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Esix - A Tale of Two Fractals

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River Landscape with Horsemen by Aelbert Cuyp (1655). Pathrazer of Ulamog by Austin Hsu.

When I first sat down to tackle Esix, Fractal Bloom, I had no intention of building two lists for this column. As it turns out, the precon deck that Esix comes in has a lot of fantastic card choices, but like most precon decks it is trying to do in a few directions at once. Today I'm going to look at two possible ways to build Esix, neither of which will look much like the original - I just want to take Esix in some new and interesting directions.

Before we dig into my lists, I should probably start out by taking a good look at who we're building around.

Esix, Fractal Bloom

This legendary creature is a Fractal, whatever that is. Esix has flying and a really neat ability. The key things to notice about this really unique ability are that it only happens during my turns and it only happens the first time I make tokens. That means if I've got a Hornet Nest out, blocking with it won't give me tokens that I can use with Esix. It also means that if I've got a way to make a token every upkeep, that token will be my chance to use Esix's ability. If I make a dozen Saprolings later in the turn, I can't make them copies of some creature on the battlefield as I'll have lost my chance by making that earlier token. It's probably also worth mentioning that I can make any kind of token and have them become copies of a creature, so if I can somehow make a dozen treasure or clue tokens, those can potentially use Esix's ability to become token copies of a creature.

Initial Thoughts

My mind naturally goes to Dockside Extortionist, which is so prevalent in the high end of the power scale of EDH. It feels like it would be a shame not to build around making copies of Dockside Extortionist. The trick is that if you make a token copy of Dockside, you'll have already made your token for the turn, so your tokens will just come in as Treasure tokens.

Dockside Extortionist
Sakashima of a Thousand Faces
Sakashima the Impostor

I think planning around Dockside Extortionist isn't a bad idea, but it's obviously very meta-dependent. I think the trick is to play at least a few Clones in my list. Your clone will enter as a copy of a creature and you will get your enter-the-battlefield effects. If you play a clone of Dockside Extortionist and your opponents have 10 artifacts, you'll get 10 tokens that can all be copies of another creature. They could even be copies of Dockside Extortionist, meaning instead of getting 10 treasures, you'll get 10 docksides and you'll end up with 100 Treasures.

Avenger of Zendikar
Purphoros, God of the Forge
Gray Merchant of Asphodel

Clone, Sakashima of a Thousand Faces and Sakashima the Impostor can all work with more than just Dockside Extortionist. If you have 10 lands, Avenger of Zendikar will give you 10 0/1 Plant tokens, but if you have each of those plants enter as a token copy of Avenger of Zendikar you'll end up with 100 Plant tokens.

I think a clone package can fit nicely in any Esix build. If there's a creature you want to make sure you can copy but you're not ready to spam out tokens just yet, you can play your clone so you've got an extra copy of your ideal target just in case something happens to the original. A Purphoros, God of the Forge might be the sort of thing you want to make a copy of so you can use it later. That Gray Merchant of Asphodel might not be around in a turn or two, so if you're gearing up to drop a ton of tokens you'd do well to have a copy of your own.

There are lots of good ways to build Esix, and in both of today's lists I'm going to have a core of cards that are shared between the two decks. I'll definitely want creatures like Wood Elves, Sakura-Tribe Elder and Solemn Simulacrum so that I can launch into some big ramp turns. I'll also want Mulldrifter and some removal ETB staples like Reclamation Sage so that I have some high value options for my token generation. Beyond the basics, I'm seeing two paths that are both really intriguing.

Common Ground

I ended up grabbing a few cards from the stock list, but mostly did my own thing with these decks. They both have a pretty high average mana value (CMC) and if you were going to play them in a more competitive meta where games run shorter and you've got to be more efficient in your card choices, both of these lists would need to be trimmed down and loaded up with cheap stack interaction and removal.

These decks share a bunch of creatures in common that should all be decent targets for making token copies of a creature.

Reclamation Sage
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Mulldrifter

I'm running Reclamation Sage and Acidic Slime as potential removal options. A single Avenger of Zendikar making Plant tokens and having those actually enter as copies of Acidic Slime would let me wipe out an opponent's land base pretty quickly. Reclamation Sage might not be quite as versatile, but at two less mana, it's well worth including.

