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Building Genju of the Realm in Commander


River Landscape with Horseman and Peasants by Aelbert Cuyp (1658). Pearl Lake Ancient by Richard Wright.

Every so often I like to take a break from writing about my own decks to shine the spotlight on a deck built by one of the guys I play with. I've been playing on Tabletop Simulator every week for the past few months and today's deck comes from that meta. At first, we started up those online games because our LGS was closed down and after it opened back up for casual play the guys and the games were fun enough that we kept them going.

One of the benefits of playing online is that you have no "investment cost" for building a deck. Provided the group is willing to let folks play with cards they don't own in paper, you can build whatever you like. I've been mostly playing decks I own in paper, but every now and then I'll slip in a deck that was designed for one of these columns, but which I've never actually sleeved up in paper. It provides for a great way to try new cards and new decks before buying them and it also has made it easy for us to build decks we might only play once or twice.

Today's column is about a deck a friend of mine built for a deck-building challenge week we ran last month. The game was still commander, but for this week we allowed players to build decks around any legendary artifact or enchantment even if it wasn't a creature. We would still pay commander tax, but commander damage would likely be off the table. None of us were planning on trying to win by turning some artifact into a creature with Sydri, Galvanic Genius or some other shenanigans like that.

Running an EDH league and playing at an LGS against anyone you can rustle up a game with lets you meet all kinds of commander players. It's a fantastic way to expose yourself to lots of different playstyles and decks and along the way you meet some really cool people. You might even make a few friends along the way.

Meet Zach Breen

Zach has become one of my favorite tablemates over the past few years. I think we met when he started playing in the league I ran pre-COVID at NexGen Comics in Pelham, New Hampshire.

Zach started playing Magic in 2013 when he was in high school. He had seen one of those old Deck-builder's Toolkits in a store and he had seen other kids playing Magic at Boy Scout Camp. Apparently they play a lot of Magic at Boy Scout Camp. He picked it up and started playing kitchen table with friends, not actually building for any format but just playing 60-card decks with whatever they had lying around.

After graduating, Zach enrolled in the college of Culinary Arts at Johnson and Wales in Rhode Island, specializing in Baking and Pastry. The college attracted people from all over the world and one day Zach stumbled across some other students playing Magic in one of the dormitory common rooms. He asked what they were up to and they told him they were playing Commander. After getting an introduction to the rules and deck-building restrictions, he spent the next week planning and building his first Commander deck.

Ulrich of the Krallenhorde

His first build was a Werewolf tribal deck with Innistrad's own Ulrich of the Krallenhorde as the commander. It wasn't very good, but it had the potential to deal out a ton of damage in one shot. He'd usually get to do that and then get ganged up on because dealing a lot of damage in one turn can be scary. Zach still has the deck together, but it doesn't see a lot of play these days. He and his classmates would often get out of their labs and when they didn't have homework they'd stay up for hours and hours to jam Commander games.

Zach is one of those deck-builders who will keep a small set of decks but will take old ones apart to build new ones rather than assembling a big library of decks. His self-described playstyle is that he wants to "just play Magic." There's no temptation to build decks that win quickly with compact, efficient combos. In his words, "as fun as it is to win, and to get that rush, I don't find it satisfying to play two cards and OK I'm done - let's do another game."

When he says let's "play Magic," he means it. To paraphrase Zach, he told me "I like to see the different things that evolve throughout the game between different card interactions. There are what, 20,000 or so unique Magic cards? I would guess 10% of that actually gets used for Commander decks and then 1% or a fraction of that 1% gets used for wincons and 2-card combos."

If Commander were a cocktail, Zach would want something long and drawn out rather than just a shot. His sweet spot in the format is mid-power, where the games are long enough for really interesting things to happen and for decks that aren't just running optimal wincons and staples to be able to stretch their legs and actually play in the game.

For Zach, there is a lot out there that you can expand from to have interesting games where people go "I've never seen that before - that's really interesting and weird!" or games that make people groan because they get confused and don't totally understand what's going on. While I've developed a taste for the occasional guilty pleasure of a two-card combo or a tuned deck, I feel like I've found something of a kindred spirit. I also love seeing weird cards, odd interactions, and getting questions from players about cards I'm running in a deck.

