The Windmill at Wijk Bij Duurstede by Jacob Van Ruisdael (1670).
Seal Away by Joseph Meehan.
If you’re anything like me, you give decks and cards clever nicknames. The subject of this week’s article and decklist is a card I can’t resist calling Raff “Capsaicin”. I’d tell you it’s because he’s so damn spicy, but the cold hard truth is that I just like to think I’m clever. If you don’t get the reference, go google “capsaican”. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
See — aren’t I clever? Once I start hearing a better card name, like Raff Capsaicin, I have a hard time un-hearing it, but I’ll spare you any more idle banter. Let’s get on with today’s build.
This is a deck designed to sit back and use instant-speed shenanigans to take advantage of what our opponents are doing. Are you good at playing draw-land-go? If you aren’t, this might be a great deck to help you work on that particular playstyle.
Let’s take a look at the legendary creature we’re brewing around. Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage is a 3/3 Human WIzard with Flash and Flying. He costs and gives your historic spells flash, so your artifacts, legendaries and sagas can be cast at instant speed if Raff is out.
How to Play Draw-Land-Go
I should start out by saying that I’m absolutely terrible at this playstyle. I’ve played a lot of Commander and I’m familiar with what you’re supposed to do but I’m bad at actually doing it. I always want to just play spells during my turn.
There are very good reasons to not play spells during your turn if you don’t have to.
If you can play creatures during the end step of the player who goes right before you, it’s like giving your creatures haste. You may not want to attack with these creatures, but any dude with a tap ability will be much better if played just before your turn starts.
If you have open mana and run counterspells or removal, you are better able to respond to possibly game-ending threats.
If you have the ability to flash in creatures, attacking you can seem like a very risky move, especially if you’ve proven in the past that you can drop blockers down out of nowhere.
Leaving your mana open can also give opponents the impression that you could have answers even if you’re sitting there with a hand full of lands. Sometimes that can be the difference between an opponent playing an important spell and waiting for a time when all the blue players are tapped out.
On the flip side, not casting creatures on your turn can leave you with fewer blockers and make you seem more vulnerable to attack. You may or may not be willing to deal with that extra pressure, but it’s definitely something to be aware of.
Living on the end step of the player to your right is a weird way to play the game if you’re not used to it, but any deck that is loaded up with instants or runs cards like Vedalken Orrery and Leyline of Anticipation can play that way and probably should.
If we load up our deck with lots of artifacts, sagas and legendary cards, Raff is a great commander to get into a draw-land-go playstyle. Let’s look at some of the things we can do with this deck.
Being able to flash in creatures is a very powerful effect. If you plan to use them as blockers, you will have to flash them into play in response to your opponent’s declaration of attackers.
As I understand it, if you move to the declaration of blockers step, you technically cannot flash in a blocker, as you declare blockers at the beginning of that combat step. While most players are comfortable just allowing you to flash in a blocker it’s worth understanding this technicality, as someone might try to be a jerk and claim that you can’t do it because you already moved to the “declare blockers” step.
With that out of the way, let’s look at our surprise blockers.
In Azorious () colors there aren’t a lot of deathtouch blockers, which is ideally what we want. That doesn’t mean we’re without options. Wurmcoil Engine is a 6/6 artifact creature with both deathtouch and lifelink. This pesky wurm costs 6 mana and if it goes to the graveyard you get a 3/3 wurm with deathtouch and a 3/3 wurm with lifelink for your trouble.
Wurmcoil might not be able to block flyers but Darksteel Gargoyle sure can. Being indestructible means that it will survive most combats with no problem. Darksteel Sentinel and Darksteel Colossus are equally effective for ground attackers. These creatures definitely cost a little more for what they bring to the party, but indestructible blockers are usually pretty good. They won’t help with incoming trample damage, but they should be around to block turn after turn unless they get exiled.
You Can’t Touch This
Sometimes you need to protect your board from either targeted removal or a boardwipe. Having your board given hexproof or indestructible is great, but if you can flash in your protection you get the added bonus of having your opponent waste a spell.
