Passing Shower in the Tropics by Frederic Edwin Church (1872).
Spellbound Dragon by Jesper Ejsing.
Last month saw the first in what I'm hoping will be a long and instructive series of columns about how you can take your casual Commander decks that don't win very often and add in a few more ways for them to actually be able to win games. "Winning Ways" will focus on a different wincon each month for as long as I'm able to dream up new and interesting ways to win games. Not all of them will be cards with the words "win the game" or "lose the game" on them, but today's entry certainly does.
Before I dive into today's column I should mention that there is absolutely nothing wrong with winning Commander games the "old fashioned way" - by smashing creatures together until only one player is left alive. I'm very fond of playing Commander games with that relatively simple and undeniably fun plan. I'm also fond of not having long losing streaks, and I play in a meta where it's not uncommon to see powerful decks and unconventional strategies show up every now and then. Sometimes the answer to a long losing streak is to pull out a stronger deck. Sometimes the answer is to play a deck that has a few more well-defined ways to win.
Approach of the Second Sun
Today's wincon is an odd little Sorcery from Amonkhet called Approach of the Second Sun. It's got a wall of text on it that confused more than a few players when it first saw play, but it's not that complicated. For the sake of brevity I'll be calling this spell "Approach" because its full name is a little wordy and I don't expect my editor wants me call it "ASS" no matter how much I might like to.
Approach costs seven mana and reads "If this spell was cast from your hand and you've cast another spell named Approach of the Second Sun this game, you win the game. Otherwise, put Approach of the Second Sun into its owner's library seventh from the top and you gain 7 life."
To win the game, you have to cast Approach from your hand, it has to resolve (of course) and you have to have cast another spell named Approach of the Second Sun earlier in the game.
What this doesn't say is actually quite important.
Your earlier casting of Approach does not have to have been from your hand, and it doesn't even have to resolve. If it was countered, it still counts as an earlier casting.
It is also worth noting that if you copy your Approach while it's on the stack, you will gain your 7 life, but it will not be a casting of Approach, it will be a copy of Approach. A copy isn't cast so it wouldn't qualify for the "win the game" clause and you also won't be able to count it as the earlier casting because, well... it wasn't actually cast.
Your First Casting
To win the game, you have to cast Approach of the Second Sun two times. As mentioned above, the first time does not have to be from your hand.
If you can find a way to cheat out your first Approach, what matters is that it was cast, so a Narset, Enlightened Master or Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign trigger will work just fine. You could even hit it off of a Mind's Desire. Your second casting will still have to be from your hand, but that first one can be from anywhere so long as it was cast.
Approach only costs seven mana, so in most commander games you will get to a point where you can cast it even if you can't cheat the casting cost in some way.
The card then goes seven cards from the top of your library. That means that if you simply draw a card each turn, your opponents know they have a limited amount of time before they'll lose the game if you can resolve your second casting of Approach - this time from your hand.
Your Second Casting
Since we will have all of our tablemates trying to figure out how to kill us before we draw into and cast Approach of the Second Sun a second time, it would behoove us to find a way to get to that second casting sooner rather than later.
One way is simply to draw cards as fast as possible.
A creature like Arcanis the Omnipotent will let us draw three cards when we tap him. That means we can cast Approach, tap Arcanis to draw 3, draw a card on our next turn, tap Arcanis to draw another three and we'll have it back in our hand. A card like Tunnel Vision will let us name Approach and reveal cards until we reveal the named card. Again we'll be set up to cast our game-winning Approach of the Second Sun just a turn or two after we cast it the first time, depending upon how much mana we have available.
There are lots of other ways to draw cards. Varina, Lich Queen will let us draw cards based upon the number of Zombies we attack with. If our Zombie army is big enough we can cast Approach in the first main phase, go to combat, attack with our army, draw Approach back into our hand and if we have the mana, cast it in our second main phase to win the game. That's a lot of Zombies and a lot of mana, but it's not a completely unrealistic scenario in the late game. If it takes an extra turn or two to get Approach back in your hand, that's still better than waiting seven turns to draw into it naturally.
If you're not able to draw a ton of cards per turn you can simply play any of a number of cards that can be used to get rid of the top 5 cards of your library.
