Alnwick Castle by JMW Turner (1829). Striped Riverwinder by Craig J Spearing.
Last week, I surmised that you can’t spit these days without hitting a Muldrotha, The Gravetide or a Slimefoot, the Stowaway decklist. The same can probably be said for Firesong and Sunspeaker, but I’m going to throw my best efforts into the mix and give you a look at what I would do if I were building a commander deck with these Boros () minotaurs.
I’m not going to weigh in on the decision to have Firesong and Sunspeaker only available if you buy a box of Dominaria. I was probably going to buy a box anyways, so it’s not a big deal to me. I suspect they will be relatively easy to get if you really want a copy. Wizards of the Coast is likely to sell plenty of boxes of this much-anticipated set and I’m betting the demand for even a decent Boros commander is unlikely to outstrip the supply available.
I’m really looking forward to getting familiar enough with this pair of Minotaurs to actually remember their names. For weeks I’ve been thinking of them as Sunsong and Firespeaker, or Firestrong and Sunsinger, or Firestuff and Sunthing-or-other.
It’s been a struggle.
Before I manage to forget their names again, let’s take a look at what we’re going to be building around.
At first glance, we’ve got a 4/6 pair of minotaur clerics who cost to cast. They will give our Red instant and sorcery spells lifelink and whenever a White instant or sorcery spell causes us to gain life, Firestring and Sungorger will do 3 damage to target creature or player.
If that doesn’t sound like a big deal, remember that lots of people have bemoaned the fact that Soulfire Grand Master isn’t legendary. It would have made an amazing commander.
Many of those players rejoiced when they learned of the prize we’d find at the bottom of our Dominaria Cracker Jack boxes. Their hearts probably fell when they realized that to play these minotaur clerics they would have to say goodbye to Cyclonic Rift and all the other Blue spells they know and love. Boros is a bitter pill for some players to swallow, but today we’re going to see if we can make Firesludge and Sunslurpee worth building.
I will again try to build in an 8 x 8 pattern, setting aside eight slots of eight cards each so that I try to focus and organize my deck-building a little. It’s far from a perfect process, but it works for me.
Start at the Beginning
For me, the beginning is usually ramp, especially with a Boros deck. I almost devoted two slots (16 cards) to mana acceleration, and it’s possible only 8 cards isn’t enough, but this is, admittedly, a first draft. I’ll start with Sol Ring, Boros Signet, Boros Cluestone, and Boros Keyrune. I will throw in Pyromancer's Goggles because copying Red instants and sorceries will be fun in this build. One might argue that Commander's Sphere should be included, but I have all of my copies in my 3-color and 5-color decks; so, for now, I’m leaving it out.
Having bodies on the ground is helpful, so I’ll be running Solemn Simulacrum and a couple of Myr. Iron Myr and Gold Myr will both go in. They can both tap for mana and, if left untapped, can block in a pinch. Alloy Myr could find its way into the deck eventually if we drop another card out and need another mana dork. We’re pretty creature-light so far and that can sometimes be a problem in the early game.
Lifelink Burn Spells
If our burn spells are going to have lifelink, we should load up on lots of low-cost burn spells, right?
I can see the attraction of doing this; but, in EDH, lifelink still doesn’t make many burn spells worth running. Playing one spell to remove one permanent in a multiplayer game is a one-for-one exchange and isn’t ideal. We want to squeeze way more value out of each spell than that.
If we’re going to commit to including Red damage spells, we want to make sure they give us a pretty good return on our investment. We’ll probably only cast these spells if Fireflirt and Sunsinger are on the field.
For , Barrage of Boulders will deal 1 damage to each creature we don’t control. If we have any opponents with lots of 1/1 weenies, this can be devastating and can give us a decent bit of life if our minotaurs are on the field. This is our admittedly slow answer to a huge or even an infinite board of 1/1 creatures. If we control a creature with power 4 or greater, creatures can’t block this turn. That means this spell can also work as a way to let us get attackers through.
Price of Progress will deal two damage to each player for each nonbasic land they control. We’re in colors that will leave us playing lots of basic lands and our Red burn spells should have lifelink anyways, so it won’t hurt us. Commander is a format where lots of players load up on nonbasics. In the late game, this could turn into a big chunk of damage at the right table.
Mizzium Mortars is just 4 damage for and we can only cast it on an opponent’s creature. If we cast it for its overload cost of , we can do 4 damage to each creature that our opponents control. That could easily wind up being 40-60 points of total damage, so if we can do that with lifelink we’ll be in a pretty good position.
