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Aurora Borealis by Frederic David Church (1865). Soulherder by Seb McKinnon.

I trot out plenty of mid and high-powered decks for your entertainment here in this column every week. Even when I'm not pushing up towards the lower ranks of cEDH, my decks nearly always have a reasonable plan on how they want to win the game. For the better part of 2020 I even devoted my first column of each month to "Winning Ways," but today I will break from that tradition to share a different kind of list.

I've long been fascinated by the challenge of building an entire Commander deck only out of the cards that you open from a single box of booster packs. In most sets that is a nearly impossible task. Expansion sets simply aren't designed for that. If you don't open a five-color legendary creature, it's unlikely that you'll even have enough non-land cards to fill out a playable two-color deck. If you're building in three colors, you'll probably have to run one of every card you could include just to fill out a full EDH deck. You might end up with a little synergy depending on the set you chose, but you likely won't have any combos or the kind of heavy synergy that is the core of a really good commander deck.

I've done this experiment before. Back in 2019 I built a couple of decks out of a Modern Horizons box and wound up with barely playable Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis and Kess, Dissident Mage lists. Later that year, buoyed by the idea that I'd be able to build around Kenrith, the Returned King, I did the experiment again with a box of Throne of Eldraine. I focused on White and Green cards and definitely got better results.

While those experiments left me with casual decks that got taken apart soon after my columns went up, I still enjoyed them. It's possible I just really enjoyed having an excuse to buy and open an entire box of booster packs, but the deck-building challenge was novel and something that appealed to me for some reason. With Modern Horizons 2 getting rave reviews, I decided to take the plunge once more. I'd buy a box and if the cards I opened gave me even a glimmer of hope that I'd be able to build a playable casual deck, I'd go for it.

Choosing a Commander

I wound up opening a box of set boosters along with a prerelease pack. I've been very active in helping out at my "home" LGS. I handle weekly event postings on Facebook for NexGen Comics, occasionally make graphics for announcements, and I'll again be running their Saturday Commander League when it starts up again in July. I never ask for anything in return, but they often refuse to take my money if I'm buying a few tokens or commons, and every now and then they'll throw me a prerelease pack. My card pool for this experiment was a booster box along with a single prerelease pack and I wound up with quite a few legendary creatures.

I ended up with nearly a dozen options. Braids, Cabal Minion popped out of one of my booster packs, but she's banned in Commander for some reason. Even if Braids were legal, she's not my style and I really have to build in as many colors as possible to get a playable deck. Captain Ripley Vance and Aeve, Progenitor Ooze were also intriguing but not really viable choices. I also discounted a number of two-color options, including Yusri, Fortune's Flame, Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar, Lonis, Cryptozoologist, Zabaz, the Glimmerwasp and General Ferrous Rokiric. I didn't "run the numbers" but past experience told me that I'd be pushing it to try to fill out a two-color deck with 65 or so non-land permanents from a single set.

One of the more interesting developments in recent years for Wizards of the Coast has been the inclusion of cards from a rotating list - appropriately called "The List" - in some booster packs. Cards from The List not only give players the occasional surprise when opening a pack - they also helped to make my deck-in-a-box challenge just a little bit more viable. I opened up one five-color legendary from Modern Horizons 2, but also a three-color legendary from The List that really needs no introduction.

Garth One-Eye
Nicol Bolas

Nicol Bolas would absolutely have been a viable commander for this experiment. I would have had to run nearly every card in all three colors but it could have worked. For Garth One-Eye to work, I'd have to have a reasonable chance to be able to get my five colors and I'd want to be building in a set that wasn't full of cards that had high levels of devotion to one color. What that means is that I'd need to avoid cards with too many pips of the same color in their casting cost because a casual five-color mana base without access to cards outside of MH2 is a huge constraint.

Tanglepool Bridge
Landscaper Colos
Ornithopter of Paradise

As I went through my card pool I was pretty sure I'd be building around Garth One-Eye, but what pushed me over the top was the fact that I opened all 10 of the two-color artifact lands, all 5 of the landcycling cards and a few other cards like Ornithopter of Paradise that might make my color fixing easier. It was still a daunting challenge, but I was building out of a Modern Horizons 2 box and it just made sense to build around a Modern Horizons 2 legendary.

Doing Garth Right

The first step after deciding that I'd be building Garth was to make sure I had cards to use for the various tokens Garth can produce. I've got standards and I wasn't about to take an old Plains, write "Black Lotus" on it and use that to represent the most notable card in the history of our game.

Fortunately, I've got a little experience in making tokens. A few years back, I photoshopped a set of pictures of Shrek to turn him red for use as the Ogre tokens you can get when you play Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs. I found some great illustrations of The Iron Giant to use as Golem tokens when I built a deck years ago around Splicers. I was able to find Shivan Dragon, Regrowth and Disenchant in my card collection and I printed out a Black Lotus, Braingeyser and Terror so that I'd be able to play Garth and actually have tokens with the right pictures and the right text in their text boxes.

