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Gonti in a Time of Webcam Commander



I promised last week that I would talk about Valki because I am as excited about Valki as I am not excited about Tergrid. The fact that I can play Tergrid in the 99 of Valki to see if it's OK in that context is one of the contributing factors. Webcam Commander has become its own separate and distinct format for a lot of players and there is a whole raft of cards that I advocated pre-Covid that I'm less excited about now. To that end, I have decided to scrap my beloved Gonti deck, Lifestyles of the Lich and Famous, and replace it with something new. But what?! OK, I was going to do a bit here where I pretended you didn't already know it was Valki, but you already know it's Valki, so I guess we can fast forward to the reveal.


Valki, God of Lies

Valki, God of Lies, is bound to be a lot of fun. I will miss my Gonti deck dearly, but I will be left with a deck that is, worst case scenario, equally fun and is exponentially more friendly on webcam. The more I occasionally play with cards like Gonti, Praetor's Grasp, and Thada Adel, Acquisitor because I forget they're in decks I haven't dusted off in a while, the more I realize I need to let go of the past. Building 75% pre-Covid meant you could ask to borrow physical cards from a player, and you could thumb through their deck to grab the cards you were going to beat them with. Letting go of those cards doesn't mean we're not going to be playing Magic with their cards by any means - in fact, with the exception of my future former Gonti deck, Valki is bound to use more of their cardboard than any past 75% deck. The thing is, we're going to do it in a fair way and we're bound to catch far less flak than we would if we'd built Tergrid. What separates the two commanders? In a word? Pay.

That's confusing, I shouldn't have tried to summarize it in a word. "Pay" wasn't even a good choice. What I was trying to say was that Tergrid lets you very passively absorb their cards and spend your mana and time and cards on making them sac and discard. To get a card from the board with Tergrid, you need only have Tergrid, a card you always have access to, in play when you cast an Edict. You don't pay any additional mana to get their cards, and it feels unfair because it is. Gonti was less upsetting to people because the Gonti player still needed to pay mana to cast their cards. This led to a bottleneck - they could mill good stuff but they also had a decent chance of whiffing or milling you directly to a big spell, and they couldn't cast everything as fast as they milled it. They had to take time on their turn spending their mana casting your cards. Sure, it didn't feel great to get hit with your own stuff, but at least they couldn't get your cards for free and have mana up to deal with your board or play more threats of their own.

Valki is like Gonti in that you are obliged to pay mana for the things you pilfer from your opponents, but it is unlike Gonti in that it is not garbage on webcam. Gonti had players take cards from the top of their deck and let you play them, but the information was not supposed to be revealed to all players until you paid the cost. Do you have them just mill the cards face-up when you cast Gonti in a webcam game? Do you have them hold the cards up to their camera and promise to look away? Neither are good options, and the clunkiness of using Gonti caused me to scrap the deck in its entirety, which made me kind of sad. Valki combines the "fairness" of Gonti with the "I'm getting face-up cards everyone knows about" of not-Gonti and allows you to play Red cards to boot. You're going to need Red cards because you're going to need mana. A lot of mana.

Black can give us a lot of mana with Cabal Coffers/Urborg shenanigans, and artifact mana is always plentiful, but one thing I always liked about Gonti was that you often snagged a few of their mana rocks and could use them to power out bigger spells. One of my favorite cards lately is Thieving Skydiver because drawn early, you can always punish the turn one Sol Ring player with a "turn three, steal your Sol Ring" play, which feel especially good because if someone is going to be way ahead, it should be you. We don't have access to Skydiver, but I can dust off a card I always want to play in a deck like this - Aladdin. Stealing mana rocks to play even more of their spells counts as ramp, after all.

Red gives us more than just Aladdin, however. We can access quite a bit of mana acceleration, from temporary bursts of mana like Seething Song and Mana Geyser, to steady sources like Braid of Fire. Steal their rocks with Hellkite Tyrant or avoid giving back a Threatened creature with Infernal Plunge. If you need to ramp to a big spell of theirs, Red has your back in ways Black could only dream of. Red gives us wheels if we want their 'yard full, gives us Captivating Crew and Etali, Primal Storm for more shenanigans, and gives us Fork and Wild Ricochet to helps us steal directly from the stack. In short, I'm beyond stoked to modify my existing Gonti deck by having access to Stolen Strategy and you should be, too.

Starting with a Gonti deck and building toward Valki is bound to give us a different-looking deck than a stock Valki list, and building with 75% in mind will likely impact our card choices as well. For reference, here is my Gonti list.

