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Building Izoni


White Terraces by Charles Blomfield (1897). Traxos, Scourge of Kroog by Lius Lasahido.

For the second week in a row I'm happy to bring you a look at another one of the new Guilds of Ravnica legendary creatures. Last week we built a deck for Emmara, Soul of the Accord. An astute reader caught that I left out the incredibly good Thornbite Staff from that list and I was again reminded of how good you guys are at catching things I miss in these decklists.

Today's topic is the new Golgari legendary in Guilds of Ravnica, Izoni, Thousand-Eyed.

Izoni is a Elf Shaman with 2 power and 3 toughness who costs 2bbgg. For 6 mana you'd expect to get something interesting in her text box and she doesn't disappoint. Izoni has the new Undergrowth ability, which in her case means that when she enters the battlefield we create a 1/1 Black and Green Insect creature token for each creature card in our graveyard. Also, for gb and the sacrifice of another creature we can gain 1 life and draw a card.

Izoni wants you to have creatures in your graveyard, but she's not in Blue so we'll be more likely to boardwipe than to self-mill. If we went all-in on creatures we could run silly stuff like Primal Surge and Mortal Combat, but I've been parading those cards out a little too often lately. I'm going to resist my baser instincts and try to make better choices in today's write-up. Let's not build a goofy "trick" deck - let's try to build something effective, focused and more capable of winning games.

Looking back at my success with Marwyn, the Nurturer, I'm going to lean on the tribe of Elves pretty heavily for this deck.

Loading Up the Graveyard

If we were in Blue we might employ some really effective self-mill strategies, but in Golgari colors Izoni is going to have to fill up the yard the old fashioned way - through a combination of sweepers and sacrifice.

Evolutionary Leap
Westvale Abbey

We'll run Damnation, Toxic Deluge and Bile Blight as ways to reset the board. In Garruk's Wake will fit in too, but that won't actually touch our own creatures. We won't play a boardwipe unless we have a good reason to do so, but losing our board isn't as big a deal as it might be with another commander.

Evolutionary Leap will let us pay g and sacrifice a creature to reveal cards until we reveal a creature card. We then draw that card and put the rest on the bottom of the library. We can turn one/1 insects into much more desirable creatures, or we can help fill up the graveyard with our nontoken creatures. Westvale Abbey is a one-time sacrifice outlet that will let us flush five creatures to turn this legendary land into Ormendahl, Profane Prince - a 9/7 indestructible demon with flying, lifelink and haste.

We'll also run Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord, Viscera Seer, Ashnod's Altar, Costly Plunder, and Merciless Resolve as additional ways to sacrifice our own creatures. We don't just want to load up our graveyard though - we want to gain an advantage in the process.

Making Lemonade

If having to lose your creatures is like being handed a bunch of lemons, let's figure out how to turn those lemons into lemonade. We need to find ways to turn losing our board into a good thing. Fortunately, in Izoni's colors that isn't difficult.

Black Market
Dictate of Erebos
Savra, Queen of the Golgari

Black Market doesn't care about sacrifice and it doesn't even care about whose creatures died. Every time a creature dies we put a charge counter on Black Market and at the beginning of our precombat main phase we get that much Black mana. This enchantment will work wonderfully with the other two cards shown above.

Dictate of Erebos will force our opponents to sacrifice a creature for every creature we sacrifice. Savra, Queen of the Golgari will gain us two life if we sacrifice a Green creature. If we sacrifice a Black creature we may pay two life and each other player must sacrifice a creature. That means those 1/1 Black and Green insect creatures will let us use Savra just like a Dictate of Erebos.

Maybe forcing our opponents to lose their creatures too isn't as much like making lemonade as it is like making sure that EVERYONE gets lemons.

You get a lemon... and you get a lemon... and YOU get a lemon!

Hopefully we'll be the only player in the game who has a way to turn all those corpses into something good. Before we dive into how we make the most out of Izoni's ETB trigger, let's look at the backbone of today's list.

Golgari Elves

This deck could just be Golgari Goodstuff. While there's nothing wrong with that, I decided to pull from some of what I learned building Marwyn and build this deck with an Elvish Backbone. The deck isn't all elves, but I was fascinated by the idea of building Golgari Elves so there are 26 members of the tribe, including Izoni and as many Black Elves as I could find.

You could probably line up the "usual suspects" and guess a healthy portion of this list. I'm running Llanowar Elves, Arbor Elf, Elvish Mystic, Priest of Titania, and Marwyn, the Nurturer. Elves make good mana dorks.

