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Commanding Outlaws - How to Build with Ertha Jo, Frontier Mentor

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I'm a fan - like many others - of making a splash in Commander. If I wanted to play as efficiently as possible, I'd play another format more aimed at winning no matter what. Sure, I like to win, but I'd much rather lose but have a turn or play or attack we're all still talking about the next time we play rather than winning without any excitement whatsoever.

Which brings me to today's Commander. She's a relatively unexciting uncommon from Outlaws of Thunder Junction, but when I saw her I saw an opportunity for something really explosive.

Ertha Jo, Frontier Mentor

The truth is the second ability is probably the most important one. There are a lot of activated abilities out there (you know them by the ":" in the text), and copying them for free is pretty darn powerful, especially when you can share the wealth by choosing a new target. Rogue's Passage now makes two Creatures unblockable. Spikeshot Goblin hits two targets. Angel of Condemnation flickers two Creatures.

But I decided not to care about that. There's a whole (probably pretty decent) deck in activated abilities being copied every turn, but I thought it'd be fun to make so many Mercenaries (and copy their power-buff ability) that what we attack with simply kills the defending player. Might be Commander damage, might be traditional, but if we do this right, we can do a whole bunch.

We'll need our Commander out for this to work (we need her copying ability), and if we're going to pull this off we probably want to jump ahead, so let's hit those Land drops with our 40 Lands. We have a few which come into play tapped, but most of them don't; we really don't want to get stuck with nothing but slow Lands. We have a couple of Lands which do things, like Slayers' Stronghold and Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion, and our most important Lands are Rogue's Passage, Access Tunnel, and Escape Tunnel. Anything which makes a Creature unblockable is going to be awesome for us. (Remember when you activate those abilities you copy them!)

We're also going to ramp, and we're sticking with mana rocks we can cast on turn one or two. We want to cast Ertha Jo on turn three if possible, and this gives us the best chance. I'm normally a fan of three-mana rocks because they have more value over the course of the game, but in this case it's worth it to jump ahead.

Ultimately, we're going to make a Creature pretty big and attack with it. Because we're not going to buff toughness too, we want to get whatever's attacking through any defenses people might have, so that means one of the Lands which makes something unblockable or a Creature with some sort of evasion. To do that, we need to dig through our deck for one of those things, so we're going to use spells like Tormenting Voice to do it. It's worth noting Tormenting Voice isn't actually card advantage, because we wind up with the same amount of cards we had before, but it does move us deeper into our deck, getting rid of things we don't need (like additional mana rocks) and finding us something we do (like a flier). Most of these spells are Instants like Demand Answers, so we should wait until the last possible moment to cast them whenever possible. Rogue's Gloves is good in a deck where we're often going to connect, and Skullclamp is great in a deck which makes tokens. Oh, and we have Angelic Sell-Sword, which we'll talk about more later but I wanted to note now. Keep it in mind.

My first thought was attacking with Ertha Jo, because at +19 power she's killing someone. That's great, and it's certainly an option available to us (especially if we have an Access Tunnel in our opening hand), but there's no need for us to be a Voltron deck - we can pump up anything with our Mercenaries. That includes Angel of Condemnation, Restoration Angel, and Flickerwisp, all of which fly. It includes Spikeshot Goblin, which (as we mentioned before) can then be tapped to hit two players. It includes Aurelia, the Warleader, who gets quite stupid when her power is 21 on the first attack. And it includes that Angelic Sell-Sword, who can pretty quickly become a card-draw machine. Given a choice, I want Aurelia or the Sell-Sword, followed by a Land to make Ertha Jo unblockable, but I'm not picky. Wanted Griffin can kill someone too.

The obvious answer spells are Swords to Plowshares and Wrath of God. Those spells are great, but we have some fun options here so I went with them. Anytime I'm in White and Red, I like Chained to the Rocks, just because it's a super cool flavorful card. I also like to include my favorite card in the whole game, Ride Down, which happens to work really wonderfully here if someone is going to chump-block our big attacker. Lassoed by the Law is an expensive Oblivion Ring, but it gives us an extra Mercenary. We do have Day of Judgment ('cause it's cheap) and Hour of Reckoning (because it will leave behind our Mercenaries) as well.

