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Tribal Jodah, the Unifier in Commander


till Life with a Skull and a Writing Quill by Peter Claeszoon (1628). Cat Dragon by Cynthia Sheppard

Happy Halloween!

Today's column is about a commander I've been struggling to get excited about. It's one of those legendary creatures that isn't just good - it's a little too good. It would be easy to accuse Wizards of the Coast of pushing up power levels to sell cards or letting its card designers get a little too carried away. The sheer volume of legendary creatures that have been released in recent years might be the real problem. The more cards that get introduced into the pool of commanders we can choose from, the more likely it will be that the most powerful ones will be truly, deeply, wildly busted.

Jodah, the Unifier

Jodah acts something like a Coat of Arms for legendary creatures. If he's on the battlefield legendary creatures get +X/+X where X is the number of legendary creatures you control. If that wasn't enough, whenever you cast a legendary spell from your hand, you get to cascade into another legendary nonland card.

My problem with Jodah on principle is that he's just a little too powerful. That might seem like a weird criticism, but cascade is a very powerful effect and Coat of Arms is a very powerful artifact. That doesn't mean Jodah has a place in cEDH. A five-color casting cost is enough to make Jodah suboptimal in an environment where you want to threaten a win on turn three. Jodah looks like he'll be an incredible value engine in high powered EDH, where you have time to play a true five-color commander, but you are also trying to do powerful, broken things.

If Jodah is a little two powerful, that doesn't explain why I'm not excited about him. That ends up boiling down to the fact that I find legendary tribal builds just a little boring. That's a me problem, but in the spirit of Halloween I'm going to try to explore a couple of builds that might turn Jodah the boring legendary cascade value machine into something a little more interesting.

My plan is to narrow my focus from legendary tribal to a focus on a specific tribe. There's no reason you couldn't build a Human tribal, Wizard tribal, Elf tribal or even Goblin, Dragon or Sphinx Tribal deck around Jodah, the Unifier. All you need is a tribe with enough playable legendary creatures. Jodah doesn't even have to be a member of the tribe.

Jodah's 5/c Backbone

My plan for building today's decks was to set up a "backbone" of cards that would be common to both builds. I worked from an 8 x 8 pattern, so four of my 8 card slots would make up this backbone and four of those slots would be devoted to the tribe and to tribal support. Building with a strict 8 x 8 pattern would leave me with room for only 36 lands, and in some decks I like to edge up a little closer to 40 lands. That means dropping out a few cards and adding in a few lands.

These first thirty or so cards cover the basics. This is where I put my Sol Ring, my "holy trinity" of Green land tutors: Rampant Growth, Cultivate and Kodama's Reach, and a short list of staples that make every deck better. I'm running Swords to Plowshares, Swan Song, Beast Within, Tragic Slip, Chaos Warp, and other cards that satisfy any deck's basic need to be able to interact.

Chromatic Lantern and Chromatic Orrery are in the list to help me be able to hit my colors and actually cast my commander. I threw in Dryad of the Ilysian Grove and Bloom Tender as well. This deck should be able to function without Jodah, but I do want to get him out and start cascading each time I cast a Legendary creature. Heroes' Podium will give my legendary creatures an additional boost and can let me dig into my library for legendary creatures. Reki, the History of Kamigawa will draw me a card when I cast a legendary spell. That means I'll be drawing two cards if I cast a legendary creature and cascade into another one.

Urza's Ruinous Blast
Patriarch's Bidding
Primevals' Glorious Rebirth

Urza's Ruinous Blast is likely to be a one-sided boardwipe for me, exiling all nonland permanents that aren't legendary. I'll probably lose some permanents, but my legendary creatures will be untouched. Patriarch's Bidding is a tribal staple that will let every player choose a creature type and bring back all creature cards of that type from their graveyard to the battlefield. Primeval's Glorious Rebirth will bring all legendary permanent cards from my graveyard to the battlefield. Most of my creatures will be legendary, so this should give me a chance to bounce back from a boardwipe quite nicely.

