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From Ilharg to Purphoros


I like to keep decks together if I can because tearing a deck apart if it doesn't deserve it makes me feel bad. That's weird, I know. I feel like there should be a reason to tear apart a deck and if there isn't, I don't like to do it. That said, I was playing Final Fantasy Tactics and I dismissed a Monk from the party to make room for a class I needed more and the *fake video game character* put a line of dialogue on the screen that said something like "Oh no, was it something I said?" and I felt bad for like 2 days even though this was 60 seconds after I literally murdered a mid-boss. Instead of tearing decks apart, I keep them around because I know that sooner or later, a very similar commander is going to come along, and when it does, I'm going to be ready to update the list. This is exactly what happened when I had my Etali, Primal Storm list mostly finished and then Ilharg, the Raze-Boar came into my life. I brewed up an Ilharg deck with the old list and everything was fine for a while. If you're enjoying this paragraph, go read the Ilharg article again. Unless you like Kid Rock, I guess.

There are a certain number of cards that will transfer straight over, but there will be cards that aren't as good with the new commander and there are others that will be better. Even commanders that are so similar it feels like they didn't do any work will have unique quirks. The point is that I wanted to make lists of cards that were unique to a given commander so I could swap back easily. I could take my Etali-cum-Ilharg-cum-Purphoros (spoiler alert) deck and just play it, but what if I wanted to switch back? Tearing a deck apart is a pity but retooling a deck brings up an interesting "Ship of Theseus" question about whether calling it a Purphoros deck changes the deck's identity. If we couldn't see it or play it as Etali ever again, I might as well have entirely scrapped the Etali deck.

I mean, or not. This is entirely how I feel about "getting rid of" a deck. I did an article about having a decklist be flexible enough to run several different commanders the way the precons are intended, but this would be more involved than that. I'd like to have a list optimized for each commander, which means there are packages to take out and swap. This is sort of a lot of work for a straightforward deck, but I also think just taking Ilharg out of a pink sleeve and putting it in a red one is a disservice to Purphoros. Let's look at Ol' Purphy and see if we can figure out what he does best.

Purphoros, Bronze-Blooded

Purphoros requires you to pay mana to put the creature into play whereas Ilharg puts it into play as a trigger when Ilharg attacks and Etali can completely whiff but can cast other players' creatures. If we're going to optimize Purphoros, I'd like a way to be able to bounce our creatures before the end of the turn so they don't die, and if we can't build up our board this way, I'd like to be able to activate Purphoros for cheap. Having to activate Purphoros means I don't want to run the LD package I had in the other lists which included cards like Wildfire to make sure I was the only one able to cast big creatures. Swapping out LD and a few other cards to add ways to optimize Purphoros should be fairly painless; and, once I have the 3 lists written down, I can have a deck that is right for any situation. Sometimes newer players don't like people taking their cards and Etali isn't as useful, sometimes people will get very angry if you Wildfire them and Etali and Ilharg both aren't useful and sometimes you miss the old configuration and swap Purphoros for something else. Since this is a 75% series, I think I'll keep 75% of the main deck intact and leave the mana base alone so we're looking at about 60 maindeck cards and 75% of that means we'll be swapping 15 cards for Etali and 15 cards for Purphoros. Let's get a look at the base deck, which will just be our Ilharg list.

Ilharg Base Deck | Commander | Jason Alt

To optimize a list like this for use with Etali, we'll want to maximize the potential for ETB triggers if our opponents have interesting cards on top of their decks, and we'll also want to be able to order our own library to make sure we benefit from every trigger. Making tokens of the creature that comes into play seems less important than it did with Ilharg, so we'll likely be able to make some cuts there.

For Etali

The Land Destruction is still pretty good in Etali because your spells are free. Keep attacking a lot and blow up their lands so they can't play stuff. It's frustrating to play against but since we're blowing up 4 lands to slow them down rather than blowing up every land to grind the entire game to a halt, so people will live. Use your targeted LD on the Green player, probably. Your extra attack effects are also good here, so get those Etali triggers.

For Purphoros

If you're going to retool for Purphoros, you want to cut the Land Destruction with the exception of cards like Shivan Harvest and Dust Bowl. You need your mana to activate Purphoros, and we'll want to find ways to make it cheaper to activate him, too.

If you're building around Purphoros, you don't need or even really want most of the Land Destruction package. The targeted stuff is fine, but you set yourself back quite a bit blowing up your own lands. You want the mana to replay cards to bounce creatures with Cloudstone Curio and you want to be able to activate Purphoros. I wish we had Training Grounds, and though we have Heartstone, it's not quite the same thing. We'll want to dump mana into activating Purphoros a ton and the mana doubling plus cards like Braid of Fire should help. I stopped putting Braid of Fire into decks because I know it's good but never read the card and then I write stuff in the article that makes it clear I didn't read the card. I read it this time. You want Braid here.

With these lists of cards we can spend a few minutes adjusting the deck before the match to fine-tune our experience. If you want Land Destruction, play with it. If you want to play with their cards, Etali is the way to go. Want to add a new fat creature? Your walking Sneak Attack is your best bet. No matter what experience you want to have (within the narrow scope of experiences offered by this package, anyway) you can have it with some minor modification.

That does it for me this week. Which of these three piles is your favorite? Leave it for me in the comments below and stay safe and healthy out there. Until next time!

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