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Iron Giants: Building Ich-Tekik & Ishai in Commander


The Windmill at Wijk Bij Duurstede by Jacob Van Ruisdael (1670). Seal Away by Joseph Meehan.

This week's deck is one that has gone through several iterations. It's a deck I've built in paper and expect to get a lot of mileage out of over the coming year. It weighs in as a casual deck built to win a fair game with no combo outs or two-card table-killing synergies, but it could easily be upgraded or downgraded if you prefer a slightly stronger or a slightly weaker brew.

It all started with an old Karona, False God deck I built around a Golem theme. I was running a bunch of creatures called Splicers that create 3/3 Golem creature tokens. I even went online and found some pretty sweet fan art of the giant robot from the book and movie The Iron Giant and made custom Golem token cards to use with the deck. The tokens were super sweet, but the deck was hot trash. It might have won a game somewhere along the way, but it wasn't exactly high powered. It was from years ago so it probably wasn't particularly well built either. I didn't keep the deck together, but I kept those tokens.

Artwork from The Iron Giant movie posters.

When I saw that Commander Legends had a new Splicer card that was legendary and had the partner keyword, meaning it could be paired with another commander that has partner, I knew I'd eventually circle around to building my robots deck again. My initial plan was to see if there was a way to build a Golem tribal deck around Ramos, Dragon Engine. Ramos can make big mana, which in turn can help to power out big golems like Darksteel Colossus and Blightsteel Colossus. Ramos also doesn't benefit from casting colorless cards, so it would have been a real challenge finding efficient, repeatable ways to put counters on my commander in a deck that would lean toward playing big artifacts and artifact creatures.

I eventually moved away from Ramos, not because of the lack of synergy, but because I knew what I wanted to do with it and it wasn't that interesting. I knew I was going to start out with a Splicer plan and devolve into a deck built to play Blightsteel Colossus and hit it with a Chandra's Ignition to kill the table. I might find that fun to build and play but I've already got a Ramos deck that can win with infect and Chandra's Ignition and I don't really need another.

It was only when I stepped back and took a good look at the colors that all of those Splicers come in that I made the pivot to the partner pairing I would build this deck around.

Meet the Team

As it turns out, the Splicers are in Green, White, and Blue. There's only one splicer in Blue, but it's enough to give me a reason to pair my new legendary Green Splicer with a partner commander in White and Blue. I just happened to have one waiting patiently in my rare binder, so I had my team.

Ich-Tekik, Salvage Splicer
Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker

Ich-Tekik, Salvage Splicer makes a 3/3 colorless Golem artifact creature token, much like the other Splicers. He also puts counters on himself and on your Golems when an artifact you control hits the graveyard. Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker has very little direct synergy with Ich-Tekik and my silly Golem theme, but it does gain +1/+1 counters every time an opponent casts a spell.

The reason Ishai is really, really important for this deck is twofold. First, Ishai gives us access to Blue, so we can run the only blue Splicer.

Wing Splicer

I'm not one to only run part of a cycle, and letting our Golems fly could be a pretty strong play. I also really, really hate not having a flying blocker. Ishai can fill that role and fill it well. He'll only get bigger the longer he stays out, and if I keep him back as a way to block incoming flyers there's a chance I can convince my opponents that his main role is to keep me safe so I can go about making my cute little golems.

There's a very real chance that I'll be losing more than a handful of games to players who will let me get Ishai big, steal him, and then murder me with my own commander. I probably won't have another flying blocker, so if I find that happening I'll have to throw in the usual Swiftfoot Boots and Lightning Greaves. I don't mind running a deck with an obvious weakness until I find that weakness being exploited and then making changes to address the problems I'm seeing.

Master Splicer
Blade Splicer
Sensor Splicer

Maul Splicer
Vital Splicer
Splicer's Skill

Once we get Ishai out and start making Golems, it's worth noting that this deck isn't likely to flood the board with token creatures. There are now seven Splicers including Ich-Tekik, and Splicer's Skill can be spliced onto an instant or sorcery. I'm not exactly running a lot of instants and sorceries in this version of the deck, but I could see a future upgrade having a more responsible number of removal spells. This version is one of my typical early drafts that leans way too heavily on its cute plan and plays way too little removal. That makes it fit for casual tables and that's fine by me.