All this focus on color fixing and legendary creatures should help this deck no matter what tribe I throw into the mix. Jodah truly does not card what creatures you run in his deck so long as they are legendary, but in the spirit of the season I'm going to explore a couple of spooky, creepy and scary choices just to see if a tribal Jodah deck will be more fun than the usual 5/c goodstuff or lazy combo builds you might normally build around this commander.

Jodah Zombies

Zombies. There are few monsters that have seen quite as much of a resurgence over the past decade or so. As they say, sometimes death brings us together but with this list BEING dead is what will bring us together.

The question to be answered is whether there are enough quality legendary Zombies to make for an interesting, playable or even a powerful commander deck with Jodah at the helm. I think the answer is a resounding maybe.

Ratadrabik of Urborg
Kraum, Ludevic's Opus
Geralf, Visionary Stitcher

We have new cards like Ratadrabik of Urborg that play perfectly into what Jodah is trying to do. Ratadrabik has vigilance and will give my other Zombies vigilance, which is great when they're all being pumped up by Jodah. He will also help me deal with boardwipes by making token nonlegendary copies of any legendary creatures on my field that die. They'll be 2/2 Black Zombies and won't help pump my other legendary creatures, but it's still a pretty nice effect.

I've also got old favorites like the 4/4 Zombie Horror, Kraum, Ludevic's Opus. He flies. He has haste. He might even give me card draw! Flying Zombies aren't that common, but if I manage to get Geralf, Visionary Stitcher onto the battlefield my Zombies will be flying high. Of course, Geralf is not a Zombie, but he definitely needs to be in this list.

Sidisi, Undead Vizier
Rooftop Storm
Liliana, Death's Majesty

One of the best legendary Zombies in this list will probably end up being Sidisi, Undead Vizier. When it enters the battlefield I can exploit a creature and search my library for a card. If I happen to get and play Rooftop Storm, I'll be off to the races. Rooftop Storm is a staple in any Zombie deck that is in Blue and will let me cast my zombies for free. With Jodah on the field that could get out of hand pretty quickly.

I'm running a pair of planeswalkers in Liliana, Death's Majesty and Liliana, Untouched by Death. The former can give me Zombie creature tokens, mill, recursion and an ult that destroys all non-Zombie creatures. The latter will give me a little mill, a little recursion and the ability to cast Zombie cards out of my graveyard for a turn.

This list has a pretty varied assortment of other legendary Zombies, ranging from all four of the Amonket Zombie Gods to a Zombie Turle, a Zombie Dragon, a Zombie Hydra, a Zombie Elf and even The Scarab God, which is not actually a Zombie. I'm running Mikaeus, the Unhallowed, but not any of his combo pieces - this isn't meant to be that kind of deck. I also have a handful of Human Wizards in Ghoulcaller Gisa, Gisa and Geralf, and the aforementioned Geralf, Visionary Stitcher.

Jodah Zombies | Commander | Stephen Johnson

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The biggest problem I'm seeing with this list is that most Zombie decks have a big focus on Zombie lords and Zombie creature token generation. This is more of a mishmash, or maybe an all-star team, of legendary Zombie creatures. I still think it could be a fun deck to play and would be something unexpected. The average mana cost of any tribal deck chock full of Legendary creatures is going to be a bit higher, and that means the deck will take longer to get going. I think that means this list will settle into a medium power meta quite nicely. If you want to drop that power level down, drop out a few staples, simplify your mana base with more basic lands or lands that enter tapped and you should be good to go.

Jodah Vampires

If there's a creature type that is nearly as popular as Zombies, it's probably Vampires. If I can build an interesting Jodah Zombies deck with lots of fun cards and surprises, what would a Vampire tribal Jodah list look like?

It's hard to deny that there are some pretty strong legendary Vampires available for this version of the deck.

