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Dual Commander: Meren of Clan Nel Toth

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Alex Ullman is Associate Editor for Gathering Magic, a renowned Pauper (cube and Constructed) player, and member of the victorious 2009 Magic Online Community Cup team.You can find him on Twitter as @nerdtothecore.

Shortly after Meren of Clan Nel Toth was spoiled, I received a notification. My colleague in both editor status and Commander Carlos wanted us to go head-to-head in crafting a Meren deck. I loved the idea, as the newest Golgari legend from Jund was right up my alley. However, I had a feeling that, despite our best efforts, Carlos and I would come up with similar lists and include many of our favorite cards.

You see, Carlos and I talk about Commander—a lot. We have exchanged ideas so often that, many times, we would generate lists that are remarkably similar to each other. I decided to change the playing field—I suggested we each pre-ban ten cards and then have Adam Styborski ban ten more, giving us thirty cards we could not touch. The hope was this limit would drive us away from being too similar while also leaving some room for exploration. So let’s delve into what exactly was taken off the table for this challenge.

Alex’s Bans

Blood Artist

  1. Blood Artist/Falkenrath Noble/Zulaport Cutthroat
  2. Krovikan Horror
  3. Titania, Protector of Argoth
  4. Crucible of Worlds
  5. Tortured Existence
  6. Restore
  7. Petrified Field
  8. Eternal Witness
  9. Greenwarden of Murasa
  10. Deadbridge Chant

Let me talk a little bit about these bans. Blood Artist, Falkenrath Noble, and Zulaport Cutthroat are cards I love to include in my Commander decks. They sit back and generate incremental value while helping you to win the game. These cards also play right into my love of sacrificing my own creatures, so I decided to set them on the bench.

Krovikan Horror is a card I latched on to from Carlos. I love the ability to bring back creatures for no investment, and the Horror would not only power up the experience counters from Meren, but it would also fill the ’yard with amazing goodies. It had to go.

I know Carlos loves the chance to mess with lands. I have seen him take incredibly long turns just to have the opportunity to end up with one extra land on his play mat and one extra card in hand—seriously. To that end, I decided to take away some of his toys. I bid farewell to Titania, Crucible, Restore, and Petrified Field just to needle Carlos. For good measure, I took away one of his pet cards: Tortured Existence.

The final cards I excised from our exercise were all generic value cards. Eternal Witness, Greenwarden of Murasa, and Deadbridge Chant are just easy includes in any sort of deck that wants to use the graveyard as a second hand. Sure, I hamstrung myself some, but I’m willing to take on that challenge. It looked like my ban list hit the mark:


Carlos Gutierrez is an Associate Editor for Gathering Magic, an engineer-in-training, and a Commander and Pauper enthusiast. By day, he works as a STEM educator, but he spends his weekends hitting all his land drops and trying new board games, puzzles, and video games.

You can find all of him sharing Commander craziness, baked goods on Twitter, and complaints about graduate school at @cag5383.

Carlos’s Bans

We all have unique preferences in deck-building: particular cards or interactions that help to uniquely and personally identify a deck as being built by a given person. The problem is that these preferences can function as blinders, preventing us from exploring new spaces and finding novel interactions. From the moment I saw Alex’s bans, I knew this was going to be an awesome challenge. How would your decks change if you banned the first thirty cards that came to mind when you started building? How many exciting interactions can be found by just taking away everything familiar and forcing the exploration of new spaces? I absolutely can’t wait to find out. Here are the cards I’ve banned:

Buried Alive

  1. Entomb/Buried Alive
  2. Sheoldred, Whispering One
  3. Mikaeus, the Unhallowed
  4. Avenger of Zendikar
  5. Woodfall Primus
  6. Skullclamp
  7. Attrition
  8. Cabal Coffers
  9. Kessig Cagebreakers
  10. Phyrexian Altar/Ashnod's Altar

My goal with these was to take all the obvious enablers off the table. No more pseudo-tutors like Entomb, none of the easy-mode sacrifice outlets like Attrition or Skullclamp, and none of the obvious reanimation targets. If the idea behind this challenge is to force us to find novel ways of enabling and abusing Meren, I think this is a great place to start.

