Pandemonium by John Martin (1841).
Jaya Ballard by Keiran Yanner.
I'm a decent Magic player and I can build a pretty good Commander deck but I'm also well aware that I've got my own blind spots and deck-building foibles that affect how I play the game. I'm not talking about my odd habit of putting 26 basic lands into my mono-colored decks and 2 sets of 13 basics into my two-colored decks. I'm talking about my long-standing dislike of having to discard cards.
I don't mean when I'm playing a graveyard deck and I'm using discard to give myself more options later on down the road. I'm referring to that feeling of wanting to keep all the cards in your hand and not wanting to have to lose any of them to the graveyard.
Card advantage (draw) is incredibly important in Commander, but card selection is also very important and it's one of the weaker parts of my game. I don't generally add cards that rummage (discard, then draw) or loot (draw, then discard) into my decks.
It should come as no surprise that when "impulse draw" became a hot new thing in Magic, I did not jump aboard the hype train. Impulse draw is when you exile a card from your library and you can cast it for a limited amount of time.
My first reaction to impulse draw wasn't quite abject horror, but the idea of losing my precious cards to EXILE rather than just to the graveyard sounded even worse than looting and rummaging. If I don't cast those cards within the allotted time, they'd be stuck in exile - never to be seen again!
Impulse draw isn't for every deck. You want a low mana curve so you'll likely be able to cast the cards you're exiling. You want to be in colors that don't have better options available to just draw those cards. You also want to be playing a deck that isn't going to be screwed if the wrong card gets exiled - which simply means you want to avoid fragile combo builds for impulse draw. If you built a deck that hinges on playing a very specific, high mana card for some reason, you can't risk losing that key piece because you hit it with an early game impulse draw and didn't have the mana to cast it yet.
When I sat down to take a good look at today's commander, it struck me that she is almost like a love letter to impulse draw. She is uniquely designed to make you want to play that effect, and it made me wonder how it would turn out if I built a deck that went all in on that playstyle.
This 2/2 Spirit Warrior has haste, and whenever she attacks you exile the top card of your library and may play that card this turn. That is impulse draw, and whenever you exile one or more cards from your library and/or your graveyard you also put a +1/+1 counter on Laelia, the Blade Reforged.
Unlike Rakshasa Vizier, which gets "that many" +1/+1 counters when cards are exiled from your graveyard, Laelia will only get one +1/+1 counter when one or more cards are exiled from your graveyard or from your library. That means I want to build around incremental exile, making Laelia the perfect commander for today's experiment.
As it turns out, there is A LOT of impulse draw in Magic. I couldn't possibly go over each of the cards I've thrown into this list that will give me impulse card draw, but I'll try to hit on a few of them.
I don't like four-mana permanents that don't do anything when they hit the battlefield, but Outpost Siege is unlikely to get removed if you choose Khans when it enters, and it should give you a steady stream of those impulse draw cards. Valakut Exploration gives you impulse draw linked to landfall triggers, and any cards you don't use will go into the graveyard and will ping each of your opponents for damage!
Act on Impulse is shown above because it is a great example of why oracle text matters. Are we exiling one card three times, or three cards one time? In this case the oracle text does read "Exile the top three cards" so Laelia would get only one +1/+1 counter.
It's worth noting that I should always save my land drops until I know what cards I've exiled. If I have to drop a land in order to play spells in my hand, that's fine, but if I can hold back and then play a land from my impulse card draw options, that's better.
Lots of impulse draw creatures have attack triggers, but Prophetic Flamespeaker has a combat damage trigger and double strike. If Laelia is attacking, she'll get the +1/+1 counter from Prophetic Flamespeaker's first strike damage before Laelia does her combat damage. Tectonic Giant will exile two cards and I'll get to pick one of them to be available to play until end of turn. The other just stays in exile. Dream Pillager is a 4/4 dragon who can exile cards equal to the damage it does to an opponent. Without any pump or double strike, that means four cards and another +1/+1 counter on Laelia.
It's becoming increasingly clear to me that this impulse draw nonsense might actually be a key way to make sure I'm hitting my land drops. This deck has a higher average mana value than most of my decks, but if I'm not missing land drops I ought to be able to cast big spells in the mid and late game. Impulse draw should help with that.
When you cascade, you exile cards from your library until you hit a nonland card that costs less. I'll be exiling these cards one at a time, so each one is going to put a +1/+1 counter on my commander.
