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Flavor Builds: Tetsuo, Imperial Champion


Welcome back, Loreseekers! Today we're here for another Building with Flavor (renamed Flavor Builds starting now for brevity), where I tackle a Commander deck where we emphasize the flavor of the Commander over an optimized decklist. I haven't written one in a while, but where better to start again than with Dominaria United, perhaps one of the most lore dense Magic sets of all time. If you want to read more Flavor Builds, check out my previous articles:

Today we're here to talk about Tetsuo, Imperial Champion! Hilariously, since I started writing this, Vorthos, Steward of Myth was printed, with this flavor text:

"Just wait, my Madara deck isn't all Emperor Bolas. There's an Umezawa subtheme!"

That's... sort of this deck, but in reverse. It's an Umezawa deck with a Bolas subtheme.

Tetsuo Umezawa (~3607 AR)

Tetsuo, Imperial Champion by Lius Lasahido

  • Assassin's Blade
  • Emperor's Fist
  • Champion's Trial

Tetsuo Umezawa was the main character in the Legends II cycle, a trilogy of novels about Nicol Bolas's Empire of Madara. While unfortunately a lot of his allies, like Wasitora, Nekoru Queen, Ayesha Tanaka, Armorer, and Kei Takahashi won't fit into his deck (unless we make a Vorthos deck... literally), his second, Tor Wauki, the Younger does! His friend Kolo Meha doesn't have a card (yet... Ethan get on that), but his descendant does, which I'll get to later.

The gist of Tetsuo's story is that he was the proud Imperial Champion of Madara, charged with maintaining the honor of the Emperor (honor plot on a Japanese-influenced setting? Yeah, I know, I know). He is accompanied by his armorer Ayesha, the healer Kei, and the archer Tor when he meets Wasitora tyrannizing a village for fish. He ends up befriending her, just before being embroiled in the machinations of the Imperial Assassin, Ramses, Assassin Lord, who has gained the favor of the god-emperor of Madara, Nicol Bolas.

After being targeted by Ramses' minions, Xira, the Golden Sting and Orca, Siege Demon, and witnessing first hand as Rameses has General Marhault Elsdragon killed so he can assume direct control of Madara's army, Tetsuo realizes that Madara may actually be the bad guys and begins to work against them (as do his allies). Tetsuo defeats Ramses, and tricks Bolas into a confrontation where the elder dragon is forced to leave behind his body and enter the Meditation Realm as a spirit. While Bolas is thus preoccupied, a spell prepared in advance slams into Bolas's body, 'killing' him.

For the purposes of this deck, besides the obvious Tetsuo, Imperial Champion as Commander, I included as many characters from his story as I could. Tor Wauki the Younger is here and synergizes nicely with Tetsuo's attack trigger. I picked Nicol Bolas, the Ravager for this deck because this is the version that features Madara (a location called the Talon Gates) on the back. I included Ramses, Assassin Lord and Orca, Siege Demon as they felt like fun side strategies.

Tetsuo's story ended up forming the 'middle' of a super-trilogy all written by Scott McGough. During the Kamigawa block, we met Tetsuo's ancestor Toshiro, who is transported across planes, while during the Time Spiral block we see Nicol Bolas restored (The Eldest Reborn) and seek revenge on all those responsible for Tetsuo's existence. Fraying Omnipotence felt like an important card to include, given the defeat of Bolas around this timeframe.

Toshiro Umezawa (~3227 AR)

Toshiro Umezawa by Christopher Moeller

  • Outlaw: Champions of Kamigawa
  • Heretic: Betrayers of Kamigawa
  • Guardian: Saviors of Kamigawa

Although I've gone over the story of Toshiro Umezwa in Preparing for Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, it's worth revisiting who this character is. Together with Hidetsugu, Devouring Chaos, he founded the Hyozan Reckoners (mostly to save his own skin from being killed by the ogre). Toshiro's story is twisty, as he tries to navigate his oaths to the Reckoners, to Michiko Konda, Truth Seeker, and to the Myojin of Night's Reach. He ultimately ends up pissing most people off by doing the right thing (despite himself) and as a punishment/reward, Night's Reach drops him off on Dominaria blinded.

Kiku, Night's Flower is a Frenemy-turned-Lover-turned-Frenemy-again of Toshio's and is possibly the ancestor of a modern day Umezawa, so she's in. It doesn't hurt that she adds another assassin for Ramses. Although Godo, Bandit Warlord isn't a close ally, I decided to include him as well because, well, he's an incredible card in this deck. Life of Toshiro Umezawa // Memory of Toshiro and Honden of Night's Reach are flavorful references that end up being handy in this deck, so they were included as well.

Toshiro's infamous weapon, Umezawa's Jitte is obviously something that had to be included in this equipment themed Umezawa deck, as is Umezawa's Charm. That about wraps up any ancient Kamigawa cards or references included in the deck, although I did include General's Kabuto and Oathkeeper, Takeno's Daisho because they work really well in this deck, despite belonging to people who would have been Toshiro's enemies.

Tetsuko and Satoru Umezawa (~4562 AR)

Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive by Randy Vargas

The final big flavor includes come from the modern day! Tetsuo's descendant, Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive, lives on Dominaria. She doesn't do much in the deck, but I can't just leave an Umezawa out. Also on Dominaria is Naru Meha, Master Wizard, the descendant of one of Tetsuo's close allies, Kolo Meha, so she felt appropriate to add as well.

On the Kamigawa side, the current leader of the Hyozan Reckoners is Satoru Umezawa, who may have just taken the name for street cred, but no one has dared challenge it. The surprise element of giving all the creatures in your hand Ninjutsu is really helpful. Modern Kamigawa was a great place to look for cards to benefit this deck, with Akki Battle Squad being a perfect support piece for the equipment theme. In the end, I didn't really use too many modern Kamigawa cards, as the Reconfigure cards weren't always doing what I was trying to do, but I couldn't pass up You Are Already Dead, which features a reckoner killing an opponent.

The Flavor Bends

The rest of the deck were picked largely for mechanical reasons; however, I'll justify some choices here. For instance, Champion's Helm may not have been intended to be Tetsuo's, but I'll take it. Meteoric Mace and Nazahn's Hammer conjure images of the 'meteor hammer' spell that Tetsuo uses to destroy Bolas's body.

The Decklist

Umezawa's Charm by Eric Deschamps

As usual, the point of this deck isn't to optimize, but to make sure we have maximum flavor. However, I could resist including a number of mechanical moves, and given how the Umezawas in general are known for their cleverness in combat, I thought including a number of sorcery speed 'tricks', things your opponents won't be expecting as you attack, like extra combat phases, would be fun! I avoided extra turns because that felt a bit too spike-y, but I have a number of cool sorcery effects that will be fun to pull off. Make sure to save those sorceries for Tetsuo triggers, unless you really need them. Thankfully, Tetsuo's other mode upon attacking lets you do something even if you're out of spells.

The one thing this deck really lacks, I think, is the amount of card draw I would like to make sure your hand is stocked with spells for Tetsuo. That'll be something I work on in later versions, for now, I'm excited to build this in real life!

Tetsuo, Imperial Legacy | Commander | Jay Annelli

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