Artisan Brewery: Scrabble Time

Hey everyone, and welcome back to the Artisan Brewery, where we build decks in an unnecessarily fun and inefficient way. This edition will be a bit different, as we're not going to talk about just one deck, not two, but four whole decks! The building of the decks was spread between five people, each of whom will all be credited alongside their decks. The reason we have so many is because this time, our stipulation is a bit more self-explanatory: each card in the deck matches a Scrabble letter tile (English edition). More specifically, the first letter of each card in the deck must align with one of these tiles, with the blank tiles being wild cards. This is perfect for commander, as there are 100 tiles for 100 cards. This severely limits the card pool available to us, but the four of us who participated were able to build very different decks using these conditions. Together, we'll dive into each of the lists, as well as each of their main strengths and weaknesses.

The Distrobution of Letters in Scrabble

Take 1: Rienne, Angel of Rebirth

We'll start off by the deck built by yours truly, built using Rienne, Angel of Rebirth as the general. Rienne helps us meet this stipulation a bit more easily by being in three colors, which increases our options for each letter. The way this deck was built was by focusing on the mana base first, followed by some key points like card draw, ramp, and removal, and finally by filling the deck with general value and creatures that take advantage of Rienne's innate abilities. We'll go ahead and highlight some of the more interesting cards from each category, and the deck list will be right afterwards. This will be the template for discussing each of the decks below.

Let's get started with the ramp and mana fixing. Ordinarily, since we're partly in green, we would have no problem with this; however, with this stipulation, things become a bit trickier (which is why it's first after lands). We have ramp in cards like Xenagos, the Reveler, Nikya of the Old Ways, Explosive Vegetation, Zendikar Resurgent, and Circuitous Route, but we also have color fixing in cards like Abundance, and Expedition Map.

The next thing we'll look at will be card draw, card draw substitutes, and ways to help us get more cards either in play, or in contention. Firstly, we can count Abundance in this category as well, as it lets us filter our draw to help us get more of whichever of our resources we most need. We also have Experimental Frenzy, which lets us get more cards off the top of our deck, Elemental Bond, Nissa's Revelation, and Zendikar Resurgent once again for card draw. Some other convenient ways we have to get more creatures on the board are Atla Palani, Nest Tender, and Aether Rift, which can also help cut our opponents' life totals.

Removal for this deck is split into two categories: creatures of ours being able to block our opponents' creatures and destroy them via combat, and reducing their power or numbers (as well as those of their non-creature permanents). The first is pretty self-explanatory, and the second is accomplished easily enough via something like Darksteel Mutation, Oblivion Ring, and Warstorm Surge for targeted damage.

Artifact or enchantment removal is thankfully still accessible, albeit in a few more unusual ways. For instance, Elvish Hexhunter, which allows us to remove enchantments at a reasonable mana cost. We also have Unravel the Aether, which is a bit more flexible, and another in our list of multi-use is Oblivion Ring.

Finally, we're at some of the more unique creatures that we don't see everywhere, but can still use Rienne's ability to come back to our hand. Firstly we have Enlisted Wurm, which helps us roll into another spell (hopefully a creature), and the fairly recent Hakdos, the Unscarred, which can often turn into an unblocked attacker that is also very high powered. Some other fun creatures are Yavimaya Kavu, Oversoul of Dusk, Ordruun Veteran, and Juniper Order Ranger.

We also have some static anthem abilities in Wilt-Leaf Liege, Knight of New Alara, and Trostani Discordant. Then there are the creatures that help with slightly more limited abilities, like Iroas, God of Victory, Oakhame Ranger, and Ahn-Crop Champion.

There are some pretty clear strengths and weaknesses for this deck, and we'll dive into them before looking at the full list and moving on. The two biggest strengths would be the ability to recur most of our creatures, and the high level of additional power our creatures can give to one another. Conversely, the weaknesses would be that the deck is not very fast (due to our lower amount of ramp, and the wide color distribution), and the fact that we don't have a lot of card advantage means that we can more easily run out of resources than our opponents. We'll probably revisit this deck for it's own themed article, but for now we'll move on.

Rienne, Angel of Scrabble


1 Xenagos, the Reveler


1 Expedition Map
Approximate Total Cost:

Take 2: Golos, Tireless Pilgrim

Our next submission comes from fellow content creator Rumpy5897, who went in a very different direction on his deck. He dove headfirst into this theme, seeing something elegant about the overlap between the 100 tiles in scrabble, and the 100 cards in EDH. One of the consequences he found most interesting about this restriction was that vowels were much more limited as word leaders than consonants, with the M's and S's filling up almost instantly, and the I's and O's being much harder to fill successfully. Rumpy found that trying to get any form of true symmetry (and honestly, so did I for the most part) was, at best, a challenge, so he chose to ignore it in favor of simply playing as good a deck as possible. Enter his commander: Golos, Tireless Pilgrim.

