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Building Beledros Witherbloom in Commander


Morning in the Tropics by Frederic Edwin Church (1858).

Steel Hellkite by James Paick.

I love dragons. I've built a decent number of dragon EDH decks over the years, from a janky Rith, the Awakener list to The Ur-Dragon, a few versions of Niv-Mizzet, a whole bunch of different Ramos, Dragon Engine decks, and my current favorite, mono-Red Lathliss, Dragon Queen. When I learned that Strixhaven was going to have a cycle of Elder Dragons I was definitely looking forward to snapping up at least one of them for a column.

I had already begun writing this piece when I picked up a prerelease kit at my favorite LGS and happened upon a full-art Beledros Witherbloom. I ended up getting a second kit and noticed that between the Black, Green, Witherbloom and colorless cards I opened, I was halfway to having a full EDH deck! Not only was I going to finish up this column, but I was also going to build Beledros Witherbloom in paper. I had the scraps from my Toski, Bearer of Secrets deck I could use to help fill in the gaps, so I was off to the races.

Beledros Witherbloom

This 4/4 flyer will give you a 1/1 Pest creature token on each player's upkeep. When a Pest token dies, you gain one life. Not only are these little guys decent blockers on the ground, they also play into Beledros' second ability. He will let you pay 10 life to untap all lands you control. You can't do this more than once each turn.

I'm drawn to commanders like Beledros Witherbloom because they really make me think. At 7 mana, Beledros is clearly not a candidate to lead a cEDH deck, but a longer, slower game should give me the time to be able to get Beledros onto the battlefield and see what kind of trouble I can get into. I'm going to want to ramp a lot, and I'd do well to have that ramp be focused on putting lands onto the battlefield. I'm going to want ways to keep my life total high enough to be able to use my commander's ability without putting me at death's door.

The biggest question is whether I can turn a Beledros activation into an impactful enough play that I might make a push to win the game. Since I'm working from the starting point of a big pile of Strixhaven cards, I can tell you right away that this won't be a high-powered deck. I do think it should have enough interesting additions to make for a pretty fun casual deck.

Pestering My Tablemates

One of the things I want to do a better job at is including new cards in the decks I share with you here. I often rely on cards I know and think I need to start digging deeper into these new sets to really see what they bring to our format. For this deck, that starts with Pest tokens. Beledros will give me a steady stream of 1/1 black and green Pest tokens, but I don't want to wait until he's out to start being a pest to my opponents.

I wish I could tell you I opened a Blight Mound in my packs. That enchantment would give my Pests +1/+0 and will turn my nontoken creature deaths into new Pest tokens. Unfortunately I didn't open one and didn't have the presence of mind to trade for one so I'll need to pick one up later.

Containment Breach
Pest Infestation
Callous Bloodmage

I like when new mechanics and tokens get bundled with the kinds of spells I want to run anyways. One thing I always try to include in a deck is removal. Containment Breach and Pest Infestation might not be instant speed, but being able to blow up artifacts and enchantments and getting more Pests for my trouble is perfect for this deck. Callous Bloodmage gives me even more versatility, letting me make a Pest, draw a card (at the cost of a life), or exile a graveyard when he enters the battlefield.

There are a bunch of other Strixhaven cards I wish I had opened. Pestilent Cauldron and Valentin, Dean of the Vein would both be right for this build, but today I'm sharing a real deck I'm going to be playing and turning over the coming weeks, not some perfect list with all the right cards. I am running a bunch of other Pest generators, but a lot of the fun stuff in this deck is going to be from outside of Strixhaven.

Witherbloom Lifegain

My ideal Beledros Witherbloom list would have some fantastic lifegain creatures like Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Kokusho, the Evening Star. A bunch of my lifegain from the Strixhaven side of this build is going to come from my Pests and I've got a few other cards thrown in that should help a little.

Infuse with Vitality
Environmental Sciences
Moldering Karok

Cards that have lifegain tacked onto them are good fits for this deck if they provide some other benefit I already want. Infuse with Vitality might gain me two life, but it will also let me give a blocker deathtouch at instant speed and have that blocker come back to the battlefield if it dies. Environmental Sciences is a card I like for decks not in Green.

For this list, the two life is what puts it over the top. I'm also running a handful of lifelink creatures including Moldering Karok. I'm going with the theory that enough incremental lifegain from enough different sources will amount to enough lifegain to compensate for at least one activation of Beledros over the course of a game. I'm even running Radiant Fountain and Jungle Hollow - two lands I don't often put into decks - just because they can gain me a little life.

I ended up dropping more Strixhaven cards than I expected as I kept thinking of auto-includes that this deck simply couldn't live without. The ones I had in my collection found their way into this first draft.

Verdant Sun's Avatar
Leyline Prowler
Blood Artist

Verdant Sun's Avatar not only gains me life when it hits the field, it will also give me life from any other creatures I have enter the battlefield. Leyline Prowler and Vampire Nighthawk will give me a little help in the deathtouch lifelink department. Blood Artist and Zulaport Cutthroat will help me squeeze lifegain out of creatures dying.

I'm not above playing some fun lifegain-oriented cards to spice this list up. These aren't from Strixhaven and they aren't the kinds of staples that really ought to be in this list. I couldn't find a copy of Essence Warden anywhere in my collection, but these creatures should help a bit.

