player currently residing in Reno, NV. When he's not badly misplaying his decks, he works as a personal trainer. You can bother him on Twitter and check out his Twitch channel.

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