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Eight is Enough: Octavia in Commander


In Strange Seas by George Willoughby Maynard (1889).

Talrand, Sky Summoner by Svetlin Velinov.

I don't always build my decks in a strict 8 x 8 pattern, with eight slots devoted to eight different functions or themes as a way to ensure that I don't end up skimping on removal, draw, ramp or some other important facet of Commander deck-building, but with Octavia, Living Thesis, I feel somewhat obligated to do so.

Octavia, Living Thesis

Octavia is an 8/8 Elemental Octopus that costs eight generic mana along with 2 Blue mana, but costs 8 less if I have 8 or more instant and/or sorcery cards in the graveyard. She also has Ward 8, which means that spells cast by my opponents targeting Octavia will cost 8 additional mana. It's not hexproof, but in most games, for all practical purposes it's just as good.

Where Octavia really gets interesting is with her final ability. She has Magecraft, which means that when her controller casts or copies an instant or sorcery, something happens. For Octavia, target creature gets base power and toughness of... wait for it... 8/8 until end of turn.

Having an army of 8/8 creatures is cool.

Having an army of small, cheap creatures any of which could become a base 8/8 at the casting of a lowly one-mana Opt, Brainstorm, or Ponder gets really, really interesting.

Building Around Slots

This whole "slot" approach to building isn't a new idea, but it's a useful one that every deck-builder should know. The process is simple. If you're building in an 8 x 8 pattern you identify eight things that matter to your deck, and dedicate eight cards to each of these categories. You end up with 64 non-lands, or 65 if you don't throw your commander into one of the slots.

My eight slots for Octavia's ended up looking something like this. I won't list out every single spell, but I do want to give you a feel for how this deck came together.

1 - Instants to use as combat tricks to turn a creature into an 8/8.

I'm lumping removal like Pongify and Rapid Hybridization and draw spells like Peek and Visions of Beyond into this category. While my goal is for these to help me make a 1/1 into an 8/8 before damage resolves, it's important for these spells to also be generally useful.

2 - Evasive creatures

Unblockable 1/1 creatures aren't hard to find. Mist-Cloaked Herald, Triton Shorestalker, Gudul Lurker, Slither Blade, and Invisible Stalker are staples in Edric, Spymaster of Trest and make sense in this list as well. Blighted Agent will give me an unblockable infect threat, and I'm running a few cheap flyers to round out this slot.

3 - Card Draw

A lot of these spells are cheap instants so they can be used as combat tricks, but card draw is also incredibly important in Blue for hitting land drops. Opt, Ponder, Brainstorm and Anticipate form the backbone of this group, and this is important enough that I've got card draw spells spilling over into other slots as well.

4 - Ramp

Blue ramp can be tricky. Once I threw in Sol Ring, Arcane Signet, Sapphire Medallion, Thought Vessel, and Solemn Simulacrum, I turned to a few less conventional options. Sword of the Animist will help me grab lands, Thieving Skydiver might steal me a Sol Ring or some other Mana Rock, and Dreamscape Artist will let me throw an Instant or Sorcery (or any other card) into the graveyard and sacrifice a land to put two basic lands into play untapped. I almost forgot to throw in High Tide, but remembered it at just the last minute. High Tide can power out a retail cost Octavia in the mid game even with no graveyard help to reduce her cost.

5 - Removal

Instant speed removal may end up working as a combat trick fairly often. Unsummon, Blink of an Eye, Force Away, and Into the Roil can be played defensively or as a combat trick with Octavia on the field. Venser, Shaper Savant, Aetherize, Aetherspouts, and Cyclonic Rift round out this group. I have to expect to need to repel at least one major attack in the course of your average game, if not more than one.

6 - Token Generators

My first draft of Octavia had more high mana token generators like Thopter Squadron and Myriad Construct. After trimming some of the fat, I'm still running Talrand, Sky Summoner, Murmuring Mystic, Thopter Assembly, Shark Typhoon, and Tezzeret, Artifice Master. Flying tokens are key, as it's often easy to find someone without reach or flying blockers.

