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26 Decks in a Year, Episode 14: Izzet


One of the best things about Commander is that we really can choose to do whatever we want. Not everything needs to be competitive, on-theme, or even good. A pile of on-color cards a new player puts together can be far more important than a super-tuned superweapon constructed by a twenty-year veteran—that pile brings a new player into the game. We can build a deck to tell a story. We can create decks designed to take out a specific player. And we can become a slave to a theme, even at the detriment of the deck’s ability to take over a game.

In that spirit, today I attempt to answer Jason Alt’s call about Tibor and Lumia.

Tibor and Lumia

Jason, in his brilliance and wisdom, predicted there would be no way to build a T&L deck with nothing but U/R spells. I, in my impulsiveness, said, “Bah! I can build that deck! And I will, Jason. I will.” In my head, I’m thinking, “Hey, that’s months away. It won’t be a problem.” I didn’t, for example, check to see how many cards there are that have u and r and nothing else in their mana costs. Know how many there are?

There are eighty-eight.

Goblin Test Pilot
That’s not very many. Some of them are really terrible. Some are really random (Goblin Test Pilot, anyone?). Some are great if you can build around them (ahem, Stitch in Time) but less good if you can’t put the pieces in place. However, with some careful cuts, one card to break the theme (as is my custom), and careful lines of play, the deck shaped up to at least be a group of cards that actually do things. Besides, we can sometimes surprise other players by playing things they never expect—sure, no one is shocked when they see Sol Ring or Wrath of God, but who on earth plays Cerebral Vortex?

The mana’s pretty easy. We have no artifact accelerants—Wizards of the Coast still hasn’t gifted us with enemy-color Borderposts—and there are no spells to help us along. We have forty-one lands. We do have a couple of useful utility lands; Desolate Lighthouse plays into our looting theme (bet you weren’t expecting a looting theme!), Encroaching Wilds and Mystifying Maze solve occasional problems, and Rogue's Passage is pretty good at killing opponents. A suite of duals and searchers combined with thirty basics makes forty-one.

A deck like this really wants things like Blue Sun's Zenith and Mind Unbound, but we’re not out of the fight yet. Mercurial Chemister is probably our best guy for cards, since for a u and a tap, we are able to draw two. Both Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius and Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind can draw us cards over and over, though I expect those dudes to die really quickly at a table. Take what you can get. Invoke the Firemind and Blast of Genius both draw big numbers. Steam Augury has always seemed good; this seems to be the right time to find out if it is. And Keranos, God of Storms is pure profit, not to mention hard to kill.

We also have some strange forms of card advantage. Cloven Casting and Mirror Sheen allow us to copy spells, as do Melek, Izzet Paragon and Nivix Guildmage. Call the Skybreaker has retrace, so we can cast it again and again. And we have a number of ways to loot, including the unusual Spellbound Dragon. When we discard Call the Skybreaker to the Dragon, dealing 10 and putting it in our ’yard to be cast again, we’ll garner some impressed looks from around the table. Plus, we can bring some things back—Izzet Chronarch and Nucklavee both return cards from the graveyard to our hand.

Threats are as good as they can be. We have three Dragons, a couple of Chimera, and a God. We also have some Voltron pieces, such as Clout of the Dominus, and some different approaches, such as Dominus of Fealty (steal target permanent? Stealing Karn Liberated seems pretty good) and Shrewd Hatchling, which just makes me laugh. (Yup, every spell in the deck will remove 2 counters from him.) If we have a fair amount of mana—Crackleburr could kill someone, but that player would have to be pretty low for us to do it all in one turn. Mindwrack Liege makes all our dudes much better. Call the Skybreaker can make an army of big flyers, which isn’t nothing. Dack's Duplicate can become, I don’t know, Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre, which is probably threatening. And don’t discount Riverfall Mimic—3/3 may not be a lot, but unblockable is a thing, and we have ways to make it bigger. Besides, 3 points every turn adds up! Dragonshift can be deadly, especially if we’ve actually managed to stick five or six dudes for a little while. And Cerebral Vortex, while completely ridiculous, could actually kill someone in this format. Imagine the following scenario: One of your opponents is playing Esper control. He or she starts off his or her turn with a Phyrexian Arena and Mind Unbound trigger, netting four cards in addition to his or her draw. He or she Brainstorms, drawing three more. The player finishes up with an Esper Charm, for a total of ten cards drawn. This is not an unreasonable turn for a control player, trying to draw answers and conserve mana. At the end of turn, we cast Cerebral Vortex. The player draws two more and takes 12. Oh, but we have Cloven Casting, so we copy it and target the player again. The player draws two more and takes an additional 14, for a total of 26. That could kill a guy—plus, crazy style points.

