The Bay of Naples at Moonlit Night by Ivan Aivazovsky (1842).
Thaumaturge's Familiar by Andrea Radeck.
When I first heard there was going to be another Un-set I was fairly excited. Unstable Winter was two full years ago and while I haven't played any of my Un-cards in a long time, it was fun to briefly have silver-bordered cards be legal in our format. I bought a box and even ordered a few additional lands so I could pimp out two of my 5/c decks with beautiful full art Unstable lands. They are currently in Ramos, Dragon Engine and my Sliver tribal The First Sliver deck.
Unsanctioned, the 2020 silver-bordered Magic set that will be hitting store shelves on Leap Day (February 29, 2020) is not a full Magic set the way Unstable, Unglued, and Unhinged were. Unsanctioned seems more like the five-deck "Game Night" product. There are a few new cards, but it is largely a set of reprints. Instead of drafting packs, you are meant to take two of the five 30-card half-decks and combine them to create a 60-card deck to play against a friend. It's a novel approach and a clever way to try to keep these cards from joining all the other Un-set cards that many established Magic players have sitting in binders or gathering dust in card boxes.
I'm unlikely to pick up a copy of Unsanctioned. While it comes with some amazing full art lands, it doesn't quite have enough going for it to be worthwhile to me. If I hadn't bought a box of Unstable, I could easily see buying a couple of these sets so I could have some Un-decks (or Un-half-decks) for goofy fun games and so I could swap out the full art lands to use in another of my Commander decks. If you don't have any old Un-cards, I would urge you to consider picking up a copy (or two). The Un-set cards might be of limited use, but those gorgeous lands... you'll use those lands for a long, long time.
Even if I'm not picking up Unsanctioned, I am eager to brainstorm a deck around one of the Unsanctioned legendary creatures. I'd be lying if I told you that Syr Cadian, Knight Owl didn't catch my eye first. I can get into Knight tribal and love the Knightlifelink keyword, but fellow CSI writer Bruce Richard beat me to it in his article "Owl Be Back." What caught my eye second was another tribe that I've long wanted to build around - SQUIRRELS!
A Fashionable Filcher
There are a handful of Un-set cards that care about Squirrels. They are a tribe that has seen love both in silver-bordered and in regular Magic sets over the years. I had originally thought I'd have to build this deck around a card like the 5/c Karona, False God, so that I'd be able to run the Green Squirrel cards and the Black Snickering Squirrel, but my fears were unfounded.
Acornelia, Fashionable Filcher is a 3/3 Legendary Squirrel who costs and will be happy to lead our Squirrel army. This acorn-obsessed rodent will give us an acorn counter every time we cast a spell with a squirrel in its artwork. We'll also get an acorn every time a Squirrel we control enters the battlefield or dies. We can turn this nutty treasure to our advantage using Acornelia's other abilities. For we can pay X acorns to give target creature -X/-X until end of turn. For we can pay X acorns to give target creature +X/+X until end of turn.
This "Fashionable Filcher" is in Black and Green so we can run pretty much every Squirrel card that's ever been printed. We can also go out of our way to run cards with Squirrels in the artwork because Acornelia is practically begging us to do so. From there we'll fill in the gaps with ramp, removal and at least one or two ways to make our Squirrel army into a legitimate threat.
Now that we know who will be leading our scurry, let's look at the silver-bordered cards that will fit into our theme. First I'll give you a minute.
I'm guessing you want to look up "scurry".
Go ahead... I'll wait.
So our scurry of Squirrels - which would apparently be "dray" if it were a family unit (thank you Google) - might be more fun if we embrace the madness that comes with silver-bordered card so let's start with that.
Earl of Squirrel is like Tana, The Bloodsower. When he deals damage you create that many 1/1 Green Squirrel creature tokens. Your creature tokens are also all Squirrels and your Squirrels get +1/+1. That's a lot of value for one creature and if including Black in our list he might have led the deck instead of Acornelia. Snickering Squirrel is a 1/1 Squirrel Advisor who costs and can be tapped to increase the result of a die any player rolled by 1. Steel Squirrel works well with him. This two-mana Artifact Squirrel will get +X/+X until end of turn every time we roll a 5 or higher on a die, and it will let us pay 6 mana to roll a six-sided die.
