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Building Gyrus, Waker of Corpses

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Summer Landscape with a Path and Lake by Jean Baptiste Camille Corot (1875).

Goblin Chainwhirler by Svetlin Velinov.

This week's column is my second dive into building around an "alternate" commander from the Commander 2018 precon decks. Last week's project was a fairly competitive Xantcha, Sleeper Agent build geared toward making infinite mana as quickly as possible. Today I'm going to be looking at another legendary creature out of the Lord Windgrace deck.

Gyrus, Waker of Corpses

This legendary Hydra doesn't do very much at all for other Hydras. It would have been wonderful to see a legendary Hydra that could lead a Hydra Tribal deck. Gyrus is more of a recursion engine, as his "Waker of Corpses" job title might indicate.

We're looking at a 0/0 who enters the battlefield with +1/+1 counters on it equal to the amount of mana spent to cast it. That means that any commander tax we pay will translate into +1/+1 counters. When Gyrus attacks we get to exile a creature with lesser power from our graveyard and create a token of that creature that will be tapped and attacking. The token gets exiled at the end of combat.

Gyrus' Limitations

Last week's article started out with "How We Win" but this week's commander has a lower ceiling. We only get to cheat one creature into play when Gyrus attacks and we don't even get to keep it past the end of combat.

If we were to run Hydras in this deck, most of them, like Gyrus, are 0/0 creatures that enter the battlefield with +1/+1 counters. 0/0 Hydras would just die upon entering the battlefield. There are Hydras that would be just fine and I could take apart my Pir and Toothy hydras deck to build this, but I'm not going to go that route.

Gyrus also has another major drawback - he has no built-in protection or evasion. That's something we'll want a way to deal with.

Playing to Gyrus' Strengths

Gyrus is recursion engine. When he attacks we'll get to exile a creature from our graveyard and put a token of it onto the battlefield tapped and attacking.

One approach could be to try to find ways to make copies of the tokens we're cheating into the battlefield. That's not crazy, but we're also not in Blue. Control Magic and other ways to make token copies of creatures aren't only in Blue, but my gut tells me that isn't going to be as easy if we don't have access to the most powerful color in Magic.

Panharmonicon
Purphoros, God of the Forge

The way I'm going to try to make the most out of Gyrus' second ability is to make sure as many of our creatures as possible have enter-the-battlefield abilities. That definitely means I'll be running Panharmonicon, as that will let me double my ETB triggers.

If I'm running Panharmonicon and if I'm planning on running lots of creatures, Purphoros, God of the Forge will also fit right in. We're not running any other traditional Purphoros enablers, but we should be able to generate a steady enough drumbeat of creature ETB triggers that "Purph" will be able to keep pressure on our opponents.

Ramping with Gyrus

I'm running Sol Ring, as this is a Commander deck, I'm running the three Signets that are in our colors, as they are just too good to pass up, and I'm running Commander's Sphere. I'm also running Zendikar Resurgent and a bunch of mana dorks, but none of these benefit from Gyrus' ability.

Sylvan Ranger
Pilgrim's Eye
Ondu Giant

I'm also running a creatures that can get a land out of the graveyard when they enter the battlefield. This is far from a game-breaking advantage, but there will definitely be times where we'll be happy to swing with Gyrus to get a token of one of these guys, and if it's Ondu Giant we'll even get to put the land onto the battlefield.

Sakura-Tribe Elder
Jadelight Ranger
Path of Discovery

I'm also running Sakura-Tribe Elder, which may not have an enter-the-battlefield ability but which can be sacrificed before it gets exiled at end of combat to go get a land. The other way I'm trying to get lands out is by running Jadelight Ranger and Path of Discovery. The Explore mechanic is a bit hit-or-miss but it can also put lands into my hand if they happen to be on top of my library.

Keeping our Hand Full

In this deck I'm going to try to add card draw in a variety of ways. I don't actually think we're going to be able to keep our hand full, but we should definitely include card draw in our plans for Gyrus.

Elvish Visionary
Lifecrafter's Bestiary
Avarice Amulet

If we're going to try to get extra ETBs by making tokens out of creatures in our graveyard when Gyrus attacks, running cards like Elvish Visionary and Carven Caryatid to draw cards makes sense. This deck is going to be very creature-heavy, so Lifecrafter's Bestiary will give us the chance to draw cards when we cast those creatures, just like the aforementioned Zendikar Resurgent. I'll also run Primitive Etchings, which has us reveal the first card we draw each turn and if it's a creature we draw an additional card.

