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T & A, and The Case for Banning Thrasios in EDH


The Castle of Bentheim by Jacob Van Ruisdael (1650s). Warkite Marauder by Victor Adame.

This week I've got a look into a deck I've been playing over the past month in the EDH league I run. I managed to squeeze out a win in September, edging out another player by a single point for the top total of the month. I decided I wanted to try to really crush a month before easing off the gas pedal for a while. The league is free and we see a range of power levels, from casual to high powered with the occasional cEDH showing up now and then. There's no pay-in and no prizes, so we generally see players competing for bragging rights and playing for fun rather than pubstomping to win money or store credit. We often get four or five tables of Commander players playing Commander every Saturday afternoon.

It's a lot of fun.

I bake cookies for the guys, and I like to try to win at least one game every month, if not more. A few times a year, I see if I can win a month. It's not easy, as we have some great players and you have to both play well and have a plan that works well with the league's point system.

October's theme ended up being "common and uncommon Commanders" so there was a point bonus if you had at least one Commander of that rarity. I had been playing around with a landfall deck for a while, and decided for once to actually play the same basic list all month long. I chose to go with Thrasios, Triton Hero and Alena, Kessig Trapper.

Thrasios, Triton Hero
Alena, Kessig Trapper

This pairing wasn't an accidental one. I knew full well that Thrasios, Triton Hero was powerful and a staple in competitive play. Alena, Kessig Trapper is a relatively new card from Commander Legends that would let me get our league's "Fresh Faces" bonus for playing a card first printed in 2020 or 2021. Alena put me in Red, both allowing me to play Dockside Extortionist and giving me an interesting new angle on the Thrasios pairings that have become so common at the top end of our format's power range.

Over the course of 10 games in October, the deck I'm going to be sharing with you today not only tied our fledgling season's top single day point total, but also won half its games in a mixed casual / high powered meta without being run as a fully tuned cEDH deck. I had no dual lands, no Moxen and not even a Mana Crypt or Mana Vault to lean on for the early game. I also wasn't playing against tuned cEDH decks, so it was generally safe to assume that games would probably make it to the hour mark. My bet was that those longer games would give me the time to occasionally get up to some crazy Thrasios shenanigans.

The Case for Banning Thrasios

The first thing I should note is that I'm not generally for banning cards. I don't think Thrasios, Triton Hero should be hit with the banhammer, but after playing Thrasios all month long, I think there's a case for it being discussed.

The first mark against Thrasios is that it is just pure Simic goodstuff with very little restriction on its activated ability. You pay four mana and get to scry 1 and then reveal the top card of your library. If it's a land, it goes onto the battlefield tapped. If you reveal a non-land, you put the card into your hand.

One might argue that paying four mana for a scry and either a land or a draw is a reasonable price. I would argue that few Thrasios players are trying to play fair. The goal is to be able to win games, so most of us are going to immediately look for ways to make arbitrarily large amounts of mana. We go infinite, we draw our decks, put all our lands onto the battlefield, and we find a way to win the game somehow. A reasonably well-built deck should be able to win the game with access to infinite mana and access to every card in our library.

The big problem is that Thrasios is terrible card design. There's no restriction on the colors for activating Thrasios' ability. The casting cost is a lowly two mana, and the ability to dig through our deck at a faster rate than anyone else at the table makes Thrasios just too good.

This isn't just my opinion. It's clearly the conclusion that thousands of cEDH and high-powered Commander deck-builders have also come to when trying to figure out how to build winning decks. Looking at partner pairings on EDHRec.com, Thrasios is only outpaced by Tymna the Weaver and it's worth noting that the powerhouse "TnT" cEDH deck is a Thrasios and Tymna pairing.

If an incredible number of deck-builders have chosen to lean on Thrasios, Triton Hero and Thrasios makes it incredibly easy to dig through your deck or just insta-win with big mana, does that mean it should be banned?

Of course not, but I think the cEDH meta would become a much more interesting place if Thrasios were no longer a cornerstone of the format. Fortunately, I don't think many players are seriously asking for a ban. I'm not, but I do think in many ways the Golos, Tireless Pilgrim precedent could be applied here.

Golos made it way too easy to play five-color goodstuff and way too easy to just ride the value train to strong games with way too much mana at your disposal.

Does Thrasios make it way too easy to ride the value train to strong games with way too much card draw and landfall at your disposal? It's hard to imagine anyone saying "no" to that question, but it's even harder to see the rules committee banning Thrasios.

