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Xolatoyac, the Smiling Flood in Commander


The year before I started writing for GatheringMagic, which eventually became CoolStuffInc.com, I wrote a weekly blog to find out if I had what it took to be a writer or columnist. That old Commanderruminations blog was a great experience and I covered a wide range of topics and learned a lot. Today's commander reminds me of one of my favorite columns from those early days. It was a look at the 30 best smiles in the history of Magic: the Gathering.

It's not uncommon to find a Magic card with art showing a character who is amused, happy or even overjoyed at what they are doing. Sometimes that smile is heartfelt. Sometimes it's downright creepy. Today's column is going to be a deep dive on a Legendary Salamander Serpent whose smile might simply be the result of being descended from one of the happiest looking amphibians in the world: the Axolotl.

Whether Xolatoyac is truly amused at the havoc they're about to wreak, or to quote Jessica Rabbit, they were just drawn that way, let's take a closer look at this smiling Salamander. You'll find it in The Lost Caverns of Ixalan "Explorers of the Deep" Commander precon deck.

Xolatoyac, the Smiling Flood

This six mana Simic legend is a 6/6 with a neat party trick. When they enter the battlefield or attack I'll put a flood counter on target land. That land is an Island in addition to its other types for as long as it has that flood counter. At the beginning of my end step I'll untap each permanent I control with a flood counter on it.

This commander gives me some interesting choices.

I can put a flood counter on an opponent's land to make it an island. Maybe they need help hitting their colors and I'm in a generous mood. Maybe I have creatures with Islandwalk and I want to be able to swing freely at them without worrying about blockers. I could even imagine building this as a green deck with zero Islands. It would be an excuse to get super cute and run green cards like Tsunami, which destroys all Islands, or Choke, which keeps Islands from untapping. That's not a great plan, but it would be weird and unexpected and I do appreciate cards that don't normally see a lot of play.

I can also put a flood counter on my own lands. I can make my Islands even more... Islandy? Any permanent I control with a counter on it will untap on my end step, so I can set myself up to have extra mana on my opponents' turns even if I tapped out on my own turn. I can also build a deck around counters, as Xolatoyac doesn't care what kind of counter is on a permanent I control.

It should come as no surprise that I'm going to do both things. I'm not going to run Tsunami or Choke, but I am going to play around with Islandwalk and I am going to have a pretty serious counters theme. I might even shoehorn a combo or two into the deck, though this build won't be tutoring for combo pieces or aiming at that wincon in every game.


One of the simplest ways to protect your creatures in a combat-oriented deck is to make them unblockable. You'll still need to worry about removal spells, but not having to think about unfavorable blocks or combat tricks is really nice. With a commander who can turn an opponent's land into an Island (in addition to its other types), it just makes sense to run some creatures with Islandwalk.

Stormtide Leviathan
Colossal Whale
Chasm Skulker

Only two Leviathans in Magic have Islandwalk and I'm running both. Stormtide Leviathan is an 8/8 who turns all lands into Islands in addition to their other types and prevents creatures without flying or Islandwalk from attacking. That can really mess with combat. Goblin decks will be hampered a lot. Dragon decks will happily fly over the roiling seas to murder you from the air. Stormtide Leviathan can be a tricky card but it represents eight unblockable damage every turn and that's nothing to sneeze at.

I'm running a few other big sea creatures with Islandwalk. Inkwell Leviathan is a 7/11 with islandwalk and trample. It also has shroud, so nobody can target it with spells or abilities, not even me. Harbor Serpent, a 5/5 Serpent, and Chasm Skulker, a 1/1 Squid Horror that gets +1/+1 counters as I draw cards, are also in the list.

Thada Adel, Acquisitor
Fishliver Oil
Traveler's Cloak

There are lots of Merfolk with Islandwalk but I decided not to make this a Merfolk deck. I think that would be a great build and might be a more powerful direction to build in, but that's not what I did for this first draft. I am running Thada Adel, Acquisitor. She's just a 2/2, but if she does combat damage to a player, she will let me extract an artifact card from that player's library and I can play it that turn. Cold-Eyed Selkie is also in the list and will let me draw cards whenever it does combat damage to a player.

I really want to be able to give my commander Islandswalk so I'm running a couple of less well-known enchantments. Fishliver Oil is an aura that gives Islandwalk. That's all. It does its job and only costs two mana. Traveler's Cloak costs three and has me draw a card and choose a land type when it enters the battlefield. I like that it replaces itself, and while I don't have to choose to give the enchanted creature Islandwalk, I probably will, as it synergizes with my commander.


This deck is also going to have a subtheme centered around +1/+1 counters. Xolatoyac gives my creatures pseudo-vigilance, as any permanent I control with a counter on it will untap at the beginning of my end step.

I've got a number of +1/+1 counter staples in this list, none of which require a deep dive. Fertilid, Managorger Hydra, Vigor, and Forgotten Ancient need no introduction - though if these cards aren't familiar to you, they are well worth looking up. For this list I'd like to put the spotlight on a few cards that are a little less known.