Rumpy decided to build his deck in the same way as myself, focusing initially on ramp and good lands, which is especially helpful with Golos's ability, then by high level tutors and pieces for whatever synergy was available. Then, the focus went towards land cycles that can be helpful, but still fit within the letter mold, preferably in the vowels. For reference, there's a surprisingly large amount of lands that start with the letter O, in case you wanted to take advantage of that when building this way. Everything left went into cards that fill specific roles, and the blank tiles went to Chromatic Lantern, and Maelstrom Wanderer, to both allow card advantage, and help streamline the mana base.

The strategy at hand is to use multiple enter-the-battlefield triggers, eventually building to a win condition using Palinchron, along with cards that provide extra mana from the lands like Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger, and Nyxbloom Ancient, or cards that allow extra triggers like Yarok, the Desecrated, and Deadeye Navigator. Obviously, this requires some setup, and we'll get into how Rumpy managed that below.

The ramp is once again the first thing we'll address. Rumpy got rampy (see what I did there?) using multiple modes, starting with creatures like Oracle of Mul-Daya, Dryad of the Ilysian Grove, Elvish Mystic, and Llanowar Elves. Then there's the non-creature ramp like Farseek, nature's Lore, Ranger's Path, Urban Evolution, and Three Visits. We also have the tutors like Demonic Tutor, Imperial Seal, Mystical Tutor, and Rune-Scarred Demon, among many others you'll see in the full list below.

There's also a fair amount of card draw and card advantage; one such example is the Maelstrom Wanderer mentioned above, but there are several others. One of the more aggressive is Etali, Primal Storm, and one that's a bit more passive is Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur. There's also Tatyova, Benthic Druid, Scroll Rack, Impulse, Rhystic Study, and Aminatou, the Fateshifter.

Next up, we'll look at the removal suite, which is a bit more unique due to the Scrabble restriction. Even though this deck is using all five colors, we can see the limitations show by using cards like Imprisoned in the Moon, which technically doesn't remove the card, but turns it into something completely different so we'll count it, Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker, Duneblast, and In Garruk's Wake. For more targeted or specific removal, there's also Acidic Slime, Inferno Titan, Luminate Primordial, and Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre.

Now we're ready to go into the strengths and weaknesses of the deck. The strengths are that 1. it often feels like a normal deck with no stipulation, effectively using Golos's activated ability and Palinchron to put larger creatures like Avenger of Zendikar onto the board and take advantage of their abilities, and 2. Golos himself helps smooth out the deck's rougher edges by allowing you to tutor any land you need to help activate Golos's ability. The weaknesses are 1. being stuck early game with not enough mana, but a hand full of larger spells and creatures, you're going to have a bad time, and 2. that this isn't quite the most refined build; there could possibly be some additional deck manipulation, or a higher amount of control magic to help last longer in the game.

Golos, Tileless Pilgrim
Approximate Total Cost:

Take 3: Zegana, Utopian Speaker

Our next submission comes from Morgane LeFay, and again this is a fairly different build than the others by going Simic colors (blue/green). At the helm of this deck is Zegana, Utopian Speaker, which immediately shows the theme: counters, counters, and more counters. This deck is a little more straightforward than the others so far, and probably the one that best stays on theme, while also adhering to the scrabble restriction. The strategy is to play creatures or permanents that rely on counters, and continue to increase them so as to overwhelm the opponents. One of the interesting ways to do this is through partners Pir, Imaginative Rascal, and Toothy, Imaginary Friend, which could easily fill in for Zegana as the leaders of the deck. We'll go into a bit more detail on that plan shortly, but first let's tackle the cornerstones.

Strangely enough, the ramp in this deck is somewhat limited in numbers (due mostly to the lack of basics accessible from the letter spread), but not at all in power. There are a few creatures that do it, such as Elvish Mystic, Gyre Sage, Incubation Druid, and Rishkar, Peema Renegade. The non-creature ramp comes mostly in the form of artifacts such as Sol Ring, Everflowing Chalice, Empowered Autogenerator and The Great Henge. Then there's only one sorcery that falls into this category Nature's Lore, but we also have a limited source in Ugin, the Ineffable, and a slightly conditional one in Jiang Yanggu, Wildcrafter.

As far as card draw and card advantage, again the selection for this deck is a bit of a unique list. Some of it is dependent on creatures that have +1/+1 counters, such as Inspiring Call, Armorcraft Judge, Novijen Sages, and Zegana herself. However, there are others that are less restricted, like Incubation // Incongruity, or Elemental Bond. Then there's the built in ability in Toothy, which requires it to leave the battlefield, but will give any opponents looking to remove it cause to strongly consider doing so.

Removal is also in present in some unusual ways, and some of it is also reliant on counters, or in one case, the lack thereof: Oblivion Stone being the best example. There's additional board wipes, such as All is Dust, and the middle ability of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Ugin, the Ineffable appears again in the targeted removal category, alongside the Incongruity half of incubation // Incongruity, The rest of this deck's removal is focused on winning out during combat, and overwhelming the opponents' creatures with large counters and support from something like Overwhelming Stampede.