Another spell with overload that would be great with lifelink is Street Spasm. It’s an “X spell”, meaning that we can pay any amount of mana along with a single Red mana to do that amount of damage. Street Spasm can target a creature without flying that we don’t control, but if we overload it we can damage each creature without flying that we don’t control. Comet Storm is another “X spell” that has Multikicker, allowing us to pay a single colorless mana for each additional target we want to hit for X damage.
Star of Extinction may not be an “X spell” but it’s well worth running in this deck. For , it will destroy a land and do 20 damage to each creature and each planeswalker. If we have our commander out, the lifelink should boost our life total pretty nicely. It will probably kill them, but that shouldn’t stop us from gaining 20 life for every single target creature or planeswalker that gets hit for 20 damage.
You might wonder how we’ll get the mana to cast any of these X spells for an amount worth getting excited about. That’s where our old friend Mana Geyser comes in. For , this sorcery will add to our mana pool for each tapped land our opponents control. At the right table, at the right time, that can result in a ton of Red mana.
Having a lot of mana is great, but sometimes you don’t have enough spells to cast. Past in Flames costs and will give each instant and sorcery in your graveyard flashback until end of turn. That means you can cast those spells for their mana cost out of the graveyard and then exile them. I’ve won games off casting a Mana Geyser into a Past in Flames (which got countered), into a flashed-back Past in Flames and then into a flashed-back Mana Geyser. These spells can combine in powerful ways, but you’ll need to keep White mana sources available if you will need to cast any spells with White mana symbols in their casting costs.
These Red burn spells are all big-impact spells that have the potential to gain us a very significant amount of life, but we are far from done exploring ways to gain life with Firefeather and Suncatcher.
Three-for-One Life Gain Spells
Our commander may give Red instants and sorceries lifegain, but they also will do 3 damage to target creature or player each time a White instant or sorcery spell we control causes us to gain life. That’s a free lightning bolt every time we cast a White spell that gains us life! I’m sure you’ve had games where you could find juicy targets to throw lightning bolts at. I know I have.
That’s a two-for one, but we’re not looking to build an OK deck — we want to build a really OK deck, maybe a good deck or if we’re lucky . . . a great deck — so we’re going to aim a little higher.
I want a three-for-one return on as many spells in this deck as possible.
What that means is that every lifegain spell we run will not only give us a free Lightning Bolt. Each of them has to do something over and above just gaining us life and letting our commanders dish out 3 damage.
We can start off with a set of removal spells that will gain us life equal to the artifact or enchantment we are destroying. While that could wind up being a pretty huge amount, there may be times when hitting a Sol Ring or an Aqueous Form is worth it even if the benefit to us is just a single point of life and 3 points of damage to throw somewhere.
A couple of additional removal spells that will net us three or four life are worth running as well. The third spell shown above, Silverstrike, may not deal with artifacts or enchantments, but sometimes destroying a key attacker is just what you need.
The last two spells in this section are “modal” spells. They give us a level of flexibility that makes them much more powerful and situational than spells that provide just a single effect.
Righteous Confluence can create a 2/2 White knight with vigilance, exile an enchantment or gain us 5 life, but we can do that three times in any combination we choose. We will only get one damage trigger from the spell and only if we choose the lifegain mode at least once.
Blessed Alliance is an escalate spell, meaning that we can gain additional modes by paying additional mana. The modes include target player gains 4 life, untap up to two target creatures or target opponent sacrifices an attacking creature. Again, if we want our damage trigger we have to choose the life gain mode at least once.
It is very hard to understate the value of having answers in our format. Spells that remove problematic artifacts, enchantments and attackers are always helpful and if we can also gain life AND throw out 3 points of direct damage that’s a lot of value for casting just one spell.
When Three-For-One Isn’t Enough . . .
One of the big challenges when brewing a commander deck is finding ways to squeeze as much value out of every spell as possible. I don’t pretend to be the most brilliant or innovative deck-builder out there, but I did notice one thing about Firefrigate and Sunschooner. When you cast a White spell that gains you life, they are the ones that do 3 damage to target creature or player.
What that means is that instead of just getting a three-for-one benefit, we can do better.
If we find a way to give our commanders lifelink that extra three damage they deal can also gain us three life. While that might not seem like much, they have 6 toughness, so they can block pretty well; and, over the course of a game, that kind of incremental lifegain will definitely add up.
These first two are janky creatures that deck-builders with higher standards would turn their noses up at, but they are cheap, serviceable ways to give another creature lifelink. Nearheath Pilgrim will have to soulbond with our commander to give them lifelink. Alabaster Mage will require us to pay to give another creature lifelink, but if we have the mana available and are expecting to have a big turn, it might be worth it.
