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Eldraine Deck-in-a-Box Challenge


Niagra by Frederic David Church (1857).

Flood of Tears by Adam Paquette.

Earlier this year, I decided to try something new. I bought a box of Modern Horizons and tried to see if I could build a viable Commander deck out of the cards I opened from its booster packs. I wasn't optimistic, but hoped to open The First Sliver and have that as the leader of what might wind up being a passable casual deck. Luck was not with me and the decks I wound up building weren't very good.

The basic problem with limiting yourself to only the non-land cards from a box of booster packs is that sets aren't designed for that purpose. The chances are low that you'd open a legendary creature with enough colors to be able to put together a real deck. Even if you do, the unique needs of our format make it a huge challenge to have enough ramp, draw, removal and threats for the deck to be playable outside of the most casual circles.

The experiment went badly enough that, while I was able to write a column about it, I vowed to never do it again.

Then they gave us a 5-color buy-a-box promo for Throne of Eldraine.

Kenrith, the Returned King

This legendary Human Noble costs 4w and is a 5/5 with no native keywords. That doesn't mean the good King doesn't have pop. Kenrith has a smorgasbord of interesting abilities that would make Umezawa's Jitte blush if it were a creature, and would make a Morphling, Torchling, Thornling, Brightling, or Endling green with envy.

Because his abilities don't even require Kenrith to tap, they make him the ultimate infinite mana outlet. We even have creatures (Prismite, Signpost Scarecrow) that will convert colorless mana to colored mana, so winning a game of Commander has never looked easier. Just make infinite mana, draw your deck, get infinite life, play any creatures you like, make them infinitely large, give extra blockers to your opponents out of their graveyards if you feel like it, and then swing for the win.

I could build Kenrith that way, but not with cards from Eldraine booster packs.

This isn't going to be that kind of deck.

Choosing a Direction

Throne of Eldraine is an incredibly flavorful set with cards that have a Camelot feel and cards that seem like they were pulled right out of Grimm's Fairy Tales. For Kenrith's deck I'd be able to pick cards from the entire set of Throne of Eldraine. This isn't going to be a competitive build, so I found myself asking who Kenrith, the Returned King, would rather be leading.

Would Kenrith return to his comfortable castle, surrounded by peasants and Knights, nobles and ladies?

Instead would the Returned King seek less familiar faces and find himself in the company of faeries, goblins, giants and beasts?

Both options are intriguing and would make for great stories, but when faced with the question of whether Kenrith would pick the world of humans or the world of monsters to inhabit, my initial answer was simple.

Why not both?

At first I thought it would be fun to build TWO decks around Kenrith, one with knights and humans and the other with non-humans. Each would have a distinctly different story and flavor, but there's a real problem with this approach.

The set simply doesn't have the ramp to support a strictly tribal 5/c humans deck without breaking out of that tribe, and it doesn't have the color fixing to make any five color deck efficient. We want to be able to play Kenrith with some consistency and we don't want to spend our few games with this build wishing we had the right lands for the cards in our hand. My playgroups aren't cEDH but they aren't so casual that I can get away with asking them to go easy on me for eight or ten turns so I can get the right lands in play to be able to actually do anything.

The good news is that Kenrith is a mono-colored card with a five color identity. What that means is that we could build around White so we can cast him reliably and then pick one or two other colors that will let us pull in our best rares and give us a fighting chance.

I doubt this build will wind up being a five color deck, though I really wanted to go 5/c humans and ignore the color issues I'd be faced with. I'd wind up hoping things would go well but then I'd actually play the deck. More likely than not I'd wind up with cards stuck in my hand, a meager boardstate, a lot of frustration and a failed experiment.

I can do better than that.

I went into the process of selecting cards with a few things in mind. I'm not worrying too much about being super competitive so it's OK to include cards because they're foil or because they have that awesome, fancy vine-like frame that is sometimes used on Adventure cards. I might have picked those cards up out of the collector booster pack I got with my box. I also have a bias against temporary effects, like +1/+1 until end of turn, and in favor of permanent effects like giving a creature a +1/+1 counter. Commander games are long, and it's worth keeping that in mind when choosing what to include and what to leave out.

Kenrith's Base Color

This could never be a purely White deck. Expansion sets don't have enough support in any single color for a viable 100 card mono-colored singleton deck. That's what I found when I tried this with Modern Horizons, which had 254 cards. I see no reason to think that Throne of Eldraine, with 269 cards, will be any different. I'll need to include almost every decent or even not-so-decent white card in my card pool, and there are some pretty good ones.

Archon of Absolution
Trapped in the Tower
True Love's Kiss

I love Archon of Absolution. It taxes our opponents for attacking us, which is great against anyone going wide, it flies so it can block flying threats, and it has protection from White. That means it can block any White creature all day long and it is immune to stuff like Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile. Trapped in the Tower and True Love's Kiss are both fine pieces of removal and well worth including.

