The Wreck by Frederic Edwin Church (1852).
Darigaaz, the Igniter by Mark Zug.
I had been planning on revisiting Kenrith, the Returned King for today's column. I had written about the good King just a few weeks ago, so I was a little wary about going back to the same commander so soon. I also wasn't very excited about the list I was brewing up. It had a few combos nestled into what felt like a somewhat boring 99. I was leaning toward Humans as the tribe that would define the list but I wasn't excited about the project.
My best writing and my best games come when I feel like I'm writing about or playing something that I find genuinely interesting. I was feeling uninspired until this past Saturday when I had a day that would remind me of why I love this format so much. I might still bring you a Kenrith list next Monday but I'm going to give myself a little time to see if I can work up a deck that I can turn into a somewhat compelling article.
Instead of writing about Kenrith I'm going to tell you about the great, and very green day my daughter and I just had in the Commander league I run.
A Little Backstory
I got into Magic: The Gathering when my daughter and I went to Pax East many years ago and we each got a mini Magic deck in our swag bags. I don't think they do that anymore but I think it was the initial point of contact for her with the game. I'm nearly 50, so my initial point of contact with Magic was back in the mid 1990s when I became aware of the game but was so busy doing medieval fantasy LARPing that I had little time or interest for other hobbies. If I knew then what I know now... well, let's just say I'd probably own an ABUR dual land, if not something spicier like a Mox or a Black Lotus.
My daughter and I went from kitchen table Magic to Commander pretty quickly, and after a year or two, I found myself running an EDH league out of a local game store every Saturday afternoon. She and I both had our occasional bad moments, but she played at a consistently high level, we each won a lot of games and had a lot of fun. She was always better at the game than me but I was probably a little better at table politics and could usually hold my own.
As a parent, I felt incredibly lucky to have fallen into a hobby that I could share with my kid. Telling each other about our games on the drive home when we had been at different tables and both had great stories to tell was always the best. When one of us had a bad day it was also nice to hear about the other's good day or to have someone to complain to - even if we were just whining about bad luck or our own screw-ups.
After a few years of really strong play, my daughter seemed to lose interest. She was in high school and for whatever reason she stopped coming to play as often. She would play in our casual nights at home but drop out after just one game. She just had better things to do.
I kept the league going not only because I still loved the game and the community I had helped to grow, but also so it would still be there if she eventually got back into it again. She was never rude or dismissive about it, and I wasn't upset - I wanted her to enjoy her life and do what she wanted to do with her free time, but I did miss the camaraderie of having someone to go to EDH League with. People change, kids grow up, and I knew our shared hobby wouldn't last forever.
My daughter graduated from High School this year and in recent months she has started showing an interest in the game again. She was excited about Korvold, Fae-Cursed King and let me write a column about the Commander deck she would build around that card. She still hasn't been joining me every Saturday, but this past weekend she decided to come along and get a couple of games in.
We play two rounds of EDH every Saturday. I didn't wind up sharing a table with my daughter but we each managed to get a win and each of our wins reminded me of the thing that made me fall in love with Commander. We were both able to do somewhat ridiculous things with obscure cards because we both put a lot of thought and planning into how we would build our decks.
Our favorite kind of deck-building projects are the kind where you have to solve a puzzle.
You find a weird legendary creature with some strengths and some obvious issues. Then you try to find a way around the challenges so you can get as much out of the card's strengths as possible. It's not as much fun to just find an obviously powerful legendary creature and either figure out or look up the optimal way to build the deck. The joy of problem solving in deck-building is why I love EDH. The deck that I was able to pilot to a win was Multani, Maro-Sorcerer, and the puzzle my daughter won with was Sasaya, Orochi Ascendant.
I've written about Multani, Maro-Sorcerer in the past and my list hasn't changed dramatically since then. I was able to win our league's top point total for November of 2018 playing Multani in half of my games and Rith, the Awakener in the other half. The deck will never beat out fast cEDH decks but in a semi-competitive meta it can really put in work.
I lost my first game of the day playing Najeela, the Blade-Blossom. My Najeela deck isn't a tuned list - it's a goblin warrior list with cEDH combo pieces thrown in. It can win games, but isn't as fast or consistent as the competitive builds. My second round was where I played Multani, Maro-Sorcerer. I let everyone read the card and I should probably let you do the same so you know what I'm going on about.
Multani's power and toughness is equal to the number of cards in all players' hands, so I had been planning on playing the deck at any 5 player table I was lucky enough to get seated at. This game was only a four player affair but it was the last league game of the month. The theme for October was "commanders with a hyphen in their card name" and I always play on theme, so I'd be moving on to new decks in November. This might be the last time I played Multani for weeks, if not months.
