Ruins of Brederode by Jacob Van Ruisdael (1655). Jungle Creeper by Matt Stewart.
When I first chose to write about today's commander, I thought I'd be able to find some interesting angles to explore. I love Green decks, I love the idea of finding a way to get more value out of creatures when they did. I just had no idea my walk through the woods would take a left turn at Albuquerque and end up in Combotown.
Fellow CSI writer Corbin Hosler tackled Yedora, Grave Gardener in his column last week. I love a good tribal deck, so you should definitely give that article a read. I have to say that I was relieved to find out that his take on Yedora and my take on Yedora are very different. There is some overlap between our lists, but you can get a lot of insight from each of our takes on this big boy.
This Treefolk Druid is a 5/5 for five mana. He has no evasion or keywords of any kind, but his party trick is pretty cool. Whenever another nontoken creature you control dies, it comes back as a forest. It's face down and it's a forest land with no other types or abilities. It enters untapped, so you can immediately tap it for mana.
My first thought was that Yedora, Grave Gardener would provide some real resiliency for decks that like to run out mana dorks but then struggle when those little guys get killed. Losing your mana sources is always rough, and if you load up on creatures that tap for mana, you can really be in a tough spot when the board gets wiped. Yedora solves that problem quite nicely.
There are some simple ways to build around a creature like Yedora and there are also ways to break Yedora wide open. Let's start with the more casual tactics one might use with Yedora.
Yedora, Grave Gardener is a great match for cards that require themselves to be sacrificed. That built-in limitation is less of a headache when you're bringing that creature back to the field as a Forest. It becomes a way to ramp, though you will still have one less creature to protect you. Some of these creatures are in both my list and Corbin's Yedora Treefolk build, but I think it's worth digging into them.
Caustic Caterpillar is a fantastic low mana rattlesnake card that can keep an opponent from playing out any major combo pieces for fear of having them get blown up. I'm tempted to throw in Elvish Lyrist and Druid Lyrist, but those two only hit enchantments and have to tap, so they can't be used on the turn you play them unless you have a haste enabler. I'll lean on instants for flexible artifact/enchantment removal but I could see a more casual list running the Lyrists and even more creatures that are suboptimal but which sacrifice themselves.
Dawntreader Elk is an oft-overlooked land fetcher. It can be used the turn it comes into play, but at 3 mana to play and activate, it's again suboptimal. Solemn Simulacrum might not be able to sacrifice itself, but it's not hard to help the iconic "sad robot" die. Not only do you draw a card, but you get a slightly metallic face-down "Forest" for your trouble.
Nessian Game Warden might not seem like much. In a deck where you might soon find yourself with over a dozen real Forests and a dozen face down "Forests," this Beast's ability to let you look at cards on the top of your library equal to the number of Forests you control could be incredibly helpful. If you don't like what you got, Temur Sabertooth will let you bounce a creature to your hand. Sabertooth will become indestructible until end of turn, and you'll get another chance to cast the creature you bounced. You can't bounce a face-down creature that's become a Forest, but this cat is still way too good to not include in today's list.
Blanchwood Armor is simply a fantastic way to pump a creature if you've got a ton of Forests. Putting it on the right creature can be a challenge, but 3 mana to give a creature what could amount to a huge power boost seems like a good plan. This deck might benefit from some creatures with evasion if Blanchwood Armor becomes part of your regular game plan. You might think Strata Scythe would be an auto-include for Yedora, but that equipment cares about the name of the land that was exiled, and the face down creatures Yedora turns into Forests don't actually have names.
A lot of the rest of a casual Yedora list would probably be mono-Green goodstuff. I love Corbin's Treefolk tribal version, but you might have a lot of fun with an Elf build or any number of other fun flavors to make your Yedora list your own.
You know you'll be looking at extra landfall, so cards like Lotus Cobra and Rampaging Baloths fit right in. Card draw staples like Beast Whisperer and Guardian Project slide in nicely, even if you're not really going overboard with your creature count. A fairly standard Green ramp package and removal can fill out the list and you'll be ready to go - unless you're ready to take things to the next level!
Next Level Yedora
So, you can sacrifice a creature and if Yedora is on the field, you can have that creature return to the battlefield as a face down Forest with no abilities or keywords or even a name. After some brainstorming I decided to take a page out of my Aesi, Tyrant of Gyre Strait deck and a page out of my Grumgully, the Generous deck to develop a combo for this build.