Past that, I want to make sure obvious combos were off the table. Mikaeus is a fantastic combo piece and recursion engine that does a great job of helping ramp up experience counters on Meren. That definitely has to go. Similarly, since recursion with a lot of mana tends to be a pretty good combo in Commander, I wanted to get rid of Cabal Coffers. The last card I banned is an Alex Ullman classic: Kessig Cagebreakers. I’ve seen Alex do some absurd things with this card in decks that were only loosely built around the graveyard. I don’t want to know what he can do with it in a dedicated recursion deck.


Adam’s Bans

Sakura-Tribe Elder

  1. Sakura-Tribe Elder
  2. Yavimaya Granger
  3. Yavimaya Elder
  4. Jarad's Orders
  5. Bone Shredder
  6. Craterhoof Behemoth
  7. Grave Titan
  8. Sol Ring
  9. Bayou
  10. Overgrown Tomb

There're a ton of archetypical staples that appear in Commander decks, everything from this year's deck from Wizards in the colors down through years of decks preceding. I want to ensure there is some attention to esoteric options and that the mans wasn't the same build seen time and again. It's easy to become caught up filling in the base of a deck with staples, and these bans would ensure that some more variety would be at play.


Carlos

Carlos’s Deck

My first thoughts on building a deck around Meren focused on making use of Titania, Protector of Argoth in conjunction with the likes of Satyr Wayfinder and Life from the Loam to assemble powerful combinations of lands and build an indomitable board of 5/3s. With Sakura-Tribe Elder and Yavimaya Granger helping to ramp up the experience counters and Eternal Witness and Greenwarden of Murasa helping to buy back enablers and board-control elements, it’s easy to imagine an awesome attrition deck that just plays the most efficient answers and most powerful value creatures in the format. It’s a testament Alex’s and Adam’s knowledge of my preferences that they cleanly eviscerated that plan with their bans.

Since I couldn’t rely on Sakura-Tribe Elder for reliable ramp, I decided to lean on Eldrazi Scions and Eldrazi Spawn. Sure, they don’t fix colored mana, but they do just sit in play until you resolve Meren and allow you to immediately put a whole mess of experience counters on her, letting her trigger make it up to Emeria, the Sky Ruin status as soon as possible. Here’s my take on Meren:

Meren of Clan Nel Toth ? Commander | Carlos Gutierrez

  • Commander (0)

Strionic Resonator
The single card I’m most excited about in this deck is Strionic Resonator. This is the card that pushes Meren from good to absolutely busted, particularly if you’ve worked your way up to four or more experience using Eldrazi Spawn. In order to maximize the power of Strionic Resonator, there are a few cards that I was very excited to include, such as Sculpting Steel to copy the resonator, Guardian Beast to protect my supporting cast of artifacts, and Glissa, the Traitor to buy them back.

Any good attrition deck needs a way to manage to board state. Given that I’ve decided to focus on using Eldrazi Spawn to rack up experience, I’d like to think the solution I came up with is cute, if not particularly efficient. You see, Scions not only trigger Meren, but also Grave Pact, Dictate of Erebos, and Reaper from the Abyss to help keep the board under control—and also enable Salvaging Station to boot.

The deck is rounded out with a few backup engines and some protection against graveyard hate. Triskelavus and Mortarpod team up with Basilisk Collar to provide both removal and experience counters. Diligent Farmhand, Burnished Hart, and Dawntreader Elk do reasonable impressions of Sakura-Tribe Elder and Yavimaya Granger. Battlefield Scrounger helps to protect key pieces from an untimely Bojuka Bog. Piece that together with Wurmcoil Engine, Thunderfoot Baloth, and Bloodspore Thrinax as win conditions, and I think we have a pretty great deck.


Alex

Alex’s Response

Glissa, the Traitor
I had a feeling Carlos would pursue a Glissa, the Traitor engine in part because I had considered a similar build. I’m impressed with just how much Carlos managed to cram into his build. When I saw Solemn Simulacrum, I was sure one of us had banned it, but alas, I simply neglected to include it in my deck.

The above deck is quintessential Carlos, and if he had pulled out that deck at a Grand Prix for a game of Commander, it would not shock me. There are a ton of moving pieces, but they’re all pointed in the same direction: forward. Carlos’s game plans tend toward unbound growth, and his decks resemble the boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark: Don’t let them get started or you’ll end up trapped in the Stone Idol Trap.

