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How Mortal Kombat Taught Me to Build

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I started keeping a notebook beside my bed to write down dreams or important thoughts that occur to me during the night. Sometimes I'll wake up, jot something down, then go back to sleep. I don't know WHY I do this - nothing I've ever read in the morning made sense or ever ended up mattering. I'm not coming up with alternative energy sources or cures for diseases in my sleep - I almost always write down a premise for a joke that may or may not have been funny and which is indecipherable to me upon waking. This weekend, I woke up to "Goro from Mortal Kombat deck" scrawled in my notebook. As usual, I remember I had written something but not what or why and seeing that written down and underlined like "THIS is the answer, you better remember THIS" confused me. I spent most of the morning contemplating what it could have meant. I mentioned to my wife that I don't remember why I wrote that and our four year old overheard and asked "Who is Goro from Mortal Kombat?" and I explained what the game was and how Goro was one of the final bosses and he was tough to beat because he stomped on you from above and he had two set of arms. She asked, somewhat innocently "Why don't you have four hands, too?"

I finished connecting the dots later when I was playing a game on webcam against a Muldrotha player who remarked "It's hard to beat me considering I have two hands - my regular hand and the graveyard." Suddenly, my daughter's comment came back to me. Why DON'T I have four hands? If we consider the graveyard to be a hand, wouldn't my opponents' graveyards plus my hand be like having four hands? And wouldn't that be way better than having one hand, or even two? If I'm not worrying about my own graveyard I can be resilient to their graveyard hate and watch them either use it on themselves or not use it at all while I let their 'yards fill up with spells to pilfer. I don't like mill as a win condition in Commander, but I am a big fan of letting them "draw" some extra cards into their "hand" for me to play later. Killing their good creatures and stealing their good spells after they use them is a way to get extra mileage out of the best effects in the game, but why let them get use out of those cards first? Why not mill them? I started to think of cards like Diluvian Primordial and Sepulchral Primordial and Spelltwine and how much fun they were. Could we make sure we always hit something good by helping our opponents fill up our Goro hands for us? Sorry if those question marks made it sound like I was asking, the answer is yes, we're doing that, that's the point of this article.

One of my favorite things to do with creatures lately is loop them. My Omnath deck has been a lot of fun to play lately because I am bouncing instead of blinking and it's allowed me to get more mileage out of cards like Thieving Skydiver and allowed me to use Temur Sabretooth which is much, much harder to disrupt than Deadeye Navigator. In particular, Thieving Skydiver has been an all-star, giving me mana rocks I can use to cast more of my spells and deprive them of that same ability. I have played games where I had 4 Sol Rings because I stole everyone's with Skydiver and Thada Adel. Bouncing rather than blinking so I can get the most out of Skydiver has been a fun experiment, and has the added bonus of letting me use Equilibrium to remove problem creatures on my opponents' side of the board which I do quite a bit more than I expected I would.

Bouncing cheap creatures to re-buy Omnath is working well, but big creatures like Diluvian Primordial are a tougher sell. It makes more sense to blink bigger creatures unless we have a ton of mana to play with. The thing is, when you have a lot of mana to play with, things are way more fun, and if you can get lots of mana by taking mana away from opponents, even better. Thieving Skydiver and Thada Adel are a great start, but we can take even more mana rocks and use them to cast more of their spells. So how do we get access to both the spells in their graveyards and to their mana rocks in the same deck? The answer may (not) surprise you (because you already know the commander).

Anowon, the Ruin Thief

I don't want this deck to be identical to the Zareth San deck I built, though I'm going to be running Zareth San in this deck as well. Rather than focus on being Merfolk tribal and hitting them with our Islandwalkers, we're going to be a traditional Rogues deck but focus much more on ETB triggers. We'll steal as many artifacts from the board as we can and the rest of what we want, we'll take from the graveyard. Having a lot of mana doesn't just help us bounce our big boys like Sepulchral Primordial, it helps us use cards that let us cast spells from their graveyard but force us to pay the mana cost. These are generally less broken than cards that let us steal cards without paying the mana cost, but there are more of them, they're less limited in the types of spells we can get and I don't always get a chance to highlight them. Since we're talking about a precon commander, let's look at what came packaged with him, shall we?

Whispersteel Dagger

Whispersteel Dagger is a little too "fair" for most Rogues players to consider running, but I like an Animate Dead that we can use every turn. It's much more expensive than Animate Dead since we have to play the Dagger, equip the Dagger and pay for each creature. However, Mana is something we can steal and it doesn't cost us a card every time, something running a lot of Animate Dead effects does cost us. I think if we build around Dagger rather than throwing it into a different type of deck, we'll make the most of it. Besides, Dagger is only one of our tools.

