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Old Man Willow in Commander


When I first started digging into Lord of the Rings cards, I shared a mono-Green Treefolk deck with you. The first version had Quickbeam, Upstart Ent as the commander. I started with Quickbeam because I didn't realize I had a better option in the piles of cards I had opened out of booster packs. That better option was Fangorn, Tree Shepherd. I had purchased the four precon decks, but hadn't taken any of them apart yet, so Treebeard, Gracious Host wasn't an option. Now that I'm deep into the world of Middle-earth, I've decided to go back to the woods.

This time I'm going to tackle a two-colored legendary Ent. Rather than go with Treebeard, I've decided to add black and build around a Golgari Treefolk.

Old Man Willow

This commander has a power and toughness equal to the number of lands you control. When he attacks, you may sacrifice another creature or token and give target creature an opponent controls -2/-2 until end of turn.

Removal tacked onto a commander is pretty good. I'd rather have card draw, but this is what we've got to work with and it fits its colors pretty well. Having Old Man Willow's stats based upon the number of lands I control is going to drive me towards land ramp over artifact ramp or playing mana dorks. Having my commander's removal dependent upon sacrificing a creature or token is going to drive me towards having a good number of creatures, tokens, or creature tokens on the battlefield.

While these decisions seem pretty obvious, this commander isn't completely directing my build path. I have flexibility around what I'm doing and could go in a number of directions to build a decent deck.

Traverse Those Outlands

I'm running Sol Ring, Rampant Growth, Cultivate, Kodama's Reach, Nature's Lore and Harrow in this list. That's a pretty basic suite of land ramp cards, and I'm running a short list of creatures that can also help with ramp. Sakura-Tribe Elder, Solemn Simulacrum, Farhaven Elf, Springbloom Druid and Wood Elves are in the list and are staples for any deck that wants to play a ton of lands.

Ramping a little is great, but I want this deck to be able to catapult itself way ahead of everyone else in a single turn.

Traverse the Outlands
Reshape the Earth
Cultivator Colossus

Traverse the Outlands will let me search for X basic land cards where X is the greatest power among creatures I control. If Old Man Willow is on the field, I'll be doubling my lands, as his power and toughness are equal to the number of lands I control. Reshape the Earth may cost a whopping nine mana, but it will let me tutor up 10 lands of any type - not just basic lands. Hitting one of these will make paying commander tax trivial and should solve any mana production issue for the rest of the game.

Cultivator Colossus also has a power and toughness equal to the number of lands I control, and it has trample so there's no reason I won't be able to swing and get some damage in. Old Man Willow can be chump-blocked by a 0/1 Plant token. When Cultivator Colossus enters the battlefield I may put a land onto the battlefield tapped. If I do, I can draw a card and do it again. I'm running Abundance in this list, which can work with this Plant Beast to put every land in my deck onto the battlefield. Abundance lets me choose land or non-land when I draw a card so I'll choose land, reveal cards until I hit a land, draw that card, and repeat the process until I'm out of lands.

Getting Damage Through

It's fun to have a huge commander or even a huge Plant Beast, but that will only get me so far. I'll need to get my attackers over, past, or through blockers in order to do damage to my opponents. Old Man Willow doesn't have evasion, so I've got a few ways to make his size matter.

Dryad's Favor
Leshrac's Rite

Rancor will give the enchanted creature +2/+0 and trample. If Rancor would go to the graveyard, it is returned to my hand. That means that once I draw into this aura I may well have it available for the rest of the game. I'm also running Fists of Ironwood, which gives enchanted creature trample and will also have me create two 1/1 Saproling creature tokens.

Trample is nice, but it's better to be unblockable. Dryad's Favor is an aura that will give Forestwalk and Leshrac's Rite is an aura that will give Swampwalk. I'm running both Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, which are nonbasic lands that will give all lands an additional land type. Yavimaya will make them Forests and Urborg will make them Swamps. I'll often have a tablemate with a Forest of Swamp, but if I draw into either of these auras, I'll be very tempted to tutor up one of those lands.

Trailblazer's Boots
Overwhelming Stampede
Dragon Throne of Tarkir

It might seem like a flavor fail, but I'm also running a few pieces of equipment to help get through blockers. Trailblazer's Boots gives nonbasic landwalk and Whispersilk Cloak grants shroud and makes the equipped creature unblockable.

I've a few more ways to get damage through, and these could easily close out a game. Overwhelming Stampede will give my creatures +X/+X where X is the greatest power among creatures I control. Dragon Throne of Tarkir is a Legendary Artifact that can equip to a creature to give it defender. That means it won't be able to attack, but it will gain the ability to tap for 2 mana and give creatures you control +X/+X and trample where X is the greatest power among creatures you control.