The health of the format involves players being happy, playing their decks and not constantly expecting powerful cards to be pulled out from under them. The Golos ban was a big hit, but most of us got over it. A Thrasios ban would leave a crater in its wake, and I think the members of the rules committee are smart enough to know it would not be great for the community. If nothing else, we would find ourselves constantly wondering what the next big ban would be.

Nobody wants the game to be about the refs - it needs to be about the games and the players. Still, I think there's a case for banning Thrasios and it isn't a bad one. I just don't think it makes sense now, and in a year or two there will probably be bigger problems in the format for the rules committee to deal with.

The "A" in "T & A"

So why did I choose Alena, Kessig Trapper to pair with Thrasios?

I'll be the first to admit that I love being a bit of a hipster sometimes. I hadn't ever heard of a Thrasios / Alena deck and Alena's ability to tap to make big mana drew me to her. Alena taps to make Red mana equal to the greatest power among creatures that entered the battlefield that turn. If that doesn't sound like a big deal, you might be forgetting that Thrasios' activated ability can be paid for with any color of mana. If Thrasios and an infinite mana combo wins the game with a properly built deck, Alena is half of one of those combos.

Staff of Domination

My "T & A" deck runs a few creatures with a power of five or more, but Malignus is worth a special mention. This Elemental Spirit has a power and toughness equal to half the greatest life total among my opponents, rounded up. This big boy will often have a power and toughness of 15 or more, so it's not unreasonable to play Malignus and then tap Alena and have as many as four or even five Thrasios activations. If I've got Staff of Domination on the field, I can go infinite by using that mana to untap Alena and then untap the staff so I can do it again.

Staff of Domination wasn't in the list that I started the month with, but I threw it in on a whim and it immediately started winning games for me. No, I'm not going to suggest it should be banned, but it does amount to yet another extremely powerful combo piece in a format that I think is growing more and more about combo every year.

With nine creatures that could let Alena tap for five or more mana, I've got plenty of ways to get Alena to be able to work with my Staff of Domination. At the start of writing this column, I hadn't yet added in Sword of the Paruns and Umbral Mantle, but I was thinking about it. They would both work with Alena to open up that infinite mana combo. Being in Red opened up some other interesting ways to make big mana.

Mana Geyser
Mana Echoes

I'm not running Reiterate, but a good Mana Geyser should give me enough mana for three or four Thrasios activations, if not more. Mana Echoes might seem like an odd enchantment for this deck. In my mind I was imagining my Scute Swarm combining with Mana Echoes and Thrasios activations to really spiral out of control and give me a long string of landfall triggers and mana. I still think it's a fun concept but I haven't hit that particular combination of cards in a game yet.

Here Be Dragons

Another sign that I wasn't building this deck to be cEDH is that I didn't include Thassa's Oracle or any Laboratory Maniac type wincons. Those are staples for cEDH play, but I felt like doing something different. You don't get to be a hipster by doing what everyone else is doing.

The deck started out as a landfall deck, with the aforementioned Scute Swarm playing alongside Rampaging Baloths, Lotus Cobra and a few other landfall cards. Baloths are no longer in the list, but being in Red let me add Moraug, Fury of Akoum. Moraug can give me extra combat steps when a land enters the battlefield under my control, and that got me thinking about how to make the most out of each combat step.

Atarka, World Render
Hellkite Charger
Savage Ventmaw

A double-striking dragon on its own can be a headache when you don't have flying or reach blockers. Adding in Hellkite Charger and Savage Ventmaw can give me a very realistic chance to launch into a game winning turn even if I didn't go infinite. If I can make my infinite mana, I get to draw my deck and use Hellkite Charger for infinite combat steps. I should probably have the enchantment Aggravated Assault in the list to go along with Savage Ventmaw, but I think I must have moved that card over to my Wulfgar of Icewind Dale deck.

When I can draw my deck and win the game by pushing my infinite mana into a Hellkite Charger, it feels like I'm doing something a little more interesting than your average Thrasios deck, but the reality is that Thrasios decks are doing all kinds of interesting things. They aren't all Thassa's Oracle lists, and they certainly aren't all the same.

I'm writing this column going into my last week of EDH League for the month. My lead on the pack is big enough that there's pretty much no chance I won't win October. I could see tweaking this deck in all manner of ways, from adding more combo pieces, going back to a heavy landfall theme or just loading up on more dragons. I might even take it apart once I've nailed down the top point total for the month, as I really enjoy moving on to something fresh and new and this deck will definitely have served its purpose.

Thrasios Staples

I may be running some interesting Red cards in this list, but it's hard to argue with the core Thrasios tech that makes up the backbone of this list.

