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Winning Ways: Make More Mana


Summer Afternoon On A Lake (1895) by Jean-Leon Gerome. Protean Hulk by Matt Cavotta.

On the first Monday of every month I've been exploring strategies for winning games of Commander. That doesn't mean I'm dissecting cEDH decks on a monthly basis - you can win games at any level of play and I don't want anyone to think my goal is to get you to start pubstomping casuals with some tuned Urza, Lord High Artificer stax list.

We all want fun games. Winning is fun and most players have times where they struggle with their personal win rate. My hope is that these monthly ruminations on what you can do to push your winrate up will help some of you do just that - win a few more games.

The direction for today's column doesn't come from a win. It comes from a loss in which I had a slow start, wasn't drawing into the colors I needed and managed to screw up a few plays in that delightful way where I was the only one who knew I had just walked onto a rake and in cartoon-like fashion, caused the handle to fly up and hit me smack between the eyes.

The details of my missteps don't really matter, but I'll touch on them later in this column. I was eventually able to position myself where I would have been able to threaten a win on my next turn. I was at a high-powered table, playing a deck that likely wasn't quite good enough to be sitting there, and one of the two stronger cEDH decks was able to combo off before my next turn.

Today's column isn't about wincons - it's about positioning yourself in a game where you are able to try to go for the win. That usually takes mana. In games where you don't make enough mana, it's much harder to push for your deck to do what it wants to do. In games where you're able to ramp up and produce a ton of mana, it's just so much easier to threaten to win the game. If you're flush enough with mana, you might even get stopped and can try again, sometimes even on the same turn.

Muldrotha Combo

The deck I was playing was my Muldrotha Combo deck. Muldrotha, the Gravetide is a surprisingly effective vehicle for a number of powerful graveyard-based wincons. The list I was playing was chock full of wincons. In fact, I think one of the deck's biggest weaknesses is that it's trying to go in too many directions at once. It can win via Laboratory Maniac, Thassa's Oracle or Jace, Wielder of Mysteries. It has "Mike and Trike" (Mikaeus, the Unhallowed and Triskelion). I also have Walking Ballista and can launch into Food Chain combo to make infinite mana and win with direct damage. To get to Lab Man I run zero basic lands and Hermit Druid. To get to Mike and Trike I run Tooth and Nail.

In a semi-competitive game there's a certain inevitability about the deck. If the game goes long enough I'll pull into enough combo pieces or tutors to threaten to win the game. Sometimes I get stopped. Sometimes I've got a counterspell to protect the win and sometimes I get lucky and it sticks.

At a cEDH table it isn't quite fast enough to out-race other decks. Muldrotha costs 6 mana, which puts him at a point where I'll often not even get him onto the battlefield before someone else combos off.

My problem in the game that prompted me to write this column wasn't that I was lacking wincons. It also wasn't that I was lacking tutors. I had both and even had removal and a way to protect any attempt I might make to go for a win. My problem was that I lacked mana and I lacked direction.

Making More Mana

There is one thing I've managed to do with my Muldrotha deck that always makes me happy. It feels like a dumb, goofy thing to go for because it doesn't actually win the game. For that reason, I often don't pursue this particular play unless I draw into it, but I'm starting to think that maybe I should make it my first priority.

Tunnel Vision
Mirror-Mad Phantasm

After I durdled around in that game I was talking about, I played a few spells that didn't impact the game, and I managed to do a few things to help keep other people from winning, I was able to cast Traumatize on myself. I put something like 42 cards from my library into my graveyard. The deck is also capable of self-milling with Tunnel Vision or Mirror-Mad Phantasm. I'm thinking the foil Peer Into the Abyss I opened recently would also go nicely in this list, but the self-mill isn't the fun part.

Splendid Reclamation
World Shaper

The thing I love to do is to use Splendid Reclamation or World Shaper to put all my lands back out of the graveyard and onto the battlefield. In this game I was able to bring back 17 lands. If I had Amulet of Vigor out, I could have untapped them and attempted to combo off with Food Chain. Unfortunately, I had to pass turn and another player won before I got another turn.

I wasn't thrilled to lose the game, but I was happy to have done the favorite thing I like to do with that deck and it was nice to know that at my end step I could have won if I'd had another turn. The next player cast a Timetwister on the turn that he won, so my graveyard wouldn't have been there for me on my next turn. Another player confessed that he had a way to exile my graveyard on his turn, so I would have needed to dodge that bullet, but it was still nice to have done something cool before the game was over.

If I had been laser-focused on going after Splendid Reclamation from the outset, there's a chance that I might have gotten there in time to actually use the mana to do something impactful. It's unlikely anyone would have countered that play because it doesn't actually win the game.

The thing that made me think more seriously about turning my focus when playing Muldrotha towards landing Splendid Reclamation was actually a friend's Wort, the Raidmother deck, which used to be a Rosheen Meanderer deck.

Wort, the Raidmother
Boundless Realms
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle

I've noticed that whenever he manages to ramp a lot and then resolve Boundless Realms he usually wins. Going from 7 lands to 14, or from 7 to 21 if he's managed to copy it, is the kind of play that really does position you to win games. He usually sandbags the Boundless Realms until he has Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle out so he can also deal out some direct damage.

