Manfred and the Alpine Witch by John Martin (1837).
Rakdos Roustabout by Lucas Graciano.
I had expected to be writing about Strixhaven commanders exclusively for a few weeks, but today I've got a special column I wanted to share with you. I've built a lot of decks over the past few years and it's not all that often that a new deck of mine starts out on a real win streak. It's also not often that I choose to paint an alter for a new deck's commander before that deck even sees a game. Today I've got a build that turned out much more oppressive and more powerful than I expected and I didn't want to wait a few weeks before sharing it with you.
Jason Alt wrote this past February about Aegar, the Freezing Flame and dug into some interesting options for this Giant Wizard. His column is worth a read - you can find it here. I hadn't read it before I built my list and while I love what he did with Aegar, I felt there was a way to push this commander to a higher power level.
This Giant Wizard has the most important three words in Magic right there in his text box. Draw a card. I'm increasingly of the opinion that if you want to build a high-powered deck, it's not the worst idea to take all of the legendary creatures in a set and look first at the ones that will draw you cards.
Card draw helps with your land drops. Card draw helps you find answers to the threats other players are going to throw at you. Card draw will help get you to your combo pieces, which in high powered EDH are almost as important as interaction. Simply put, card draw may not usually win games on its own, but it is a key element in playing competitively.
Building without card draw is like cooking without using salt. Your meal might be good, but in almost every instance adding a little salt will bring out the flavor and make a huge difference.
The only thing better than a commander that helps you draw cards is a commander that helps you draw cards as a reward for doing things you wanted to do in the first place.
Aegar will give you card draw when you deal damage to a creature an opponent controls and that creature is dealt "excess damage". The creature doesn't have to die, which is an interesting tidbit I had forgotten, and you don't have to be the one dealing the excess damage.
Jason's two lists include a look at what a Giant tribal list might look like and what a spellslinger list might look like. Both decks include cards I'm running, but my version has some key cards and a focus that sets it apart from his two.
When I think about drawing cards based on overflow damage, I thought of some very specific giants that I've used in the past. I had a Mayael, the Anima deck that spent a few years as a giant tribal built and these guys really put in work for her.
Jason did include Magma Giant, which can make short work of an army of 1/1 creatures. The need to do overflow damage makes it good but you really want a damage amplifier like Fire Servant or Torbran, Thane of Red Fell on the field to make the most of its enter-the-battlefield trigger. Hammerfist Giant is a much spicier option, able to tap to do 4 damage to each creature without flying and each player. Bloodfire Colossus can sacrifice itself for one Red mana to do 6 to each creature - including flyers - and each player.
Magma Giant can't really work with equipment as its damage only occurs when it enters the battlefield. If you were to equip Hammerfist Giant or Bloodfire Colossus with Gorgon's Head, you'll only need 1 damage before you start marking "excess" damage on creatures. In your average Commander game it wouldn't be hard to draw a dozen or more cards off of either of those last two GIants' abilities. Loxodon Warhammer will give you the kind of bump to your life total that will set you up to survive playing archenemy for a while. With 12 creatures controlled by your opponents and another three under your control, you could be gaining 60 life with a Hammerfist Giant activation or 90 with a Bloodfire Colossus activation.
I'm running a few other giants in the list, but the ones that push out damage will be the all-stars of this list. I'm not building this as a Giant tribal deck and any tune up will probably see some of them find their way to the cutting room floor. I've got a more oppressive strategy in mind.
I can see the temptation to build Aegar with lots of direct damage spells. My only issue with that approach is that I've seen too many games where the ability to pick off one creature with a burn spell that will deal excess damage isn't going to make much of a difference in the outcome. The kinds of threats we see in Commander will often be much bigger than the kind of burn spell we'll be able to cast. The way I see it, the best plan is to plan to wipe the board with mass damage spells as often as possible. I might lose my own board, but if each boardwipe leaves my opponents with a handful of survivors and I'm drawing tons of cards, it will be worth it.
Jason is a great deck-builder and I've got more than a few damage spells on my list that he also put into his spellslinger version. Anger of the Gods, Blasphemous Act, Chain Reaction and Chandra's Ignition all found their way into both of our builds. I left a few great picks out of my list as I was building in paper and didn't have a Star of Extinction or Storm's Wrath lying around. I still managed to include a few that were unique to my Aegar list.
