Artisan Brewery: Tweaking the Formula - Quandrix
Howdy all, and welcome to a new edition of Artisan Brewery! Today, we begin a new journey through the pre-constructed Commander decks of Strixhaven! Now, you may be thinking: "Janky, why are you breaking down a pre-constructed deck?" And that would be a phenomenal question, were that what we were doing. Instead, we're going deck by deck, and doing two things with it. Firstly, we're taking one of the non-face commanders, and replacing twenty cards in the rest of the deck with a budget of roughly $35 (at time of build and writing). Secondly, we're going to some of the other Nexus community members for ideas on brewing around one of the mono-color legends in the decklist, and using most or all of the mono-color cards that come with it as the foundation for a new deck. These are in no particular order, but we start today with the math-focused Quandrix. For reference, here is the main decklist straight out of the box:
11 Forest10 IslandApproximate Total Cost:
Tearing it Apart
As we can see, the initial list is very focused on a creature token theme, with some +1/+1 counter support. It goes heavy on the ramp, and in a startling twist, the basic mana base is actually pretty playable straight away, which is a welcome change from previous Commander precons. The first thing we'll need to do is pick out which of the alternate commanders to build around, and our choices are between Esix, Fractal Bloom, and Zimone, Quandrix Prodigy. Esix is another token-themed commander, but where Adrix and Nev create more of the same token, Esix changes what the token even is. Zimone is a bit tougher nut to crack, with abilities granting us lands or card draw. More importantly, she is the Legend with abilities most unlike the face commander, so let's go with using her as our general.
The next thing we need to do is pull out twenty cards from the base so we can fit a new frame and power into it. We already know we're not going as heavy in the token direction, so a large chunk of what we remove will be focused on that, as well as some creatures that sort of stand alone or are just easily replaceable. The token makers we leave in will be good enough that they don't interfere with anything, and aren't ever dead cards as long as we can cast them. The twenty we'll remove are:
Looking at Zimone and what we have left, we next need to figure out the direction we'll take the deck. Zimone is pretty good at getting extra lands down, and while these colors have more than a few ways to make that pay off, it falls on us to pick one to stand out. Wait a minute--land... fall... That's it! We'll do a landfall deck! It's perfect for what we need, as it's mostly budget friendly, there are plenty of options for payoffs, and we can find more enablers as well. This should be fun, so let's get into choosing what goes in.
Building it Back
First up, let's look at the seven mana Elemental in the room. Avenger of Zendikar is not the most budget-friendly choice we could make, but it's just too good not to at least consider. When we look at the pricing of the majority of landfall cards in these colors, we can see that more of them are below $2.50 than above it, so we will likely have the budget space for this powerhouse of a card. And yes, it does make tokens, but the true power is in making those tokens stronger through landfall, so we're not going back on our statement. Besides, it won't be the only token maker we put in here. Scute Swarm has been making waves for months, and for good reason. Using its landfall ability with the available ramp in this format, we'll be able to build a heck of an army in no time at all. We don't just want powerful attackers, as fun as that is. We also know the value of some simple blocks, making Sporemound an instant fit for this deck.
A lot of the spells that come already installed in the deck are fairly high costed, making Lotus Cobra a great fit, as it allows us to get mana by playing lands. And with the ramp spells we already have, like Kodama's Reach and Cultivate, with new additions in Rites of Flourishing and Khalni Heart Expedition, we'll just keep getting extra value from it. Courser of Kruphix will also help us get through some lands on top of our deck, and give us a handy life gain just to keep us afloat, and you never know when incidental life gain can literally define who wins a game.
