Wheat Fields by Jacob Van Ruisdael (1670).
Giant Warrior by Svetlin Velinov.
I'm a firm believer that there is no such thing as a "good" or "bad" deck when you're looking at a Commander deck in a vacuum. Commander is a format where you are trying to build experiences as much as you might be trying to win games, and what passes for accurate analysis in a lot of other formats can fail utterly when you use the same lens to look at an EDH deck.
The reason for this odd quirk of my favorite format is that most players who aren't playing "cEDH" are looking for balanced games where no one player simply runs away with the victory. Some groups might want high powered matches and some groups might prefer long, drawn out slugfests with lots of creatures and very little removal. What matters more than anything else is that the players involved are having fun.
My weekly online Tabletop Simulator group has been playing every Thursday since the pandemic shut down our respective local game stores. Some of those stores are open again, but we've kept this group running anyways. It's been nice to have a way to play online and while the games aren't always balanced and fun, there's a general understanding that our goal is to have an enjoyable evening with decks of roughly the same power level. We've all had times where we grabbed a list that ran away with a game either by luck, by the nature of that night's matchup, or because it just might have been a bit much for that particular game.
For a recent nigh,t one of our players decided to pick a theme of "tiny leaders" EDH. We'd be building 100 card singleton decks, but would be restricted to cards of 3 CMC and under. We'd be using the Tiny Leaders banlist, but not strictly using the format's rules. I'd been working through building a bunch of decks for Kaldheim commanders and I decided to resist the lure of building an obviously broken 3 CMC commander. Najeela, The Blade-Blossom is banned in Tiny Leaders, but that's the sort of deck I first thought about building. My inner spike sometimes gets the better of me.
When I saw that nobody on the CSI team had written about Sigrid, God Favored for a column, I realized it would be a real challenge to build and win a game with her. Mono-White warriors isn't likely to be able to stand up to the kind of decks that my buddies might be building, but I do sometimes like a challenge so I decided to go for it.
Meet Sigrid, God-Favored
I was going to be building this list for a game in which my opponents would also be restricted to cards that are 3 CMC and under. That means some of Sigrid's best qualities might not be relevant, but let's take a look at what she brings to the party.
This Human Warrior is a 2/2 for three mana, has Flash, and when she enters the battlefield you can exile up to one target attacking or blocking creature until Sigrid leaves the battlefield. Sigrid is a cheaper, better version of Hixus, Prison Warden and having her in the Command Zone will incentivize me to keep three mana open. The only real drawback is that I was building for a game where my opponents might not actually present me with any singular threats that are big and scary enough to make me want to use Sigrid on them.
At first glance I didn't see a good reason to try to build a deck around Sigrid's Oblivion Ring ability. I am, however, a fan of tribal decks. My gut told me that humans are probably a much stronger choice if I wanted to go with one of Sigrid's creature types, but my heart was telling me to build a Warrior tribal deck. I'd never built Mono-White low CMC warriors before. It wouldn't be strict tribal - I'd have a handful of utility creatures - but the main thrust was going to be to play and swing with my warriors.
I might not be able to build around Najeela, but there are lots of pretty good Warriors available to me in Mono-White.
Herald of Dromoka gives my Warriors vigilance, making it much easier for me to dish out a little damage and still have my defenses up. In a game where I might well see a lot of decks go wide, Aven Sunstriker, Dauntless Aven, and Aven Skirmisher give me a way to swing over the top against an opponent without any reach or flying blockers. If I've got a Warrior in the graveyard when Resplendent Marshal enters the battlefield or dies, I can put a +1/+1 counter on each of my warriors as well, so this deck feels reasonably prepared to put up a fight.
I've got a little recursion in place in Devoted Crop-Mate. I can't run Sun Titan, but getting one of my guys back every other turn is better than nothing. While one plan for this deck is to flood the board with Warriors, I've also got the ability to load one warrior up with Blackblade Reforged, Strata Scythe, or even the Warrior-loving Obsidian Battle Axe. The deck has a smattering of double-strike, including Arashin Foremost, who can give another target Warrior I control double-strike. That could be a big deal if it's one of my flyers and I've got some equipment on it. I'm hoping if the game goes long enough, I might be able to keep mana open and put a decent amount of mana into Secure the Wastes, flooding the board with a bunch of 1/1 token Warriors.
