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Get Small

Commander is a format where we like to go big. We like to swing with big creatures, we play big, expensive spells that are too slow for 60 card formats but are perfect for our format where we can afford to spend the first few turns Kodama's Reaching without worrying about falling too far behind. Bigger is better, right? That’s why we double our effects, pile counters on creatures, use Panharmonicon and Riku, Atraxa and Doubling Season, Cascade and Craterhoof. “Go big or go home” would seem to be the unofficial motto of a format that was defined from day one by its insistence that we build around a three-color, 8-mana creature that we hoped to cast, and then cast for ten mana, and then for twelve if we needed to. Big, slow, durdly bulk rares suddenly got a whole lot of cachet as players lived long enough to cast them before they were almost dead with their Sol Rings and their 40 life. I don’t need to make the case for going big - Commander is predicated on going big.

The case for going small is a much tougher one to make, however. Cheap creatures with very good power and toughness to casting cost ratios like Tarmogoyf and Delver of Secrets practically don’t exist in Commander. Why play Tarmogoyf when you could play something really useful like Farseek on turn two? If you think it’s tough to make a case for small creatures with very good ratios like Kird Ape, imagine how hard it’s going to be to make the case for creatures that cost three mana and only have one power or toughness. Yet that’s exactly what I have set myself up to have to do today. I have my work cut out for me, so let’s dive in and see where we end up.

The entire premise of getting small this week is predicated on a creature that rewards us for subverting our baser Magic instincts and looking at extremely inefficient creatures. After all, this is Commander, where mana is no object and therefore inefficiency can be worth it if the payoff is sufficient. Curtains' Call costs as much as six Fatal Pushes (sometimes) but the effect is worth it. Paying four mana for a 1/1 creature is pretty indefensible in a fast format like Legacy, but in Commander, that’s an Elvish Piper, and that’s a Time Walk or a Channel or a Fastbond in terms of potential power, on legs. With that in mind, which commander could compel us to seek out these inefficient creatures to reap the benefits of their big effects? You already know, don’t you? That’s OK, that’s just how peripheral vision works, I’m not mad. Yeah, you already know, this article is about Tetsuko Umezawa.

Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive

Tweet at a Vorthos person if you want to know why Tetsuko is a fugitive, that’s not really my lane. What I can tell you is that despite being an Uncommon, Tetsuko can be built in such a way that you’re going to wreak some real havoc on your opponents. There are no ground stalls with Tetsuko around, there’s only a slow, inevitable grind that we can hope to accelerate. We’re going to cause a lot of consternation amongst our opponents if we’re playing our 75% decks correctly and not using them against our regular playgroups more than a few times. 75% decks are best utilized against new opponents and if they haven’t seen many Tetsuko decks before, they will be caught between wanting to kill you for having so many unblockable creatures and thinking you’re not much of a threat because you’re attacking with Ophidians and Looter Il-Kors. How do we win a game when we have our opponents on a 40-turn clock? That’s a good question.

I am further limiting myself by not including Infect creatures in the deck. Normally I reserve this paragraph for after you’ve seen the decklist, but if you want to pursue an infect build, that’s legit. I’m opting not to because I think it’s obvious; you don’t need me to tell you to run the few infect creatures you can with Tetsuko so doing so makes me commit quite a few cards to my build that limit me from the cards I want to add but add no value to the article because they are so obvious. If you want to build Infect, I’d add Necropede, Phyrexian Digester, Viral Drake, Ichorclaw Myr, Blighted Agent, and cards like Fireshrieker and Grappling Hook as well as cards like Tezzeret's Gambit and Inexorable Tide. You can also run larger infect creatures like Chained Throatseeker, Core Prowler, Phyrexian Juggernaut, and Corpse Cur because, even though they don’t synergize with Tetsuko, they synergize with other cards in the deck that make creatures unblockable such as Deepfathom Skulker. This build is boring (to me) but it may be fun to pursue for you and I’m not here to tell you not to build it and I don’t mind telling you how I’d do it. I personally think it requires too much commitment to do my typical “hybrid” approach and then tell you what to take out to pursue the build because the cards that help the infect build are so incongruous with the rest of the cards I want to run. Corrupted Conscience may show up in both builds, but that’s likely all. I want to make the most of Quietus Spike, for example, and Quietus Spike isn’t great with Infect creatures but it’s sure as heck powerful on Invisible Stalker.

