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Commanding Board Control With Celestial Kirin


We've been exploring Mono-White over here for the last few weeks. (Check the link for a number of Mono-White articles!) Before I dive into the deck which made me want to do Mono-White, I want to say I actually built the first one in real life, and it's a bop. It's hilarious to play, it draws a ton of cards and makes a ton of Tokens, all of which are relevant, and it has won both games it has played, against decks worth a lot more. You could do much worse for $20, so if you have been thinking it's time for a new Commander deck, I recommend that one. (I also recommend any of Abe Sargent's excellent Budget Commander series!)

But enough about Ellyn. Today, I want to talk about a strange little card from the days of yesteryear.

Celestial Kirin

We have a 3/3 Spirit for 2ww, which isn't great. But every time we play a Spirit or Arcane spell, we destroy all permanents with that spell's converted mana cost. Let's see how long we can make a game last, shall we?

We're going to be the role of Control in every game we play, so we're going to rely on playing our Lands from our hand the normal way without any ramp. We have Pilgrim of the Ages, and we can actually use it to thin our deck if we get enough mana going, but for the most part, we're going to draw our cards and play our Lands, one at a time. Of course, we have 40 of them, 25 of which are basic Plains. The rest of our nonbasics help us with useful abilities, like Castle Ardenvale or Arch of Orazca. Emeria, the Sky Ruin is clutch here, since it can reanimate creatures we were sad to see go in one of Celestial Kirin's orbital strikes.

We want to keep cards moving into our hand, which isn't always easy in Mono-White. We're going old-school with Mind's Eye here; this artifact was a staple back when I started playing Commander in the Dark Ages, but I feel like I never see it played anymore. Hopefully we can keep it around for a couple of turn cycles and draw some extra with it. We've also got Skullclamp, which we can Equip just before we blow up a round of things and draw ourselves an extra two. We also make a few Tokens which can be cashed in for cards using the 'clamp (though probably not enough for Idol of Oblivion). Endless Atlas is a solid choice in a mono-color deck. Archivist of Oghma should draw us at least one extra plus blow up a bunch of mana rocks, and considering most of our spells are Creatures and a lot of them cost 3 or less, Bygone Bishop should make us at least a couple of Clues. Esper Sentinel is a way-less-good Rhystic Study, but we should get a few cards out of it before it goes bye-bye. Mangara, the Diplomat will also likely get us a couple if they stick around for a few turns, and Mentor of the Meek is similar to Bygone Bishop as we should be able to wrench some cards out of it.

Mind's Eye
Archivist of Oghma
Mangara, the Diplomat

Keep a couple of things in mind. There's more to card advantage than drawing extra cards. We both make a bunch of Tokens and we can return things from our Graveyard (most often to our hand). This serves as additional card advantage. Also, we are running Spirit of the Labyrinth, which is symmetrical, so if it's out, we can't draw any extra cards. Neither can anyone else, though, so it should work out.

The main thing we're going to do is keep the board clear. To do so, we need Spirits and Arcane spells at various Mana Values. To that end, we have, among only Spirit and Arcane spells:

  • Five 1-drops
  • Nine 2-drops
  • Ten 3-drops
  • Six 4-drops
  • Eight 5-drops
  • Four 6-drops
  • Four 7-drops
  • Two 9=8-drops
  • And two x spells, which we'll talk about specifically

This should give us a pretty good spread. We'll have to analyze the board state and carefully decide how to play out our spells; we can't just randomly drop something because it's in our hand. We have to be quite strategic in deploying our threats. The advantage, of course, is we get to keep whatever we played, so if we play a Hollowhenge Spirit with Celestial Kirin on the board, we get to keep our Hollowhenge Spirit even as all the other 4-drops are wiped away.

I wish there were a couple more reasonable 6-drops, but the list is fairly limited. I decided non-Spirit card draw spells were better than vanilla 6-drop Spirits.

Let's talk about the x spells. When x is in a casting cost, as long as the spell is in your Library, Hand, Graveyard, or Exile, x counts as zero. That means Ugin's Conjurant is a Zero Mana Value Creature almost everywhere. The exception to this rule is as the spell is being cast: When that happens, the amount of mana paid into x counts as part of the Mana Value.