I'm also running some tried-and-true utility elves such as Wellwisher, Reclamation Sage and Thornweald Archer. Is a deathtouch reach elf "utility"? Well, when you're facing a deck full of flyers, I think it's pretty helpful, but maybe it's not technically a utility dork. I'm not going to go into each and every Green elf in this list. You probably already know them all.

In today's article I'm going to focus on the Black sheep of the elf tribe - that is, elves with Black in their casting cost. They're less common and to me, far more interesting.

Deathrite Shaman
Glissa, the Traitor
Hunter of Eyeblights

Deathrite Shaman will be no stranger to experienced Commander players. This might be one of the greatest 1-drop creatures ever printed by Wizards of the Coast. This Elf Shaman can exile cards from graveyards to make mana, cause all of your opponents to lose 2 life, or gain 2 life for ourselves. He's the bane of any combo deck that wants to pull key pieces back out of the graveyard in order to win the game.

Glissa, the Traitor is a Legendary Zombie Elf who will let us bring artifacts from our graveyard to our hand. She's also got first strike and deathtouch, which is a hard combination of keywords to beat. We'll have a handful of key artifacts that we might want to recur if they manage to get destroyed, so Glissa is actually a pretty good fit for what we'll be trying to do.

Our last Black elf is the Mono-Black Hunter of Eyeblights. This Elf Assassin will put a +1/+1 counter on target creature we don't control. While that might not seem so great, for 2b this Assassin can tap to destroy target creature with a counter on it. That means a +1/+1 counter, a bounty counter, a bribery counter, a filibuster counter, a fungus counter or any other counter. Just don't target a creature with a divinity counter - those are usually indestructible.

Lys Alana Scarblade
Poison-Tip Archer
Thornbow Archer

Lys Alana Scarblade is another Elf Assassin. This one lets us tap and discard an Elf card to give target creature -X/-X until end of turn, where X is the number of Elves we control. That should get around indestructibility and will also help to load up our graveyard. We're running a ton of Elves in this deck so we should have Elves to discard.

Poison-Tip Archer is a new M19 Elf that I've been excited to slot into the right deck. I think this is that deck. This guy has reach and deathtouch - a combination I love to see in deck that's got no flyers, but his last ability is the big deal. Whenever another creature dies, each opponent loses 1 life. That makes our boardwipes much more powerful. Thornbow Archer is much cheaper and much less impressive. When he attacks, each opponent who doesn't control an elf loses 1 life. He's in here for his color as much as for his low casting cost, but he's likely to spend more time in the graveyard than he spends attacking our opponents.

Not all of these are optimal, but I'm exploring new territory here. Golgari Elves isn't a deck I've built before. While you might do better by slotting in goodstuff, I'm OK with keeping cards like Thornbow Archer in the list. You certainly can drop him and slot in Sheoldred, Whispering One or any of a number of other creatures. Sheoldred is probably the kind of upgrade that makes sense if you want to up this deck's power level even more.

Looking Outside the Tribe

I'm running a few extra creatures that aren't Elves, though I'm not running Sheoldred. I could go full Elf tribal, and one might argue that I should, but let's look at my choices. I already mentioned Viscera Seer - a Vampire Wizard that lets us sacrifice creatures to scry 1.

Caustic Caterpillar
Eternal Witness
Silklash Spider

Caustic Caterpillar is yet another fantastic 1-drop that can blow up an artifact or enchantment for you. I'm also running Abrupt Decay and Reclamation Sage, as removal is always worth including and I never seem to have enough. Eternal Witness is a Human Shaman who is a recursion staple, bringing a card from your graveyard to your hand when she enters the battlefield. Any elf deck is going to need ways to deal with flyers, so Silklash Spider fits in nicely. This 2/7 spider lets you pay xgg to deal X damage to each creature with flying. I'm also running Windstorm as a way to deal with flyers, but having that ability attached to a creature is too good to pass up.

Making Insects

We have one last non-elf creature to mention and it's a key to making this deck work. What we want to do is play a strong early game, wipe the board, and then play Izoni so we can make a nice little army of 1/1 insects.

Replaying Izoni isn't very practical, as her commander tax will just keep going up each time we cast her. She's already a 6-drop, so that's just not going to be an effective strategy. That's where our last non-elf creature comes in, along with a couple of artifacts.

Temur Sabertooth
Cloudstone Curio
Erratic Portal

Temur Sabertooth is a 4/3 Cat whose activated ability is to let you pay 1g to return another creature you control to its owner's hand. It will gain indestructible until end of turn, and you'll hopefully be able to cast that creature again. If you're at 8 mana, you can bounce and re-cast Izoni every turn, making a bigger and bigger army of 1/1 insects.

