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Beating Negan in Commander


A Rest on the Ride by Albert Bierstadt (1863-4). Aven of Enduring Hope by James Ryman.

So you really didn't like the recent The Walking Dead Secret Lair release. Maybe you hate the idea of non-Magic IP content being forced into our format. Maybe you hate the idea that these cards are being put out directly from Wizards of the Coast, cutting local game stores out of their usual role as a product distributor at a time when our local game stores need us and our spare pennies more than ever. Maybe you hate the idea of kids building decks with a rapist in the command zone.

I don't know why any of you hated the Walking Dead cards as much as you did, but it's quite clear that for a lot of players they weren't exactly well received. I do know why I didn't like them, but whether I like them or not, they are legal in our format and there's a chance I'm going to come across a Daryl, Glen, Rick, Michonne or even a Negan deck at some point.

I am not a fan of Negan.

I enjoyed The Walking Dead for many years. The storylines were compelling, the characters were memorable, and the show was one of my favorites. Then the Negan storyline came along. The first episode of season seven in which *Spoilers* Glenn and Abraham were killed *Spoilers*, was where it lost me. It felt like I was watching a genre of horror that I've heard called "torture porn," and TWD lost me as a viewer for over a season. My wife, who was a fan of the graphic novels, kept with it and I eventually came back to the series. It was never as good as it was in the early seasons and I never quite forgave them for taking that hard turn into sadism.

Fast forward to 2020 and Negan is now likely to enter into my favorite hobby, Commander, whether I like it or not.

I can't see refusing to play against someone who decided to make a Commander deck around one of the Walking Dead cards. I can see thinking about it, but I can't see doing it. I also can't see going out of my way to build decks specifically designed to counter Michonne, Glenn, Daryl or Rick. The same can't be said for Negan.

I can definitely imagine going out of my way to build a deck specifically designed to make damn sure I do everything I can to make a Negan player not enjoy playing their deck against me.

Target Acquired

If I wind up with a Negan in my meta, I'll probably not bother to meta-game against it. Probably. If I did, my goal would be to make sure nobody ever plays Negan, equips his favorite weapon, "Lucille", and bashes MY brains in. Today I'm going to explore how I might build an anti-Negan deck. What better way to punish Wizards of the Coast for putting profits over everything else than to make some local kid utterly miserable for the sin of building a Negan deck, right?

I am not actually a fan of making opponents miserable for their choice in what commander they want to play. I'm also very much not a fan of getting murdered by Negan, so let's look at what we'd be building a deck to try to defeat.

When Negan enters the battlefield Negan's controller and target opponent "secretly" choose a creature that player controls. Then those choices are revealed and that player sacrifices those creatures. That means if you're chosen you'll likely sacrifice your best creature and you might have to sacrifice two creatures. It sets up a really interesting mind game where you have to decide whether or not the Negan player is going to go after your most important creature. I like the design of the card - it's a pity they wasted it on Negan. As icing on the cake, whenever an opponent sacrifices a creature, Negan's controller creates a Treasure token.

Lucille is Negan's favorite toy. This interpretation of it is particularly powerful, forcing the defending opponent to sacrifice a creature. It's fantastically good against anyone playing a low creature count voltron deck, and it's just generally a very strong card. A four equip cost makes it harder to easily swap around but any Negan deck worth its salt will have ways to tutor up Lucille and equip it for free.

That means we want to build a deck that is good at dealing with creatures and good at removing artifacts. Ideally any deck will have creature removal, but some colors are better than others at that. We also want to keep from being targeted so the Negan player can't pick us. Lastly, if there are ways to keep from being forced to sacrifice creatures, there won't be any reason for the Negan player to pick us when Negan enters the battlefield.

It's worth noting that I could just play a high-powered deck and win the game before the Negan player can get up to any shenanigans.

I don't like to encourage anyone to wilfully pubstomp, so while it might be tempting to pull out a high-powered deck whenever I see Negan, it's probably not the right thing to do. I might do it a few times anyways, but I'll feel a little guilty if the deck goes off and I wind up crushing the table.

Negan's Kryptonite

The right choice to build a deck to fight against Negan is probably to build Rick Human Tribal and run Daryl, Glenn, Michonne and all the best Humans you can get your hands on. It would probably be a strong deck, but my goal is to never have to sacrifice one of my creatures to Negan's ability. Officer Friendly won't help with that.