We want as many low-cost Rogues as we can play, even if they're a little underwhelming in combat. A 1/1 unblockable for one in this deck is much more useful than a more powerful three or four mana creature for a few reasons. Firstly, creatures with low cost and low stats are going to have decent evasion to make sure we trigger Anowon evern turn. Evasion is preferable to power even though power mills more cards. We aren't trying to win via mill, after all, and we can strap some equipment to our Rogues to make sure they punch a little harder. The second reason to employ low-cost Rogues is that we want to replay them easily, both because we will want to play some creatures with Ninjitsu but also because we want to bounce our Primordials or their creatures with Equilibrium. We want to get the damage train rolling early so we can mill their good stuff before they get a chance to draw it and force them to reckon with it before they're ready.

Besides Merfolk Skydiver, why are we even trifling with bounce when we could just play creatures, leave them in play and attack with them like a normal deck? Sower of Temptation, Master Thief, and Gonti, Lord of Luxury and Agent of Treachery all trigger when they enter the battlefield. Bouncing allows you to "reset" cards like Keeper of Keys, Glasspool Mimic, True-Name Nemesis. Finally, getting more Rogues entering the battlefield triggers Theives' Guild Enforcer, milling more cards for us to pilfer. All in all, there is ample reason to run Equilibrium and Cloudstone Curio. You can even make the case for weaker Rogues like Acquisitions Expert or Bala Ged Thief if you get to play them over and over, although I imagine they'd be among the first cuts I made were I to make cuts.

It's not exactly revolutionary to pair Anowon and Rogues with Animate Dead and similar effects, so I'm going to lean a bit more into what makes my approach unique- attacking their board at the same time. We can take cards from them on two axes, doubling the amount of trouble we'll give them by assailing them with their own cardboard. I want to play as many cards that take their mana rocks as I can, fueling our spells and starving theirs. Additionally, stock builds don't deal much with bouncing and flickering and we'll want to do both. While Temur Sabretooth is an excellent alternative to Deadeye Navigator in my Omnath build, it's not possible here. We can run Closet and Thassa as 0-mana Flicker cards because the deck is already plenty expensive. We can see our way clear to running some non-Rogue creatures like Hostage Taker because they'll do so much work in this shell and help us achieve a lot of our goals.

What does a modified Anowon deck focused on artifact theft look like and why does it make me cackle maniacally to imagine playing it on webcam and writing the name of the player I stole each Sol Ring from directly on the card?

Anowon, and a two | Commander | Jason Alt


This is very close to what I'm going to end up building any playing. I've wanted to run a deck like this for a while and the mix of big, flash spells I love to play and small, efficient creatures to put the pressure on early but not be worthless when drawn late is right up my alley. Being able to re-buy a Sower of Temptation if the stolen creature dies, reset Monarch on Keeper of Keys and keep using Skydiver every turn with a minimal commitment of a few bounce cards makes this deck more fun and maybe even more versatile than the stock build.

You don't need my help taking this closer to a stock build, so I'll let you look one up or just check out EDHREC if you think this is a little too far toward the "cute" end of the scale for you. However, there are some other directions you could go.

You could lean into stealing the aspects of their cards. Cards like Evil Twin, Lazav, Dimir Doppleganger and Body Double are very good in a deck where we're milling them. Depriving them of a creature by milling it then taking on its attributes is sort of like casting a Bribery, which I like a lot. The best part about quite a few of those cards is you can change the creature you're copying, especially in a deck like this where you can bounce and replay your creature to copy a new one. Mimic Vat works, Mirage Mirror does a ton of work as always and you can have a few clones join Glasspool Mimic.

Alternatively, we could lean more into stealing their dead stuff. I omitted very cheap cards like Animate Dead in favor of reusable options, but if you wanted to play a few cards that aggressively mill opponents, jam a Bruvac in the deck and run things like Mindcrank and Bloodchief Ascension, you can fill their 'yard early in the game and play spells like Animate Dead and Reanimate to threaten the table with something before anyone is ready. I think this is a risky strategy because it's highly susceptible to removal, requires you to get good luck in what you mill and you don't' get multiple uses out of some of the cards like you would in the build I proposed. It's a lot of fun, though, and you might just win the game early while everyone else is still ramping.

That does it for me this week. Anything I missed? Am I way off base with my build? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and have a great week. Until next time!

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