Avarice Amulet will fit in nicely in this deck. When it is attached to a creature, we draw an extra card at the beginning of our upkeep. If the creature goes to the graveyard, we have to give Avarice Amulet to an opponent, but our commander never hits the graveyard - it goes directly to the command zone. This little Amulet will also give us +2/+0 which lets us pull bigger creatures out of the graveyard. Giving Gyrus vigilance also helps as we'll want to be attacking a lot with our commander.

I'm also running Drumhunter. This little mana dork will also give us card draw at the end of our turn if we control a creature with power 5 or greater. That's certainly something we'll be trying to achieve with Gyrus, even if much of the rest of our deck is less than 5 power.

Doubling Up Our Removal

Why run Naturalize when we can run Acidic Slime and then later on bring it back from the graveyard if we're attacking with a sufficiently large Gyrus?

OK - even I know the answer to that. Removing threats at instant speed can stop opponents from winning games and removing them when you go to combat is slower and just worse in every way.

Stingscourger
Reclamation Sage
Manglehorn

I'm going to be running a good number of creatures that will act as removal when they enter the battlefield. Stingscourger will bounce a creature and has a convenient Echo cost that we probably won't bother to pay so we can use him again pretty easily. Reclamation Sage and its pricier twin, Conclave Naturalists, will deal with artifacts and enchantments. Manglehorn only removes an artifact, but it will force our opponents' artifacts to enter the battlefield tapped. All three are low enough on the mana curve that Gyrus will be able to recur tokens of them when he attacks.

Acidic Slime
Bane of Progress
Terastodon

Acidic Slime is able to remove an artifact, enchantment, or land and costs a little more mana for that added flexibility. Bane of Progress is an all-star at removal and will wipe the board of artifacts and enchantments, getting a +1/+1 counter for each one it destroys. Terastodon is another Green staple, as it can deal with up to three non-creature permanents. We might even target our own if we want to recur them with Gyrus. These are all a little more mana-intensive and as such will be a little harder to recur. If we can get Gyrus big enough these guys will give us pretty good value on cast and when we put a token of them onto the battlefield.

Getting Damage Through

Getting damage through isn't something Gyrus comes to easily. Like certain Eldrazi Titans who shall go unnamed, he could be a 90/90 and he'll still be stopped in his tracks by a 1/1 squirrel.

Fortunately for us, there are lots and lots of ways in Magic to get damage through.

What I want is a way that will benefit from Gyrus' ability to bring a creature back to the battlefield tapped and attacking.

Taunting Elf
Shinen of Life's Roar
Noble Quarry

The problem with "lure" effects is that the creature you use to draw all the blockers will almost always get killed unless it's indestructible or too big to easily kill.

With Gyrus, we're turning that bug into a feature.

These creatures will force our opponents to apply all of their blockers to the "lure" dork, allowing Gyrus to get through unblocked. If we can get Gyrus up to at least 11 power, we're looking at a 2-turn kill if we swing with Taunting Elf by his side. Sure, Taunting Elf will die a horrible death, but in the next turn if our opponent hasn't drawn into some removal we'll bring a token copy of Taunting Elf back from the graveyard tapped and attacking and they'll be taking lethal Commander Damage.

Take that, Josh Lee Kwai!

This clearly isn't an optimal way to try to win games of Commander. This is going to be a deck built to have fun at casual tables, have a way to try to win but to do it on the battlefield. Josh probably wouldn't break a sweat playing against it, but that's not really the point. We will lose our share of games with this deck, but if we're at a table with other decks that are at roughly the same power level we should be able to have fun, win the occasional game, and not spoil the party with a combo win or a strategy that's too mean for a low-power meta.

Cheating

No, not cheating at the game, but cheating creatures into play.

We're already doing this with Gyrus when he attacks but it makes sense to add in a few more ways to do cheat creatures into play. We've got some hefty creatures in this deck and there will be times where it's really convenient to be able to avoid paying the mana they normally require to be cast.