Making Lockets Great Again

As I started building out the rest of this deck, I found myself piling up the usual list of Signets, ramp spells and removal. I was following familiar build paths and already felt myself getting a little bored. I can only put Sol Ring, Arcane Signet, Rampant Growth, Cultivate, Kodama's Reach and three Signets into a deck so many times before I start wondering what I'm doing with my life. Those are objectively good choices for ramp in a half-decent three-color Commander deck, but I realized I was ignoring what might be Ich-Tekik's most important ability.

Every time an artifact I control hits the graveyard, I get to put a +1/+1 counter on him and on each Golem I control. My 3/3 Iron Giant creature tokens get counters. My Meteor Golem gets a counter. My Mycosynth Golem gets a counter. Heck, even my shiny foil Golem Artisan will get a counter. I used to run cycles of Cluestones in all my decks before I learned to skinny down my mana curve and replaced them all with Signets.

It was time to run through my bulk boxes and grab as many artifacts I could get my hands on that can be sacrificed.

Azorius Cluestone
Azorius Locket
Aether Spellbomb

I soon had a pile of Cluestones, Lockets, and Spellbombs in front of me. The first two are just mana rocks that can be sacrificed to draw cards. The Spellbombs bring a little more to the party. Aether Spellbomb can draw a card or be used to bounce a creature to its owner's hand for a Blue mana. Horizon Spellbomb can let you tutor up a basic land and when it gets put into the graveyard you can pay a Green to draw a card. Origin Spellbomb can make a 1/1 Myr token and when it gets put into a graveyard you can pay a White to draw a card. Throw in Mind Stone and Commander's Sphere, both of which can be sacrificed to draw a card, and we've got a real subtheme to this deck.

Tamiyo's Journal
Tormod's Crypt
Glaring Spotlight

Tamiyo's Journal will give you a clue on your upkeep. Those clues can be sacrificed to draw cards and if you let them build up you can tap the Journal and sacrifice three of them to search your library for a card. This is bad in high-powered EDH, but in this deck I think it will fit in just fine. The games will be long enough for this to be playable and if I can get to 3 clues, that gives me a way to not only tutor but to put 3 +1/+1 counters on each of my golems at instant speed.

Tormod's Crypt gives me a way to exile everyone's graveyard. Glaring Spotlight lets me target my opponents' creatures with hexproof. I'm running very light in my removal package but I can also pay 3 mana and give my creatures hexproof and make them unblockable for the rest of the turn.

I'm also running Armillary Sphere, Expedition Map, Traveler's Amulet, Wanderer's Twig, and Wayfarer's Bauble. They're all ways to pull lands out of my deck, though only the last of those will put the land onto the battlefield. The rest go to hand but having multiple ways to tutor up lands and pump your Golems up make them worth running. Normally I wouldn't even consider running most of these, except for Expedition Map. That card can tutor up any land, but in this list I'm not actually running any high impact lands. I'll probably just grab my Command Tower or Inventors' Fair, but if I've got a big boy out Rogue's Passage might make sense.

Copper Gnomes
Hope of Ghirapur
Mindless Automaton

I've got a few artifact creatures that can also sacrifice themselves. I'm running a familiar face in Burnished Hart, because putting two lands on the field always feels good. Copper Gnomes can let me pay four mana and put an artifact onto the field from my hand. It could be a 0-CMC Darksteel Citadel. It could be a 9-CMC Darksteel Forge. Hope of Ghirapur will let me sacrifice it and keep target player who was dealt damage by it from casting noncreature spells until my next turn. Mindless Automaton may be a Construct, not a Golem, but it will let me pull its 2 +1/+1 counters off it to draw a card. It will die and trigger Ich-Tekik, putting a +1/+1 counter on him and on each of my Golems.

A Dash of Goodstuff

This is the point where I went looking for cards that made sense with a heavy artifact theme. I want to be able to protect what I have. I'm running Etherium Sculptor and Foundry Inspector to drop the cost of my artifact spells, but I've got more interesting options as well.

Padeem, Consul of Innovation
Darksteel Forge
Blinkmoth Urn

Padeem, Consul of Innovation will give my artifacts hexproof. Darksteel Forge will make them indestructible. Blinkmoth Urn will give me mana based upon the number of artifacts I control. If it sounds like I'm going to want something more than 3/3 Golem tokens to work with, you're right.

Mycosynth Golem
Platinum Emperion
Blightsteel Colossus

Mycosynth Golem might not be that much bigger, but it has affinity for artifacts and gives my artifact creature spells affinity for artifacts. He'll make the eight mana Platinum Emperion much more castable. If that 8/8 Golem hits the table my life total will be just a little bit safer. I can still die from infect or commander damage, but my life total will be protected. Speaking of infect, the 11/11 Blightsteel Colossus and his less icky but equally indestructible 11/11 buddy, Darksteel Colossus are both in the list.