I was quick to point out that Multani doesn't natively have trample. He also has shroud, so I wouldn't be able to attach any equipment or auras that might give him trample. What I didn't mention is that I had been able to solve that puzzle by loading up the deck with ways to give trample that don't target. I also run plenty of ways to help my opponents draw cards. That doesn't really make it a "hug" deck but I often kid about it being one anyways.
I was up against Ayara, First of Locthwain, Eight-and-a-Half-Tails, and Nazahn, Revered Bladesmith. This table was all about the jank and I was optimistic that I'd have a chance at doing something stupid.
I started with three lands and a Stampede Driver and was able to snap up the "first blood" league point on turn two by swinging him to get the first combat damage at the table. We also have a "first blood" point for first noncombat damage or loss of life, but this deck wasn't likely to get that one.
I drew into Castle Garenbrig and was able to cast Multani on turn five. We did a quick count of everyone's cards-in-hand and Multani was a 19/19. The Nazahn player didn't have any blockers yet and the table was clearly nervous. The Eight-and-a-Half-Tails player was on three lands - not enough for a boardwipe, and the Ayara player's biggest threat to me was Rankle, Master of Pranks. Rankle can force players to discard, which would directly cut into Multani's power and toughness.
It's worth mentioning that I had a Sylvan Library out and had already used it twice, at the cost of 8 life, to draw extra cards. When my opponents' turns had passed and my Multani was still on the field, I had to decide who I was going to swing at. Not swinging wasn't a consideration, but I realized I had missed an opportunity. I had drawn three cards and put two back at the beginning of my turn, so if I had kept all three and paid another 8 life I would have had a 21/21 Multani and an open Nazahn player to swing at.
I wasn't in the running for points for the month so I wasn't desperate to get kills. It's also worth pointing out that any player out of the game would make Multani smaller. The Nazahn player and the Eight-and-a-Half-Tails player each had a Basilisk Collar on the field. The former had no blockers, but the latter did have a creature they could block with. All signs were pointing toward swinging at the Nazahn player so that's what I did. He wasn't thrilled but he took it like a man and was still in the game, now with 17 Multani commander damage and no reason to expect I wouldn't swing again on my next turn.
I think it was at this point where things got real. I might have cast this spell before combat, but everyone was tapped out so it's likely I just did it after combat.
I cast Traverse the Outlands and tutored up 17 forests. Earlier that day in round one, the Eight-and-a-Half-Tails player had already shown an impressive ability to have the right card at the right time. He shut me and my Najeela deck down but also used Aven Mindcensor to stop a tuned cEDH Godo deck in its tracks. He was tapped out and I was happy to not find my search for seventeen forests limited to the top four cards of my deck.
If having to deal with a 17/17 wasn't enough, my tablemates now had to deal with an opponent who basically had all the mana in the world. Actually, that's a bit of an overstatement, but having an opponent with over 20 lands on turn six didn't exactly fill them with hope.
The Ayara player again swung Rankle at me and forced us all to discard. The Eight-and-a-Half-Tails player got a creature out and played The Wanderer. He then confidently declared that he would use his planeswalker's loyalty ability to exile Multani. I had to break the bad news and remind him that Multani has shroud and can't be targeted. The Ayara player had swung at him the turn before so I think he exiled one of Ayara's creatures instead of Multani.
On the Nazahn player's turn it was clear he wasn't drawing into lands or creatures and would be dead on my turn if I wanted to swing Multani at him again. The thought had crossed my mind, but I don't always go for the throat in league games and I decided to play nice. I suggested that if he could get rid of the Eight-and-a-Half-Tails player's Basilisk Collar I'd be inclined to swing over there on my turn. He was happy to buy a little extra time so he blew up the equipment.
On my turn I played out a Font of Mythos, Stonehoof Chieftain, and Pathbreaker Ibex. I also played a Mosswort Bridge with a sweet little surprise hidden underneath. Font of Mythos would have everyone draw two extra cards on their turn. Stonehoof Chieftain would give my creatures trample and indestructible, allowing me to swing into a deathtouch blocker freely. Pathbreaker Ibex could give my entire team a huge boost with Multani still on the field, opening up the possibility of killing the table all at once. Sadly, Concordant Crossroads was nowhere to be seen so I'd have to wait a turn and hope nobody had a boardwipe.
I swung my trampling Multani at the Eight-and-a-Half-Tails player and did something like 15 commander damage to him. With my Sylvan Library and Font of Mythos I'd be drawing five cards on my next turn with the possibility of paying 8 life and keeping all five. I wasn't going to be able to kill the Eight-and-a-Half-Tails player in one swing anyways so I wasn't worried about losing a little power by playing out my hand before combat. Technically, I suppose that was a misplay, but I didn't think it would matter.
