Today's column is going to be a look at the third incarnation of Ezuri in Magic: the Gathering. Ezuri, Renegade Leader is an Elf Warrior who serves as a wincon in any elf deck that can generate insane amounts of Green mana. Ezuri, Claw of Progress showed up in Commander 2015 as a Phyrexian Elf Warrior with an experience counter ability and a fondness for taking extra turns with Sage of Hours. This third incarnation of Ezuri has a pretty sweet card draw ability that happens when we proliferate.
Three mana to draw two cards is pretty good, though there's no guarantee I'll have that mana available when I cast him. While I might be tempted to lean into an infect / toxic gameplan with a commander who wants me to proliferate, I generally lean away from playing with poison counters. Poison is a better strategy than it's ever been, but it also puts a target on your back in a way I like to avoid. I'll gladly proliferate poison counters on my opponents, but I don't expect to be handing them out.
I might also be tempted to run a planeswalkers build but I looked through the Blue/Green planeswalkers and didn't see anything that jumped out at me. I've never been a big fan of superfriends decks though I might be sleeping on a great build by walking away from including walkers in Ezuri.
Ezuri, Stalker of Spheres will draw me a card every time I proliferate, so it's worth reviewing how exactly proliferate works.
When you proliferate you choose any number of permanents or players, but you cannot choose cards in exile, in the graveyard or in the command zone. You then give each of the chosen permanent and/or players one additional counter of each type of counter they already have. That means you can proliferate multiple types of counters on a single permanent. You can also proliferate a permanent or player with hexproof or shroud, as the mechanic does not target.
Lastly, and most importantly, it means that you can proliferate even if no permanent or player has any counters. The words "any number of players or permanents" mean you can choose zero. That means you can proliferate with no benefit in terms of counters and Ezuri will still have you draw a card!
This deck very much wants to proliferate as much as possible to draw cards. There are lots of cards in Blue and Green that can help with that plan. I'm running a handful of instants and sorceries with proliferate triggers tacked onto them, but I've got a few cards that should get a lot of work done.
Inexorable Tide costs a hefty five mana, two of which must be Blue, but it's worth the cost. With this enchantment on the battlefield, whenever I cast a spell I get to proliferate. Evolution Sage will let me proliferate whenever a land enters the battlefield under my control. Flux Channeler is a Blue Human Wizard who will give me a proliferate trigger every time I cast a noncreature spell. I'm also running a handful of flicker spells, which can be helpful on a bunch of my creatures but which can also give me another chance to pay 3 mana to proliferate twice if I flicker Ezuri.
Ghostly Flicker, Displace, Illusionist's Stratagem and Teferi's Time Twist can all let me flicker Ezuri, Stalker of Spheres. I don't love having to play 3 extra mana to proliferate twice, but in the mid to late game if I've got the mana those extra cards may be worth it. I'm running Thassa, Deep-Dwelling, which will give me another flicker on my end step. Displacer Kitten will let me flicker a nonland permanent whenever I cast a noncreature spell. This deck has a lot of creatures in the 99, but Kitten is still worth trying out.
Playing a deck like this leaves you swimming in a sea of choices for what you might want to be proliferating. This first draft should probably be running Sage of Hours, which lets you remove counters to take extra turns, but I didn't think of it in time for its first game. I'll get to that game in a bit, but I am running some decent creatures to proliferate.
Gyre Sage taps for Green mana equal to the number of +1/+1 counters it has. It starts with zero, but has evolve, which means it will get a +1/+1 counter whenever a larger power or toughness enters the battlefield under my control. That might not seem like much, but combined with proliferate triggers this mana dork can get big and make big mana pretty quickly.
Crystalline Crawler is an odd little construct. It has the converge ability, so it will enter the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter for each color of mana spent to cast it. I can remove a +1/+1 counter from Crystalline Crawler to add a mana of any color to my mana pool. I don't know for sure how good this will be, but I'm optimistic that it will work really nicely to turn my proliferate triggers into a source of mana so I can more easily pump out big creatures like Avenger and Craterhoof.
Ramp and removal are both incredibly important parts of any commander deck. Fertilid gives me ramp. It's a Green Elemental who enters the battlefield with two +1/+1 counters and will let me pay two mana and remove a counter to tutor up a land. The land enters tapped, but if I've got Evolution Sage on the field that landfall will give me another proliferate trigger and I'll be able to replace that +1/+1 counter. Steelbane Hydra provides a bit of removal. It's a Turtle Hydra with +1/+1 counters and I can pay three mana and remove one to destroy target artifact or enchantment.