An easy answer would be to build a control deck and to counter Negan or Lucille every time they're put on the stack. That might do the job pretty well, but again it edges into some dangerous territory. I'm not a fan of shutting down a single player like that. Negan isn't going to be a cEDH deck and I think playing against Negan as if you're playing in a semi-competitive or even a casual environment makes the most sense.

If Negan's jam is making his opponents sacrifice permanents, that leaves us with one obvious choice to champion this deck: Sigarda.

Sigarda, Host of Herons
Sigarda, Heron's Grace

Both Sigarda, Host of Herons and Sigarda, Heron's Grace will serve our purposes and make us better again Negan, if not completely its true kryptonite.. That means you can pretty much build this deck with either one and if you have the other just throw it into the 99 of the deck.

Sigarda, Host of Herons will make it so that you can't be made to sacrifice permanents. Sigarda, Heron's Grace will give you hexproof, making it impossible for the Negan player or any other player to target you with a spell or ability. The former, with 5 power, makes for a slightly better attacker, but the latter has the ability to create Human Soldier creature tokens. I'd probably favor the first, but I could see an argument for either.

Aegis of the Gods
Spirit of the Hearth
Shalai, Voice of Plenty

I can't always be sure I'll have Sigarda on the field, so running a few ways to give hexproof makes sense. Not only will that insulate me from Negan's ill effects, I'll also be protected from a wide variety of other threats. Aegis of the Gods, Spirit of the Hearth and Shalai, Voice of Plenty will all give me hexproof. Orbs of Warding, Leyline of Sanctity and Witchbane Orb can also give hexproof and the planeswalker Teyo, the Shieldmage will give me hexproof and will let me pop out an 0/3 white Wall creature token with defender to help fortify Alexandria against Negan's forces.

Tocatli Honor Guard
Hushwing Gryff

Another way to stop threats with enter the battlefield effects is to use Torpor Orb effects. Torpor Orb is a two-mana artifact that will keep creatures with "ETB" effects from doing their thing when they join the party. Tocatli Honor Guard, Hushbringer and Hushwing Gryff will do the same but attached to a body. None of these three are likely to win any games in the trenches, but if someone is swinging for lethal with a gigantic, non-trampling creature these guys will be happy to chump block and help me live to see another turn.

If shutting down Negan's enter the battlefield effects and keeping him from targeting me or forcing me to sacrifice permanents isn't enough, this last card should let me keep Negan from resolving. Lifeforce is a cheap little enchantment that will let you pay two green to counter target black spell. It's a way to counter Negan when I'm not in blue and if my goal is to keep him from causing trouble, I think it's worth including. Since it's in the 99, it's unlikely to show up that often, but when it does I'll be happy to be able to play the role of Sheriff and keep the bad guys completely at bay.

Defensive Measures

While the best defense is a good offense, it's also worth putting up some defensive measures. This isn't meant to be a pillowfort deck, but a few pillowfort cards can't hurt.

Ghostly Prison
Baird, Steward of Argive
Magus of the Moat

If our Negan player is building an on-theme bad guy humans.dec, tax effects like Ghostly Prison, Sphere of Safety or lockdown measures like Magus of the Moat will keep them at bay pretty nicely. Our flyers will still be able to attack, but any opponent without flyers simply won't be able to attack at all.

Song of the Dryads
Kenrith's Transformation

Auras that can sideline a creature without removing it from the graveyard are really effective ways to make sure a threat isn't going to be coming at me until that aura gets removed. Mardu is not in the best colors for enchantment removal so if I end up turning Negan into a shrub, he might stay that way until the end of the game. His controller might draw into a Disenchant or Chaos Warp, but chances are just as good that they won't.

It goes without saying that I'll want ways to get rid of Negan if he is coming at me. The Negan player might be happy to get a chance to recast him to get another enter-the-battlefield trigger, but Mardu isn't the best color identity for ramping. A few trips to the command zone and you might not see Negan again because of commander tax. Maybe sidelining Negan through the Commander tax system isn't a terrible way to deal with this particular bad guy.

Caustic Caterpillar
Nature's Claim
Krosan Grip

Whether or not I can deal with Negan, it's worth mentioning that Lucille looks to also be quite a headache to deal with. Loading up on artifact and enchantment removal should position me to be able to get rid of that pesky piece of equipment if it does show up, and any Negan deck is likely to be set up to be able to get it and to recur it when it goes to the graveyard.

