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75% – Glass Cannons

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I liked talking about Khans kards, but I am also a little fatigued. I wrote extensively about Khans of Tarkir for the last few weeks here and on Quiet Speculation, and we just did the Brainstorm Brewery set review. While I am excited to jam some foil, prerelease-stamped copies of Hardened Scales into some decks and continue my quest for enough foil copies of Frontier Bivouac to fit in all of my G/U/R decks, I am going to let Khans lie for a week. Let's talk about a deck that I think is explosive and can steal games, and let's rationalize why I think it's still a good 75% candidate.

Azusa, Lost but Seeking
The commander in this particular deck does not come from Khans of Tarkir block. No, he comes from what may be the greatest block for solid Commander playables ever: the Kamigawa block. Kamiwgawa block gave Standard slow, durdly Spirits, complicated Arcane spells, and odd, global effects that no one could have predicted would be so good. Who would have called Boseiju, Who Shelters All a staple? Who would have called Azusa, Lost but Seeking a bomb? Who would have thought to scoop Miren, the Moaning Well, Hall of the Bandit Lord, Mikokoro, Center of the Sea, and Eiganjo Castle when they were cheap? Who indeed? I remember people at the time lamenting that Saviors of Kamigawa literally only had Pithing Needle in it and that no other cards worth having. How the tables have turned!

Champions of Kamigawa gave me some Spirits I liked and some Spirits I did not care about. One of the Spirits I did not care about then was Iname, Death Aspect. I wasn't excited about filling my graveyard with Spirits at the time. While I was playing a very nasty deck with Kuro, Pitlord, Kokusho, the Evening Star, Yosei, the Morning Star, and Goryo's Vengeance, I was mostly filling my yard with Greater Good shenanigans. We don't have Greater Good when Iname, Death Aspect is our commander, nor do we have Yosei to ruin opponents’ lives with multiple copies. We do have a different impetus for filling the graveyard though. Now we have access cards the likes of Crypt of Agadeem, Mortal Combat, and Living Death. Does this deck get its pants pulled down by Relic of Progenitus? Sometimes it does. Is it fun as all hell to jam? Also yes.

Since the deck is powerful and explosive but vulnerable, I think of it as a bit of a glass cannon. If I were to load up on tutors to make sure I could combo off reliably in some way, that would not be in the spirit of 75% at all. But building in some redundancy and a lot of different ways to take advantage of my commander’s ability to fill my ’yard seems to be a decent way to build a deck that will be limited by its vulnerability. The more tuned your opponents' decks, the more luck will be a factor. Giving the table a turn cycle to deal with Mortal Combat is risky, but it may get your group playing better removal. I think that, if we build this correctly, it will be powerful and fun but people won't roll their eyes, and playing against it a second time will give them distinct advantages. Let's try to build a powerful deck that is beatable yet interesting and is very, very 75%.

This is not terribly far from a stock Iname, Death Aspect list. It's not the most original idea ever conceived, but I came to the concept independently—although so did quite a few other people. A lot of their ideas are good, but I want a few restrictions just to keep the power level in check and to challenge myself a bit. As good as cards such as Sheoldred, Whispering One and Balthor the Defiled may potentially be, I included only Spirit creatures in the deck. In addition to avoiding non-Spirits, I cut the kind of card-draw and tutors that would serve to homogenize the game experience.

Trading Post
I did include Trading Post. Being able to sacrifice Iname so you can recast him for more and different Spirits is good, and bringing back a Nevinyrral's Disk because you have need of it again is powerful. Trading Post is too versatile a card, and when you want to be both putting things into and taking things out of the ’yard, Trading Post does serious work. Plus, it's a pet card. Sue me. If you have something else you want to jam and consider, post the weak link and make the change, amigos! I'm not the police. Mind Slash and Attrition are a few more cards I really like to play in black Commander decks, especially when you benefit from having sac outlets. Sacrifice outlets also give you utility out of creatures with recursion effects like Bloodghast’s and can avoid making you exile a creature reanimated with Goryo's Vengeance.