My favorites are generally the spells that will leave my creatures untouched. Street Spasm may have to be overloaded, but it has the potential to wipe out any opponent going wide instead of tall. Volcanic Vision is expensive in terms of mana, but it will bring back an instant or sorcery and it will hit each creature my opponents control. Incite Rebellion might hit my own creatures, but chances are good that I'll have a smaller boardstate and it could just kill an opponent who has managed to get out of control but hasn't killed the table yet.
Earthquake is a scalable burn spell that I can put as much mana into as necessary. Homing Lightning is a bit narrow in focus, but will do great work against anyone playing a tokens strategy. Slice and Dice not only gives me a 4 damage option, it can be cycled to do one damage to each creature. I've already been able to cycle it in a game with Torbran, Thane of Red Fell and Fire Servant on the field to do six damage to each creature and draw a boatload of cards.
Next Level Shenanigans
I love finding ways to take a deck and add weird, less known cards that work perfectly with what I'm trying to do. This deck is no exception. This might be my favorite part of writing about commander - the shenanigans you can get up to.
Magebane Armor is an essential bit of equipment for Aegar. It will make it so that all of my damage spells and even my weird Giant boardwipes don't touch him. That is a convenience, as it will keep me from having to recast my commander, but it's not the kind of trick that most opponents are going to freak out over. They might just leave it alone, saving their artifact removal for the likes of Bolas's Citadel, Mana Crypt, or even a Skullclamp.
Polymorphist's Jest is a fantastic way to turn a partial boardwipe into a full boardwipe and pretty much guarantee that you're going to deal excess damage. It only lasts until end of turn, and it won't deal with +1/+1 counters, but it's still a great way to turn two or more damage to each creature into a lot of card draw.
Crush Underfoot is... well, it's my admission that yes, I will run silly cards that are on theme, but don't do a heck of a lot more. I told you I wasn't running single target burn spells, and while this might be the first card I eventually swap out, I still love running stuff like this. At least I'm not alone - Jason ran it in his Giant tribal version too!
Closing Out The Game
There's nothing more miserable than playing a game where your board is being wiped every few turns, you feel like you can't get much of an army together, and every time an opponent is killing your creatures they're drawing a bunch of cards.
A "fair" version of this deck might look a lot like Jason's lists. They'll bring a mix of combat damage, targeted damage and damage based boardwipes to the game and will do their best to win without going infinite or cutting any other corners on the way to the finish line. Unless I missed a combo in either of Jason's lists, I think that's a fair assessment of them. I suspect they would be a lot of fun to play, but might struggle a bit at high powered tables.
I thought about how a deck like Aegar would close out a game and I came to the conclusion that any build that was trying to be this oppressive and also trying to draw cards at a really fast clip would probably do well to have something important to try to draw into.
It should come as no surprise that making infinite mana was my solution. High powered decks and high powered tables should expect no less, and your tablemates might be grateful to have an end in sight if Aegar is doing his thing successfully.
I'm running a healthy number of counterspells and threw in Comet Storm as a potential finisher. If I can maintain a higher life total than anyone else at the table, Earthquake would also do the job nicely. Underworld Breach and Past in Flames both serve to help get cards back from the graveyard, so if I cast something important earlier in the game I might be able to cast it again.
Once I've pulled into my Reliquary Tower or Thought Vessel and have a decent grip, I should be able to keep the pressure on my opponents as they try to rebuild, countering any major threats and preparing for the eventual push to win the game. Reviewing my work, I suspect I could use another infinite mana outlet or two, but so far this deck has performed well in actual games.
This list should be able to play well at high power tables and will especially dominate opponents trying to play lots of creatures. Elves, Goblins, Saprolings, Slivers, Soldiers, Warriors and lots of other common creature types will just feed into this deck's gameplan.
The ideal balance between damage-based wraths, interaction, counterspells and wincons might need a little tweaking, but so far I've really enjoyed the way this deck plays. I probably wouldn't play it in back to back games, as it can be oppressive when it goes off. Like any deck, it will have issues against certain archetypes. I could see a good Voltron deck giving Aegar problems, but every deck and every strategy has its own unique weaknesses.