The benefit of running lots of ways to take care of problematic artifacts, enchantments and creatures, is that this deck will not end up as just a one trick pony. It won't just be able to deal with the threat of a Negan deck bashing my head in - it will be able to stop a wide range of threats. There are much, much scarier and more powerful things in Magic than Negan and Lucille, and if I wind up at a table playing against other, better decks I'll want answers for the threats they end up playing.

How We Win

A Negan deck could have all kinds of creatures. It's likely they will be running lots of forced-sacrifice cards like Fleshbag Marauder. It might be a Human tribal build, but it might just be Mardu goodstuff with an emphasis on forced-sacrifice and a voltron plan of attack. One thing many Negan decks might have trouble dealing with is flyers - especially if they're building it on theme as a bunch of bad dudes who want to go do bad things to everyone else.

Wrath of God
Dauntless Escort
Triumph of the Hordes

This isn't a combo deck, so I'm basically gearing up to try to win on the battlefield. Having flyers will help but I'm not leaning on a voltron strategy very heavily. I'll never get tired of watching Negan die, so I'm running removal and boardwipes. I'm also running ways to protect my team from boardwipes, so if I cast a Fumigate I'll hopefully be able to use Dauntless Escort, cast Heroic Intervention or just have Avacyn, Angel of Hope on the field so I'm unaffected. This will fundamentally be a "fair" deck if you're willing to overlook the inclusion of Triumph of the Hordes.

Akroma's Memorial will give my creatures a slew of keywords and will give them protection from black and red, which ought to let me swing at Negan with little concern for blockers. I've got a way to pump my commander up in Eidolon of Countless Battles. It should turn Sigarda into a two-turn clock for anyone with no flying or reach blockers. If I wipe the board and it was attached as a "bestow" aura, it will fall off and become a creature. Mother of Runes and Giver of Runes will likely provide me with a way to get past that solitary flyer that lots of non-flying decks lean on for air defense. I'd expect to see a Vampire Nighthawk or the new Nighthawk Scavenger in a Negan deck and protection from black will let Sigarda swing through any mono-colored blocker.

The Decklist

This isn't meant to be a top tier deck. If you really, really hate Negan and you don't mind pubstomping, you can always pull out a strong deck and see if they can keep up with you. This list is designed to be able to deal with what Negan will likely bring to the game.

I'll admit that the mana base is a bit thrown together - I was more focused on the overall strategy this time around. This is the kind of deck that isn't likely to come out fast and crush any tables. I'm more likely to build a strong board, maybe weather a boardwipe or two, and stifle any attempt by the Negan deck to gain the upper hand. The goal is to win, but the game will likely be a political one. I'll not become too huge a threat to turn the game into archenemy and I'll hopefully be able to avoid being one of the first players eliminated. If I can make it to the last two I figure I'll have a puncher's chance of coming out ahead, but the game will be won the old fashioned way - on the battlefield.

Final Thoughts

I have to say that I understand anyone wanting to crush every Negan deck or even every The Walking Dead deck they come across in the wild. I can easily envision the kind of player who loves to troll his opponents and make other people miserable being drawn to a bully of a character like Negan. The general outcry against these cards will probably act to make Negan an even more attractive card for the kind of player who likes to get a rise out of their tablemates by playing decks and cards that people hate.

I would urge you to figure out who you are playing against before you pull out the big guns. There will be kids playing Negan who don't know about the controversy and just want to play a neat new deck. There will also be trolls who play this commander solely because it will piss some people off. Because nothing is ever black and white, there will also be lots of players in the middle, playing Negan for all manner of reasons. If you've got a troll on your hands, do what you can to shut them down. Play a deck that is appropriate for the game you've got in front of you. Sometimes that will be Baral counterspell tribal, sometimes it might be a deck like Sigarda, Host of Herons, and sometimes it might be something entirely different.

I'm still of the opinion that the Rules Committee would have done well to not allow non-Magic-IP cards to be part of Commander. I'm also of the opinion that Wizards of the Coast has made mistakes before this latest debacle, they will make mistakes after this all blows over, and the format will survive just fine. Commander is so much bigger than this and we will weather this storm. For many of us, it's already fading in the rear-view mirror as Commander Legends looms on the horizon.

What do you think? If you had a Negan deck show up in your meta, would you consider building a deck to deal with it? Would you go in a different direction than I went in, or would you follow a similar path?

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

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