Padeem, Consul of Innovation was the commander of the deck I took apart to build this deck. She’s a Vedalken Artificer who gives your artifacts hexproof and gives you an extra card at the beginning of your upkeep if you control the artifact with or tied for the highest converted mana cost. Darksteel Forge is an artifact that will give your artifacts indestructible for the relatively high cost of nine mana. Avacyn, Angel of Hope costs one less, at , and will give all of your permanents indestructible.
While Padeem might not cost too much, you can see we’re going to be playing lots of mana-intensive cards in this deck. Fortunately, there are ways to deal with that.
It should come as no surprise that our cost savings will come from artifacts.
All three of these cards will drop an artifact onto the battlefield. Master Transmuter will cost , and will have to tap and will bounce an artifact to your hand. Copper Gnomes will cost four and have to be sacrificed. Thran Temporal Gateway will cost four and tap to cheat something into play.
Given the number of high cost artifacts in this deck, these are all great ways to cheat stuff onto the battlefield. Thran Temporal Gateway actually cares about historic permanents, so it can even cheat out your Avacyn if she’s stuck in your hand and you don’t have the mana to hard cast her.
Copper Gnomes and Gateway can both cheat something into play at instant speed. If you’re running any truly nasty threats like Blightsteel Colossus and you don’t have 12 mana to cheat it into play before your turn starts, these guys can help with that. Master Transmuter was practically born to cheat this big boy onto the battlefield.
Flashing Sans Raff
While our commander may let us flash in historic spells, there’s no reason why we can’t also run spells with Flash. There are some good Flash spells in Blue and White over and above the aforementioned Darksteel Sentinel. Since our goal is to build a deck that plays on the end step of the player to our right, they’ll fit right in and let us play our playstyle whether or not Raff is on the field.
These cards qualify as answers to problems our opponents might present to us, so while they don’t help with our artifact theme they are an essential part of building a resilient deck.
What do you do if an opponent plays a spell that would draw them a ton of cards?
Flash in Alms Collector and instead each of you get to draw a single card.
What if they try to cheat in a token or tokens that you really wish you had?
Flash in Crafty Cutpurse and now that Marit Lage or huge army is yours and yours alone.
What if they dropped a Panharmonicon and are about to abuse it with ETB effects?
Flash in Hushwing Gryff and now any creatures entering the battlefield won’t cause abilities to trigger.
What if you absolutely, positively have to cast a card that’s in your graveyard?
Torrential Gearhulk will do that for you so long as it’s an instant.
What if you need to stop opponents from casting spells on other players’ turns?
Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir will not only do that, he will also give your creature cards flash!
What if you want to play a bad card you never thought you’d pull out of your binder?
Hixus, Prison Warden might just fit that description, and what’s more, he will exile a creature even if it has hexproof or shroud. I never thought I’d put Hixus in a deck, but there are a lot of nasty hexproof creatures who are dangerous and well worth removing. If you’re willing to take a punch, he’s your man. You can flash Hixus in, take your lumps and then have Hixus lock them up and throw away the key. An opponent’s commander can always be returned to the command zone when it moves between zones, so Hixus is far from a perfect solution, but he fits in with what we’re trying to do here.
I’m not going to list every card in the deck, but there’s a lot more worth mentioning. I’m also running a few more artifact creatures that fit in well with this deck so let’s start with them.
Mycosynth Golem will give our artifact creature spells affinity for artifacts, meaning they will cost one less for each artifact we control. In the right situation he could let us dump a big hand full of artifacts for nothing or next to nothing. Platinum Emperion will keep our life total from changing, but we’ll still be vulnerable to infect and commander damage. Phyrexian Revoker can be incredibly powerful if we are smart about what nonland card we name. Being able to flash him in is even more powerful, as you can respond to and shut down a game-winning turn if it’s based around a creature with activated abilities. I was able to shut down a friend’s Marwyn, the Nurturer combo deck recently with a turn one Phyrexian Revoker naming Marwyn. I eventually died, but Marwyn sure didn’t do much in that game.
