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Dodging Removal with Estrid, the Masked


Estrid, the Masked
One of the joys of playing a casual format like Commander is getting to do what we want. I guess that's true in any format, but Commander is particularly forgiving. You can play your favorite deck style at a major Standard tournament, but you probably won't win unless you play a Tier 1 deck. Perhaps your goal isn't to win, and if so, good on you. But Commander is less about winning than it is about having fun, and one of the ways we do that is showcasing what we like.

Which brings me to Modern Bogles. Named after one of its namesake cards, Slippery Bogle, Bogles is a deck which attempts to play a single, cheap Hexproof creature, then attack very aggressively with lots of pump spell backup. Ideally, the deck just explodes at the opponents, ending their life before they can figure out how to answer this untargetable threat. And, because the deck doesn't need to have more than one creature, it's nicely Wrath of God-proof: if the opponent wipes the board, you untap and play your next Bogle.

In a 60-card deck, they get eight 1-drop Bogles: Slippery Bogle and Gladecover Scout. That's great for a deck which is looking to beat a single opponent with a single creature by around turn four or five, because most of the time you'll have a Bogle in your opening hand for turn one. But in Commander, we often have multiple opponents, we have 100 card decks, and we can only play one of each. Which means Bogles can't really work in Commander, right? Not to mention, people tend to eschew spot removal for Wrath effects, because in a multiplayer environment you grind way more value trading 10 for 1 than 1 for 1.

But Commander tells us we can try. It even tells us that no matter how much our deck wins or loses, it will not fail, because the point isn't the win ratio, it's the fun we have with our friends around the table.

And we've got just the lady to lead us.

Estrid, the Masked | Commander | Mark Wischkaemper

Geist of Saint Traft
What we've got here is a deck which looks to do essentially what Bogles does in Modern, just slower and a bit bigger. We have 21 creatures, and 20 of them have Hexproof, so we're likely to see a few during a game. We play one or two and swing like crazy, adding effects as we go.

We start with the obvious Bogles. The two cheap ones, of course, along with some similar creatures at slightly higher price points are here. Most of the creatures three mana and under work the same way. They may randomly have Reach or Unblockable or something (take a look at Witchstalker and Fleecemane Lion, and Geist of Saint Traft of course), but they're Bogles. Once we get to four mana, though, we start adding some sort of evasion, most often flying, such as Ascended Lawmage. Lone Revenant and Stormsurge Kraken are different, of course, but worth it for strong abilities. Plus, Lone Revenant makes people panic because they assume you're doing something really stupid with it. Anyway, they're Bogles. We play them, normally one at a time or so. Don't overextend, even if there's nothing else to do, because a Wrath effect will blow us out if we play every creature we've got. Our one non-Hex creature is Mwonvuli Beast Tracker, which will hunt down any other creature in our deck we could want.

A big difference between this and Modern, though, is that we're not going to be attacking on turn two for a quarter of our opponent's life total. Instead, we're going to play our dude on turn two or three and attack the next turn for the first time. By then, lots of people have a token or some other way to block, or possibly have ramped into something larger. We need a way to punch through our damage, so we have 10 or so ways to make creatures not be blocked. We run the gamut, using artifacts (though not the ubiquitous Whispersilk Cloak because that gives Shroud and we need to be able to target our own stuff), enchantments, sorceries, and a land. Often stuff like this wants to be at instant speed to avoid getting blown out with a removal spell, but in our case it doesn't matter because all our stuff can't be targeted by anyone else anyway. So we stick something on our dude to make it unblockable and now can attack like crazy.