In my Aesi deck I like to turn lands into creatures to swing them at folks, ideally after a boardwipe. In my Grumfully deck I like to sacrifice creatures that will come back to the battlefield so they can be sacrificed again. For Yedora, these two tactics fit together quite nicely. Corbin hit upon this synergy in his list, didn't take it in the direction that I ended up going.
The first step of this combo is to turn your lands into creatures.
This is obviously risky, but it's worth the risk. The only caveat is that an instant like Natural Affinity won't work because it will only affect lands that are currently on the field when it resolves. I need something like Nature's Revolt and Life and Limb, which are enchantments that will affect the board for as long as they stick around. Embodiment of Insight will let me turn a landfall trigger into a land becoming a creature, which will work fine for what I've got planned.
With the addition of a sacrifice outlet, I now can infinitely loop one of my face-down creatures that is a Forest but is now also a creature. If I sacrifice any Forest, it's not a token so it will get brought back to the battlefield as a face-down Forest. If I perform this loop with Ashnod's Altar, I'll make infinite colorless mana. With Phyrexian Altar, that mana can be any color I like. If I do it with Altar of Dementia, I can try to mill my opponents until they have no libraries left.
With Temur Sabertooth on the field, I can bounce any of my face-down Forest creatures to my hand so that I can cast them again. Casting and re-casting any of my creatures that help me draw cards will let me draw into a hard wincon like that Altar of Dementia.
Infinite mana doesn't win the game on its own... or does it?
Pouring infinite mana into a card like Helix Pinnacle does win the game if your opponents can't remove it before your upkeep. I'm running Constant Mists in this deck to give me a chance to survive until my turn. I should have plenty of lands to sacrifice to buy it back again and again.
If I was able to do my loop with Scute Swarm or Rampaging Baloths on the field, I'll have an arbitrarily large army to swing with if my opponents aren't able to find an answer for my crazy shenanigans. Additional landfall cards might be worth running in this list so that I can do stuff like gain infinite life when I combo off.
Any time I'm playing the combo game, it's nice to be able to lock your opponents out of my turn. Conqueror's Flail might not seem worth including, but it has the sweet ability to prevent my opponents from casting spells on my turn if it's equipped to a creature I control. The other thing about playing combo is that I tend to want to tutor for my combo pieces. Embodiment of Insight is a creature and Green had plenty of ways to tutor for creatures. Fauna Shaman, Magus of the Order, Summoner's Pact and Chord of Calling can all get my Embodiment of Insight out of my library. I'm running plenty of recursion along with Riftsweeper so if I lose that lynchpin of my combo, I'll have a chance to get it back.
The good news about this particular combo is that my opponents will have to have cards with the split second keyword to stop me. If they put a Naturalize on the stack targeting my Embodiment of Insight or Nature's Revolt, I can sacrifice a face-down Forest creature and hold priority. The sacrificed creature comes back to the battlefield with Yedora's ability and it's available to be sacrificed again. I can milk my combo for as much mill, mana or token production as I need and then let the Naturalize resolve. Unless I'm able to pull into a Heroic Intervention or some other answer, I will still lose the permanent that was targeted with removal, but short of a Krosan Grip or Sudden Spoiling, I should be able to do what I need to do.
Adding a Concordant Crossroads would let me be able to swing with any giant army I made with my combo, but it would also give my opponents' creatures haste. Sometimes that can backfire.
I've tried to throw together what I think amounts to a pretty interesting list with the ability to play a fair game and the ability to execute a powerful combo that will set you up to at least threaten to win the game. You might even mill them out and watch them each die on their draw steps.
I'm hesitant to call this a high-powered deck because you're looking at a fairly limited set of circumstances that will let you combo off. Most of the time you'll be trying to play a fair game and you'll be digging for answers and for those key combo pieces. If they're stuck in the last few cards of your deck and even your tutors aren't showing up, you might have to play a more fair game. I could even see adding in Natural Affinity and a Craterhoof Behemoth for those games where an old-fashioned alpha strike seems in order.
