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Lore and Consequences: Phage vs. Akroma

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The war between death-born afflicter and dream-born avenger is far from over.

Their next battle will give birth to something more dangerous than either.

"Phage and Akroma" by Ron Spears

A continent stands divided. On one side, the affluent Cabal seeks to tighten its grip on Otaria. The other features a new kingdom - Topos - forged from a fallen artist and ruled by his magnum opus. Said masterpiece has no other purpose in mind than to bring righteous devastation to the Cabal. In turn, the Cabal want Topos and its winged ruler torn to bloody pieces. With such growing animosity, heads are certain to fly. All the way across the Commander table!

Talisman of Hierarchy
Let the games begin.

Few formats so deftly blend flavor and function as Commander, where you literally recruit a historical figure to lead your army. But what's the connection between these legendary cards and their actual legends? It is possible to build decks in such a way that we can see these stories play out in the course of a game? Or, if we prefer to take a more active hand, meddle with the fate of our heroes and villains?

Can the damned be redeemed?

Repentant Vampire

Will the heroic see themselves twisted by their own zealous agenda?

Wayward Angel

Such are questions for the games, themselves, to answer.

Today, we'll delve into the ancient lore of Magic: The Gathering and fuse it with our deck-building. The resulting Frankenstein's monster will be a pair of fully playable Commander decks, complete with themes and synergies, that also recount a story from Magic's fabled past. All card and deck-building choices will serve to tell the tale, allowing you to regale your playgroup (while you simultaneously crush them).

So, join me, brave brewer, on this quest to recreate the past. And win while doing so.

We've now reached "The Empire Strikes Back" of the Onslaught Block, where the stakes are raised and the plot darker. Surprising, seeing as the first novel ended with literal apocalyptic death wurms. But hey, that's Magic for ya!

Phage the Untouchable by Ron Spears

Lethal to the touch. Very eager to hug.

-VS-

Akroma, Vision of Ixidor by Chris Rahn

The literal embodiment of grieving rage

Before ichor and feathers start splattering about, a few ground rules:

1. Function comes first:

Our mission is to design playable Commander decks that not only detail story arcs, but also seek to win the game. Swat perfectly illustrates the horrific effect of Phage the Untouchable's powers, but the card is too narrow to make the cut. Similarly, while Akroma's Devoted fits the lore, it's tribal focus limits the card to Cleric builds only. And even then, it's likely not impactful enough for Commander.

Swat by rk post

I guess that was one Hot Topic joke too many.

2. Flavor still dictates card selection:

A card's connection to Magic lore may disqualify it from this experiment. Cards can only reference planes/characters they're organically linked to. Odric, Lunarch Marshal would perfectly fit our Akroma, Vision of Ixidor build, as both their ability-centric powers synergize. But alas, Odric is bound to Innistrad, a plane that hadn't even been created at the time of Legions, and thus cannot be included. Depending on how much "narrative vs. competitive" matters to you personally, I leave it up to you to tinker with the builds as you see fit. Commander is all about creativity, after all.

Kaldra Compleat
Shadowspear
Halvar, God of Battle // Sword of the Realms
These are all directly linked to the worlds they hail from.

3. That said, if a card could exist on another plane, it's totally up for grabs:

Today's tale may not involve Amonkhet, but I see no reason something like Scavenger Grounds is out of bounds. Such an environment could feasibly appear in many worlds, and the graveyard hate it provides is an important tool for a Commander deck to have in its pocket. We're allowing wiggle-room when picking cards that could feasibly slide into any narrative. Burning-Rune Demon may call Kaldheim home, but in the world of Magic, tutor-happy demons are everywhere, so bringing in this guy is no stretch.

Burning-Rune Demon
Spikes-n-skulls are a universal demon motiff

Rules covered, let's dive right into the story, starting with...

Legions by J. Robert King

When we last visited Onslaught, Kamahl, Fist of Krosa had begrudgingly allied his army with that of Phage the Untouchable, the Cabal-corrupted reincarnation of his sister Jeska, Warrior Adept. Before Kamahl took a druidic vow, he was quite the violent fellow (Kamahl, Pit Fighter), and his quest to maintain the Mirari resulted in Jeska being mortally wounded. As such, Phage the Untouchable downrights loathes Kamahl, who is trying to make amends and somehow restore his own sister to her former self.

