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Partners: Alena and Halana

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Fishing Boats by moonlight by Aelbert Cuyp (1650).

Hellkite Charger by Jaime Jones.

Last August, when Gavin Verhey posted "A Sneak Peek at Commander Legends on Wizards of the Coast's flagship website, our first introduction to the fact that they were bringing back the Partner keyword was the introduction of these two legendary creatures.

Halana, Kessig Ranger
Alena, Kessig Trapper

Gavin went out of his way to write the following:

"We took some notes out of the "partner with" playbook and made some flavorful combinations that work great together."

Their artwork feels like it was done as a matched set, and both pieces are by the same artist, Zoltan Boros. I had a suspicion that these two would have good synergy, and looking back at Gavin's post I'm starting to think that Halana and Alena were originally conceived as legendary creatures that would partner only with each other.

If my suspicion is true, and at some point in time these two cards had been planned to not just be partners but to be partners with only each other, that would mean these two should combine to make a pretty good deck. I'm not seeing a high powered or cEDH deck but let's see how much value we can squeeze out of Alena and Halana.

Alena, Kessig Trapper

Let's take a look at each of these partners in turn. Alena gives us access to Red and a reason to want a steady stream of high powered creatures. Alena will tap to make mana equal to the greatest power among creatures I control that entered the battlefield this turn. That means I want some ways to put high powered creatures onto the field repeatedly so I can convert that into mana.

Rite of the Raging Storm
Phytotitan
Zektar Shrine Expedition

Rite of the Raging Storm will guarantee me at least a 5/1 token Elemental on each of my turns, allowing Alena to tap for at least five mana. I very much prefer repeatable effects, so Phytotitan should also fit in nicely. It's a 7/2 Plant Elemental that will come back at the beginning of my next upkeep if it dies. I can sacrifice Phytotitan to Ashnod's Altar for 2 mana and I can be getting a whopping 9 extra mana each turn.

Repeatable effects are incredibly important in Commander, but when the right single-use effect comes along it's worth looking at. Zektar Shrine Expedition is one of those paperweight permanents that does nothing for a while and is a terrible late game draw. It's also a card I can put out early, let it gain quest counters as the game plays out, and when I've got Alana on the field and need a bit of ramp I can sacrifice it, get that 7/1 Elemental creature token and then tap Alana for seven mana. Is it unplayable? Maybe in high powered decks, but I think it's worth giving a try in this list.

Force of Savagery
Spitebellows
Malignus

The way I'm looking at these ramp enablers is by comparing the mana cost I'm paying versus the mana I'll get back when I tap Alena, Kessig Trapper. Force of Savagery is a 8/0 Elemental which costs 2g. With a zero toughness it will die if I don't have an anthem effect on the battlefield, but I'll be able to tap Alena for eight mana. That's a five mana profit!

Creatures with the evoke keyword commonly have a much lower evoke cost than their normal casting cost. If I cast them for that evoke cost they have to be sacrificed, but they always have some benefit. Spitebellows is a 6/1 Elemental and when it leaves the battlefield I can have it deal 6 damage to target creature. With an evoke cost of three mana, the idea is that I'll be up three mana because I'll be able to tap Alena later in my turn for at least six.

I'm running a few other evoke creatures. Cloudthresher is a 7/7 Elemental that will do 2 damage to each creature with flying and each player. It's got an evoke cost of 2gg, so it'll put me up three mana. Ingot Chewer is a 3/3 Elemental that will destroy target artifact when it enters the battlefield. With an evoke cost of r, I'll be up two mana.

If all of that seems underwhelming, let me introduce you to Malignus. This Elemental Spirit has a power and toughness equal to the half the highest life total among my opponents, rounded up. At five mana, there's a decent chance I'll be able to tap Alena and see a 10 mana profit, if not more.

At this point I might seriously consider building this as an Elemental tribal deck. Let's see if a closer look at Halana changes my mind.

Halana, Kessig Ranger

Alena's partner, in both work and life according to the lore, is a Human Archer with reach who will let me pay two mana to have a creature that entered the battlefield under our control do damage equal to its power to target creature. It's worth noting that this isn't a "fight" ability, so our creature can be a 1/1 and it will survive the experience.

Where Alena had me thinking about Elementals, Halana gives me some relatively obvious choices to make.

Acidic Slime
Toxic Iguanar
Wurmcoil Engine

Deathtouch tribal makes a ton of sense when building around Halana. Acidic Slime won't just let me destroy target artifact, enchantment or land. I can also pay two and have it do damage to a creature. I could load up on low CMC deathtouch creatures like Ambush Viper, Deadly Recluse, Gnarlwood Dryad, Moss Viper, Sedge Scorpion, Tajuru Blightblade, Thornweald Archer, Wasteland Viper and even the odd little Toxic Iguanar. Wurmcoil Engine will pay for itself, assuming we're able to tap Alena for six mana later on in the turn when we cast it. If it dies, we'll get another chance to have a deathtouch creature enter the battlefield and kill an opponent's creature. It will have me create a 3/3 colorless Wurm artifact creature token with deathtouch and a matching one with lifelink when it dies.

If I keep going down this path, my Elemental tribal build goes out the window, but I'll have loads of removal and that's fantastic. My Halana triggers aren't fight triggers so there's no synergy to be found in playing creatures with the enrage keyword unless I'm having my creatures fight my own enrage creatures. While enrage isn't a great fit, these guys might be.

