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Convertible Commander: Sai, Master Thopterist

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Sai, Master Thopterist
"Is this just what you do?" I was asked that question once, as I played my third ramp spell of the game. "What?" I asked, genuinely curious. "Ramp to huge stuff and play it, no matter what color?" responded my new friend. I'd only played with him four or five times, but he'd already gotten my number - I'm guilty of jamming ramp and playing it in most decks.

That's not without reason. Commander is often Battlecruiser Magic, the format where nine mana is completely reasonable and a 6/6 will rarely be the largest creature on the battlefield. The format where Cyclonic Rift or Warp World or Rise of the Dark Realms can be cast multiple times in a single game. The format where winning with Laboratory Maniac is not only boring, but common. Sometimes the first person to seven mana is going to win the game, or at least fire the first salvo, and Sol Ring, Cultivate, and friends can get us there faster. So it makes sense a lot of us build ramp decks.

But not everything needs to be so huge, right? In the competitive Constructed world, Burn is a classic archetype where the whole goal is to count to 20 as fast as possible; burn decks often win with one or two lands on the battlefield! I like to think of these decks as being quick; they're not trying to win with massive spells and huge effects, but rather by maximizing value from each mana spent, focusing on efficiency rather than bulk. One commander from Magic 2019 jumped out at me as having that possibility; let's see if we can fly low and grind out a win with value rather than mass.

Sai, Master Thopterist | Commander | Mark Wischkaemper


Skullclamp
The theory here is pretty simple. We've got a ton of cheap artifacts and artifact creatures, which will trigger Sai's ability, making Thopters. Make a bunch of Thopters. Attack with them. Kill your opponents; peck them into oblivion.

We have 38 lands here, which is low for a deck in this column, but here's a perfect example of when being under 40 makes sense. Our converted mana cost is quite low in this deck, so we don't need to hit our fifth land on turn five. Frankly, in most cases, once we have enough mana for Sai, we're going to be okay. We are running several mana rocks, but a major reason for that is they're cheap and useful. We've got plenty of places to put that mana if we have it, but it's not essential to the deck. Sometimes we'll just cash in those cheap artifacts for cards. Only two of our lands enter the battlefield tapped, too, which is good because we really want to hit the ground running. A turn one Sol Ring is absolutely worth it to dump Sai on turn two; don't save it to make the extra Thopter.

Our commander draws us cards, and most of our artifacts are fairly expendable, so, between the artifacts we cast and the artifact Thopters our commander generates, we should have plenty of card draw. Loyal Drake should draw some cards for us, but we've also got Ichor Wellspring, plus plenty of our spells have cantrips attached. Skullclamp is fantastic in a deck like this, as it effectively reads "1, sacrifice a Thopter: draw two cards." That's a good deal. Trading Post can draw us cards, but we're going to talk about that card later because it's especially good in this deck.

We've got a few win conditions. The most obvious is a flock of flying 1/1s, of course. Steel Overseer and Chief of the Foundry pump them a bit, and Master of Etherium buffs them while being pretty huge all by itself. Signal Pest is a weird lord, too, but with a couple of those dudes out we've got a bunch of flying power. Besides, we can just sacrifice the blocked ones for some cards.

Mechanized Production is another funny way of winning. While it's especially silly on Spine of Ish Sah, it's good on lots of things, and if there are already 15 Thopters out there, put it out and see if someone can stop you from winning by your next upkeep. Or don't if that style doesn't appeal; it's your game.

Tezzeret, Artifice Master
Tezzeret, Artifice Master's ultimate should win the game, assuming anyone lets him get that far.

Sharding Sphinx can certainly cause some trouble for our opponents. If left unchecked, it'll be hard to deal with the overwhelming squadron created.

Darksteel Colossus is our last way to win. Sure, we can hardcast the beast, but easier than that is to use Kuldotha Forgemaster and simply sac some Thopters to dump him out of the library onto the battlefield. He's awfully big, he tramples, and he's really hard to kill, so that should get somewhere.

One thing about being this quick is we're going to try to get underneath (or overhead) our opponents (who we hope are still back there ramping). This deck runs All Is Dust as a reset button which will leave most of our stuff alone, but otherwise we're going to try to use evasion to do in our opponents. We're not going to stop them from doing what they're doing; we'll race them for the win.

A quick note on this: generally speaking, most decks want answers to problems: some amount of creature removal, artifact and enchantment hate, graveyard hate, and a touch of land destruction is a good idea. If you want to adjust this decklist to include some of that, go for it! However, another option is to do something like what this deck is trying - pretend you are a Boros deck and race to the win. That requires good threat assessment, though. Watch closely what others are doing, and make sure to aim at the person most likely to explode the earliest. Someone playing a slow, clunky Ruric Thar, the Unbowed deck is unlikely to take off and wreck everyone quickly, whereas someone playing Zur the Enchanter is probably going to cause problems quickly. Choose your attacks accordingly.

There are lots of little synergies in this deck, including a bunch of ways to bring things back from the graveyard. The most important is probably Trading Post, because that card does serious work with this commander. Because our Thopters are artifacts and creatures, we can use the Post for either of its last two abilities, returning our stuff over and over or just drawing cards, looking for more action. We can also discard unneeded Islands to gain some life in case we get too low or even make Goats to bulk up a Signal Pest attack a bit. Save some recursion for that Trading Post, because it wants to be on the battlefield.

Ugin's Nexus is also pretty great here; it's a pricey Thopter, but sacrifice that to draw a card and take another turn. Seems good, and it even prevents opponents from stealing extra turns.

There's a card many of you have probably already named out loud while reading this article, wondering why it isn't here. It's a doozy, and it's certainly one which makes groups respond:

Blightsteel Colossus

Infect is a thing in Commander. I've heard of groups doing house rules to change the amount for death from 10 to 15 or even 20, but the Rules Committee keeps not changing the ruling, so most places require just 10 poison counters to kill an opponent. That means this big robot can one-shot an opponent. Give it haste and it can do it out of nowhere.

As a rule, I choose simply not to play Blightsteel. Is it good? Yes. Is it fun? I don't think so. No one is playing Blightsteel because it's fun, they're playing it because it's the best way for their deck to kill someone else quickly and efficiently. Most of the time, games are more fun (in my mind) without that kind of thing.

However, sometimes that's exactly what is needed in a game. So today's optionboard brings in the poisonous robot, along with a couple of friends to help make him even more effective.

This is the smallest optionboard ever for a Convertible Commander deck, but nothing more is needed, really. Find a haste enabler (Trophy Mage can find the Cloak or the Chariot), Kuldotha Forgemaster out Blightsteel, equip, swing, death. Pretty simple. If you feel your deck needs a little extra punch, this is the way to go.

Not for nothing, but Wurmcoil Engine would probably be great in this deck. The problem is that every spell costing more than four mana needs to be weighed pretty seriously, and Darksteel Colossus is more of a threat. If you want to play into more of a recursive space, though, maybe with a Mimic Vat, Wurmcoil is definitely a good way to go. Treasure Mage would find that Wurmcoil, but it will also hunt down either Colossi you happen to be running. You will have to cast it from the hand, though, so make sure you've got the mana. Or run a Master Transmuter to dump it from your hand. Using Forgemaster would be more elegant. Going that route will change the deck a fair amount, though, so adding more answer cards would probably be good, too, but it'd be fun.

Now get out there and win. Quickly.

Thanks for reading.