Vikings Gone Wild: Masters of Elements
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Convertible Commander: Kodama of the North Tree

Author’s Note: Commander is an interesting format in part because it’s normally not about optimization; it’s about expression. Commander articles, therefore, are different from a deck tech one might read by a pro grinding the tournaments. Competitive formats are constantly looking for the best version of any deck, while we’re always looking for ways to do new things. So, as my articles continue to evolve, one thing I’d like to play with is extreme restrictions: think completely slaving to a theme, using only one card type aside from lands, or, like today’s deck, creatures which all share a keyword. I suppose one could simply buy the deck list, but I encourage instead using the ideas as jumping off points for your own creations. Decks like this force me to find cards we wouldn’t normally play, and one of them may be just the thing needed for the next deck you want to build. In that spirit, please use the comments liberally to discuss anything related to the article. Let me know what I missed, what directions the deck could have taken, or just make suggestions of restrictions you’d like me to dig into!

Path to Exile
Hero's Downfall
Inferno Titan

All three of these cards have one thing in common: they remove our creatures from play. Cards like this are a common sight in Commander. Spells which exile like Silence the Believers or Swords to Plowshares are among the strongest, but the ability built into a creature like Shriekmaw is abuseable with recursion. Luminate Primordial on an infinitely flickering Brago, King Eternal is really awful, but even just a bounce effect like Man-o'-War can be annoying.

During Zendikar Standard, I once played against a wu (Azorius) deck which ran no creatures. I was playing a Mono-Black Vampires deck which was chock full of great removal spells, so for Game 2 I sided out all my removal like a chump. He, of course, sided in a bunch of creatures and promptly beat the snot out of me. So we know it can be effective to completely negate an entire subset of our opponents’ cards. But building a Commander deck with no creatures is normally a very specific thing — and impossible, if one is nitpicky. Melek, Izzet Paragon or Narset, Enlightened Master may well not want a single other creature, but most of the time we’re going to want to play with some boots on the ground.

But what if we made it so targeted removal just didn’t affect us?

Kodama of the North Tree ? Commander | Mark Wischkaemper

Life's Finale

Let’s take a look at the deck bit by bit, but my first thought as I examined where it wound up was this would be a great deck to teach a lesson to group of new players: the value of Wrath of God style effects. Someone trying to figure out why to run Life's Finale when Murder is a thing (“I don’t lose all my own stuff!”) will get it real quick when their Murder is rotting in their hand.

Green ramps, and it should be a conscious decision if you choose not to. We combine our 40 lands with a standard package of ramp spells like Cultivate and Peregrination. This deck, in this incarnation, will almost certainly not run out of mana. In fact, one of the places to mess with this is probably the amount of land and ramp. I find, however, starting with 40 plus ramp is a good starting point, and play-testing will let me know if I can adjust down. We’ve got a few lands which make creatures (and one which turns into one); this is an answer to an opponent forcing a sacrifice. Sac a dude? Cool. How about . . .  this goat token!

Momentous Fall
Green also draws cards like a boss. Much of that draw is tied directly to the power of a creature, and that’s great, because we’ve got a bunch of big dudes and occasionally we’ll even make them bigger. Shroud could be a problem, but Life's Legacy and Momentous Fall both don’t target. We sacrifice the creature then draw cards equal to its power. Soul's Majesty has to target, though, so make sure to aim at a guy with Hexproof rather than a guy with Shroud.

Green also threatens well. There’s nothing like a 8/8 Hexproof Plated Slagwurm to make people a bit worried. Siege Behemoth raises hackles, too. Play out a couple of dudes to make the table nervous, but hold on to a few cards as well; we roll over to a wrath effect, and it’ll help if we’re holding something to rebuild with.

Our creatures are certainly big, but they don’t have much evasion, so the way the deck intends on winning is with an Overrun. There are a few effects like that one, including my personal favorite Triumph of the Hordes, and played correctly one of those spells should spell the doom of at least one player. Play close to the chest, don’t make a bunch of reckless or early attacks, just build a board state and defend yourself with your monsters while you ramp. Wait until someone (or someones) are fairly open, slam an Overwhelming Stampede, and, y’know, just win.

Answers are where the deck needs some work. As the list gets tweaked, I’d probably look for some quality creatures with removal built in like Acidic Slime. Might not be a bad idea to run a wrath effect or two of our own. More than the singleton Desert Twister this deck has, at least.

There’s also room for some exploration. Blanchwood Armor is a card more Mono-Green decks should run, but an Eternal Witness/Mimic Vat package would probably be a good idea. If I had one kicking around, I’d probably run a Craterhoof Behemoth in this deck; it doesn’t have Shroud or Hexproof but it’s really there for the overrun effect (so I would not, for example, add Pathbreaker Ibex).Mwonvuli Beast Tracker can go find at least all the creatures with Hexproof (which, by the way, Thrun, the Last Troll and Troll Ascetic have both been Oracled to have).

But we wouldn’t be Convertible Commander without an Optionboard. Green does Trample well, but Hexproof and Shroud are far less common. What else does it not do all that often? Fly.

Bladed Pinions
To stick with the theme, the thing to remove would be all the Overrun style cards and replace them with all the flight enablers, but since the majority of these cards target, I think I’d pull the Shroud creatures I like least and slide in these 10 cards. Skyshaper is particularly hilarious here, because it’s almost certain no one will have ever seen it before. Predator, Flagship has the advantage of one of the coolest names of a Magic card ever, and Eldrazi Monument just straight-up wins games.

This does change up the strategy a bit, though. Sitting on a Conifer Strider equipped with Bladed Pinions seems pretty lame. Start attacking. You’ll make some enemies, but you’ll push life totals downward which will accelerate the game to its conclusion and you’ll confuse the heck out of everyone with your untargetable flying Green monstrosities. How does a Plated Crusher wear Fleetfeather Sandals anyway? I guess two pair. But Cobbled Wings? I call shenanigans. But try looking at the art on a Plated Slagwurm and imagine that Wurm with tiny pixie wings without laughing out loud.

This deck demonstrates how powerful an ability Hexproof really is, but it is a bit of a one trick pony. It can be fun to do something unexpected, though, so it’s a pretty good jumping-off point for a new approach.

What got missed here? Would an all-Hexproof build with more Auras and Equipment to pump them up be a way to go? What about trying to give our stuff Indestructible to make our dudes more resilient to board wipes? Anything else? Also, what other restrictions would you like to see? Let me know in the comments!

Completely negating a subset of cards is a clever and underused way of achieving card advantage: if your opponent has two point removal spells in her hand, you’ve effectively reduced her hand size by two. Constantly creating card disadvantage for our opponents is all upside for us.

Thanks for reading.

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