I'm running anthem effects in the new Rally the Ranks, Radiant Destiny, and Icon of Ancestry to pump up my warriors. Adaptive Automaton is an Artifact Creature who can become a Warrior and then pump the rest of my Warriors by +1/+1. Sea-Gate Banneret might not provide a constant anthem affect, but I can push mana into it to give my team +1/+1 for each five mana I spend and it's a Warrior so it's on theme as well.
The Support Staff
Any army of Warriors needs its team of lackeys. These are the guys who help us ramp, shut down my opponents' interaction and provide an extra wincon if I'm able to pull into just the right ones.
I'm running Knight of the White Orchid alongside Burnished Hart, Skittering Surveyor, and Pilgrim's Eye as ways to try to keep hitting my land drops. It's notable that staying under four CMC rules out staples like Solemn Simulacrum. Mikaeus, the Lunarch might not be a Warrior, but if I can keep him around for long enough I ought to be able to push out +1/+1 counters to my entire army. Mentor of the Meek is a soldier, and while I was tempted to run a few more soldiers I only ended up running this classic card draw enabler.
For some reason I had it in my head that it would be nice to be able to prevent anyone from fogging my attacks. Grand Abolisher is a classic combo protector, but if I'm stuck in a lower powered game and I've got an opponent who wants to cast a fog, Grand Abolisher will gladly shut that kind of nonsense down. As I was gathering my low CMC White Warriors I stumbled across Heliod, Sun-Crowned and realized that not only would I likely have a decent devotion to White as I play this deck, I'd also have access to the 0 CMC combo piece Walking Ballista.
I was thinking the game would be a lower powered affair for some reason, but I like having a combo out available in a game. It can be nice to be able to end a game that has ground to a halt and stayed there for a really long time, and it's also nice to have a possible way to win even if you've been pushed to the edge of elimination.
Low CMC White Goodstuff
While part of me wanted to load up on Warriors, Warriors and more Warriors, I'm no longer quite as willing to trot out a deck without enough ways to interact with the board. I'd pretty much given up on the stack. Running one off-color counterspell is tantamount to running none, but I still did my best to set this deck up with a responsible amount of removal.
I am running Lapse of Certainty because one counterspell might be about as useful as none, but there will probably be a game where Lapse saves the table or at the very least saves me. I'm also running a few White Fog effects in Holy Day and Ethereal Haze. Invoke the Divine, Fate Forgotten, Forsake the Worldly and Revoke Existence will give me the ability to remove key artifacts and enchantments.
I might not be running boardwipes in this list, as they generally cost more than three CMC, but I am running Make a Stand and Rootborn Defenses. There will be times where making my creatures indestructible will make a huge difference, and the +1/+0 from Make a Stand gives it added versatility.
How It Played Out
We wound up playing two games but the first was a three-player affair that was cut short when our fourth joined the server. That first game was a bit eye-opening for me. A player on Lurrus of the Dream-Den whipped out a fairly early Opposition Agent and I realized I was the only player who had built for a lower power level. Not having played any Tiny Leaders, my impression that we were going to be playing a more casual game couldn't have been further from the reality of the situation. The Yasova player got out pretty far ahead, stealing whatever he wanted and generally being a headache until we conceded because our fourth player had joined.
The second game had me facing off against the Yasova Dragonclaw player again. The Lurrus player realized not everyone wanted to be playing against hatebears all night long, and he had been more than a bit frustrated when he was cut off from his graveyard so he switched to an Isamaru, Hound of Kondo 1-drop tribal deck. The third player was on one of those horrid The Walking Dead cards, Glenn, the Voice of Calm. While I might not hate those non-Magic lore Secret Lair cards with the heat of a thousand suns, I do hate them with the hate of a handful of suns. I really like the guy who built and was playing the deck, though, so I decided not to just send everything at him for the whole game - at least not this time.
The Yasova player dropped an early Curse of Opulence on the Glenn player, who had a pretty slow early game. We decided to start at 25 life, and the Glenn player was soon sweating a bit and openly wondering why he hadn't just gone straight to bed. He's stuck having to get up at 3am every workday, so evenings are harder for him than any of the rest of us.
I was able to get a few creatures out, including a fairly early Steward of Solidarity and a Knight of the White Orchid, but wasn't exactly keeping up with my opponents ramp or boardstates. I got at least three Warrior creature tokens off of Steward's exert ability and used them with Paired Tactician to pump that creature up.
