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Invocation Leads to Re-visitation

This week, I had a little bit of trouble deciding which commander to build around. I haven’t done Kess yet, but since I’m working on a Kess deck in paper, I don’t want to talk about it before it’s done in case I want to document the process for an article. The Scarab God and Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest both got a surge in popularity this week, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to talk about an older commander when we have Commander 2017 and Ixalan commanders to discuss. I kept looking at list after list — Top commander of the week on EDHREC, the Commander 2017 lists, the list of cards in Ixalan, all to no avail. What I found myself wanting to do was talk about a card, not a commander. If that means I talk about a very old commander to do it, so be it. I really want to talk about what may be my favorite card in Ixalan and the impact it’s having on my older decks. The card? Sunbird's Invocation.

What Makes People Overlook Invocation?

Sunbird's Invocation has a lot of text on it.

Sunbird's Invocation

Look at all of that text. No flavor or reminder text, just wall to wall rules text. People see that and their eyes glaze over, especially if you’re looking at a bunch of spoilers all at once for the first time. It screams “BULK RARE!” and that’s mostly what it still is, although the foils are beginning to creep up, signaling that people are getting wise to this spell. It also costs six mana, which relegates it to Commander, and a lot of people don’t even bother to read cards they will never play. This isn’t particularly impactful in Limited most of the time, so the fact that this seems Commander-only means that there are huge swaths of players who will never even fully read this card’s text. It seems crazy, but it’s true. Of the remaining people for whom this card might be relevant, there is another swath of players who start to read this before their eyes glaze over and they’ll think this is just the bad Red enchantment that’s printed in every set. Raise your hand if you know what Bludgeon Brawl or Confusion in the Ranks or Guild Feud or Wild Evocation do without reading them. Some of you nerds, sure, you nailed all of them. Most of us? Most people see another expensive Red enchantment with a lot of text and never manage to read the entire thing. Ironically enough, those same people were super excited for Swarm Intelligence because Blue cards are always good.

How Did You Think Invocation Would Play?

I thought it would be pretty similar to Maelstrom Nexus.

How Does Invocation Actually Play?

It feels a lot more like Omniscience. It’s like Cream of the Crop and Rooftop Storm had a baby. It’s like every card is actually Maelstrom Wanderer and Maelstrom Wanderer is Mind's Desire where X = “Your opponents all concede.” If this seems hyperbolic it’s because it’s obviously hyperbolic. Just play with the card. It’s not Might Makes Right or Grip of Chaos or whichever Red 6-drop you have to look up. It’s the real deal. It’s like Rishkar's Expertise all the time. Also, you can cast Rishkar's Expertise with Sunbird's Invocation out because of course you’re playing Green because how else are you planning on getting to six mana early enough to matter?

Why is Invocation So Good?

Maelstrom Nexus
Mathematically, the expression X > X-1 doesn’t seem all that profound. Of course a number is larger than 1 less than that number. But when you think about why Sunbird's Invocation is so much more exciting than Maelstrom Nexus, the card a lot of us thought it basically was, you realize that Invoking (Invocationing?) is even better than Cascading because you can hit something that’s the same mana cost. Can you imagine if Bloodbraid Elf could cascade into Bloodbraid Elf? Would anyone have played a deck other than Jund that year? I mean, they basically didn’t, but it would have been a whole lot worse. We’re not going to elf into elf in Commander but we can do some pretty spicy plays if we can cast a spell and hit a spell that’s the same mana cost. The returns don’t have to diminish, and that’s pretty stellar.

Also, we don’t have to hit a mana rock or Birds of Paradise. A lot of the appeal to me as a 75% builder when I play my Maelstrom Wanderer deck is that I can whiff, allowing me to build the deck as powerful as I want because it’s pretty inconsistent sometimes. If you get built up to where you have Food Chain or Paradox Engine or something, then, yes, you’re consistent and powerful, but people usually know better than to let you get that far ahead because they know how explosive the deck can be. With Invocation, we lose a lot of that randomness. If you cast Rishkar's Expertise, you dig down like 100 cards and you can cast any of them rather than just the first thing you see. This is much, much better than Cascading. However, you can still Cascade also, meaning you can get approximately all of the value. Sometimes you might want to Rishkar's Expertise to trigger Sunbird's Invocation into a Simic Signet, but if you can get an Acidic Slime instead, why would you not? You wouldn’t not, I hope.

What’s the Perfect Commander for Sunbird’s Invocation?

Maelstrom Archangel.

That’s . . .  Not a Thing . . . 

Fine. The closest we can get is Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder which means we don’t get Maelstrom Archangel, Maelstrom Nexus or . . .  Swords to Plowshares? I’m drawing a blank — will we miss White at all?

What Other New Cards Will We Add?

Sunbird's Invocation isn’t the only card we have now that we didn’t when we first built a Yidris deck. We have some other new goodies I’m very excited about.

Primal Amulet — What a card. In addition to making our expensive spells, the very ones that are ideal with Yidris and Sunbird's Invocation, easier to cast, this also flips eventually and turns into Boseiju, Who Shelters All meets Swarm Intelligence. Beautiful. Speaking of Swarm Intelligence . . . 

