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I probably should have guessed I’d be a better comedian than a Chemist. My first day as a Chemistry major, the Honors P-Chem professor had everyone stand up, introduce themselves and say what their favorite element was. When it was my turn, I stood up and said “surprise” and you’re in good company for not laughing because they didn’t either. Not all jokes need to be “ha ha” funny because the real point I was trying to make was that I don’t like boring answers and answering honestly would have felt boring to me. Everyone learned a lot more about me than if I’d answered Francium like they wanted me to; namely that I hate boring answers and love surprises. Let’s try and work both of those things into what we talk about today.

Atraxa, Praetors' Voice
Breya, Etherium Shaper

So what’s boring? Personally, I think Atraxa, Praetors' Voice and Breya, Etherium Shaper are pretty boring. You remember the movie The Blues Brothers when Elwood asks the waitress at the country bar what kind of music they get and she says “We get both kinds. Country AND Western”? Atraxa is that bar. I’ve seen both kinds of Atraxa builds — Infect AND Superfriends. It goes to show that even if you slap 15 relevant combat abilities onto a badass angel that looks like Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite had a lovechild with Jenova from Final Fantasy 7 and it starred in a movie directed by Guillermo del Toro, people will build a boring infect deck where they never attack with it as long as that’s the most obvious way to build. Breya seems to be headed that way, also. She is the #2 or #3 most popular commander on EDHREC every day and a lot of the recommended cards are found in over 50% of the builds so far. When cards that aren’t in the precon start showing up in over 50% of builds, you know you’ve got a real case of the obviousnesses. Wow, you jammed Thopter-Sword in Breya? You’ve cracked the code! Only 70% of people who build this deck did that!

Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis
Is obvious and popular always bad? No, of course not. Consensus exists for a reason and the wisdom of the crowd is a fascinating topic to delve into. Sure, the bandwagon fallacy is a thing, but a group consisting of 70% of the people who build a given deck isn’t guaranteed to be wrong just because it’s not guaranteed to be right. Building a predictable Breya or Atraxa deck is pretty well liable to be pretty strong because most people have the goal of making a deck that wins and the cards that a large swath of them choose to use to accomplish that goal is likely to merit at least a look if not outright inclusion. We don’t build a 75% deck by being contrarians and calling it a day. However, we do have a tendency to go against the grain a little bit and hopefully do some things that people aren’t expecting, or at least aren’t obvious. The first thing that isn’t obvious that I want to do is build one of the less popular Commander 2016 decks because I think it’s more interesting. Let’s look at how we would tackle Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis.

Even though this precon is way less popular than Atraxa or Breya, I almost fell into the trap of making an obvious “group hug” deck. This deck certainly lends itself to that by allowing our opponents to ramp their resources and allowing us to play Questing Phelddagrif by virtue of it being in our colors. We certainly COULD build that way and that was the first idea I had when I saw this commander. However, there are a lot of possibilities, here and I want to try being a little creative and surprising in my build this week. The way I see it, we can punish our opponents for taking advantage of the symmetrical ramp effect if we punish them for putting non-basic lands into play. We don’t like to prevent our opponents from doing anything but we certainly won’t feel bad if Burning Earth is a Manabarbs that only hurts them and Back to Basics hampers their ability to play a ton of big spells. Does that sound like a group hug to you? It’s more of a bear hug — it feels OK at first but after a while you start to realize they’re not going to loosen their grip and you’re starting to suffocate but by then it’s too late. The element of surprise will serve us well and we can start by letting them underestimate us by expecting us to be a predictable group hug build. Get ready for a bear hug.


Manabarbs
This nearly became a Power Surge/Manabarbs deck and that would have been funny. I may build that deck someday, but I would either want to run tutors to get my combo pieces or run it in a 60 card format. The deck used Sphere of Law to make sure you never took damage from Manabarbs so that Power Surge never hurt you. I like the idea still, but decided that instead of Manabarbs (and Blood Moon, which I cut because people would argue it wasn’t 75% and while I disagree, I don’t want to go to bat for that card and besides, it’s a nonbo with Primal Order) I would run Burning Earth and Primal Order to punish them. Back to Basics is in a lot of ways dirtier than Blood Moon because it keeps those non-basics in play, damaging them.

