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Haktos Smacktos

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Painting of a ruined church wall in a bleak landscape. A grey-skinned figure in foliage-like clothing stands in the foreground.

The Abbey in the Oakwood by Caspar David Friedrich (1809).

Rosethorn Acolyte by Johannes Voss.

Every week I search for an inspiring topic or legendary creature to write about. Most weeks I cobble together a deck list that I think might be worth building and playing. Theros: Beyond Death may wind up being an amazing set, but I haven't yet fallen in love with any of the legendary creatures from it. My tastes are, at times, hard to pin down. I can enjoy a tribal deck. I can enjoy a fringe cEDH deck. I can enjoy a deck that is unlikely to win games but which will allow me to interact with my opponents in new and interesting ways. I can enjoy a wide variety of deck-building projects; but, one of my favorite kinds of builds has always been the puzzle deck.

To me a "puzzle" deck is not a deck built around a multi-card game ending combo that winds up feeling like assembling a Rube Goldberg device. My definition of a "puzzle" deck is a build in which the way to make the deck work requires a lot of problem-solving.

My Multani, Maro-Sorcerer deck was a puzzle because I had to solve the problem of how to get around Multani's shroud. If I couldn't attach equipment or auras to Multani and I couldn't target it with spells, how would I make him unblockable, give him trample, or find some other way to use his greatest strength to my advantage?

Today's commander is Haktos the Unscarred. Haktos is every bit as much of a puzzle as Multani and I'm hoping it will make for a fun and interesting build.

Haktos the Unscarred

Before we dive into how I'm approaching Haktos we should first meet our fearless, and apparently scarless, commander.

Haktos the Unscarred

Haktos is a legendary Human Warrior with a hefty 6 power but only 1 toughness. He costs four mana (rrww) and attacks each combat if able. That would be a problem when you look at how fragile he is, but Haktos has a very interesting enter-the-battlefield ability. As Haktos enters the battlefield you choose 2, 3 or 4 at random and Haktos gains protection from all CMCs other than the chosen number.

Let's go over that again, just to make sure it's crystal clear what we are dealing with. Haktos enters. Let's say you randomly choose the number 3. Haktos can ONLY be blocked, targeted, dealt damage, enchanted or equipped by cards with a converted mana cost of 3. This is almost like Multani's shroud ability except that you wind up with a very narrow window of one specific mana cost (2, 3 or 4, randomly chosen) that will be able to affect Haktos.

Do you see why I'm so intrigued by Haktos? I was able to solve the Multani challenge but Haktos isn't in Green so we'll have not one but two new colors in which to search for the pieces to this puzzle.

Let's see if we can turn this weird, fragile but undeniably interesting Commander into a real threat.

The Elephants in the Room

Many commanders have a card that is an obvious match that just pairs really, really well with it. At first glance it seems like there should be some great and clever things we can do with Haktos to make him completely invincible.

Goblin Piledriver
Harbinger of Spring
Emrakul, the Promised End

As Haktos enters the battlefield, he gains protection. Lots of creatures have protection. Some have protection from Blue, like Goblin Piledriver. Some have protection from specific types of creatures, like Harbinger of Spring, which has protection from non-spirit creatures. One - Emrakul, the Promised End - even has protection from instants, like Emrakul, the Promised End. Good luck blocking Emrakul with that instant spell, buddy!

Haktos has "protection from all CMCs except for {2, 3 or 4 - chosen randomly on ETB}".

What if there was a way to take Haktos and work the system so that his protection would somehow cover all CMCs? He'd be nigh-invulnerable like Progenitus, who has protection from everything!

Hushwing Gryff
Torpor Orb
Panharmonicon

If Haktos were to enter the battlefield when a Hushwing Gryff or Torpor Orb were on the field, you would not get to randomly choose a number. The result would not be that Haktos would be invincible. He would simply not have any protection at all. You can think of it like a targeting spell that loses its target. The protection ability is contingent upon that number being chosen but if there is no number chosen it fizzles and you get nothing.

If Panharmonicon is on the field and there's nothing stopping you from getting enter-the-battlefield triggers, I first assumed you would randomly choose either 2, 3, or 4 twice. After all, you choose Haktos's ability when he enters the battlefield right?

Actually, that would be wrong. Haktos's text box clearly reads "As Haktos enters the battlefield..." In Magic, a triggered ability is defined as an ability that begins with the word "when", "wherever" or "at". The word "as" is not an indicator of a triggered ability - it is technically a replacement effect. I'm not sure what Haktos's number choosing is replacing, but there you go - we get no benefit from having a Panharmonicon on the field.

So the elephant in the room isn't much of an elephant at all. The clever game designers at Wizards of the Coast decided Haktos would not be that easy to break wide open, but there's still a lot we can do to make Haktos a real threat on the battlefield.

Anthems

My solution for how to give Multani trample was to play creatures with "anthem effects" that didn't target any specific creatures but instead would give all of my creatures trample. For Haktos we need to employ a similar strategy. In Red and White we'll see more enchantments in the mix, but the approach is the same.

We've got a 6 power commander on our hands. Instead of playing an anthem that gives our creatures +1 or +2 to their power, why not just give them double-strike?

The obvious answer is that those enchantments have a high mana cost and we might not be ramping very much, but it's such a big increase in Haktos's damage output and he benefits so much from having first strike that I think these are still worth including.

Berserkers' Onslaught
Rage Reflection
True Conviction

The three enchantments shown above all give our creatures double-strike and we'll be running Goring Ceratops as well for a backup creature-based anthem. The threat of being able to swing for 12 commander damage in one turn with a commander who is unlikely to get hit with spot removal is too good to pass up.

