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Convertible Commander: Elenda, the Dusk Rose


Elenda, the Dusk Rose
In Magic, as in life, there are things we can't plan for. Sometimes our opponent has the Path to Exile we hope she doesn't have. Sometimes someone we thought was our ally goes back on a deal. And sometimes, we get a speeding ticket just because we weren't watching closely enough. It happens, we deal, and we move forward as best we can. Because sometimes, another excellent author at GatheringMagic.com scoops the commander you were planning to write about!

All last week I was thinking about Elenda, the Dusk Rose. She's sweet, abusable, and in one of my favorite color parings. My first Commander deck ever was a Vampire tribal deck, so there's that, too. I was really excited to write about her. Of course, it stands to reason other authors would have the same thoughts, and Jason is a prolific and talented writer, as well as a great boon to the Commander scene -- the idea of playing without shame of the desire to win but with others' feelings and experience in mind wasn't novel when he started his 75% series, but it was difficult to pin down. He's given it substance, gravitas, and a series of concepts we can use to create fun, interactive, competitive decks. Of course he'd want to build around such a neat, new commander!

Fortunately, Jason and I take different approaches. Jason builds nearly battle-ready decks. He will sometimes admit a deck or card needs more testing before fully committing, but he thinks about removal for trouble permanents, card draw, and a solid win condition (or many!) in every deck. I try to do that, but I'm a lot more likely to throw out an idea and push it really, really far, sometimes at the expense of the competitiveness of the deck. It's not common, but every once in a while I build a deck without a win condition. Seriously, no way to win.

So what do we get out of this? Well, hopefully, two different perspectives on a single commander. There are going to be some similarities -- frankly one of us would be terrible at this if there weren't -- but I believe there are enough differences to make the experiment worthwhile.

The seminal idea for this deck came from a guy named Seth, probably better known as SaffronOlive, over at mtggoldfish.com. He loves to play Aristocrats, and when he saw a crazy, convoluted way to do it in Standard (sacrificing tokens to give Elenda counters, then sacrificing Elenda to make more tokens, then sacrificing all of those, but along the way having Pitiless Plunderer out so all those tokens turn into Treasure. Then Marionette Master kills the opponent by sacrificing the Treasure!), he went for it.

The reason for this tortuous insanity is the lack of a Blood Artist-style card in Standard right now. But in Commander, we get to play Blood Artist! Let's see how many peons we can sacrifice for our Aristocrat build.


Crypt Ghast
The gist here is pretty standard Aristocrats fare. We're going to attempt to make a bunch of tokens, then get something on the battlefield which makes a token dying do damage to a player. We'll then sacrifice all our tokens, doing a bunch of damage and putting a ton of counters on Elenda. We then sac Elenda and sac all the vampire tokens her death creates, doubling up on the damage we get to do. There are, of course, ways to go infinite in Commander with token production, but this deck is going to stay a little lower to the ground and attempt to grind out the game fairly, a few tokens at a time.

I continue to be amazed at the number of Commander decks I see running 37, 34, 32 lands! 40 should be close to the absolute bottom; even with 40 we're still going to bump into mana problems, but they're almost assured with fewer lands. Because this deck is going to need some mana to get going, we've got some artifact acceleration as well, plus Crypt Ghast for good measure. Ideally we have 6 mana on turn five, which shouldn't be too much to ask. Our lands also help us, fixing color and giving us cute abilities like Vault of the Archangel (see if anyone will attack into your little army of tokens when you've got that ability available) and Mystifying Maze.

Black is great at drawing cards, and the beast in Commander is Baleful Force; that big guy draws us an extra card every turn, at the cost of one life per card (worth it!). We'll gain a bunch of it back with our Blood Artist effects anyway, and when we're digging for pieces, we want to see as many cards as possible. Underworld Connections brings in extras as well, Treasure Map lets us Scry, and, if we flip it, turns our Treasure into extra cards, and Bloodgift Demon is a Phyrexian Arena on a reasonably-sized body which lets us target, so we can actually potentially kill someone with the trigger. Mentor of the Meek is a worthwhile inclusion in any token deck in its color.

Baleful Force
We've got a few answers, most of which help us in some other way. Contract Killing, for example, kills a dude and makes some Treasure. Corpsehatch leaves behind a couple of little dudes. Batwing Brume is a funny way to stay alive out of nowhere, and sometimes even kill an opponent out of nowhere. Decree of Pain will wipe our board too, but it will draw us so many cards we should be able to reassemble a winning combo out of our new grip.

Everything else is in service of the combo. We've got token generators like Pawn of Ulamog and White Sun's Zenith. We have sacrifice outlets like Carrion Feeder and Ashnod's Altar. And we have our Aristocrats, the best of which is probably Zulaport Cutthroat because it can kill everyone else in one go. But Blood Artist and Falkenrath Noble will do in someone, and hopefully buy enough time to stay alive and do it again. Of course, the hope is we do all this with Elenda on the 'field, because then we get twice the fun, which means we can kill an opponent from full life with 20 tokens, rather than 40. We've even included Pitiless Plunderer and Marionette Master as an homage to the original SaffronOlive deck. That combo is harder to assemble because it requires two extra specific pieces and we're not running any tutors, but the deck makes enough Treasure that a Marionette Master with the counters might just be a surprise win.

This is the kind of combo deck I can get behind pretty much all the time. It's trying to do a specific thing, but it doesn't rely on one or three specific cards it hunts for. Instead, it assembles a machine, does it fairly without searching or going infinite, and goes for it. It's going to work differently each time, and your opponents will know there's no guarantee you'll pull it off.

It's nice, too, that we're in great shape to port in a few cards and change tactics completely. Aristocrats, meet the angry mob.

Take out all the sacrifice outlets and a few of the Aristocrats (though they remain good in this shell) and go all-in on a token strategy. We'll make tokens just like before, but this time we're going to pump them with enchantments like True Conviction and Cathars' Crusade, add creatures like Ravos, Soultender and Soltari Champion, and surprise with spells like Gruesome Fate and Zealous Persecution. Your friends will think they'll know what you're doing when you pull this deck out again, but when you suddenly are attacking from turn three on, they'll wonder what you're up to. Then you'll flash in Dictate of Heliod, and they'll figure it out . . .  too late.

It's possible this deck wants planeswalkers, specifically the token-making Elspeths and Sorins. I find 'walkers draw an enormous amount of attention at Commander tables, often more than is really deserved. Ajani Vengeant's ultimate is really bad for everyone, sure, but Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker? Is it really that big a deal if he blows up? Garruk, Apex Predator's ultimate might even help the table! So there are none in this deck, but if you're trying this strategy and have some of them lying around, I'd try them in different token-making slots.

Anything else I missed? What's your favorite deck archetype, and how do you do it in Commander? Please let us all know in the comments!

Thanks for reading.

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