Aurora Phoenix might be unlikely to come back from my graveyard to my hand, but at six mana, this flyer should be able to put at least a few counters on Laelia. Boarding Party comes in at the same Mana Value and Ingenuity Engine is one higher, at seven. Ingenuity Engine is able to bounce itself to my hand to play and cascade again, though I'm unlikely to do so under most circumstances. Eight mana and losing an artifact is a pretty high cost for such shenanigans.
I'm going to be attacking with Laelia, so Meteoric Mace will be a nice way to give her trample and +4 to her power. Throes of Chaos might seem like a do-nothing card, but the ability to cast it again by discarding a land card gives it some valuable replayability. It's on the bubble as a card that might get cut if I were trying to build a higher-powered deck, but I love the randomness of cascade and the very real possibility that Laelia could get a half dozen +1/+1 counters or more from casting Throes. Volcanic Torrent is the opposite of a do-nothing card, but it will have a much bigger impact if I've been able to launch into a huge turn, maybe powered by a Mana Geyser or some Extraplanar Lens boosted Mountains.
A Little Chaos
One thing I used to love to do when building Red decks is playing with chaos spells. Sometimes I enjoy not knowing what's going to happen when I play a spell, but as I started playing at higher powered tables, it didn't seem like those spells and effects made as much sense.
With Laelia, I've got an excuse to run them again!
Pyxis of Pandemonium is a repeatable way to exile the top card of my library, but it can also serve a very important role. I can shut off tutors that put cards on top of a player's library. If an opponent resolves a Vampiric Tutor and they forgot that I've got Pyxis on the field, you can be sure I'll exile the card they searched for. Laelia will get a +1/+1 counter and if I ever get bored I can pay seven mana, pop my Pyxis and put all permanents exiled with it onto the battlefield. This is called fun. At least, for me it's fun - for my opponents it might be more than a little frustrating.
If Pyxis of Pandemonium isn't chaotic enough for you, let me introduce Possibility Storm.
Possibility Storm is a delightful enchantment that will make it so that you'll never know what you're going to get when you cast a spell. Spells cast from the hand get exiled, and then cards are exiled from the top of the caster's library until a spell sharing a card type with the original spell gets revealed. That card gets cast for free and all cards exiled with Possibility Storm get shuffled and put on the bottom of your library. With Possibility Storm on the field, this deck will only have three other enchantments and it will have three instants, so either of those two card types could easily put dozens of +1/+1 counters on Laelia! If there are no "hits", you'll exile your entire library, shuffle it and return it as your new library. Laelia will be huge. Hopefully you can find a way to kill someone with her.
Rally the Horde is another unpredictable spell that requires a bit of explanation. The first sentence of this card reads "Remove the top three cards of your library from the game" but the Oracle text is what matters when you're playing Magic. In this case, the Oracle text reads "Exile the top card of your library. Exile the top card of your library. Exile the top card of your library." That means each of those cards is exiled as a separate action and you'll get 3 +1/+1 counters on Laelia for every time that the last card exiled isn't a land card. You'll get 1/1 Red Warrior creature tokens for your trouble, but if your deck is set up in just the unluckiest of ways you could actually exile your entire library. Those warriors don't even have haste. Good luck if that happens to you.
This deck is going for commander damage wins, which are hard to get in a game of Commander. In Mono-Red, without much of the essential stack interaction you need to protect your game plan, it's even harder. If I were tuning up this deck for stronger tables, I might drop out a few high mana value cards and throw in a little stack interaction like Burnout, Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blast, but for this first draft I'm going to focus on maximum impulse draw and a few tricks from years of building voltron decks.
Obsidian Battle-Axe will automatically equip itself to a Warrior creature entering the battlefield. Since Laelia likely won't have any +1/+1 counters when she initially hits the field, it'll be nice to be able to immediately swing as a 2/2 with +2/+1 from the axe and another +1/+1 from the counter she'll get with her attack trigger. I should be able to find someone to swing her at when she first joins the fray. She'll be a 5/4, which isn't incredible, but if things go well she'll just get bigger.
Embercleave and Fireshrieker are in this list as ways to give Laelia double strike. If I can get my Jeska, Thrice Reborn out, I could be dealing out boatloads of damage. Laelia would only have to be at 4 power to kill someone if she were able to get through unblocked, as Jeskia can triple your damage output from one of your creatures.
Laelia, the Blade Reforged simply has to run Blackblade Reforged in her list. That little trinket just gives +1/+1 for each land I control. Enough of these out in combination and I'm going to be able to dish out some real pain to whoever I swing at.
Getting through blockers is a challenge, but Prowler's Helm, Trailblazer's Boots, and Whispersilk Cloak can all help with that. None of them are perfect, but they'll all do work and both Rogue's Passage and Access Tunnel might also open a few doors. One door that might also get opened is in my Suspicious Bookcase, which for three mana can tap and make target creature unblockable.