7 - Stack Interaction / counterspells

Stack interaction might not be my strongest suit, but I'm running Swan Song, Counterspell, Disrupt, Flusterstorm, Fierce Guardianship, Narset's Reversal, Keep Safe, and Draining Whelk. I don't like saying "no" to an opponent playing their deck, but I do have to be ready to stop them from stopping me. A removal spell targeting my attacking 8/8 Blighted Agent has to get countered. I'm not going to win games if I can't protect my attackers.

8 - Miscellaneous fun stuff and pet cards.

My fun stuff ended up including card draw options because this deck in particular is going to live and die based upon how well it can keep drawing cards. Champion of Wits and Thought Sponge get much better when they're turned into 8/8 creatures at just the right time. Propaganda might just get that Goblin army to swing elsewhere until they draw into their Chaos Warp. Mulldrifter is always great and if played for its full cost, you might be able to fly it at someone and turn it into an 8/8 before damage is resolved. Consecrated Sphinx is an absolute house in Commander for card draw and you can even do twice as much damage with it if you give it the Octavia treatment.

What the slots look like for your deck will depend upon your meta, your playstyle and what kind of deck you're looking to end up with. An argument could be made for having a full two draw slots, two slots of stack interaction or no fun stuff slot at all if you think there's no room for pet cards in serious Commander decks. I'd suggest you'd be wrong about that, but that is just my opinion. This draft isn't meant to be a cEDH or fringe cEDH list.

The Octavia Quandary

Octavia is a ten-mana commander. There's just no getting around the fact that without eight or more instant and/or sorcery cards in your graveyard, she's almost prohibitively expensive. There will be times in games where the only option is to pay full price for her.

Unless I build this list around an unusually high number of instants and sorceries, it's going to be a real challenge to get her out until the mid or late game.

10 mana is no joke, especially if you're not in Green.

One solution might be to run cards that will let me mill myself. Traumatize would put half my library into my graveyard. Tunnel Vision would let me name a card and then mill myself until I reach the named card. Mirror-Mad Phantasm can shuffle itself into my library and then have me mill myself until I reach Mirror-Mad Phantasm and put it back onto the battlefield.

Self-mill is a possible solution. All of those self-mill cards would work, but building around self-mill as a silver bullet isn't something I want to do. Building up my graveyard slowly and incrementally by casting lots of spells is less likely to draw the attention of a player with a Bojuka Bog in hand. They'll want to screw someone over with that land's enter-the-battlefield ability and if I just Traumatized myself they won't be able to resist sending my graveyard into exile. Octavia is a graveyard deck, but only just barely. I might as well let the real graveyard decks draw that graveyard hate while I fly under the radar as much as possible.

Instead of using self-mill I'm going to try to focus on running as many low mana instants and sorceries as possible. Loading up on cheap spells that will draw cards and keep me alive should also help me to get to where I can cast Octavia for two Blue mana. This list has already gone through a few revisions, dropping out cards like Myriad Construct and Meloku the Clouded Mirror in favor of token generators like Talrand's Invocation and Stolen by the Fae.

This is a control build, with lots of ways to remove, bounce or counter problems. My hope is that using those defensive measures in the early and mid game will get me to where I can cast Octavia for 2 Blue mana. If I still manage to get hit with a Bojuka Bog, I'm just going to have to pay retail for my big scary Octopus.

The Good Stuff

Every deck I build is going to have cards I'm excited about seeing in a game. This list isn't particularly complicated. I didn't build it as a combo deck and I'm not aiming for fringe cEDH territory, but I do want to do some silly things with it.

Champion of Wits
Thought Sponge

The first card worth bringing up is Champion of Wits. When Champion of Wits enters the battlefield, the ability to draw cards equal to its power and then discard two cards goes onto the stack. Its power will be determined when that ability resolves, so the play here is to hold priority and then use an instant spell and Octavia, Living Thesis to make it an 8/8. I'll draw 8 cards and discard 2. I can do this when I use its Eternalize ability and make a 4/4 token zombie version, but I'll be hoping to draw into a card like Unsummon so I can bounce it and do it again.