Here’s what I liked:

Tokens — Man, oh man, look at all those Eldrazi Scion and Spawn! At one point, I looked for Broodwarden because I thought that would have been awesome, but alas—it’s nowhere to be found.

Lands — We couldn’t take away all of Carlos’s terra firma, and the presence of Life from the Loam and Spawning Bed is just awesome. Slow clap. There’s a great chance I’ll be banning Realms Uncharted in every green one of these challenges moving forward.

The one thing I wonder: Where are your reset buttons, Carlos? Someone is gonna stop your boulder roll, and how will you get back into the game?

Alex’s Deck

So I went in a slightly different direction.

You see, when I saw Adam taking out excellent mana-fixing, one card came to mind: Gilt-Leaf Palace. And I latched onto the card for dear life. Here is where I ended up:

Meren of Clan Nel Toth ? Commander | Alex Ullman

  • Commander (0)

So I started on Elves and immediately jumped to Nath of the Gilt-Leaf. Until recently, Nath was in charge of my Golgari deck, and I was a fan of his ability to make an obscene number of tokens with Sadistic Hypnotist, much to the chagrin of my opponents. Hypnotist was also a free sacrifice outlet in my quest for more experience.

Nath of the Gilt-Leaf
After getting myself back on the path, I started to think of all the Elves at my disposal. Elvish Scrapper and Elvish Lyrist led me to look at other 1-power creatures—like Heart Warden—in a small Shirei, Shizo's Caretaker package. Skullwinder is perfect as a replacement for Eternal Witness, as it allows us to build alliances as we develop our position.

I’ll be honest: I was shocked when no one banned Grave Pact and friends. The Pact is an integral part of playing any deck with which you are throwing out undersized creatures. Being able to send your Elves to their untimely demise and actually extract value . . . well, that is pretty sweet. Grave Pact is one of my all-time favorite Commander cards because of how it forces people to play: Once it hits, you have a greater degree of control over what happens in the game.

Eventually, the game should reach a point at which you can easily recur any creature. Hopefully, at this point, you are able to recur Shaman of the Pack to dome various adversaries. Blasting Station and Altar of Dementia help with free sacrifice outlets while Altar also lets you fill your graveyard for potential Meren rebuys.

Let’s talk tutors. I am okay with running a few cards that help stitch together a deck, and running a tribal base gives this version of Meren some robust options. Skyshroud Poacher is the best of the lot, as it allows us to find any darn Elf we wish. Wirewood Herald has the added bonus of needing to die to trigger an elvish tutor, and Elvish Harbinger taps for mana after it sculpts our draw.

For some reason, I ended up minimizing the number of artifacts in this deck, and I’m okay with that. This has the benefit of lowering a threat profile, but that isn’t to say a card like Nim Deathmantle would not be appropriate—except, you know, it turns things into Zombies. Ick.

So, tell me, Carlos, were you expecting something like these when you set up the challenge?


Carlos

Carlos’s Response

Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest
There are a handful of things that are enormously exciting to me about this deck. First and foremost is how many noncreature interactions Alex was able to fit in. Between Viridian Zealot, Elvish Scrapper, Elvish Lyrist, and Sylvok Replica, the powerful artifacts and enchantments that tend to take over Commander games aren’t going to be a problem.

Reaper of the Wilds is a great pickup for a deck with this many creatures that sacrifice themselves, and it is something I wish I’d picked up on as a backup Catacomb Sifter. Blasting Station is a great sacrifice outlet once Altars and Attrition have been cut off. Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest is an awesome pickup from the new Commander set. Last, Shirei is an incredible choice with all the small Elves in Alex’s list, and it is always a card I’m excited to see on the battlefield.

All told, even with the bans in place, this deck manages to embody the feeling of playing against one of Alex’s decks. Alex builds his decks so that every time there is an exchange of resources, even if you get what you wanted, he comes out ahead. All of the little value engines and interactions slowly push this deck further and further ahead until you’re not quite sure where your life total went.


Alex

Yeah, I enjoyed this exercise so much I actually rebuilt my beloved Golgari Commander deck with Mazirek in charge. You know what’s awesome with Mazirek? Seals!

No, not that . . . 

Wait, what?

Seal of Primordium

[poll id="714"]


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