As we look at the landfall creatures in green, we'll see a recurring theme of power and toughness increases. Some of these instances are fairly basic, like Territorial Scythecat, Vinelasher Kudzu, or Baloth Woodcrasher. Others carry an additional ability, like Undergrowth Champion being able to prevent damage to itself, or Oran-Rief Hydra getting even more power from a Forest being the land we play. The blue side of the creature pool tends to have more interaction with other creatures. Trench Behemoth is a good way to force creatures to attack, thus tapping them and removing them as blockers on our own turn. Guardian of Tazeem goes one step further, tapping the creature without forcing it to attack, and possibly keeping it tapped down for an extra turn cycle, and Tideforce Elemental gets the option to use its ability more than once.
As we saw above, we don't just have to rely on creatures to make this work, as there are plenty of non-creature landfall cards for which we can find a home. More card draw is never a bad plan, so sliding Seer's Sundial in as a repeat ability makes perfect sense. There are some great synergistic enchantments as well, like Retreat to Coralhelm allowing us to use Tideforce Elemental's ability an extra time for each land, or Retreat to Kazandu giving Undergrowth Champion even more opportunity to take hits from creatures. Skyclave Pick-Axe is a way for us to get some of our trampling or flying friends to deal extra damage, especially when we have follow-ups like Harrow, or the other ramp spells we mentioned above.
That wraps up this portion of the brewing, so we'll toss it on over to Rumpy for the mono color deck. Rumpy?
Rumpy's Deekah Budget Rebuild
Thanks, Janky! At the time of writing, Deekah, Fractal Theorist is the least popular Commander 2021 legend. Somehow even Nils, Discipline Enforcer has more decks. If I were to hazard a guess as to why this is, a mono blue Metallurgic Summonings out of the command zone gets lost in the potential offered by the plethora of multi-coloured instant/sorcery legends from both Strixhaven and the preconstructed decks. That doesn't make Deekah any less fun a commander in isolation. A deck built around her is likely to feature the following:
- Ramp. Deekah comes with a mana sink to make tokens connect, and in general the more mana you have the more stuff you can do.
- Board gum/multi-cast spells. Deekah scales off the costs of what is being cast/copied, so finding ways of getting bonus cast cost for your mana is going to translate to more board presence. This can be discounts, extra casts/copies, or some spell-based creature cloning.
- Proliferate. The Deekah tokens come with +1/+1 counters for power/toughness. Running proliferate cards like Thrummingbird allows growing the Fractals permanently.
- Interaction. The deck commits to the board, so it's important to have means of protecting the board state. Counters double as versatile interaction with anything happening on the stack.
- Finishing. The Deekah tokens are vanilla, so they need some help with connecting once there's enough of them. Deekah herself is not likely to be able to pay for enough unblockability.
- Draw. It's important to keep the hand topped up to have access to all of the above.
All of these should be preferably done via spells if possible. The spread between big and small mana values is another variable to tweak, as big Fractals work well with Deekah's activated ability while many smaller ones respond better to the proliferate.
Upon taking the Quandrix deck and pulling out the ineligible cards with green in them and the unnecessary dual lands, the following constituents are left:
10 IslandApproximate Total Cost:
Yikes! That's 17 non-land cards to work with, and some of them are not even that great. Champion of Wits is not exactly imposing in token form, and doesn't draw enough for the investment. Crafty Cutpurse is quite narrow, as you need to chance into a good situation where someone makes a bunch of tokens that you can actually benefit from. Desolation Twin makes a big token, but also costs a whopping. We can do better than all of these. As such, we've got $35 to spawn the requisite ~45 cards to turn this into a 99. Still, we've got a roadmap to follow, so let's start fleshing out the categories.
Ramp should come out for three mana at most, so that it can help accelerate Deekah. ThankfullyArcane Signet and Sol Ring come pre-packaged, but we'll have to get a bit creative with some of the other rocks we go for due to the popularity of the category. If it costs two, ramps for one, and is cheap enough to get, in it goes. If it costs three, it needs to either ramp above rate (Palladium Myr, Worn Powerstone) or do something cool (Unstable Obelisk). There are also a few options (Astral Cornucopia, Empowered Autogenerator, Everflowing Chalice) that come with charge counters to make mana. Charge counters happen to respond well to the proliferate sub-theme! Other than the Autogenerator, which might be too janky for its own good, Jace's Sanctum is the only piece of ramp to cost more than three. However, the perpetual instant/sorcery discounts and scries make it worthwhile.