There are a number of enchantments from Un-sets that involve squirrels that we really have to include in our list.
Squirrel Farm is a weird old card. This three-mana () enchantment will let us pay and reveal a card from our hand. Covering the artist's name we get to see if one of our opponents can name the artist. If they can't, we reveal the artist's name get to create a 1/1 green Squirrel creature token. Chittering Doom is a four mana () enchantment which will let us create a 1/1 Green Squirrel creature token every time we roll a 4 or higher. Squirrel-Powered Scheme will increase the result of each die we roll by 2, it has a Squirrel in the artwork, and it's in Black so by going with Acornelia, Fashionable Filcher we get to include it.
Form of the Squirrel works best with a card like Vedalken Orrery on the field so you can flash it in before an opponent goes to combat - if you're pretty sure they're going to kill you. This enchantment will have you put a 1/1 Green Squirrel creature token into play and when it leaves play you lose the game. On the positive side, creatures can't attack you and you can't be the target of spells or abilities. On the negative side, it doesn't have hexproof or indestructible and... you can't play spells. If someone wants you dead all they need to do is use a board wipe or a removal spell on the Squirrel you created. This is not a good card, but it is very much on theme. You'll want to hold Form of the Squirrel back until it will save you from getting murdered. You might still lose the game, but now it won't be because of your opponent's giant army. It'll probably be when your new favorite Squirrel gets hit with a Path to Exile.
The last card shown above isn't a Squirrel - it's a Racoon Lizard Bird. When it enters the battlefield we get to ask someone outside the game if they like Squirrels and if they do, we create a 1/1 green Squirrel creature token.
Squirrels may care about die rolling but we aren't in the colors to go heavy on Un-set die-roll card and if we did we'd be pulling away from our Squirrel theme. There are a few cards we can throw in but it won't make up this deck's core strategy.
The Mad Science Fair Project is a mana rock that lets you tap it to roll a die and get either colorless or colored mana. Urza's Science Fair Project costs twice as much but you can activate its ability (for 2 mana) as many times as you like.
We want repeatable ways to roll dice so equipment like Lobe Lobber will fit in nicely. The equipped creature taps to do 1 damage to target player or planeswalker and then we roll a d6 and untap it on a 5 or higher.
Poultrygeist is a 1/1 Chicken that will give us a die roll whenever a creature is put into a graveyard from play. On a 1 we will sacrifice Poultrygeist, but anything higher will have us put a +1/+1 counter on it. Inhumaniac has the Braniac creature type and will let us roll a die on our upkeep. It will get on anything higher than a "2", and on a "1" Inhumaniac will lose all of its counters. Jumbo Imp will gain and lose counters as the game goes on, again based on die rolls. Including these cards will take away from our Squirrel theme so they're definitely cards we'd leave out if we had too many on-theme cards filling up our deck.
There is also a card called Sly Spy that was printed with six variations. The "F" version would let you roll a 6-sided die whenever it deals combat damage to a player and that player loses that much life. There are a few other die-rolling cards that might make sense like Growth Spurt and Krark's Other Thumb, but we're specifically looking for cards with repeatable die rolling so that's probably as far as we'll follow this tangent.
Old School Squirrels
In my effort to build a deck full of Squirrels I did a fair bit of research. If Evan Symon is to be believed, and I have no reason to doubt him, Squirrels only became a thing because of a weird art direction change on the Mirage card Waiting in the Weeds.
You can read "How Squirrels (briefly) took over Magic: The Gathering" over on magicuntapped.com. Apparently Squirrels weren't going to be a thing and then for a few years at the beginning of the millennium, they suddenly were.