Graft is a mechanic that has creatures come into play with +1/+1 counters on them. If another creature comes into play, a creature with graft can put one of its +1/+1 counters onto that creature. This means these guys are great ways to give new creatures the ability to benefit from Xolatoyac's untap ability. It will even work with a creature like Inkwell Leviathan, which has shroud, because the graft ability doesn't target.

Novijen Sages
Plaxcaster Frogling
Vigean Graftmage

Novijen Sages comes in with four +1/+1 counters and for one mana I can remove two +1/+1 counters and draw a card. Plaxcaster Frogling has Graft 3 and will let me pay 2 mana to give target creature with a +1/+1 counter shroud until end of turn. Vigean Graftmage has Graft 2 and will let me pay two mana, one of which must be blue, to untap target creature with a +1/+1 counter on it. That can go infinite with mana dorks like Kami of Whispered Hopes or Incubation Druid if they have enough +1/+1 counters on them.

Another keyword that should play well in this deck is evolve. A creature with evolve will gain a +1/+1 counter any time a creature with greater power or toughness enters the battlefield under my control.

Fathom Mage
Gyre Sage
Simic Manipulator

Fathom Mage is a great way to supplement your card draw. She's got evolve and whenever a +1/+1 counter is put on her, I'll draw a card. Gyre Sage taps for Green mana equal to the number of +1/+1 counters on her. She won't combo with Vigean Graftmage, but she will untap on my end step once she's managed to get at least one counter on her. Simic Manipulator is a Mutant Wizard with evolve and a pretty cool trick. I can tap it and remove one or more +1/+1 counters from it to gain control of target creature with power less than or equal to the number of +1/+1 counters removed this way. That might not seem great, but there are lots of small utility creatures that would be great to steal out from under one of my tablemates.

Scavenging Ooze
Experiment Kraj
Simic Ascendancy

I've got a few other counter-oriented creatures worth a mention. Scavenging Ooze is a great little piece of graveyard hate that can both get +1/+1 creatures and gain you life. It's unlikely to get huge but it can definitely save the table from a game-ending graveyard combo if you activate it at the right time.

Experiment Kraj is a legendary Ooze Mutant that has all activated abilities of each other creature with a +1/+1 counter on it. It can also tap to put a +1/+1 counter on target creature and if it starts with itself, Xolatoyac will make it untap on your end step so you can do it again. There are lots of Kraj combos and you could load this deck up with them, but then you might as well run Experiment Kraj as your commander. In this deck I'm just adding a dash of Kraj for flavor.

Simic Ascendancy can put a counter on target creature, and whenever one or more +1/+1 counters is put on a creature I control, I'll put that many growth counters on Simic Ascendancy. At the beginning of my upkeep if this enchantment has 20 or more growth counters on it, I win the game.

I'm not angling to combo off or land a Simic Ascendancy win in every game, but I like having these extra wincons in a list, at least to start. If they get stale I can always take them out.

The Smiling Flood

My gut tells me that this is going to be a fun mid-powered deck. You'll get a few wins thanks to your unblockable creatures and you might be able to out-value some opponents or combo off, but I don't think Xolatoyac, the Smiling Flood is going to be pushing up into high powered or fringe cEDH territory. If the untap trigger was on every end step I might be more bullish about Xolatoyac's power level, but only untapping certain permanents and only on your end step makes me wonder how much better it could be.

If you wanted to push the power level of this deck up a bit, you could load up with fast mana and tutors and aim for those combo wincons. Infinite mana can dump nicely into Helix Pinnacle, which is in the list. Helix Pinnacle isn't exactly a cEDH staple, but the more you push up into that territory, the more you'll be asked why you aren't just running Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy or some other more powerful card in the command zone.

If this decklist is a bit too much for your budget or your preferred power level, you could tune it down pretty easily. Dropping out the combos and moving over to a focus on ramp and creatures that always have counters might work for you. I'd urge you to keep some of the control package, but dropping out Cyclonic Rift and Fierce Guardianship might be a good move. I think this list is already fairly casual, but it could definitely be made even more tame for playgroups that are genuinely playing at a lower power level.

Final Thoughts

I ended up opening a copy of Xolatoyac, the Smiling Flood in a collector booster pack. I've been really enjoying my Elrond, Master of Healing deck, but I may take it apart to build Xolatoyac. Both decks have a focus on +1/+1 counters, though they'll be fairly different builds.

I occasionally take a deck in a completely different direction from what I brewed up for my column, and there's a non-zero chance that I'll build this awesome axolotl as a Merfolk deck. I've never seriously dug into that creature type and I think that could be a fun direction to take it.

Next week I may have a column for you with a look at the Pantlaza, Sun-Favored deck I just put together. It started out as just a big pile of Dinosaurs, it almost turned into a Primal Surge build, but I ended up taking it in a slightly unexpected direction - and one that didn't involve Food Chain! I've jammed that enchantment into a lot of decks this year, and in Pantlaza its absence is notable.

That's all I've got for today. If you're in the States, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving with friends and/or family. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!

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