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Isperia, Supreme Judge of Fun

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Building theme decks is one of the joys of Commander, and it’s something that sets it apart from other formats. I remember trying to build theme decks in the dark ages before EDH existed and finally realizing there was no format my goofy cards-that-are-also-the-titles-of-songs deck was going to be legal in, much less be playable. Commander lets us give those thematic deck ideas a home (although, as for the song-titles theme deck, it's still terrible).

Isperia, Supreme Judge
When I started putting a deck together around Isperia, Supreme Judge, I thought I might be able to take themed deck-building to another level. What if I carried the theme through not just the cards I selected for the deck, but the way I played the deck? And what if that theme didn't just affect my strategy, but also the social/political aspect of a Commander match? At that point, a Commander match becomes something a little bit like a role-playing game. Of course, you're not rolling d20s to make skill checks or calculating Isperia's THAC0. The idea is to make in-game choices based on the deck's persona instead of always making the most optimal play.

Before we can start role-playing, we have to build a properly themed deck. With Isperia, the theme is pretty obvious: She's a judge. There are a lot of judgment-themed cards (Supreme Verdict, Day of Judgment, Karmic Justice, Council's Judgment), along with plenty of crime-and-punishment cards (Prison Term, Condemn, Detention Sphere). But to fill out the deck, we need to think of Isperia as a character—and to think about the stories she'll be part of.

We can imagine each Commander game involving Isperia as a sort of Magic-themed courtroom drama with all the trappings of legal authority, the weight of justice, and a cast of other characters that carry out the will of the court. Courtrooms have juries, so that gives us cards like Fact or Fiction, Recurring Insight, and Careful Consideration, along with the Conspiracy voting cards, which are so much fun in Commander. Courts usually have bailiffs around to maintain order, so we have Angelic Field Marshal and Elite Inquisitor, and in a more passive way, we have Mystic Barrier and Wall of Denial.

There are some interesting characters working for the court, too. Sometimes Arbiter of Knollridge is called in to help with a difficult decision. Thada Adel, Acquisitor works to uncover crucial evidence in the cases before the court (if that seems like a stretch, I'll admit it's just really fun to dig around in opponents’ decks). Spurnmage Advocate is a lawyer always looking to cut a deal—he'll free two lesser criminals in exchange for putting a bigger threat behind bars. Jace Beleren appears as an expert witness, providing additional information when you put him on the stand.

What's a courtroom drama without objections? Isperia is packing several counterspells to turn aside key arguments or deny faulty lines of questioning. Overruled! When Isperia does finally make her judgment, it can be a narrow decision or a sweeping reform. Sometimes Path to Exile is enough to send a strong message, but other times, only a sweeper will get the job done.

Finally we have odds and ends, effects that fit the theme but are maybe not the best cards in the deck. Judge's Familiar and Due Respect are both pretty bad, but it's so hard to cut cards that are that perfect for the theme. Robe of Mirrors is actually a very nice way to protect your Commander, and what else would a judgy Sphinx wear to court?

Like all Commander lists, this is by no means in its final form. There are some places the theme could be tightened up. (Adarkar Wastes, Phyrexian Ingester, and Cyclonic Rift don't make much sense.) The land count might be a little low, although this deck draws cards so efficiently it's never been a problem. The ability to render judgment effectively would also benefit from a few tutors and niche answers such as Containment Priest or Aven Mindcensor. I think a couple more sweepers would be nice—if Isperia is going to hand down a decision, it better count for something.

Hunding Gjornersen
The biggest flaw is that the deck doesn't have much of a win condition. Isperia herself tends to be your biggest threat, which is fine since you have the counterspells to protect her, but some Equipment (Basilisk Collar, Loxodon Warhammer, your favorite Sword) or Auras could push the win-via-Commander-damage angle harder. It might also be interesting to pick some classic control finishers such as Inkwell Leviathan or Sphinx of Jwar Isle—Isperia makes the judgment, but she doesn't get her hands dirty. My favorite scenario here is a Baneslayer Angel with Diplomatic Immunity. Another possibility: Make all of the court's magistrates and marshals specific characters. More legends! Avacyn, Guardian Angel would be perfect with the ability to throw a beatdown but also protect creatures and players you choose to protect. Less useful, but very fun for the what-card-is-that aspect, Hunding Gjornersen makes for a fine sheriff. Lavinia of the Tenth is another great character in this courtroom saga, while Michiko Konda, Truth Seeker is a natural fit as well.

Now we have a solid theme deck. We've established that Isperia is judging something, but what is she basing her decisions on? Fun. With this deck, you become the arbiter of what is and isn't fun at your Commander table. That's why I call this deck Isperia, Supreme Judge of Fun. How do you judge fun? That's obviously going to differ from one player to another, and this play style doesn't work if you're really focused on being the Spike at the table. I tend to use Isperia for things like keeping another player alive when he or she might be facing an early exit or protecting a moderately threatening creature or enchantment so its owner has a chance to use it. If I know the Kaalia of the Vast player isn't playing a combo and just wants to drop a few crazy Demons on the board, I'll try to give her at least one chance to enjoy the attack trigger (and then play a sweeper once she's had her fun).

Counters are nice for disrupting annoying combos or endless durdle turns. You can also deploy your removal and counterspells to help out if one player seems to be getting ganged up on. Some of the deck's effects are nice for resetting the board state when it reaches that point of being too complicated to be enjoyable anymore. And of course, you can play kingmaker, helping to decide who wins and even pushing the game to a conclusion on those occasions when it drags on too long.

Custodi Squire
Funny thing about judges: A lot of them have political aspirations as well. Isperia is not above trading favors for power. Once the table knows you have answers to a lot of threats and the ability to shape the board state, they may be interested in earning your good graces. The Conspiracy voting cards are great in this scenario. Hey there, Rhys the Redeemed player, wouldn't it be sad if I played Supreme Verdict and killed all your tokens? Maybe you can help me gain extra value of out my Custodi Squire, and I'll forget to destroy all your creatures for a turn or two.

Don't forget to play up the story aspect. When you play a counterspell, yell, "Objection, your honor!" Whenever you cast Isperia, solemnly say, "All rise." Even cards that seem a little off theme can fit if your storytelling is strong enough. Courtrooms are full of weird ceremonies and traditions, so maybe in this one, we gather around the Hallowed Fountain before we get to the Righteous Authority, and maybe the Archon of Justice resides in a Coastal Tower. And before we can get to the business of judging things, we have to pay our respects to Ephara, God of the Polis, under whose purview all matters of civil and criminal justice fall.

So far, this is the only role-playing Commander deck I've built. I have an idea for a W/B Athreos, God of Passage deck with a religious order of Clerics and other cards that reference faith, but the initial tribal cleric idea was terribly boring, so I need to rethink it. The idea of a cult that cultists of which readily sacrifices themselves because they exert control over the boundary between life and death could turn into a really fun deck.

What other legends would make for good role-playing decks? An Ascendant Evincar deck that actively helps out any other player at the table playing black and openly hates anyone who isn't would alter the political aspect of a Commander game pretty significantly. I also like the idea of an Edric, Spymaster of Trest deck that works to discover hidden information, such as by peeking at an opponent's hand or what's on top of his or her deck. There’s finally a home for Mesmeric Sliver and Spin into Myth, and Gitaxian Probe is an obvious choice. It's a fun to imagine a situation in which someone wants to play a big spell and wonders if he or she has to play around a counterspell. How much would that information be worth? How about a Rafiq of the Many deck that takes the idea of putting forth a single champion to battle to an extreme and only uses legendary creatures? Rafiq and his band of heroes!


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