Sakura-Tribe Elder and Coiling Oracle, which is in the precon list, will each let me ramp, and there are going to be games where getting a massive jump in the lands I've got on the field will open the door for me to play out some of the high mana value cards this deck is running. My Eldrazi list is running Farhaven Elf, Wild Wanderer, Ondu Giant and Rootweaver Druid. My artifacts list is running Solemn Simulacrum, Pilgrim's Eye and Skittering Surveyor, which aren't nearly as good, but lean towards that artifact theme. Mulldrifter is in both lists and will probably never get cast for its evoke cost. The upside of making Mulldrifter copies is just too good.

I'm also running a few counterspells and a number of token generators in both lists that are just too good to leave out. Ezuri's Predation is in the precon and found its way into both of my lists. Doubling Season and Hardened Scales are in both lists, but I put Panharmonicon into my artifacts list and second Harvest in my Eldrazi list. I was trying to have fun with each build but also make each one somewhat distinct.

Aether Mutation
Fertile Imagination
Curious Herd

Maybe I'm being too greedy, but I dropped out a lot of token generators that would only give me one or two tokens and loaded up on cards that had much higher upsides. Aether Mutation will not only work as removal, it could let me bounce a big token generator if I've got one on the battlefield. Stolen by the Fae is also in the list and will also act as removal and can be used on my own creature. Fertile Imagination will let the table peek at someone's hand and if I'm lucky I might even get six, eight or more tokens out of it. Curious Herd is a new favorite of mine given how many fields I see littered with treasure tokens in today's EDH. I'm also running Spontaneous Generation, which will give me Saprolings based on how many cards are in my hand.

Eldrazi Esix

The thing that drew me towards wanting to work up an Eldrazi list was that there are lots of Eldrazi cards that create Spawn and Scion tokens. As I dug into it, I was reminded that many of them only make a single token, but Eldrazi have another thing that makes them great for any deck that wants to finish off a table - creatures with annihilator!

The annihilator keyword is a powerful one. When a creature attacks, the defending player must sacrifice permanents. It's a headache when you're being attacked by a creature with annihilator 1 or 2, even if you're in the kind of deck that has tokens to spare. Attacking with an army of creatures with annihilator triggers is admittedly quite brutal.

Before you start thinking that I'm some kind of monster, think about how one can close out a game in Commander. Lots of players like to combo off or lock an opponent down in all manner of ways. Playing out a big boy with annihilator 2, making 10 more of them and swinging them at your opponents might seem oppressive, but if you're able to get everything in place to pull that off, you deserve a certain amount of credit. You're also probably going to win that game.

Emrakul's Evangel
Brood Monitor
Pathrazer of Ulamog

Emrakul's Evangel can let me flush a bunch of the creatures that got me to the point where I was able to start doing big, powerful things. Once I've got enough lands, I won't need those Wood Elves or Sakura-Tribe Elder tokens, so I can sacrifice them and make new tokens to cause trouble with. Brood Monitor, Kozilek's Predator and Drowner of Hope can give me tokens that in the early game can help me ramp and in the late game can be copies of much bigger threats.

In this build, many of those bigger threats have annihilator. Pathrazer of Ulamog, Artisan of Kozilek and Ulamog's Crusher are all problems on their own. If you can make a half dozen or more, your opponent had better find an answer quickly or they will soon find themselves annihilated out of the game.

The only major concern about leaning towards Eldrazi in this list is the elephant in the room, or rather the Emrakul in the room. I'm not running ANY of the Eldrazi titans. Those big boys have cast triggers, and making copies isn't going to give me cast triggers. They're also legendary, which will be a problem for making token copies if Sakashima of a Thousand Faces isn't on the field. A legendary creature with a fantastic enter-the-battlefield ability might be worth making copies of, but the legend rule would force me to sacrifice all but one of them and that's not a great way to build an army.

Artifact Esix

My artifact-focused version of Esix is very much inspired by my love of a very odd artifact from Mirrodin, but it's also running lots of synergistic artifacts that work with what Esix wants to do. I've pushed more artifacts into my ramp and draw slots, though I'm still running lots of cards in common with the Eldrazi version.

Myr Incubator
Snake Basket
Orochi Hatchery

Myr Incubator isn't cheap, but in my old Karona, False God deck I ran it as Myr tribal and this little gem could give me a couple of dozen Myr when I cracked it. This deck is running 26 artifacts, along with two artifact lands in Seat of the Synod and Tree of Tales. Getting Myr Incubator on the field and cracking it could give you 20 or more 1/1 Myr artifact creature tokens. I practically get goosebumps thinking about having those tokens enter the battlefield as a copy of some other creature, possibly even one from an opponent that's outside of my color space.

