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Black Dawn Rising


The question was a good one, and I liked the way it was phrased. "Can Stax be 75%?" The venue? Predictably, it was the Commander subreddit. The discussion that evolved from a simple question was a good one, and there were differing viewpoints, which was also good. Ultimately, I came down on the side I usually do when difficult 75% question are concerned, which is usually "yes, but." Yes, but be careful. Yes, but why would you want to? Yes, but no one else will see it that way.

Marchesa, the Black Rose
If you'd like to see how the discussion turned out, it's recorded for posterity. A few good things came out of it. First, /u/Whapow linked the "new" article, “8 Simple Rules for Playing in My Commander Group,” when someone asked what 75% meant, which made me very happy. I asked people to share the "new" one, and someone did at literally the first opportunity. Another good thing was that the discussion was mostly finished by the time I arrived there, which was also great. The community has its own opinions, and some of the important tenants of 75% Commander are being decided by the community. I think it was important that I tried to codify the principles in the early days because, at least for me, it was about how things "felt," and there is a significant portion of the community that has the same "feeling" about certain cards and strategies. It's all very gratifying.

Last, the original poster of the thread, /u/765bro, hit me up in a private message after the thread petered out a bit. There was some good food for thought brought up in the thread, but the discussion must have discouraged him from trying 75% Stax. I think it can be done, but I think it would be very difficult to pull off and very difficult to convince people not to murder you in a giant, bloody dogpile the first time you wind-milled a Tangle Wire or Stasis.

I received a message from /u/765bro on reddit a few days later.

All right, after a week of soulsearching, I've given up on my Stax ways.

But I still want to play Grixis—and hopefully be a little mean! My meta is predominantly preconstructed Commander (2013 Edition) and (2014 Edition) decks, so I want something that challenges them to upgrade their decks. However, because they are running somewhat weak stuff (and severely lacking in removal), do you think Marchesa with a "usurp" theme would be fair to them?

The idea would be a heavy amount of Threaten and Act of Treason effects along with sac outlets so that I could take control of a creature, swing with it to gain a +1/+1 counter, and then sac it to have to permanently join my side of the battlefield.

What do you think? Will that dominate the board too aggressively?

I like it! Stealing opponents’ stuff and saccing it makes me very happy. It's a powerful thing to do because it gives you someone’s best creature in exchange for a spell like Threaten or Mind Control, and it deprives that player of a creature. While summoning a Consecrated Sphinx in response to someone summoning a Consecrated Sphinx is going to ruin Magic for the table—as you draw tons of cards and fail to be able to swing at each other—casting Enslave on a Consecrated Sphinx means you gain a 2-point swing in your favor in the zero-sum game of "creature count." Casting Threaten on a dude, beating someone with it, and then getting rid of it so you don't have to give it back is great. In fact, it's a strategy I have already explored in a previous article, so naturally, I'm on board. But if your commander is Marchesa, the Black Rose and you get to keep the fallen soldier . . . well, then we're cooking with gas.

I wanted to look at a few Marchesa decks to see if I could find a good base, and then I remembered that Brainstorm Brewery finance writer and Gamers Helping Gamers scholarship winner Douglas Johnson had a 75% Marchesa list I liked when I smashed my 75% Nath of the Gilt-Leaf into it. Let's use his deck as a basis and see if we can't modify it a bit to suit /u/765bro's strategy. This is going to be fun.

Let's look at Doug's list.

75% Marchesa, the Black Rose ? Commander | Douglas Johnson

  • Commander (0)

Unspeakable Symbol
This is a pretty good 75% deck with a Demonic Tutor in it, but that's his personal choice, and I'm not going to come down too hard on him. Let's not miss the forest for the Demonic Tutors; this is a 75% Marchesa deck with some very cool synergies. Ring of Evos Isle and Cauldron of Souls can turn a simple creature like Mulldrifter into a chump-blocking, card-drawing advantage ma-chine. There is a lot to love here, but I love the idea of running multiple swipe effects and keeping the spoils of war. I am also toying with the idea of leaving the Demonic Tutor in there because, one hundred percent of the time, I would use it to grab Unspeakable Symbol. I'm joking, but only a little.

This will be easiest if we make a list of cards we want to jam in and then figure out what we can lose. Commander decks run about sixty cards, so changing ten to fifteen percent of the cards will have a real, appreciable effect on how the deck plays. We could swap as few as six cards and see a profound difference, but more would be fine, especially if we end up cutting some existing cards just because they're relatively irrelevant in the new strategy. We want to add a few more sac outlets, a lot more Threaten effects, and probably add more red to the mana base.

Doug already had Mark of Mutiny, which is cool. Let's add Insurrection, Threaten, Word of Seizing, Mass Mutiny, and Molten Primordial to make sure everyone gets a taste. While we're adding some Threaten effects from the Godo, Bandit Warlord article, let's add some of the same sac outlets: Phyrexian Altar, Ashnod's Altar, Breath of Fury, and Tooth and Claw. We have access to blue and black, colors we didn't have access to when we built a mono-red deck that was swiping stuff. I like Bribery, especially if you put the creature back in play rather than in someone’s ’yard if you play a little too rough with that player’s creature and break it.

Blue and black aren't really showing me any sac outlets we need to be playing with and aren't, so we're mostly going to try to jam these few cards in and fix up the mana base because we'll need more access to red than with Doug's list.

Jason's 75% Steal-Their-Creatures-Temporarily-for-the-Rest-of-the-Game Deck ? Commander | Jason Alt

  • Commander (0)

Phantasmal Image
Doug's list may not have looked like it at first blush, but it was actually extremely tight. I may have made some mistakes in the cards I took out—I'm not sure. If you think taking out a card like Phantasmal Image was a mistake, feel free to tweak the list how you want it. The main thing is that I managed to put in everything I wanted to put in. We have more sac outlets to make sure you don't have to give opponents’ creatures back, and we have a few more ways to swipe. Some cards that were only in the deck in service to a combo or an interaction with one other card (like Sage of Fables just to be degenerate with Glen Elendra Archmage) came out, and while that hurt, I think it was ultimately in service of tweaking the deck the way /u/765bro wanted it.

I actually made the mana base worse. There weren’t a ton of ways to make red mana that aren't already in the deck—both Graven Cairns and Cascade Bluffs are already in, for example. I cut the Ancient Tomb and Badlands because I don't think they're necessary. If you have them—and a good MTG financier like Doug Johnson of course has them—jam them if you want. We like having ways to make red mana or ramping or losing life. I just don't want to advocate running expensive lands when we could just build a new deck. The mana was also really tight. It was really tough to find stuff to pull out. Again, if you'd rather run something I took out, run it.

I think we have a lot to work with here, and I like the spin I put on it. We could go a bit further toward the red, Threaten-heavy version if we wanted, but I think we have a nice balance between a 75% deck I like and a new direction to go. Remember that changing six cards changes ten percent of the playables in a deck, and that dramatically changes how the deck plays over the course of a few games.

What do we think? Should I have gone further? Do you like Doug's version better? Leave it in the comments or on reddit. As always, thanks for your input, and we'll see you next week with an article I know you're going to love.

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