This begs the question of whether I should throw in a Rampaging Baloths so that if I put a dozen lands onto the field at once, I can also make a dozen 4/4 Beast tokens, but I'm not quite there. Landfall triggers are a direction I could eventually go in, but I need to rework and play this deck more to prove to myself that I'm able to consistently land my Splendid Reclamation before I add that in.

Changing My Focus

If I want to resolve my problem of having too many directions to go in when playing my Muldrotha, the Gravetide deck, I want to focus on the things I like the most about the deck.

I know I'm keeping Splendid Reclamation, World Shaper, Amulet of Vigor, my Food Chain combo package and my Hermit Druid combo package. That means I'm staying with zero basic lands. That means Laboratory Maniac stays. Protean Hulk stays because it is part of the Hermit Druid wincon.

If that sounds like the deck will still be chock full of combos, that's fine. I don't mind having options, but I do need to drop a few cards.

Mikaeus, the Unhallowed
Tooth and Nail

Mikaeus, the Unhallowed and Triskelion have got to go, and that means Tooth and Nail can probably be dropped out too. I've won enough games with those cards and they just don't feel that fun any more. Walking Ballista stays because it works nicely with Food Chain, but if it didn't, I would pull that out as well.

Removing "Mike and Trike" might have implications I'm not fully thinking through.

My Protean Hulk is meant to go get Phyrexian Delver and Viscera Seer, which lets me recur Hulk and sacrifice it to go get Mikaeus, the Unhallowed and Walking Ballista. With a sacrifice outlet on the field, that's game - so "Mike" might have to stay even if I show "Trike" the door.

It might seem counterintuitive to be pulling wincons out of a deck when I've actually won with them. This column is called Winning Ways after all. The problem is that I want this deck to win in ways that I enjoy and am excited about and if I enjoy the deck more, I'm likely to be more focused and motivated when I'm playing it.

I'm rarely motivated or excited when I play hatebears or when I play planeswalkers. In a deck that rarely builds up a big board presence, I find playing planeswalkers to be a risky proposition. They draw attacks and I'm usually unable to protect them. I'll be keeping Jace, Wielder of Mysteries for now, but I think I might drop Ashiok, Dream Render, Narset, Parter of Veils and Oko, Thief of Crowns. Those are all strong cards, but again, I'm rarely excited to draw into them.

Making Upgrades

Winning games is definitely the goal of this deck. Pulling out "Mike & Trike" doesn't mean I'm converting my Muldrotha over to Dinosaurs Sitting In Chairs Looking Left Tribal. I'm not trying to make it worse, so the replacement cards are going to have to pull their weight. I'm looking at ways to draw cards, make more mana, and position myself to do the awesome things this deck wants to do.

The first three upgrades include a card I pulled out of a Jumpstart booster and that aforementioned Peer Into the Abyss.

Oracle of Mul Daya
Peer into the Abyss

This list has plenty of lands so Oracle of Mul Daya makes a lot of sense. Showing the top card of my library isn't always convenient - sometimes I tutor a card to the top of my library. I'll have to make sure that in those cases I'm tutoring something that sends a message. Grabbing a Force of Will and making sure everyone knows that's what is in my hand can keep my opponents off of their wincons even if I don't have an extra blue card to pitch so that I can cast it for free.

Peer Into The Abyss is the kind of card that will set me up in interesting ways. Halving my life total isn't nothing, but if I'm going for the win on that turn or my next turn, it's the kind of risk that is worth the reward. I don't run Aetherflux Reservoir, so I'm not taking that wincon off the table by halving my own life total. With the number of possible threats I'm running in this deck, I have a very good chance of setting myself up to go for the win on my next turn, or on that turn if I've managed to use Splendid Reclamation to load up my battlefield with a dozen or more lands.

Thrasios, Triton Hero needs no introduction. It's a cEDH heavyweight and while you might ask why I don't just build a Thrasios deck with it, I think there's every reason to believe it will help make this deck stronger. Thrasios' inclusion might eventually lead me to throw in some infinite mana combos, but I'm not there yet. It's not a bad idea but I want to refocus this deck around Splendid Reclamation and play it for a while to see how it does and if I enjoy it more.

Because I don't move cards from deck to deck between games and won't "pretend" to have a card in a deck if it's not really in that deck, it's likely that this list has lost cards over the years as I've built other decks. It's easy to borrow a Rhystic Study for a shiny new build if you haven't touched a deck in months, but now that I'm circling back to Muldrotha I'm feeling those cuts.

I was able to find a few cards that got pulled into other decks and decided to bring them back for this rebuild.

Rhystic Study
Mystic Remora
Carpet of Flowers

Enchantments are particularly good in Muldrotha, the Gravetide because unless they get exiled, it's really easy to get them back out of the graveyard. If the game stretches out, there's a resiliency you get from having recursion built into your commander that's hard to beat.