The Eight-and-a-Half-Tails player had been in second place in our league rankings but the top player that month had been playing a true cEDH Najeela build and had already won both games on the day. It was evident that Eight and a Half wasn't thrilled with how the day was playing out, but he was taking it (and his heaping helping of commander damage) pretty well.
I had passed up the chance to get a kill on the Nazahn player, but as a result my Commander was still huge and that Pathbreaker Ibex had a chance to really put in some work on my next turn. My opponents realized things were looking bad for them, but they didn't pause and take a moment to collaborate and figure out how to deal with me. If they had worked together carefully they might have been OK.
On the Ayara player's turn he exiled my Stonehoof Chieftain. My creatures would apparently not have trample and not be indestructible on my next turn. On the Eight-and-a-Half-Tails player's turn he went to use The Wanderer to exile another one of my creatures and realized that it could only target creatures with power 4 or greater and both Stampede Driver and Pathbreaker Ibex were too small to be targeted. Mutani had shroud, so he wasn't able to do a thing to my board. A little planning with the Ayara player could have paid off, but I can't blame him. I'd probably have made the same mistake they made.
The Nazahn player was able to finally get a creature out but with no haste, I wound up starting my turn with a huge Muiltani, a Stampede Driver and a Pathbreaker Ibex at my disposal. I got very lucky with my draw, pulling into an Overwhelming Stampede.
At this point it looked like the game was mine. I used Overwhelming Stampede to give my creatures +17/+17 and went to combat, sending a creature at each opponent. Multani was now a 34/34 and Pathbreaker Ibex pumped the whole team another +34/+34. At the time I think we all screwed up the math, but each creature was swinging at +51/+51 with trample so it was definitely enough to kill the table.
Before damage, I couldn't resist the temptation to crack my Mosswort Bridge. At the time, Multani had 68 power and 68 toughness.
Making sixty-eight 1/1 Saproling creature tokens was the cherry on top of this game. I had been tempted to hold back for one more turn to see if I could really crush the table but it wasn't necessary and I wasn't about to give a Mono-White player a turn to draw into a boardwipe. He's a great player and had already shut down my Najeela deck earlier that day.
The reason I bothered to make a Saproling army was that our league's scoring system rewards points for a variety of things, including having the biggest army at any single point in time in the game. I had the points for highest power and toughness locked up already, but I wanted to do one last ridiculous thing before the game was over.
To their credit, my opponents were a little stunned by how the game had gone, but they weren't salty. It was really fun to hear them relating the story of how my deck had blown up to their friends after the game.
It's always fun to win a game, but I always feel just a little more joy when I'm able to pull out a win with Multani because of the time and effort I went through to build the deck. I don't pretend to be some deck-building genius. Most of you could have figured out Multani's puzzle every bit as easily as I did, but it still gives me a great feeling when games go well.
Opponents usually aren't familiar with the card, they don't quite know what they're getting into, and when the deck starts to work the way it's supposed to I love seeing those little moments when they realize they're in trouble. I don't even have to win to enjoy the game. Just doing something crazy or murdering a single opponent with a ridiculously large Multani is usually enough to make me happy.
Sasaya, Orochi Ascendant
After all the tables were done with their round two games I ran the league points and confirmed that our local cEDH Najeela player had indeed won the month. The Eight-and-a-Half-Tails player had put up a really impressive showing and wound up in second place, but he was playing a semi-competitive deck and just wasn't able to keep up with what I'd consider a "true" cEDH deck.
I was aware that my daughter hadn't won her round one game. A Chulane combo deck had drawn into a Laboratory Man win when she was playing Korvold, Fae-Cursed King. On the ride home we shared the stories of how our games had gone.
She had set up some great value plays with Korvold in her first game, but nobody was able to stop the Chulane train. Her round two game was where things got really interesting. She was at a three player table and was playing her Sasaya, Orochi Ascendant deck.
Sasaya is a weird card, possibly even weirder than Multani. She starts out as a legendary Snake Monk. At any point in time you can reveal your hand and if you have seven or more land cards in your hand, you get to flip Sasaya, Orochi Ascendant. When you flip Sasaya she turns into a Legendary Enchantment called Sasaya's Essence. When Sasaya's Essence is on the field your lands tap for extra mana. They add one mana of the type they normally create for each other land you control with the same name.
Apparently the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
My daughter is just as drawn to problem-solving as I am. My challenge with Multani was how to give Multani trample despite his native shroud and play the table so that opponents dying wouldn't weaken him and prevent me from being able to win. The challenge with Sasaya is how to get a hand with seven (or more) lands in it while also running enough non-lands to be able to turn big mana into a win.
