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No End in Sight to Simic's Woes



A lament of mine of late is that Simic is really difficult to build 75%. It feels as though Simic commanders are either too efficient and powerful or they're terrible. Why I struggle to build a satisfying version of Tatyova ,when the perfect Simic commander, Rashmi, Eternities Crafter, exists is beyond me. Nevertheless I continue to try and change Tatyova into something it's not rather than let it be the busted, annoying-to-play-against deck it was born to be and that's probably because I want to finally confer 75% status on a Simic commander that seems a little too good on the surface. People have suggested making Tatyova a deck where I have to kill them with my lands by playing a card like Rude Awakening and that could be fun. It occurred to me this week, to my chagrin, that winning with Psychosis Crawler isn't much different from winning with Laboratory Maniac and I was probably going to have to go back to the drawing board.

I was saved from said trip to said board with the unveiling of a new Simic commander that looks just as game-breaking and over-powerful as any they've printed lately and which will prove a welcome distraction from my Tatyova troubles. I'm sure you know about which commander I'm talking.

Prime Speaker Vannifar

The first thing you probably think when you gaze upon this beast of an... Elf Ooze Wizard? Seriously? OK, fine. The first thing you probably think when you gaze upon this beast of an Elf Ooze Wizard is "Intruder Alarm" and that makes you a monster and I need you to know that it's OK that you're a monster. You didn't print this card, Wizards of the Coast did and while the thing you're thinking aren't 75% thoughts, not every deck needs to be 75%. I think that we can, without making dumb and bad choices, make this deck 75%. That may seem like sort of a gutsy statement and if you think so, brace yourself because I'm going to double down. I think the 75% deck I have in mind is PREFERABLE to the dumb one you're all mentally brewing. I think Vannifar can solve the problem of Simic commanders being too good by, ironically, being better than the commanders that are too good. How is this possible? To answer that question, we'll need to look a bit into the history of 75% deck-building.

If people only read one article about 75% deck-building, I would prefer that they made it this one, which I wrote in December of 2014 after I had been writing about 75% theory for almost a year. I didn't understand 75% deck-building as well as I do now, but I feel like at that point, we came up with 8 guidelines that continue to inform how I orient myself during deck-building. One rule in particular, "You can skew toward power, provided you skew away from consistency," could use a bit of a mulligan. If I were to rewrite that sentence today, the gist would be more than linearity is the enemy of good times. Consistency and linearity seem like they might be interchangeable and I blamed a lot of what I wasn't enjoying about decks that were "too good" for a 75% table on consistency, but the more I learned about how to build 75% decks, the more I learned that linearity is very different and is the true culprit. Inconsistent decks have 20 lands and sometimes don't do anything for 8 turns. Linear decks consistently generate infinite mana, draw their deck with Thrasios and win with Laboratory Maniac. It's no fun to run nothing but three mana rocks and have to mulligan all the time or have a ton of six-drops and not much else so you win the games where you curve out and can't compete in ones you don't. Linearity is boring, consistency just keeps you from being miserable.

I think you can build a Prime Speaker Zannifar deck linearly but I think it's more fun not to. I'll get back to this in a minute.

The other lesson we can glean from revisiting the 8 Simple Rules article is that you will ideally "Try to vary the game experience, and build with multiple paths to victory in mind." Having Psychosis Crawler be the only win condition other than "Meloku, sometimes, in a pinch" really violates the spirit of this guideline and I literally didn't even think about that until I started to write this article and pulled up the old article and re-read it. If the guy who came up with these guidelines can occasionally forget them (that article is over 4 years old) then anyone can be forgiven for needing a refresher. It's no wonder I struggle with my 75% Tatyova build - I didn't even build it with all of my own guidelines in mind. It's not 75%. No wonder I'm not having fun!

Now if I make the bold claim that Zannifar is better than Tatyova and also that it's going to be easier to build a 75% Zannifar deck than it has been to build a 75% Tatyova deck, I'm going to have to explain myself thoroughly. When you think about it, it actually makes sense and the secret lies in that forgotten sentence from our 8 Simple Rules article.

