Preorder MTG The Lost Caverns of Ixalan today!
   Sign In
Create Account

Hell Raiser


Paliano, the High City
I walked through the bustling streets of the high city, hood obscuring my face as I scanned the crowd looking for the tell tale signs of her spies. Queen Marchesa was ruthless to those who defied her reign, and what I was here to do most definitely qualified as defiance. It didn’t much matter that I could leave Fiora whenever I chose, Marchesa’s memory for treachery was strong and her ability to hold a grudge stronger still. Why ruin my prospects for returning when discretion would serve me so much better?

The streets of Paliano were dangerous for those not versed in the political machinations of the social elite, and I was a stranger here. Fiora was nothing like Kaladesh, except for the presence of the odd clockwork construct. They were not as plentiful or as intricate as the filigree constructs on Kaladesh, but their presence made me feel slightly more at home. I caught sight of a small, green figure ducking into an alleyway out of the corner of my eye and slowly moved over to an elaborate stall of fine Paliano fabrics, pretending to examine their quality as a construct flew overhead. As soon as it had gone, I slipped into the alleyway and made haste to follow after the small creature before it got too far ahead.

Since giving up my life as a P.I. on Kaladesh, I was in search of a new thrill to fill the void the Gonti Incident had left. I’d caught wind of the plane of Fiora and the political intrigue that defined it. I wasn’t interested in ruling, but the back and forth of the elite vying for the crown of Paliano was alluring. However, when I made my way to the city, something more interesting caught my attention. There was trouble brewing in the underworld of Paliano, and I wanted to be there to see it go down.

I could see the small figure running up ahead before it ducked into a tunnel breaking off of the main alley. I followed at a distance, careful to not lose sight of the Goblin I was tailing as we made our way deeper into the tunnels below the city proper. Deeper and deeper we went into the tunnel, taking turn after turn until I finally saw a light pouring into the tunnel, defining a doorway just ahead of us. The Goblin entered the doorway and there was a raucous cheering from within. I sidled up to the edge of the door frame and peeked into the room; it was filled with Goblins sitting on piles of stolen treasures, feasting on fine, pilfered food, and drinking out of ornate goblets that definitely did not belong to them. In the center of the room sat a singular Goblin with white hair, atop the highest pile of treasure. This was the Goblin I was looking for, the one who was causing such a stir among the nobles of the high city. This was the Goblin that raided, pillaged, and burned his way through the high city, only to disappear back into the catacombs to raid again another day. This Goblin with his mischievous band of miscreants. Grenzo.

Welcome back! After posting my article on Gonti, Lord of Luxury last week, I couldn’t get off of the Mono-Color Commander train. This week, I have my take on a Commander I’ve wanted to build around since it was released in Conspiracy: Take the Crown, but haven’t had the time until now. Say hello to Grenzo, Havoc Raiser!

Grenzo, Havoc Raiser

I’m familiar with some of the more popular Mono-Red strategies in Commander, and I’ve built Daretti, Scrap Savant before, but the artifact route has been done to death with the likes of Daretti, Bosh, Iron Golem, and Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient, as has full Goblin tribal with Krenko, Mob Boss. There’s something about Grenzo that really speaks to me, though. It might just be that I really like the idea of casting other people’s spells in Commander, as evidenced by my Gonti list, but Grenzo speaks to me on a fundamental level. I mean, look at his ability.

Whenever a creature you control deals combat damage to a player, choose one:

  • Goad target creature that player controls
  • Exile the top card of that player’s library. Until end of turn, you may cast that card and you may spend mana as though it were mana of any color to cast it.

His ability gives me so many options, and all he asks is that I bring the pain to my opponents and get in the red zone. I tend to play very reactive decks in Commander, decks that like to manipulate the board state to favor me in the long run. Full on aggression is so antithetical to my usual playstyle, but Grenzo’s abilities are compelling enough that I think it’s worth it to learn to love Mono-Red. So, this is Grenzo, Havoc Raiser, and welcome to Jackass.