We have two ways to make Mercenaries. The first is to flicker Ertha Jo. We have a number of ways to do this, like Cloudshift and Ephemerate for one-shot Instant-speed Mercenaries. We also have Flickerform, Teleportation Circle, and Conjurer's Closet for regular flickering. (Keep in mind if you flicker Ertha Jo so she returns at the beginning of the next End Step, you can stack your End Step so Conjurer's Closet will still trigger. Put the Closet's ability on the stack first, then the "return to the Battlefield" next. Ertha Jo will return to the Battlefield, then get targeted by the Closet.) And of course we have those Creatures like Flickerwisp and Restoration Angel.

The other is just to play stuff which makes these guys. There are a few of them in this set, and we have a bunch. Play these out and make those Mercenaries, because we want a lot of 'em. Hellspur Posse Boss is among the best ones, but Form a Posse is also a great mana sink. Brimstone Roundup is worth the slot but do be careful with it; often times we're activating abilities, not casting spells, so casting two in a turn is pretty rare. However, if you plot out a few turns you can grind some value out of it.

Once we've made Mercenaries, we need to kill people. While it's certainly possible we could actually make 10 of these guys and kill someone with Ertha Jo, we probably need a little help, so we've got two ways. The first is a couple of ways to grant Double Strike. Battle Mastery is the classic and it sticks around, but I love Rustler Rampage here, because it's cheap as chips and has an additional ability we can probably use to some effect. The second is additional combat steps, which leads us to Savage Beating and the fact it does both.

One interesting thing I've noticed as I've built this deck is many of the extra combat step cards in Red only untap attacking Creatures. That's fine, but really we want to untap all Creatures so we can activate our Mercenaries again on our additional Main Phase. I've leaned into just the spells which untap everything, so we have options, but if you find you want more extra combat steps and buffing the Creature again becomes overkill, there are a whole bunch more options available. Port Razer is probably our best one here, assuming we can get it through, because with eight Mercenaries and Double Strike we're killing everyone in a single turn. We can do it with less if someone's already taken some damage, because we can buff him up again! Aurelia is our second best, only because we can't kill three players in a single turn with just her, but it's quite common we'll be able to kill two players the very turn she comes into play. Combat Celebrant is a neat way to add combat steps, and it's worth it if we get just one, but if the Celebrant can be our second target with Rogue's Passage it's even better - and note Great Train Heist (another excellent spell for this deck, by the way) will untap the Celebrant even if it's exerted. We can't exert it again this turn, but it is a way to exert it two turns in a row, if we need to.

A couple more quick notes. First, Ebony Fly can be a reasonable target for Mercenary love. Second, The Eternal Wanderer flickers Ertha Jo (another thing we can partner with Teleportation Circle or Conjurer's Closet) but also makes 2/2 Tokens with Double Strike, excellent targets for our Mercenaries. And third, we have Aggravated Assault and Sword of Feast and Famine, which together make an infinite combat step combo and should end the game. I'd keep Aggravated Assault no matter what, but the Sword is worth almost a third of the deck by itself, so cutting it will make the deck substantially cheaper. An additional Double Strike granter, removal spell, or extra combat step enabler will all do well in that slot.

Ertha Jo, Frontier Mentor | Commander | Mark Wischkaemper

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This looks like great fun. It should be fast, explosive, and hilarious whether it works or not. When it does, it's the kind of epic story you'll tell your non-Magic friends about later, and when they don't get how awesome it was you'll be annoyed. And when it doesn't, it'll still be quite impressive and also create stories - the perfect removal spell drawn off the top, or some weird combination to make a flying blocker, or people teaming up to destroy our Rogue's Passage. It'll be fun.

Thanks for reading.


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