Kamahl, Pit Fighter
Kamahl's Druidic Vow
Jeska, Warrior Adept

This family drama was made leagues more complicated by the arrival of Akroma, Angel of Wrath, the creation of Ixidor, Reality Sculptor. In her spare time, Phage partakes in gladiatorial combat in the Cabal-owned Pits. Her ability to rot whatever she touches makes her quite the deadly force. One which rival fighter Ixidor witnessed used to dispatch his lover, Nivea. Broken and half-mad, Ixidor used his reality-warping magic (think Scarlet Witch from the MCU) to craft Akroma, Angel of Vengeance in Nivea's image. Akroma wants Phage stone-dead, so Kamahl teams up with Phage in an attempt to save his sister.

Ixidor, Reality Sculptor

Onslaught ends with the souls of everyone Phage's killed (by this point, it's a LOT) bursting out of her in the form of giant, all-consuming death wurms. Phage reverts back to Jeska, but quickly realizes that the only way to save the world is to reabsorb all the wurms and become Phage once more. In the chaos, Ixidor is eaten, with Akroma flying down the gigantic gullet of a death wurm to rescue him.

Jeska sacrifices herself to contain the wurms, transforming back into Phage the Untouchable. Everyone goes home, assuming that's the last they'll see of Ixidor and Akroma.

Legions picks up with a revelation: Akroma is not dead. She not only got out of the death wurm, but this particular wurm managed to avoid getting reabsorbed back into Phage the Untouchable and is still loose. Akroma returns to Topos and begins acting as ruler, with full intent on tearing the Cabal apart. Only now, in the diplomatic sense as well as the literal one. What's more, Akroma stumbles across a severely injured Braids, Cabal Minion brainwashes her onto the angel's side. All the while, Akroma's growing body of troops keep an eye out for the wandering death wurm, as it still has Ixidor trapped within its guts. Gross.

Elsewhere, the remnants of Kamahl's and Phage's armies have decided they're quite done with warfare (death wurms will do that to you) and set out to create a city all their own: Sanctum. Stonebrow, Krosan Hero, former officer in Kamahl's army, is one such pioneer. Alongside him is Zagorka, a sassy old goat-herder who assumes leadership of the city alongside Stonebrow. Zagorka becomes incredibly important later, but she's never been represented on a card.

Well, maybe one...

Ladies' Knight by Ron Spears

*Sigh* Phage and Akroma are there, so I assume she's the older lady in the back.

Phage literally only stops by Sanctum to set up a casino and then heads back to the Grand Coliseum, where the First (Cabal Patriarch)) is waiting for her. The Cabal Patriarch is unique in how he is the only person capable of touching Phage without withering away. The two...well, when a mommy and a daddy really love each other...resulting in Phage getting pregnant with the literal reincarnation a Cabal god, Kuberr. The Cabal Patriarch begins to feel like his throne is threatened and starts plotting the assassination of both mother and soon-to-be son.

Cabal Patriarch

Phage hooks up with this fellow, despite the major Emperor Palpatine-vibes.

Things started out weird. They're only about to get weirder.

Once Akroma catches wind of the death wurm's location, she flies back down its throat to rescue Ixidor. The angel spends days within its titantic digestive system, resulting in her poor jaguar legs (Yes, she has jaguar legs. See Lore and Consequences, Part 8) getting corroded down to bone. She manages to locate a still-alive Ixidor nestled up to the soul of his fallen lover Nivea, but he refuses to leave her side, so Akroma has no choice but to fly her now-skeletal lower half out of there. Upon arriving at Topos, she gets outfitted with four cat-like metal legs to replace the old ones. Thus the art on Akroma, Vision of Ixidor, though she's lacking the back two mecha-jaguar legs.

Akroma, Vision of Ixidor

While Akroma was gone, Braids was rescued and returned to the Cabal. After undoing the brain-washing, she helps Phage kill the scheming Cabal Patriarch and the two assume total control of the Cabal. After Phage gives birth to Kuberr, who grows incredibly quickly, she's instructed by her own offspring to attack Akroma with a giant army, as each casualty will accelerate his grow. Despite the attempts of Stonebrow, Krosan Hero and Zagorka to keep it peaceful, poor Sanctum winds up being the battlegrounds for this epic confrontation.