My hope was there there would be an ample supply of cards for this deck, but the reality is that as quickly as the Squirrpocalpyse hit Magic: The Gathering, it just as quickly went away. Outside of a brief few years, it's nearly impossible to scrounge up any of these furry, acorn-loving fellows.
I only found two black-bordered Squirrels to include in today's list. The first is Squirrel Mob. This creature gets +1/+1 for each other Squirrel on the battlefield. Krosan Beast is a Squirrel Beast who starts as a 1/1 but gets +7/+7 if we have seven or more cards in our graveyard. If we can't load up on actual creature cards we'll want to play token generators. Chatter of the Squirrel and Acorn Harvest (not shown) are sorceries with flashback that will make 1/1 Green Squirrel creature tokens.
There are lots of other creatures that can create 1/1 Squirrel tokens and we'll probably include them all. Deranged Hermit is the biggest reason why I was excited about this deck. I love the art on this card and I've never had a good reason to throw him into a deck.
This 1/1 Elf will create four 1/1 Squirrels when it enters the battlefield and will give our Squirrels +1/+1. We'll need to pay his Echo cost if we want him to stick around, so at 10 mana he's an expensive pet card. Deep Forest Hermit also costs five mana, creates four Squirrels and pumps them +1/+1, but instead of having an Echo cost it has Vanishing 3. These hermits aren't fond of hanging out for very long.
Squirrel Wrangler - another card with art I just love - costs one less mana and is a 2/2 instead of a 1/1. For the slightly unreasonable cost of and sacrificing a LAND, we can create two Squirrels or we can give our Squirrels +1/+1 until the end of turn.
Liege of the Hollows is a tricky card to play. This Spirit will allow players to pay mana when she dies to create Squirrel tokens equal to the amount of mana they pay. Time things correctly and you'll be the one to benefit the most. Time it poorly and you could find yourself overrun by your opponents' Squirrels. Liege of the Hollows may be risky, but Nut Collector is all upside. We'll get a 1/1 Squirrel token on our upkeep and if we have seven or more cards in the graveyard, all Squirrels will get +2/+2. Swarmyard is the last card we'll be including. This land can tap to regenerate target Insect, Rat, Spider or Squirrel.
It's worth noting that the enchantment Nantuko Shrine was a powerful spell back when Squirrels were relevant in Magic, but it doesn't play well in a singleton format so we won't be including it in today's list.
Next Level Squirrels
Somehow cards like these Squirrels and Squirrel generators dominated Magic back in the day, but in a 100 card format with 40 life totals, can they still be relevant? Of course not, but we're building for fun today, not competitiveness. Let's see if there are any shenanigans we can get up to with these weird old Squirrel cards.
Acorn Catapult is an artifact that can be used to ping a creature or player and create a 1/1 Green Squirrel creature token. If you want the Squirrel you'll have to ping yourself or one of your creatures, but that's a small price to pay to get another fuzzy buddy on the field. If we wanted to be clever we might play Stuffy Doll, name an opponent and use it to direct the Catapult damage to the named player. If we wanted to be really clever we'd enchant our Stuffy Doll with Druid's Call. That aura will have the enchanted creature's controller create a 1/1 Green Squirrel creature token for each damage it takes.
Squirrel Nest will allow you to tap a land to create a Squirrel token. With Earthcraft you can tap an untapped creature (even if it has summoning sickness) to untap target basic land. If you've got your Squirrel Nest on a basic land you can create an arbitrarily large army of tapped Squirrel tokens. For a more limited benefit you can tap a Voyaging Satyr, Arbor Elf, or Argothian Elder to untap your Squirrel Nest land one extra time so you can make an extra Squirrel.
Squirrels in the Art
Acornelia really wants us to play cards with Squirrels in the artwork, but as far as I could tell those cards are few and far between.