Moving away from artifact creatures, there are other key pieces in this deck worth mentioning.
Unwinding Clock is going to let us untap all of our artifacts on our opponents’ untap steps. This effectively works like a Seedborn Muse for artifacts and gives us the mana to be able to do multiple things before our turn comes around again. Moving back to creatures, Kira, Great Glass-Spinner will force our opponents to use an extra targeted removal spell for each of our creatures they might want to remove. Kira is legendary, so as a historic spell Raff will be able to flash her in at instant speed. With Raff out, we can also cast the legendary enchantment In Bolas's Clutches at instant speed, something most Mind Control spells can’t do without a Vedalken Orrery on the field.
Speaking of Vedalken Orrery, I am running it in this deck. I probably shouldn’t, as it’s somewhat redundant, but hear me out. Earlier this month I won a game in our Commander League with the Enchanted Evening / Aura Thief combo and I have to tell you, it never gets old. I immediately pulled it out of my Ramos deck, as I really like to mix things up, and I put it in Raff.
For this deck, the goal is to get Vedalken Orrery and possibly Enchanted Evening onto the field first. If we manage to get up to nine mana available, we can keep Enchanted Evening in our hand as part of the big surprise. All we need then is for someone to attack us with a creature big enough to kill a 2/2. Then we flash in Aura Thief, have it block and unless someone can fog, remove either creature or remove Enchanted Evening, we will gain control of every single permanent on the board. Yes, that includes lands. This will usually let you win the game. It is always fun (for you).
To fill out this deck, I’m running an assortment of mana rocks and a few artifact creatures that tap for mana, including Gold Myr, Silver Myr, and Alloy Myr and a foil Opaline Unicorn that I had lying around. I’m getting card draw from a few familiar faces like Arcanis the Omnipotent and Sandstone Oracle. I haven’t moved my Rhystic Study and Consecrated Sphinx over to this deck, though if I play it for our Commander League I might consider doing so. I’m also running a pretty long list of counterspells and a few White removal staples like Forsake the Worldly and Swords to Plowshares.
This is pretty close to the first draft of this deck. I’ve already done some minor changes from the first iteration and expect to make more adjustments as I play it and see how it performs. As is my way, this is an actual paper deck that I’ve sleeved up, not some optimized list of cards I don’t actually own or play.
Raff Capsaicin ? Commander | Stephen Johnson
- Commander (1)
- 1 Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage
- Creatures (35)
- 1 Alloy Myr
- 1 Alms Collector
- 1 Arcanis the Omnipotent
- 1 Aura Thief
- 1 Avacyn, Angel of Hope
- 1 Baird, Steward of Argive
- 1 Blightsteel Colossus
- 1 Burnished Hart
- 1 Copper Gnomes
- 1 Crafty Cutpurse
- 1 Darksteel Colossus
- 1 Darksteel Gargoyle
- 1 Darksteel Sentinel
- 1 Gold Myr
- 1 Hixus, Prison Warden
- 1 Hushwing Gryff
- 1 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
- 1 Kuldotha Forgemaster
- 1 Master Transmuter
- 1 Memnarch
- 1 Merchant's Dockhand
- 1 Mycosynth Golem
- 1 Opaline Unicorn
- 1 Padeem, Consul of Innovation
- 1 Phyrexian Revoker
- 1 Platinum Emperion
- 1 Sandstone Oracle
- 1 Silver Myr
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Steel Hellkite
- 1 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
- 1 Teshar, Ancestor's Apostle
- 1 Torrential Gearhulk
- 1 Trinket Mage
- 1 Wurmcoil Engine
- Instants (11)
- 1 Cancel
- 1 Counterspell
- 1 Cyclonic Rift
- 1 Disallow
- 1 Forsake the Worldly
- 1 Insidious Will
- 1 Mystical Tutor
- 1 Negate
- 1 Stoic Rebuttal
- 1 Swan Song
- 1 Swords to Plowshares
- Artifacts (15)
- 1 Azorius Cluestone
- 1 Azorius Keyrune
- 1 Azorius Signet
- 1 Crawlspace
- 1 Damping Sphere
- 1 Darksteel Forge
- 1 Dragon Throne of Tarkir
- 1 Dreamstone Hedron
- 1 Mind Stone
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Tamiyo's Journal
- 1 Thought Vessel
- 1 Thran Temporal Gateway
- 1 Unwinding Clock
- 1 Vedalken Orrery
I definitely have some cards I could and probably should have added to this deck.