Zach's favorite thing about Commander might be that it's where the game "breaks itself" because there are more than 20,000 cards that have been printed and Wizards of the Coast never planned for us to be playing most of these cards against each other. They didn't anticipate interactions between cards printed many years or even decades apart, so it's incredibly fun to see how they can be combined together to create new and creative interactions.

Zach's Commander Playstyle

There are two decks that I would think of if I had to explain his playstyle. The first might be his Kynaios and Tiro deck but I think I need to start with his Mono-White banding deck.

Odric, Lunarch Marshal

Yes, Zach runs a Mono-White banding deck. He told me that he got the idea from a Tolarian Community College video where they made something of an April Fool's joke about how bad and yet how good banding was. Apparently banding is bad because nobody understands how it works. It even has an extensive wiki page just to explain it. Being able to block and get to assign all the combat damage as the defending player because you're using banding can be really powerful. You can block a 20/20 flyer with trample with a "band" and assign all the incoming damage to a 1/1 soldier with flying, basically nullifying trample as a mechanic. Zach runs the deck under Odric, Lunarch Marshal so that his creatures share abilities. This occasionally leaves opponents thinking that banding is a keyword that lets creatures share abilities. It doesn't of course, and Zach has become well practiced at explaining what his deck does and what banding actually means.

Usually when he plays Odric, two things happen. People see that it's a banding deck, they don't understand what's going on and they don't want to deal with it. They might kill him, which he accepts as part of the risk of playing it. They might see him play weird things they've never seen before, but those things aren't interacting with them yet so they leave him alone. The fun for Zach in playing the deck is in seeing the table react and interact with things they often haven't seen before and sometimes have no idea how to deal with.

Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis

The other deck that comes to mind when thinking of Zach is his Kynaios and Tiro deck. It started out as a group hug deck but he eventually reworked it to be what he describes as a "steroids" deck. It is designed to pump up his opponents' in pretty much every way imaginable. His goal is rarely to try to win the game when playing this deck. He just wants to see what happens when everyone gets to see their deck do everything it wants to do. He'll tell a table on turn three to save up their mana and pour it into the Collective Voyage he's going to cast. Often the table will all buy in and the next thing you know everybody is putting eight or ten lands onto the field. He'll help everyone draw cards and might even tell them that he just wants to try to deck himself rather than go for a win. If he does draw himself out of the game, he genuinely enjoys sitting back and watching the table play out the rest of their game with their decks "on steroids."

Playing Kynaios and Tiro isn't just a way to "punt" the game for Zach. He enjoys the psychological game of seeing what everyone will do when presented with a ton of mana and card draw. The goal is to see everyone play out a lot of interesting things and to see how the game evolves, but he doesn't want it to end immediately just because he charged up everyone's boardstate. Some players will be excited by what they can now do. Others will be on edge, expecting to have to deal with wincons hitting the table constantly. Those dynamics and interactions can be really fun to watch play out.

I should note that if any of my readers are interested in a column devoted to exploring either Zach's Odric mono-White banding deck or his Kynaios and Tiro "steroids" deck, please comment below. Today's column is actually a look at an even more interesting deck.

Genju of the Realm

Zach and I have been playing online in a weekly Tabletop Simulator game. We've decided to have theme weeks and some of our themes have departed from normal Commander deck-building. I recently wrote about a deck I built around a non-legendary creature. The deck for today's column was built for a week where we were building around legendary non-creature artifacts or enchantments. All other Commander rules would apply, so we'd still be dealing with commander tax and we'd be hard pressed to find ourselves dealing any commander damage.

Zach started working on this challenge by googling and looking on TappedOut.net and EDHRec.com for legendary enchantments. He wanted a multicolored option and soon came across Genju of the Realm.

Genju of the Realm

Genju gave him access to five colors, so as a deck-builder the world was his proverbial oyster. It could make a land into an 8/12 spirit with trample, but the land would be doing the damage so commander damage was still off the table.