I haven’t been including a lot of Dominaria cards, but the first one listed above will give our commander +1/+1, flying, vigilance AND lifelink. If we decide we want to try to get some commander damage through, having On Serra's Wings on Fireflyer and Sunstriker will definitely help.
The other two cards shown above are staples in our format. Loxodon Warhammer gives +3/+0, lifelink and trample. Basilisk Collar just gives deathtouch and lifelink, but that means every 3 damage our commander throws out after we cast a life gain spell will kill a creature of any size so long as it isn’t indestructible. Barrage of Boulders will become a one-sided boardwipe.
Lifelink is a card we could be running in this list, but there are much more interesting options out there. Felidar Umbra gives you the added bonus of having Totem Armor. That means that if the creature wearing the aura would be destroyed, instead the aura falls off and the creature survives.
At first glance Spirit Loop and Spirit Link look like auras that give a creature lifelink. They’re not. The way these cards are written they can be attached to any creature and instead of the creature’s controller gaining life, the aura’s controller will gain the life. If an opponent has a 256/256 Kalonian Hydra and you cast Spirit Link on it, you will gain the 256 life when it deals damage, not the creature’s controller.
If Firefork and Sunspatula were enchanted with Felidar Umbra, Spirit Link and Spirit Loop and they were to deal 3 damage to something because of a White instant or sorcery that gains you life, you would gain an additional 3 life from the lifelink, 3 life from Spirit Link and 3 life from Spirit Loop. If the enchanted creature is exiled or killed, Spirit Link will go to the graveyard, but Spirit Loop will return to your hand so you can cast it again.
I guess that means that if we have lifelink, Spirit Link and Spirit Loop on our minotaur commanders and we cast a White spell that does something useful and also gains us life, we’ll be getting a six-for-one! That would be removal, life gain, direct damage, life gain, life gain and life gain. I have a funny feeling life gain is going to be a major theme in this deck.
Normally, I leave the “goodstuff” toward the end, but I have to talk about some of the key cards in the deck next. Doing so will make some additional cards we’ll be including later on make a lot more sense.
Serra Ascendant is one of those cards that just doesn’t feel fair in our format. For a single mana in Commander, you get to put some poor opponent with no good way to deal with flyers on an 8 turn clock. Who says White can’t be nasty? The only thing worse than taking a ton of damage and finally getting rid of Serra Ascendant is seeing Sun Titan show up and bring it right back to the battlefield. If we’ve figured out that we’ll be gaining life with this deck, Rhox Faithmender will let us gain it twice as quickly.
If we like dealing 3 damage each time we gain life, we’re going to love dealing 6 damage. Gisela, Blade of Goldnight will double damage done to our opponents and cut damage done to us in half. Neheb, the Eternal will convert damage done to opponents in our first main phase into Red mana in our post-combat main phase. If Neheb is out, we’ll definitely want to aim any of our 3 damage triggers at our opponents’ faces instead of at their creatures. With all this lifegain it’s worth including a lifegain-oriented wincon. If we control Felidar Sovereign and have over 40 life at the beginning of our upkeep we’ll win the game.
The last two creatures shown in our “goodstuff” section were almost going to be included as “hidden commanders” for this deck. If we have either of them out and target them with a spell that targets a single creature, that spell will get copied for every creature we control. Mirrorwing Dragon can be targeted by our opponents for the same benefit, so it’s way riskier to run.
In a dedicated Zada deck, you would build a decent board of goblins, get Zada out, cast a spell like Accelerate or Expedite and draw a mess of cards. My initial goal for this deck was going to be to try to use Zada or Mirrorwing Dragon to combine spells that target with spells that gain life and try to generate ridiculous numbers of both life gain and direct damage triggers.
That is no longer our main goal for Firefudge and Sunsnickers, but it’s definitely something we want to be able to try to do. For that reason, the next group of spells should make sense.
White Life Gain Spells That Target
Let’s imagine we have a decent board of creatures including Zada or Mirrorwing Dragon. How much damage are we willing to do to our own creatures for the lifegain we would get if a burn spell was going to be copied so that it would hit each one of them? That’s a question we may find ourselves asking ourselves.
Lightning Helix and Warleader's Helix both do direct damage and gain us life, and they are both Red and White. This means, if Firefaith and Sunsavior are out, we’ll gain life from the spell’s life gain, we’ll gain life from the spell’s direct damage, we’ll do the damage specified on the card and then we’ll get to deal another three damage because the spell was White and gained us life. That’s all without our commanders having lifelink or either of those extra life gain auras attached.