Board gum/multi-cast spells is where we can get creative, but rather than the "running Guardian Idol instead of Fellwar Stone" type of creative, we get to explore a variety of different avenues for gumming, often via Deekah. The main categories here are cards that result in further spells being cast (Aminatou's Augury, Diluvian Primordial, Spelltwine) and instant/sorcery-based copying of creatures (Clone Legion, Saheeli's Artistry). Stolen Identity is a low-key hero of this category, as we can encode it on a token, make said token unblockable with Deekah, and keep the value train rolling. More clones, more 6/6 Fractals, more good times. There are some loose ends like low-cost swing deterrents Fog Bank/Guard Gomazoa, and spell duplication engine Swarm Intelligence. Deekah's trigger is Magecraft, so copies made off the haymaker enchantment will still count. Discount spells (Deep Analysis, Recurring Insight, Spectral Deluge) fit the bill for disproportionate gum, but aren't primarily ran for their cost evasion.
Proliferate is pretty straightforward - just stuff that comes with the keyword baked in and not much of a dent for the wallet. Flux Channeler, Guildpact Informant, and Thrummingbird all offer consistent trickles of counters, while all other options are one-shot spells. Something of note is that proliferate doesn't target at the time of casting, but uses choose instead. As such, we can resolve the Deekah trigger and have an extra body to grow. Interaction primarily comes in the form of a healthy counter magic package as the most versatile answer class. Cards like Arcane Denial, Counterspell, and Negate are all cards I happily run in "proper" decks, and Stubborn Denial plus Wizard's Retort come online soon after Deekah lands on board. Spectral Deluge is the only non-counter interaction addition, as an asymmetrical board wipe that can be cast on the cheap while yielding a 6/6 Fractal is too good to pass up.
Finishing is the most minuscule category of all, and boils down to permanent unblockability from Archetype of Imagination and a few versatile support spells. Deluge and Ensnare tap the board down instant speed, allowing for some potential defensive use prior to a solid attack. Open into Wonder is one of the highlights of the deck, a two-mana overhead X draw spell and mass unblockability rolled into one. Draw comes in the form of expensive refuel spells (Mind Spring, Recurring Insight) that will generate both cards in hand and large board presence, as well as cheaper cantrips to keep the wheels greased up throughout the game. Spells like Impulse and Port Town help smooth out draws and find things to do, so we shouldn't feel too obliged to hold them until Deekah lands if we need assistance. A lot of the proliferate spells also replace themselves, and synergize nicely with having a number of small Fractals generated by the cheaper dig spells. Distant Melody is a neat payoff for the tokens, and Keep Watch is a long-standing piece of secret tech.
Putting all this together with the survivors from the precon yields a functional-looking deck. It's not exactly the strongest build around, but it should be able to execute its game plan in lower power games.
Deekah, Budget Rebuild
Board Gum/Multi-Cast Spells
1 Fog Bank
1 Impulse1 OptApproximate Total Cost:
A variety of staples would improve performance, with classics like Cryptic Command and Cyclonic Rift being generally useful. Sun Quan, Lord of Wu is a powerful evasion piece blue had access to. A component worth exploring would be extra turn spells, with Karn's Temporal Sundering acting as a budget gateway towards more popular pieces like Time Warp. It's likely that a higher power Deekah would land in a similar area to Talrand, Sky Summoner, paying more attention to conventional mono blue tempo plays and using the commander-yielded swarm to peck away at people. Back to you, Janky.
Thanks Rumpy! That does it for this edition, but we'll be back soon with the next precon update. Until then, let us know what you think in the comments, and we'll see you next time.