These are all playable cards for our deck and will give us an extra Squirrel if Acornelia is on the field. Might of Oaks is an instant that will give target creature +7/+7 until end of turn. Monstrous Growth is a sorcery that will give target creature +4/+4 until end of turn. Zoologist might not have a giant Squirrel in the artwork, but over on the right hand side there's a woodland creature who looks like a Squirrel to me. In a normal deck Zoologist would be a target for removal, but if your opponents know what you're playing they'll probably leave it alone. You're unlikely to cheat anything too scary into play with today's build.
I'm going to take much of what we've got so far, fill in the nooks and crannies with ramp and cards that will help with a tokens strategy. We'll have staples to be sure, but will this wind up being a deck that can actually win a Commander game with Squirrels? Let's take a look.
Acornelia Squirrel Tribal | Commander | Stephen Johnson
- Commander (1)
- 1 Acornelia, Fashionable Filcher
- Creatures (26)
- 1 Arbor Elf
- 1 Argothian Elder
- 1 Beast Whisperer
- 1 Craterhoof Behemoth
- 1 Deep Forest Hermit
- 1 Deranged Hermit
- 1 Earl of Squirrel
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Forgotten Ancient
- 1 Inhumaniac
- 1 Jumbo Imp
- 1 Krosan Beast
- 1 Liege of the Hollows
- 1 Loyal Guardian
- 1 Nut Collector
- 1 Poultrygeist
- 1 Sakura-Tribe Elder
- 1 Snickering Squirrel
- 1 Squirrel Dealer
- 1 Squirrel Mob
- 1 Squirrel Wrangler
- 1 Steel Squirrel
- 1 Stuffy Doll
- 1 Urza's Science Fair Project
- 1 Voyaging Satyr
- 1 Zoologist
- Instants (9)
- 1 Abrupt Decay
- 1 Assassin's Trophy
- 1 Beast Within
- 1 Heroic Intervention
- 1 Krosan Grip
- 1 Might of Oaks
- 1 Nature's Claim
- 1 Putrefy
- 1 Second Harvest
- Sorceries (8)
- 1 Acorn Harvest
- 1 Chatter of the Squirrel
- 1 Cultivate
- 1 Kodama's Reach
- 1 Monstrous Growth
- 1 Rampant Growth
- 1 Shamanic Revelation
- 1 Triumph of the Hordes
- Enchantments (10)
- 1 Beastmaster Ascension
- 1 Chittering Doom
- 1 Doubling Season
- 1 Druid's Call
- 1 Earthcraft
- 1 Form of the Squirrel
- 1 Parallel Lives
- 1 Squirrel Farm
- 1 Squirrel Nest
- 1 Squirrel-Powered Scheme
- Artifacts (8)
- 1 Acorn Catapult
- 1 Arcane Signet
- 1 Coat of Arms
- 1 Golgari Signet
- 1 Lobe Lobber
- 1 Mad Science Fair Project
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Vedalken Orrery
You'll notice a lack of tutors. These days I find myself tossing those in any deck that runs Black, but this build feels like it wants to be more casual than my usual list. If you wanted to make this list a little more competitive you could drop out the six cards that care about die rolling, add in six tutors and be ready to go get your Coat of Arms or Craterhoof Behemoth right when you need it, rather than just hoping to draw into it.
There you go. Have you ever wanted to play a Squirrel deck in Commander? You might want to add in a few Changelings, but I've chosen not to for today's list. They just didn't feel right to me.
Are there any Un-set commanders you've been thinking about building? Are you going to pick up a copy of Unsanctioned? What decks will you be putting those sweet, sweet lands into?
For next week I'm likely going to be sharing a decklist and the story of a recent game with you.
I've considered posting a "Game of the Month" column or even a weekly "Game of the Week" column if the series was somehow wildly successful. One of my favorite things about Commander are the stories you come away with when you play a lot. Telling those stories well is quite a challenge - I always feel like I'm getting details slightly wrong, but they're so much fun that it's well worth the effort anyways. If I can include a decklist with each one and share thoughts about deck construction and strategy, I think it'll wind up being a lot of fun.
That's all I've got for today. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!