Deepfathom Skulker
I am further further limiting myself by not including mill cards in the deck. I think that’s another obvious way to build the deck and I’m not going to do that. As with Infect, there is no way to do a “hybrid” deck that includes mill elements and also the cards I want to be running in my build. I’m not here to tell you not to run mill in Commander — you should know that by now. However, if you WERE to attempt it, this isn’t the worst commander for it. You’re going to get through with creatures that mill them for quite a bit like Scalpelexis, Raven Guild Master, and the Persistent Nightmare half of Startled Awake without them being able to block. That’s fun. I like mill, although it’s tougher in Commander; and, if I were to build a mill deck, it would be Phenax with the Eater of the Dead combo in it. If you want to trifle with Raven Guild Master shenanigans, include those creatures, include traditional mill cards like Traumatize, Mesmeric Orb and Jace's Mindseeker, and don’t forget the fringe cards that are basically tailor-made for Tetsuko mill such as Balshan Beguiler, a card I’m willing to bet money you have to look up. Again, I don’t add much value by telling you how to build a version of Tetsuko that basically builds itself because of the large infrastructure needed to support that strategy and I don’t do myself any favors trying to reconcile two (or three if you want to jam infect in there) builds that all need about 40 unique cards to work. When I was 13 I tried to build Forbidian with the cards I had to play in a local tournament. I didn’t have the full build so I plugged gaps with cards like Dominating Licid (good idea) and Serpent Generator (bad idea). The games went long because I countered all of their spells and bounced or Licided the rest. I would usually lose the game with my opponent at 6 poison counters, 12 cards in their library and 5 life. I learned 20 years ago to pick something and stick with it.

Now that I’ve used a ton of ink writing two sub-articles called “how I wouldn’t build this deck” I think it’s time to show you how I would pursue a build. If you really start diving into the kinds of creatures that become unblockable due to their low power and/or toughness, you start to notice some very powerful effects that are stapled to small creatures. They’re made to be fragile in combat because the trade-off if they do get through is worthwhile. We won’t be playing the classic, Blue “huge effect stapled to a little body” creature, Raven Guild Master, but we can have access to cards like one that was recently put back on everyone’s radar for Mairsil decks, Thalakos Deceiver, as well as some other creatures like Surrakar Spellblade and Skyship Plunderer that pack a wallop despite having a diminutive power and toughness. There are plenty of creatures that get overlooked in Commander because no one wants to have to hit someone 40 times with it. Those creatures are getting a second look, now. As always, my favorite way to build 75% is to steal their stuff so while Thada Adel, Acquisitor isn’t getting in unblocked, we likely still jam Thada, as well as some newly-discovered gems like Thalakos Deceiver and Riptide Entrancer. What does the deck look like?

Dynamite ? Commander| Jason Alt

I like this build a lot. It focuses on stealing their stuff and making the most of hitting them with small creatures.

Thalakos Deceiver
If I were to take this build to 11 and eschew a lot of the traditional cards to really make the deck my own, I would double down on the “cute” things I am doing. In this deck, I’m making the most of Thalakos Deceiver and Riptide Entrancer by running Nim Deathmantle. I have Deadeye Quartermaster to find it and I could run more cards like Fabricate to make sure I get my mantle. I won’t tutor for the creatures, but I draw enough cards to get them a reasonable amount. False Demise is another cute way to make the most out of Deceiver. Deathmantle is good with creatures with ETB effects, so I’d add some more of those and maybe Ashnod's Altar which is great with Deathmantle. You can run Chamber of Manipulation in a scenario with more sac outlets and I would probably jam Memnarch. At that point, I’m barely a Tetsuko deck so I’m glad I published a more restrained build. We have plenty of ways to swipe their stuff as it is.

I talked above about how to make this into an Infect or Mill build and what to take out should be fairly obvious.

If you are worried about being a target, you have quite a few board sweepers but you can always add more. Evacuation doesn’t hurt you as much as it does them because our creatures are a little cheaper and we don’t need a swarm of them, especially with the amount of card advantage we have. Honestly, winning the game will be more challenging than not-losing; with Aetherspouts and Aetherize and Cyclonic Rift we are going to have a decent time not-losing. Add Propaganda effects or cards like Frozen Aether if you’re worried.

All in all this seems like a fun take on a fun creature and this allowed me to put off my Magnum Opus “This is what 75% is all about” article I hinted last week I would write this week. I’m running out of commanders, so, at this point, it’s write that article or build around Kwende, Pride of Femeref. I’m not sure which I want to do least.

Hit me up in the comments section if you have questions or suggestions or if you have your own build you want me to take a look at. I’m always accepting decklists for my “How do I make this deck 75%?” series that I run when I get a submission, and I’m always on-hand to debate the finer points of 75% philosophy. That’s all for me. Until next time!


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