That trick with 20 Mulldrifters draws you 40 cards. With Acidic Slime, you might just leave your opponents with only a few lands each. If you played a Craterhoof Behemoth and somehow didn't kill the table on that turn, you might even try it with Craterhoof as your target for making your tokens. Your hasty Craterhoof Behemoth tokens might each get something like 20 X 20 = +400/+400 and trample.

Snake Basket just lets you spend a turn pouring all your mana into making tokens, so if your opponents let it stick around long enough, they will probably regret it. Orochi Hatchery sticks around after being used, so an initial investment of mana can pay off for many turns. These two aren't forgettable compared to Myr Incubator, but they are clearly more modest options for making tokens.

Precursor Golem
Wurmcoil Engine
Blightsteel Colossus

Making token copies of Precursor Golem will give me three times the number of creatures as I'd get if I targeted the admittedly more powerful Wurmcoil Engine, which can also play the token generation game. This deck's artifact strategy tops out with the always terrifying Blightsteel Colossus. That one hit kill is amazing when you have one. Having a token army of Blightsteel Colossuses... Colossi? Having a bunch will be very hard for any table to answer, especially if they're not sitting on a Cyclonic Rift or Settle the Wreckage.

This list has the same top-heaviness of the Eldrazi version, so again I'm out of my comfort zone as a deckbuilder. I am building around the plan that an early ramp creature can get copied a few times and you can get to the point where casting a Darksteel Colossus or an Artisan of Kozilek is realistic. I think the reality is that both decks will need a longer game to have the time execute its game plan.

I would say that building a deck designed for a longer game isn't always a great idea, but as I'm writing this I just yesterday played at a table where a Gruul stompy deck won a long game quite handily. Ultimately this is a meta call, and if you're able to build towards longer games, these two lists should both give you some really interesting options.

The Game Plan

This deck has a pretty simple game plan and I think it's worth going over.

Your early game is composed of ramping and your ideal situation is to have at least one creature that will allow you to ramp if you target it when you make a bunch of tokens. Let's say you have a Solemn Simulacrum on the field.

Next you want to get Esix on the field along with Lightning Greaves or Swiftfoot Boots so that you can protect it. At six mana, that's not always easy but it's essential. This deck runs its gameplan through its commander.

Your next step is to generate tokens and use Esix to make those copies of your ramp creature. Here we want to ramp enough that we can cast big stuff. Big stuff means playing your big Eldrazi or Colossus or whatever. You might even copy an opponent's creature if they've got something really spicy on the battlefield.

You follow that up with another token generator that's going to give you an army of tokens of that creature. Even a lowly Platinum Angel becomes a major problem when there are enough of them.

This will play out over many turns, and at any point if there's a better target than what you've got in your game plan at that point in time - by all means switch gears and make the smart play. Just be careful your opponent doesn't have a sacrifice outlet on their field because they'd be smart to pull your target creature out from under you.

My best guess is that a lot of the time you might have a better target on an opponent's battlefield than what you've got on your battlefield but that's just a guess.

Final Thoughts

This feels a bit like a Magical Christmas Land deck, in that the things it wants to do feel very reliant on everything coming together just right. Esix costs a lot and if you do manage to do crazy things your opponents should learn to remove it when your token-generating spell or ability is on the stack.

I felt that way about Grumgully, the Generous, but just like Grumgully, this deck has redundancy in a lot of the places where it needs redundancy. It feels like the dream scenario requires a perfect game, but in reality I'm guessing it will play out well more often than my skeptical nature might lead me to believe.

It's possible that serious token generation spells are mana-intensive enough that this deck might want all the Spawn/Scion generators from the Eldrazi version AND all the artifact ramp from the Artifact version, and it's also possible that the most fun and most powerful version of this deck might rely completely on your opponents' creatures.

I like not knowing what's going to happen in a game, so building completely around making token copies of your opponents' best stuff sounds ridiculously fun. You could load up on ways to protect Esix and ways to remove game-ending threats and just sit back and see what your opponents' decks give you to work with.

I might have just talked myself into building this last version of Esix. It would require more ways to get past hexproof and shroud, and it would likely end up at a much lower average mana value. Dropping out giant creatures would absolutely make more room for more interaction, Cyclonic Rift, Rite of Replication and other fun cards that should really be in a tuned-up version of this deck. I think I might have just talked myself into buying a precon deck!

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

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