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Be Aggressive with Captain Ripley Vance


Best practices in deck-building suggest a number of things. The one I use the most is "My Deck Tickled a Sliver": Mana, Draw, Threats, Answers, and Synergy. This is a great way to build a deck and make sure it will have some game at any given table, and most of the decks I build and articles I write will go through that mnemonic to show how the deck deals with each particular deck-building "need."

But sometimes, there's a commander, or a deck, or just a desire to throw all caution to the wind and build a deck without those best practices. Sometimes we want to try to do a thing, and we acknowledge that there will be times when the deck doesn't behave, and we're okay with that, because the risk is worth it. When I saw today's commander, all I wanted to do was figure out how to use her - best practices be darned.

Captain Ripley Vance

When talking about building Mono-Red aggro decks for Constructed formats, a common thing is "seven Lightning Bolts" or "count to 21." The theory is you have to do 21 damage (the equivalent of seven Lightning Bolts) to win, and nothing else matters. Everything in the deck is tuned to point damage at the face of an opponent. Who cares if they're drawing cards or getting lands or playing big creatures? All we need to do is get 21 damage through. The approach to today's deck is similar, except it's a lot harder to count to 120 (three opponents at 40 life each) than 21. Will it work? Maybe. But it'll be really fun to try.

Here's the way this will work. We will play out the good Captain. Then, each turn after that, we will attempt to play three spells, no more, no less. The hope is the spells will do one of three things: raise the power of the Captain, add cards to our available ones to play (by drawing or exiling and making them available), or disrupt our opponent(s) in some way. We will do this as many times as we can until we have a) killed the table or b) died ourselves. I think the best way to look at the deck is to look at the three types of spells we have. We'll have a fourth category for wild cards - there are some, but there aren't many, and we'll go through them individually.

Most of the spells are really cheap; often times, we'll be stretching for mana to cast three spells, so think about it as you plan your turns.

For power boosting, we have spells like Brute Force and Bull Rush, Instants which increase our Captain's power. These can be great if we feel like we can attack, since we can sandbag them until combat, making blocking more challenging. Seething Anger is a Sorcery, but if we can use Buyback it can be super useful. Reckless Charge gives us a couple shots, at least. Claws of Valakut can get pretty out of hand, and if we make it to where we have extra mana, stuff like Crown of Flames and Dragon Mantle can be a place to put it. Unleash Fury should probably be the third spell we cast. Crown of Flames can also be bounced and replayed for extra casting. We also have a few pieces of Equipment which should help. Blackblade Reforged is cheap and gives a big boost, and Runechanter's Pike should be pretty solid in this build. Pirate's Cutlass auto-equips, so its mana cost makes it worth it. Leering Emblem can lead to a fairly big power boost (if it's already equipped, that's +6 on a turn where we do our thing). Commander's Plate is not as huge a boost, but the price is reasonable and it'll prevent removal from being pointed at the Captain, which is helpful.

Lots of our spells cantrip (which is the fancy Magic way of saying "draw a card when you cast this spell"). Dragon Mantle does. So does Expedite, Cleansing Wildfire, and Warlord's Fury. These are great, since they replace themselves, so often times we'll draw another spell to keep us closer to our goal of casting three spells every turn. However, Red also rummages (another fancy Magic word. "Looting" is the "draw a card, then discard a card" ability favored by Blue. "Rummaging" is "discard, then draw" ability favored by Red). Honor the God-Pharaoh is a great example; we discard a card, then draw two. This allows us to turn extra lands we've drawn into more spells. Magmatic Insight insists we discard a land, and Pirate's Pillage gives us two free mana for our trouble.

The final thing we can do is exile some cards with the opportunity to play them just this turn. Light Up the Stage, which we can often Spectacle if we can attack, lets us exile the top two and play them this turn. So, if we get lucky, we play this plus the two spells it gives us and get our activation. Jeska's Will does the top three, Chandra, Fire Artisan gives us the top one, Vance's Blasting Cannons and Outpost Siege do too. The key is to do this before playing a land for turn whenever possible, because we can play a land we reveal and keep the one in hand for a future turn, or as discard fodder for other rummage spells.

Abrade, Flame Jab, Fiery Cannonade are all examples of spells which will mess with our opponents. That's not really what we're doing, but they're spells worth having around.

For wild cards, we've got two more creatures in our deck: Guttersnipe and Young Pyromancer both care about Instants and Sorceries, so we could wind up with a fair amount of little dudes or throw some damage around. Reiterate is our only copy spell, because we don't cast the copies so it won't trigger Vance, but it has Buyback so we might be able to use it a fair few times. Imagine Reiterating an Unleash Fury!

Strionic Resonator and Lithoform Engine are redundant, but the ability is worth it if we can deal Vance's damage twice. Dictate of the Twin Gods, Gratuitous Violence, and Fiery Emancipation all will take an entire turn, but doubling or tripling damage the following turns is absolutely worth it!

Most of our lands are Mountains, in part because we're running Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle as a way to do additional damage without using spell slots. We've got a few more lands which will add power and one which draws a card. It might be worth adding a Rogue's Passage, but it seems unlikely this deck will ever have the mana to both trigger Vance and activate a 4-mana ability on a land.

Total honesty: a deck like this won't win all that often. But we don't play decks like this to win. We play decks like this because it's fun to come rip-roaring out of the gate and surprise opponents with cards they don't expect to see in Commander.

Decks like this also keep tables honest, because they push life totals down. A few turns of the Captain doing her thing and people will have felt the pain. They'll be forced to act, rather than sit back, because they can't afford to just take another hit or two. Moving a game along in that way (without completely ruining it, like a Krenko deck might) can be a healthy way to encourage active play and get another game or two in before the night is over.

How would you build Captain Ripley Vance? Anything I missed? And do you have a deck you designed intentionally ignoring best practices in deck-building? Let us know in the comments!

Thanks for reading.

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