The Yasova player noticed that I was playing a lot of stuff that helped Warriors. Yasova Dragonclaw happens to be a warrior, so he spent much of the game borrowing my stuff. He generally let me have it back, which was nice, and he probably put half of the six +1/+1 counters that I had on my Paired Tactician.
The Isamaru player was eliminated from the game not by the clever play of his tablemates, but by the vagaries of online play. His wifi connection failed and was being so wonky that he eventually had us move on without him rather than wait for him to get his connectivity issues resolved. I always play while connected by an ethernet cable and I'd urge you to do so too. Wifi is fine but nothing beats a hard line - especially for gaming.
If I was on the worst deck at the table in the first game, I might have been out-casualed by the 1-drop tribal deck until he dropped out of the game. I was now faced with a bit of a mountain to climb. The Glenn deck had been pushing out voltron stuff and had been pushing out cards that felt like they belonged in a cEDH game or at least a high-powered game. Yasova was playing well too, and I was just hoping to draw into soldiers and play out enough creatures to swing for a bit of damage.
The Glenn player at one point had his commander up around 18 power and Yasova and I had to collaborate to try to find a way to stop him. With a Sword of War and Peace attached, I had no answers and couldn't even cast Sigrid, God Favored to try to save myself if he sent Glenn my way. Fortunately, we were able to weather some mid-game scares where it looked like the Glenn deck was going to just wreck us. He managed to draw a ton of cards, though, and played out a Thought Vessel so he kept a full hand that looked to have answers for days.
Sometimes when you're faced with two players who clearly seem to have the upper hand, it can be hard to figure out which one to swing at, or whether to swing at all. I had spent much of the mid game underestimating the Glenn deck, assuming it was at least a mid-power build if not an actual casual build like my own deck. As he played out powerful staple after powerful staple it became clear the game wasn't a balanced one and I should have chipped in more early damage when I had the chance.
I also had no idea how I'd deal with the Yasova player if we were able to take down the Glenn player, so after a turn where Yasova stole one of my creatures and then swung it back at me, I decided I was tired of having them steal my stuff nearly every turn.
I had a modest board at the time, but four creatures was enough. With the help of four Gold tokens I was able to swing my team and pump them all up by +2/+2 with two activations of Sea Gate Banneret. He had forgotten that one of his creatures couldn't block thanks to a Gelid Shackles I had put on it, and with my biggest attacker blocked I was able to kill him with exactly lethal damage. I might hate the Walking Dead cards but I also hate having my stuff stolen, so Yasova's act was wearing a bit thin at that point.
The end game wasn't as quick as I feared it might be. I was able to play out Sigrid twice to exile an incoming Glenn, but an overloaded Cyclonic Rift was enough to set me back so far that I wasn't able to overcome what his deck had to offer. I hadn't expected an Opposition Agent in our first game, but once I had seen some of the high-powered cards the Glenn player was throwing around, I basically expected to get rifted at some point that night.
After the game I asked to look at his list and was somewhat stunned to find out that it weighed in at just over $2000. My list was something like a sixth of that budget, confirming my feeling that I was in a David versus Goliath matchup. It's worth noting that budget does not dictate results, and my downfall was probably my decision to not pile on extra damage in the early game when I could have been hammering away at the Glenn player with few repercussions.
His sentiment that he felt like maybe he should have just gone straight to bed had worked on me. Lots of players will mutter stuff like that when they're having a rough early game. The purpose of sharing that kind of thought is as much to share one's feelings as it is to buy a little sympathy and maybe get enough breathing room to be able to pull into the cards you need to actually advance a game plan. A slow early game can be frustrating, and I'm also one to occasionally (or even often) share my feelings when it seems like nothing is going right.
I clearly made a mistake in thinking "tiny leaders" was code for a low cmc, low powered game, and I also clearly erred in my decision to treat the Glenn deck like it was just another deck. If I had known what I was faced up against I might have just piled on the damage, if for no other reason than that I slightly resent when there's a gross imbalance in the dollar value of the decks at a table. Going forward we might have to talk about that ahead of games. Budget does not dictate results, but we've had a lot of imbalance in our games over the past year and sharing that information ahead of time might make sense for us.