All right, let’s make like Lucio and break it down. Grenzo’s ability triggers whenever a creature you control deals combat damage to a player. Note that his ability will trigger for each creature that deals combat damage, which means we are incentivized to attack often and with as many creatures as possible. Evasion is at a premium here, so we could’ve gone for playing a bunch of small evasive Red creatures, like Phoenixes, but I wanted to go wide and take advantage of some effects that make it difficult or unprofitable to block. Let’s list them out:

Goblin War Drums
One of the ways we can make sure our creatures get through is to make it difficult for our opponents to block. Cards like Pyreheart Wolf, Goblin War Drums, and Caterwauling Boggart effectively give our creatures menace, so our opponents really have to commit if they want to keep us from getting through. Caterwauling Boggart may or may not stay in the deck, but I think we have enough ways to make Goblin tokens to make it worth including until play-testing proves otherwise. Then we have stuff like Bloodmark Mentor, Legion Loyalist, Berserkers' Onslaught, and Rage Reflection to make our creatures difficult to tangle with in combat. The doublestrike from Onslaught and Rage Reflection has the added benefit of letting our creatures hit twice if they get through, thus triggering Grenzo twice; and, once we’ve managed to get a couple of triggers off of Grenzo, it gets much easier for our creatures to get through. When your opponents are forced to attack because of Grenzo, they leave themselves wide open for another round of pummeling from his army. Goblin Diplomats also leave an opponent open, but unlike the titular Goblin they don’t ensure you won’t be on the receiving end of that attack. Eldrazi Monument just straight up gives all of our creatures flying and indestructible, so that’s pretty self explanatory. We should very easily be able to handle the sacrifice it requires with our token producers.

Krenko, Mob Boss
Speaking of token producers, I have included quite a few in the deck. I have a bit of a Goblin sub-theme with Krenko, Mob Boss and Goblin Rabblemaster, so a good number of my token producers make Goblins. I tend to prefer repeatable token making effects over one offs like Krenko's Command and Dragon Fodder, so that’s reflected in my card choices. That being said, I have included Siege-Gang Commander, Goblin Offensive, Tempt with Vengeance, and Chancellor of the Forge as one offs. Siege-Gang Commander provides more value than the three tokens it produces, working as a sac outlet and a source of damage to kill off small utility creatures. Chancellor of the Forge, Tempt with Vengeance, and Goblin Offensive can just make a metric ton of Goblins if we drop them at the right time, so I think the quantity more than makes up for the fact that they aren’t repeatable in this deck. Meanwhile, we’ve included Goblin Assault to double up on the Rabblemaster effect, and then we have Hanweir Garrison which pumps out a couple of Human tokens whenever it attacks. When Hangarback Walker bites the dust, we’ll have a small army of Thopters to get in there and carry on the fight in the air. Throwing Elemental Mastery on one of the big creatures in the list (something like Skyline Despot, Wurmcoil Engine, Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs, etc.) can net you quite a lot of tokens to work with on your turn. I suppose Chandra, Flamecaller can also make tokens, but they don’t stick around and she’s more useful as for her 0 ability when our card quality is running low.

Ogre Battledriver
There are some other ways we can take advantage of the number of tokens we’re making. Why settle for just Grenzo triggers when we could also be adding injury to insult? Ogre Battledriver makes each token hit like a truck as soon as it enters the battlefield. Imagine activating Krenko for a handful of tokens and then attacking for 20+ damage. Purphoros, God of the Forge and Impact Tremors turn our tokens into damage as soon as they are made, and Anger can give them haste if it’s in our graveyard. The firebreathing from Purphoros is icing on the cake of how much damage he’ll be doing when you really start making a large amount of tokens. Furystoke Giant takes the tokens you’ve already made and turns them into a machine gun. You can even sacrifice the Giant and get the ability again thanks to Persist. Hellrider adds to the damage parade by pinging our opponents when we attack with our army. Our army can get pretty beefy between Caged Sun and Gauntlet of Power, so the deck is capable of hitting hard and often. Finally, we can turn our tokens into cards if we get Skullclamp onto the battlefield.

