Renaissance Interior by Bartholomeus van Bassen (1618-1620). Earl of Squirrel by Milivoj ?eran.
I didn't open a box of Kaldheim, but I've been picking up booster packs and have been building decks around some of the legendary creatures that fate has brought into my life. I had been hoping to open a Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider, but Tergrid, God of Fright fell into my lap instead. After last week's dive into a relatively nasty and powerful commander, I'm going to jump back over to the more casual side of our format. In those packs I also opened another legendary creature that caught my eye.
Toski, Bearer of Secrets is a really interesting card. It can't be countered, it's indestructible, it attacks each turn if able, and it draws cards. It's got a lot going for it and I was tempted to build up a Toski deck, but it's got one drawback that was bothering me. It's Mono-Green. I've got nothing against that, but I've got a few already and I'm not ready to pull them apart or add yet another to my collection right now.
There are some delightful cards that could make a Toski deck really have potential, from ways to pump him up like Blanchwood Armor and Aspect of Hydra to staples like Bear Umbra. As I write this, I'm feeling the temptation to just pivot over to building Toski right now, but there's another card that popped out of one of my booster packs that is driving today's column.
Running Esika, God of the Tree it in the command zone will give me access to all five colors and sets me up to run cards that aren't in Green. Esika might not be a tree, but seeing Toski and Esika together got me thinking...
Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood...
Two paths diverged as I was working on this deck. One was to add all the silver-bordered cards and make a deck that lots of you might not be able to play because it's not EDH-legal. It might have been the right choice, but instead I've decided to find a way to make an EDH-legal deck that runs lots of Squirrels but also has a "lost in the woods" feel to it. Yes, this is a casual build that brings a game that is more fun and silly than efficient and effective.
There may not be enough Squirrels to build a dedicated Squirrel tribal deck without using silver-bordered cards, but I've long wanted to build a deck that runs the combo Squirrel Nest and Earthcraft. I can't see anyone complain about infinite squirrels in a squirrel deck and it's a combo I haven't yet landed.
I am also running Deep Forest Hermit, Deranged Hermit, Liege of the Hollows, Nut Collector, Squirrel Mob along with Acorn Harvest, Druid's Call and Chatter of the Squirrel, but that's a far cry from the kind of tribal support I'd want for a tribal Squirrels deck.
If I can't really fill out a full Squirrel deck because there aren't quite enough Squirrels and Squirrel token generators, that means I'm going to need to get creative. If I run this deck under Esika, God of the Tree I can run a subtheme that fits into this deck quite nicely.
You can't have happy Squirrels without trees.
I'm running Tree of Tales, Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree, Treetop Village, Exotic Orchard, Forbidden Orchard and even The World Tree to help give this deck the feel I'm looking for. I can't very well run Esika, God of the Tree and Path to the World Tree and not include The World Tree. My only regret is that I'm not actually running any other Gods in today's list.
A Path Not Taken
It's worth asking why I'm not running any Gods other than Esika. I could at the very least include Purphoros, God of the Forge. If I manage to combine Squirrel Nest and Earthcraft and have The World Tree, I can sacrifice it, go get Purphoros and use my Squirrel Nest to kill the table with enter-the-battlefield damage.
Sounds easy, right?
I'm not bullish on this deck getting all of that in place, and I definitely don't think it's a good plan to build around an interaction that requires all that along with the ability to generate 10 mana without even using the The World Tree or the land enchanted with Squirrel Nest. It's just too much and the tables I play at don't generally give me enough time to assemble it all and combo off.
I could see The World Tree playing well in a Ramos, Dragon Engine deck or in a Golos, Tireless Pilgrim deck, if they were built with a plan that was centered around certain Gods. This isn't that deck.
Baby Trees and Elves
So, I'm running Squirrels and I've got lots of trees. That's still not quite enough to fill out a deck even if I load up on essentials like token doublers and removal. This aims to be a relatively casual deck that's leaning heavily towards green so I'm going to pass on running all the high-power staples like Demonic Tutor, Dockside Extortionist, Rhystic Study, Smothering Tithe and the like. Sure, I've got access to "five-color goodstuff" but that isn't the point in today's deck.
Rather than run those undeniably powerful cards that I have access to with Esika in the command zone, I'm going to double down on this deck's theme.
