A Rest on the Ride by Albert Bierstadt (1863-4).
Aven of Enduring Hope by James Ryman.
It's an exciting time here at CoolStuffInc.com! With the increased number of awesome new legendary creatures being put out with new Magic expansion sets, the team of Commander writers at CSI has been asked to push out a few more columns and decklists over the next few weeks!
Today I'd like to explore the many interesting ways you can squeeze value and card draw out of a brand new legendary three-eyed Bird Spirit.
Vega, the Watcher is a 2/2 for 3 CMC (). Vega likely won't draw a ton of attention, but when built right I think its ability should help to keep your hand full. Whenever you cast a spell from anywhere other than your hand, you draw a card.
There's nothing quite as powerful in Magic as card draw. It gets us the lands we need to not miss land drops. It pulls us into ramp. It puts answers in our hands and brings us closer to our wincons. This unassuming little Bird Spirit was clearly designed to play with the new Foretell mechanic, but with all of the cards ever printed available to us in Commander I'm optimistic that there's a fun, high powered deck lurking behind this 2/2 flyer. Let's see if we can find it!
Cut to the Chase
If I'm aiming to build a high power EDH deck, and I'm trying to cast spells from anywhere other than my hand, that means there is one main plan that I need to include. It's efficient, it's effective and it will guide a lot of this build.
With Isochron Scepter I can imprint Dramatic Reversal and with enough mana rocks I'll be able to generate as much mana as I want. The only thing to be concerned about is that Vega's card draw trigger is not a "may" ability, so I cannot just shortcut to infinite mana. I have to track my mana and do it right. I'll have enough stack interaction that I can draw into Silence and enough counterspells to protect the win, which will likely come through Laboratory Maniac, Jace, Wielder of Mysteries, or Thassa's Oracle.
Running the "Dramatic Scepter" combo and being in Azorius colors means two things. First, we need to run a healthy serving of mana rocks in today's deck. Second, having Isochron Scepter in the list means we should run at least one other plan that can work with that artifact.
Silence is already an auto-include to protect our win, so if we add in Unwinding Clock we'll be able to lock our opponents out of casting spells entirely. That's not a guaranteed win, but most tables will concede the game at that point.
Cast From Exile
I don't want this deck to have Isochron Scepter as its sole way to cast spells from somewhere other than my hand, so we've got to look at other options. One way to cast spells from somewhere that isn't my hand is to cast those spells from exile. There are a few options for this that are powerful enough for us to include in today's list.
Knowledge Pool costs six mana, which is a lot for something that doesn't do much when it's first played. Each player will exile the top three cards of his or her library and then when a player casts a spell from their hand, that spell gets exiled and they can cast another nonland card exiled with Knowledge Pool without paying its mana cost. It's a weird sort of delayed gratification that will annoy everyone at the table, but which will also let me draw a card for every spell I cast from that pool of exiled cards.
Mind's Desire, at 6 CMC, is another high mana spell. This sorcery will exile the top card of my library and will let me play it without paying their mana cost. It has storm, so I'll get a copy of Mind's Desire for each spell cast before it this turn. With enough mana-positive rocks and low CMC spells, this could make for a big late-game turn and a lot of cards for me to draw.
Uba Mask is an odd little Artifact that is worth a look. If a player would draw a card, that player exiles that card face up instead. Each player may play lands and cast spells from among the cards exiled with Uba Mask on that turn. We will all lose the cards that we exiled at the end of each turn, so this isn't without risk, but hopefully I'll be able to benefit from Uba Mask in ways that my opponents won't. If I exile a spell I can cast, I'll cast it and draw another card into exile. My opponents won't have that advantage, but none of us will be able to save up cards for later use.
When Kaho, Minamo Historian enters the battlefield, I'll exile three instants from my library. I can use Kaho to cast those spells from exile but Kaho will have to tap to do so, meaning that this Human Wizard won't be much use on the turn he hits the field. This is risky, as losing Kaho will mean losing those spells as well, so I won't want to choose anything too valuable. Instants with Flashback could be good targets, giving me a card draw when casting them from exile and then later on when I cast them from the graveyard.
Living Lore will let me exile an instant or sorcery and will have a power and toughness equal to the exiled card's CMC. When this Avatar does combat damage, I can sacrifice it and cast the exiled card without paying its mana cost. That requirement doesn't specify damage to a player, but I'm pretty sure it will have to survive combat damage, so it can't be blocked by anything so big that it would die. Living Lore isn't a good enough card to include in a cEDH deck but I like sprinkling a few oddball cards into every build. I could see this dropping out in favor of a low CMC staple like Brainstorm or Ponder if it isn't amusing or good enough to keep long term.
