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A Tale of Two Hamzas


Cherubs from the Sistine Madonna by Raphael Sanzio (1512). Hover Myr by Dan Scott.

One of the many legendary creatures that was released last Fall in Commander Legends that caught my eye was one that I never managed to build a deck around. I didn't initially see it as viable for high-powered EDH, I was already up to my earlobes in partner pairings and other interesting legendary creatures, and it just found its way into a binder. Here at CoolStuffInc we're trying to backtrack a little and cover some of the legendary creatures from Commander Legends, so I'm very happy to be able to turn my attention to the one and only Hamza, Guardian of Arashin.

Hamza, Guardian of Arashin

This 5/5 Elephant Warrior is of the Loxodon variety. By that, I mean he's wearing armor and walking around like a person, rather than lumbering around on all four legs like a regular old Elephant. He doesn't have trample or any other form of evasion, but he does care about +1/+1 counters, both reducing his own cost and the cost of your other creatures.

My interest in Hamza probably comes from watching Disney's Fantasia as a child. I loved the Dance of the Hours sequence and in Magic I've always found both Loxodon (humanoid Elephants) and Rhox (humanoid Rhinos) to be compelling creatures from an artistic perspective. They're just cool and appeal to my inner child in a way that's hard to explain.

So how should I approach building a Hamza, Guardian of Arashin deck?

For today's column I'm going to explore two options. I really want to see what I can cobble together around a core made up of every Loxodon in Magic. Loxodon Tribal isn't a thing, and it probably shouldn't be a thing, but I want to throw it together anyways and see how it looks. Hamza also has an ability that might not seem that powerful at first glance, but which is at the core an historically powerful combo deck: Animar, Soul of Elements. Animar might be more easy to combo with, but both Animar and Hamza will reduce the cost of your creatures and I'm now convinced there's a powerful Hamza build waiting to be explored.

Common Ground

Both decks are going to run a few Selesnya staples, but beyond my usual ramp package and removal spells, I'm also going to want to play some very Hamza-specific cards.

The Great Henge
Cathars' Crusade

I don't run Fertilid in every deck, but in a deck that very much cares about +1/+1 counters it seems like a no-brainer. If there's a staple that has a variant that will put a +1/+1 counter on a creature, I'll at least be thinking about running it. The Great Henge is not only great, it also puts +1/+1 counters on my creatures. I'm already regretting not ordering a dozen back when it was under $15. Cathars' Crusade will go a long way toward pumping up my team and making sure I've got a +1/+1 counter on all of my guys. With a wide board, one creature can hit the table and my stuff will all be way, way cheaper.

March of the Loxodon

When you build with the intention of playing a full complement of Loxodon, you end up including some cards that wouldn't have made the cut if you weren't building such a theme-heavy deck. There simply aren't enough Loxodon to allow us to run two dozen high-quality creatures, even with the inclusion of Terastodon. I could see just building a better Elephant theme deck and then doing Loxodon alters on top of any Elephants that are good enough to run but which are clearly not humanoid. Fortunately, there are some good cards in that tribe that we can run.

Loxodon Gatekeeper
Loxodon Lifechanter
Spelltithe Enforcer

To be sure, there are lots of underwhelming Loxodon, but there are some decent ones mixed in. They've all got pretty decent bodies and you can apply a little pressure with the right combination. This isn't a stax list, to be sure, but a few of these guys should slow down your opponents.

This is a mix of Loxodon, staples and cards that should help put counters onto your creatures. You can't simply go all in on elephants and run no removal or no card draw even in a deck that is pointedly casual.

Venerated Loxodon
Gavony Township
Collective Effort

Venerated Loxodon is a bit of a surprise here with how well it helps Hamza's game plan. Tap a bunch of creatures to help pay for his casting cost, they get counters, and now all your other creatures will be that much cheaper to cast. Games where he gets out early should see a decent flow of creatures onto your battlefield. Other effects that spam out +1/+1 counters will help as well. Gavony Township, Collective Effort and others will hopefully set you up where you'll be struggling to draw enough cards to be able to keep building your army.

I think this could be a lot of fun to play, but it clearly has a game plan of just swinging for the win. You're not going to combo off, and this might even be at around a precon level in strength. It might be better than that, but if you look more closely at some of those Loxodon you'll see why I'm underplaying the power of this build.

Modular Hamza

I love the idea of a Loxodon tribal build but I also have to wonder what kind of craziness I might be able to get up to if I were to throw both theme and caution to the wind and try to load up on cards that will take advantage of Hamza's cost reduction ability.

