Calais Pier by J.M.W. Turner (1803). Waterspout Weavers by Eric Fortune.
Making a creature unblockable can be an incredibly powerful effect in Commander. In the right situation it can simply let you start knocking your opponents off the table one by one until they find an answer or you win. A well-built Voltron deck can be frustrating to play against, but when you can't even block the threat that's bearing down on you, it can be especially hard to deal with.
Today's column is about a new legendary creature in Esper colors that plays into a very combat-focused strategy. Let's take a look at Kamiz, Obscura Oculus.
Not only will she make one of your targetable creatures unable to be blocked, she'll also give out the double strike ability. The only downside is that those two buffs have to go to different creatures. I think Kamiz is a really exciting new addition to the range of combat-oriented commanders in Esper, which have traditionally not been quite as focused on the combat step as a lot of other color combinations in Magic.
I nearly missed one extra thing about Kamiz that bears mentioning. When you use her ability to make a creature unblockable - it "connives". That means you draw and discard and if you discard a nonland card you put a +1/+1 counter on that creature. Making unblockable threats is great already, but adding connive to the ability is nice. It's not amazing, but there will be times where that extra +1/+1 counter matters.
The concept of a "voltron" deck, where you suit up a single creature with auras and equipment and try to channel your damage through it, is an old idea in Commander. The voltron threat is usually your commander, but doesn't have to be. With Kamiz I think we have a great opportunity to present a "double voltron" threat, with two dangerous creatures - at least one of which will be unblockable and another which will have double strike.
I'm in Esper so my ramp is going to lean a bit on artifacts, though Oreskos Explorer, Land Tax, Smothering Tithe and Sword of the Animist will also help with my mana flow. I'm in great colors for removal, so I'm running low mana value staples like Swords to Plowshares, Path to Exile, Pongify, Rapid Hybridization and Tragic Slip. I'm leaning on a few counterspells, but this isn't trying to be a control deck. I did throw in Deadly Rollick, Fierce Guardianship and Flawless Maneuver, all of which can be cast for free if I control my commander. A solid foundation of ramp, removal and interaction is key for any deck, though how many spells you put in each category is a personal choice.
One of the most important of the "basics" for any commander deck is card draw. You might even suggest that it's more important than ramp and interaction, and you might be right. Kamiz lets us make one of our creatures unblockable and make one of our creatures have double strike. There are definitely ways to use that to help us draw more cards.
Permanents like Bident of Thassa and Coastal Piracy will give me card draw when a creature I control does combat damage to a player. That works nicely with evasion, as I'm going to need to get through blockers. It also works nicely with double-strike, as two instances of combat damage will give me two draws.
A creature like Shadowmage Infiltrator already has evasion, so if I've got a clean shot at somebody I can give it double-strike and make some other creature unblockable. If I've got a Stealer of Secrets on the field, a Coastal Piracy out and an opponent without any blockers, I can draw FOUR cards by giving it double-strike. I'll get one draw from the creature's combat damage trigger, one from Coastal Piracy's ability, and I'll be doing two instances of combat damage.
The more I think about it, the more I wonder if I should be leaning harder on combat damage draw triggers. Draw can help me with my mana by keeping me from missing land drops. Draw can help with removal and interaction by increasing the chances that I'll have an answer in hand when someone else tries to do something powerful and/or inconvenient for me. I'm running Rhystic Study, Consecrated Sphinx and Sire of Stagnation, as they are fantastic ways to keep cards flowing into my hand, but if you're on a budget you could easily shift this deck's focus towards those little guys who peck away at your opponents and draw you cards in the process. They're not as common as something like a mana dork, but there are enough of them out there that you could lean more heavily on them as a theme and have this deck still run smoothly.
This deck may want to be able to interact and it may want to be able to draw cards, but it is going to try to win the game through combat. I like that a lot. I've built plenty of combo decks but there is something pure about a deck that is going to do powerful things but isn't going to launch into any loops and isn't going to hit some lazy, uninterative "I win" button. I'm not against playing combo, but it's nice to have a deck that doesn't need to lean on the more wondrous and dare I say "magical" of interactions and is happy to just slug it out in the trenches.