Swarm Intelligence — This card is going to make things even more complicated but it’s going to get us a ton of value. It’s even going to trigger some pretty big things happening just by being cast, which I’m super OK with. This is a pretty durdly card, but when the deck is set up to benefit from big things happening, that’s OK. Suddenly Treasure Cruise is looking a whole lot less fair when cast for a mere U.

Kess, Dissident Mage — The deck I almost built in today’s article has a lot to contribute, here. What’s better than casting Dig Through Time, getting a Sunbird's Invocation Trigger and then cascading? Doing it again next turn.

Magus of the Mind — We may end up cutting this, but it’s a creature that triggers our cards like Invocation and Vial Smasher and, unlike Mind's Desire, doesn’t feel clunky to have in a deck that may cast it by accident. I don’t like the idea of Cascading into Mind's Desire, but I’m always happy to hit a big, chunky body that can wait around for a few turns until the time is right.

The Locust God — Not my build, but a lot of Yidris builds have wheel effects and cards like Geth's Grimoire, Waste Not, and Megrim to punish opponents. We didn’t have The Locust God when we first built that way, but we do now!

Paradox Engine — I’m sure this is on some manner of Rules Committee watchlist, but for now, WEEEEEEEEE.

As Foretold — More ways to cheat? K.

Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh — We liked Nicol Bolas so much last time, what if we had two of them? Thanks, new Planeswalker rules!

For reference, here is the decklist we went with last time. I realize I linked the article and you could just click that link and see the list, but I figured I’d be a buddy and post it here.

The Old Ydris ? Commander | Jason Alt

That looks like fun, and we were clearly looking to make sure we connected with Yidris. Creatures like Stonehoof Chieftain and Marchesa's Smuggler (I forgot that card even existed. Man, why does no one else love Conspiracy 2 as much as me? I barely see any of those cards played) were there to ensure we connected and therefore got our cascade shenanigans to happen. This new build may be more focused on playing spells and we may cut some of the cuter stuff. Let’s take a look at our new and improved Yidris build now that we’re dedicated to optimizing Sunbird's Invocation, a card we will probably get in like 25% of our games and have no way to tutor for. Man . . .  when I put it like that, I sound like a lunatic for bothering to rebuild . . . 

Dark Phoenix, but not the bad one from X3 ? Commander | Jason Alt

Swarm Intelligence
This probably needs a little bit of tuning. A few games will expose what seems clunky about it on paper. In general, I feel like there are a lot of ways to copy spells but maybe not enough of them. I cut deeply from creatures but I feel the average CMC may be too high. Here are some changes you can make to this basic list to suit the deck to what you like.

You may want more mana ramp. Feel free to cut some of the more expensive spells to make room for spells like Cultivate. It’s not great to cascade a Cultivate, but if you’re copying it with Swarm Intelligence, it actually does a lot of work. There’s no question that Boundless Realms does work here, but we want stuff to play our first few turns, too. If you like mana ramp or more mana dorks, it couldn’t hurt. I carried over dorks like Caryatid because I want Paradox Engine to be as good as possible so that’s why I have more mana creatures than spells like Cultivate. If your personal preference is different, go with your gut.

You may want more spells that have a big payoff. We have a lot of ways to copy spells but not a ton of really good ones. I like the idea of casting Bribery, copying it and then invoking and cascading and ditto for Expropriate. I think our “medium” spells become a lot bigger when the deck is doing what it’s designed to and that’s why I didn’t include a ton of big spells and why I cut a few like Volcanic Vision. If you want to add a few more big spells, Grave Upheaval, Rise of the Dark Realms, Volcanic Vision and Blatant Thievery will all do work in this deck. I wanted to include all of them.

Marchesa's Smuggler
You may want to be combat-focused like the deck was before and ensure we always hit them with Yidris. Add back in cards like Fireshrieker, Grappling Hook, Marchesa's Smuggler and the bigger creatures like Stonehoof Chieftain. I kept Bear Umbra and Nature's Will since those seem to make any creature better, but if you want to go for more of a semi-Voltron vibe, add those in and go even farther and add cards like Sword of Feast and Famine and/or War and Peace, Rage Reflection, etc. You could make a pretty sweet Voltron-feeling Yidris deck that hits hard and then casts a cascading spell post-combat to make their lives even more miserable.

A wheel build is so far from what I have constructed that it’s a different deck. I think that wheel build could benefit from Sunbird's Invocation, but I also think that the deck is largely optimized by competitive players and those builds are available online. I do think that new cards like Primal Amulet, The Locust God, Search for Azcanta, etc go in those builds, but those players have already identified those cards. EDHREC now has theme filters and you can look at just the decks that are wheel-themed by clicking this link. Check the top of the page for the full list of sub-themes we identified and linked for you. I guess by “we” I mean “other people who do important stuff on a website I contribute to.” I actually had no part in programming those filters and I’m pretty sure they work by magic, but I know how to hyperlink them for my readers so I did that much at least.

I have all of the stuff lying around to build this and I might take a stab at it. I was going to build Kess from the leftovers in the Wizards deck but I may just jam the Kess in this deck and call it a day. Whatever I end up doing, I’m going to be glad I recommended my podcast listeners buy a few of the foil copies of Invocation from CoolStuff before they sold out. Expect the new price to be higher than $4 — this card is the real deal and I want to put it in a lot of my decks. Have fun out there Invoking and remember you get to cascade, too. Until next time!

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