Seedborn Muse
Wilderness Reclamation
Biomancer's Familiar

Ways to untap my lands are extremely powerful in any Thrasios deck, as a huge part of my game plan is to pour as much mana into those Thrasios activations as possible. Seedborn Muse lets me untap all of my permanents on each other player's untap step, letting me draw and ramp throughout the turn cycle. Both Wilderness Reclamation and Awakening will give me extra untaps as well. The former untaps my lands on my end step and the latter untaps all creatures and lands on each player's upkeep. My hope is that my deck will be uniquely better suited to take advantage of that shared benefit, but Awakening is the kind of enchantment that can backfire on you by helping your opponents.

Nyxbloom Ancient
Zendikar Resurgent
Amulet of Vigor

Ways to make big mana go hand in hand with ways to untap mana-producing permanents. Nyxbloom Ancient should triple my mana generation. Zendikar Resurgent will give me a little extra card draw and an extra mana every time I tap a land for mana. All of my land drops, from the ones I get out of Thrasios to spells like Cultivate, Kodama's Reach and even Reshape the Earth, enter the battlefield tapped. If I can get Amulet of Vigor onto the field they'll immediately untap, further increasing my possible mana output in a single turn.

A Little T & A

This deck's informal name is "T & A" but in truth I have the list saved under a much less interesting name: "Temur Landfall." It has gone from landfall to dragons to Alena combo and even got the minor upgrade of a Gaea's Cradle for this month's games. That Cradle hasn't really pulled its weight in this list, but I've seen it blown up and I've gone out of my way to get it back with Eternal Witness. Even if I keep the list together at the end of the month, I may well move my Gaea's Cradle over to a deck I'll be playing for League games in November.

My lists often see changes as I'm writing and even in the days after a column goes up on this site. In today's case I just swapped out Shardless Agent and Bloodbraid Elf, both in the list because "cascade is fun" for Umbral Mantle and Sword of the Paruns. Will more combo pieces help me close out my already pretty great month with a pair of wins? I have no idea. A bunch of the deck's wins this month were on the back of Staff of Domination, so it made sense to make the change and see how it affects the deck in those final 2 games.

Again, I find myself wondering if "real" cEDH deck-builders could take this concept, crank it up a few notches and have a genuine, bona fide cEDH deck. I suspect if they did, it would pick up more high-powered staples like Jeska's Will, which probably should be in this list, and other cards I left out in my pursuit of doing stuff I'd never done before. I still haven't had that Scute Swarm / Mana Echoes explosion, but I appreciate that chasing specific cards that I find amusing or interesting isn't a path that will lead me to the top of our format's tier list.

Final Thoughts

While I run the league at the LGS I play at, and while I like to occasionally push to try to win a month to see if I can pull it off, I do expect to let up a bit in November. That happens to be the month where I got to choose our theme and I ended up choosing "Mythic Rare Humans." That theme opens up a lot of high-powered possibilities, from Narset, Enlightened Master and Najeela, the Blade-Blossom to Kess, Dissident Mage, Kenrith, Returned King, Chulane, Teller of Tales, and many more.

I've been messing with a Selesnya list for a while, moving from Drizzt Do'Urden to Sigarda, Host of Herons as my commander. I'm now playing with the idea of moving it to a human tribal list led by Katilda, Dawnhart Prime. I wouldn't be on theme, as Katilda is Rare, not Mythic Rare, but that's not really the point. In the same way that I like to switch down in power levels if I win a game or two during an evening of Commander, I also don't feel any need to push hard to win a third month and I look forward to having a month where I get to watch some of the other heavyweights in our league duke it out in what could prove to be a really interesting month of games.

By next week I expect to be fully in the throes of writing about new Crimson Vow commanders. Spoilers are out and we've got lots of fun new cards headed our way. I'm more than slightly tempted to write about Strefan, Maurer Progenitor, but really just to try to get folks to start calling him "Streve". If there's a commander you'd like to see me tackle, leave a comment. I'm always happy to hear feedback and more than happy to write about cards you're interested in.

Do you think a Thrasios ban would be good for the format?

Are you like me, and think that it might be worth discussing, but ultimately the last thing we need is to ban more popular cards?

The one thing I do know is that after playing Thrasios for a month, I can't help but come away from the experience feeling like anyone wanting to win games at the high end of our format's power range should at least think about playing Thrasios. It's just that good a card and I could even see building a dozen different Thrasios pairings so you have different decks to play but you always have that handy Simic crutch to lean on to smooth out your ramp and draw.

If you've explored some interesting Thrasios pairings, I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

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

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