At this point, we're near the end, so you may be asking yourself: Where in the world is Kamahl? No joke, he's been meditating the entire story. Anyone's attempt to rouse him has been met with apathy. Only now, at the climax, does Kamahl finally enter the plot. Taking up Soul Reaver, an axe originally forged to kill Akroma, Kamahl arrives in Sanctum as the armies of Phage and Akroma duke it out. With one mighty swing, Kamahl, Fist of Krosa manages to hit Phage the Untouchable, Akroma, Vision of Ixidor, and even a supremely unlucky Zagorka all at the same time.

Does this kill them all? No. No, it does not. The axe instead fuses all three women into a single, even more powerful entity.

Karona, False God by Matthew D. Wilson

And so, Legions ends on a colossal cliffhanger, with two of its biggest characters (and a minor one) melding together into a demigod that'll set the stage for the finale in Scourge.

Where somehow, some way, things get even weirder.

But until then, we've quite the blood-stained stage set for action! Who will reign supreme, thy angelic crusader with a heart set on vengeance, or the supremely-twisted soul of a fallen warrior?

Get ready for battle - Choose your character!

Phage the Untouchable


Among the pantheon of difficult Commanders, Phage the Untouchable sits high on the podium. She can kill opponents with a touch, but if you try casting her from the Command Zone, she'll do the same to you. Our difficulty here isn't so much in getting Phage to dispatch our foes. That's the easy part. The challenge, and subsequent theme of our deck, is playing her in the first place. Once we accomplish that Herculean task, we've plenty of tools to ensure she reduces our enemies to dust.

Enablers: Typically, we'd begin our analysis with creatures, but as Phage the Untouchable requires very specific deck-building, let's start by exploring how we can safely play her without killing ourselves.

Torpor Orb
Sundial of the Infinite
Netherborn Altar

First, the direct approach: either shut off or dance around her drawback. Torpor Orb nixes enter-the-battlefield abilities, negating the Phage's 'cast-from-hand' clause. Alternatively, once we cast Phage and her ability goes on the stack, an activation of Sundial of the Infinite can swiftly end the turn, wiping the trigger away without it touching us. We could also just avoid the Command Zone entirely via Command Beacon and Netherborn Altar.

Platinum Angel
Lich's Mastery

Another strategy involves simply not caring about "Lose the game", utilizing tools like Platinum Angel and Lich's Mastery to render Phage's drawback useless. These are risky, as Phage's trigger will still go on the stack. If an opponent is able to remove one of these tools before that trigger resolves, we're dead meat.

Thrull Wizard
Withering Boon

Next, the most difficult route: outright countering our own general. By casting Phage the Untouchable from the Command zone and opting to counter her ourselves via Thrull Wizard or Withering Boon, she'll go to our graveyard rather than play. Once she's safely in the graveyard, our hefty array of resurrection (Wretched Confluence, Morgue Theft, Tortured Existence, Grim Harvest, etc.) will ensure she's quickly in hand. Obviously, none of these tools put her directly into play a la' Zombify, as that would kill us, but we'll make up for the lack of speed (and hefty mana costs involved) via the generation of huge amounts of Black mana.

Endless Whispers

This will do bad, bad things here

Another fun and nasty win-con is turning our Commander's drawback against our own enemies. Endless Whispers allows us to gift a dead Phage directly to our opponents, promptly killing them in sequence the moment she arrives under their control.

Magus of the Coffers
Crypt Ghast
Dread Presence

Dark Army: The above strategies require work, especially in a 100 card singleton format, so the rest of our deck is built to provide as much support and utility as possible. Starting with creatures, we want to ensure we've large amounts of mana to work with. Black excels at this via cards like Magus of the Coffers and Crypt Ghast. As we'll see upon covering our mana base, swamps are of key importance, so Burnished Hart and Dread Presence are also included. Geode Golem can happily get around Phage's 7-mana casting cost, but remember to have one of the above enablers set up first, or it'll be a short game for you.