When building around normal creatures, you must jump through hoops to be able to put enough counters on enough creatures to really see a lot of benefit from Hamza's cost reduction ability. What if we ran only creatures whose cost could be reduced to zero and which entered the battlefield with +1/+1 counters on them? That means no Hydras, but also no Eldrazi. This next deck is stuffed to the gills with Arcbound creatures!

Arcbound Ravager
Mindless Automaton
Thopter Squadron

I'm running the full range of creatures with the modular keyword along with five Clockwork artifact creatures and a handful of other +1/+1 counter loving creatures. Thopter Squadron will enter with three +1/+1 counters and I can pump out 1/1 Thopter tokens if I need flying blockers. With Cathars' Crusade on the field I'll be able to build a pretty scary army, as that enchantment will put counters on all my creatures when a creature enters the battlefield under my control.

The key to this build is to get out enough creatures that will let me draw cards to allow me to continually draw into creatures that I can play for free because of Hamza's cost reduction. While that seems like magical Christmasland, in my second play-test I was able to draw well over half my deck and load up the battlefield quite nicely. After that goldfish I added in Reliquary Tower, Thought Vessel, Spellbook and Aetherflux Reservoir.

Aetherflux Reservoir
Gleam of Authority
Glimpse of Nature

This deck could realistically work up to a turn where the life gained off of Aetherflux Reservoir could win you the game or at least set you up to be able to kill one opponent if you absolutely had to. With Gleam of Authority attached to my commander, it could easily become a lethal threat and with the card draw I'll be generating I'll have a reasonable chance of pulling into my Rogue's Passage. If my other card draw permanents aren't showing up but I think I can launch into a big turn, Glimpse of Nature will give me an extra card for each creature I play.

It goes without saying that you're going to be sweating any time you're up against a Red deck and you find yourself wondering whether or not they're packing a Vandalblast. Boardwipes will set you back for sure, but an overloaded Vandalblast will ruin your plans if you don't have Heroic Intervention or Unbreakable Formation at the ready.

Fringe cEDH Tune Up

Any commander with a party trick as powerful as Hamza's has room to be tuned up, and this deck can absolutely move up into fringe cEDH territory. The trick is to get a card draw enabler on the field, enough cost reducers that you can play a 4-drop for free, and then you draw your deck. You don't do this with an army of Arcbound creatures.

Eladamri's Call
Ancestral Statue

The play would look something like this. Play Silence or Grand Abolisher, or attach Conqueror's Flail to your commander, or even play Dragonlord Dromoka. All of these will lock your opponents out of your turn. Then you play a tutor. Eladamri's Call will do. You tutor up Ancestral Statue, play it for free and then bounce it to your hand with its requirement that you return a permanent you control to your hand.

Building in this direction leads to other cards that make sense when you're aiming for a higher-powered deck. You'll want more instant-speed removal. You don't need the critical mass of Modular. You're not aiming to win with card draw and hitting creatures because you're aiming for one creature: Ancestral Statue. Your mana curve needs to be much, much lower even taking into account that you're building around a commander that's all about cost reduction.

Final Thoughts

While I didn't build a Hamza deck when I first opened one up in a booster pack, I've long had a page in one of my binders devoted to Arcbound creatures. I don't know why but the idea of building around all those silly modular creatures has long been on my mind. I think I've finally got the excuse I needed to build that deck. I'm sure it won't always be quite as explosive as my play-testing made it feel, but it's nice to play a deck that you know has the capacity to do ridiculous things even if it doesn't always do them.

The decklists I shared with you today aren't built for quick games. You have to build up a critical mass of creatures with +1/+1 counters on them and you also have to get out enough card draw enablers to really see things get crazy. When they do, it feels fantastic. You'll be playing a free artifact creature, drawing two or three cards, playing another, and so on. I suspect you could draw yourself out if you're not careful. Given how many creatures Hamza can help you play, you might well include a few combat enablers like Beastmaster Ascension or Triumph of the Hordes to help you finish games.

If you've built Hamza and can tell me about cards I missed out on, please comment below. I am sure there are improvements and tech that I didn't include and I'd love to hear your thoughts on either my silly Loxodon deck or my Modular Hamza build.

That's all I've got for today. I'm going to take a look at Colfenor, the Last Yew next as we make our way through some of the legendary creatures from Commander Legends that didn't get covered last Fall. Thanks for reading and I'll see you back here soon!

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