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Around the Wheel: Saskia the Unyielding


Once again we find ourselves with a deck that really wants to go in a specific direction. Saskia desperately wants to two-for-one, whether it's by going Voltron and suiting her up for a one-hit Commander kill (Battle Mastery + Eldrazi Conscription + Trailblazer's Boots, maybe?), going wide with tokens (what happens when you make Goblins, Soldiers, Elves, and Zombies all in the same deck?) or even just grinding out value while attempting to go over the top (it's amazing what Craterhoof Behemoth will do, especially when you're running big Dragons and Beasts. Heck, good ol' Overrun with a couple of Angels, a Siege Rhino, and a Savage Ventmaw will do some pretty good damage).

However, as we've said before, we're trying to do something different here. We're trying to use these four-color commanders, which really all are pretty focused in their ways, to do something unexpected. So today, I'm going to do something I rarely do: I'm going to use the Commander for its color identity only. Even more rarely, I am using it for what it lacks. Because, you see, it lacks Blue. And ever since the deck with no Blue has been rolling around in my head, I've wanted to do one thing, and one thing only. Win with this guy:

Laboratory Maniac

Let's get one thing out of the way right away. A lot of people don't really like Laboratory Maniac. It seems a little obvious, almost a staple in decks that run Blue and card draw. And combos that abuse it tend to be difficult for the rest of the table - they're relatively easy to assemble and relatively difficult to disrupt (I mean, one can always just kill Lab Man, but that doesn't seem to stop anyone from complaining about it). This deck... looks to impress people with its combo, rather than annoy them. Very few people should see it coming, since the deck has no Blue in it.

Now, on to the challenges. Commander dictates a key thing, assuming we're using the rules laid out by the Rules Committee. We cannot run cards that contain a color not in our Commander's color identity. That means if our leader is Avacyn (in any of her forms) we can't run Doom Blade. Not in our main deck, not in any potential sideboard we may have, and even if we could figure out a way to cast Burning Wish, we can't go get a Doom Blade - we have to get a legal card. (If your playgroup allows you to run Burning Wish and get literally any card you own as opposed to a card from a pre-set "wishboard," that could let you slip in the Blue creature.)

This is... well, this is a big problem. We want to win with a creature we can't run or get in the deck. However, there is one way to get cards we can't otherwise run under our control. We steal them.

We can Threaten them or Mind Control them, but in our particular case we're going to look at effects like Reanimate. We can look at our opponents' graveyards, cast Reanimate (or Rise from the Grave or Hymn of Rebirth) and put that card on our battlefield, fully under our control. Problem solved. We can get a Laboratory Maniac from an opponent's graveyard and put it into play under our control.

Of course, we can't always count on an opponent running Lab Man. Granted, if you play in a playgroup where someone runs an annoying Lab Man deck, I highly recommend building this deck and ruining their day - in fact, I'd drop in a bunch of tutors to make it run faster and more consistently and teach them a lesson, but that's just me. However, what do we do if our friends aren't terrible people who run Lab Man decks?

We need a co-conspirator. We need a player who doesn't have a deck to come play with us... to play the second deck we're going to provide. That one will have Laboratory Maniac in it, ready to be stolen away. For this purpose, I'd recommend Abe Sargent's Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle deck. It's super cheap, it's really fun, and it has some game - I've won games against much more expensive decks with this funky little dude. It's a great deck for lots of players, because it's simple enough to be understood by most adults, even if they don't have much experience with the game, but if you've got a regular player who just forgot their backpack, it'll be off-the-wall and interesting enough to be playable. Cut a single card and drop in a Laboratory Maniac and you're ready to go. However, feel free to run any deck you wish running Blue.

That's the real trick here. We're going to run two decks. We're going to pilot Saskia. Our co-conspirator will run our other deck. We'll both play along in the pod, and when the time is right, we'll put their Lab Man in their graveyard, reanimate it, and win the game.

Turns out the actual combo is pretty easy, though we're fairly limited. Most of the cards that search opponent's libraries for stuff Exile, which doesn't help us. So, we have a couple of cards we can use to get Lab Man where we want him. Life's Finale is probably the best one, because it wraths at the same time and probably will draw some focus away from the fact we just put someone's Lab Man in the 'yard. The other way is a bit more unorthodox. Ever heard of Grinning Totem? Me neither. It's an artifact that lets us sac it to search our opponent's library for a card. We exile it, then until the beginning of our next upkeep we can cast it. If we don't - and this is the good part - we put it in our opponent's graveyard. Perfect.

We run the random possibility the card is in their hand, so we've got a couple of discard spells which allow us to choose what they dump. They might randomly play it, especially if they're newer to the game, in which case we can just kill it and go from there. Finally, we can always go the Mesmeric Orb route and hope we mill it.

We can reanimate it in a bunch of ways. In fact, we have enough Reanimation spells we shouldn't be afraid to cast them in order to stay alive even when we don't have the combo. If someone bins something tasty off an Orb mill or a wrath, go ahead and grab it. Sepulchral Primordial is a great card whether or not we're pulling off a combo (but bonus style points if you can pull off the combo with it).

Then we need to win, and to do that, we need to empty our library. Let's look at the ways we have to do that.

  • Leveler. This is, quite possibly, the neatest use of Leveler in the game. With Leveler and a card draw spell, we win on the spot.
  • If we've gone the Mesmeric Orb route, or if we happen to have it, we can combo with Seeker of Skybreak to mill ourselves out. We simply tap the Elf and target the Elf, untapping her and allowing us to tap her again. Each time, we mill a card.
  • Demonic Consultation. Name, I don't know, Laboratory Maniac. We'll never find it and wind up with an empty library. This one is great because it's an Instant, which means we can cast it during our Upkeep, before we draw for turn.
  • Tainted Pact. We will never hit a second card with the same name (in fact, we're only running one of each basic land we can for precisely this reason), so all we have to do is never put one in our hand and we'll exile our entire library. Another Instant.

We can't always run suites of Black tutors, and the pieces for this one are all over the place anyway, so we're running card draw instead. We do have one tutor, Beseech the Queen, which we can use to grab Life's Finale so it shouldn't tip us off, because we're just grabbing a wrath. Otherwise we're going to draw and try to stay alive.

We're ramping with artifact mana because most of the Green ramp gets basic lands and we only have four. We do want mana, though; many of our spells cost six or more mana, and we really want to reanimate Lab Man, empty our library, and (attempt to) draw a card all on the same turn, which could cost as much as 13 mana or so.

And we've got some kill spells and some wrath effects to attempt to stay alive. Hopefully we'll seem rather unthreatening (especially when we tell people we won't be using Saskia at all) and won't have to fight off too much while we attempt to piece together our crazy combo.

Saskia the Unyielding | Commander | Mark Wischkaemper

So, we invite a friend who's been wanting to learn to play to join us, and we bring a deck packing Lab Man for them. We play Saskia and stay alive while playing artifact mana and drawing cards, eventually targeting our friend's library and putting their Lab Man in their 'yard. We reanimate it, empty our library, and win the game. I'll leave it to you to decide if you tell your co-conspirator what you're up to. Also, the combo is a bit fragile, but hopefully it'll win enough style points the group will give it to you even if they could stop you.

If nothing else, at least no one can complain it's a traditional Laboratory Maniac deck. If your friends don't think it's epic, get new friends.

What say you? Is this too crazy? Funny? Just straight-up weird? Please let us know in the comments - and feel free to share other wacky ways you've come up with to warp the game.

Thanks for reading, and stay safe.

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