Holiday Gift Guide 2019
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Convertible Commander: Jenara, Asura of War


Jenara, Asura of War
What is a commander? For some players, it's the whole point of this format. If you're not working with your commander, you're wasting your time. On the other hand, for some players it's merely a way to get the cards they want by giving themselves the colors they need. Recently, we built a Grixis Draw-Go deck that hardly cares about the commander at all. The deck has a plan and executes it within the colors, and the general was chosen purely because she was the one with possible uses, not because she was important to the plan. I think that's fine, but to some players, just go play Highlander, and leave Commander to the players who actually use them.

The opposite of that deck, though, is probably the Voltron deck, named after the 80's cartoon hero where multiple robots came together to make one giant robot (and, if that sounds like the Power Rangers to you, trust me -- Voltron came first, you're just younger than some of us). Sometimes a Commander deck uses the commander to help its strategy along (Krenko, Mob Boss is a good example), but more often than not a deck like that can win even if its commander is priced out of reasonable play or otherwise obnoxiously removed from use (seriously, why doesn't Faith's Fetters see more play? Seems to me that cripples most commanders and requires enchantment removal to deal with). Voltron decks, on the other hand, plan on using the commander to win, suiting up with auras or equipment or otherwise buffing the general and (probably) winning with commander damage. Rafiq of the Many is probably the most well-known Voltron deck; buff him up with Exalted, pump spells, whatever else, then cast Berserk and swing in for 38 Trample. Twice.

Today's offering has the same color identity of Bant (wug) but has a different set of abilities. She's not going to give herself double-strike, but she's also not going to show up at the table with a giant bulls-eye painted on herself. She also can do Voltron a little funny, because she kind of doesn't need to be buffed with other spells.

Rogue's Passage
Jenara is a modest 3/3 Flier for three, though we are going to have to hit our colors. That funny second ability, though, is the key; we're in Green, of course, so we're in a great color for lots and lots of mana --let's gather a bunch of it and pump her without any other outside help. A 3/3 commander's no big deal; a 22/22 commander is a major problem.

Regular readers know I'm a huge proponent of the 40 land mana base for Commander decks. It's the same as 24 in a 60-card deck; you can't play your spells unless you have mana to cast them; etc. I maintain that, but it doesn't mean there aren't exceptions. A heavy ramp deck is one of those exceptions. We have 24 ramp spells, most of which cost three or fewer mana, so we're safe cutting to 35 lands. We've got an Ash Barrens, serving as Terramorphic Expanse number three (after Evolving Wilds, of course), a Krosan Verge because it ramps, a Seaside Citadel, and a Rogue's Passage because we're really going to want Rogue's Passage. Otherwise, we're all basics, because most of our ramp gets us basic lands. One of the things we've got a fair amount of is small creatures which get a land somehow; either they have to sac themselves, or they get it when they enter. This is intentional. We can play those guys out and use them to block early damage, then sac them in response to get the land. This can be helpful as we're spending the first several turns setting up.

No card draw, but a lot of what we draw will effectively draw us an additional card or more thanks to ramping. It's nice that we want one Voltron piece and a bunch of mana in order to win, so we're not going to need a ton of cards, just ramp spells and one other thing. We'll also pull most of the lands out of the deck as we go along, which means each draw should be live more often than not.

We are running a bunch of board sweepers, because we're often going to have only one creature and so much mana we can recast her very quickly. Wiping out someone's massive board will feel pretty good when we just recast our commander and start pumping her up right away. We've also got a few Oblivion Ring-style effects as catch-all answers to individual problems (Banishing Light will hit a Theros God no matter what state it's in).

We don't have a ton of pieces to suit up Jenara. Most Voltron decks run a lot of things and pile them up on the commander, but really we just need a way to keep her around long enough to get a ton of counters on her, then a way to get her through. Whispersilk Cloak is a good example of the kind of thing we want. We can still pump her through the Shroud (as her pump ability doesn't target), and making her unblockable will punch a lot of damage through. Shield of the Oversoul and Steel of the Godhead partner up nicely as well. Bear Umbra is pretty brutal, letting us pump her, attack, pump her again, plus she'll survive a Life's Finale or a Terminate. Hammer of Nazahn is one of several things which grant indestructibility; that plus Hexproof or Shroud and she's going to be darn hard to kill. Suit her up with a couple of pieces and start adding counters. That said, probably worth only playing a couple. Make her indestructible, give her Hexproof, but don't get greedy. Hold the remaining pieces in hand in case something goes wrong and you have to suit her up again. Flickerform is not ideal because Janara will lose her counters if she flickers, but it will save the Commander tax. By the end of the game we can count on her having a big target.

We do have a few spells which can make use of all this mana. Altered Ego could be very funny if X = 18. White Sun's Zenith can make an awful lot of cats, and Sphinx's Revelation can draw a lot of cards. Mostly, though, we're going to dump any excess mana into Jenara and beat the tar out of our opponents.

We do have a lot of mana, though. For our Convertible deck, and just to have some real fun, what if we dumped some of the Voltron pieces and instead ran some different ways to use it all?

This Optionboard is designed to provide a bunch of different Jenara-style abilities within the deck. Play Ant Queen and start making Insects! Or Buyback Sprout Swarm six times a turn! Or use Memnarch to keep stealing everyone's stuff! There are bunch of different ways to abuse a bunch of mana in here, but one of the most fun is Spawnsire of Ulamog. For {20}, you can pull every Eldrazi you own from outside the game and put them all on the table. That's cool. But for extra joy partner it with Artificial Evolution. Play that and change "Eldrazi" to, I dunno, "Dragon." Or "Elk." "Goblin." "Warrior." Look through your collection and decide what would be the most hilarious creature type you could name, name it, and watch people's eyes go wide as you pull out an entire Fat Pack worth of cards and say "do you need me to go through every one, or do you just trust me when I tell you they all have Haste, Indestructible, Flying, Trample, +8/+8, and Menace?" No way to seek it out, but make it happen and the world will be a hilarious place that evening.

One of the fun things about this Optionboard is it changes tactics without changing the power level too much. Both decks should be fairly reasonable decks to play at casual tables and can probably steal a game or two from more competitive tables, but they'll do it in different ways, so it should be fun for everyone involved and should never feel overly oppressive.

There are a lot of other ways to go with this deck. Working with +1/+1 counters, for example, could be very strong; Doubling Season or Hardened Scales, for example, would make each counter put on Jenara double itself. The various Ajani planeswalkers often put counters on things. This deck is designed to do it the old-fashioned way, but by all means, feel free to go a different direction with it.

How do you do Voltron? Did I miss any really obvious pieces of tech? And if you were going to do the Artificial Evolution/Spawnsire combo, what would you name and why? Please let us know in the comments!

Now suit up! It'll be legend . . . wait for it . . .  dary!

Thanks for reading.

Magic Core Set 2019 is available for Preorder!