Try to vary the game experience, and build with multiple paths to victory in mind.

When you look at what Tatyova does, it rewards you a ton for doing something very Green - putting lands into playing and it rewards you by doing something very Blue - drawing you cards. It's linear to the max because any cards you include that aren't dedicated to helping you play a ton of lands, benefit from having a lot of cards or are a win condition. I find myself using Eldrazi as a shuffle effect more often than I find myself actually summoning them and attacking with them. I don't have multiple paths to victory and when your creatures are part of the combo rather than actual creatures, you have a linearity problem. Tatyova's effect is subtle, a card and a life for doing something you're normally only allowed to do once and only on your own turn, but it's also terribly linear as you strive to break the rules and play more than one land. Vannifar's effect is far less subtle but it's also far less linear, provided you build the deck with a non-linear approach in mind. Instead of a Pod Chain we're building a toolbox. Vannifar is going to get us out of jams and generate value but we're not playing any creatures like Pestermite or Breaching Hippocamp. Creatures are going to want to do a little bit more than merely untap Vannifar. If we can construct a toolbox of cards that come into play and get us value, albeit at sorcery speed, we can focus on doubling or quadrupling the triggers rather than untapping Vannifar a bunch. Also, if you think Jason "I played both Intruder Alarm and Opposition in Elves before it was cool" Alt isn't putting Intruder Alarm in the deck, you're wrong, so why play Aphetto Alchemist?

With a toolbox approach rather than a combo approach, we're going to focus on getting the most out of every creature we put into play. We will want a sequence, true, but we won't rely on a chain meaning we can focus on creatures with better ETB abilities than "Untap your commander." We're going to run the standard fare like Umbral Mantle to have big turns, but our support cards will do the untapping rather than the creatures. This lets us run better creatures than the "standard" Vannifar decks I have seen theorized so far. Panharmonicon, Conjurer's Closet and various other value tools that aren't much good when you're chaining a Deceiver Exarch into... name a terrible card for four mana that untaps Vannifar, will make even smaller creatures drawn late and hard-cast into valuable plays. Coiling Oracle is fine, Coiling Oracle with Panharmonicon out which turns into Eternal Witness with Panharmonicon out is better. If I am interpreting Magic Rule 706.2 correctly, a token copy made with something like Minion Reflector would have the same Converted Mana cost as the creature it's copying, meaning you can sacrifice the token to get something that has a greater CMC rather than fetching a 1-drop. If this isn't correct, let me know in the comments below and I'll write an addendum. If I'm wrong, I'm confused about why Embalm specifically mentions that the token made in this way has no mana cost. Also, if I'm wrong, the deck is still good.

Of course we'll be using Persist creatures where we can since a lot of them have valuable ETB abilities and they can live to fight another day. Put all of these elements together and you have a deck that can find answers like crazy and win through value rather than through a silly combo. Here is what I think I would want my list to look like.

This may or may not be good, but it's a good starting place. I currently don't have many tutors outside of my commander and that may change but for right now, I feel like I have a lot of ways to get value at any CMC and copying the creatures only gives me more value. I like all of the artifacts in this deck that get us value - Closet, Blade, Reflector, 'haromicon, Cauldron. This artifact suite, rather than just give us one good turn, makes sure when we trade creatures, we're getting a lot of value. Going from Solemn Simulacrum to Acidic Slime is good, but going from Solemn Simulacrum that has Persist from Cauldron into Acidic Slime and River Kelpie and getting two Slime triggers because you have Panharmonicon and Illusionist's Bracers is obviously way better. Aim to keep your artifacts around so you can get rid of theirs. The game ends when you bury them in a pile of value or Avenger into Craterhoof. That should do it most of the time.

What do we think? Is this dissimilar enough from what others are running? Is getting this kind of value preferable to just running a combo deck? Is this the kind of 75% deck you want to run? Do I not know the rules (I did a lot of research but I'm willing to admit I screwed up an interaction)? Leave me a comment or post this article on reddit and comment there. Thanks for reading, everyone. Until next time!

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