Kediss, Emberclaw Familiar is also in this list. Kediss will take any combat damage done by your commander to an opponent and have it deal that much damage to each other opponent. That other damage won't be commander damage, but it's a cute way to push damage onto players you might not be able to attack for some reason.
Love Letters to Impulse Draw
Laelia might be too busy kicking butt to stop and write love letters to a Magic the Gathering mechanic, but if she were in a romantic mood, I think she'd be writing to Impulse Draw. It will put counters on Laelia, it will help us with our land drops, and it is long past time I dive into playing with this uniquely Red mechanic.
Love Letters to Impulse Draw | Commander | Stephen Johnson
- Commander (1)
- 1 Laelia, the Blade Reforged
- Creatures (18)
- 1 Abbot of Keral Keep
- 1 Aurora Phoenix
- 1 Boarding Party
- 1 Breeches, Brazen Plunderer
- 1 Dockside Extortionist
- 1 Dream Pillager
- 1 Etali, Primal Storm
- 1 Grinning Ignus
- 1 Grotag Night-Runner
- 1 Ire Shaman
- 1 Kediss, Emberclaw Familiar
- 1 Moraug, Fury of Akoum
- 1 Prophetic Flamespeaker
- 1 Stromkirk Occultist
- 1 Suspicious Bookcase
- 1 Syr Carah, the Bold
- 1 Tectonic Giant
- 1 Tuskeri Firewalker
- Planeswalkers (5)
- 1 Chandra, Fire Artisan
- 1 Chandra, Heart of Fire
- 1 Chandra, Pyromaster
- 1 Jeska, Thrice Reborn
- 1 Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast
- Instants (3)
- 1 Chaos Warp
- 1 Commune with Lava
- 1 Seething Song
- Sorceries (13)
- 1 Act on Impulse
- 1 Blasphemous Act
- 1 Chandra's Ignition
- 1 Ignite the Future
- 1 Indomitable Creativity
- 1 Jeska's Will
- 1 Light Up the Stage
- 1 Mana Geyser
- 1 Rally the Horde
- 1 Spark of Creativity
- 1 Soulfire Eruption
- 1 Throes of Chaos
- 1 Volcanic Torrent
- Enchantments (4)
- 1 Furious Rise
- 1 Outpost Siege
- 1 Possibility Storm
- 1 Valakut Exploration
- Artifacts (19)
- 1 Blackblade Reforged
- 1 Caged Sun
- 1 Embercleave
- 1 Extraplanar Lens
- 1 Fellwar Stone
- 1 Fireshrieker
- 1 Ingenuity Engine
- 1 Meteoric Mace
- 1 Mind Stone
- 1 Nyx Lotus
- 1 Omen Machine
- 1 Oracle's Vault
- 1 Prowler's Helm
- 1 Pyxis of Pandemonium
- 1 Ruby Medallion
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Trailblazer's Boots
- 1 Whispersilk Cloak
- 1 Obsidian Battle-Axe
I should note that I initially had Blood Moon and Magus of the Moon in this list, and if you enjoy putting pressure on your opponents when they run way too many nonbasic lands, you should probably run them. I've seen too many games where I dropped a Blood Moon and the table decided to remove that pesky enchantment by removing me from the game. It's a powerful effect and a great one in Mono-Red, but you have to be ready to take the heat that comes with it.
The biggest surprise that hit me when building this list was how many planeswalkers I wound up with. I don't often build around planeswalkers but there were three Chandras that made the cut, along with Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast and Jeska, Thrice Reborn. I don't like running planeswalkers in decks that aren't loaded up with creatures that have flying or reach. Giving your opponents something to hit can sometimes make them feel like they were beating you up, and it can result in them swinging elsewhere after the planeswalker has been dealt with. It's an odd way to lengthen the game and this deck is definitely going to want longer games. It takes time to build up Laelia into a threat and to get the pieces you need to be able to start pushing out damage.
Any commander damage deck is going to have games where it struggles, but commander damage is also a great way to deal with an opponent with a ridiculously high life total. I don't yet know how well all of this impulse draw will play out, but I'm optimistic that this will end up being a fun and interesting voltron deck. You'll ultimately be playing a fair game with no combo outs, so I think this looks to be a mid powered deck. I don't know if I'll build it in paper, but odds are good that I'll try it out on Tabletop Simulator to see how well it plays.
That's all I've got for today. Thanks for reading and I'll see you back here next Monday!