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A Tale of Two Orvars


A Moonlit Night at Sea by Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky (1885). Deathbloom Thallid by Mike Burns.

Back in 2018 I wrote a column called A Tale of Two Toothys in which I looked at two decks built around Pir, Imaginative Rascal and Toothy, Imaginary Friend. One was a casual build I had thrown together inspired by the ominous dog park in the Welcome to Night Vale podcast. The other was a very strong and well-tuned clone deck built by my daughter. It's fascinating to look at the different takes two players can have on the same commander. Today I have another deck comparison, this time between two Orvar, the All-Form decks.

I play in a weekly online Tabletop Simulator EDH game with a friend from my LGS and some friends I met through playing on the Shaftlands, a Minecraft server for fans of the now-defunct Shaft podcast. One of the guys in that meta played an Orvar, the All-Form deck the other week and when I decided to write a column about Orvar I figured I'd work up a list and then compare the two. Mason, the Orvar player, is known for choosing strong decks and playing at a high level and he was kind enough to send me his list.

Before we dive into our decklists, let's take a look at what we're building around.

Orvar, the All-Form

Because Orvar is a Changeling, it has all creature types, not just Shapeshifter. Orvar will let me use instants and sorcery spells to target my permanents and make token copies of them. His second ability won't come up much in Commander, as it involves discarding Orvar and that's fairly unlikely to happen.

At first glance it seems clear that an Orvar deck is going to want good targets to copy and cheap spells that target. Beyond that, I think there are lots of directions you could go in. One could play a deck that steals your opponents' creatures and makes token copies of those, effectively letting you play to the power of the table you're at. I could just as easily see a sea monster build with a plan to lock the table with parade of cards like Breaching Leviathan. Even stuck in mono-Blue, there are a lot of things one could do with Orvar, the All-Form.

All Form One, One Form All

I got a chance to play against Mason's list and I found it really solid. He was able to get out a Solemn Simulacrum and I think he might have also had a Mulldrifter out and used Orvar to make copies of them. I was playing a casual deck and I couldn't keep up. At the time I didn't know his budget and hadn't realized he was playing a list that weighs in at under $100.

Cerulean Wisps

While I couldn't push his Orvar list very hard in that game, I was impressed with the variety of low-CMC spells he used to squeeze value out of Orvar and an assortment of creatures. He was casting spells like Cerulean Wisps, Clockspinning and Moonlace to easily pump out an army of creatures that were putting additional lands onto the battlefield, drawing cards and tapping down my creatures. I didn't end up seeing everything the deck could do, but now that I've had a chance to look the list over, it's clear Mason knows what he's doing.

This isn't meant to be a high-powered deck, and as a result it has some really neat cards in it that you wouldn't find if he was just playing a pile of blue staples.

This deck weighs in at a svelte 2.45 CMC. It's a budget build, but it packs plenty of interaction and runs the Dramatic Scepter combo as a potential game ender. With infinite mana and a number of spells that have buyback, this deck is a pretty good pile of clever choices that let you target your creatures, artifacts, enchantments and even lands.

Phyrexian Metamorph
Crafty Cutpurse
Triton Fortune Hunter

I'm particularly fond of Mason's inclusion of Phyrexian Metamorph, Crafty Cutpurse and Triton Fortune Hunter. All three bring something unique to the deck. Phyrexian Metamorph can copy an opponent's artifact or creature and if it isn't legendary you can start pumping out more of them using Orvar and his wide array of instants. Crafty Cutpurse is a brilliant addition that will let you mess with any number of decks that want to spam out token creatures. Triton Fortune Hunter gives you easy card draw, which is simply one of the most powerful things you can do in Magic.

Shipwreck Dowser
Diluvian Primordial

You want to keep your hand full of instants so you can keep abusing your creatures, but if your best instants are in the graveyard, Mason made sure to include Archaeomancer, Mnemonic Wall, Shipwreck Dowser and the powerful Diluvian Primordial to grab back those spells. If you get even one of these creatures onto the battlefield, you can keep hitting it with those instants and keep getting them back. As you do so, you'll be steadily growing your army as you create token creatures. It's hard for me not to be impressed at the value this deck is able to deliver while coming in at under $100.

Building on a budget can be a real challenge. You've seen Mason's build, but let's look at what I was able to put together with fewer restraints on my card choices.

Hey Now

I should start by admitting that I did my best to think up a proper "filk" for Smashmouth's "All Star," but I kept getting stuck.

Hey now, you're an All-Form.

Get your shape on. Let's play!

Hey now, that's a new form.

Won't you pick a... damn shape!

No, I'm not going to quit my day job or this side gig to take up songwriting, but I am going to share my own take on Orvar. I didn't adhere to a budget, and I ran more than a handful of staples. I built my version without having looked at Mason's deck or anyone else's deck. I really enjoy seeing what I can come up with on my own.

When I compared my list with Mason's I noticed a lot of overlap. I'd quip that great minds think alike, but I don't know how brilliant either of us really are. There are plenty of spells like Diluvian Primordial that are just natural fits for a commander like Orvar, the All-Form and it's not surprising that two experienced and capable deckbuilders would come to some of the same conclusions.

