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The Old Ways Are Best



Last week it occurred to me that I should reference what I consider the one article about 75% you should read if you're only going to read one whenever I bring up a new deck so I can showcase which of the guidelines I am looking at to make sure my build stays on target. Showing my thought process when I choose which guideline to stick to will help other people build decks the same way, if that's their goal. I'm going to do that from now on, and that decision came at a good time because I came across a Commander I want to cover this week that is going to steer me toward a guideline I haven't referenced very often lately. Today we're going to build with some pretty severe restrictions and we're not even going to have to impose them on ourselves.

Nikya of the Old Ways

Nikya is a proud, powerful centaur whose power extends all the way outside the fourth wall of the game and reaches up, forcing you to stick to the old ways and get the job done creature style. It's rare that I want to build around a commander with such a significant drawback, but since 75% decks are typically built with some manner of restriction in place, one imposed on you by a card that was designed, balanced, and released by a team of professional game designers seems like a good one to build around. Some sort of Ad Hoc restriction is a real crapshoot but with a Wizards-built one, you're reasonably assured to have a deck at the end. I want to steer hard into this creature theme and build the best deck I possibly can and while a year or two ago I would have challenged myself to go fully creatureless, I don't think that's completely necessary. If our commander dies and before our commander is summoned, we have a chance to play spells and we should use those chances. However, I don't want to run a ton of non-creature spells, either, because I want to run this bad boy.

Primal Surge

Primal Surge is a bit of an obvious inclusion in the deck but it's a strong one. I want to be able to win if I decide to Surge my entire library into play, so I want to include a few cards that I can use to keep them from making me die to decking. Dosan the Falling Leaf is a good example. If I surge into Dosan, they can't play any spells to fog me out and I can win the game with every permanent I control on the board, ready to throw down. This is going to be a lot of fun!

For this deck to work, I'll need to run as few non-creature spells as possible. I was going to originally have Primal Surge be the only non-permanent but I think I can do one better and have 99% of the deck be creatures. There are a lot of cards I would prefer to be able to play, but I think this will force me to be creative. On top of the restrictions inherent in running a Nikya deck, there is also a guideline from "the article" that we should keep in mind - "Imposing limitations encourages creativity and promotes balance." I think if I limit myself to being 99% creatures and find a way to cast Primal Surge, this Nikya deck will be a ton of fun. After all, the reward I get for keeping myself from playing non-creature spells in the deck in a one-sided Mana Flare and that's very good. Mana Flare effects have historically either been usable by all players or so expensive that you need to cast Mana Flare to be able to afford to play them. Nikya is both affordable and also has a beefy Centaur body to engage in combat with. This is going to be an enjoyable deck to play. The one issue with Nikya is that I don't want to run mana rocks and she makes my mana dorks slightly worse than lands by virtue of not doubling their contribution, but maybe there is a way to run a basics-rich land base and pump a few extras into play with Azusa, Lost but Seeking , Mina And Denn, Wildborn and other creature-based strategies. Red and Green decks are adept at dealing with all of Nikya's shortcomings, it seems - we can even get her off of the board so that we can cast Primal Surge by using a fight bear like Ulvenwald Tracker to pick on an opponent's larger creature or having one of the huge hydras you cast with your Mana Flare on a stick to, you know, friendly fire murder that Mana stick. For the greater good. Also, this deck wants to, but can't run Greater Good, so we'll have to find a creative, creature-based way or two to keep our hand full of creatures to cast. Green excels in that department as well, and just like that, ideas are beginning to take shape.

The last question I want to ask myself is whether I want any "Oops, I win" combos in the deck. In general, I don't love 2-card combos in a 75% deck, especially if we have ways to tutor for them, but I also want casting Primal Surge to give us a few options to help us win the game if they disrupt us or we end up drawing or discarding a piece we need. I think an all-out attack with everything should be an option, but I don't hate the old Kiki Conscripts stand-by either. We can run Fauna Shaman in the deck and I still don't think a slow, two-turn, disruptable combo like that is a huge deal. What IS a big deal is finding creature-based substitutions for the stuff we consider boilerplate cards in a commander deck that are artifacts, enchantments, and instants or sorceries. Luckily, if we have to be in a deck that relies on only creatures, it's good that we're in Green and Red.

Finally, we all know how much I love to use their own cards against them. There aren't a ton of permanent ways to keep control of their stuff, unfortunately, but since we have the infrastructure in the deck to sacrifice or bounce out creatures because we want Nikya out of the way when it's time to Primal Surge, we can run some Threaten effects like the one stapled to Captivating Crew and not have to worry about giving the creature back. There are a few cards you might have to read when I get done adding them to the deck, but they are creature-based ways to deprive your opponent of a resource while adding to your own. Sun Tzu said "One bushel of my enemy's [provisions] is worth 20 bushels of my own," and I took that lesson to heart. Let's get a 2-fold advantage and swipe what we can, shall we?

Here is what I want my deck to look like.

Can't Teach and Old Centaur New Ways | Commander | Jason Alt

Did you have to hover over cards like Thelonite Druid, Aladdin, and Willow Satyr? These aren't the most common cards, but they sure do work. I don't know why I don't run Aladdin in more of my decks, honestly, because the ability to swipe any artifact is pretty busted. Add to that the fact that a lack of Swiftfoot Boots et al forces us to run Archetype of Endurance effects means Aladdin is safer than in most decks, and you've got a stew, baby. Aladdin is a card right up my alley and I don't know why I keep forgetting to run him.

Typically this is where I talk about different ways the build can go, but I don't think you can actually change much, here. You will stretch yourself thin in too many key areas by pursuing new aims and that is a natural consequence of using expensive creatures to do the jobs of most affordable artifacts and spells. The only thing I could see is addressing the lack of removal by adding a few more cards to stage fights. We'll have deathtouch utility creatures like Acidic Slime and we'll have twice as much mana as our opponents meaning our hydras will be large enough to destroy their largest creatures without breaking a sweat so cards like Arena or even Contested Cliffs if you have enough beasts could get the job done. Fighting is also a good way to get your Commander killed, which isn't something we always want, but it's something we'll want when it's Surge time. We have a few ways to give all of our creatures haste and filling the whole board will be enough to kill everyone even if you're not going to Kiki-Conscripts.

All in all, this was a fun experiment for me and I got to ask some judges on Twitter if people can Fog after you Primal Surge your whole deck and they realize you're not only not going to stop or hit a non-permanent but you're going to slam a Dosan the Falling Leaf and, they can't. This is a deck that runs quite a few X creatures to make the most of your one-sided Mana Flare and has a lot of ways to take advantage of having the biggest, baddest creatures around. This deck is also sort of affordable compared to other decks I have built this year, especially if you cut the Willow Satyr. Thanks for reading, everyone. Until next time!