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Meria, Scholar of Antiquity in Commander

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Two Watermills and an Open Sluice by Jacob Van Ruisdael (1653). Resplendent Griffin by Sam Rowan.

Today's column is about a Gruul legendary Elf Artificer who is best compared to Urza, Lord High Artificer. Urza has shown himself to be a real beast of a high powered / cEDH commander playing well with a stax strategy, squeezing incredible value out of artifact-based EDH decks.

Meria, Scholar of Antiquity is no Urza, but the two have a lot in common.

Meria, Scholar of Antiquity
Urza, Lord High Artificer

Meria gives access to two colors, while Urza is a mono-Blue commander. Urza lets you tap any artifact to create a Blue mana, whereas Meria only lets you tap a nontoken artifact to create a Green mana. If you concede that Blue is the most powerful color, and you think about how much artifact token generation has been printed in recent years, Urza seems to have the upper hand.

Our legendary Gruul Elf Artificer lets you tap two untapped nontoken artifacts you control to exile the top card of your library. You can play it this turn, but after that it's gone, baby, gone.

Urza not only creates a Construct artifact creature when he enters the battlefield, he also comes with a fantastic infinite mana outlet. For five mana, you can shuffle and exile the top card of your library and play it for free. It's hard not to see that Urza again has a power level advantage over Meria.

Even if it's clear that Meria isn't going to threaten Urza's position as the most powerful Artificer in all of Magic and one of the greatest stax commanders ever printed, that doesn't mean Meria, Scholar of Antiquity can't be a fun and powerful commander with her own unique take on a artifact strategy. Today I'm going to dig into how I'd build an EDH deck around her.

The Stax Question

Stax is short for something. It might be a reference to Smokestack, an old card that forces players to sacrifice permanents. It might be an abbreviation for "symmetrical taxes." What it means is that you're going to be forcing your tablemates to play under what can sometimes be very severe restrictions, and you're going to try to "break parity" and find a way to gain more advantage in this oppressive environment than anyone else to eventually win the game.

In higher powered and cEDH metas stax is a powerful way to try to force your tablemates to "play fair" and slow down their push for an early turn win. You're not trying to out-race your opponents, you're trying to slow everything down so that you can have time to dig for your own wincon and have the resources to stop other players from winning first.

Urza is a fantastic stax commander because he allows you to play artifacts that affect everyone equally and use those artifacts to generate mana, which in turn allows you to squeeze out more value than other players who might not have that kind of mana generation available to them.

Meria could definitely be built as a Stax commander.

I see two basic problems with this plan of attack. My first issue is that Meria isn't as powerful as Urza. You're not in Blue so you have less stack interaction, you can't work with token artifacts and you can't pour mana into your commander to dig through your deck for your wincon. My second concern is just that I really don't enjoy playing Commander games where my tablemates are miserable, and stax decks sometimes leave your tablemates unable to play the game. Not everyone hates that sort of a challenge, but enough players do that it's not the kind of strategy I generally build into a deck.

Should you build Meria, Scholar of Antiquity as a stax deck?

Possibly, but I'm not going to do so today. I'd rather lose a few more games than have to hear my tablemates groan when I put Winter Orb or Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger on the stack. If that makes me a softie or a filthy casual, so be it. That stance may change as I play the deck, especially if it struggles, but for now I'm staying away from stax.

That doesn't mean there isn't a lot of fun I can get up to with this exciting new commander!

Fumbling Towards Fringe

I rarely think I'm building decks that edge up towards cEDH, but today I'm feeling the fringe. I'm not saying I'm sure that this deck will find itself in that murky territory between casual EDH and competitive EDH. I am saying that by the end of this column I hope you'll be ready to take Pacey out of Dawson's Creek, plop him down in the middle of a paranormal sci-fi mystery series and strap in for five increasingly confusing seasons.

Fringe, the 2008 Fox TV show, may not have been J.J. Abrams' greatest achievement, but today's commander is also no Urza, Lord High Artificer. Melira does have a great party trick, though. If today's list isn't fringe cEDH playable, it's on a trajectory that could easily end up there.

My first crack at building Meria wasn't incredibly focused. It had 38 artifacts, a few combos, but not enough ways to actually close out the game. It was a half-baked Gruul goodstuff deck with an artifact focus but didn't seem able to turn that into a win. I played it online in Tabletop Simulator and there was some synergy, but the deck felt like it was still a bit too unfocused.

One game is not a great sample size, but it was enough to let me know that there was something really cool going on and I wanted to dig deeper and see if I could solve the puzzle that Melira had given me. When I decided to move from building online to building in paper, I was going to be challenged to build using only cards in my collection.

