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Building Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign


Jean-Léon Gérome, The Arab and His Steed (1872). Rowan Kenrith by Anna Steinbauer.

Today I'm sharing the first decklist I've worked on from the Commander 2018 set. For a few days I was just calling her "Oddjob" but whatever nickname you give her, Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign looks to be a fun challenge.

Yennett is one of the alternate commanders found in the Esper (wub) "topdeck matters" 2018 precon Commander deck. Aminatou, the Fateshifter is the planeswalker commander that headlines this deck, but something about Yennett caught my eye.

As an occasional Narset, Enlightened Master player, I'm well aware of the huge advantage you can gain by casting cards off the top of your library for free. Yennett also has a bit in common with Etali, Primal Storm, if you're more familiar with that cost-cheating Elder Dinosaur. Let's take a quick look at all three of these kindred spirits.

Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign
Narset, Enlightened Master
Etali, Primal Storm

Yennett doesn't dig deep the way Narset does, and she doesn't let you cast off of your opponents' decks the way Etali does, but I have a good reason to be building around her. The Commander League I run is being played with a theme of commanders with the keyword "flying" for the month of August. Yennet has flying and reminds me enough of Narset that of all the new legendary creature that were released in the 2018 precon decks, she definitely caught my eye.

Yennett has evasion and the benefit of being in three colors, which in many ways makes her stronger than Etali. She lacks protection and only lets you cast your top card - and then only if it's got an odd-numbered CMC - so she's definitely weaker than Narset, but comparing anyone to Narset feels a little unfair. Yennett's unique approach to cheating costs is going to make for a fun and interesting challenge.

Odd and Even Matters

With the ability to cast odd cards off the top of our library when we attack, the first thing I'm going to do is build this deck with very few cards that have an even converted mana cost. I was honestly hesitant to even include 2 CMC mana rocks, but the signets are too good to pass up.

Whether a card has an even or odd CMC will have a big effect on whether or not we include it in the deck, so the even CMC cards we include will have to really earn their spot.

Sigiled Starfish
Lightning Greaves
Dreamscape Artist

In a deck that will want to know what's on the top of our library, Sigiled Starfish will give us repeatable value, which makes it stronger in ways than cards like Augury Owl, which I'm also including. Starfish lets you scry 1 when you tap it, but Augury Owl lets you scry 3 when it enters the battlefield.

Lightning Greaves is a great source of both protection and haste for our commander and its zero equip cost will come in very handy. Dreamscape Artist is a strong creature for ramping in the early game and can help get us to the point where we can cast some of our bigger spells without cheating them in with Yennett.

Strionic Resonator
Narset Transcendent
Void Winnower

Strionic Resonator may cost two mana, but the ability to get two triggers when Yennett attacks is pretty big if we can manipulate more than just the top card of our library. If we flop into this artifact, we'll draw it and we should have the mana to cast in our second main phase.

As an homage to my Narset deck, I am including Narset Transcendent. She has an even casting cost, but she's going to bring a lot to our game plan. Narset's first ability will let me check the top card of my library, which in this deck is really important. I'll have a few spells that might benefit from the rebound that her second ability provides. Lastly, her "ult" will shut down certain opponents really nicely.

An odd CMC auto-include in this deck will be Void Winnower. This 11/9 Eldrazi is one of those cards that is a little risky to play. If he's on the field, my opponents won't be able to cast spells with even converted mana costs and won't be able to block with creatures that have an even CMC.

He's great if I control him, but if an opponent steals or copies him, it normally poses a real problem for his owner. I've won games with my Lazav, Dimir Mastermind deck by making him a copy of an opponent's Void Winnower so I can say from experience that it's a game changer.

If I build Yennett with a huge bias towards odd CMC cards I might not be happy if an opponent steals or copies my 11/9 Void Winnower, but I won't be slowed down much if I "can't even".