To really do it right, you don't just print out cards on glossy photo paper and slide them into sleeves - you actually use spray mount adhesive to put them onto cards so they've got a decent weight to them. I haven't taken that last step yet, but I still might do so. A floppy sleeve never really feels right to me.

Modern Horizons 2 Removal

I'm learning more about playing Commander and building Commander decks every year, so my first instinct wasn't to go find some incredible synergy to throw into my shiny new Garth deck. I'm aware that Garth loves cards that will untap him and I'm aware that works well with Dockside Extortionist and a haste enabler, but my card pool wasn't going to let me dive into those deep deck-building waters. I was going to have to try to win the old-fashioned way.

Removal wasn't always on my radar as an incredibly important part of deck construction, but as I waded into higher-powered EDH it became more and more clear that my opponents aren't going to be shy about removing my threats. I might as well make sure I can remove theirs. My first step in building Garth was to go through all of my cards and set aside any card that could qualify as an "answer" and that either had only a single colored mana pip in its casting cost or were good enough to play even with two pips in its casting cost.

Seal of Removal
Bone Shredder

To my surprise, I wound up with a full TWO DOZEN cards that might help me remove threats. Seal of Removal, Seal of Cleansing, Soul Snare and Flame Blitz are enchantments that might help me deal with problems on the field. I was able to find six creatures that could potentially help me remove threats, including Bone Shredder, Loathsome Curator, Foundation Breaker, Gorilla Shaman, Gouged Zealot and the multikicker Kavu Flametongue Yearling, which would require two Red mana to cast.

When you're adding removal to a deck, you should always prioritize instant-speed options over sorcery speed, but when you have a limited card pool you take what you can get. Damn was an auto-include even with two color pips in both its casting cost and its overload cost. Vindicate also made the cut for its ability to hit any permanent. I ended up really loading up on sorceries, running Bone Shards, Crack Open, Piercing Rays, Spreading Insurrection, Prismatic Ending and Kaleidoscorch. Building in five colors made me particularly interested in those last two, as they have converge and might benefit from a deck that is able to put as many as five colors into casting a spell.

Sudden Edict
Mine Collapse
Mogg Salvage

Instant speed is really where removal spells want to be, and I was able to find a half dozen of these reasons to leave my mana untapped at the end of my turn. Break Ties, Flourishing Strike and Tragic Fall all made it in. Sudden Edict even has split second, meaning that once it is put on the stack, the stack has to be cleared before another spell can be cast. It's uncounterable by anything short of a morph creature's ability (which doesn't use the stack) and is a great answer to a voltron or combo deck that happens to only have or only need a single creature on the field. I was even able to find a couple of potentially free removal options in Mine Collapse. Sacrificing a Mountain isn't really "free" but the idea is that I can be tapped out and might still be able to put these spells on the stack.

I should note that I also threw in Counterspell along with Lose Focus, which requires a player to pay mana and which has replicate for one blue mana. The ability to interact with the stack is important, and if I'm in Blue at all I should run whatever counters this set is willing to give me.

Modern Horizons 2 Staples

There are lots of strong cards in Modern Horizons 2 and I was lucky enough to open a handful of them. Not all great cards were candidates for this deck. Magus of the Bridge requires three Black mana to cast and the undeniably powerful Dauthi Voidwalker requires two. It's possible I should have run the latter, but my interest in avoiding having cards stuck in my hand led to Dauthi Voidwalker getting cut. I was still able to include some pretty great cards.

Esper Sentinel
Profane Tutor
Sword of Hearth and Home

Esper Sentinel is a fantastic source of card draw for any deck. As a 1/1 artifact creature, it's incredibly vulnerable to removal but if you can get this guy out early it should draw you a few cards before someone bothers to remove it. Profane Tutor is the kind of card I felt like I had to include even though I wasn't really sure what I would tutor for if I cast it. This isn't a combo deck and doesn't depend upon any one or two key cards to execute its game plan. Sword of Hearth and Home would certainly be a strong choice, allowing you to ramp and flicker one of your creatures when it does damage to a player. Having protection from Green and White would shield Esper Sentinel from Naturalize-type cards along with Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile. I expect Sword of Hearth and Home would do a lot of work in games where it's able to hit the table and stick around for very long.

Tireless Provisioner
Thraben Watcher

Greed gives you a little extra draw at a small cost. Tireless Provisioner gives you a little extra mana with your landfall triggers, or a little life if for some reason you think Food tokens are worth playing in Commander. I don't, but I'm not always right on these things. Thraben Watcher breaks my 1-colored-mana-pip restriction, but this deck is going to want to go to combat to try to win games and vigilance can really help with combat. Sadly, any Shivan Dragon tokens Garth makes won't be affected, but those Red Dragons are OK on their own and I can hold just them back if I need flying blockers.