The biggest difference seems to be in our creature counts. My list is running some of the same guys, but not adhering to a budget let me throw in a few all-stars that Mason may have passed over.

Consecrated Sphinx
Myr Battlesphere
Psychosis Crawler

The dream of having three or four Consecrated Sphinxes is one this deck will probably see and I'm running enough counter magic that I might even be able to keep them around for a while. Having a few copies of Myr Battlesphere seems like a pretty nice way to finish off a game. A bunch of copies of Psychosis Crawler could set you up to push damage out to the table pretty quickly once you play and start copying something like a Mulldrifter. I might even throw in a Windfall if I'm aiming for an army of Psychosis Crawlers because that damage could really add up.

You can tell that this is my list because I'm rocking a familiar combo. Deadeye Navigator has a combo with a short list of creatures.

Peregrine Drake
Great Whale

Palinchron, Peregrine Drake and Great Whale will all pair with Deadeye to let me create infinite mana. I'm also running Guildless Commons and Coral Atoll, both lands that tap for two mana, so that I can even combo with Cloud of Faeries. Infinite mana might not win the game but the real combo in this list doesn't even require Deadeye Navigator.

Mind Games
Whim of Volrath

Capsize is a tried and true way to close out a game if you're able to go infinite but it's not actually the card I'm most excited about. Both Mind Games and Whim of Volrath also have buyback. With Peregrine Drake and Orvar on the field and Mind Games or Whim of Volrath I can create an infinitely large army of token copies of Peregrine Drake. Same goes for Palinchron and Great Whale.

Cloud of Faeries
Coral Atoll
Guildless Commons

I can even make an infinite army of Cloud of Faeries using Whim of Volrath, an island and either Coral Atoll or Guildless Commons. This last interaction won't gain me any mana, as Whim costs three mana to cast and buy back and those lands would generate three mana, but my opponents will have to find a way to stop my endless onslaught of Faeries. Whim of Volrath, along with most of my spells, are instants so I should be able to do this at instant speed on an opponent's end step.

Pilgrim's Eye
Skittering Surveyor

Leave it to me to start with the combo, but there are other cards I went with that weren't in Mason's list that I should call out. These little artifact creatures might not seem like a big deal, but hitting your land drops is huge in Commander and these guys all will put a land into your hand. My land count is lower than Mason's so having a way to put down extra blockers and keep hitting those land drops will be key to having a decent early and mid-game.

Lessons Learned

When I build a deck from scratch without any input and without looking at anyone else's build, it's easy to imagine that I'm probably just reproducing the same basic deck another player would create. While budgetary constraints can play a huge role in shaping how a deck turns out, a deck builder's habits and preferences really influence the end result in ways you might not expect.

My list has a lot more creatures, probably because I put a lot of value in having blockers and I never assume I'm not going to run into tons of removal and boardwipes. I want to have a good chance at having a battlefield presence. I also probably underestimated Orvar's ability to let me create a decent army without having a ton of creatures in my library. I'd bet that Mason's list is just as capable of filling up the battlefield just by using Orvar to make tokens.

Mason's deck has a lot more lands as well as more mana rocks. I think that's probably an indication that I have a hard time dropping out spells in favor of lands, even when I know darn well I should be running more lands. My deck's average CMC is 3.18 while Mason's is all the way down at 2.45, yet he's got three more lands than I've got in my list.

I'm not one to believe that there's one way to build a deck and I'm not yet convinced my list is really going to suffer for its lower land count. Normally I play the deck and feel these things out, and I haven't yet had the chance to play my list. I could see dropping out guilty pleasures like Vedalken Orrery and Leyline of Anticipation in favor of a couple more lands if I had a few games in a row where the mana just wasn't flowing.

Final Thoughts

I have to admit, I really love the idea of using Orvar with Great Whale to make an arbitrarily large Whale army. The same plan works with Peregrine Drake and Palinchron of course, but the Whale army is probably the most appealing to me. Maybe I've just watched Fantasia 2000 a few too many times.

Screenshot from Fantasia 2000 (Disney). Orvar, the All-Form by Chase Stone.

I don't often build budget decks, but I have a lot of admiration for the creativity that guys like Mason, Vin, Mike and Zach from my online Tabletop Simulator group show when they occasionally bring out a deck that is worth less than a single card from another player's deck. In my defense I also rarely load up my virtual decks with dual lands and truly high-dollar bombs, but it's worth saying that keeping on a budget really does force you to get creative and those guys all manage to really show their skills week in and week out.

I'm not sure what I'm going to pivot to next, but I'm likely moving on to yet another Kaldheim legendary creature for my next column. It may or may not be on my usual Monday, but once this content push is done I expect to return to my usual schedule. Until then, you could see Commander Ruminations any day of the week!

It's been a fun but hectic few weeks and I'm excited to find out what I'm going to be tackling next. I know many of my readers have strong feelings about power levels and what makes for a fun and healthy meta. I'll do my best to continue to dance around the power spectrum, occasionally edging towards fringe CEDH and just as often sharing mid power or even janky low powered goofball decks with you. I think there is joy to be found at all levels of competitiveness and I hope you continue to share this journey with me, even if a given column isn't quite your cup of tea.

Thanks for reading and I'll see you again soon!

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