Magus of the Mind is like Mind's Desire "on a stick" as the kids like to say. This 6 CMC Human Wizard will let me pay , tap and sacrifice it to shuffle my library and exile cards equal to the number of spells cast this turn. I get to cast those spells without paying their mana cost. With such a low mana cost to activate this ability, it's not unreasonable to think I might have a decent little storm count built up before I activate him.
There are a lot of keywords that will allow me to cast spells from somewhere other than my hand. After loading this deck up with mana rocks, counterspells, removal and a few boardwipes, it makes sense to go over the other options that are available to squeeze more card draw out of Vega.
Foretell is a new mechanic in Kaldheim which will allow me to exile a spell and cast it from exile on a later turn.
Flashback is an older mechanic that will allow me to cast a spell and then cast it again from my graveyard.
Rebound will allow me to cast a spell and then cast it again from exile without paying its mana cost.
Cipher will let me exile a spell when it resolves and "encode" it on a creature. Then I can cast that spell when that creature does combat damage to an opponent.
Cascade will let me cast a spell and then cast another lower CMC spell from my library.
Retrace will allow me to cast a card from the graveyard for its mana cost plus the additional cost of discarding a land card.
Suspend will allow me to exile a spell with time counters and when those time counters are all gone, I cast the spell from exile.
All of these keywords let me cast spells from somewhere other than my hand.
I'm going to want to focus on cards that bring real value, but also cards that provide repeatable effects. Cipher is arguably better than Foretell or Suspend because not only does it give me immediate value - it's also repeatable. I've got a flying commander and will likely be able to do combat damage against an opponent without a flying or reach blocker.
In my heart of hearts, I want to ditch all those control spells and just build a good old fashioned trash heap of Magic cards that have these keywords. I love jank and I enjoy building janky decks. I don't always enjoy playing those decks, however. They're usually playing way too fair and they can't keep up with higher powered decks at my LGS. I've also committed to Dramatic Scepter and Silence Scepter so I'm going to carefully pick and choose which of these keywords have good enough spells to fill out this list.
I've got a bad habit of not running enough boardwipes, but Doomskar will set me up to be able to destroy all creatures if someone gets out of hand. Saw It Coming will fit neatly into my suite of counterspells and Depart the Realm will fill the role of an Unsummon.
I do wonder how a Foretold tribal deck would play, but I suspect having so many spells that cost two mana to exile and can't be used that turn would actually play pretty badly. In a low powered meta, it would be fine and an all-in Foretold deck might be fun in a meta where you've got the time to get up to such shenanigans.
Before I dip into the Suspend cards I'm running, I should admit to one foible. I've got a fondness for Mox Tantalite. It was the first Mox I ever opened in a pack. It's a mana rock that taps for any color and which has Suspend 3. If you can play it early you can set yourself up for a free draw when you take the third time counter off of it and Vega is on the field. It's a dead card late game, so I don't run it in any decks. I wouldn't run it here if I wasn't already going heavy on mana rocks for the Dramatic Scepter combo.
Deep-Sea Kraken is going to lose its time counters faster than you might expect and it will give us a body on the battlefield. This isn't a combat deck by any stretch of the imagination, but I like having blockers out there while I dig for my wincon. It's also nice to have beater to chip away at the life total of anyone you know might be planning to play Ad Nauseam. Chronomantic Escape and Reality Strobe might seem like weird choices for this or any deck, but they will keep exiling themselves with time counters again and again, providing me with repeatable casts to draw cards with Vega. If you don't end up playing long enough games for these to occasionally come back, they can be replaced with something else that's more reliable at getting card draw from Vega..
Last Thoughts is overcosted, but if I'm able to "encode" it onto Vega it could draw me two cards every time I attack. Stolen Identity will create a token copy of target creature or artifact. It's also overcosted, but getting another token copy of the best creature on the board that doesn't have hexproof or shroud sounds pretty good to me. Both of these spells can be cast in my first main phase, encoded onto Vega, and then cast again when I go to combat if I'm able to do combat damage to a player. That's decent value, I'll be drawing a card and I'll be able to do it every time I go to combat until someone stops me.
I'm not running any Flashback spells, though a few of them are tempting. I am running Snapcaster Mage. He'll give a card in my graveyard flashback, and is perfect for a deck that wants to play a control game.
I'm going to be drawing a lot of cards if this deck plays the way I hope it will, so there's a good chance I'll be able to play a card with Retrace out of my graveyard by discarding a land. Oona's Grace draws me a card and if I'm casting it from my graveyard with Vega on the field, it'll draw me two. I'm running one card with Cascade in Sakashima's Protege. This shapeshifter has flash and can enter as a creature or I can copy an opponent's Dockside Extortionist, Rhystic Study, Mana Crypt, or even their commander if it's something that will help my deck's game plan.