That doesn't mean I'm going to load this deck up with vanilla creatures and hope for the best.
My first step was to track down some creatures in my colors that might work well with double-strike. Those creatures had to have built-in evasion.
Dromar, the Banisher might seem like an odd choice, but I've always loved that old cycle of Dragons with combat damage triggers. Giving one of them double strike gives you the chance to pay the activation twice. With Dromar, you get to choose a color and then bounce all creatures of that color to their owners' hands. I'm in three colors so it seems like an easy choice. With Kamiz and Dromar I can keep Green and Red decks at bay for as long as I'm willing to pay that cost.
Sunscorch Regent represents the kind of threat that grows over time. Whenever an opponent casts a spell, I'll put a +1/+1 counter on it and gain 1 life. It's a 4 power, 3 toughness threat that could easily grow to 10 power or more if my opponents are having even reasonably active turns. Making that threat unblockable is big, but if I've got any opponents that can't deal with flying attackers, giving it double strike could be huge.
I'm running a number of pieces of equipment to help make my attackers just a little more potent. If I'm able to attack with Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon with the lowly Prying Blade equipped, double strike will make him a lethal threat - dealing 5 poison counters each time it hits. I've also got Blighted Agent in the mix. That 1/1 unblockable Human Rogue also has infect. If I can equip him with Blackblade Reforged or Cranial Plating, and then give him double strike, I'll probably again have a lethal threat on my battlefield.
Making a creature unblockable is the sort of combat trick that makes me want to run the biggest of big threats. Consuming Aberration's power and toughness is equal to the number of cards in my opponents' graveyards. This isn't a mill deck, but there will be games where this bad boy is going to be huge. When I attack, each opponent will "mind grind", meaning they will reveal cards until they reveal a land and then put those cards into their graveyard. A modest Consuming Aberration might not look like a threat at first, but even one lucky attack trigger could make it a big problem for whoever I'm sending it at.
Serra Ascendant is one of the best one-drop creatures in White, and should reliably give me early game lifegain if I can get it out quickly. Even if I pull into Serra Ascendant in the mid game, if I've got over 30 life, it will give me a 6/6 flying lifelink threat that I can reliably get through blockers or even give double strike if I've got an opponent without reach or flying blockers.
All that lifegain would set me up nicely to play Serra Avatar. This isn't a lifegain deck by any stretch of the imagination, but in most games there's a reasonable chance that I won't have the lowest life total. With Kamiz's ability to make a creature unblockable that means someone is going to have to find a way to interact with my creatures, fog combat damage, or just die if I can swing this Avatar at them after making it unblockable.
Odds and Ends
Any deck I put together starts out as a mishmash of good ideas and cards I feel obligated to run because they are essential parts of a functioning EDH deck. I'm talking about ramp, removal and card draw, but I really love when I can throw in a few extra cards that synergize with the deck in interesting ways.
Any time you're building a list that can easily present combat threats that have double strike, you should at least look at Quietus Spike and Scytheclaw. I'm running the former, not the latter. The ability to have a creature do combat damage to a player and then halve their life total is a fantastic way to deal with lifegain decks. I've already got a few infect threats, but doing a little (or a lot) of damage, halving their life, doing more damage, and then halving it again is pretty sweet.
Imagine if we were to swing at an opponent with 40 life with a Kamiz, a 2-power Cephalid Rogue and we gave her double strike. That 40 life would get knocked down to 38 and get halved to 19 from first strike damage and then it would get knocked down to 17, and get halved again (lose half their life rounded up) to 8. Zowie! That's just with a 2-power creature, so you can imagine how much better it can get with a Sunscorch Regent or a Consuming Aberration equipped with a Quietus Spike. That life loss gets rounded up, so it could absolutely kill someone if they were at 1 life before the last Quietus Spike trigger.
Another creature I threw into the list is Raving Dead. I was going to run Odric, Lunarch Marshal but Odric triggers at the beginning of combat, and Kamiz triggers when I attack, so Odric wouldn't actually give all of my creatures double strike. Raving Dead, while a little overcosted, represents a cute little bit of chaos that I can introduce to the game. He'll attack an opponent chosen at random every turn and with my commander on the field, I can make him unblockable.