Undead Gladiator
Ophiomancer
Cabal Patriarch

We need ample setup time, so utility creatures like Withering Wretch, Cabal Interrogator, Undead Gladiator, Ophiomancer, and Necrotic Ooze allow disruption of opposing strategies while we assemble our 'combo'. The ooze can stand in for Thrull Wizard if your opponents have killed it before you've got a chance to cast-n-counter Phage. Avatar of Woe and the thematic Cabal Patriarch can certainly hit hard on their own, but their primary role is to save your own skin from opposing threats.

Burning-Rune Demon
Vile Entomber
Filth

With us needing specific pieces to cast Phage, we rely heavily on tutoring. Burning-Rune Demon and Vile Entomber both work to get cards into our hand and/or graveyard. This is very useful with cards such as Grim Recovery, Morgue Theft, and Filth.

Grim Tutor
Demonic Tutor
Profane Tutor

The Vile Arts: We continue the tutor-train right into our other spells. With so few enablers to get Phage into play, we're going to need ways to actively look for them. What's more, we'll need the tools to keep ourselves alive while we put our 'combo' together. Grim Tutor, Vampiric Tutor, Demonic Tutor, Dark Petition, Diabolic Intent, Profane Tutor, and Entomb serve double duty, nabbing enablers when the coast is clear or removal to deal with threats. Speaking of which...

Nightmare Unmaking
Dead of Winter
Soul Shatter

Supporting Elements: A plethora of mass-removal options lay at our disposal. With Phage the Untouchable sitting in the Command Zone, our plan is far from subtle. Our opponents will know exactly what we're building and are likely to send frequent damage our way. Flexible sweepers like Toxic Deluge, Nightmare Unmaking, Decree of Pain, Dead of Winter, and Mutilate do great work getting around pesky defensive elements like Indestructible and Regeneration, helping to ensure a clear board. This flexibility extends into our spot removal, with Mire in Misery, Feed the Swarm, Malicious Affliction, Force of Despair, and Soul Shatter able to hit multiple or different varieties of target.

Lightning Greaves
Whispersilk Cloak
Key to the City

With our copious removal helping to keep the board clear, the idea is that Phage will face little opposition once she arrives. That said, speeding her up via Swiftfoot Boots and Lightning Greaves, or granting her evasion via Whispersilk Cloak and Key to the City, certainly don't hurt. It's no coincidence that three of those four cards also grant her protection, as it'd be a shame to have Phage be killed after working so hard to get her into play. Unless we have an Endless Whipers out.

Cabal Coffers
Cabal Stronghold
Black Market

Mana/Rocks: A lot of our plan is expensive, but Black makes fantastic use of basic swamps, with staples Cabal Coffers and Cabal Stronghold able to generate obscene amounts of mana. Don't forget that Expedition Map can fetch up any land, not just basics, so aim for that Cabal Coffers as soon as you can! Other explosive sources of mana come from Caged Sun, Extraplanar Lens and Black Market, which is especially potent with all our removal.

Quite the nefarious scheme in the making. How might Phage's angelic opponent respond in kind? Can righteous fury overcome a necrotic touch?

Akroma's Vengeance by Greg and Tim Hildebrandt

Akroma, Vision of Ixidor

Akroma, Vision of Ixidor | Commander | Matthew Lotti


While Legions' Akroma, Angel of Wrath is the classic choice, her mighty stats do little to influence deck-building outside of Voltron builds. I wanted to do something different, something more in-keeping with her growing army of followers. Akroma, Vision of Ixidor fits this theme perfectly, even showing artwork reflective of Akroma's appearance during the events of Legions. A double-win of flavor and function! Alas, her Partner ability is wasted here, as the only other Legendary Partner even closely aligned with her story is Kamahl, Heart of Krosa, and the two are essentially enemies.

An Army fit for an Angel: Our general requests two tasks: assemble the largest army possible, then gift them lots of keyword abilities. With our deck needing to do both, we're bringing aboard a Soldier sub-theme. As a tribe, Soldiers are not only thematically appropriate, but their main strengths play directly into what we're aiming for.

Archetype of Courage
Field Marshal
Captain of the Watch

For one, soldiers tend to support each other, with the likes of Archetype of Courage, Field Marshall, and Captain of the Watch all providing abilities to the team. This alone makes everyone deadlier in combat, but even further scales up Akroma's Anthem-effect. Cards like Angelic Skirmisher and Valor may not be soldiers, but function in a similar fashion. Captain of the Watch also happens to illustrate another tribal strength: soldiers can rapidly generate armies.

