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This Land is Your Land, This Land is Island



I'm sure you're champing at the bit (it's technically champing even though everyone says chomping and I'm setting myself up to get caught by the FBI by being the only person who says "champing at the bit") to feast your eyeholes on my glorious Omnath deck. Perhaps one day you will see an Omnath, Locus of Creation deck that is fun and exciting and 75% when I'm inspired to make one. I didn't write it this week because my decklist was "cut 5 cards from my Omnath, Locus of the Roil" list and add Ruin Ghost, Admonition Angel, Knight of the Reliquary, Murasa Rootgrazer, and Emiel the Blessed," and you deserve better than that. I'm really not all that excited for the deck, and that's probably due in large part to a lack of imagination on my part. I have found a large list of cards I like to draw from when I build 75% decks and that list is only shrinking over time. I want to avoid warping the ethos to fit the cards I like and to serve the commander more. I want to find new things for the decks to do and do those things and not have those things be "Always Be C...landfalling" or "the obvious thing the commander does." If I'm going to get creative, I'm going to have to do it outside of the confines of a deck that lets me play 95% of a deck I already like.

Luckily, playing with a different deck I already like inspired me. I was playing a webcam game with my Inniaz deck, which is a ton of fun, especially for my opponents who have to find some way to represent the cards I stole from their opponents and gave to them. I killed someone with Nine Lives one game, I killed myself with Nine Lives in another game, and in general, I had a lot of fun with other people's cards. I did have a fairly awkward time one of the games where only one player had an Island but no great artifacts in the deck and I kept hitting them with Thada Adel because no one else had an Island. The Island-but-no-artifacts-owning player was running land ramp and had no need for mana rocks so after snagging Solemn Simulacrum and Vedalken Orrery, I was sort of at a loss and didn't attack a third time.

Let me preface this next part by saying that hitting someone with Thada Adel during a webcam game isn't the awkward part. It's fine to play Thada Adel sub-optimally. Tell them to rifle through their deck and pull out the first artifact they find. Play 20 questions. Just say "Gimme yer Sol Ring" and hit another player and take their Sol Ring. Everyone has a Sol Ring (except the player I hit who didn't have a Sol Ring, but everyone else does, surely). Thada Adel isn't your deck's primary strategy, it's just gravy to make the early game more productive for you as you assemble a pile of mana rocks and outramp the Green player. But what if the Green player has a blocker? Let's put a pin in that and come back to it in a later paragraph. First, I want to talk about our commander du... jour? Commander du semaine? Commander du ce pacquet? The new commander.

Zareth San, the Trickster

Behold! A card clearly designed for Commander but not optimized for Commander! My first, second and third reaction was to see if I could get away with resubmitting DJ Johnson's decklist with one card changed but, NO! You deserve BETTER! Better is what you'll get, because my fourth reaction was to ignore the lines of text that tell me it's silly to put this card in the command zone. If you do that, it turns out Zareth San is still a fine Magical card. It's fun to have a commander with flash in a Blue deck because you can keep mana up for shenanigans and if no one does any shenanigans, you can cast your commander EOT.

Do I ideally want to be playing my Commander on turn five? Not ideally. I talked with DJ Johnson, who still plays with that Sygg, River Cutthroat deck, about Zareth San and he seemed fairly against even considering this as a commander but was psyched to include him in the 99 of his Sygg deck. Zareth San is awkward in the command zone but I don't agree that it's always awkward to not play your commander before turn five. When I hit them with Zareth, I want there to be stuff worth taking from their yard, anyway. Instead of laying an early Sygg and getting in there every game because Sygg is my commander, I can do that on games where I draw Sygg (a non-zero number of them) and I can spend the early game setting up in other ways when I don't. What's a good way to set up when I don't draw Sygg? I'm so glad you asked.

So, you've laid a Thada Adel and your opponent with a deck full of mana rocks has blockers galore and no Islands in sight. You want to get there unblockable and swipe one of those sweet, sweet rocks, but how? They have no Islands. The answer was so simple and it was there all along. The trick was to abandon the idea that Zareth San was a Rogue deck and to build around his other half.

Lord of Atlantis

Once we realize we don't have to play with Rogues, which don't have a ton of tribal synergy, we can focus on a tribe that does have a lot of dirty tricks for us to use. Merfolk players have been menacing their opponents with Islandwalking Merfolk for decades, even if those opponents didn't sleeve up a single Island. How? Trickery, how else?

Spreading Seas

With enough ways to give our Merfolk Islandwalk and enough ways to give them Islands, we'll be getting there unblockably with all of our creatures, not just Zareth. Old tech meets a new commander and all of a sudden I'm jazzed to be building again. Spreading Seas doesn't just give them an Island to make them vulnerable to an attack, mind you. Spreading Seas also turns a Cabal Coffers into a... not Cabal Coffers. It turns Gaea's Cradle, Homeward Path, Reliquary Tower, Command Tower and yes, that Green player's stupid Forest, into Islands. It's basically a Ghost Quarter that gives them the Basic Land you want rather than the one they want. But you only get to give one person an Island per copy of Spreading Seas. What if you want to attack everyone at the table with one of your creatures, or make sure Thada Adel does the full circuit and acquires all 3 other Sol Rings? Is there a way to Isleify the whole table?