Pelakka Wurm
Lifeblood Hydra
Disciple of Bolas

Pelakka Wurm will give me seven life when it enters the battlefield and if it finds its way into the graveyard I'll draw a card. That might not seem like much, but if I pay 10 life, I'll get more than half of it back. If that sounds cute, Lifeblood Hydra is much spicier. I can tap my lands, pay 10 life, tap them again, and make a huge Lifeblood Hydra. When it dies I'll gain life equal to its power and also draw that many cards. I've just got to hope it doesn't eat a Path to Exile before that can happen.

If I can play a huge Lifeblood Hydra and I get really lucky I'll be able to follow it up with a Disciple of Bolas. This Human Wizard will let me sacrifice a creature and I'll gain life and draw cards equal to that creature's power. It's a perfect match for that Hydra but should also be able to put in work with other creatures. Sacrificing Pelakka Wurm would give me seven cards and seven life, along with the seven I gained when the Wurm hit the field and the card I'll draw when it dies. Even if I've only got a Pest token to sacrifice, that's still an extra life and an extra card.

If I drop 10 life into an untap, make a huge Lifeblood Hydra and then see it get exiled before I can cash it in, I'm not without options.

Magus of the Mirror will let me swap my life total with an opponent's life total. The timing isn't great, as I have to do it on my upkeep. I'll want to pick my opponent with the highest life total, as I'm using life as a kind of currency in this deck. If I can repeatedly grab the highest life total from among my opponents on each of my turns, I should be able to squeeze a few extra activations out of a game.

Beledros Witherbloom First Draft

This first draft definitely has room for growth. If I play it and enjoy it at all, I'll be sure to put in an order for Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Kokusho, the Evening Star, Essence Warden and a few other staples to really make the deck tick. That means I'll probably need to avoid high-power tables at first so I don't just get blown out.

My desire to run a few extra Strixhaven cards probably makes this a worse deck, but I really like using as much as possible out of a new set. In general, that means building a more casual deck. Tuning any deck up usually requires a lot of powerful cards from across the history of Magic. I've got some great ones in here. Earthcraft is a powerful enchantment that will let me tap creatures, including those Pest tokens, to untap my lands.

I should admit that I was seriously considering building Beledros Witherbloom as a Elf deck. Elf decks can make crazy amounts of mana and Beledros really does need a lot of mana. Elf decks can also gain tons of life, so I think there's something to the idea, but my recent Abomination of Llanowar deck already dug into Golgari Elves, so I decided to go with my Strixhaven approach.

Beledros Tune-Ups

If you wanted to build this deck for higher-powered games, I think the first thing you'd want to do is take a good look at fast mana. You want lands on the battlefield, but you also want to get to 7 mana as quickly as possible. That means Signets, Mana Crypt, Mana Vault and Jeweled Lotus. Of course, using mana rocks to get Beladros out early means you'll have fewer lands to untap with his activation, so I think this commander might have some built-in issues that might prevent it from leading a really "fast" deck. 7 mana is a prohibitively high casting cost for a commander in cEDH and it may well be too high for high-powered play as well.

Exquisite Blood
Bloodchief Ascension

If you want to make the most out of Beledros Witherbloom, Exsanguinate is perfect for this deck. The lifegain you'll get from a pumped-up casting of this sorcery will more than make up for the life you put into untapping your lands. Exquisite Blood might gain you life but it will also put a target on your back, if only for the fact that you'll want to run Sanguine Bond and a bunch of tutors to let you combo off to win the game. Bloodchief Ascension is another case where it might give you incremental lifegain, but it will also give you a reason to run Mindcrank. Those two will also combo pretty nicely.

Playing one half of a combo to "tune up" a deck to a higher power level often leads to running the other half. That leads to running tutors, and the next thing you know you're chasing staples and building the same deck as dozens of other people just because you're aiming to make it as powerful as possible. That might be fun, but I've always enjoyed exploring the amazing variety available in the lower power levels of this format. I doubt I'd ever throw in Sanguine Bond and Exquisite Blood in place of cards like Lifeblood Hydra and Disciple of Bolas.

I suppose I could run both, but I'm going to get a few games in with this list before I start tweaking it and seeing whether to order that Gary, Kokusho or Essence Warden.

Final Thoughts

The one thing I kept thinking about with this build was what I could do with all the mana I'd get from tapping my lands and getting that 10 life untap. Sure, I can drop my life total and use Magus of the Mirror to mess with my opponents but that doesn't give me a use for all that mana. I can pour it into Lifeblood Hydra, and I might actually think about running another Hydra or two. Steelbane Hydra will let me blow up artifacts and enchantments. Mistcutter Hydra will let me smack around the Blue player at the table, and everyone knows the Blue player probably did something to deserve to get smacked around.

I am running Elder of Laurels. Being able to activate it multiple times with enough Pest tokens and other creatures on the field could make Beledros a lethal threat in the air. I am also running Torment of Hailfire, though I should confess I added it about 10 seconds before writing this sentence. It was in my rare binder, and it's about as good a big mana wincon as you'll find.

Not every list I put up here is meant to be a tuned, perfect list. Some are experiments, some are first drafts and some are whimsical and meant to explore some crazy idea I came up with. Of course, some are well-tuned, powerful builds that can blow the doors off a table more often than not. I've got an Aegar, the Freezing Flame list that I'm going to share with you in the coming weeks that has surprised me with how well it has performed. I even did an alter of Aegar so it's definitely a deck I'm going to keep together.

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

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