Yedora Embodiment Combo | Commander | Stephen Johnson
- Commander (1)
- 1 Yedora, Grave Gardener
- Creatures (27)
- 1 Beast Whisperer
- 1 Caustic Caterpillar
- 1 Dawntreader Elk
- 1 Elvish Mystic
- 1 Elvish Rejuvenator
- 1 Elvish Visionary
- 1 Embodiment of Insight
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Farhaven Elf
- 1 Fauna Shaman
- 1 Fyndhorn Elves
- 1 Llanowar Elves
- 1 Grothama, All-Devouring
- 1 Lotus Cobra
- 1 Magus of the Order
- 1 Nessian Game Warden
- 1 Rampaging Baloths
- 1 Reclamation Sage
- 1 Regal Force
- 1 Riftsweeper
- 1 Sakura-Tribe Elder
- 1 Scute Swarm
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Springbloom Druid
- 1 Temur Sabertooth
- 1 Wall of Blossoms
- 1 Wood Elves
- Instants (13)
- 1 Beast Within
- 1 Chord of Calling
- 1 Constant Mists
- 1 Harrow
- 1 Heroic Intervention
- 1 Krosan Grip
- 1 Naturalize
- 1 Nature's Claim
- 1 Return of the Wildspeaker
- 1 Return to Nature
- 1 Summoner's Pact
- 1 Veil of Summer
- 1 Withstand Death
- Sorceries (11)
- 1 Creeping Renaissance
- 1 Cultivate
- 1 Harmonize
- 1 Kodama's Reach
- 1 Rampant Growth
- 1 Recollect
- 1 Regrowth
- 1 Revive
- 1 Rishkar's Expertise
- 1 Shamanic Revelation
- 1 Three Visits
- Enchantments (7)
- 1 Abundance
- 1 Blanchwood Armor
- 1 Guardian Project
- 1 Helix Pinnacle
- 1 Life and Limb
- 1 Nature's Revolt
- 1 Sylvan Library
- Artifacts (6)
- 1 Altar of Dementia
- 1 Ashnod's Altar
- 1 Conqueror's Flail
- 1 Emerald Medallion
- 1 Phyrexian Altar
- 1 Sol Ring
I'd need to play this list a bit to really get a feel for how much value I might get out of adding in those extra landfall creatures. I tend to undervalue incremental life gain, but the ability to skyrocket my life total into the stratosphere and force opponents to kill me with commander damage, combo, infect or mill might buy me the time to get to my wincon.
This list is somewhat tuned for high-powered tables. I'm running low mana removal options and I've tried to keep the top end of my mana curve under control. Given how many Forests I'm likely to get onto the field, I might easily be able to run and hard-cast an Eldrazi Titan or some other giant threat, but this version of the deck is really tuned towards getting my silly combo to happen.
One of the things I love most about Commander is how flexible it is as a format.
You could probably tune this list up further and surprise a few people at high powered tables. They'll raise their eyes when you turn your lands into creatures and they might chuckle a bit when you show them what you're up to. They might even gain a little respect when their interaction proves just a little too slow and you keep your combo going until you're ready to let their Nature's Claim or Path to Exile resolve.
You might instead shake your head in disappointment at seeing me trot out yet another combo, and go brew up a similar list but without that extra spice of an infinite loop. You'll still be able to get an impressive number of Forests and "Forests" onto the field and you might find yourself pouring your mana into a Jade Mage instead of a Helix Pinnacle, but the core Yedora shenanigans remain the same. You'll be turning removal, sacrifice and boardwipes into ramp in a way that will make everyone else at the table just... green with envy.
I should note that this deck is feeling a bit like my Hamza, Guardian of Arashin combo deck and my Kodama of the East Tree / Toggo, Goblin Weaponsmith combo deck. Both can play a fair game, but when I play then I've often ended up feeling disappointed when my attempts to combo off get stopped.
If you're interested in playing combo, you're trying to play at high-powered tables with lots of interaction and you're NOT in Blue, be forewarned that you may have some very frustrating games. Of course, that might make the occasional victory that much sweeter.
If you enjoyed my creative attempt to "break" Yedora, or if there's something I've missed today that I probably should have included, please let me know in the comments. I do my best to find new and interesting ways to build around these new legends, but I'm just one person and feedback is always appreciated. Tell me what I missed!
That's all I've got for today. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!