Brightflame is an even more powerful version of the Helix spells, allowing us to damage target creature and each other creature that shares a color with it, and gaining us life equal to the damage done that way. If you’ve got Zada out and you target her with this, you’d better hope your opponents have lots of Red and White creatures out. You also might want to call a judge and get a calculator because it’s going to get complicated. As each copy of Brightflame resolves you’ll need to check how many creatures are still alive so that you know how much life you’ll be gaining. Alternatively, you could just target the Green elf tribal player’s biggest creature, pump it as much as you can and gain a ton of life. Either way, Brightflame should do work for you.
Soul's Grace and Dazzling Reflection will gain you life equal to target creature’s power, and the latter will stop it from doing any damage during the turn. If you weren’t going to bother attacking and had enough creatures out, targeting Zada with either of these could give you a nice little pile of lightning bolts to throw around.
Moment of Triumph and Tandem Tactics can each pump a creature and gain you 2 life. Copying that for each creature you control will also give you a nice pile of 3 damage triggers. The last spell, Grafted Exoskeleton, will equip to our commander to give them and each of our 3-damage triggers infect. If an opponent gets 10 poison counters, they lose the game so that’s just four White lifegain spells.
A Little Protection
Our build is heavily focused on instants and sorceries. That means we are likely to have fewer bodies on the battlefield to help to protect us from being attacked. Having a high life total might help us survive but it also might make us more of a target. When your opponents are trying to figure out who to hit, it’s easy to pick on the player with the most life.
We’re already running a healthy amount of removal, but setting up a pillowfort can also help us survive long enough to come out on top. That starts with Ghostly Prison effects, starting with the actual card Ghostly Prison and then adding a few similar effects.
Protection includes protecting our commander, so Swiftfoot Boots is essential. Targeted instant speed removal that deals with indestructible threats is always helpful, so we’ll run Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile. Deflecting Palm is a favorite of mine, and can turn the tables on an opponent swinging with a ridiculously big creature pretty nicely.
A Little Something Extra
We’ve got a plan, but there’s one last slot of 8 cards to fill. This is where we throw in a few wincons, a few tutors, and a few cards that might just us get there.
These first two are ways to build up a board. If either one gets out early we should be in a position to be able to start churning out tokens. That may not be our main strategy, but being able to develop a board can keep us alive long enough to have fun casting spells with Firefilth and Sunsinner on the battlefield.
We’re running enough instants that Isochron Scepter make sense. I don’t think we’re running enough mana rocks to make it worth running Paradox Engine, but Sunforger will let us tutor up just the right spell to imprint on our Scepter. If we’re right about our ability to gain pretty significant amounts of life, it also makes sense to throw Aetherflux Reservoir into the mix. Once we’re up above 50 life, it practically reads “eliminate all but one opponent and then win the game”.
Sunbond is a card I always want to throw into lifegain decks. Put it on Firestream and Sunsquirter and as you gain life you put +1/+1 counters on the enchanted creature. We’ll only need seven +1/+1 counters to become a two turn clock and our burn spells should help clear blockers pretty well.
If we have Sunbond and want to fetch up Street Spasm to try to get to lethal power by doing a whole mess of lifelinked burn damage, we can tutor it up with Gamble and cross our fingers that we don’t discard the spell we tutored for. If we’ve got Street Spasm in our hand and want to fetch up Sunbond, we can go get it with Open the Armory. Both are really very useful for getting what we need when we need it.
Every first draft of a deck I build has omissions, sometimes glaring ones. This list is definitely lacking card draw. I tend to resign myself to a lack of draw when I build decks in Boros colors. My plan is to play the deck and tweak it as I go. I will try to identify cards I don’t like to see when I draw them and start swapping out those dead draws for more responsible choices.
It should also be noted that I’m not running much in the way of boardwipes. There’s no Wrath of God, Austere Command, or Rout. I’m leaning on my burn spells to clear out my opponents’ creatures because I want that sweet, sweet lifegain. I’m not sure those are great replacements but one Star of Extinction with Firefart and Sunspanker on the board and I’ll probably forget I ever even thought about Wrath of God for this deck.
Going over my first draft, I’m also noticing a lack of creatures. This is a deck that’s very heavy on instants and sorceries, but I think that comes with the territory. My past experience with a creature-light Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind deck left me constantly feeling like I didn’t ever have enough blockers. I’m definitely going to be building this in paper, so I know that I’ll find myself making changes as I see how the deck plays.