Disciple of the Sun
Timeless Witness

Modern Horizons 2 has some callbacks to classic recursion staples that may well become staples in their own right. Disciple of the Sun isn't as good as Sun Titan, but any recursion is good recursion and I expect it to put in some work in this deck. Timeless Witness might actually be an upgrade on Eternal Witness, as you can use eternalize to get it out of the graveyard as a 4/4. Revolutionist is a callback to Anarchist, which could only bring back a sorcery spell. This upgrade can get an instant or a sorcery and can be cast when discarded with a madness cost that is cheaper than its casting cost. I'd consider revolution a step up from anarchy, so it's easy for me to get behind this mohawk-wearing Human Wizard. Power to the people, baby!

To Squirrel or Not To Squirrel

In this deck-building experiment, the elephant in the room is not in fact an elephant - it is a Squirrel. My card pool included 11 cards that were Squirrels or which could produce Squirrels tokens. That's a lot of cards, but without a deck that is built around tokens and a dedicated Squirrel theme, my fear was that in the average game I might see two or three of these cards and the impact of a bunch of 1/1 tokens would be underwhelming at best.

I believe there is now a great Squirrel deck out there to be built, and I'm eventually going to take a crack at building it. I just didn't think that Garth One-Eye would end up being able to compete with your average commander deck if I were to add all of those Squirrel cards into the mix.

Should I have leaned into Squirrels without being able to load up on all the support that this type of deck really wants? My head says no, but my heart is telling me that if I'm probably going to lose these games anyways I might as well have done it with a few adorable Squirrels on the field.

Mounting a Threat

If I'm not going to try to win with Squirrels, which might have been a misstep on my part, how do I try to win? The first thing to note is that I have to assume any games this deck wins will probably be won on the battlefield.

Black Lotus
Shivan Dragon

I'm probably going to be using Garth to make a Black Lotus first. If he gets removed, that Black Lotus will go a long way towards being able to cast him again, but it will also help with making the right colors to cast the other card tokens he can make. My second activation will probably be to make a Shivan Dragon, because I like dragons, I like flying blockers, I like flying threats, and hey, Dragons are cool. Having a Shivan Dragon on the field might just buy me enough time to get another land or two on the field so I can try to put a whole bunch of mana into a Braingeyser.

I may well use Garth for a Regrowth, a Terror or a Disenchant, but I'm running 24 cards in this list to try to deal with threats and I've got a handful of recursion cards as well. It's good to have those options, but my expectation is that I'll be looking at Lotus - Dragon - Draw as my main plan.

With any luck I'll be able to draw into cards that will let me build up a decent army. I'm not going to be cheating a dozen creatures onto the field like a more tuned deck might be able to do. I'll be doing things the old-fashioned way, by drawing cards and playing spells.

Hunting Pack
Goblin Traprunner
Glinting Creeper

I'm unlikely to be putting together a big storm turn with this deck, but it's not unreasonable to think that in the late game I might be able to chain together a spell or two before using Hunting Pack to make some 4/4 Green Beast creature tokens. Goblin Traprunner will have me flipping coins to make 1/1 Red Goblins. That's not really a mechanic this deck is centered around, but aggressive creatures that want to go to combat is how this deck will be trying to win. After a boardwipe this guy might be able to do a bit of work. Being in five colors makes Glinting Creeper particularly interesting. If I'm able to cast Garth I ought to be able to put out a Glinting Creeper as a 10/10 that can't be blocked by creatures with power 2 or less.

Junk Winder
Orchard Strider

If I decide that my "big boys" category of creatures is anything 5 power and up, Junk Winder and Radiant Epicure join Loathsome Curator and Garth's Shivan Dragon in the 5-power slot. Junk Winder has the extra benefit of being cheaper to cast if I've got tokens on the field and will allow me to tap down an opponent's stuff when a token enters the battlefield under my control. With Garth that could be very helpful and it definitely has me second-guessing my lack of faith in Squirrels.

For bigger threats, I've got Orchard Strider, which is as likely to find itself landcycled into the bin as cast for 6 mana. If I do cast it, this Treefolk will give me two Food tokens, but as a dog trainer might say - I'm not highly food motivated. At least as a deck-builder, you'll do better to rub my belly than dangle Food tokens in front of me to get what you want.

Beyond Glinting Creeper, this deck's power tops out with Gargadon, which can be cast for 2 mana with suspend 4. It's a 7/5 with trample, which can be impactful in a low powered casual game of Commander. In mid to high-powered EDH, Gargadon will probably get outclassed as decks play more powerful creatures and the kind of synergy that will leave this Beast in the dust.


