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Rose, Cutthroat Raider in Commander


If you're a regular reader you know that I love to build decks and write columns based upon cards I pulled out of booster packs. I don't generally open a huge number of boosters, so when the universe decides to put a new legendary card into my hands, I like to take it as a hint. The other day I somewhat randomly purchased a collector booster of Fallout cards and was pleasantly surprised to open a surge foil copy of Rose, Cutthroat Raider.

Rose, Cutthroat Raider

This red robot has first strike and a Raid ability which will trigger at the end of combat on my turn. I'll make a Junk token for each opponent I attacked. A Junk artifact can be tapped and sacrificed to exile the top card of my library at sorcery speed and I can play that card until end of turn. I still have to pay whatever mana costs a Junk-exiled spell requires, and I have to observe all timing restrictions that would normally apply.

Junk might just be junk. It can only be used at sorcery speed, but Rose, Cutthroat Raider makes things a little interesting by giving me a red mana whenever I sacrifice a Junk token. I'm still looking at using these tokens on my second main phase or hoping they make it to my next turn and I don't inadvertently feed someone else's Dockside Extortionist.

I've noticed lately that in EDH I don't generally attack if I don't have a profitable attack to make, and I play a decent number of decks that don't care that much about chip damage. I like to build and play decks that force me to move out of my comfort zone, and Rose, Cutthroat Raider might fill that role quite nicely. Rose wants me to attack a lot, and attack everyone.

It's worth noting that I am not looking at cards that create creatures that are tapped and attacking, as Rose case about the number of opponents I attacked that turn. As I understand it, the creatures that will qualify for this Raid trigger are creatures that were declared as attackers. Adding additional creatures that enter the battlefield "tapped and attacking" will not help to add to my Raid count.

Cannon Fodder

This deck is going to want to run a lot of creatures because I'll be attacking a lot and that takes creatures. There are a few basic types of creatures that I decided to run in this deck to try to maximize the number of Junk tokens I can create.

Pilgrim's Eye
Darksteel Myr
Rite of the Raging Storm

The easiest creature to throw into battle is a creature that has already served its purpose. Pilgrim's Eye and Skittering Surveyor both let me tutor a land to my hand when they enter the battlefield. Once they've done that, they can get thrown into combat to let me make a Junk token with little regret. Other examples are Skyscanner, which will draw me a card, Solemn Simulacrum, which gets me a land and draws me a card if it dies, and Dockside Extortionist, which needs no introduction. Any creature that has already done its thing when coming into play can get thrown into battle to make a Junk token for later use.

Another type is the creature that I can throw into combat again and again with little concern for what happens to it. Darksteel Myr is a 0/1 indestructible artifact creature. It won't deal damage, and it probably won't even be blocked. Darksteel Juggernaut, on the other hand, has a power and toughness equal to the number of artifacts I control. Both are indestructible, and the Juggernaut has to attack each turn if able. I'm also running the 4 mana Juggernaut, which can't be blocked by Walls and has to attack each combat if able, but isn't indestructible.

I'm also running a bunch of creature token generators. Rite of the Raging Storm is a 5 mana enchantment that will give me a 5/1 Red Elemental creature token that has trample and haste. The enchantment prevents anyone from attacking me with these elementals, and they get sacrificed at the beginning of the end step.

While Rite is a weird card, I've got a few other token generators that fill the same role. Loyal Apprentice is a Human Artificer that will give me a 1/1 colorless Thopter with haste at the beginning of combat on my turn if I control my commander. Harried Dronesmith will give me a /1 thopter with haste at the beginning of combat but I'll have to sacrifice the thopter at the end of the turn. Goblin Rabblemaster is also in the mix. He'll give me a 1/1 red Goblin creature token with haste, and other Goblins I control have to attack each turn if able.

I'm running a few other creatures that have to attack each turn if able, and my goal is to set myself up to be regularly creating three Junk tokens every turn, and six Junk tokens if I'm able to copy Rose's trigger with either Lithoform Engine or Strionic Resonator.

To Combo or Not To Combo

This build brought up one of the more interesting questions in EDH Deckbuilding. When do you add combos to a deck and when do you leave well enough alone and let a deck be a bit weaker than it could be?

In Rose, Cutthroat Raider, the combo piece I added in was Kiki-Jiki.

Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker

I'm going to use it as a token generator. I can tap Kiki-Jiki to create a token creature. For example, I could make a token Solemn Simulacrum, tutor up a land, send my sad robot into battle to let me make a Junk token, and then sacrifice Solemn at the beginning of the next end step. I'll even be rewarded with a card draw because that's what Solemn Simulacrum does when it dies.

You might think that's an ideal and amazing scenario, and you'd be right - but Kiki-Jiki just outright wins games when paired with cards like Combat Celebrant or Zealous Conscripts. You end up creating an infinite army of creatures with haste that you can use to kill the table, assuming nobody stops you and there's no tax to pay to attack anyone.

The philosophical question this brings up is simple. Should a Rose, Cutthroat Raider deck be running a full Kiki-Jiki combo package?

The answer is not about the cards themselves but about your playgroup and your preferred playstyle.

I think it's fine to play combo, even at lower power levels if the combo is a bit more convoluted or easy to interact with, but lots of people hate seeing combo at anything below high powered play.

Combo is an acquired taste, and much like salt - too much in the wrong meal can ruin it for everyone. Learning the power level and culinary preferences of your playgroup is something only you can do. There is no set answer to this question that will apply to everyone.

I chose to NOT put any full combo packages into this list, as I'm expecting to play this deck at low and mid powered tables. I like having decks I can pull out that are a bit weaker and lack a proverbial "I win" button.

Sometimes I'll start a night off with one and move up as the evening goes on. Sometimes I'll pull out one of these decks after a win. I think it's important to have a group where no one player dominates play, and sometimes these "weak links" in my deck collection will surprise me with a really good game.

I do think there is an argument that if you're running high powered, compact combos in a deck, you should be playing them at high powered tables. If you're playing at high powered tables, you might want to just run your Kiki-Jiki in the command zone instead of getting cute with a commander like Rose, Cutthroat Raider. You're playing high power, so why not just cut to the chase and run your combo piece out of the command zone?

It's a solid argument, but there are countless reasons that players do all kinds of crazy things and I do support things that make the overall EDH meta more varied and interesting.

If you want to build a deck around Chandler from Homelands, load your deck up with every red combo you can find, and spend the whole game quoting Matthew Perry's character from Friends (RIP King), I think that's awesome. Just be aware that your playgroup will be healthier if everyone is having fun, and some groups don't enjoy having one person dominate play.

How We Win

My fondness for decks that have a very clear win condition always leave me feeling a bit lost when I'm building for lower powered play and I come around to the question of how a deck wins. In lower powered games that question is usually answered by two simple words: "through combat".

I'm trying to avoid combo so I'm not looking at infinite combat steps, but I do want to play creatures that can help me close out games. None of these cards will guarantee a victory, but in a fair fight they should help me get there.

Etali, Primal Storm
Drakuseth, Maw of Flames
Ancient Copper Dragon

Etali, Primal Storm may no longer be the scariest version of Etali, but he can still bring me a ton of value when he attacks. I leaned towards running creatures with good attack triggers for this deck and Etali's is one of the best. Each player will exile the top card of their library and I'll cast any number of spells from among those cards without paying their mana costs.

I'm running a decent number of Dragons in this list, from Goldspan Dragon, Chaos Dragon and Knollspine Dragon, to the two scaly fellows shown above. Drakuseth, Maw of Flame has an attack trigger that will let me push out 10 damage, in three separate portions of 4, 3 and 3 damage, to any three targets. That can help push life totals down or clear the way for my other creatures to get through. Ancient Copper Dragon is a decent combat threat, and if it deals combat damage I'll roll a d20 and make that many Treasure tokens.

Rosie the Riveted

Nearly all of the decks I share here are starting points, and you should adapt them to match your playgroup and your preferred playstyle. I could see a Rose, Cutthroat Raider deck built around artifact creatures. I'm already running a bunch of artifact creatures, and artifact creature token generators. Combustible Gearhulk is already in the mix, and it's not a big step to run even more artifacts, throw in Nettlecyst, Daretti, Scrap Savant, Farid, Enterprising Salvager, and other cards that work with that theme.

I could also see building a goblins deck, as goblins make for great cannon fodder and my mana curve would be pretty low. I probably wouldn't load up on Dragons, as they are more expensive and you want a lot of creatures so you can send at least one creature at each opponent whenever you have Rose on the battlefield. I ended up running a bit of everything in this initial list, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays.

Any deck can be tuned up or down both in power and budget. The two are not always related, but often adding more powerful cards will increase a deck's budget. I don't see Rose, Cutthroat Raider as having a particularly high ceiling. What the commander brings to a deck seems good but not incredibly powerful, so I don't think it's likely that you'd be moving up past high power and at that point you'll find yourself considering other commanders for the deck.

