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Commander & Change: Gonti, Lord of Luxury


Here I go again. Anyone reading this column with any regularity knows I love playing Mono-Black decks. Mostly they’re mean, grindy, and kind of don’t let fair decks do their thing (like have creatures or play the game). As I’ve said before, a couple of my personal decks have been banned from my regular playgroup because they’re, well, not that fun. (For others at the table, of course. Those of us who love decks like this have a great time playing those decks.)

Then we enter into Kaladesh spoiler season (Steampunk Magic: oh yeah!) and the Grand Pooh-Bahs at Wizards go and give us a card like this.

There are a few corner cases, but for the most part, if Mono-Black wants to win a game of commander, it makes huge mana, keeps other players from having creatures, and wins with a spell like Exsanguinate, a creature like Gray Merchant of Asphodel, or beats people up with a giant flying demon. Gonti, on the other hand, lets us do something Black doesn’t normally get to do. Let’s play with our opponents’ cards. (Okay, we’ve been doing that for a while in a selective way. Animate Dead and Enslave have been around a long time. But you get what I mean, right?)

While we’re at it, let’s play around with some new stuff. We’re going to have a few of these cards kicking around if we do things like play at a prerelease, so they’re worth testing. Jason Alt points out we’re probably going to miss some key things by building before the full spoiler appears, but let’s not wait to see if this stuff works.

We’re going to win by being able to play other people’s stuff like Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur and Luminate Primordial (not to mention Staff of Nin and Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre), so we want plenty of mana. The nice thing is, we’re great at that. We’ve got our requisite 40 lands. Several of them do fun things; watch the Homeward Path activations, because sometimes we’ll be giving back things we don’t want to return. Bojuka Bog can be really important, because frankly sometimes people get obnoxious with their graveyards. Sol Ring, Charcoal Diamond, and Everflowing Chalice do a nice job of giving us extra mana early. Liliana of the Dark Realms fetches a Swamp every turn. But few things are more important than Cabal Coffers and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, which together do the well-known combo of A TON OF MANA. To help this along, we’ve got Thespian's Stage and Vesuva, which let us double up on Cabal Coffers. Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx also can get big, especially once we’ve got a few permanents out. Then we’ve got Caged Sun, Magus of the Coffers, Crypt Ghast, and Nirkana Revenant, all of which make each of our b producing lands produce bb. Our Expedition Map should be marked with a single “X”: Urborg. If we manage to get Urborg naturally, then go get the Coffers, but Urborg is the first choice.

Baleful Force is the closest thing I can think of for a staple in a big-mana Black deck. It draws a million cards and is huge all on its own. Skullclamp and Skulltap are here because there’s a good chance we’ll be sacrificing both our own stuff and other people’s. Live Fast works like Sign in Blood, except we also get two energy counters, which is sort of weird, but we can use them in a couple of ways, so it might be worth it. Morbid Curiosity gives us a way to sacrifice our commander and draw some cards in the meantime. Bomat Bazaar Barge draws a card when it comes into play. Metalspinner’s Puzzleknot is a fun way to get an extra couple of cards, and we can always get it back with Beacon of Unrest. Aetherworks Marvel is one of those ways to use energy counters, giving them to us when we sacrifice our stuff and letting us use them to select the best card coming up (and play it for free, no less!). Plus we get some draws off some other stuff we do, like Decree of Pain or Dregs of Sorrow.

We need to play our commander enough, and target a bunch of our competitors, in order to hit something great and win with it. Sure, random things happen, like that Baleful Force just beating someone up who stumbles, but really what we’re trying to do is play with everyone else’s toys. Artisan of Kozilek can beat people up too, all the while blowing up their stuff. We might even get lucky with a Westvale Abbey activation.

But we’ll need to keep everyone else from getting too crazy, so we’ve got things like Life's Finale, In Garruk's Wake, and Hero's Downfall to give us time to build our thieving machine. Noxious Gearhulk kills something when it comes into play. We get the fun new Demon of Dark Schemes, which is like a Massacre Wurm with energy counters. Plus we have a few of those old-school ways of dealing with problems, like Enslave. I mean, come on! No one sees that coming.

We can play our commander over and over a number of ways. The first is to just kill him somehow — via sacrifice or through combat — and recast him from the command zone. Since this is likely to happen a bunch, we’ve got all our mana. The second is to kill him, let him go to the graveyard, and return him somehow. Black excels at this, so we’ve got Profane Command, Animate Dead, Palace Siege, Rescue from the Underworld and several other ways to do this (and, of course, if somebody attempts to exile him from the graveyard, we can put him back in the Command Zone). Footsteps of the Goryo is particularly fun, because it puts Gonti back on the ‘field, then sacrifices him again, putting him back in the command zone or the graveyard for yet another play. The third is to “flicker” him. (This is where we exile our commander for a short period of time, then bring him back to the battlefield.) Black’s less good at this, but Tawnos's Coffin is one of the ways. We activate the Coffin targeting Gonti, then just let the Coffin untap next turn and he pops back into play (randomly keeping any counters or enchantments, which could matter). Conjurer's Closet is one of the best cards we can have, because it lets us pop him back and forth every turn. Cloudstone Curio is similar, because we can play our commander and use the Curio to return him right away, but we’re limited by the mana we have to cast him. We can also give our commander Persist or Undying for a turn, which Cauldron of Souls and Undying Evil do. Finally, we’ve got a few random ways to just return him to our hand: Erratic Portal, Dragon Mask, Skull Collector, and the new Decoction Module. The Portal and the Module can save Gonti from removal, the Collector lets us play Gonti every turn, and the Mask buffs him up for the turn and returns him at the end.

It’s worth noting there’s a good chance this deck has too many ways to play with Gonti. Since this is a relatively new idea for Black mages, it’s probably right to start being able to do the thing we want to do, then scale it down with more answer cards and more varied spells as we determine how much synergy we need to work with Gonti’s ability.

Gonti, Lord of Luxury ? Commander | Mark Wischkaemper

So we’re going to make some really big mana, we’re going to set up some way to keep recasting our commander, and we’re going to steal our friends’ stuff. Remember once we pick the card we’re going to exile, a) they don’t get to know what it is and b) we don’t have to cast it right away. So if we get something like Path to Exile or Creeping Corrosion, we can save it until the right moment. With a little luck, we’ll get the right pieces we need from whomever we’re playing against to build a winning combination. (How awesome would it be to get Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker from one player and Deceiver Exarch from another and just go nuts with the combo?)

Any of you keeping score will note there was no budget for today’s deck. Don’t worry! I’ll be back next week with a budget list looking at more of the spoilers. In the meantime, go steal your friends’ toys. They love that.

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