Cloudstone Curio will let you bounce a creature to your hand whenever a nonartifact creature comes into play under your control. Erratic Portal will let you pay 1 and tap it to return target creature to its owner's hand unless its controller pays 1. Naturally, we won't pay the 1. All this bouncing doesn't get around the fact that Izoni costs six to cast.

With a big enough graveyard it'll be well worth the casting cost to get another swarm of 1/1 insect creature tokens, but wouldn't it be nice to not even have to pay that mana?

Blade of Selves
Helm of the Host
Conjurer's Closet

If we equip Blade of Selves to Izoni and swing with her, we'll get a token copy of Izoni attacking each opponent not being attacked by the original Izoni. Without a way to get around the legendary rule (i.e. Mirror Gallery) those token copies of Izoni, Thousand-Eyed will just die, but they will get her enter-the-battlefield trigger and each will create another swarm of 1/1 insects.

If Blade of Selves makes sense for this deck, so does Helm of the Host. This artifact might be on the expensive side for this list, but it will give us a token non-legendary Izoni at the beginning of combat on our turn without even having to attack. We definitely want to get more Izoni triggers without putting Izoni in harm's way. If we have Conjurer's Closet on the battlefield we can have Izoni leave and re-enter the battlefield at the beginning of our end step.

You might wonder why I'm not running Parallel Lives, Doubling Season, or Panharmonicon.

With Panharmonicon on the field, each of our enter-the-battlefield triggers would happen twice. Parallel Lives and Doubling Season would both double the number of insect creature tokens we would get. I think these are all fine additions, and might be worth running in place of some of our weaker Elves or other utility creatures. My basic concern was I didn't want to pull out removal, ramp or card draw in favor of cards that will only help us if we cast Izoni AND if our graveyard has creatures in it. That said - I don't think you'd be wrong to run these powerful token doublers in this deck.

Going Infinite

Last week, a reader pointed out an infinite combo I missed in my Emmara list. I'm sure there will be plenty I'll miss this week as well, but I was able to find an infinite combo that works beautifully with Izoni.

Ashnod's Altar
Nim Deathmantle

If we've got a few creatures in the graveyard we can sacrifice one of them to Ashnod's Altar to make 2 mana, sacrifice Izoni to Ashnod's Altar to make another 2 mana and then pay 4 mana to attach Nim Deathmantle to Izoni and bring her back to the battlefield. Each time we will make as many 1/1 insects as we have creatures in the graveyard. All we need is two and we'll be able to generate infinite mana and an infinitely wide board of 1/1 insects.

The Decklist

I've gone over the basic plan for this deck but haven't touched on every possible category. I can only write about the same list of Green card draw spells so many times, but that doesn't mean those things have been forgotten. You'll see some familiar cards and wincons in this list if you've been following my writing over the past year.

Izoni, Thousand-Eyed | Commander | Stephen Johnson

This definitely isn't a competitive build. Izoni's cost is a little too high and I don't think her abilities are that easy to break. I'm also far from an expert on cEDH, so if you readers have ideas on how to break Izoni that I haven't thought of please let me know in comments. I've often found your feedback both humbling and enlightening. I do my best, but many of you are just as good if not better at building and breaking Commanders as I aspire to be.

If you wanted to tune this list to be stronger you'd probably want to move away from the elf theme and add in Sheoldred and Grave Pact. You might also want to put in those token doublers, but I'm wary of pulling out too many creatures in favor of token doublers. You need those bodies to fill up the graveyard. You'd also want to run better mana rocks and better lands. You'll notice there's no Mana Crypt in the above list and that's usually an indication that I'm leaning more toward a casual list.

Final Thoughts

I have to admit that going into the writing phase of this week's article, the spoiling of Lazav, the Multifarious had me feeling like that guy in that meme... You know...

Yeah. That guy, just with less hair and way, way older. As soon as I saw Lazav 2, Dimir Boogaloo, I wanted to drop everything and start researching all the broken things that can be done with him. That will have to wait until next week, but I expect it to be a pretty spicy deck.

If you saw any glaring omission from my Izoni list, please comment and let me know. You guys have a great knack for catching things I've missed. While I hope to bring lots of new cards and ideas to my writing, I know full well that in churning out an article over five or six days every week I'm probably going to miss something.

If you've been wondering how some of the other decks I've written about have been standing up in actual play, I write about my casual and league Commander games over on my personal blog. You can follow along every Sunday at http://commanderruminations.wixsite.com/commanderruminations. It isn't always pretty, and it's far from a play-by-play review, but it's an honest look at how things have been going in my Commander games.

Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week with a look at the new Lazav!

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