If you wanted to stick to mono-red, if you were building Dragons you'd probably just want to run Lathliss, Dragon Queen. If you love how Kiki-Jiki can win games he would probably just be your commander. The same applies for other mono-red legends that might find their way into the deck. Rose is a good card, but is more likely to be in the 99 of a powerhouse deck. Running Rose as your commander is an effective way to bring the deck down towards a lower powered game, which might be more appropriate for your playgroup or your playstyle.

Early Results

I was able to get a game in with this list, with a few minor modifications to bring the budget down a hair. I dropped out Dockside Extortionist and Deflecting Swat and threw in Laelia, the Blade Reforged and Possibility Storm, neither of which showed up in the game.

The good news is that my early game showed me a lot of the promise of what this deck might be able to do. I hit my land drops, played an early Skyscanner and used Imperial Recruiter to tutor up Loyal Apprentice. I had one turn where I made one Junk token and then a turn where I made three, before the first of a number of boardwipes pretty much knocked me down and kept from having much relevance from that point on.

At the end I had a small pile of Junk tokens and was able to use them to try to dig for an answer to what was going to be lethal on the next turn. I was able to wheel the table but never saw my Blasphemous Act and ended up as the last player eliminated. Earlier I had swung into someone threatening a boatload of damage, in part because it annoys me when someone holds a sword over the table's head and says "you'd better not attack me or you'll get it". Sometimes somebody has to suffer for the good of everyone else, and that night it was me.

In that test game I ended up feeling like I was outmatched by the other decks at the table, but the deck was able to give me things to play and stuff to do even when I was stuck behind a mounting commander tax and didn't have Rose on the field.

One of the decks I was up against was built around a commander that synergizes with removal, and had way more removal than I really enjoy playing against. Another deck, built around a precon, got a Koma, Cosmos Serpent out, and a tablemate's idea of solving the problem was to remove it and get their own token copy, so we got a double dose reminder of how Koma can have an entire game of EDH warp around the problem of dealing with her. It wasn't a ton of fun, and I didn't even bear the brunt of most of the removal in the game.

My gut sense of how powerful Rose, Cutthroat Raider is as a commander didn't change as a result of the game. I do wish Rose was three mana instead of four, but I was able to cast her three times, which isn't always easy with a four drop commander in mono-red. I have to wonder if I leaned into my creature list a little too heavily. I could see dropping out a few bodies for mana rocks, but I don't know that such a change would have a dramatic impact on how the deck plays.

Final Thoughts

One of my favorite things about EDH is how many levels of play there are when you're building decks using nearly any card ever printed and you generally can't run more than one of any card.

If this list is a little too low powered for your tastes, I don't think it would be too hard to sharpen this particular knife. The problem is that when you try to move into high powered play you probably want more than just impulse draw as your commander's best party trick. Your best build might end up being centered around artifacts. There are plenty of thopter generators in Red and between red and colorless cards it's not hard to find creatures to build your own robot army to take over whatever wasteland of a table you find yourself playing at. Just beware of the dreaded Vandalblast, which will wreck your day - or at least your game - if you lean into artifacts too much.

We've been seeing a steady stream of previews from Outlaws of Thunder Junction so I'm going to pivot to that set fairly soon. I'm about as excited about a Wild West set as I was about vehicles when Kaladesh hit the shelves. I got used to what at the time felt like a weird and off-putting new card type (vehicles), so I'm sure I'll be saddling up creatures in no time.

The funny part is that when Kaladesh came out, it wasn't like I had been playing since Alpha, but I still had a "get off my lawn" or "old man shakes fist at clouds" reaction. OTJ feels to me like an un-set or a Universes Beyond release, but when you play a game set in a multiverse you have to accept a certain amount of nonsense that will pop up every now and then.

Not every set is for every Magic player, and when you play Commander you have the freedom to play what you like, so if I decide I don't like the flavor of Thunder Junction I sure don't have to run cards from it in my decks.

Before I sign off, apologies to anyone who was hoping for a weird April Fool's column. I had seriously considered doing a top 10 column with an increasingly deranged series of bad takes on the Commander format, but I wasn't convinced I'd be able to pull it off and have it be genuinely funny. If you do celebrate this esteemed holiday, may your pranks be safe and your gags be hilarious!

That's all I've got for today. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!

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