What goes better alongside Squirrels and trees than baby trees!
Saprolings aren't quite trees, and they aren't quite Treefolk. They're little sprout things that are much, much easier to build around than Squirrels.
My removal in today's deck may start with some familiar staples but it ends with Artifact Mutation and Aura Mutation because those two spells make Saprolings. I'm running Thelonite Hermit and Druidic Satchel for the same reason. Verdant Force and Tendershoot Dryad will give me a steady stream of the little guys and Tana, the Bloodsower can hit an opponent and give me a couple more if she connects.
I had been tempted to load up on signets to try to provide the deck with ways to generate mana outside of Green. The deck will want to be able to occasionally cast spells with other colors, even if it is very heavily in green. Rather than load up on rocks, I decided to throw in a Chromatic Lantern and Chromatic Orrery along with an Arcane Signet.
Esika lets me tap legendary creatures to generate mana, and that made me think of cheap legendary creatures that might fit into our them. Rhys the Redeemed immediately came to mind, as his low CMC and ability to double my tokens could come in handy. Emmara Tandris also plays well with tokens, preventing all damage that would be dealt to them. With Beast Whisperer and Tana, the Bloodsower also helping to fill out an elvish subtheme, it was an easy decision to throw in a few mana dorks like Elvish Mystic, Llanowar Elves and Fyndhorn Elves.
Our Squirrel deck has a healthy tree, Saproling and Elf subtheme, setting us up to have a fun romp in the woods each time we play it. Casual decks don't have to be bad, and I've got a Beast tribal Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma deck that is decidedly casual but is still very capable of taking down a table.
Lost in the Woods
This five-mana enchantment isn't a staple. It doesn't reduce the number of Forests you're likely to draw into, nor does it help you draw more lands. With it on the field, roughly a quarter of the time if a creature is attacking me it will get hit with a Maze of Ith effect and get removed from combat. The creature won't even be untapped.
Is this a good card?
No, it is not.
Is it incredibly on theme for a deck that is built around getting lost in the woods and assembling a ragtag band of Squirrels, Saprolings, and Elves?
Why yes, yes it is.
Casual Commander is the place where you can play fun, silly, underpowered or even bad cards because they amuse you, make you happy, or will put a smile on someone's face. Sure, that unblockable Blightsteel Colossus might have hexproof from a pair of Lightning Greaves, and it might be aimed squarely at me, but with Lost in the Woods on the field, I'll have a moment of suspense where the entire table waits to see if I am able to survive to see another turn.
I love creating moments like that.
If it works (Lost in the Woods doesn't target, so hexproof won't protect an attacker), I'll probably just die one turn later, but it's a fun wrinkle to add to a game, I might draw into an answer, or I might even hit another Forest on the next attack.
I might draw into a Lignify, be able to use Beast Within on a Swiftfoot Boots and then turn the threat into a 0/4 Treefolk with no abilities. I might pull my Beastmaster Ascension or Triumph of the Hordes and launch a counterattack on my turn.
I have to admit that I'm sorely tempted to load up on tutors just so I can hit that sweet "squirrapocalpyse" that you get when you use Squirrel Nest and Earthcraft to make an infinitely large army of Squirrels. This is meant to be a casual deck, so I've left out tutors. I have loaded up on a lot of my usual removal spells. I just hope I've got enough ways to make other colors that I can cast the occasional Path to Exile, Swords to Plowshares, Pongify or Rapid Hybridization.