As mentioned, they were able to make this deck fairly straightforward by focusing on building counters on creatures by using cards like Increasing Savagery, Decree of Savagery, Doubling Season, and Hardened Scales, and then just overpowering their opponents with overall superior strength. There are creatures that innately help with this, such as Avenger of Zendikar, Deepglow Skate, Evolution Sage, Ivy Lane Denizen, and Kalonian Hydra, just for starters. Then there are some supporting cards like Unity of Purpose, Death's Presence, and Ooze Flux.

There's one more card we should make special mention of before going into the decklist and then moving on. It's the only win condition in the deck that isn't based on combat steps, and it also takes a pretty decent amount of work to set up. Simic Ascendancy uses the high frequency of adding counters to the creatures to build up to an alternate win condition, but one of the key phrases to make sure we notice is "one or more counters," which is why it's a bit harder to set up. In addition, even when the last counter is placed upon it, it has to last until it's controller's next upkeep. It's a daunting challenge, but as a result, it's an even greater accomplishment.

Zegana, Utopian Speller
Approximate Total Cost:

Take 4: Zurgo, Helmsmasher

Finally, we come to the final deck in our lineup, built by our admin Feyd_Ruin, who opted for a three-color build using Zurgo, Helmsmasher. This particular commander has a history of focusing on control, and large, powerful attacks to quickly remove opponents. This build follows a similar process, but with more emphasis on the control, and less on the aggression. He was able to build up to a powerful deck that can outlast control strategies, and also weather aggressive ones.

The ramp in this deck is much more prevalent than one would expect from a deck in these colors, but there's a method to the madness. It starts with Black Market, which takes advantage of our opponents' creatures dying, and will prove to be very well connected with the overall strategy of this deck. There's also some color fixing alongside the ramp, using cards such as Arcane Signet, Orzhov Keyrune, and Talisman of Hierarchy. Everflowing Chalice is also here to help with any larger spells costs, of where there are several.

On the subject of card draw or card advantage, we have some fairly interesting selections available to us. Some of it comes in the form of tutor spells, such as Increasing Ambition, or in the form of blatant draw spells like Night's Whisper, and Necrologia. Then there are the recurring draw sources such as Erebos, God of the Dead, jademage Tome, and Ob Nixilis Reignited. Finally, we have a more unique one that is also featured in the above Rienne deck: Experimental Frenzy. This is especially helpful with the main strategy, which we'll get into right after talking about targeted removal.

One of the things this color scheme excels at is single-target removal spells. Some of these can be focused on just one or two permanent types, such as Yawgmoth's Vile Offering, but there are some that can target multiple types. Cards like Oblation, and Utter End. However, one of the unique things about this build is that it has less use for single target removal than most decks do. The reason for this is the deck's main strategy, which we're finally ready to get into.

Feyd decided to take a unique approach with this deck by putting a total of twenty-seven board wipe abilities into it, and the ability to recur at least two. The strategy is to use these cards on his own turn, while Zurgo is indestructible, and then attack his opponents while they're defenseless. This is a bit of a slower strategy than one might like, so he also included some enchantments, artifacts, and instants to help hasten the plan along. There are a large amount of each of these, so we'll spend time going over just a few of each.

In regards to the board wipe effects, they range in color and ability, from effects as straightforward as Wrath of god, Fumigate, and Shatter the Sky, to cards that branch out like Last One Standing, End Hostilities, and Deadly Tempest. The deck also contains Recoup to be able to cast some of these spells from the graveyard, which helps in the goal of outlasting other players. Another card that assists with the board wipes is Shadowspear, which helps get around opponents playing things like Avacyn, Angel of Hope.

Finally, we come to the cards that help increase Zurgo's overall power, which makes the game go faster due to commander damage. There are equipment spells that increase power and toughness, like Tenza, Godo's Maul, and Nim Deathmantle, both of which carry additional benefits, but there are also some equipment cards that increase Zurgo's overall effectiveness, like Quietus Spike, Inquisitor's Flail, and Infiltration Lens. There are also aura spells that give a wide host of abilities, in addition to power and toughness, such as Angelic Destiny, Eternal Thirst, and On Serra's Wings.

The linear game plan makes the deck's strengths and weaknesses apparent; the biggest strength is that the deck excels at keeping creatures off the board and gets commander damage through fairly easily. Unfortunately, it's weak against decks that run fewer creatures, but higher spell counts, and has a lower amount of card draw than would be desirable, possibly swapping out Phyrexian Arena for either Black Market or Shadowspear, both of which were the blank tile options for this deck.

Zurgo Lettersmasher


1 Zurgo Helmsmasher
Approximate Total Cost:

Wrapping Up

Well that about wraps up this edition of Artisan Brewery! Thank you all for following along, and please share your thoughts on our builds, as well as your own thoughts on the format and what you'd build for it. It was a wonderful experiment, and produced some interesting results. See you all next time!

User avatar
The lands were the hardest part for me. Trying to ensure I had a good mana base, with not really being able to really use basic lands. In our four decks, there were only a dozen basics total, so that seems like the one point of contention. It was absolutely fun, but if someone were to try this challenge with friends, I highly recommend adding the house rule "No nonbasic hate" (and possibly "No LD").
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