Lord Windgrace
Needle Spires
Ondu Rising

He then researched The Gitrog Monster and Lord Windgrace decks for ideas, as he had decided the deck needed to be based on lands. He then came across man-lands and land creatures. Being able to make a land into a land creature could provide additional keywords like vigilance or haste and he wound up running as many man lands as he could find, along with basic lands and guildgates. Some of these are better than others, of course. Blinkmoth Nexus enchanted with Genju of the Realm can almost one-shot an opponent.

The next major addition came from his Goblin deck. Zach runs the White sorcery Ondu Rising in a Goblins deck to give his army lifelink for a turn. The card also has awaken 4, but he never really used that for his Goblins. In Genju, it made all the sense in the world to load up on cards with awaken.

Tatyova, Benthic Druid
Ghirapur Orrery

The deck evolved further, getting Tatyova, Benthic Druid, a Horn of Greed, Manabond, Ghirapur Orrery and other cards. He found that the deck could play as many as six or seven lands in a single turn if things go well. If he's just got lands in his hand, Manabond will let him dump his hand onto the battlefield and Ghirapur Orrery then draws him three cards. Mike, one of the players in our Tabletop Simulator group, commented that he had never seen a Ghirapur Orrery work so hard. He was dumping his hand and drawing every single turn in some of the games he played with this Genju deck.

He rounded out the deck with a bunch of cards with land synergy. Planar Outburst becomes a one-sided boardwipe if all or nearly all of your creatures are land creatures.

The Decklist

Zach's first name for this deck was "This might be bad I don't know".

He really had no idea how it would play, but it turned out that opponents couldn't keep track of what he had for potential blockers at any point in time. Folks would look around, look at his ridiculous piles of lands, they would know that there were creatures ready to spring forth to block, and they often just sent their attackers elsewhere.

The deck played strongly, but didn't win either of the games it was in. That might have been from Zach being unfamiliar with it, or it could have been from Zach's natural inclination to want to hang back and not attack a lot. He was likely more interested in seeing how the deck would build a board up than in pushing for the win.

Creature-Land Madlad | Commander | Stephen Johnson

In talking about building this deck, Zach emphasized that we all had zero investment cost in building online decks to play in Tabletop Simulator. It was easy for us to choose and build crazy ideas. One of the best things about Commander is that you can negotiate with your playgroup and you can do things that might not normally be "legal" in the format. If you're just playing games for fun and it's fun for you to explore new things, why not try something crazy like non-creature legendary commanders?

Final Thoughts

This deck was built before Zendikar Rising, and Zach told me there would likely be a lot of cards he would add to the list if he were to keep working on it. Tomik, Distinguished Advokist, for example, would help protect his lands and might slow down any opponent wanting to pull lands out of the graveyard. Scute Swarm just loves landfall and would go crazy in a deck that can play six or seven lands in a turn.

If he wanted to build this deck to be able to switch to be able to have a legal commander, he might add in Golos, Tireless Pilgrim. The fact that the deck didn't win any of its games made me slightly hesitant about dedicating a column to it, but it is one of the most interesting and unique decks I've come across in a long time. Zach also might have been able to close out a game with a win, but he never went for an alpha strike. His approach to Commander is one where he's really just happy to be playing Magic and isn't as focused on winning as I tend to be. He wasn't the slightest bit fazed by not winning, he had a lot of fun playing the deck and really enjoyed the experience it created for everyone.

It's worth noting that the deck runs Maze's End, but he didn't ever feel like going after that wincon in a game. He felt it would be too easy and would feel unsatisfying. I've done just that with O-Kagachi, Vengeful Kami and with Golos, Tireless Pilgrim and hitting that wincon was fun but not so thrilling that I kept the deck together.

If you'd like to read more about Zach's other decks, please comment below. I suspect I might be writing about new Commanders in the coming weeks, but I'll plan to spotlight mono-White banding or K and T steroids if there's interest in reading about those decks.

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

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