This means Shining Shoal can be cast as a 2-drop on up to however much mana we have (or the size of the thing we Exile to it). Since it's at Instant speed, this makes this particular spell one of the most valuable in our deck, because we can pitch a 1-drop to it and play it to destroy an army of th3-drops coming at us.

Ugin's Construct, on the other hand, is probably the single most valuable card in our deck. It can be cast as a 0-drop up to however much mana we can play, and it's a Creature, so we have a number of ways of recurring it to our hand. Someone running a handful of Propogandas? Play it for 3. Dragon player got a bunch of 5-drop fliers? Play it for 5. The Construct is also our only real recourse against Token strategies, because Tokens have a Mana Value of zero. So, we can play the Construct where x=0 and destroy all Tokens. Of course, Lands also have a Mana Value of zero, so keep in mind you'll also Armageddon the world if you do that (which is why we're running a pair of indestructible Lands - hopefully, if it comes to this, we'll at least be a bit ahead).

The big thing about this deck is it requires us to think about our spells in a different way. Rather than looking at the effect of the card itself (like Cleanfall's "Destroy all Enchantments"), we need to consider what will be blown up if we play it (what other 3-drops are on the board? Do we lose our Mentor of the Meek? Is that worth the cost?). If you like to think through every decision and play a game that makes you (and your opponents) sweat a bit, this should be fun, but keep in mind it will also probably annoy everyone else at the table.

Angel of Flight Alabaster
In addition to our Arcane Spirits and our card draw spells, we have a few other things kicking around. This deck is actually an excuse to run the card with my favorite artwork ever, Angel of Flight Alabaster. While normally not terribly useful, for us it's amazing; just one or two turn cycles with it out will make it worth it, and more than that should throw us way ahead. But our Flight Alabaster Angel isn't the only one bringing Spirits back to our hand; we have a number of cards which return Creatures, like Pillardrop Rescuer and several cards with Soulshift. Rescuer Chwinga is a nifty way to bounce something we need to replay because the other players ignored our warnings, or just pick something up before we nuke its Mana Value. (I see value in picking up Mangara, for example, if we need to blow up 4-drops.)

We have a few tax effects, like Spirit of the Labyrinth we mentioned before. Windborne Muse can make it more difficult for us to die before we can figure out how to win. Kataki, War's Wage is extra funny when someone's playing Sharuum, but at least should make people rethink the value of their Arcane Signets.

Finally, we have a few ways to grant indestructibility. Darksteel Plate can be put on Celestial Kirin (or moved to another valuable Creature) if we don't want it to die just because we play another 4-drop. Selfless Spirit can be sacrificed to keep our whole team alive if we're doing the destruction via our Commander, our Myojin of Cleansing Fire, or another Wrath of God-style effect. And good ol' Avacyn, Angel of Hope, in addition to making our sad Flight Alabaster Angel happy, simply keeps our entire board around no matter what happens. (Pro tip: play out Avacyn, then play Ugin's Construct for zero. Everyone will scoop.)

The only problem is winning the game. You might be able to get there on the back of a few big fliers, but if they keep dying too it's going to be pretty hard. Politicking will be important here, because if you can get your opponents to throw damage at each other, that'll make it a lot easier to kill someone with a random Eternal Dragon or whatever.

But winning really isn't the point when you play a deck like this. The goal is to not die and see if you can make it do what it's trying to do: can you stay alive no matter what your opponents play?

Spirits Go Boom | Commander | Mark Wischkaemper

One could probably power this deck up with spells like Land Tax, Swords to Plowshares, and Knight of the White Orchid. One could certainly make a deck which didn't rely so heavily on the Commander and was more of a traditional Mono-White control deck, even leaning into Armageddon effects or Balance-style cards. However, if you go that route, you're diluting the fun of a deck like this, which is to make this specific Commander work for you. Will it be completely consistent? Nope. But when you pull off a win after a four-hour game where you top-decked the 2-drop you needed to kill that Strionic Resonator that was about to be the end of you, then were able to attack with your army of Drogskul Cavalry Spirit Tokens for the win, it's going to feel amazing.

I'd love to hear from someone who has a deck based around Celestial Kirin, or just runs a hyper-focused deck like this where the strategy isn't completely reliable, but makes it that much better when it works.

Please say hi in the comments!

Thanks for reading.

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