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26 Decks in a Year, Episode 24 — Jeskai

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A Commander deck should be a living thing. It grows, changes, and adapts with its pilot to fit new and different situations. Because the goals of a Commander deck are often different than other constructed decks—more than just winning as efficiently as possible—it’s not as simple as finding an optimized list, putting it together, and playing it as well as you can.

Put another way, if your hundred-card stacks aren’t constantly being tuned and tweaked, with cards coming out and others coming in, trying one fewer or one more land or mana rock, it’s time to try. I’ve played the Marchesa, the Black Rose deck from this column about six times now (it’s complicated and fun), and I’m adding the on-color pain lands because I’ve discovered if I wind up on the throne, I’m in trouble, so pinging myself will be valuable. My Molimo, Maro-Sorcerer deck is salivating for a Sword of the Animist from Magic Origins. And sometimes, your regular playgroup runs more spot removal than you expected, so Tragic Slip is going to be better than the Go for the Throat you’re running. Grow. Change. Adapt.

In that spirit, I have a confession to make. While I know today’s commander has the potential to be really strong, I think I’m not there yet.

Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest

We have 3 power for 2u, which is reasonable. Prowess means we can pump up that power with our storm count. And we can pay 2 more mana to give a creature double strike, so for as little as 2 mana (if we play a free spell), we can be hitting for 8 with our commander. That’s a lot, especially on turn four, and if we can keep up that pressure, opponents can just die before they even cast their commanders.

Izzet Cluestone
We have some challenges though. Shu Yun has no native evasion, which means he can be chumped all day unless we do something about it. We have to cast something other than a creature to trigger prowess and allow us to give something double strike; plus, we need 2 extra mana to gain the double strike. So we need mana, extra cards for more spells, and ways to get our commander through.

The curve here is low. But we also want extra mana, and specifically colored mana, so we’re running thirty-eight lands and ten mana rocks. The cool thing is that with four lands, we can play Shu Yun on turn three and a 3-mana rock on turn four, triggering prowess, and still have the mana to pay for double strike. Once again, the price before lands was low enough we could afford some more expensive lands; feel free to adjust as your budget and collection allow. The Guildgates and original Ravnica bounce lands (Izzet Boilerworks, Boros Garrison, and Azorius Chancery) join with the Temples and the gain lands. We also have the Jeskai tri-land and the traditional Terramorphic Expanse and Evolving Wilds. Color is so often necessary and tough here—there are no utility lands that tap for colorless. They can be added if it works out that the deck makes its colors and can afford it. For rocks, we have the 2- and 3-mana ones that make colors, and we have Mind Stone. We prefer Cluestones to Keyrunes because the Cluestones can be cracked later for extra gas to pump Shu Yun, which is better than turning into a dude.

Our draw comes from a whole grip of blue cards, from Legacy staple Brainstorm to ever-present Divination. Curiosity is great here, triggering prowess for u and giving us two cards when we hit with double strike. Cards like Preordain and Ponder can add to the storm count while setting up great turns. Think Twice can be two triggers and two cards at instant speed, and Treasure Cruise can sometimes be Ancestral Recall. Rhystic Study keeps a grip full reliably, making it worth its price tag. Cheap value and recastability are the names of the game here to allow for as many triggers as possible.

Faithless Looting
Quick aside: One of the problems with this strategy is gas and running out of it. Would even more draw be better here? What about the red spells that draw and discard like Faithless Looting or Desperate Ravings?

The theory of the deck is the threat is Shu Yun, basically exclusively. Everything in the deck is designed to help him connect early for massive damage and kill people with commander damage. There are five other creatures, three of which could be considered threats. Daxos of Meletis can get out of hand pretty quickly, especially late in the game, when everyone’s creatures are huge and can’t block. Give him double strike, and suddenly, you have two cards you can potentially play from someone else’s deck, which can be fantastic. Brago, King Eternal is amazing even when not completely supported; he flies, so he can often connect, and with double strike, we trigger twice the Flickers. Sometimes, that means Auramancer brings back a couple extra enchantments, and sometimes, it means we untap our mana rocks and gain more mana. Either way, it’s useful. Finally, Medomai the Ageless is among the reasons to even try to make this work—bring the crafty Sphinx out, and hit with double strike, and we take two extra turns after this one. That’s a pretty good way to sew up a game.