Abominable Aegar | Commander | Stephen Johnson
- Commander (1)
- 1 Aegar, the Freezing Flame
- Creatures (18)
- 1 Bloodfire Colossus
- 1 Burnished Hart
- 1 Consecrated Sphinx
- 1 Dockside Extortionist
- 1 Dreamscape Artist
- 1 Fire Servant
- 1 Frost Titan
- 1 Goblin Electromancer
- 1 Hammerfist Giant
- 1 Inferno Titan
- 1 Jori En, Ruin Diver
- 1 Magma Giant
- 1 Melek, Izzet Paragon
- 1 Surtland Flinger
- 1 Thryx, the Sudden Storm
- 1 Toralf, God of Fury
- 1 Torbran, Thane of Red Fell
- 1 Trophy Mage
- Instants (16)
- 1 Chaos Warp
- 1 Comet Storm
- 1 Counterflux
- 1 Counterspell
- 1 Crush Underfoot
- 1 Cyclonic Rift
- 1 Disallow
- 1 Dramatic Reversal
- 1 Flusterstorm
- 1 Homing Lightning
- 1 Mystical Tutor
- 1 Overwhelming Denial
- 1 Polymorphist's Jest
- 1 Reiterate
- 1 Street Spasm
- 1 Swan Song
- Sorceries (13)
- 1 Anger of the Gods
- 1 Blasphemous Act
- 1 Chain Reaction
- 1 Chandra's Ignition
- 1 Earthquake
- 1 Gamble
- 1 Incite Rebellion
- 1 Jeska's Will
- 1 Mana Geyser
- 1 Past in Flames
- 1 Slice and Dice
- 1 Vandalblast
- 1 Volcanic Vision
- Enchantments (1)
- 1 Underworld Breach
- Artifacts (15)
- 1 Arcane Signet
- 1 Basalt Monolith
- 1 Fellwar Stone
- 1 Gorgon's Head
- 1 Isochron Scepter
- 1 Izzet Signet
- 1 Loxodon Warhammer
- 1 Magebane Armor
- 1 Mind Stone
- 1 Primal Amulet Flip
- 1 Rings of Brighthearth
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Thought Vessel
- 1 Victory Chimes
- 1 Worn Powerstone
If you wanted to tune Aegar up for more competitive play, you'd probably want to drop a few of my Giants, add in some staples like Rhystic Study, Force of Will, and high end mana rocks. This version is relatively budget friendly, not even running a Mana Crypt.
I suspect trying to tune this list up to play at top tier cEDH tables might not work well. Simply put - those decks don't often play many creatures. You might be able to blow out a Najeela, the Blade-Blossom deck that hasn't hit its combo yet, but I don't really see Aegar playing successfully at the cEDH level. If you've seen true cEDH versions of Aegar that would prove me wrong, please tell me about it in the comments!
A few months back I shared with you that I've been getting into altering Magic cards. I'm still not good enough to even think about doing it professionally, but I'm learning and I've been really enjoying learning how to do alters.
I started with muppets as they're made up of simple shapes and are fairly easy to do and get a passable result. After over a half dozen "Krosan Grovers", a handful of "but that's none of my business" tea-drinking Kermits, and lot of others, I was able to attempt my toughest challenge yet - the Abominable Snowman from the old Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer Christmas special!
No, this wasn't really my most challenging or even my best alter to date. It was a cute idea that came to me and I'm happy with both how the card came out and how the deck has been playing. It's only seen a few games and I haven't started to tune it up yet, but it's been fun and I very much wanted to share it with you.
If you've built Aegar, the Freezing Flame, or if you've done your own alters for your decks, I'd love to hear from you. It's a pretty fun way to make a deck your own, and it's especially fun when that deck plays well right out of the gate.
If you'd like to see more of the decks I've made alters for, definitely leave a note in the comments. Every month or two I should be able to fit one in, and if you're interested in seeing them, I'll be happy to share those alters and decklists here.
That's all I've got for today. I'll be back looking at Strixhaven again next Monday. See you then!