There are some very obvious cuts because we won't be a mono-color deck moving forward, but I want to make a very radical suggestion and include something that until now I have only included in mono-color decks and will be trying in a bichromatic deck for the first time - Extraplanar Lens. Lens helps double mana from a Basic land that you sac to imprint on Lens. Generally, people run Lens with Snow-Covered Basics because they don't want other players in the same colors to benefit from the mana-doubling provided by Lens. Will we have enough basics to benefit from Lens in a two-color deck? I think so, and one of the main reasons is that I expect our Red to be a fairly light splash and therefore we'll run more Basics than normal, you'll always imprint Swamp, and Lens is just gravy since we're going to run snow lands either way. Why snow, you ask?

Draugr Necromancer

For this guy, of course! If we're going to run Snow, we might as well run Lens. This deck is going to be very mana-hungry. Instead of starting from scratch and throwing a ton of Red in, I decided to start from a Black deck and to be very judicious in the Red cards I add to make sure I have enough Swamps for the deck to still work. We won't need a ton of Red, cards like Chromatic Lantern and Sulfurous Mire will make sure we have what little we need without forcing us to run a ton of non-snow dual lands. We'll be light on Red but we should always have it when we need it - like when we want to cast the back half of our commander, for example. Would I run Lens in a three-color deck? I don't know, but I used to think I never would in a two-color deck, so let's refrain from ruling anything out, shall we?

Here's what I think my Gonti-less, Red-added list would look like.

This looks like a lot of fun, and it's going play a lot differently than my Gonti deck, which is fine since I didn't like how that played on webcam.

The first thing a lot of people may have noticed is that I did not make good on my promise to include Tergrid in the deck. It didn't really work with the deck as I have it configured. To make Tergrid work, you would have to invest quite a few slots in Discard and Edict effects, which is fine, but which I did not budget enough slots for. It became easier to just cut Tergrid and not try to make it work than to make enough room for Tergrid enablers. Part of the reason that Tergrid may be so benign in the 99 is that the decks that use her best are kind of bad, which the exception of perhaps Tinybones or Nicol Bolas, two fairly toxic and antisocial decks.

If you're desperate to get this optimized for Tergrid, you have a LOT of work to do, but this isn't that bad a shell for it. One reason is the card Waste Not, which can generate quite a bit of Black mana on your turn that you can crank into either the Valki or Tibalt side of your commander to get some of their cards working for you. Edict effects are cool, but I would focus on making them discard since that is the way to make sure they are stuck trying to top-deck answers and you can fill the board with their creatures. Wheel effects are great because they keep your hand full and give them a ton of discard triggers. Red has gotten some good wheels over the years, so use them all. I'd cut all of my Curio package.

When I say "Curio package" I'm referring to how good my original Gonti deck feels to play. We wanted lots of Gonti triggers so we ran Cloudstone Curio to get ETB triggers from our other creatures and Gonti in an alternating pattern. A lot of the cards that were good for that are just fine here - I basically only cut Gray Merchant of Asphodel and I'm not positive he doesn't belong in the deck. There are a TON of Black pips here and with the Curio, it barely matters if you have Gary and Dockside and they don't stop you - even the two Black pips Gary brings to the party are enough if there are 7 or 8 artifacts in play, which can easily happen early. That's a cheesy way to win early, but a satisfying way to win late, so maybe we jam Gary back in? I don't hate doing the same stuff with Dockside and Noxious Gearhulk or Grave Titan. Dockside Extortionist is the real powerhouse at that point because that card was a mistake.

Poking around on EDHREC, I see quite a few Goblins and it makes me wonder how well the Goblin shell I came up with for my Chainer/Mindslaver deck would work as a Valki deck. Goblins are cheap, can get you a ton of artifacts with Engineer and Welder and can throw their little Goblin bodies on Altars in a pinch to get you mana. It is a completely different starting point, but turning that deck into Valki might be worth looking at considering how much fun Mindslaver would be in a Valki deck. You don't really get Snow mana because your lands will be too different, but you get artifact lands to use with Welder. I think Goblins at this point is just a deck with 5 different ways to tutor for Dockside Extortionist, though, and maybe I'd bore myself. Still, it's an option - the Chainer deck never really felt right and I've tried turning it into a few different things, like Kroxa. It began its life as a Xantcha deck - clearly I want to do a lot of things with Rakdos but they all have the same core and they also never feel perfect to me. Valki might be the best home for the deck since you never run out of their stuff to play and you can get your Curio reliably and bring it back, something the other builds will struggle with.

What do you think? Do you wish I'd added Tergrid? Would you have liked to have seen me start from scratch? Would you like to have seen Blim in the mix? Am I building too many Rakdos decks? Let me know in the comments, and don't forget to share this on social media. Thanks for reading. Until next time!

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