Stuffy Doll
Coalhauler Swine

I could see running Stuffy Doll. It's got zero power so I won't be using it against any of my opponents' creatures. I can name an opponent when Stuffy Doll enters the battlefield and when my bigger creatures enter the battlefield I can have them do damage to Stuffy Doll and it will do that much damage to the player I named.

Coalhauler Swine is a much more interesting choice, but it's not indestructible like Stuffy Doll so it's not going to play a huge role in this deck's plan. When Coalhauler Swine is dealt damage it deals that much damage to each player. Since I'm running a healthy number of deathtouch creatures I should have a good chance to not be at the lowest life total. Dinging everyone for a nice chunk of damage likely won't win a game on its own but every little bit matters.

Bringing Them Together

It looks very much like I've built two half decks and I'm going to smash them together and see what I end up with.

The Alena, Kessig Trapper plan wound up centering around Elementals. I think an all-in Gruul Elemental deck with Alena and Halana would be a lot of fun, but I didn't want to completely ignore what Halana brings to the party. Halana lets my creatures enter the battlefield and dish out some damage, so my inclination with her was to load up on deathtouch creatures. I really like building around deathtouch blockers. They keep you in the game a little longer and do a great job at getting your opponents to swing at other players.

It's worth mentioning that you could also try to build Gruul Humans with Alena and Halana in the command zone. I'm not sure why you would, but they're both human and sometimes a little thing like that ends up inspiring a deck. I should probably note that they are both looking to the left. Well, they're looking to their right, but from the point of view of the person looking at the art, they are both "ladies looking left". I'm pretty sure that's a deck, though I don't know if you could build a full "ladies looking left" commander deck in Gruul.

All of these plans would end up being relatively casual decks. There are no combo wincons and the ceiling on our synergy isn't incredibly high. Magical Christmasland for this list would probably involve playing Malignus, tapping Alena for a huge amount of mana, playing Avenger of Zendikar, playing Reshape the Earth and Craterhoof Behemoth. I don't even know how you'd get the mana right for all of that, but my point is that this list ought to be able to dish out some serious beatdowns if things go right.

If you run into a ton of removal and can't keep your commanders on the field, you'll run into trouble but most Commander decks are like that. We're always told we shouldn't build our decks to be too dependent upon our commanders. There's some truth to that, but it's also the guilty pleasure of most casual EDH deckbulders. Even when the entire gameplan doesn't run through your commander, you often build with the goal of being able to take advantage of what they're bringing to the party.

Casual Alena Halana

I've thrown a few tidbits into this deck that I haven't mentioned yet. Not only do we have Avenger of Zendikar, I'm also running Omnath, Locus of Rage and Phylax, World Sculptor. To help out all of those deathtouch dorks, I threw in Bonds of Mortality and Glaring Spotlight because there will occasionally be targets I want to remove that have hexproof or are indestructible.


This deck should be able to hang at casual tables and be able to respond to most threats. I'm running enough artifact and enchantment removal that responding to major problems shouldn't be a problem.

If you really don't like not having some sort of a combo win in a deck, I'd suggest switching out a couple of cards and throwing in Aggravated Assault and Savage Ventmaw. A Gruul Dragons build with Lathliss, Dragon Queen and Utvara Hellkite might be an awful lot of fun.

In fact, it might be so much fun that I think I owe it to myself to flesh out that idea just a bit.

Alena and Halana, Dragon Tamers

As I work through a column, I sometimes find that I'm drawn to want to explore ideas that I didn't expect to uncover when I started writing. I think this second list is an excellent example of that. Just what would a Gruul Dragons list look like and how well would it play if built around these two ladies?

Dragon Tamers | Commander | Stephen Johnson


This list has a higher CMC, but it's also loaded up with dragons, so it's hardly a surprise that the average mana value would go up. I'm running a few dragon cost reducers, but I'm also running Swiftfoot Boots and Lightning Greaves because losing Alena would do more than break Halana's heart, it would also really set us back. Giving Alena haste will also let us tap her for mana on the turn she comes out, which should come in handy. I don't know how realistic it is that we'll be able to cast the nine mana sorcery Dragonstorm, but with Mana Geyser in the mix I think it's possible this deck could be responsible for some pretty crazy turns.

Final Thoughts

I didn't expect to bring you two lists today, but the more I thought about that Dragons deck, the more I needed to put it together to see how it looked. I still like the idea of Elemental tribal Alena Halana, but I've always been partial to Dragons.

I should note that I'm very happy that Wizards put out a same-sex partners pairing and made it very clear that the two characters are, as they put it, "partners in life". Representation matters, and if there are players out there who feel drawn to want to play these cards because they are somewhere in the LGBTQ+ demographic, I think that's fantastic. They're neat cards with a cool backstory and I'm always happy for people to have the chance to see themselves in our game.

Whether or not you see yourself in Alena & Halana or in any other magic cards, I'd love to hear how you'd build these two.

Would you lean toward Elementals, force in a combo path I didn't see, or just build a generic Gruul value deck?

Would you just add them to your "Ladies Looking Left" build?

Let me know in the comments.

That's all I've got for you today. Thanks for reading and I'll see you back here soon!

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