Giant Killer
Shepherd of the Flock
Faerie Guidemother

All three of these Adventure Creatures I was able to get with the "fancy frame" so they all had to make it into the list. I also included Ardenvale Tactician, Lonesome Unicorn, Realm-Cloaked Giant, and Silverflame Squire, all of which also have Adventure spells tacked onto them.

Linden, the Steadfast Queen
Syr Alin, the Lion's Claw

I wound up with 25 White cards, including lots of creatures I'd be hard pressed to put in a regular Commander deck. Seventeen of them were creatures, ten were humans, and they included Linden, the Steadfast Queen and Syr Alin, the Lion's Claw. A few flyers made the cut, including the adorable Flutterfox and a foil Prized Griffin.

At this point I had to consider what other colors I would want to include in the deck.

Picking A Second Color

I knew that I wasn't going Mono-White but it wasn't obvious at first what I would want to go with for my second color. I'm used to building Commander decks with some ability to ramp, so I decided to look at Green and see what might be available in my card pool.

Beanstalk Giant
Rosethorn Acolyte
Faeburrow Elder

The closest I had to a Rampant Growth was Fertile Footsteps, which is the Adventure attached to Beanstalk Giant. The best mana dorks I had were Rosethorn Acolyte, Faeburrow Elder, and Maraleaf Pixie, which is a Simic Faerie who flies and can tap for Green or Blue mana. Since all three of these cards are in Green it seemed sensible to start with that as my second color.

Questing Beast
Once Upon a Time
Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig

Looking through my rares made it even clearer that Green was a good choice. I opened up a Questing Beast and really wanted to include it in this deck. Once Upon a Time is a pretty good fit too, though the copy of Happily Ever After that I also opened would only make sense if I were in five colors. Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig fits in pretty nicely and might even pick up a few counters if I include enough other Green creatures.

Keeper of Fables
Kenrith's Transformation
Return to Nature

Even though I have a lot of humans in my list, Keeper of Fables represents potential card draw if I can get any of my non-humans through to do combat damage. Kenrith's Transformation not only replaces itself but also is a fantastic way to sideline an opponent's commander. Return to Nature is the kind of flexible removal every Commander deck should be running. Since we're not pulling cards from the entire history of Magic, we've got to grab good removal when we can.

Oakhame Ranger

Being in Selenya colors allows us to run Oakhame Ranger and Wandermare but there weren't any other multicolored cards to add in without adding another color to the deck. After adding 24 Green cards to Kenrith's growing list, I definitely needed to review my rares and see if there was anything else that absolutely, positively had to be included.

Color Number Three

Remember those mana dorks I listed earlier? One of them wasn't pictured but might help us out. As fate would have it, that mana dork happened to be in the same colors as a very spicy planeswalker that was also in my card pool.

Maraleaf Pixie
Oko, Thief of Crowns

Maraleaf Pixie might not be able to help with our White spells, and could be a chore to get onto the field, but beggars can't be choosers. Oko, Thief of Crowns represents some pretty serious removal with his ability to turn an opponent's artifact or creature into a 3/3 Green Elk with no abilities. On the second turn after Oko enters the battlefield I can swap control of an artifact or creature I control with an opponent's creature that is power 3 or less.

If I'm going to run Blue in this deck, it's worth looking at what other cards might help further the cause. Because this is our third color we probably don't want to run any cards with more than one Blue mana symbol in the casting cost. Fortunately, there were some good options in the cards I opened.

Run Away Together
Turn Into a Pumpkin

Removal might not be sexy, but it really does help win games. The three relatively low casting cost instants shown above should do the trick to remove threats. I also threw in Queen of Ice and Tome Raider, but the real reason I'm running Blue is for Oko and for those instants.

The Decklist

Rounding out the list were a pair of artifacts - Spinning Wheel and Lucky Clover. The former will tap for any color of mana and can tap a creature down if I tap it and pay five mana. The latter will copy any Adventure instant or sorcery we cast. This deck has a healthy number of Adventures to play with, so there's some chance it will hit the field and actually do something.

Rather than click the "Buy This Deck" button, you should probably just pick up a box of Throne of Eldraine and do the challenge yourself. I'm not even kidding. If you've got the wherewithal to pick up a box and you've got a casual enough meta where you can play "suboptimal" decks, it'll probably be a lot of fun.

Just make sure you get a copy of Kenrith, the Returned King so you can have access to all five colors. It's a fun experiment, you'll wind up with a casual Commander deck to play, and there are a ton of incredibly flavorful cards in this set. You don't have to feature White, and you certainly don't have to restrict yourself quite as much as I did.

The land base wasn't exclusively made from lands I pulled from my booster packs. I pulled some extra basics into the list, but resisted the urge to throw in a Command Tower or even a Seaside Citadel. I'm not even running a Sol Ring or any of the format's staples, so I'll definitely be playing Commander on "hard mode" with this deck.

The Cutting Room Floor

It's clear that I left out lots of cards when I threw together this list, but I'm guessing you are probably wondering about the Rares and the one Mythic Rare I chose not to include. Some were left out because of their colors or because of the number of Blue symbols they had in their casting cost. I'll go through them briefly so you can second guess my choice to build in Bant colors.