Because I know you're wondering... what if a 2-power Raving Dead were equipped with Quietus Spike and double strike and somehow got through unblocked on an opponent with 40 life? Quietus Spike has them lose half their life rounded up and Raving Dead will have them lose half their life rounded down. I control these triggers and can order them the way I want. I think the math would look like this. 40 life minus 2 first strike damage is 38. Halve that (rounded up) to 19, and then halve that (rounded down) to 9. Regular combat damage means 9 minus 2 is 7. Halve that (rounded down) to 3 and then halve that again (rounded up) to 2. It's not easy to get a one-shot kill with this particularly nasty combination, but it is easy to bring someone down to a very, very low life total. If an opponent were at 650 life and you got a Raving Dead with Quietus Spike and double strike to hit them unblocked, they'd end up at 40 life. Math is amazing!
One last tidbit I felt like throwing into this list is vigilance. Ways to give my creatures vigilance will let me attack more freely without having to stress out about not having blockers. For a combat deck, I'm really not running that many creatures. Loyal Unicorn and Heliod, God of the Sun will let me have attackers that don't have to tap to attack. That's not the biggest deal ever, but it's pretty nice and can make it harder for an opponent to reliably crack back at me. I could see running Ghostly Prison and Sphere of Safety to help deal with aggro, but I suspect that is more of a meta call. If you're regularly running up against Krenko and other aggressive decks that go wide, you might want to swap in some ways to tax your opponents for attacking you.
This deck, like many of my first drafts, dabbles in a little bit of everything. One of the things I think would make for a fun theme in a Kamiz, Obscura Oculus list is mind control effects. I don't like playing against decks that regularly steal all of your best creatures, so I'm not keen on running a full slot (7-8 cards) of these types of spells, but Corrupted Conscience definitely made the cut. This enchantment will give you control of the enchanted creature and will give that creature infect. If an opponent has a creature with power 10 or greater you can take it and then make it unblockable and kill them with it. You might consider killing everyone else first, as killing the creature's owner will result in it leaving play and your aura going to the graveyard.
Treachery is another amazing aura that may be a bit hard to find, but is worth picking up if you can get your hands on one. It's just a mind control effect, but it's essentially free. When it enters the battlefield you untap five lands. Free spells are great, even if they don't give the added benefit of making the enchanted creature get any other keywords or abilities. You could just run another Mind Control spell here if you can't get your hands on this old reserved list card.
This isn't a control deck, though we do run a few counterspells, so you might be wondering how I'm going to avoid having my combat threats removed anytime I look like a threat. The short answer is that sometimes those pesky tablemates will be able to avoid getting murdered, but I do have a couple of ways to try to lock them out of my turn. Grand Abolisher will prevent them from casting spells or activating abilities on my turn. If I can play and get Conqueror's Flail equipped to a creature, that will also help by preventing them from casting spells on my turn. This might not seem like a big deal, but a lot of players will wait until they know a threat is coming at them before they respond to a scary creature. If they do wait until you're already on your turn and you have Grand Abolisher or an equipped Conqueror's Flail out, you'll be free to have your fun and they probably won't be able to stop you.
Double Voltron Kamiz
As I put this first draft together, I definitely found myself wondering if a few games would see me pivoting this deck to a much higher creature count. I could drop out a half dozen cards - even staples like Rhystic Study - in favor of creatures that draw cards on combat damage, mana dorks, ways to make creature tokens, and the like. This might be a "better" list, but decks that want to go to combat want creatures. On the other hand, decks that play into a voltron strategy generally play a smaller number of deadlier threats, so maybe my creature count is fine. This list is trying to do a little bit of everything, which is also fine but might also result in it not being able to do any one thing REALLY well.