My card pool ended up having a really interesting spread of cards that fill out a lot of the most important roles you'll need when building a Commander deck. It's got loads of removal, a little stack interaction, a few modest threats, a super interesting commander, a bit of recursion and even a fog that can double as graveyard hate.

The ultimate question is whether it's worth doing an experiment like this? I used to joke that I like to do these types of experiments so that you don't have to. Want to find out what happens when you try to build a Commander deck out of a single booster box - or in this case a box and a prerelease pack?

Spare yourself the trouble and let me put my face into that fan for you!

All kidding aside, it's worth asking if this deck or decks built in this way can actually win games. To find out, I not only built this deck but played it both online in my Tabletop Simulator meta and in paper at my LGS.

The Proof is in the Pudding

I actually played this deck in two games online using Tabletop Simulator. It was a "blind meta," in that I knew the guys I was playing with but there was absolutely no agreement that anyone would pull any punches. Sometimes players bring in powerful decks. Sometimes players build around cost restrictions or themes that greatly limit how strong their decks can be. You just never know, and to be honest - that can be a lot of fun. When we trot out some janky pile of poop and get rolled, we might be a bit frustrated but we understand that we're playing online and could have built anything. In essence, we only have ourselves to blame.

In the first TTS game we all got rolled by a well-built Nethroi, Apex of Death deck. I actually had Blessed Respite in hand when they went off and had chosen to play Garth instead of holding up my Fog mana. Earlier in the game I had been able to play and recur one of the Seal enchantments and the deck was definitely engaged and interacting with the table. The only problem was that I didn't anticipate (or possibly didn't notice) the haste enabler that the Nethroi player ended up using to turn a big turn of creatures hitting the battlefield into an alpha strike on that same turn. Shame on me for wanting to cast my commander and not leaving up my fog / graveyard hate mana, but sometimes you get blindsided.

That game was frustrating, but we moved on to Game 2. I decided to give Garth another chance and again my heavy removal package rewarded me with a relatively long game with lots of chances to interact and engage with the boardstate. In this game I was able to make my first Black Lotus, make a Shivan Dragon and even cast Braingeyser to draw eight cards! It was all very exciting, but my deck's ceiling still felt like it was obviously lower than the decks I was playing against.

After one of the four players at the table had to step out, a friend playing Zaffai, Thunder Conductor was poised to overload a Mizzix's Mastery. I threatened to shuffle his graveyard into his library before it resolved unless he promised to point all direct damage at the other player who was still in the game. I hadn't checked his graveyard, and honestly I just wanted to see what would happen when the spell went off even if it meant that I'd lose creatures. He agreed, but as it turned out the only impact that deal had was that his 8 copies of Ignite Memories were aimed at the third player. With his storm count, it was going to be 8 instances of that effect but that player only had 2 Mountains in hand so it all wound up being much ado about nothing.

In the end, that big turn gave the Zaffai player a small army of 8-9 4/4 Elemental tokens. Thanks to a few landfall goad triggers from a Geode Rager that we just couldn't get rid of, the Zaffai player and I had no choice but to swing at each other turn after turn. I didn't last long, and ended up wondering if my Blessed Respite would have made a difference if I had cast it earlier in the game. In this longer game, the deck was fun but it did live up to my relatively low expectations.

I also played Garth-in-a-box at my LGS on Saturday afternoon. In the first game he never even hit the table, but in the second game I was able to play him, make a Lotus, see him removed, play him again, make another Lotus and eventually Braingeyser to draw 8 cards. I was involved in the game, removed threats, countered wincons, and had a pretty good time. I never really make a serious push to win and my biggest big boys were again outclassed by my opponents' creatures, but it wasn't a bad time.

Final Thoughts

I'm not sure why but I really enjoy these deck-in-a-box experiments. The resulting deck always seems to be around or just below a precon's power level, but that doesn't mean it isn't fun. If you've got a casual meta with players who have decks that aren't that strong, and if you've got an extra box on your hands, I'd suggest giving it a try.

Now that I've built, played, and yes - taken apart my Garth-in-a-box deck, I have to decide if I want to build Garth for real. I'm tempted, especially because I went to the effort of printing those three extra token cards. A few untap shenanigans, a game plan around cards like Soulherder or going infinite with Deadeye Navigator and I could really have a strong deck on my hands.

I've got a few other projects waiting to be built. I'm leaning towards building that Squirrel deck but I don't know which of my other decks to pull apart to free up the sleeves for it. I'm also planning on building Yedora, Grave Gardener Morph combo and I'm thinking about throwing together an Osgir, the Reconstructor deck. If you'd like me to write about any of those or some other Modern Horizons 2 legendary creature next, please let me know in the comments!

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

Commander HQ: Decklists and Strategy for Modern Horizon 2's Legendary Creatures!

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