If you cast Approach and have to pass turn, Approach should be the seventh card from the top of your library. On your next turn you will draw one card and can then get rid of the next five cards with something like Taigam's Scheming, Chill of Foreboding, Pieces of the Puzzle or any of the cards shown above. Approach of the Second Sun is now the top card of your library. Crack a Commander's Sphere to draw a card and you're ready to go for the win.
As I mentioned earlier, the first casting of Approach doesn't have to resolve. If you have the mana available you could just counter it with a spell that will put it on top of your library or right back into your hand. Normally I lean away from counter spells that just put the problem card back on top of an opponent's library, but in this case you'll be setting yourself up to draw into it or recast it immediately.
There will be times when you cast this spell and you realize that the table has way too much power on board for you to survive more than a turn or two with everyone united against you. If you run enough pillowfort enchantments, board wipes, and removal you might be able to outlast their attacks but there will be times when the pressure is too much.
I've seen players cast Approach and then accidentally cast a spell that shuffled their own library. That's almost always hilarious, but I've also seen opponents who did this intentionally. They didn't enjoy having a target on their back, didn't have a way to convert the win quickly enough, and decided they would enjoy the game more if they shuffled the threat away.
I like this approach, though I can see why you might think it's a little crazy. Let me explain why.
When you shuffle your deck, you're not necessarily putting Approach deeper into your library. It might have been the seventh card from the top, but after shuffling it might just be the top card. It also might be the bottom card. You also might have a tutor in hand and you don't care where it is because you can get it when you want it.
By shuffling your deck you're taking the pressure off. If your buddies hit you hard for a turn or two, they might go easy on you for a few turns and then turn their attention elsewhere. You'll no longer have a target on your back, but you are still poised to win the game as soon as you can get Approach of the Second Sun back into your hand. Smart Commander players will remember that, but you'll probably no longer be seen as the big threat at the table.
Protecting the Win
Let's say you've done everything right. You cast your first copy of Approach of the Second Sun and whether it resolved or not, you've managed to get it back into your hand. You're ready to go for the win, but how do you make sure you succeed? How do you protect your wincon in a format where one or two mana is all a player needs to foil your clever plans?
Grand Abolisher will lock our opponents out of doing anything on our turn, safely protecting most wincons from our tablemates' meddling. For the low cost of 2 life, you could also use Boseiju, Who Shelters All to make an instant or sorcery spell uncounterable. Any deck that wants to cast big, splashy instants and sorceries should run Boseiju, as there's no worse feeling that putting all your eggs in one basket and having that game-ending spell get countered with a 1 mana Swan Song.
There are other, cheaper cards you can get to protect your instants and sorceries. Taigam, Ojutai Master will not only make them uncounterable - he will also give them rebound. That shouldn't affect our wincon, as I believe we can choose to put it seven cards deep in our library rather than exiling it. Both are replacement effects to putting Approach in our graveyard and when two replacement effects are mutually exclusive we should be able to choose which one we want to happen.
You can also just run counter spells. Swan Song is cheap and versatile enough to protect a wincon like Approach of the Second Sun. If you've got a table full of players who have been preparing for your second casting, you might need more than just one counter. You might want to play a card like Silence. This instant costs just one White mana and will have to be answered if they're going to prevent you from winning.
If for some reason you're not in the colors to be able to counter spells, there are options. In Red, for example, you can run Fork and other copy spells and simply copy an opponent's counter spell to counter their counter. That's not the sort of play most people expect, but it works and if for some reason you're playing a Boros Approach of the Second Sun deck, spells like Fork, Reiterate and Reverberate might make sense. It's worth remembering that you can't use Fork or Twincast to put a copy of Approach of the Second Sun on the stack and win when it and then your original casting resolve because Approach requires that both spells are cast. Copying is not casting, so a copied Approach might gain you 7 life but won't help you win the game.
Back in 2018 I wrote up a deck list around Varina, Lich Queen that wasn't an all-in Approach of the Second Sun deck, but it did run our wincon du jour and was a pretty good build for it. You can read about Varina here (https://www.coolstuffinc.com/a/zombie-surveillance). Varina is still an excellent place to run Approach, but today I'm going to see if I can make it work in a different set of colors.
Kykar, Wind's Fury is a 3/3 legendary Bird Wizard with Flying and some neat abilities. Whenever you cast a noncreature spell, create a 1/1 White Spirit creature token with flying. Kykar also lets you sacrifice a Spirit to add one Red mana to your mana pool.