Both decks need to fly under the radar to some extent. If anyone realizes how hard Multani will be to deal with, they'll surely counter him or tutor for boardwipes as early as possible. If anyone realized how much mana a Sasaya player will be playing around with, they'd be crazy to let the card stay on the battlefield.
Apparently my daughter's opponents didn't realize what they were in for.
She was able to get Sasaya out, flip her into Sasaya's Essence, and cast Genesis Wave not once but twice. The first wave got a ton of lands out and the second wave got even more. One of them managed to hit a wincon.
Helix Pinnacle is an odd little enchantment that lets you pay mana to put tower counters on it. At the beginning of your upkeep if you have 100 or more tower counters on it, you win the game. It is a fantastic outlet for infinite mana, but it also works really well with sub-infinite, but still ridiculously big mana.
By the end of the game, she didn't have 20 Forests on the field like I did. She had over twice as many. With Sasaya's Essence out her forests were each tapping for 36 mana. Yes, you read that correctly. As silly as Multani can get, Sasaya might be sillier. She's also more of a glass cannon. Her games are decidedly less fun when Sasaya is kept offline. With Multani I will usually be able to mount a modest threat with my creatures, but Sasaya is much more dependent on the commander being on the field (and flipped) to have a decent game.
As we drove home and related the high points of our days, my daughter was amused by the fact that we each had pretty much the exact same moment in each of our games.
I had that "break the bad news" moment where someone thought they were going to be OK and tried to target Multani with removal. Mutani has shroud, so that wasn't going to work. My daughter had the same moment when someone tried to target Helix Pinnacle to keep her from being able to pour mana into it. Helix Pinnacle has shroud and it isn't even a creature so stuff like Bonds of Mortality or Arcane Lighthouse won't even help you get rid of it.
I'm not going to do a deep dive on this list, in part because I'm not as familiar with it and in part because I've gone on enough already. The basic game play is to get Sasaya out, get 7 lands in hand, and then kill everyone - possibly including yourself - with a ridiculous amount of mana.
You can't expect to be tapping your forests for 36 mana in every game, but there will definitely be times when you are able to assign some pretty big numbers to the X in a Gelatinous Genesis or Hurricane.
Too Many Lands | Commander | Lillian Johnson
- Commander (1)
- 1 Sasaya, Orochi Ascendant
- Creatures (13)
- 1 Courser of Kruphix
- 1 Emrakul, the Promised End
- 1 Fa'adiyah Seer
- 1 Hermit Druid
- 1 Jadelight Ranger
- 1 Kamahl, Fist of Krosa
- 1 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
- 1 Krosan Tusker
- 1 Magus of the Library
- 1 Satyr Wayfinder
- 1 Sylvan Ranger
- 1 Tireless Tracker
- 1 Yavimaya Elder
- Sorceries (26)
- 1 Ancient Stirrings
- 1 Animist's Awakening
- 1 Borrowing the East Wind
- 1 Creeping Renaissance
- 1 Cultivate
- 1 Finale of Devastation
- 1 Gaea's Bounty
- 1 Gelatinous Genesis
- 1 Genesis Wave
- 1 Glacial Revelation
- 1 Harmonize
- 1 Hurricane
- 1 Insist
- 1 Journey of Discovery
- 1 Kodama's Reach
- 1 Life from the Loam
- 1 Mulch
- 1 Nissa's Pilgrimage
- 1 Nissa's Triumph
- 1 Praetor's Counsel
- 1 Regrowth
- 1 Revive
- 1 Rites of Spring
- 1 Seek the Horizon
- 1 Wildest Dreams
- 1 Winding Way
If you ever wonder why I'm not a huge fan of cEDH, the reason is pretty simple. I don't feel like cEDH decks give other decks enough space to be able to do anything weird, fun, or interesting.
Competitive EDH decks are intentionally built to be so tuned and so consistent that most semi-competitive or casual decks barely stand a chance against them. Everyone runs removal, and everyone should probably run more removal than they currently do, but a deck like Multani or Sasaya needs just a little extra breathing room to be able to do what they were built to do. That means longer games, and cEDH isn't usually about letting games go much beyond turn five.
I don't think there's anything wrong with cEDH, but to me the most enjoyable and fulfilling thing about Commander is being able to build decks around obscure, weird cards.
Finding a way to make a Multani or a Sasaya not just work but be able to win games in truly dramatic fashion is for me a thousand times more fun than seeing how many wins in a row I can get with a tuned, possibly netdecked cEDH list. I'll take some extra losses if the wins feel better because of how much I've put into building my deck and navigating my way through an unpredictable and lower-powered table of opponents.
Next Monday I may still write about Kenrith, but only if I've found a way to make it interesting to me. The deck isn't much of a puzzle, but I've done some research and have some thoughts I'm looking forward to sharing.
That's all I've got for today. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!