Then we want to make sure we're not trying to beat three opponents with 40 life each with a 3/2 flier. That will take way too long, so we are also running several ways to pump up our whole team. We've got some one-shot stuff like Phytoburst and Titanic Growth. We've got some enchantments like Angelic Destiny. And we've got equipment like Grafted Wargear and Slayer's Plate. We don't care so much about the toughness number because our dudes can't be blocked anyway, so we instead look for the best bang for our buck in the power. Then we use one of White's favorite combat styles and add Double Strike to the mix. A 3/2 flier with Tricks of the Trade on it is a 5/2 unblockable creature. Equip Grafted Wargear and hit it with Phytoburst with Duelist's Heritage out, that 3/2 is hitting for 28. That's turn six if things go well. The nice thing is, it'll hit for 18 next turn too, even without the Phytoburst! One reason to run a mix of ways to do this - and everything we're doing - is to not get blown out by a Shattering Spree or Austere Command.

Open into Wonder
The biggest problem we have is drawing enough cards. But because we're attacking with Unblockable creatures, we can work around that. Rogue's Gloves, Curiosity, and Ophidian Eye all do effectively the same thing here. We stick one on our dude and do what we'd normally do, but we draw cards for our trouble. We're mostly going to be doing it one at a time, but we do have the random Open into Wonder, which can make a few dudes Unblockable all the same turn and draw a card for each one.

We're running a few Planeswalkers beyond our commander. Estrid, by the way, is great here. Her +2 isn't much, but her -1 is wonderful, because it will give our creature some much-needed Wrath protection. The other Planeswalkers, though, all help us in one of our three goals: making our creatures Unblockable, pumping them up, or drawing cards. We've also got a few cards like Heroic Intervention and Make a Stand which give our whole team unblockable, along with a few other enchantments with Totem Armor to prevent just rolling over to a well-timed Day of Judgment.

So this is pretty straightforward. We're attempting to do one thing: play a couple of creatures which can't be killed with spot removal, make them Unblockable, pump them up, and use them to keep our hand full to keep fighting. The problem is we can't really do much else. We have the charms we can run, but we're not interacting much. We're not improving our mana past the lands we're playing. And there are other effects we could be playing, but we're keeping the deck at a low CMC.

In the spirit of making a deck less of a concept and more of a functional deck, let's see what fellow columnist Jason Alt has to say. He recently talked about how decks for his columns are often ideas, and they require a good bit of refinement before they're really able to compete at a table of actual players. Like our Bogles deck, his decks take the theme and lean into it too hard. Decks like this have too much redundancy, are too focused, and can't really function at all at a table if someone disrupts the plan at all. This is a problem, and several games, or just using a hand-drawing program like he suggests, can help to point us in the right direction for what can come out and what kind of interaction or adjustments we need.

So rather than doing a traditional Optionboard this time around, I'm going to propose 15 cards for the deck. Most of them are representative of a particular group of cards; Oblivion Ring, for example, has a number of functional reprints (Banishing Light, etc.) and is a type of card we probably want included. Additionally, there are some higher CMC cards which are likely to be good, like Revenge of the Hunted or Mu Yanling.

Do we want to run ramp here? If so, what do we cut for it, and what do we do with the extra mana? Maybe just a little bit, like Sword of the Animist (we are attacking a lot) just to thin and fix as necessary? How much removal do we need? Is it worth it to use creature-based removal like Banisher Priest and Knight of Autumn (because we can always use our pumping equipment and the like on them in a pinch) even though it turns on opponents' point removal? Do we want some bigger pump spells like Illusionary Armor or Revenge of the Hunted? The Armor is particularly interesting, because the creature can't be a target by anyone else, though it does mean we can't target it once the Armor is on the creature. And do we want a Wrath effect or two? If so, maybe one that leaves a creature behind, like Phyrexian Rebirth? Or maybe we just want Winds of Rath? If so, is it worth it to cut the Sorcery and Instant-based stuff and all the artifacts and just go with Enchantments, the way the Modern deck does? Or is an Artifact-based deck better? How about stuff like Argentum Armor? It seems great but it's expensive. Is that worth ramp, and if so, should we do anything else? Please comment down below! I'd love to see if we can groupthink this into a functional decklist.

In the meantime, get out there and blank all their removal.

Thanks for reading.

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