Thought Sponge is a bit trickier, as it has to die for me to draw cards. It is a 1/1 that will enter the battlefield with +1/+1 counters equal to the greatest number of cards an opponent has drawn this turn. This deck isn't full of sacrifice outlets, but I might well turn it into an Ape or a Frog Lizard creature token just to get that card draw. Both of those removal spells will let me use Octavia to turn Thought Sponge into an 8/8, so I'll be drawing at least eight cards.

Blighted Agent
Inkmoth Nexus

Blighted Agent is going to be sent at my opponents even if I don't have Octavia on the field. Getting two poison counters on an opponent sets them up to be killed with one attack if I can make this nasty little Rogue into an 8/8. Inkmoth Nexus is my other Infect option, allowing me to attack through the air. I was tempted to include Fireshrieker or run ways to put +1/+1 counters onto creatures so these could become one-shot kills but there are only two of these infect cards in the deck and it doesn't make sense to build too heavily around cards that I might not see that often. Adding in Corrupted Conscience is tempting, and I could see adding it and Grafted Exoskeleton if I wanted to really push for a strong infect theme.

Defending My Thesis

The first thing I should probably bring up is that this list is very focused on using its commander.

It's not unreasonable to suggest that a Commander deck should be able to play without its commander, but the ability to build around that one special legendary creature is a huge part of why a lot of us play this format. Can you win a game with this list without the ability to turn small creatures into 8/8 threats? Possibly, but it won't be easy and that's really OK.

When this deck does "pop off" you'll be looking at games where you build a decent army, swing multiple flying or unblockable attackers at some unfortunate tablemate and turn them into 8/8 creatures with silly little spells like Opt and Peek.

"I'm going to look at your hand and draw a card... oh, yeah - and you're dead now."

I'm noticing that this deck definitely feels like the skinny, low-mana, fringe cEDH style build that I often share with you here in this column. It's got loads of card draw, removal and interaction, which should allow it to play at higher powered tables. My only concern is the lack of combo. Some of you might be happy to see a "fairer" decklist from me this time around, but I do get a little nervous suggesting a deck like this get played in metas where combo wincons are about as common as days that end in "y".

Ultimately, I think any deck you find online should be adjusted for your meta. Today's list isn't really tuned up for high powered play. While you might do just fine in a strong meta, you might also want to throw in Mana Crypt, Mana Vault, a few more rocks and the Dramatic Scepter / Isochron Scepter combo or a Thassa's Oracle line, but then you might as well switch to a different commander more suited for those wincons.

If you were going to tune this list down for more casual play, your first step might be to drop out those infect cards. Beyond that, I'm not sure what you would change. This really is a very fair, casual deck that is trying to survive to the late game and clean up any remaining tablemates with combat damage.

Final Thoughts

I have thrown together a lot of decklists over the past few months, and I'm still going by my old practice of generally not building decks in paper unless I cracked the deck's commander out of a booster pack. I don't often buy full boxes of booster packs, so this adds a certain amount of chaos and randomness into the way my deck collection grows. Octavia is in the Prismari Performance Strixhaven Commander precon, so if I want her I'm going to have to pick one of those up or just order her as a single.

I really, really like combat tricks.

I like them enough that there's a good chance I'll end up playing this deck in one of my online Tabletop Simulator EDH games and if I enjoy it enough, I might pull the trigger and order an extended art Octavia, Living Thesis. I've been collecting old Unglued lands for a few years and have considered making a mono-colored deck in each color using just those sweet old basics. I don't currently have a Mono-Blue deck as my Heidar, Rimewind Master build got converted into Jorn, God of Winter, so this could be the one.

If you've built Octavia or have thoughts on how I went about throwing this list together, please comment - I'd love to hear what you did with her.

If you're old like me and had forgotten the old 70's TV Show "Eight is Enough" even existed, well - you're welcome. I watched it as a kid back when it aired, and for it just creeped back into my brain when I started writing this column. If this deck plays the way it's supposed to play, eight will indeed be enough. After all, you just need five attackers and a string of five cheap instants and one of your opponents gets to die. Take that, Dick Van Patten!

That's all I've got for you today. I'll see you back here next Monday with another look at a Strixhaven legendary creature in Commander.

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