Edgar Markov
Olivia Voldaren
Lord Xander, the Collector

Edgar Markov became the optimal Vampire tribe commander the moment the Vampiric Bloodlust precon hit the shelves back in 2017. He is at his best in the command zone thanks to his problematic eminence ability, but in this list he'll still gladly put a +1/+1 counter on every Vampire I control when he attacks. Olivia Voldaren can present a unique challenge to my tablemates by letting me ping and then steal their best creatures. Lord Xander, the Collector simply has one of the most ridiculous textboxes in recent memory, but he comes with a hefty 7 mana casting cost.

Just looking at those first three heavy hitters, it looks like Vampires might be a stronger tribe for Jodah, the Unifier to try to bring together. When you add in Vampires like Jeleva, Nephalia's Scourge, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, Drana, Liberator of Malakir, Yahenni, Undying Partisan and even Arvad the Cursed, this starts to feel like a pretty sweet build.

New Blood
Blood Tribute
Sorin, Vampire Lord

Both of today's lists have a handful of tribal support cards that fit the tribe and what the deck is trying to do. I don't have anything matching the power of Rooftop Storm for Vampires, but this list has a few ways to steal creatures over to my side of the battlefield. New Blood will let me steal a creature and replace all instances of one creature type in its text box with "Vampire." I once stole a Tana, the Bloodsower and make a bunch of Green vampires. I've also got Captivating Vampire in the list to pump my team and start stealing creatures once I've got at least five Vampires out.

Blood Tribute will let me cut someone's life total in half, and if I kick it by tapping an untapped Vampire I control, I'll gain life equal to the amount of life lost that way. I'm again running a pair of planeswalkers in Sorin, Vampire Lord and Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord. The former will let me pump a creature, deal some direct damage, and has an ult that will let me tap Vampires to steal creatures. The latter will let me pump and buff one of my creatures, sacrifice a Vampire to gain life and deal damage, and has a final ability that lets me put a Vampire from my hand onto the battlefield.

I don't love planeswalkers and in both lists I was tempted to drop them out in favor of more interaction or removal, but these are meant to be casual decks. As such, few of these cards are essential and you should mix up each list to use cards you have in your collection or cards you'd like to run. You're in five colors so drop out a Planeswalker and throw in a Return to Nature, Teferi's Protection, or even a Vampiric Embrace if you really want to go hard on the deck's theme.

Jodah Vampires | Commander | Stephen Johnson

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I think this deck's ceiling is a bit higher than the Zombie tribal list, but both are definitely mid-power affairs. You could load up on fast mana, better interaction and expensive staples and you'd still be looking at a tribal build forced to focus on legendary tribe members. That's not terrible, but I don't know how many games you're going to win at truly high-powered tables. My guess is not many.

Final Thoughts

As I wrap up this column I'm actually looking forward to playing one or both of these lists online in Tabletop Simulator with my Thursday night group. I think they'll have a chance to do something in the game if it goes long enough. Finding a fun theme to wrap around a commander like Jodah, the Unifier is a great way to take a card that might feel uninspired and turn it into a deck you can enjoy.

The Jodah deck I'm probably most interested in building didn't make sense for today's column. I wanted to focus on creatures that fit into a Halloween theme, but as I was halfway through I started to wonder how many legendary copies of Jodah I could get onto the battlefield at once, and how crazy the math might get. I'd have to play a card that let me get around the legend rule of course, but even three extra copies of Jodah would give each of them +X/+X four times. That would make each of them a 21/21 and would make the original Jodah a lethal threat with Commander Damage. Throw in a few extra Legendary permanents and things could get even crazier.

If I ever build a Jodah list designed to do something crazy like that, I promise I'll circle back and share it with you, but I expect to be shifting my focus to The Brothers War soon.

If there are Zombies or Vampires you think I left out of today's list or support cards you can't believe I didn't include, I'd love to hear your thoughts. We've moved our comments and discussion over to the CoolStuffInc Facebook page, where our columns are posted every day. I'll be making a habit of checking them for feedback and would love to hear what you have to think about this or any of my decklists.

Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!

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