Those last two cards seem really good, but they depend upon me having a decent number of creatures on the battlefield. I've got a few creatures that get lands onto the field, but you may have noticed a few mentions of Saprolings so far. I could easily have built this deck around Golgari Elves and Elf tokens, Plant tokens or any of a number of other creature tokens, but I decided to go with Saprolings.

Saproling Subtheme

It's hard to dig too deep into Sparoling creature token generators without stumbling upon Thallids and spore counters. Magic has a long history, and for years a major way to build around this creature type was to play Fungus creatures and put spore counters on them. These days we have more efficient options but I had to include at least one Thallid.

Deathspore Thallid
Slimefoot, the Stowaway

Deathspore Thallid will get a spore counter at the beginning of my upkeep and I can remove three spore counters to create a 1/1 green Saproling creature token. On its own that's not good enough rate to warrant its inclusion in this list, but it also lets me sacrifice a Saproling to give target creature -1/-1 until end of turn. Sporemound is another Fungus that will play really well with my land ramp strategy, as it has a landfall trigger that will give me a Saproling token.

Slimefoot, the Stowaway might be the single best Saproling commander in the game today. This three-mana legendary Fungus will deal 1 damage to each opponent and I'll gain 1 life whenever a Saproling I control dies. For four mana he'll let me create a 1/1 Green Saproling creature token.

Tendershoot Dryad
Verdant Force
Verdeloth the Ancient

Tendershoot Dryad will give me a Saproling token on each upkeep. That works great in a multiplayer format, and if I've got the City's Blessing my saprolings will also benefit from a +2/+2 anthem effect. Verdant Force is overcosted compared to Tendershoot Dryad, but will also give me a Saproling on each upkeep. He costs three more mana, but in a deck with such a focus on ramp I think Verdant Force is worth it. His 7/7 body is a legitimate threat compared to the much smaller 2/2 Tendershoot Dryad.

Verdeloth the Ancient was in my mono green Treefolk deck, and earns a place in today's deck for his kicker ability. If I've got extra mana available when I cast Verdeloth, I can pay X mana as a kicker cost and create X Saproling tokens.

Fungal Rebirth
Fungal Sprouting

I'm running a few other Saproling generators in the list today. Necrogenesis will let me pay 2 to exile target creature from a graveyard and create a Saproling Token. Fungal Rebirth is a three mana instant that will let me bring a permanent card from my graveyard to my hand and if a creature died that turn I get to create two Saproling Tokens. One of my favorite Saproling generators is Fungal Sprouting. For four mana it will let me create X Saprolings where X is the greatest power among creatures I control.

Old Man Willow

This deck's magical Christmasland scenario is to ramp like crazy, use cards like these to flood the zone with 1/1 creature tokens and then pump them equal to the greatest power among creatures I control. A good deck has a shot at being relevant or maybe winning even if it doesn't hit its dream scenario, and this deck should be able to do that at mid-powered tables. It's got a lot of removal, which could help it keep up at higher powered tables, but it does lack the combo finish that you so often see in higher powered games.

If I wanted to push this list up in power I'd probably look towards strategies that work well with decks that create huge amounts of mana. Cabal Coffers and Cabal Stronghold would fit in nicely, and would pair with Torment of Hailfire and Exsanguinate as possible wincons. I'd probably load in a few more X spells like Genesis Wave to make the most out of that mana production.

To tune this list down a bit, you might drop out the tutors and focus more on the Saproling theme, build in a Treefolk theme, or even shift to a Fungus creature type focus. A voltron deck might work, with the goal being to kill the table with commander damage, but it seems like a missed opportunity not to take advantage of playing so much land ramp.

A landfall focus would also make sense and would see you playing Rampaging Baloths, Scute Mob, Scute Swarm, Tireless Provisioner, Lotus Cobra and cards that give you something when a land hits the battlefield.

Final Thoughts

My favorite commanders are often ones that give you the chance to find an interesting, creative build path to get to a playable or even a powerful deck. Old Man Willow pushes you in a direction, but you have an awful lot of options for how you want to build the deck. You might not be pushing up into cEDH, but there's no reason you can't build a high, mid or low powered deck around this commander so your power level is in line with what your playgroup likes to play.

My decision to build around Saprolings dictated certain card choices, but if I had leaned towards Plant creature tokens I'd likely have run Avenger of Zendikar. That choice would have led me to also include Craterhoof Behemoth and Tooth and Nail would have been a good way to pull into that two card wincon. In Golgari colors I'd have access to Black tutors, and would probably have run Boseiju, Who Shelters All as a way to protect it.

There are many ways to build around a new commander. So long as you're having fun and you're able to keep up with your playgroup, there's no "wrong" way to do it. Today list is a starting point and you should take in in whatever direction makes sense for you and your playstyle.

Next week I'll be diving into the slightly shallower pool of Wilds of Eldraine legendary creatures with a look at a Simic legendary Scout who also wants to see us play a ton of lands.

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

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