This is the kind of deck that should be able to play at high power and even cEDH tables, though it probably isn't quite fast enough to be able to reliably compete against top tier cEDH decks. With only twelve creatures in the mix, it's going to have a harder time against aggro decks, so you might need to make adjustments based upon your meta. The more you have to deal with armies of elves, goblins, warriors and other baddies coming your way, the more you'll want to consider swapping in additional boardwipes and cards like Aetherspouts and Aetherize.
V is for Vega | Commander | Stephen Johnson
- Commander (1)
- 1 Vega, the Watcher
- Creatures (12)
- 1 Deep-Sea Kraken
- 1 Dreamscape Artist
- 1 Glen Elendra Archmage
- 1 Kaho, Minamo Historian
- 1 Laboratory Maniac
- 1 Leveler
- 1 Living Lore
- 1 Magus of the Mind
- 1 Mulldrifter
- 1 Sakashima's Protege
- 1 Snapcaster Mage
- 1 Thassa's Oracle
- Planeswalkers (1)
- 1 Jace, Wielder of Mysteries
- Instants (20)
- 1 Chain of Vapor
- 1 Counterspell
- 1 Cyclonic Rift
- 1 Depart the Realm
- 1 Disallow
- 1 Dramatic Reversal
- 1 Fierce Guardianship
- 1 Flusterstorm
- 1 Force of Will
- 1 Mystical Tutor
- 1 Oona's Grace
- 1 Path to Exile
- 1 Pongify
- 1 Rapid Hybridization
- 1 Saw It Coming
- 1 Silence
- 1 Swan Song
- 1 Swords to Plowshares
- 1 Teferi's Protection
- 1 Think Twice
- Sorceries (12)
- 1 Chronomantic Escape
- 1 Deep Analysis
- 1 Divine Reckoning
- 1 Doomskar
- 1 Echo of Eons
- 1 Fractured Identity
- 1 Idyllic Tutor
- 1 Last Thoughts
- 1 Mind's Desire
- 1 Reality Strobe
- 1 Stolen Identity
- 1 Wrath of God
- Artifacts (16)
- 1 Arcane Signet
- 1 Azorius Signet
- 1 Fellwar Stone
- 1 Isochron Scepter
- 1 Knowledge Pool
- 1 Mana Crypt
- 1 Mana Vault
- 1 Mind Stone
- 1 Mox Opal
- 1 Mox Tantalite
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Talisman of Progress
- 1 Thought Vessel
- 1 Uba Mask
- 1 Unwinding Clock
- 1 Worn Powerstone
To tune this list down, I think you'd want to drop out the high price lands and mana rocks and run more creatures. I'd either try going all in on Foretold spells or I might dabble with flyers or even bird tribal. A longer game could give you time to gather the mana to play an Avacyn, Angel of Hope or Sephara, Sky's Blade, but that would pull you away from the core plan of leveraging Vega's card draw ability.
Tune Up Directions
If you wanted to tune this up, you could run all the fetch lands and throw in the ability to cast Windfall into a Hullbreacher. You might add in Drannith Magistrate so anyone playing a deck revolving around their commander has to remove it before they can get rolling. You might even build this in a heavy stax direction.
You'd probably drop out my random suspend, retrace and cipher spells in favor of cEDH staples like Ponder, Brainstorm, Mental Misstep and other low CMC interaction. I wanted to focus more on Vega's card draw ability in my list. You'll be surprised to hear that Deep-Sea Kraken doesn't see much play in cEDH outside of the occasional Yuriko list.
A buddy of mine from the LGS pointed out that you can play Sensei's Divining Top, Mystic Forge, and Helm of Awakening to draw your whole deck, presumably winning with a Lab Man effect. Dropping out Leveler and Fractured Identity in favor of this combo might make sense if you're less inclined than I am to want to run weird, janky wincons.
This deck is a little out of my comfort zone, as I usually want to "play nice" with my opponents. The goal of landing a combo and winning with a Lab Man effect isn't something I normally build around but for an Azorious card draw list like today's I think it's the best plan.
Locking the table down with Unwinding Clock and imprinting Silence on Dramatic Scepter is neat and will probably get your opponents to concede rather than play the game out. If that's not enough, you can also play Leveler and then follow it up with Fractured Identity to exile everyone's library. Pass the turn and win as each opponent has to draw from an empty library.
I think this is a pretty solid list for high powered EDH, but if there are things I've missed please comment below. Should I have thrown in Approach of the Second Sun? Is Leveler / Fractured Identity too goofy for a serious high powered EDH deck? I'd love to hear what you think!
That's all I've got for today.
Thanks for reading this bonus episode of Commanderruminations. I'll see you next Monday!