White: I had a second copy of Giant Killer but I'm sure you'll forgive me for only running one in today's list. Other than that I used all of my White Rares.

Green: I included every single Green rare in my card pool. No surprises here.

Blue: Here's where things get interesting. I had two copies of Fae of Wishes, one of which was a fancy-bordered foil, but I honestly just didn't want to wrestle with wishboard rules on our casual night. Folks might have been OK with me using it, but it felt safer to leave it out. I also opened a Vantress Gargoyle, Folio of Fancies, Midnight Clock, Stolen by the Fae, and an extended art Gadwick, the Wizened.

Black: I opened six Rares and a Mythic Rare in black. Wishclaw Talisman was the most tempting, but I also opened Blacklance Paragon, Oathsworn Knight, Witch's Vengeance, Clackbridge Troll, and Ayara, First of Lockthwain. The Mythic was Rankle, Master of Pranks.

Red: Irencrag Pyromancer, Bonecrusher Giant, Fires of Invention, and Torbran, Thane of Red Fell were my Red Rares. If you like burn, do yourself a favor and check out Abe Sargent's recent column 15 Ways to Break Torbran.

Gold: Doom Foretold and two copies of Lochmere Serpent (one foil) were the only multicolored rares that I opened and didn't include in today's build.

Colorless: Sorcerous Spyglass and two copies of Stonecoil Serpent (one foil) were the colorless Rares that I left out.

Lands: I opened a Castle Locthwain, which was left out of the deck, and a Castle Garenbrig, which was included in the list.

I could see an argument that I should have included Black, and I definitely see an argument that I should have just gone with 5/c Humans, as this set has a fantastic selection of Knights, Nobles, Warriors and Peasants to run.

I know the competitive Kenrith lists are going to be combo-based infinite mana decks, but I sincerely hope that there winds up being a lot of 5/c Human or even 5/c Knight tribal decks out there in the coming months. I think both could be fun semi-competitive builds that will be able to hold their own in more casual metas.

How The Deck Played

When I do these "deck in a box" challenges, I like to play the deck so that I can report back on how well the experiment went. I don't build decks to put them on a shelf, I build them to play them and while last time didn't go well, I was cautiously optimistic that this time around it might turn out better.

I wound up playing the deck in a five player game and in a three player game. None of the other decks at either table were cEDH and only one was a strong semi-competitive build.

I was impressed with the amount of removal I was able to pack into this list. In both games I was able to interact with my opponents and help to stop threats on the board.

Game 1 was the five player game which included my daughter playing her semi-competitive Korvold, Fae-Cursed King deck. I was able to use Oko, Thief of Crowns twice, using Once and Future to pull it back out of the graveyard so I could play it again. I was able to blow up the Korvold player's Skullclamp and Lightning Greaves with Oko, but the rest of the table didn't have enough removal to keep Korvold from comboing off anyways. I did notice my lack of enchantment removal when an opponent had played a Beastmaster Ascension and nobody, including myself, was able to get rid of it. Creature removal saved us from that threat, but we were all just buying the Korvold player the time to get her combo in place. It was fun but we were overmatched.

The second game was a three-player one against Anje Falkenrath and Jolrael, Empress of Beasts. My Trapped in the Tower was able to sideline an opponent's Predator Ooze when I wasn't sure how I would be able to deal with an indestructible threat that was going to keep growing and growing. At one point I was able to use the Cast Off sorcery attached to Realm-Cloaked Giant to buy the rest of the table a few more turns, killing off a pretty massive pile of zombies along with most of my own creatures in the process. I was able to use Outflank and Righteousness to get rid of Anje's two flying attackers at one point in what felt like a great play that really surprised both of my opponents, but we were eventually overwhelmed by the Anje Falkenrath precon. That deck can generate an amazing amount of value for a precon list.

Kenrith was able to swing for a bit of commander damage in both games, and he was a popular target for my opponents' removal. If I wasn't excited about pulling other decks apart to be able to build a Kenrith combo list, I'd probably enjoy playing this deck a few more times if I could find enough low-powered opponents. It was fun and the games weren't terrible.

Final Thoughts

When I went into this challenge for the second time this year, I was hopeful that it would be more fun this time around. It absolutely was, though I'm not sure I'd do it again. Having a five color legendary creature available for the buy-a-box promo was a big part of my decision making.

I wanted to pull apart my Xantcha, Sleeper Agent infinite mana combo deck apart to build a Kenrith combo deck. I could get a copy of Kenrith by buying a box. If I bought a box, I could do the challenge again, see how it went, and hopefully play some interesting (if low powered) games and write a column about the experience.

Was it was all just an elaborate excuse to buy myself a box of Throne of Eldraine?

Maybe, but if you enjoyed reading about it please comment below and you'll increase the chances of me doing it again! I'm nothing if not easily influenced by you, dear reader, so please let me know what you think.

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

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