To solve problems, we have some weird counterspells and some burn—plus a touch of random bounce and tap-down. Counterflux and Double Negative were both probably made to help defeat Storm decks in Legacy, but here, they’re just Counterspells. (Though if someone is going off with some spell-based combo, Counterflux will be a welcome solution.) Suffocating Blast seems hilarious—a two-for-one on a counterspell? Swerve will always be awesome, just because there are so many huge spells with juicy targets in the format. We can always Swerve someone else’s Blue Sun's Zenith to us!

Crackleburr will let us burn things out and bounce them away, assuming we have the mana and a couple extra creatures. Mirror Sheen lets us repay in kind anything that targets us—at least if someone Fireballs us, we can Fireball that player right back. Keranos can take down little dudes with some luck. Leap of Flame and Dragonshift can both make our guys more formidable in combat, though Dragonshift is probably better suited to an alpha strike. Schismotivate is hilarious, and if we can’t figure out a way to block profitably, combine it with Inside Out to kill something! Winterflame and Prophetic Bolt both can kill stuff, too. Ral Zarek has a mode that kills things, but we probably want to try to squeeze some extra turns out of him. Invoke the Firemind will kill something in a pinch, but it’s expensive and slow, and we’d probably prefer the cards. Finally, our one spell that breaks our rule is a doozy, and it is there primarily because we want a way to simply steal games out from people’s noses: Insurrection. It’s not always going to work, but when it does, it’s spectacular. From this deck, no one will ever see it coming.

Then we have our commander. Tibor and Lumia is small, but with the right combination, it can become pretty lethal. We can put them into the air with every spell we cast. They’ll take down token armies with ease, and if we cast a few spells, they can do some serious damage to even impressive board states. Cards like Jhoira of the Ghitu let us cheat spells into play before we have the lands for them—sure, we have to wait, but most of our stuff looks really unassuming, and with our commander out, it’s suddenly causing a kerfuffle. It’s also kind of fun to exile four cards on the same turn and just count down.

This deck is for those times when silliness and randomness is what the table is looking for . . . when it isn’t about winning, but just seeing if the deck will come together and do anything . . . for just trying to beat somebody. And it’s for playing a quiet, goofy game while no one pays attention—and then smashing the table with an Insurrection out of left field.

Dack Fayden
There are a ton of ways to spend more money on this deck, but most of them would break theme. Dack Fayden would probably be good here—he’s good just about everywhere—but it’s not as though he breaks the deck wide open. However, if you want to break theme, I’d cut a couple lands, put some solid artifact ramp in there, and start jamming silly big stuff like the Titans, the Primordials, and the Souls. I’d also find some better removal and endgame spells and smooth out the card-draw. However, that makes it a completely different deck—the point here is to be a slave to our theme, not kind of have one.

Most of the U/R cards cut were fairly obvious, but the one that stands out and deserves mention is Epic Experiment. This is a great card—in an all-spell Melek deck. Here, it will whiff a lot and dump a bunch of stuff into the graveyard. At least when we loot, we can choose what we put there. Dumping both Niv-Mizzets would be a big bummer.

We have one more two-color deck coming up. (I assure you: Episode 15 will have a twist, but it’s nothing like this one.) After that, I’m on to three-color shards. I’d love suggestions—anyone have a shard commander he or she would like to see me build? Two things, though: I’ve already picked Esper (it was chosen before I started the column!), and keep in mind the budget. Let me know in the comments!

Have fun with the theme, and see what kind of craziness can be caused with a really limited card pool. Even better, challenge your playgroup to all build decks with severely limiting themes, and see what everyone else comes up with.

Total cost: $71.82

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