Yes, I know. Skullclamp is an absurdly busted Magic card, but come on. Red needs the card draw. We can rely on Wheel of Fortune effects like Chandra’s 0, Bedlam Reveller, Magus of the Wheel, and Reforge the Soul all we want, but sometimes you need to draw a lot of cards for real cheap. Feel free to leave this one out, but I definitely want to play it. Besides, we don’t really have a good way to tutor for it, so I feel like it’s more than fair to include. It’s possible the “card draw” from Grenzo’s ability might be enough to make up for Red’s trouble, but I like having a security net if our Commander has trouble living long enough to help us out.

Gauntlet of Power
Talking about drawing cards with our Commander raises an excellent question. How are we going to pay for all of these cards we’ll be “drawing”? Well, Gauntlet of Power and Caged Sun definitely help us out, along with the typical suite of ramp for non-Green decks (Burnished Hart, Wayfarer's Bauble, Solemn Simulacrum, etc.). However, I don’t think it’s important for us to cast every spell we exile with Grenzo. The spells are only castable until of the turn they’re exiled, so if we hit a bunch at once we won’t be able to cast them all anyway. The selection is really where it’s at when it comes to Grenzo’s ability. It’s like casting Impulse for free on our opponents’ libraries. This will give us access to effects that are hard to come by in Red, like enchantment removal, and will help alleviate Red’s tendency to empty its hand as the game goes on.

Now, for a brief aside on lands. Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. The card is ridiculous in Mono-Red and I will always play it in the deck. Likewise, I want to play Thespian's Stage and Vesuva so we can copy it, or any other utility land on the battlefield. Terrain Generator, Myriad Landscape, and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx are all good for ramping our mana and are definitely worth including. Other than that, the only truly notable conclusion is Hanweir Battlements. We’re already running Hanweir Garrison, so we might as well throw in the land for the odd time when we’ll be able to meld them and have a huge beater.

That brings us to the oddities and personal inclusions that make Commander the wonderful format it is. When I was making my Mono-Black list, I forgot that Nevinyrral's Disk and Steel Hellkite are options for dealing with enchantments…so, I’m including them here. Don’t be like me. Remember Nevinyrral's Disk and Steel Hellkite. This has been a PSA.

Add in your wrath effects of choice (I like Blasphemous Act, Starstorm, and the newer Subterranean Tremors) as well as some other spot removal and answers (Vandalblast and Chaos Warp) and you’ve got a most of the deck. I like Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker as a fun way to copy other effects in play, or our own. The fact that we can tutor for it with Goblin Matron is also pretty nice. Scourge of the Throne can give us a second Combat Step, which means more Grenzo triggers for us without the cost of having to pay for it a la Aggravated Assault. Wurmcoil Engine and Batterskull are purely personal preference, so do with them what you will. I like the life they can gain you and how difficult they are to fully get rid of. Dolmen Gate just gives us a little combat insurance. If it happens to be in play, we can attack with reckless abandon without worrying about losing anything in the fray. Another staple of Red, as far as I’m concerned is copying the opponents’ spells when they cast them, so Dualcaster Mage and Wild Ricochet serve that purpose. Then there’s Koth of the Hammer . . . I mean, if you aren’t playing Koth in a Mono-Red deck, I don’t know where else you’re playing him. Skyline Despot is something I’m trying out. I like the idea of bringing Monarch into play, and it can also be a source of extra cards if we get set up and have our opponents attacking each other thanks to goad triggers.

Ashnod's Altar . . . I admit, I have a weakness for this card. Jimmy Wong and Josh Lee Kwai from the Command Zone love this card and so do I. It just feels so good to have a free sacrifice outlet in play, and Ashnod's Altar may just be the best one. When I consider how I can use the colorless mana to cast the cards exiled by Grenzo, it gets even better. Take it or leave it, but I’m definitely taking it.

I think that about covers it. I’m sure, like with Nevinyrral's Disk, I’ve forgotten to mention something, so if you have any questions or comments, leave them below! I’ll be back next week with another Mono-Color list in a series I’m tentatively calling Chroma Commander. So, until next time! If you have any suggestions or want to talk Commander or Magic in general, you can find me on Twitter @Ironmanphoenix or leave a comment below. I hope you enjoy!

— Robert Burrows

Take a look at the other articles in the series:

Order Kaladesh at CoolStuffInc.com today!

Limited time 30% buy trade in bonus buylist