Mosswort Bridge
Lurking Predators
Primal Surge

Mosswort Bridge and its cousin, Spinerock Knoll will both let us hide a card and cheat it into play under the right conditions for a pretty low cost. With a very creature-heavy deck, the enchantment Lurking Predators will give us a good chance at cheating a creature or two into play every time it survives a round of the table. Someone's probably going to cast some spells, and we're probably going to get something even if it's just a lowly mana dork.

The gold standard of cheating permanents into play is Primal Surge. For 10 mana we get to exile cards off the top of our library, and if they are permanents, we can put them onto the battlefield.

A dedicated Primal Surge deck would have no other non-permanent spells but this isn't that deck. I actually really, really enjoy not knowing what's going to happen when I use a commander like Narset or Mayael, or when I activate an artifact like Proteus Staff. The entire table will join me in eagerly anticipating when the next instant or sorcery will show up as I go through my deck and put permanents onto the battlefield.

In this deck I'm running Primal Surge, Chandra's Ignition, and Triumph of the Hordes. All of these cards are strong on their own, but unless I know exactly where the other two are, I'll always have the fun of finding out whether I'm going to cheat in a half dozen cards or well over half of my deck.

I might not position myself for an instant win, but I'll surely advance my boardstate - possibly by a whole lot. If I get enough lands into play I'll be in a great position to play an enormous Gyrus and probably swing with a "lure dork" by his side on my next turn. That's plenty of time for an opponent to draw into removal and will create the kind of dramatic moment that make casual "battlecruiser" games so much fun.

Goodstuff

This deck is looking more and more like it isn't going to be very well balanced in terms of the colors it is running. While it may be a three-color deck, I'm running many more Green spells than Black and Red spells. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but as I look at the decklist, it's undeniable. This is basically a Green deck.

As a Green deck, I'll be running some Green "goodstuff", over and above Bane of Progress, Terastodon, Triumph of the Hordes and Primal Vigor.

Vigor
Kalonian Hydra
Archetype of Endurance

We're also running Vigor, which will protect our creatures from taking damage and will help to put counters on them. Attacking with a Taunting Elf gets much better when you know he's going to survive being blocked.

Kalonian Hydra is an auto-include with any commander who deals in +1/+1 counters. When it attacks we'll double the number on each creature we control. Having to attack always puts creatures in more danger than we'd like, but running as many "lure" dorks as we are will help to protect him from death by blockers. It's worth noting that we won't get any counter doubling by cheating him into play using a Gyrus attack trigger, as Kalonian Hydra will not have been declared as an attacker.

Protecting our creatures from targeted removal is not something I've really prioritized with this first draft. Archetype of Endurance will give our creatures hexproof and more importantly it will remove hexproof from our opponents' creatures.

This may be a Green deck but it's also a Jund deck so we should make sure we run a few cards that will help us along that are in Black and/or Red.

Swift Warkite
Reyhan, Last of the Abzan
Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord

Swift Warkite will let us cheat a creature into play from our graveyard and then return it to our hand at the beginning of the next end step. It's basically giving a creature in our hand or graveyard the Dash mechanic, and will give us the chance to squeeze some extra ETB value out of one of our creatures.

Reyhan, Last of the Abzan is sort of like Death's Presence on a stick, though not quite. Reyhan will let us move +1/+1 counters off of a creature that dies. Death's Presence will let us put counters onto another creature equal to the power of a creature that died. Both mean that our creature-heavy deck should be able to gracefully weather targeted removal, though if the board is wiped that's another matter entirely. Given how many ETB triggers we're running and how much Reyhan loves attacking with Blade of Selves equipped, I'm going to run it, though the equip cost of 4 is pretty high.

Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord is a strong enough creature to be able to lead his own deck, but in this build we'll try to set ourselves up to be able to sacrifice Gyrus, do a bunch of damage to our opponents, recast Gyrus for as much mana as possible and then do it again. With enough mana generation this could be a pretty major threat to the table as his ability will damage each of our opponents - not just one of them.

Missed Opportunities

My decision to build a halfhearted Primal Surge deck with an unapologetic focus on creatures with ETB triggers isn't an accident. This list is meant to be focused but not optimized, and should be able to play in a casual meta and win its share of games.

I'd be derelict in my duty as a writer and deck-builder if I didn't at least acknowledge some of the things I'm not doing with this deck that might make it much meaner.