If we're building a dedicated Approach of the Second Sun deck for some odd reason - maybe we're drunk or we lost a bet - we want a commander with draw or with the ability to tutor. Since we have to be in white, we don't have a ton of options and Varina is already off the table.
What Kykar gives us is the ability to get extra value out of playing cantrips along with the ability to turn Spirit tokens into mana. We'll run tutors, creatures that will let us dig and ways to get cards back in case our wincon winds up in the graveyard. With Kykar on the field, if we can get our wincon back into our hand there's a decent chance we'll be able to flush a bunch of spirits to make the mana to cast it again sooner than another deck might be able to go for the win.
Kykar Approach | Commander | Stephen Johnson
- Commander (1)
- 1 Kykar, Wind's Fury
- Creatures (10)
- 1 Alchemist's Apprentice
- 1 Archaeomancer
- 1 Dualcaster Mage
- 1 Grand Abolisher
- 1 Jace's Archivist
- 1 Mnemonic Wall
- 1 Salvager of Secrets
- 1 Twilight Drover
- 1 Arcanis the Omnipotent
- 1 Taigam, Ojutai Master
- Instants (20)
- 1 Chaos Warp
- 1 Counterspell
- 1 Cyclonic Rift
- 1 Fact or Fiction
- 1 Fork
- 1 Fortune's Favor
- 1 Hinder
- 1 Lapse of Certainty
- 1 Memory Lapse
- 1 Mystical Tutor
- 1 Narset's Reversal
- 1 Path to Exile
- 1 Pongify
- 1 Reiterate
- 1 Remand
- 1 Reverberate
- 1 Silence
- 1 Swan Song
- 1 Swords to Plowshares
- 1 Teferi's Protection
- Sorceries (14)
- 1 Approach of the Second Sun
- 1 Borrowing 100,000 Arrows
- 1 Chill of Foreboding
- 1 Compelling Argument
- 1 Cultural Exchange
- 1 Doublecast
- 1 Merchant Scroll
- 1 Not Forgotten
- 1 Pieces of the Puzzle
- 1 Ransack
- 1 Rousing of Souls
- 1 Taigam's Scheming
- 1 Tome Scour
- 1 Windfall
- Enchantments (8)
- 1 Darksteel Mutation
- 1 Divine Visitation
- 1 Frogify
- 1 Imprisoned in the Moon
- 1 Intangible Virtue
- 1 Rhystic Study
- 1 Smothering Tithe
- 1 Spirit Bonds
- Artifacts (11)
- 1 Arcane Signet
- 1 Azorius Cluestone
- 1 Azorius Signet
- 1 Boros Cluestone
- 1 Boros Signet
- 1 Commander's Sphere
- 1 Izzet Cluestone
- 1 Izzet Signet
- 1 Mind Stone
- 1 Ring of Three Wishes
- 1 Sol Ring
I've thrown in a lot of staples to round out this list, but today's deck is more of a thought experiment than a list I'm planning to build and play. I expect it would be fun, but after a few games I know I'd probably find myself looking to add in a Coat of Arms to allow me to pivot to a combat oriented wincon with my army of flying spirit tokens. Intangible Virtue would also make sense in a deck built to go into the red zone, but for this version I wanted to include a decent amount of removal to try to make sure it had the ability to last long enough at a somewhat competitive table to be able to try to hit its wincon.
It's worth noting that Abe Sargent happened to throw together a Kykar, Wind's Fury decklist just last week so if you're into Kykar we've given you a lot to think about lately. Today's column was well underway when I realized Abe happened to be working on a column with the same commander, but I don't know that there are that many better Generals for today's challenge than Varina or Kykar. I could see an argument for Pramikon, Sky Rampart, or Narset, Enlightened Master but I'm actually pretty happy with today's list.
I occasionally build and play decks that go "all in" on a wincon but to be honest those decks do tend to get stale sooner rather than later. My favorite builds are ones that can do a variety of things, even if they can't do all of them incredibly well.
If you would like me to do a deep dive on one of your favorite wincons, I'll be writing another "Winning Ways" column in February so please leave a comment. I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's column and on where I should go next with this new series. Playing good cards and hoping for the best is all well and good, but if you'd like to explore more ways to win games than just smashing your beasties into each other for hours on end, you can join me on the first Monday of every month for a look at ways to win in Commander.
That's all I've got for you today. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!