Quicksilver Fountain

This is less like a Ghost Quarter than Spreading Seas or Convincing Mirage are, but it does have the benefit of forcing the entire table to let you attack them early and often if you have Islandwalking creatures. I'm not sure what Quicksilver, an archaic word for Mercury, has to do with Islands, but the art is pretty sweet. Fish and Mercury aren't typically a great mix, I'm half inclined to not include Fountain on that basis, but I remembered that actor Jeremy Piven had to get chelation treatments because he ate so much sushi that he was getting Mercury poisoning and I could call the deck "Jeremy Piven's revenge" and I'm back on board. This card is fun and it was made to go in this deck.

Merfolk tribal shenanigans give us quite a few cards to turn, but let's not forget we can explore a Rogues subtheme, also. That means we can run Prowl cards for even more fun. Not all of them are great on webcam, but I'll build this deck based on the pretense that I'll be able to play it in person by the time I finish building it and if you want to swap a few cards around if you build it, you should feel free. Knowledge Exploitation is a great card but if you wanted to run a spell that snagged a known card like Spelltwine in its place, it's going to be just as powerful most of the time. Also, since we're running Thada Adel as a card that isn't going to always get the best artifact out of their deck (I don't want to have people submit a decklist or fan through their library on camera during a friendly webcam game,) we can always just let our opponent decide what to give us with Knowledge Exploitation if we promise to aim it at someone else. Suddenly cards that cast their spells have political applications - who says a limitation has to be a drawback?

Since a lot of Rogues are unblockable and we plan for our Merfolk to be unblockable due to their Islandwalk, I was tempted to include some Ninja. I thought about Merfolk like Silvergill Adept, Tidebinder Mage and Master of Waves and how much fun they'd be to swap for an Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni. If we cut deep and remove the Rogues that aren't Merfolk, we lose a few great cards like Notion Thief and Earwig Squad (a terrible card for webcam games) and make some room for a few Ninja. If we keep all of the Rogues that are also Merfolk, our Prowl cards get worse. However, if we take a look at DJ's deck, he was only running 3 Prowl cards and one of them was one we weren't super jazzed to play. I'd rather sneak in a Mistblade Shinobi than worry about saving 2 mana on Thieves' Fortune, anyway. Are we still running Notorious Throng? Of course, taking an extra turn is complete nutter butters. Even if we cut a ton of unblockable Rogues like Invisible Stalker, we're still bound to hit them with a Rogue quite often because there's one Merfolk Rogue we'll always have access to - our commander.

Since hitting them with Zareth San is one of the best things we can do and since we plan to get through unblockably often with small creatures, we want to make every hit count. Grappling Hook, Fireshrieker, and Quietus Spike can make one attack phase from Zareth really count. Double Strike makes our merfolk take a bigger bite out of their life total and if you hit them twice with Zareth San, you get 2 permanents from their 'yard and you deal them at least 8 commander damage, maybe more if you have a Merfolk Lord out making Zareth unblockable. Sword of Feast and Famine does a ton of work here, making them discard something for you to scoop up later and untapping your lands so you can do Blue mage stuff on everyone else's turn. We're not quite a Voltron deck since those equipment are equally powerful on any of our Merfolk making Islandwalk especially deadly. At this point, I threw DJ's deck away entirely and started from scratch. If we do some Rogue stuff, it's incidental in this deck. It's Jeremy Piven's revenge!

Jeremy Piven's Revenge | Commander | Jason Alt

This looks like as ton of fun to play. We have enough Rogues that we could go that direction if you really wanted to, but the Merfolk Tribal synergy is so strong that we're going to deal unblockable damage a lot of the time.

We have quite a few Unblockable Merfolk and we can add more if you play a bunch of games and never draw a spell to make their lands into Islands. I think I might add Tideshaper Mystic or Tidal Warrior or other ways to temporarily make a land into an Island (repeatably, which is key) before I went down that road, though. If anything, I might go deeper into Islandwalk and add a Stormtide Leviathan to break parity even more. It's important that any Merfolk can deal damage in case they can deal with our commander.

If they can't deal with our commander, we're going to steal quite a few cards from them. If you find the need to add some more equipment, it might be useful. "Swords" have on-hit abilities and give protection from two colors, which means even a 1/1 Merfolk can wreak some havoc if (when) it gets through. You're going to want to stack Lords and make sure your 1/1 Merfolk are never 1/1, though, because you have to deal 120 damage to win, not 20. This is why using their cards is so important and why I want to make sure we can get there with our commander at will. If you struggle to do that, I would cut some utility creatures and focus on getting that done. A Voltron deck built around Zareth could be quite strong and while we're not doing that, Zareth is powerful enough to be a one-Merfolk show, so keep him alive at all costs. I am running more countermagic than normal to make sure you can achieve that.

I have more ways to take additional turns than normal, and you might want to add more. Expropriate is a good way to do that but even Time Warp will do. Wanderwine Prophets is a bit weaker in this build because we don't have ways to make tokens we can sac, but I do like how many ETB Merfolk we have in here, so Championing one of them can get you some value since Prophets have a fairly large target painted on them. You're focusing on winning through combat and getting their cards when you hit them, and both of those strategies would be bolstered by extra turns. Consider Beacon of Tomorrows or Time Warp and definitely consider Expropriate. You could make sure to get their Sol Rings.

In fact, a deck built around Thada Adel and Merfolk giving them Islands could be fun. I think being able to get more than just Artifacts makes Zareth more flexible, more fun and hitting harder will close games out quicker. Besides, you'll still occasionally draw Thada (or find her with Merrow Harbinger) and you'll be able to pick your target rather than picking on the one person who has an Island.

That does it for me this week! Join me next week for more exciting Zendikar Rising commanders. Until then, figure out how many copies of Thieving Skydiver to preorder - that card was made for a deck with Ninja in it.

Until next time!

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