Being able to play and then replay creatures with ETB abilities is strong, but being in Black means I should probably be playing Fleshbag Marauder and Merciless Executioner. Running creatures I can make tokens of and then sacrifice before they get exiled at the end of combat would pair nicely with cards like Dictate of Erebos and Grave Pact. A deck built around this strategy would probably be much heavier in Black spells and would be a lot less fun for my opponents to play against. To me that means it would be decidedly less casual.

Another excellent approach might be to focus on the Red part of Gyrus' color identity. Running creatures that create additional creature tokens when they enter the battlefield like Siege-Gang Commander would work nicely with Purphoros, and being in Black would give us access to plenty of tutors. Focusing more on Red would let us run creatures like the Chainwhirler featured in today's header art. Gyrus might make for a fun Goblin ETB damage deck with Green giving us ramp options and recursion, but again, it's a little less casual than I'm currently aiming for. I've built and played some pretty focused Purphoros builds and he can crush a table pretty quickly if things go well.

One more approach that might be worth looking into is building with Dragons. There are plenty of Dragons in Gyrus' colors and lots of them have enter-the-battlefield triggers. Bladewing the Risen, Foe-Razer Regent, Dragonlord Atarka, and Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund all have ETB triggers worth looking at, and if your Gyrus deck proves to be overly weak to flying threats Jund Dragons might be a fun way to go.

The last missed opportunity I'll cop to is the fact that running my half-hearted Primal Surge strategy might be fun for me, but it's also cutting me off from a lot of important spells. There are plenty of instants and sorceries that provide card draw and protection that I've simply passed on because they aren't permanents. There are creatures that might fit in nicely to give Gyrus trample that I've already slotted into my Multani, Maro Sorceror deck. Stonehoof Chieftain, Nylea, God of the Hunt and a half dozen other trample-enablers would fit in beautifully with Gyrus and are worth mentioning.

My focus on ETB triggers also means I'm ignoring the obvious angle of trying to get extra combat steps as a way to get extra Gyrus attack triggers. You can't do everything, and often when I do my decks are unfocused and weaker as a result. Aggravated Assault and Savage Ventmaw would fit into a Gyrus Dragons build and would give it another way to finish off games that is a little more powerful than I'm currently going for.

You can do way dirtier things with a Jund deck than I'm doing here and if that's your style, you should go for it. Everyone plays in a different meta with different challenges and different decks to try to beat, and a deck this casual definitely isn't for everyone.

The Decklist

I'm definitely looking forward to playing this list on our casual night. It's unlikely to win a ton of games, as we have many nights where players just play decks that are too strong for the kind of games we're trying to play. Some nights I'm even "that guy", though I mostly try to play my weaker decks.

Gyrus, Waker of Corpses | Commander | Stephen Johnson


There you go. This is an actual deck I'll be playing with on the casual night at the LGS I play at.

Did you notice that we're playing over 40 creatures?

Did you also notice that I'm running the enchantment Mortal Combat?

I'm definitely hoping at some point in time to manage to land a win with that card and if I'm doing it right I'll have the Mortal Combat theme music queued up on my iPhone to play at just that moment. If I ever have over half my deck in my graveyard it should be easy enough to get an Eternal Witness trigger to pull it out of my graveyard, though I'll have to dodge both graveyard hate and enchantment removal to make it happen. I'll also have to resist exiling too many creatures with Gyrus, as I'll need 20 in my graveyard to win this way, but I like having lots of options and this is definitely one you don't see very often.

Final Thoughts

My gut feeling is that this deck should be fun but I'll probably get frustrated with it before long. I don't know if Gyrus' recursion ability will wind up being interesting enough to take the deck through multiple iterations over time until I get it to the point where it's something I really enjoy taking out and playing. I'd bet that the next step will be to add Dragons, but I'll want to play it a bunch before I rework it.

If you're interested in seeing how my decks play out, I blog about my Commander league and casual games over on the site where Commanderruminations first started - http://commanderruminations.wixsite.com/commanderruminations.

I've been playing what I consider to be fairly subpar decks for the last few months for league play but over the Fall I'm hoping to take things up a notch or two. We total points each month and while I don't necessarily expect to win any months I am definitely hoping to make a push to wind up in the top three.

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