Since we're all generally running low-cost removal, the chances are fairly low that all of our opponents will have an answer or a blocker at the right mana cost to be able to stop us from hitting them. If they can block, double-strike will go a long way toward letting Haktos survive the encounter.

Going Lethal

Swinging for 12 commander damage in one turn is impressive. It also will draw so much attention that our tablemates might just decide to deal with the problem the old fashioned way - with player removal. Swinging huge damage around without killing anyone puts a target on your back really quickly. Even if you're "playing nice" and spreading the damage around, you are really just giving your opponents more time to kill you or wipe the board

My solution for that problem is simple - pile on that commander damage!.

Dictate of the Twin Gods
Furnace of Rath
Gratuitous Violence

There are a number of anthems in Red that will double your damage. Some of these can backfire on you, so be careful. If an opponent has Heartless Hidetsugu on the field and you're at an even life total, you might want to hold back your Furnace of Rath.

There are other options for doubling damage as well. Curse of Bloodletting will allow you to enchant an opponent and do double damage to them. Gisela, Blade of Goldnight is a flying Boros Angel with first strike who will double your damage output and halve all damage done to you and permanents you control.

What all this means is that our optimal game plan is to get a double-strike anthem on the field, get a damage doubler on the field, play Haktos and kill someone in one swing. 6 power doubled is 12 damage and with double-strike that's 24 damage from a creature with protection from everything but one randomly chosen CMC.

Getting There

You might think this isn't a very realistic plan. Opponents will see it coming from a mile away. Your commander won't be allowed to hit the field. They will remove your enchantments as soon as you go to combat.

You're not wrong, but you also might be overreacting.

Just because your game plan is crystal clear to you doesn't mean your opponents will know what's about to hit them. You'll play other creatures. You'll play pillow fort enchantments. Other players will build their board and maybe you'll play a wrath or two so the field is cleared out a few times before you even cast Haktos.

Games rarely go the way you think they are going to go, but if you hold your commander back and time things just right you might just be able to get there.

I mentioned wiping the board. Haktos won't survive a board wipe, but one of your goals is to clear the battlefield before you swing with your commander. Your opponents will be rebuilding and the chances they will have the right blockers will be much lower if you've wrathed the turn before casting Haktos for the first time. What you really want is for that double-strike enchantment and that double-damage enchantment to be joined by a way to give Haktos haste.

Fervor
Anger
Urabrask the Hidden

Fervor will survive a board wipe pretty nicely and will do the job. Anger will happily die to a board wipe and as long as it's in your graveyard your creatures will have haste. Urabrask the Hidden might not survive your wrath, but it will force your opponents' creatures to enter the battlefield tapped and if he's out you will be able to drop Haktos and swing on the same turn. That means an opponent with a 2, 3 and 4 CMC blocker in their hand won't know ahead of time which one to play to be able to block your commander. They might guess correctly, but you also might play Haktos and randomly choose "2" the turn after they played a 3 CMC Burnished Hart.

Hammer of Purphoros
Hall of the Bandit Lord
Generator Servant

Hammer of Purphoros is another haste enabler that will affect all of our creatures and there are other ways to get haste but we have to remember that we can't rely upon targeting Haktos.

Hall of the Bandit Lord is a land so it has a zero CMC, but fortunately it doesn't target the creature to which it gives haste. It enters the battlefield tapped and will let us tap it and pay 3 life to make 1 generic mana. If that mana is spent on a creature spell, that creature will gain haste. Before you say "Holy Nonbo, Batman!" I should note that there is no generic mana in Haktos' casting cost. This haste enabler will not help you with your initial casting of Haktos, but as soon as you've got commander tax to pay you'll be set up to re-cast your commander and swing the turn he hits the field.

Generator Servant is a 2/1 elemental who can tap to give us 2 generic mana and if that mana is used to cast a creature spell it will gain haste. Generator Servant may be valuable enough as a haste enabler to warrant running Flamekin Harbinger, a 1 mana Elemental Shaman who will let us tutor up an Elemental card when it enters the battlefield.

The Decklist

This list has a smattering of defensive enchantments and removal along with first-strike enablers because Haktos' 1 toughness is a real liability. We'll run as many tutors as we can fit, but since we're in red and white that isn't a very long list. I think if we can get to the mid or late game we should be able to cause some trouble, kill an opponent or two and maybe just maybe we can win the occasional game of Commander with this list.

Haktos Smaktos| Commander | Stephen Johnson


There you go. Wipe the board or inspire your opponents to do so. Get some pillowfort enchantments out and maybe a damage doubler or double-strike enabler. If you're lucky you'll get both and a haste enabler so you can drop Haktos and slam into some unsuspecting opponent for a cool 24 points of commander damage.

Final Thoughts

I should come clean with you all about this deck. It's one I might lean away from building in paper because I think it might be the kind of deck that could be prone to killing one person and then leaving them sitting out for a long time before the game actually ends. I prefer decks that will kill the table all at once or are defensive enough to make sure I'm not the first to be eliminated. This list should be able to survive for a while but I do feel like it's missing something.

I never like to pretend that I'm the be all and end all of Commander deck-builders. I've got my own tendencies, strengths and weaknesses so I'd love to hear from you where you would take today's list if you were to build Haktos the Unscarred.

Did I miss some combo or some angle (or Angel) that I should have included? Is my lack of wheel spells disturbing? Is there a better way to build this deck that I simply didn't see?

If you've got feedback I'd love to hear from you and I do try to respond to each and every reader who takes the time to comment.

That's all I've got for now. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!