Double Voltron Kamiz | Commander | Stephen Johnson
- Commander (1)
- 1 Kamiz, Obscura Oculus
- Creatures (20)
- 1 Blighted Agent
- 1 Consecrated Sphinx
- 1 Consuming Aberration
- 1 Dreamscape Artist
- 1 Dromar, the Banisher
- 1 Esper Sentinel
- 1 Grand Abolisher
- 1 Grazilaxx, Illithid Scholar
- 1 Heliod, God of the Sun
- 1 Lion Sash
- 1 Loyal Unicorn
- 1 Oreskos Explorer
- 1 Raving Dead
- 1 Serra Ascendant
- 1 Serra Avatar
- 1 Shadowmage Infiltrator
- 1 Sire of Stagnation
- 1 Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon
- 1 Stealer of Secrets
- 1 Sunscorch Regent
- Instants (17)
- 1 Arcane Denial
- 1 Counterspell
- 1 Deadly Rollick
- 1 Fierce Guardianship
- 1 Flawless Maneuver
- 1 Fumble
- 1 Hatred
- 1 Obscura Charm
- 1 Path to Exile
- 1 Pongify
- 1 Rapid Hybridization
- 1 Swan Song
- 1 Swords to Plowshares
- 1 Tainted Strike
- 1 Tragic Slip
- 1 Utter End
- 1 Void Rend
- Enchantments (6)
- 1 Coastal Piracy
- 1 Corrupted Conscience
- 1 Land Tax
- 1 Rhystic Study
- 1 Smothering Tithe
- 1 Treachery
- Artifacts (17)
- 1 Arcane Signet
- 1 Azorius Signet
- 1 Bident of Thassa
- 1 Blackblade Reforged
- 1 Chromatic Lantern
- 1 Conqueror's Flail
- 1 Cranial Plating
- 1 Dimir Signet
- 1 Lightning Greaves
- 1 Mask of Avacyn
- 1 Nettlecyst
- 1 Orzhov Signet
- 1 Prying Blade
- 1 Quietus Spike
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Swiftfoot Boots
- 1 Sword of the Animist
This list is trying to edge up towards high-powered play, with powerful synergies and the ability to knock players out in a single combat. If you wanted to push the power level up even higher, I don't think you'd ever get up to cEDH, but you could load up with fast mana and more powerful spells. A Force of Will might be a great fit in a deck that's already running a lot of blue spells, but in lower powered play you're a little less likely to be in a position where you have to counter a single spell or lose the game.
If you wanted to drop down towards a lower powered, more budget friendly list, there are a lot of swaps you could make that would bring the cost of the deck down by a lot. Corrupted Conscience might not cost much, but Consecrated Sphinx, Esper Sentinel, Rhystic Study, Smothering Tithe and those free-to-cast spells sure do add up. Finding reasonable replacements isn't hard, but you do lose something when you downgrade. Usually you'll be paying more mana or you'll be adding a sorcery when you'd rather run an instant, but a fun, interactive and even powerful deck can still be built even without all those staples.
Addendum: Please note that Kamiz must target a creature with lesser power than the creature targeted to connive (and be unblockable) when choosing a creature to gain double strike. This may affect your ability to give one of your larger attackers double strike. Apologies for the initial oversight, and thank you readers - we appreciate it when you provide feedback on our columns!
Lately I've been wondering where our average readers would weigh in on the kinds of decks they want us to be presenting in our columns. Is it more valuable to see powerful cards in our lists or do more of you prefer to see weaker, slower decks that run more obscure cards or more recently printed cards that might not make the cut in higher powered or fringe cEDH metas?
I ask because I genuinely do not know.
What I do know is that you can win games with budget lists, and that your winrate and the "quality" of your deck can be meaningful to some players, but utterly meaningless to others. One player might be more excited by a column that gives them a view on some tribe they never imagined building a deck around, but another player might scroll past any blue deck that isn't running Cyclonic Rift because clearly it isn't a "serious" deck.
Please note that for all my use of EDH staples, today's list isn't running Cyclonic Rift.
My point is that we Commander players are nothing if not a diverse group.
It's probably impossible to cater to all of you, but I would love to know more about the kinds of decks and the range of power levels and budgets you're most interested in reading about here on CoolStuffInc.com. I might even try to cajole my editor into running a poll or two on our Facebook page, but I'm not sure how much reach that page has.
If you've got feedback, either about this column and what I might have missed (or gotten right) with Kamiz, Obscura Oculus, or about the general content in our Commander columns, please leave a comment! We always love to hear from you, even when it's about cards we missed or things we could be doing better.
That's all I've got for today. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!