Accorder's Shield
Bone Saw
Cathar's Shield

My first big breakthrough was to realize that there are lots of equipment cards that cost zero mana to cast and there are also lots of equipment cards that cost 1 mana to equip. Back when I built Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain I never dabbled in equipment but Meria suddenly had me thinking about making a voltron deck.

Trailblazer's Boots
Conqueror's Flail
Golem-Skin Gauntlets

Evasion is incredibly important when playing a voltron game so I added in Trailblazer's Boots, Prowler's Helm, Executioner's Hood and a bunch of swords that give protection. I also threw in Conqueror's Flail so I can lock my opponents out of casting spells on my turn. Meria starts at 3 power so I also wanted to add in some ways to really pump up her power. Colossus Hammer gives a modest +10/+10 and Golem-Skin Gauntlets gives +1/+0 for each equipment attached to the equipped creature.

Mask of Avacyn
Hammer of Nazahn
Brass Squire

Protecting Meria is incredibly important so I threw in Mask of Avacyn and Swiftfoot Boots. I left out Lightning Greaves as I didn't ever want to be in a position where I couldn't attach new equipment to Melira because of the shroud that Lightning Greaves would give her. Attaching equipment is easy when the equip cost is low, but some of these cards have a much higher cost to be able to attach them to a creature. Hammer of Nazahn will easily take care of that and Brass Squire can tap to attach a piece of equipment to a creature I control.

The deck I ended up with had 60 artifacts in all, and my average mana value went from 3.05 down to 2.20. The TCGplayer mid price for the deck also went down from $325 to $303, making this version something of a budget deck. I didn't add in any fast mana rocks like Mana Crypt or Mana Vault and I didn't add in Rings of Brighthearth and Basalt Monolith / Grim Monolith, though the deck would obviously be stronger with those cards in the mix.

Do I actually think this voltron strategy has this deck edging up towards fringe cEDH?

Not yet. I have very high standards for what I call cEDH and so far this is definitely not powerful enough to compete at cEDH tables. I still think it could be a fun deck, but going voltron isn't the way to push up your power level in today's EDH.

A Spot of Synergy

If I were building in any color combination that included blue, I'd be telling you all about Retraction Helix and Banishing Knack. This list actually has a place for the two artifact creatures that I love to pair with those blue instants. Throwing in the third artifact shown below just made sense in a deck that wants to be able to untap artifacts in order to keep a busy turn going.

Battered Golem
Traxos, Scourge of Kroog
Staff of Domination

Battered Golem and Traxos will both untap when this deck gets rolling. That first adorable Golem cares about artifacts entering the battlefield and Traxos cares about casting historic spells. Artifacts are historic, so these guys should both untap a lot. That matters because Meria needs me to tap two artifacts for her to exile the top card of my library. I'll be able to play that card until end of turn. Whether I'm tapping those two artifact creatures to make mana or to exile cards off the top of my library, both will let me stretch out my turns and dig deeper into my deck.

Staff of Domination is a wincon if I'm making infinite mana, but so far this build isn't quite there yet. As I write this, I'm talking myself into ordering a Grim Monolith, so this Staff could soon move from being synergy to being a wincon. In this list it's just going to provide synergy. For one mana I can untap it. That might seem silly if I'm looking to tap it for mana, but Meria requires two artifacts to tap to exile that top card. Staff of Domination can take mana from any source to untap and be available again and again until I'm out of options for that turn.

When playing this deck, I'll do well to save my land drops. If I start my turn by dropping a land out of my hand and then I exile a land with Meria, I'll wish I'd have kept that land in my hand. Meria lets you play her exiled cards until end of turn, so that can include as many land drops as you're allowed to make. In this deck that's one, but I can see a real argument for running Azusa, Lost but Seeking so you can get some extra land drops with all of those exiled cards.

Artifact Wincons

If I feel like "playing fair" I can attempt to kill my tablemates off with Melira. It shouldn't be too hard to do 21 commander damage to an opponent but it will take time to pull that off. Voltron is rarely seen in cEDH circles and can even be a hard strategy to pull off in high powered play. I still like this deck as a starting point for a build that goes in that direction, but I have a few surprises shuffled into the 99.

Ring of Three Wishes
Purphoros, God of the Forge
Myr Incubator

Ring of Three Wishes and Kuldotha Forgemaster can both tutor up parts of a wincon. The latter can only get an artifact card, but Ring of Three Wishes can get anything. This deck might do well to tutor up Purphoros, God of the Forge. If Purph isn't available, both Ingenious Artillerist and Reckless Fireweaver can turn artifact enter-the-battlefield triggers into damage.