Drawing Into a Win
This deck is hoping to draw a lot of cards. Armorcraft Judge will draw me a card for each creature I control with a +1/+1 counter on it. Fathom Mage will have me draw a card whenever a +1/+1 counter is put on it. Pir, Imaginative Rascal and Toothy, Imaginary Friend are both in the list. Pir will give me extra counters and Toothy will draw me lots of cards, especially if I'm able to flicker him. I've got a few other card draw spells like Tezzeret's Gambit, but most of my card draw is likely to come from my commander when I proliferate.
I've got a few ways to draw cards and a few ways to put +1/+1 counters on my creatures, but I'm guessing this list will win games through some tried and true staples in Blue and Green.
This deck has some familiar faces in Avenger of Zendikar and Craterhoof Behemoth. Avenger works nicely with proliferate thanks to landfall putting +1/+1 counters on my plant tokens. Craterhoof fits into any deck in Green, but is especially powerful in a deck that has a bunch of flicker spells.
I'm also running the Deadeye Navigator combo suite, which means the aforementioned salty old Blue staple will soulbond with Peregrine Drake, Great Whale or Palinchron. You'll get to pay 2 mana to flicker any of those three creatures to untap five or seven lands - more than enough to create infinite mana and infinite ETBs. When you've got your mana, you simply flicker Deadeye, soulbond him with Ezuri and you can draw your entire deck and proliferate as you go to make any of your creatures with +1/+1 counters big enough to kill your opponents.
Concordant Crossroads is in the mix as a way to swing with your team on the turn you "go off", but if you've got your deck in your hand you could be winning in all sorts of ways. I didn't include Jace, Wielder of Mysteries, Laboratory Maniac or Thassa's Oracle, but with Ezuri and the Deadeye combo it's a reasonable option to win the game in this build if you plan on playing at high powered tables.
If those potential wincons aren't enough, I also included Simic Ascendancy, which should be easy to get up to twenty growth counties. Winning off of that card might get boring, but I expect the deck will usually just win or lose in combat.
Ezuri of Spheres | Commander | Stephen Johnson
- Commander (1)
- 1 Ezuri, Stalker of Spheres
- Creatures (34)
- 1 Armorcraft Judge
- 1 Avenger of Zendikar
- 1 Cankerbloom
- 1 Chasm Skulker
- 1 Craterhoof Behemoth
- 1 Crystalline Crawler
- 1 Deadeye Navigator
- 1 Displacer Kitten
- 1 Evolution Sage
- 1 Fathom Mage
- 1 Fertilid
- 1 Flux Channeler
- 1 Forgotten Ancient
- 1 Fyndhorn Elves
- 1 Great Whale
- 1 Guildpact Informant
- 1 Gyre Sage
- 1 Herald of Secret Streams
- 1 Llanowar Elves
- 1 Loyal Guardian
- 1 Maraleaf Pixie
- 1 Master Biomancer
- 1 Palinchron
- 1 Peregrine Drake
- 1 Pir, Imaginative Rascal
- 1 Prime Speaker Zegana
- 1 Quandrix Cultivator
- 1 Rashmi, Eternities Crafter
- 1 Steelbane Hydra
- 1 Tekuthal, Inquiry Dominus
- 1 Thassa, Deep-Dwelling
- 1 Thrummingbird
- 1 Toothy, Imaginary Friend
- 1 Yisan, the Wanderer Bard
- Instants (13)
- 1 Arcane Denial
- 1 Beast Within
- 1 Displace
- 1 Experimental Augury
- 1 Ghostly Flicker
- 1 Illusionist's Stratagem
- 1 Inspiring Call
- 1 Pongify
- 1 Rapid Hybridization
- 1 Return to Nature
- 1 Swan Song
- 1 Teferi's Time Twist
- 1 Wild Onslaught
- Sorceries (7)
- 1 Carnivorous Canopy
- 1 Cultivate
- 1 Kodama's Reach
- 1 Rampant Growth
- 1 Tezzeret's Gambit
- 1 Titania's Boon
- 1 Unnatural Restoration
- Enchantments (6)
- 1 Concordant Crossroads
- 1 Inexorable Tide
- 1 Kenrith's Transformation
- 1 Lignify
- 1 Mesmerizing Dose
- 1 Simic Ascendancy
- Artifacts (3)
- 1 Arcane Signet
- 1 Simic Signet
- 1 Sol Ring
This deck should be able to play a pretty strong game through having a focus on using your proliferate triggers to keep a steady stream of cards flowing into your hand. The one thing you'll want to consistently focus on is prioritizing those proliferate triggers. Even if you don't have anything to proliferate, Ezuri will be putting cards into your hand, so you'll be able to keep hitting your land drops, playing creatures and drawing into the interaction you need to have a shot at eventually winning.
