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26 Decks in a Year, Episode 10: Selesnya


So I’m going to be honest. I knew I wanted to make populate work in Commander from the moment the mechanic was spoiled. It seemed like a tricky proposition—normally, token decks attempt to go either really wide or infinite, neither of which seemed to be something a populate deck could do without some crazy Rube Goldberg machine of a combo. While that can be fun, it’s also hard to do without a lot of tutors, which are scarce in Selesnya colors. But the fact that most token decks at Commander tables around the world are 1/1 Soldiers or 2/2 Zombies doesn’t mean those are the only tokens out there. What if we went big?

Trostani, Selesnya's Voice

Let’s make some huge tokens, make a few more, and then send them in all willy-nilly without losing much by way of card advantage. Who cares if we are Wrathed? We’ll just rebuild—and faster than anyone else.

Karametra, God of Harvests
Of course, having access to green means we are able to play with all its mana ramp. We have quite a few ways to put extra lands into play, including a few of this column’s mainstays: Farhaven Elf and Ondu Giant leave behind bodies, Sakura-Tribe Elder can block before finding its land, and Fertilid and Burnished Hart (which, frankly, should be in most Commander decks) find two lands each. Cultivate and Peregrination also grab two, and Mwonvuli Acid-Moss will take care of someone else’s problem land while fetching one of our own. Meanwhile, Budoka Gardener lets us dump extra lands from our hand, eventually turning into Dokai, Weaver of Life, which puts massive tokens onto the field. Karametra, God of Harvests plays into our theme nicely. And Perilous Forays can turn chump-blockers into deck-thinners, or, with mana up, turns a Wrath into a massive jump in mana.

We also have a suite of dual lands and our normal slow fetches like Terramorphic Expanse. Urza's Factory, Khalni Garden, Gargoyle Castle, and Grove of the Guardian all make tokens in some way, which can matter, even if normally we’re not going to want to populate a 0/1 or a 2/2. Ghost Quarter is not the best targeted land destruction in the world, but it can end up being really important when someone is doing real damage with a Cabal Coffers or whatever.

Most of our card advantage is going to come from making noncards (all our tokens) or grabbing lands from our library. However, we’re still going to want to refill our hand from time to time, and Momentous Fall, Life's Legacy, and Soul's Majesty can all help with that. In addition, Masked Admirers is a great way to spend some mana to draw a card—it’s a little expensive, but it works in a deck without access to u.

Decree of Justice
Our route to victory is all our tokens. Mostly, we’re going to go for creatures with some kind of evasion, like flying or trample. Luminarch Ascension and Hoofprints of the Stag both require some work but make 4/4 flyers turn after turn. Moonsilver Spear does the same while encouraging us to attack. Decree of Justice can make a bunch, while Devout Invocation is among the nastiest follow-ups to a Martial Coup imaginable. Trostani's Summoner isn’t just on theme—we get a 4/4 trampler out of the deal. Horncaller's Chant gives us two to start out with, unless we have something even better to populate. Advent of the Wurm gives us a 5/5 trample, and so does Spawning Grounds. Armada Wurm gives us two, and Worldspine Wurm just gets silly. Penumbra Wurm leaves behind a 6/6 with trample.

Then, we have ways to make other tokens. Hydra Broodmaster makes dudes as big as our mana allows, and our flipped Gardener, who helped us get out our mana, lets us crank out massive guy after massive guy. Centaur Glade, Kazandu Tuskcaller, and a variety of other effects (including our Planeswalker Garruk, Primal Hunter, from the days before he was evil) will give us 3/3s, which aren’t ideal, but which are good enough to start off with, and they can do a lot when you have enough of them. 4/4s are even better, and there are some ways to get those, too, including the awesome Rampaging Baloths. Oh, and enjoy the look on the players’ face when they smugly throw down Supreme Verdict and pass, only to have you play Fresh Meat and wind up with a board full of beasties ready to attack.

Aura Mutation
Unfortunately, tokens can’t do everything for us. Condemn, Selesnya Charm, and Trostani's Judgment all take care of troublesome creatures—Condemn is especially nasty on someone’s commander (double points if it’s a God!). We can also blow up the world with Phyrexian Rebirth (leaving behind a nasty token to populate), Kirtar's Wrath (which will sometimes still leave us with some dudes), or my favorite, Hour of Reckoning, seemingly designed for this deck.