Trading Post would work nicely to help me recur artifacts from the graveyard, along with its far more important job of making sure every commander deck can make Goats. A more optimized list would obviously include Mana Crypt along with better lands including Ancient Den and Seat of the Synod. Sensei's Divining Top would fit in nicely along with the aforementioned Rhystic Study and Consecrated Sphinx even though neither one is a historic spell.
I’m not building this as an optimized list. It’s midrange at best but I do expect I will eventually break down and add in some combos. I sometimes do that with my decks. I play a “fair” version for a while until it gets boring and then try to really spice it up with some win-out-of-nowhere combos.
There’s one combo in particular that I have long wanted to build into a Commander deck and I think it might fit in nicely here. I’m sure there are better generals for this particular wincon but Raff will work and having my artifacts gain flash might make it work quite well.
This is far from a new combo, but I’ve never personally gotten it to work in a Commander deck. You simply cast Retraction Helix, targeting Battered Golem. Then you can cast and bounce a zero-cost artifact creature like Ornithopter as many times as you like.
You can also run this combo with Traxos, Scourge of Kroog. A second option instead of Retraction Helix is Banishing Knack, and instead of Ornithopter you can use Memnite or any 0-drop artifact you like. Spellbook and Tormod's Crypt would work just fine and cards that reduce the casting cost of your artifacts will also help you get to where you’re casting artifacts for free.
If you run this combo with Sol Ring as the artifact you bounce to your hand, you can generate infinite mana. Other mana rocks will work this way too, provided they produce more mana than they cost to cast. What you do with infinite mana is up to you, but if you’re building this combo into a deck you might want to throw a Walking Ballista into the list.
If you combo off with Golem Foundry on the battlefield, you can create an infinitely wide army of 3/3 golem creature tokens. If you have Thought Harvester out, you can exile your opponents’ entire libraries. I’m sure there are other payoffs as well, but these all get the job done.
I find myself tempted by the easy wins that combos can provide, but before I rework the deck in that direction I’m going to give it a few games and see how much fun my draw-land-go Raff build actually is. My gut feeling is that it will be fun and will probably win a game or two but won’t feel particularly strong compared to many of the decks I play against.
I think this list represents a pretty good way to work on my draw-land-go game, but it’s definitely not perfect. I’ve played it in one game so far, and got some interesting mileage out of some cards that I actually pulled out before writing up this article, so they’re not even included in the decklist above.
In its first game, I was able to get out an early As Foretold, assemble a modest boardstate, and play Proteus Staff. My As Foretold time counters got over four and I was able to respond to some attackers by using Proteus Staff to send my commander back to the command zone instead of to the bottom of my library to cheat a creature into play. I was hoping for an Avacyn, or maybe a Colossus. Either Blightsteel or Darksteel would have been worked fine, or even a Platinum Emperion. What did I get? I got a Silver Myr. Them’s the breaks I guess.
I wound up swapping out a bunch of cards that either weren’t historic or didn’t work well enough. Proteus Staff has too high a chance of cheating in something small and useless in this build. Also, I can’t help but swap cards around and experiment with my decks. Very few of them are good enough to avoid getting messed around with every now and then.
If you had been hoping to hear about Yarglefest, as I write this it hasn’t actually happened yet.
I turn my work in several days ahead of time and even a half-decent bit of writing takes time, revisions, reading, re-reading, and even more revisions. Even then, not every article comes out perfect, but my write-up of Yarglefest is well worth putting some time and effort into. I have no idea if Yarglefest 2018 will wind up being a small handful of players or enough to fill up every table in the shop, but I plan to have fun with it either way.
That’s all I’ve got for you this week. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next week!