Speaking of Goryo's Vengeance, I included a nonzero number of Arcane spells to splice onto. You have creatures that trigger off Spirits and Arcane spells, and you have quite a few of both. Rend Flesh is a card you could slot in if in you want more splice options, triggers, and ways to deal with opposing creatures. Death Denied seems to be a good use of this slot—it's Arcane, so you can splice Vengeance onto it but still keep it in hand, it triggers Arcane spells, and it can be a way to let you cast a few of the Spirits you dumped in your ’yard rather than animate them. There are situations in which you might also not want a few key creatures hanging out in the 'yard because they feel vulnerable. It gives you options, and options are what we want.

Mind Twist is a nasty card, and it was in the final build until the very last second. You're likely to have a good amount of mana if things go well, and this isn't a bad sink for it. Crypt of Agadeem and Songs of the Damned are both good for a ton of mana if you manage to fill your ’yard with twenty-three Spirits. Still, I would prefer something with multikicker that could make everyone discard a lot of cards. Bloodhusk Ritualist would be perfect if he were a Spirit—and if he could target a different opponent each time he was kicked (you know, if he were an entirely different card). Targeting a single opponent with a backbreaking bout of discarding can really stop the person who pulls out ahead the fastest, but it doesn't help you against the rest of the table, and it makes you a mortal enemy. Nevinyrral's Disk won the slot in the end.

Mortal Combat
Disk is good for handling mono-black's biggest liability: It has a very tough time dealing with artifacts and enchantments. As much as you may want opponents to have a big stack of artifacts when you drill them with Emissary of Despair, artifacts and enchantments are everywhere in Commander, and they make your life miserable when you’re playing a graveyard-based deck. Having some way to deal is better than scooping to a Rest in Peace.

Have you ever won a game with Mortal Combat? It's fun. It's also hard to do, and with no way to tutor for it, it's not going to happen often. This will avoid this deck earning a reputation as being too cheesy, so you can play with it more than once. I anticipate winning 1 ÷ X games with all win conditions combined, but I’ll tune the deck as needed. Maybe Beseech the Queen couldn't hurt if you're just not winning. Black Market is another good source of mana, so if you want a sink like Pestilence or Greed, jam away.

Without tutors or copious amounts of card-draw, your game experience will be varied. You will probably be forced to use the activated abilities on some of your Spirits to get there rather than just being a combo deck that wins the same way every time. Rather than include a ton of ways to tutor for cards such as Mortal Combat, I included a lot of ways to reanimate one or two creatures. In this way, you can use your commander as a bit more of a toolbox. Sure, if you want to try to win with Mortal Combat or Living Death, you can go for the big combo kill. But when that doesn't look possible, you can use his ability to dump one or two Spirits in the ’yard strategically and reanimate them. If all you have is a Necromancy, maybe you grab a Kuro, Pitlord and start shooting opponents’ dudes down. Kuro was good in a 20-life format, and he's no less good in a format with 40 life to fuel his ambitions.

Kagemaro, First to Suffer
Kagemaro, First to Suffer is another creature that might be a good strategic pick. Have a good sac-outlet-and-reanimation draw? Maybe get some Kokusho shenanigans going. Beat opponents down with Spirit of the Night, clear the way with Pus Kami, or start some Attrition shenanigans with Bloodghast or Nether Spirit. You have a lot of options, and Iname can use your deck as a toolbox to find the right tool for the job.

Most Iname decks online haven't been updated in a while, so they don't include Rise of the Dark Realms, a card that's perfect in this deck. In Garruk's Wake is another new addition, and I think it's fine to include a better Plague Wind even on top of Decree of Pain. Having a redundant Liliana ultimate wins games all on its own, especially with you having so many board wipes.

All in all, I feel that the inherent vulnerability of some of the combos will make you play very carefully to make sure you can go off and not commit too much. Should you dump twenty Spirits in the ’yard—or should you just dump the ones you need and can immediately reanimate? You will have to play tightly, and luck will have to be on your side. I wouldn't have it any other way.


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