Esika EDH | Commander | Stephen Johnson
- Commander (1)
- 1 Esika, God of the Tree
- Creatures (23)
- 1 Beast Whisperer
- 1 Deep Forest Hermit
- 1 Deranged Hermit
- 1 Elvish Mystic
- 1 Emmara Tandris
- 1 Fyndhorn Elves
- 1 Kodama of the East Tree
- 1 Liege of the Hollows
- 1 Llanowar Elves
- 1 Nut Collector
- 1 Rhys the Redeemed
- 1 Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa
- 1 Sakura-Tribe Elder
- 1 Seedborn Muse
- 1 Squirrel Mob
- 1 Tana, the Bloodsower
- 1 Tendershoot Dryad
- 1 Thelonite Hermit
- 1 Toski, Bearer of Secrets
- 1 Tree of Perdition
- 1 Tree of Redemption
- 1 Utopia Tree
- 1 Verdant Force
- Instants (15)
- 1 Artifact Mutation
- 1 Aura Mutation
- 1 Beast Within
- 1 Counterspell
- 1 Krosan Grip
- 1 Natural State
- 1 Naturalize
- 1 Nature's Chant
- 1 Nature's Claim
- 1 Path to Exile
- 1 Pongify
- 1 Rapid Hybridization
- 1 Return to Nature
- 1 Swan Song
- 1 Swords to Plowshares
- Sorceries (8)
- 1 Acorn Harvest
- 1 Chatter of the Squirrel
- 1 Cultivate
- 1 Kodama's Reach
- 1 Rampant Growth
- 1 Shamanic Revelation
- 1 Three Visits
- 1 Triumph of the Hordes
- Enchantments (12)
- 1 Anointed Procession
- 1 Beastmaster Ascension
- 1 Doubling Season
- 1 Druid's Call
- 1 Earthcraft
- 1 Fruit of the First Tree
- 1 Lignify
- 1 Lost in the Woods
- 1 Parallel Lives
- 1 Path to the World Tree
- 1 Primal Vigor
- 1 Squirrel Nest
- Artifacts (6)
- 1 Acorn Catapult
- 1 Arcane Signet
- 1 Chromatic Orrery
- 1 Chromatic Lantern
- 1 Druidic Satchel
- 1 Sol Ring
I often try to advise readers on how to tune a list I've made both up or down. For today's list I think it would be hard to tune it up too much without losing the deck's flavor. My habit of wanting to have a low mana curve led me to run all those elves, but I think it's reasonable to suggest that a Treefolk theme might have been more appropriate. I've never built a Treefolk deck before - not even Doran, the Siege Tower, and I was wary of setting an already casual deck up to have quite so many high-CMC creatures.
A Walk in The Woods
I was able to test this deck out in my weekly online game on Tabletop Simulator. It wound up being a three-player game and I was up against Orvar, the All-Form and a Ghost of Ramirez DePietro / Tormod, the Desecrator partners deck. I felt like I was a bit (only a bit) outmatched from the start, but that happens.
I was able to eventually push out eight Squirrels along with Toski. I got lucky and destroyed the partners player's Phyrexian Altar, which apparently was the lynchpin of his deck's main combo. In response to casting my removal spell, he used Doom Whisperer to surveil to search for some card he needed. He went all the way down to 7 and later found out that if he had gone just two more cards deeper he would have won the game.
The Orvar player was squeezing value out of a Solemn Simulacrum and Mulldrifter and looking increasingly like he was going to run away with the game. He had the ability to tap down a bunch of my creatures before combat with some sorcery and I drew into a Triumph of the Hordes just a little too late. I couldn't push enough damage through to end him and didn't have any answers to his deck. Once it became clear that my push wasn't going to work, I conceded so we could start up another game and have the third player not just sit there waiting.
Any casual deck will struggle in a mismatch and the fact that I was able to get relatively close to a successful alpha strike was nice. Also, I had eight Squirrels. EIGHT! My goal was to build a Squirrels deck and while it's not a high-powered build, it was fun and I could see it being a fun match for decks of equal power. I even had The World Tree on the field for them to play in, but I missed a few Green staples like Heroic Intervention that would have come in handy.
This deck isn't going to overpower any tables, but if you're looking for a fun "walk in the woods" deck, I think this is the kind of build that will make for fun games. It's roughly precon level and you could easily swap out Elves for Treefolk if you really want to push the theme and you can deal with a higher mana curve.
In the coming weeks I'm going to keep looking at Kaldheim commanders. This set isn't burying us in quite the overwhelming wave of new legendary creatures that we saw in Commander Legends, but it's clear Wizards of the Coast is giving us more potential commanders in every set than ever before.
Have you ever built a Squirrels deck? Should today's meandering path have included those silver-bordered Un-set Squirrels? I have never seriously aimed at building and maintaining such a deck, in part because the power level is pretty low, but if I had to pick a cute little tribe as my go-to deck to play against new players or weak decks I could see going with Squirrels.
That's all I've got for you today. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!