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Convertible Commander: Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice


Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice
I once moved 35 miles and it really changed how I played Magic. I was living in a little apartment in the northeast part of San Diego County. I had a wonderful LGS. My schedule was funny but I could always find someone to jam a game or two. I did my Prereleases and learned to play Commander there. Then I met my (now) wife, and we moved in together in San Diego proper. The drive was really far; I made it a few more times, but I needed to find a new place to play. Which led me to a random shop on a random night, hoping to play Commander in an unfamiliar place. Most players were jamming Standard, but I found a group of casual players who were willing to let me join their 8-man free-for-all as long as I shuffled my general into my deck. There were people with 60 card decks, another Commander player, a couple of players playing out-of-the-box Standard precons (this was before the Commander precons), and one guy with a 1000 card box as his library. He was playing his five-color angel deck, which ran a single copy of every angel ever printed and the lands to support it. He must have had some other support cards, but everything mentioned angels or was one. He didn't win, but everyone was impressed.

There's something to that kind of play. For the vast majority of us, it's merely a mental exercise: building around a theme completely, at full expense of the deck doing the normal things we look for, like trying to win a game or something. However, we can learn things from this process. By building a deck in this way, we will almost certainly discover some cards we might otherwise overlook. (If we take the time to play it in full-theme mode, we might even discover that they play well.) We might find we enjoy the questions we get when playing something random, or even enjoy the experience of going into a game knowing full well we're highly unlikely to even compete, so we just want to see if we get anywhere. Our friends might even discover they like the more laid-back style and it could add an element of casual the group has never explored. We might even enjoy showing off all the work we did to make sure everything is on-theme, pointing out how a card fits in a way that's not obvious.

It's in that spirit we're going to approach a new Guilds of Ravnica legend. When I saw her, I thought one thing: attack triggers. Let's play with attack triggers.

Justice for All | Commander | Mark Wischkaemper

Gleam of Battle
Aside from lands, every single card in this deck cares about the attack step. We have cards that buff our creatures, give them abilities, gain us life, make other dudes, throw damage around: it's going to be quite wild and variable, depending on what is in that opening hand.

Aurelia herself is going to put counters on our littler dudes, which is nice of her. She's also inexpensive, so we're likely to cast her right on time, and anything we've cast before her will be smaller, and they'll start getting bigger right away. Of course, she also grants trample or vigilance (or both) depending on the color of the target.

A few more things in the deck play in the counter world. Elite Scaleguard will bolster something when it enters the battlefield, but more importantly, it lets us use Aurelia's mentees to tap down defending dudes. Legion Warboss is a variation on Goblin Rabblemaster which also mentors, for even more counter fun. Citadel Siege set to Khans puts more counters on creatures. Gleam of Battle spreads the love across all attacking creatures. With the right (lucky) line of play, Gleam of Battle could make for a very difficult team against which to defend.

We've also got a bunch of temporary power and toughness boosts. War Horn is sort of the basic example of this: "Attacking creatures you control get +1/+0." Sounds good. Agrus Kos, Wojek Veteran, makes that +2, though he cares about color identity. There are a few battle cry creatures, like Goblin Wardriver. Honored Crop-Captain and Renegade Warlord also have battle cry but don't use that text. Instigator Gang works for our whole team, and if an opponent lets them flip over, gives a massive +3/+0 for our attackers. Nobilis of War is a double War Horn. Benefit of being a Nobilis, maybe? Two mouths or something? Pianna, Nomad Captain gives +1/+1; Soltari Champion does too and can't be blocked while he's at it. Crescendo of War adds strife counters to itself then plays a War Horn for each counter (it also gives a blocking bonus, but that's unlikely to matter much unless we've got vigilance). Márton Stromgald, although fragile, deserves special notice, because he'll give all other attackers +X/+X, where X is the number of other attacking creatures. With eight creatures that's absolutely stupid, but even with just three others it's an Overrun without Trample.

Legion's Initiative
Legion's Initiative is in a funny place. It gives a power and toughness bonus but it's static. However, we can exile it to blink our entire team out (protecting from a Wrath of God effect, probably), then at the beginning of our next combat, everyone pops back in with haste.

Then we have roughly 47 million other effects which occur at the beginning of combat. Seriously, if this deck can play for about 10 turns without being molested, the triggers on the stack will be really silly. Aurelia herself, of course, grants her power and at least one ability. We've got a bunch of others that do stuff like that, though: Bruse Tarl grants double strike and lifelink to one of our dudes. Blood Mist just gives double strike, but still. Duelist's Heritage is basically the same thing, though the Heritage only cares when one or more creatures attack, which means we can also target other people's attacking creatures. Nahiri's Machinations make something indestructible.

But the big effects work on everything attacking. An exhaustive list would be, well, exhausting, but for a quick look, we can:

  • Give all our creatures first strike
  • Or double strike
  • Or menace
  • Or flying
  • Or lifelink
  • Or trample
  • Or vigilance
  • Prevent all damage done to them
  • Gain life for each attacking creature
  • Lightning Helix something
  • Make a bunch of different kinds of tokens
  • Return things from the graveyard

That's a lot of things. Just one is pretty good, but in multiples it starts getting insane. Plus, we've got a pair of weird old Invasion enchantments: Fight or Flight and Stand or Fall. We get to divide our opponents' creatures into two piles, then they choose which pile they can use for either blocking or attacking.

Fight or Flight
Stand or Fall

This deck will work. With 40 lands and plenty of duals, it really will. It'll be slow, and it has a very difficult time interacting, but at a super-casual table (or one where no one runs any removal) it could get out of hand. It should also be fun and quite funny to play, so if winning doesn't matter, it'll be a blast.

Rather than build a strict optionboard this time, though, I thought it'd be more informative to look at what could make this deck more effective at actually winning the game. It's fun to play with all permanents, but maybe some instants and sorceries could be useful.

First, it needs some ramp, not a ton, but 6-8 pieces would probably help. Ideally, turn two will be spent ramping and three will cast the commander. Because of the four-mana general, Sol Ring is probably necessary, and other two-mana rocks are your friends. Land Tax would be good.

Second, it's got to have some interaction. Some point removal and a couple of wrath effects are almost certainly necessary, and this is a great color pair for that. White, of course, has some of the best cheap instant removal in the game, but Red adds burn (which is often overlooked in EDH) and Ride Down, which looks really stupid until it's perfect. A bit of artifact and enchantment removal is always a good idea, too.

Third, and this is the trickiest part, it really, really needs some card draw. This color pair suffers the most in this arena, but there are some ways around it. Mind's Eye or even Arcane Encyclopedia could help, but they're pricey. This deck probably wants Skullclamp, especially if the little token makers stay in. Rogue's Gloves and Infiltration Lens are often good in decks which attack a lot. Staff of Nin could help. Choose your ramp to double as card draw later, including the new Boros Locket. Inheritance is an old-school card which isn't bad. Tamiyo's Journal might be worth a try.

Fourth, it might be worth exploring ways to get things back from the graveyard. If the curve is kept low, something like Sun Titan could join with Bishop of Rebirth to keep recycling creatures, but more likely you'll want Resurrection effects.

Finally, adding ways to take extra combat steps may be worth the investment. The other Aurelia already does this for us, but we could add spells like World at War or creatures like Hellkite Tyrant. Aggravated Assault is probably the strongest example of this ability, and with a Sword of Feast and Famine it can go infinite, which can make for an absurd stacking of triggers.

Is this kind of exercise interesting? What does "theme" mean to you when you deck-build? Please let me know in the comments!


Thanks for reading.