Topdeck Matters

The most important things this deck are going to want to do is know what's on top of our library and use Yennett's attack trigger to cheat stupidly large CMC spells onto the stack. For that reason we're going to play a lot of cards like Sigiled Starfish and Augury Owl that will "scry", which means looking at cards on top of our library and choosing whether to put them on the bottom of our deck or leave them on top.

I'm building this deck using the precon as a starting point, so I'll be including New Benalia, Crystal Ball and pretty much all of the odd CMC scry cards from that list. Because this commander cares so much about the top of the deck I'll also be adding a few more key cards.

Aqueous Form
Diabolic Vision
Zhalfirin Void

Aqueous Form is an amazing card in Narset, and I expect it to be just as good in Yennett. When you attack you choose to scry first and then you flip the top card and hopefully cast it for nothing. Diabolic Vision will let you look at the top five cards, keep one of them and put the remaining on top of your library in any order. It may be an even CMC but it's essentially saying "scry 5, draw a card" so you should be able to set up a pretty decent attack trigger if you cast this in your first main phase.

Zhalfirin Void is a land that lets you scry when it hits the battlefield. I'll also be including Temple of Enlightenment, Temple of Silence, and Temple of Deceit, as we want as many ways to scry as possible.

Using Scry is powerful, but being able to just plop a card onto the top of my deck is even more powerful.

Hidden Retreat
Vampiric Tutor

I've been singing the praises of Penance for years now thanks to the success I've had with this enchantment in my Narset and Mayael decks. Hidden Retreat is a new card to me. It just needs there to be an instant or sorcery spell on the stack to allow you to drop a card onto the top of your library. The spell doesn't even have to be one that would normally be able to damage a creature or player. It feels like cheating as it's a little counterintuitive, but it works. If Yennett is out, someone casts Cyclonic Rift and you cast Swan Song to counter it, you can drop a card onto the top of your library while those spells are on the stack if you have Hidden Retreat on the field.

I'm also running a few tutors in this deck, including Vampiric Tutor and the slightly more narrow Mystical Tutor. I also need to pick up Enlightened Tutor for this deck. The fact that these tutors put cards onto the top of your library is a feature, not a bug for this build.

Survival Matters

One of my bigger concerns with this deck is the lack of creatures. The first draft has a lot of instants and sorceries in the lower portion of my mana curve and probably too many big creatures way up at the top end of my curve. It's a recipe for inconsistency, but I have a longstanding preference for decks that play lots of smaller creatures and have a low mana curve. I like having early blockers.

One way to make sure you don't get killed by your opponents' creatures is simply to wipe the board early and often.

End Hostilities
In Garruk's Wake

I'm going to be running Cyclonic Rift, as this is a Commander deck with Blue in it, but it turns out there are a lot of conventional boardwipes with odd converted mana costs. End Hostilities and Fumigate both cost five mana and if I can cheat in a casting of the mana-intensive In Garruk's Wake I won't even lose my own creatures.

Forsake the Worldly
Swords to Plowshares

My removal package also includes a number of spells that I can cast off of a Yennett attack and which might be essential to keeping an opponent from winning the game. I kept Mortify from the original precon but swapped out Return to Dust for the odd-CMC Forsake the Worldly. Both Vindicate and Swords to Plowshares are also additions I made, but there wound up being a lot of even CMC removal spells that didn't make it into my deck from the Animatou precon.

Winning Matters

This isn't a combo deck so I'm going to want to get as much value out of Yennett's attack trigger as possible. That means including spells that will push my deck's average CMC up by quite a bit.

I'm sure it's possible to make an effective Yennett list that tops out at 5 CMC, but where's the fun in that?

This build is going to try to squeeze as much out of each attack as possible.

Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
Emrakul, the Promised End

Let's start at the top of our mana curve. You already know we're running Void Winnower and In Garruk's Wake. We're running one more 9 CMC spell - Expropriate and it's best friend, Illusion of Choice. Expropriate is a voting card and will give us a combination of extra turns and permanents depending upon how we and our opponents vote. Illusion of Choice lets us vote for them so we can get whatever we want.

Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre and Emrakul, the Promised End are the only Commander-legal odd mana cost Eldrazi Titans. Whether I'm swinging with an indestructible 10/10 with Annihilator 4 or I'm getting a 13/13 and taking control of an opponent during their next turn, both of these are very powerful creatures that can really go a long way towards helping me win the game.

Magister Sphinx
Temporal Mastery
Approach of the Second Sun

Magister Sphinx is a card I've grown to both hate and respect. For a few years I played in a meta where it felt like I was constantly seeing it and other "set your life to 10" cards and it felt like they were almost always pointed at me. I got really, really sick of it, but the reality is that every deck should have a way to deal with a player who has gained infinite life. This deck isn't going to win by commander damage and I'm not running any infect so I need some kind of answer to a huge life total.

Extra turns can be very powerful. While Temporal Mastery's single extra turn may not always be game ending, it can certainly position me to be able to get extra attack triggers which in turn can result in some game-winning cards getting played or cheated in. The ability to cast Temporal Mastery for its Miracle cost is also a big reason why it's a great fit for this deck. Sadly, both of my extra turn spells exile themselves, but they can still have a huge impact on the game. My real goal is of course to try to cast them with rebound using Narset Transcendent's second ability.

Approach of the Second Sun is probably our purest wincon. With the ability to dig through the top cards of our deck and the fact that Yennett's attack trigger can allow us to draw a card that we don't want to cast this is a fantastic fit for this build. We could cheat our first casting of Approach and as soon as a turn or two later cast it from our hand to win the game. I've thrown a few counterspells into my build to protect this wincon, but the build is currently light on counters.

The Decklist

This list is far from the usual casual jank build I share with you. The deck has its fair share of powerful and pricey bits of cardboard but I'm sure if you want to adjust upward or downward in power or price you should make whatever adjustments you need to make.

Oddjob | Commander| Stephen Johnson

The only radical change I might see making eventually is to add in some combos. We're in the colors to be able to run Deadeye Navigator and Palinchron and throw in some infinite mana outlets, but for now I'm probably going to avoid those and just try to win by cheating costs and playing big, splashy spells and creatures. I still care more about trying to enjoy the game than I care about winning at all costs, at least with this deck.

Early Results

I was able to play this deck for both rounds of our Commander League this past Saturday and can report that some of it worked pretty well.

I was able to use Penance and Mortuary Mire to cheat Emrakul into play once and Void Winnower into play twice (once from the graveyard). In round one I was able to use Penance and Yennett's attack trigger to cast In Garruk's Wake when swinging with Emrakul and Yennett at a player who was at 15 life, so that was pretty sweet. I didn't win either game but I'm hopeful that I'll be able to steal a game at some point over the next few weeks.

My real misplay was probably not going after Approach of the Second Sun in Game 1, as in retrospect I probably could have won that way. I was more in the mood to see what else the deck could do, and in that round I was able to do some fun stuff and enjoy the game.

In round two, the table was faced with a $1,500 competitive Jhoira build that wasn't even being played by the deck's owner - it was on loan for the game. We lost, but we were able to make the game last far longer than it probably should have lasted and I played a key part in delaying the inevitable.

Final Thoughts

I'm not yet sure what commander I'll be exploring next but it will likely be another one of 2018 precon alternate commanders.

It looks like we may take a run at doing that precon commander league I wrote about last week, but interest isn't really strong. I give us a 50/50 chance that the league won't fire but we'll find out on Monday. I'm not sure whether to blame the precon decks or just chalk it up to our players wanting to deck-build more than wanting to play and tweak precons. It's also possible the night we chose is just not a good night for the players who might want to play.

That's all I've got for you today. If you're interested in keeping up with my casual and league games, I post about them over on the old blog where Commanderruminations first started. I don't do full play by plays but I try to give you a window on how things are going for me. The blog is over at http://commanderruminations.wixsite.com/commanderruminations.

Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!

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