I'm also running several additional cards that have some synergy, but which might be replaced with better cards. I've got Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter in the list, but I might do well to drop her in favor of a Swan Song or even the artifact-focused Stoic Rebuttal. I'm running Sai, Master Thopterist, which makes sense, as he at least allows me to sacrifice two artifacts to draw a card.

The Special Sauce

Most of the decks I keep together for very long have more than a few things I like going for them. They often have powerful lines of play, but they also sometimes have a cute interaction that I stumbled upon that makes me feel clever. I might not have been the first to discover a particular combo or synergy, but the fact that I found it on my own makes the cards and the deck mean more to me than if I had just seen it in a podcast or found it online somewhere.

Thopter Squadron

Pentavus is an odd little artifact creature that can make token creatures called Pentavites. Thopter Squadron is a slightly less odd artifact creature that can make Thopter creature tokens. Both of these creatures work with +1/+1 counters, requiring 1 mana to remove a +1/+1 counter to create the creature token and 1 mana to sacrifice the creature token and put the +1/+1 counter back.

What that means is that once you get into the late game if you've got a decent little Golem army out and you have one of these two creatures on the field, you can pay two mana to put a +1/+1 counter on each of your Golems as many times as you like. It's a sweet little infinite mana outlet but this deck isn't playing any infinite mana combos - at least not yet.

There is combo potential here and it might be worth doing a little research on how Ghave, Guru of Spores decks go infinite. Ghave works wonders with +1/+1 counters and creature tokens. A robots deck built around a combo plan might look very different and would probably be a lot more powerful.

The Decklist

As I put this column together, I have the feeling that I'm missing some key cards. All That Glitters would probably take Ishai from being a hefty mid-game blocker to being a lethal commander damage threat easily. I can't run Cranial Plating because it has an activated ability that requires Black mana, but I do think the deck could run more ways to use Ishai as a more central part of the deck's plan. It's a Golem tribal deck with a plan to have Ishai hang out, get ignored or forgotten about, and then to be able to use Ishai to murder someone who doesn't have reach or flying blockers. If The Ozolith is on my battlefield, I don't even care that much if Ishai gets removed because those +1/+1 counters won't be lost.

Iron Giants | Commander | Stephen Johnson

Compared to many of my decks, this turned out to be a budget build. You'll notice that I'm not running several new cards from Commander Legends. Phyrexian Triniform is probably the biggest and most glaring omission. That Golem has to die to make its tokens and while it's got a sweet Encore ability, that sweet Encore ability costs a whopping 12 mana. I'm rarely optimistic that I'll be able to pay 9 or 10 mana for a spell, much less 12 mana. Phyrexian Triniform would be on theme and if one falls into my lap I'll feel obligated to put it in the deck, but my instincts are telling me that it's just not worth running.

I'm also missing Precursor Golem, but giving my opponents the ability to wipe out my entire board by targeting one golem with a 1 mana creature or artifact removal spell seems like a pretty risky plan. At some point I might swap one in and run it until it backfires on me, but that could easily take a single game. I happen to play in a meta where folks learned long ago to run lots of removal.

Final Thoughts

I really, really like to have a deck that I can pull out when the table I'm playing at is looking for a more casual game. Every player has a different idea of what "casual" means, ranging from the jankiest of jank to "not quite cEDH". You can't guarantee a good game, but I'm pretty sure today's list will give a low-powered table a relatively fair deck to play against.

If I'm able to luck into Padeem, Copper Gnomes or Master Transmuter, a cheated-into-play Blightsteel Colossus and a Rogue's Passage and I can kill the table player by player, I'll be in this deck's magical Christmasland. That doesn't happen often, and if it does I'll just sheepishly apologize and explain that the deck doesn't usually do that to a table. Most of this deck's games should feel very fair, even if I tune it up a bit and swap out cards like Oviya Pashiri.

Here's where I turn to you, dear readers. What did I miss? Are there some artifact or Golem synergies that I slept on that you'd absolutely run? Should I have dipped into my bag of tricks and pulled out Battered Golem, Memnite / Ornithopter and Banishing Knack / Retraction Helix to add a combo into the mix and turn an infinite storm count into something meaningful? I do love Battered Golem and he is every inch a Golem.

Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!

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