Precinct Captain
Keeper of the Accord
Mentor of the Meek

Aside from Captain of the Watch, troops like Precinct Captain, Keeper of the Accord, Reverent Hoplite, and Recruiter of the Guard all bring multiple bodies to the table, synergizing very well with Mentor of the Meek.

Loyal Warhound
Catapult Master
Selfless Spirit

The remainder of our army serves various utility roles. With White lacking ramp, Knight of the White Orchid, Loyal Warhound, and the aforementioned Keeper of the Accord are likely to trigger often. Solemn Simulacrum and Weathered Wayfarer also assist finding lands. This is especially helpful, as Akroma, Vision of Ixidor is an expensive general. Soldiers Intrepid Hero, Bounty Agent, Catapult Master, and Catapult Squad provide artillery against opposing creatures, while others like Selfless Spirit and Guardian of Faith act as insurance agents against sweepers.

Akroma, Angel of Wrath

Finally, while Akroma, Angel of Wrath may not be our general, it's only fitting to include her in the 99, especially considering her counterpart buffs her up to a titanic 13/13!

Entrapment Maneuver
Martial Coup
Deploy to the Front

Fill out the ranks, then suit em' up!: Keeping with an army-building theme, Nomad's Assembly, Conqueror's Pledge, Entrapment Manuever, Martial Coup, and Deploy to the Front can generate huge swaths of soldiers at a time. Mobilization is more slow-and-steady, but provides Vigilance to sync with the Akroma bonus.

Sword of Vengeance
Concerted Effort
Akroma's Blessing

Speaking of which, we also pack tools to maximize our general's love of keyword abilities. Simple buffs like Angelic Destiny and Sword of Vengeance can be scary on their own, even more so with Akroma, Vision of Ixidor, but at their utter best when Concerted Effort is played alongside them. Akroma's Blessing can be used offensively or defensively, helping our team punch through for damage or keeping them safe from the likes of Blasphemous Act and other damage-based removal.

Akroma's Will
Akroma's Memorial
True Conviction

But if we really want to drop the hammer, our general makes Akroma's Will and Akroma's Monument easily game-ending with a big enough army. These cards grant our team a free Vitalizing Wind every turn, only with a whole bunch of added abilities on top. Cathars' Crusade and True Conviction also make a terrifying force, with Crackdown included to lock up opposing attackers from coming back at you repeatedly.

Enlightened Tutor
Idyllic Tutor

Such powerful Artifacts and Enchantments make cards like Enlightened Tutor and Idyllic Tutor easy additions.

Akroma's Vengeance
Vanquish the Horde
Collective Effort

Supporting Elements: When it comes to wiping out the enemy, removal seldom gets more fitting than Akroma's Vengeance, which can conveniently be Cycled away if not needed. Other sweepers include Cleansing Nova, the aforementioned Martial Coup, Hour of Revelation, and Vanquish the Horde, with latter two often costing very little to cast. Winds of Abandon can also act as a one-sided sweeper, albeit at a steep cost, but if your team is about to overtake the game, one worth paying. The card's flexibility as spot-or-sweeper removal makes it an excellent tool. The rest of our spot removal is flexible too, with Generous Gift, Oblation, Collective Effort, and Grasp of Fate able to hit numerous targets.

Smothering Tithe
Land Tax
Archaeomancer's Map

Mana/Rocks: Wrapping up, we inject some additional life into our ramp via Smothering Tithe, a true staple. Fellow staple Land Tax may not ramp on its own, but like the aforementioned Knight of the White Orchid and co., is likely to trigger often, especially if we're playing against Green decks. Archaeomancer's Map is also an excellent, working to fetch multiple plains and allow us to play them outside of the 1-per-turn limit.

Sword of Vengeance by Dan Scott

Whether you side with dark or light, blighted gladiator vs. winged warrior, I wish you fun and creativity in your brewing quests! We'll continue to explore new realms and legends in future installments, and if you've any requests, feel free to let me know in the comments. What characters and stories would you like to see next? Heck, if we can figure out how to survive with Phage as our general, the sky's the limit!

Thanks for reading, and may your own Commander never kill you.

-Matt Lotti-

@Intrepid_Tautog

Limited time 35% buy trade in bonus buylist