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Out of Left Field


What I think I love most about Commander is also what I love most about Legacy as a format.

Now that is an opening salvo that needs some explanation if I’ve ever seen one. Still, as absurd as that sounds, it’s true, and I will elaborate. Legacy is a format with one of the largest card pools possible. The large card pool makes the format tough to truly solve. Superior tutors and card-draw like Brainstorm and Stoneforge Mystic help any given deck execute its strategy and improve the impact of sideboard cards, even if there is only one copy of a sideboard card. Between being able to execute your own strategy relatively easily and being able to shore up bad matches with effective sideboarding, Legacy is a format in which the metagame matters but isn’t everything. Sure, certain decks have their time in the sun, and it seems that four decks in a given Top 8 can be the flavor-of-the-month deck sometimes. That said, there are decks that will always have a shot at winning. As much as Sneak and Show can dominate for a while, or Esper Stoneblade, one constant is that High Tide combo can always win the event. Elves can Top 8 any given week. Merfolk. Goblins. Food Chain combo. You can build a Legacy deck, learn it, and have a chance of winning any event because knowing the deck and how to fix its bad matches out of the board matters a lot more than the metagame in Legacy.

Being able to play the deck you want to play is a real draw for me, and it’s why I like Legacy a lot. I just like to jam Punishing Maverick even though it hasn’t been the consensus “top” deck basically ever and hasn’t really been as well positioned lately as it had in the past. I am more concerned with being able to jam a fun deck that I enjoy playing and which can do powerful things and win out of nowhere. In this way, Legacy resembles Commander. There is a moderate amount of “groupthink” in the Commander community about what is “optimal,” but at the end of the day, you can just jam whichever deck you like, and as long as your deck has a strategy it can execute, you always have a shot of winning, irrespective of what the other players are doing.

Hive Mind
The Hive Mind crops up every once in a while, and it did recently in a Reddit thread in which /u/MrAxel asked about a Golgari commander. While there were a lot of responses, there was also a bit of hierarchy of thought, with one “top” answer recommending MrAxel play Skullbriar, the Walking Grave, a commander whose deck that is super-popular right now. A price spike in Skullbriar, seemingly out of nowhere (probably one person betting it was better in Tiny Leaders than it actually is and buying out TCGplayer) drew a lot of attention to Skullbriar, and a lot of people are building it lately. The best part is that I really liked /u/IForOneDisagree’s answer about not wanting to run a combo deck like most Golgari decks sometimes become. Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord, Varolz, the Scar-Striped, Glissa, the Traitor—all of these commanders lend themselves toward a combotastic win, which is fine. The problem is that Golgari decks can run a lot of fast mana, tutors, and the combo, and they dredge a ton of cards into the ’yard trying to find their combo pieces. Consistency like this breeds boredom. It’s fun to do your thing and be able to do it reliably, but that reduces the number of ways to win and makes the deck feel linear after a while. We try to skew away from consistency with our 75% builds, and that forces us to include more potential win conditions and paths to victory. That’s what keeps it interesting to me.

The best part about /u/MrAxel asking about Golgari is that someone responded with every Golgari commander and made a case for his deck. You may not think of Vhati Il-Dal and his odd ability being super-solid, but /u/EsperMagic made the case for his Vhati deck with cards like Night of Souls' Betrayal. Still, after the thread had been up for a few hours, no one had mentioned one Golgari commander, and it was one I was interested in: Sisters of Stone Death!

The Sisters are not going to lend themselves to being a dredge combo deck. What they will do is allow me to do something I love to do but almost always end up having to run red and/or blue to do: allow me to steal opponents’ stuff! Stealing their stuff helps our deck scale to the power level of their decks by not giving them anything they can’t handle and giving you access to more powerful stuff the more powerful their decks are. And while black is not traditionally known for stealing stuff, there are quite a few black cards that do this. Why not jam a bunch of them on top of having a functional Sisters of Stone Death deck? We can scale while we’re doing things, we won’t be a boring combo deck, and we will do my favorite thing in Commander: making a lot of players pick up our commander and read what it does. I am excited about this deck. But what would it look like?

Herald of Leshrac
I like this a lot! Starting with a pretty standard list, I took out some of the less thematic cards to make room for a lot of ways to steal their junk. While black isn’t known for Control Magic effects, it does have Enslave, which I love. In addition to that, dead creatures are the purview of black decks, and there are plenty of ways to make them regret their creatures dying. Among Rise of the Dark Realms, Liliana Vess’s ultimate, Fated Return, there are plenty of ways to co-opt their monsters. I even found a few cards that fit this theme that I had never ever seen before. Did you know what Herald of Leshrac did? Of course not! (I mean, a lot of you probably did. Shut up; I was excited).

Herald of Leshrac doesn’t even strike me as a big violator of our policy of, “Don’t screw with their mana!” because they take the lands right back, and Herald is easy to deal with. He’s just a cool card. I honestly could see playing him in quite a few Commander decks because I think he’s fun, and he’s a target, so keeping him alive will be fun and challenging.

If I can find more cards to take out, I might want to jam a Bear Umbra in here. It’s a way to keep your commander from dying if it smashes into a big pile of an opponent’s dudes, and it gets those lands untapping. Still, Nature's Will and Sword of Feast and Famine are going to get us some serious mana. We want serious mana because the Sisters are expensive to summon from commander jail, especially if they have died a few times. The mana abilities are thirsty as well, forcing you to get your mana act together.

All in all, I think this is a deck that uses an old commander and teaches it some new tricks—no tutors, no combos, just pure value town. What could be better?

That does it for me this week. Join me next week, when I hope one of you will have sent me a decklist! Until then!

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