The final few spots will likely get filled with a Buried Ruin, Arcane Denial and maybe Counterspell. I want to focus more on Splendid Reclamation because I enjoy it a lot. Buried Ruin helps me get my Amulet of Vigor back so I can untap lands and go for the win instead of just passing turn with a bunch of tapped lands on my field. It used to be in the list, but at some point I moved it out in favor of something else. It might have been that when I picked up my Bayou, Buried Ruin was shown the door. At the time it made sense, but I often don't have Muldrotha on the field when I want to cast my Splendid Reclamation. Buried Ruin will help with artifact recursion. Counterspells are pretty important in any deck that's trying to make big splashy plays, and I should have room for at least one or two more.

My Muldrotha Misstep

I've had lots of great moments with my Muldrotha deck.

It's responsible for the only turn three win I've ever pulled off, back when Flash Hulk was a thing.

I've also spent an entire game just keeping an Edgar Markov player in check by recurring Spore Frog after he exiled my 70-card graveyard. We both lost, but that was the point - if he nuked my graveyard I promised him that I'd fog every combat he had until I was out of the game.

It's been a really fun deck with a lot of resiliency, but I did promise that I'd tell you about the rake I walked into in the cEDH game that prompted me to write this column.

Tunnel Vision

One of my favorite tricks in Magic is to use Tunnel Vision to mill a player until they hit the named card, and I especially love to do that when I know what card is on the bottom of their library.

My Muldrotha deck does have the capacity to self-mill into a win. You mill Narcomoeba and sometimes you unearth a creature or two and sacrifice them to flash back Dread Return and put Laboratory Maniac onto the battlefield and then trigger a card draw to win the game.

When drawing into my initial hand in that particular game, I went down to 6 cards and had to put a card on the bottom of my library. I bottomed Triskelion and was playing with the idea of using Tunnel Vision to go for the win.

I drew into a tutor.

There's a funny thing about tutors - they make you shuffle your library.

I must have been tired, because I wound up going for the tutor and in the middle of looking through my deck trying to figure out if I wanted to get Tunnel Vision, I realized my mistake. After shuffling, I'd no longer be able to name "Triskelion" and mill myself to try to go for the Dread Return / Lab Man win.

Nobody else had any idea that I just had an epic brainfart, but I knew. I wound up getting Glen Elendra Archmage, which I later used to stop a wincon, but that didn't make me feel any less stupid.

The Decklist

My primary goal will be to try to self-mill and land my Splendid Reclamation to get at least 10 lands onto the field. While I like to have a plan, I'm also a fan of taking what my deck gives me, so if I start with an early Hermit Druid and draw into a tutor, I'll go get Lightning Greaves. If I hit Emergent Ultimatum, I'll probably exile Food Chain, Eternal Scourge and a tutor so I can go after a Food Chain win. With a few more counters, a few less planeswalkers and a lower mana curve, I continue to be optimistic that this list will be able to hang at semi-competitive and cEDH tables

Muldrotha Splendid Reclamation | Commander | Stephen Johnson

Muldrotha Splendid Reclamation | Commander | Stephen Johnson

As with all my decks, I expect this one to keep evolving over time. I just grabbed a Consecrated Sphinx from my old Heidar, Rimewind Master deck to put in here. I haven't played Heidar in ages and that's such a powerful card it's hard to pass it up. As I was wrapping this column up and re-reading it, I realized that I needed Mikaeus, the Unhallowed for my Protean Hulk line so I swapped that back in after having taken it out.

Back to Winning

Today's premise is that making huge amounts of mana is a fantastic way to increase your win percentage. While it might feel like I've gone on a tangent, my ultimate goal is to improve today's deck and focus more on Amulet of Vigor and Splendid Reclamation than I have in the past. If I hit that, I'm pretty sure I'll be well positioned to try to win the game. If I get distracted by other wincons or spend all my time trying to do other things, I'd better be stopping my opponents from winning or actually trying to win the game myself.

I think wanting to focus more on big mana holds true for a lot of semi-competitive decks. Big ramp opens up possibilities that weren't there before, and gives you the power to both go after what you want to do and hold up mana for counterspells. This approach isn't going to work well at the highest levels of cEDH, to be sure. In semi-competitive games where it's less likely that games will end before turn five, I think it's a solid plan that will probably help you win games that you might not have been able to win otherwise.

Final Thoughts

If you're able to play and copy Boundless Realms with a whole bunch of lands already on the field, you're not going to have problems casting big, splashy spells later on in the game. You also might find yourself sitting around with too much mana and nothing to do with it, but for most decks, in most games, that extra mana is going to unlock the chance to at least threaten a win.

I thought about running through basic ramp and then big mana synergy and mana combos for today's article but it started to feel like a lexicon of mana combos and that's not where I wanted to go. I build and play Commander decks and write about my thoughts and experiences as I do that. There are plenty of online resources for researching combos and how to make mana and I urge you to go seek them out. Taking a deck that struggles, adding ways to significantly jump up your mana production, and then pursuing that line of play as the key to unlocking your deck's potential is definitely a "Winning Way" to play Commander.

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

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