Newcomer Wave of Vitriol joins Bane of Progress in mass noncreature destruction. Aura Mutation and Sundering Growth give us a touch of pinpoint removal for the same permanents. Oblivion Ring serves as a catch-all answer for permanents; I have it in because it’s cheaper than Banishing Light, but if you have that and not O-Ring, it’s a perfectly acceptable substitute. Also, Druid's Deliverance and Rootborn Defenses may seem a bit strange—who runs Fog in a Commander deck?—but you’ll be surprised at how great it is. The free populate is almost worth it alone, but when someone thinks he or she has you and you Fog, only to crack back with your army of monsters, it’s hilarious and spectacular.

It’s in the interactions, though, where this deck truly shines. Growing Ranks and Wayfaring Temple add populate turn after turn, even with Trostani off the field, and Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage is a great mana sink for even more tokens. Thousand-Year Elixir lets us use our commander’s ability right away, and it with Strionic Resonator let us gain extra uses. Parallel Lives is a fair Doubling Season just for our tokens, and Parallel Evolution doubles us even more—though it does help others with token strategies, so use it carefully. Emmara Tandris was maligned when revealed, but she shines here, making combat nearly impossible for our opponents. Meanwhile, Intangible Virtue gives our tokens +1/+1 for the low, low cost of 1w. Spawning Pit, like Fresh Meat, can help turn our losses into tokens.

Two special cards deserve mention here. Decks like this want Overrun effects to punch through one massive swing. We have two. Overwhelming Forces is almost always going to be better—the likelihood of our having at least one 6-power creature is quite high. The second, though, may not be everyone’s cup of tea: Triumph of the Hordes. If you or your playgroup don’t like infect, even when it’s just for one turn to attempt to end the game, feel free to switch this out for the classic Overrun or—if you have one—Garruk Wildspeaker.

Trostani, Selesnya?s Voice ? Commander | Mark Wischkaemper

A major key to this deck is not overextending. Most of the time, it’s worth it to hold another token producer and just use your mana to populate instead, even if the thing you’re holding is better than what you currently have. Force control players to play Wrath effects suboptimally, and wait until they’re tapped out to play the big spells; it’s a lot harder to counter Trostani’s activated ability than it is Horncaller's Chant. Also, don’t be afraid to wait till the midgame to start attacking; when we have a pair of 4/4s to someone’s Mind Stone and Hero of Iroas, it might seem like a good idea to slam in, but we’re not sure what’s coming. Often, it will be better to hang back, build our forces and our mana, not make a fuss, and then smile evilly when everyone realizes how out of hand our board has become.

Elfhame Palace
Rather than increase the number of dual lands here, better would be just to upgrade. We want plenty of targets for our basic land-fetching, but Temple of Plenty would be better than Elfhame Palace, for example. The one worth considering replacing for a basic is Gavony Township.

If you want to spice the deck up with some extra coin, any Ajani and the other Garruks all make good additions. (Garruk, Apex Predator is not allowed, of course, but neither is Garruk Relentless. Even though he doesn’t have b in his mana cost, his transformed side is black, which makes him illegal in a Selesnya deck.) Mimic Vat might be worth the slot as well. Wingmate Roc, Wurmcoil Engine, and Entreat the Angels would all be great. Phyrexian Processor was a bit too risky in my mind, but it could be amazing, especially if Trostani’s been out for a while and you have 50 or so life to spare. Craterhoof Behemoth should definitely go in if you can acquire one.

I also cut Baloth Cage Trap, but that could be worth it if you have a Sharuum the Hegemon player around. Roar of the Wurm and Crush of Wurms are both fun, but they didn’t seem good enough without evasion, and Giant Adephage (my favorite!) had to go because you can only run so many 7-drops.

This week, I’d like to ask for suggestions for the enemy-color pairs. I’ve already promised Jason Alt I’d do Tibor and Lumia for U/R, but the other ones are still up in the air, so I’d love to see some suggestions. Leave them in the comments!

A couple more things: First, I highly recommend a lot of different things to be used as tokens—maybe not stuffed rhinos, but a bunch of different items representing different creatures would be really fun. Second, happy New Year, everybody!

Total cost: $74.80

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