The only major oversights in this first draft that I'm seeing are Sage of Hours and Ezuri's Predation. The former can work really well to either draw removal out of your opponents' hands or give you the occasional extra turn. The latter... well, it's got Ezuri right in its name! How can I not run Ezuri's Predation? I should probably be running Cyclonic Rift to be perfectly honest, but if I were to be responsible and throw in a boardwipe it would be the one with my commander right in the card name.
If you wanted to tune this deck up, you might run more tutors and a few of those "Lab Man" wincons. More stack interaction would be good, but I'm unsure this commander could get beyond fringe cEDH in power level. Card draw is powerful, but most cEDH commanders bring more to the table than Ezuri, Stalker of Spheres.
I suspect you could pivot to a toxic/infect deck and not really push the power level up that much. Poison counters can be fun to play with, but they're still just another aggro strategy. Combo decks will still have an advantage over poison counter strategies. You might win the occasional game, but I'll usually bet on the combo player to find a way to win.
To tune this deck down, you'd likely want to drop out the combos. You might toss in a few Planeswalkers, add a bunch of Hydras, or play some other cards that have or care about counters. Planeswalkers can be tough to deal with when there are too many of them, but I think a handful could make the deck more interesting, a little less powerful, and every bit as fun. Just drop out the combos and maybe even Craterhoof Behemoth and you should be ready for low to mid powered play. Adjust your list as you play the deck if it's overperforming and your group isn't enjoying it.
I was able to get a game in with this list in my Thursday night Tabletop Simulator group. It was a four-player game with a range of mid-to-high powered decks.
I was able to get out an early Gyre Sage and Evolution Sage and held Ezuri, Stalker of Spheres back until I had enough mana to be able to cast him and pay the extra 3 to proliferate twice and draw two cards.
Another player on an Esika, God of the Tree "legendary tribal" deck with an experience counter theme was having as good of an early game as I was, and had a pretty scary boardstate. I've whistled my way past plenty of graveyards and regretted it afterwards, so when I drew into Craterhoof Behemoth I decided to see if I could start clearing the table. The Esika player had a Jodah, the Unifier on the board along with a Bloom Tender and Ezuri, Claw of Progress, and he really had me nervous.
I started the key turn by killing Jodah with a Rapid Hybridization. I then played out a Steelbane Hydra for two Green mana because it would get counters from my Master Biomancer, and followed it with my Craterhoof and my Concordant Crossroads. I swung out with everything, and even though my creatures only got +6/+6, it was enough to get the job done.
One opponent was out, but I was left wide open.
A tablemate on a lands matter deck had nearly nothing but lands on the field and the other remaining tablemate was able to swing out at me and get my life total all the way down to 12. On my turn he had no blockers and I was able to count up my power on board. I had 39 power and he was at 40 life. I had Titania's Boon in hand, and was able to play it to put a +1/+1 counter on each of my creatures to knock him out.
Again, I was wide open, but had only one opponent left and he had no creatures.
I still should have died to my buddy's boardstate. He was playing man-lands and swung at me with everything he had - which was three "creature-lands," one of which had hexproof and was an 8/12 thanks to Genju of the Realm. Man-lands are lands with the ability to be turned into a creature. They're a great way to dish out damage after a boardwipe and they're the central theme of his (rule zero) deck.
Fortunately I had a Pongify in hand, used it to destroy the 3-power threat and took 10 damage to the face, leaving me at 2 life.
I was able to clear the table and win on my next turn, but it was quite the series of close calls.
I abandoned all subtlety and just made my creatures huge and swung until either they or I ended up dead. This time around I emerged victorious but I was very, very lucky to have drawn into both of those 1 mana removal spells.
Run interaction, folks - it can mean the difference between life and death. While you won't always have it in hand when you need it - you have zero chance of interacting with lethal threats or problematic blockers and permanents if it isn't even in your deck.
If I were in the market for a combat-oriented Simic deck with a few tricks up its sleeve and the ability to occasionally combo off, I think Ezuri, Stalker of Spheres would be a great choice for my commander. I expect you could make a successful Simic Hydra tribal deck, Superfriends (planewalkers) deck, or a nasty little infect deck with him in the command zone quite easily.
It's worth mentioning that while I may have resisted making any off-color jokes about how Ezuri is... stalking... your... spheres... you should absolutely make as many "balls" jokes as possible when you play this commander. He's just begging for the kind of table banter that would make your more straight-laced opponents blush. Whether that's a feature or a bug is up to you, but I always love commanders whose names encourage the making of bad jokes.
All kidding aside, this was a pretty fun deck to build and a fun one to pilot. I managed to get very lucky and win its first game without even hitting a combo. If you don't like playing cards like Craterhoof Behemoth or combos involving Deadeye Navigator, it could be adjusted and would still be a fun deck, though it would be a little lower in power.
That's all I've got for today. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!