I usually talk a lot about what I did with the deck, but I think this week I want to talk about the different directions you can take with the deck and what you’d add and cut out to go that way. What I did was pretty basic — I set myself up to be shielded from cards that punish players for having a lot of non-basic lands (I’m realizing “basic” earlier in the sentence was an unintentional pun) by running none myself that don’t search for basic lands. They take Burning Earth Damage, we don’t, they kill each other because you’re behind a protective shield of enchantments, they aren’t. You also make them like you by ramping their spells out. However, you’re a prickly person to hug because they’re going to get to tap more mana but it’s going to hurt them and eventually put them in range of a finishing blow from you.

Sphinx's Revelation
If you don’t want to be a Primal Surge deck which is fine if you’re building 75%, cut the surge. You can take out a few creatures that are poor substitutes for Cultivate, etc and you can run wrath effects, cards like Sphinx's Revelation, etc. Run the instants and sorceries you want to run. I didn’t go that route, but you easily could. I had to cut a few instants and sorceries that I’d normally run here like Sphinx's Revelation, Boundless Realms, and Genesis Wave and I wouldn’t hate having access to those. The cards to cut should be fairly obvious.

If you want to go more “big mana” and maybe win with Prosperity and cards like that, add Mana Flare and Zur Taa Ancient as well as cards like Blue Sun's Zenith and Laboratory Maniac. I don’t like to win that way, but this build easily could — you could even mostly leave it as-is with all permanents and try to Lab Maniac win off of Primal Surge. Big Mana lets you pick any number of win conditions. The deck needs to stray a LOT from this build to give you infinite mana, however, so make sure you can get there before you try to prosperity the table out of the game. I suggest Words of Wind or some other way to keep from decking yourself. Mana Reflection, Zendikar Resurgent, Doubling Cube and other cards can help you lean that way. We’re in Green, so Helix Pinnacle is an option, also, which seems fun.

If you want to go more tokeny, add Craterhoof Behemoth, a few Anthem effects (Mirari's Wake is a great one) and maybe Mycoloth or something like that. Cathars' Crusade is huge in a build like that. They can play their big spells, but you can create a lot of tokens with Avenger of Zendikar and swarm them. Tokens is a fun way to go and Hazezon Tamar is already in here because I think he scales well with the number of lands we’ll have in the deck. Also, the infrastructure of a token deck will help the Natural Affinity in the deck. You can jam Rude Awakening, also, at that point and have a huge alpha strike with a million creatures. Add Pegasus Stampede and Sacred Mesa to join the Bearscape.

Treachery
If you want to add more stuff to steal more of theirs, go ahead. I could easily have added more auras to steal their stuff. Annex is a good one in this deck, as is Treachery. I like the Dominating Licid we have and Progenitor Mimic is a good way to make the most of the best stuff at the table. If you wanted to add Rite of Replication or Control Magic or even Rubinia Soulsinger, the deck is set up for it.

All of these ways to build are possible with this core build. The main thing to focus on is to try and have a win condition that seems to come out of nowhere. Primal Surge, Prosperity, even starting to play cards to chip away at their life total like Primal Order after they have a false sense of security can work to take them by surprise. The main thing is that you make your build your own. If you’re going to build an obvious build, you might as well not build 75% because it will always seem tempting to approach that stock build. You start to see a card as suboptimal and swap it for something more powerful without realizing you’re slowly building the stock version of the deck. I like the flexibility of the core deck I have assembled because it can go in a ton of different directions, all of them unique to the builder and a surprise to the opponent. Be unconventional, as unconventional as you can be within the artificial limits placed on you by playing to the commander’s strengths, that is, and you should be able to punish people for underestimating you.

Do you have a unique take on Kynaios and Tiro? How about Atraxa and Breya? Let me know in the comments or e-mail your decklist to altjason17@gmail.com. As always, thanks for reading, and we’ll see you next week.


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