If you're on a budget I think this is a pretty decent starting point for building a Sigrid, God-Favored deck. Why you'd want to build a Sigrid deck in the first place is a question in and of itself, but people build all kinds of decks for all kinds of reasons. Sigrid is definitely an upgrade to Hixus, Prison Warden, and if you're just a huge fan of Oblivion Ring effects it can be nice to have one in the command zone. It's also nice to fly under the radar, so if you're looking to build some Mono-White deck that isn't going to be seen as a huge threat at the start of the game, Sigrid might be a nice way to go. Folks will forget she's in the command zone and you'll likely be able to use her to solve a "problem" on the field every now and then.
Sigrid, God-Favored | Commander | Stephen Johnson
- Commander (1)
- 1 Sigrid, God-Favored
- Creatures (31)
- 1 Adaptive Automaton
- 1 Arashin Foremost
- 1 Aurora Champion
- 1 Aven Skirmisher
- 1 Aven Sunstriker
- 1 Battershield Warrior
- 1 Burnished Hart
- 1 Dauntless Aven
- 1 Daxos, Blessed by the Sun
- 1 Devoted Crop-Mate
- 1 Goldmaw Champion
- 1 Grand Abolisher
- 1 Heliod, Sun-Crowned
- 1 Herald of Dromoka
- 1 Hero of Bretagard
- 1 Knight of the White Orchid
- 1 Kor Blademaster
- 1 Mardu Hordechief
- 1 Mardu Woe-Reaper
- 1 Mentor of the Meek
- 1 Mesa Enchantress
- 1 Mikaeus, the Lunarch
- 1 Paired Tactician
- 1 Pilgrim's Eye
- 1 Resplendent Marshal
- 1 Sandsteppe Outcast
- 1 Sea Gate Banneret
- 1 Skittering Surveyor
- 1 Steward of Solidarity
- 1 Usher of the Fallen
- 1 Walking Ballista
- Instants (12)
- 1 Enlightened Tutor
- 1 Ethereal Haze
- 1 Fate Forgotten
- 1 Forsake the Worldly
- 1 Holy Day
- 1 Invoke the Divine
- 1 Lapse of Certainty
- 1 Make a Stand
- 1 Path to Exile
- 1 Rootborn Defenses
- 1 Secure the Wastes
- 1 Swords to Plowshares
- Enchantments (11)
- 1 Arrest
- 1 Bound in Gold
- 1 Demotion
- 1 Detainment Spell
- 1 Gelid Shackles
- 1 Ghostly Prison
- 1 Land Tax
- 1 Radiant Destiny
- 1 Rally the Ranks
- 1 Trapped in the Tower
- 1 Vow of Duty
- Artifacts (10)
- 1 Blackblade Reforged
- 1 Extraplanar Lens
- 1 Icon of Ancestry
- 1 Marble Diamond
- 1 Obsidian Battle-Axe
- 1 Pearl Medallion
- 1 Staff of the Sun Magus
- 1 Strata Scythe
- 1 Sword of the Animist
- 1 Worn Powerstone
In this deck's two games I never really pulled into any of the tutors or any of the more powerful cards in this list. I played a Holy Day and threw around a bit of removal, but my Warrior tribal build wasn't able to mount enough of an attack to seriously threaten a win. It's worth remembering that most normal Commander decks aren't restricted to 3 CMC or less. For regular play you'll want to swap in Sun Titan, Solemn Simulacrum, a bunch of boardwipes and all of those higher CMC spells that I left out in my Tiny Leaders version of Sigrid.
The majority of my columns are explorations of decks and strategies, but every now and then I get to shift into storytelling mode. This might not have been the best story ever, and I certainly wish I had been able to add a final twist at the end that saved me from getting killed by one of those terrible Walking Dead cards, but sometimes that's how the game plays out.
The reality is that I probably should just play aggressively against anyone playing a TWD deck because it will absolutely stick in my craw if I'm killed by one of them. Choosing to play a "good" deck if I see one of those non-Magic lore commanders at a table would be a way to send a message but also a way to make sure I'm at least putting my best foot forward in those games. I still maintain they should never have been printed without a Magic lore version, as Wizards did with the Godzilla cards earlier the same year. Commander would be better without them.
I got my but whooped by a TWD card, in a match where the deck budgets and my own misconception about Tiny Leaders set me up to be at a huge disadvantage. These things happen, and I've been on the winning side of a few imbalanced games myself. I generally do like to let a new deck with a "kill on sight" commander have a bit of a free pass in my first game against it, and I don't really regret doing so in this game. Hopefully he had fun, and if I see that deck again I'll know to pull out something comparable.
That's all I've got for today. Thanks for reading and I'll see you back here soon!