Soltari Visionary is a great card for just about any white deck—it’s next to unblockable and can help keep a lot of things in check, such as the newly reprinted Sigil of the Empty Throne or my nemesis Doubling Season. Allay and Shattering Pulse both destroy important permanents with buyback, so we can cast them again and again to trigger prowess. Swords to Plowshares will get rid of a nasty creature, and Banishing Light and Oblivion Ring should probably be in every deck that can run them. Tragic Arrogance is a great Wrath effect for us—we can hope it leaves each opponent with a tapped token and us with our commander, ready to swing in.

Gods Willing
We have several ways to get Shu Yun through the gauntlet of creatures opponents like to play. Artful Dodge and Taigam's Strike make a creature unblockable. Emerge Unscathed and Gods Willing give protection from a color, which can sometimes allow Shu Yun to slip by or protect him from removal. Spectra Ward and Spirit Mantle offer protection from creatures, which means he’ll hit, assuming he isn’t killed by a spot-removal spell. There are a lot of cards that do these three things—a lot of times. They’re one-use spells, so we want one every turn until our opponents are dead. Seething Anger is here, too; +3/+0 for r is great, and for 3 more, we are able to buyback to cast it again, and with double strike, we’re hitting for 14 commander damage. (This means casting it twice, once for buyback and once not, plus activating double strike, means we’re killing someone if we connect.) Some Equipment helps the cause, such as Trailblazer's Boots and Hot Soup. Rogue's Gloves often draws two, and Inquisitor's Flail is just amazing on Shu Yun. Glaring Spotlight is a goofy card that should probably be in more decks, and it can be used to get Shu Yun through for some damage when nothing else will work.

Any spell that can be or is cast more than once is great in this pile. Rebound, buyback, and flashback are all worth their weight.

Sunforger is also a thing. With a couple extra mana, we can search up a bunch of different things as the situation requires. There’s nothing like saving a creature with a Center Soul pulled from the library!

Narset Transcendent and Venser, the Sojourner both work well here. Rebound is awesome with Shu Yun, so Narset’s -2 can do a lot of work. Her +1 is great, too, especially after a Brainstorm or Ponder, though, honestly, just knowing what’s coming can help with planning the next couple of turns. Venser can blink a mana rock for an extra mana or make Shu Yun unblockable when there’s no other way to get him through. Of course, an ultimate from either of them is just devastating, though it’s unusual for a Planeswalker to last that long and not have already won the game.

Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest ? Commander | Mark Wischkaemper

With a larger budget, there are a lot of things one could add to spice up the deck. Gisela, Blade of Goldnight would be my first choice, and Balefire Dragon would be my editor’s. Hero's Blade and Whispersilk Cloak almost made the cut, but straight pump, no matter how cheap, and permanent shroud (even with unblockable) didn’t seem worth it. Mana Geyser could be absurd in the right meta. Blue Sun's Zenith (or its big brother Sphinx's Revelation) were just too expensive in mana for me, but they might be awesome. Walk the Aeons and other ways to give additional turns are great for winning and bad for making or keeping friends—at least Medomai feels a little fairer. A Mnemonic Wall could be great, and it certainly works well with Brago, but an expensive creature that didn’t trigger prowess or threaten the board didn’t seem worth it.

Sun Titan
The design here is to play Shu Yun on turn three and attack for at least 8 on turn four. A few more turns, and at least two players should be dead. It should be fast, brutal, and shocking. However, as I said, I think this deck needs to grow some more before it has reached its potential. As a deck-builder, I sometimes tend to push too hard on the theme and don’t run enough raw power.

So my questions are these: What does the deck need? Do we want to grant haste? It goes without saying Lightning Greaves and Swiftfoot Boots would be great, but they’re expensive. Are more common forms of evasion, like flying, worth it? Are there too many cards trying to make Shu Yun work? If so, should they be replaced by cards that are just good, such as Diluvian Primordial, Sun Titan, or Wrath effects?

Going really aggressive in Commander is uncommon. Starting with an unfinished deck, however, shouldn’t be. Don’t be afraid to run something untuned a few times and form an idea for what can change. Go ahead and try the card you just opened in your sealed pool to see if it works. Let your decks grow as you do, and together, we’ll make an amazing hundred-card stack.


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