With 60 artifacts in the deck, Myr Incubator can be sacrificed to let me go through my deck, exile as many artifacts as I like and then have that many 1/1 Myr artifact creature tokens enter the battlefield. With Purphoros out, I'd only need to exile 20 of my many trinkets to do 40 damage to each opponent. Both Reckless Fireweaver and Ingenious Artillerist would need 40 artifacts to be exiled to do that much damage.

It can be fun to hit an obscure wincon like Myr Incubator, but I wouldn't suggest it has a place in cEDH. It also might seem like it costs a lot of mana, but with Melira on the battlefield every artifact I control can be tapped for a Green mana. That makes all those zero and one-mana equipment cards much, much better. The fact that I can tap them whether or not they are equipped to a creature is icing on the cake.

I suspect this list will move towards some infinite mana combos and might get a Helix Pinnacle thrown in for good measure. That enchantment isn't in this draft, but if you can make infinite mana Helix Pinnacle is a pretty good place to put that mana.

Aetherflux Reservoir

It should come as no surprise that Aetherflux Reservoir has a place in today's list. Each time I cast a spell, I'll gain one life for each spell I've cast this turn. That lifegain can add up and if I get above 50 I'll be in a position to pay 50 life and deal 50 damage to a creature or player. There will be times when someone counters the activation, leaving you at your now much lower life total. It's incredibly frustrating but it doesn't happen that often. It did happen to me just a few days ago though, so don't be too shocked when it does.

Scholar of Antiquity

This list is embarrassingly light on interaction and doesn't even run my usual ramp package. It's an experiment in going all in on an artifact strategy to try to maximize my ability to fully leverage what Meria brings to the game. Focusing on equipment was a choice inspired by a foil Accorder's Shield I had in my bulk box. You could just as easily run a long list of zero and one-mana artifacts like Spellbook, Tormod's Crypt and other trinkets that bring value and interaction to your game. It's not a bad plan but would pull me away from the voltron build I'm trying to make work.

The only instant or sorcery in this list requires some explanation. Scapeshift is often used to tutor up a powerful land like Gaea's Cradle or to give you a bunch of landfall triggers all at once. In this list I'm using it to get all three Urza lands. This list has a lot of equip costs to pay, so that seemed like a reasonable way to make paying those costs a bit easier. Also, it's just fun to assemble the Urzatron.

If you wanted to tune this deck up, you could load in stax pieces like Winter Orb and Tangle Wire and you could throw in more expensive mana rocks. I think if you moved away from my voltron approach and loaded up with a few combos you could really edge up towards fringe cEDH. I'm probably going to move in that direction after playing this list a few more times, but I don't expect I'll get into stax. I'll never say never, but it's just not my style to try to win by creating an oppressive game state for my tablemates.

To tune this list down, you might lean into the voltron plan. I think you could do that and actually make the deck stronger by adding ways to get extra combat steps. Voltron can be fun, but it's problematic. You can end up with a friend sitting out for what turns out to be a long game. You can get shut down more easily by certain tactics like forced-sacrifice. It's not for everyone, but it can be fun and you'll be putting something of a cap on the deck's power level if you have to clear a table by dealing 21 damage from Meria to every player in order to win.

Final Thoughts

I've played this deck a few times now and have had mixed results. It is a lot of fun to start digging into your deck by tapping artifacts to exile cards off the top of your library. I also had a game where someone played and recurred Collector Ouphe, basically shutting my deck down for pretty much the entire game. A well-timed, overloaded Vandalblast can just as easily ruin your day when you're playing a deck that has this many artifacts.

I've also had a few games where I was surrounded by Blue players on more powerful decks and felt like there was zero chance I'd be able to resolve anything meaningful at any point in the game. There's a reason Urza is king and being in Blue is definitely part of what makes him great.

As I wrap this column up, I have decided to pick up that Grim Monolith and see if the deck plays better with that Rings of Brighthearth / Monolith combo. A Helix Pinnacle is also in the mail and I'm thinking of moving my Azusa, Lost but Seeking from my landfall deck into this deck. I have a feeling I'll be able to hit extra land drops with some regularity. A Ghirapur Orrery might also make sense. Extra land drops can be powerful and this deck looks like it might be mana hungry with all of those equip costs.

If this feels like more of a work-in-progress than my usual deck, you're right. I think that means I'm onto something but haven't quite figured out where I want to go with it. My resistance to playing stax might be something I just need to get over. My preference is always to let people play their decks but Meria might need that extra help.

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

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