When pulling apart my Brion Stoutarm deck, I found one card that definitely belongs in this list — Well of Lost Dreams. It’s a reminder that this list needs draw badly and that playing Boros is no excuse for not playing cards that will help refill the hand. I probably should have built this as a 9x7 build with nine slots of 7 cards each, with 7 cards dedicated to draw or draw & discard effects.
The last card I slightly regret not including is Teferi's Protection. I try to find a balance between budget options and good deck-building, but I also tend to favor cards I already own. Teferi's Protection is such a fantastic way to save your board if you’re about to combo out that I run my two copies in a couple of my favorite decks and I doubt it will find its way into Fireschlong and Sunstripper.
The First Draft
Firesong and Sunspeaker ? Commander | Stephen Johnson
- Commander (1)
- 1 Firesong and Sunspeaker
- Creatures (15)
- 1 Alabaster Mage
- 1 Baird, Steward of Argive
- 1 Felidar Sovereign
- 1 Gisela, Blade of Goldnight
- 1 Gold Myr
- 1 Iron Myr
- 1 Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs
- 1 Mirrorwing Dragon
- 1 Nearheath Pilgrim
- 1 Rhox Faithmender
- 1 Serra Ascendant
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Sun Titan
- 1 Windborn Muse
- 1 Zada, Hedron Grinder
- Instants (17)
- 1 Blessed Alliance
- 1 Comet Storm
- 1 Dazzling Reflection
- 1 Deflecting Palm
- 1 Divine Offering
- 1 Lightning Helix
- 1 Moment of Triumph
- 1 Path to Exile
- 1 Price of Progress
- 1 Ray of Dissolution
- 1 Serene Offering
- 1 Silverstrike
- 1 Soul's Grace
- 1 Street Spasm
- 1 Swords to Plowshares
- 1 Tandem Tactics
- 1 Warleader's Helix
- Sorceries (11)
- 1 Barrage of Boulders
- 1 Brightflame
- 1 Gamble
- 1 Mana Geyser
- 1 Mizzium Mortars
- 1 Open the Armory
- 1 Past in Flames
- 1 Righteous Confluence
- 1 Solemn Offering
- 1 Star of Extinction
- 1 Terashi's Grasp
- Enchantments (9)
- 1 Assemble the Legion
- 1 Felidar Umbra
- 1 Ghostly Prison
- 1 Lifelink
- 1 Luminarch Ascension
- 1 Sphere of Safety
- 1 Spirit Link
- 1 Spirit Loop
- 1 Sunbond
- Artifacts (12)
- 1 Aetherflux Reservoir
- 1 Basilisk Collar
- 1 Boros Cluestone
- 1 Boros Keyrune
- 1 Boros Signet
- 1 Grafted Exoskeleton
- 1 Isochron Scepter
- 1 Loxodon Warhammer
- 1 Pyromancer's Goggles
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Sunforger
- 1 Swiftfoot Boots
Much to my surprise, I’m actually excited about getting my hands on Fi . . . wait a minute . . .
That’s the name. I had to scroll back up to the top to remind myself . . .
As I said, I may get their name all mixed up, but I am really looking forward to taking apart my Brion Stoutarm deck and building and playing a deck built around these furry fellows.
These weekly first drafts are just that. Any initial list you get from me will hopefully have some really good things to look at and consider for your build, like the three-for-one approach in my lifegain spell slot. It will usually have something missing or at least a few glaring omissions. Churning out a deck a week is quite a challenge.
I have gone out of my way to not look at other decklists for these guys so I’m going to do my best to build my own version of this deck. I’ll definitely compare notes with other deck-builders to see what I missed and maybe even what they missed.
Saturday evening, after getting my hands on the prize at the bottom of my Dominaria Cracker Jack box, I set about seeing how many of these cards I actually have in paper. As it turned out, I had quite a few of them. I play every Tuesday night, so I filled in the gaps with other Boros goodstuff and I’ll be playing the list tomorrow. I’ve ordered what I was missing from the good folks at CoolStuffInc.com and look forward to getting it a little closer to the list shown above.
You can view this “second draft” of this deck that I’ll be playing tomorrow at the link below. It’s a work in progress and will be constantly evolving until the deck is eventually retired. It’s a bit different from the first draft and hopefully, with some play, I’ll be able to really start shaping it into a decent midrange Boros lifegain build.
You can find the list on Tapped Out!
If you want to know how my Commander games have been going, you can follow my casual and Commander League play at http://dantesdad.wixsite.com/commanderruminations. I played in the Dominaria pre-release at NexGen Comics in Pelham, and have notes there on my Tuesday night Commander games and my success (or more accurately, failure) at playing sealed.
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next week!