The Azorius guild has a host of strong commanders for various archetypes, but up until recently there were not many Azorius creature decks. The guild typically played value creatures that interacted with non-creature spells (Auratouched Mage, Snapcaster Mage, Archaeomancer) or that draw you cards (Consecrated Sphinx, Sphinx of Uthuun). Creatures are very fragile in Commander, and often wind up being a liability if they don't generate value immediately or extreme value, and our guild in particular didn't have as many game busting creatures or the means to cast them as Green. Creatures that break the game open (e.g. Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur) also are often prohibitively costed and tend to go either in reanimator or ramp strategies that Azorius is typically weaker at. So most Azorius decks leaned toward playing creatures that fuelled playing more non-creature spells.
As such, traditional Azorius decks in Commander have tended to be prison or control decks with lots of counterspells, sweepers, or lockdown pieces. The colors make it easy to dig out things like Winter Orb, and have a variety of very powerful board control, counterspells, and targeted removal spells.
With Ephara, God of the Polis and Brago, King Eternal we have two relatively new creatures that incentivize a much different style of Azorius play - though both are pretty different, they encourage playing a lot of guys. Since I really like creatures, but am also a huge fan of the Azorius guild, this is a pretty special time in Commander history for me.
The second piece of her ability is that she rewards playing creatures or tokens at instant speed, which makes for an interactive and fun style of play - you're often doing things in other people's turns but not quite to an annoying level most of the time.
The third major draw to Ephara is that she's an indestructible enchantment most of the time, and thus extremely annoying to get rid of. Her resiliency makes the deck tick by getting rid of slots normally needed for protecting your commander and letting those slots be used for other things.
All of Ephara's abilities combine to make a general that doesn't need a lot of support in the form of card draw or protection spells, but in order to fully replace those abilities you need to play some cards that are not that great on their own - you have to replace resilient instant/sorcery/enchantment/artifact answers with creature based answers, and often make some sacrifices to be able to have creatures come out more frequently (flash enablers, cheat-into-play effects, ninjas, bounce spells, etc.). I love the commander and the deck because it encourages playing a very different set of cards.
There didn't used to be that many alternatives for a deck like this. While there are many strong Azorius commanders, very few of them will reward you for playing cards like Spirit of the Labyrinth or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or Aether Vial. Brago, King Eternal can create a pretty viable beatdown deck but it'll naturally focus more on reusing ETB creatures and thus be more vulnerable to Torpor Orb effects which we can largely deal with.
Since no other commanders really generate card advantage in this way, they'll generally incentivize a different style of gameplay. I think the closest you could come to an effective hatebears style of play with any other commander would be Karador, Ghost Chieftain - but leveraging the graveyard (and probably sacrificing them) instead of Ephara's ability as a source of card advantage from mediocre creatures. I promised my group I wouldn't make another hatebears deck, but if I ever do retire Ephara, Karador's Junkyard Bears is how I would do it.
Gaddock Teeg can do an OK job of it, but not having access to blue is a pretty serious weakness in my opinion. Blue's clones and theft are hard to do without. Teeg also has to bring a bunch of ways to draw cards that make the deck likely to be a little less consistent (and less interesting, since you've got to dedicate a bunch of cards to drawing more cards as opposed to furthering your gameplan). You also lose out on a lot of the instant speed interaction that I find fun (blue's flash creatures and Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir).
Since the printing of Chulane, Teller of Tales and Tymna the Weaver you've got a lot of new options for this hatebears/tempo approach to gameplay. Generally speaking if you take this core set of cards and swap it to Chulane, and replace the artifact ramp with mana dorks, you'll have a really strong - probably stronger - deck. Although Chulane and Tymna both give up quite a lot in resiliency, the added colors add a lot of consistency - particularly when Tymna the Weaver is paired with Thrasios, Triton Hero you have probably the strongest pairing for hatebears decks.
That said, Chulane and Tymna both make a pretty serious statement when you sit down and Ephara tends to fly much further under the radar.
1 Ephara, God of the Polis|foil
1 Weathered Wayfarer|foil
1 Gilded Drake
1 Drannith Magistrate|foil
1 Niambi, Esteemed Speaker|foil
1 Knight of the White Orchid|foil
1 Sunscape Familiar|foil
1 Charming Prince|foil
1 Phantasmal Image|foil
1 Snapcaster Mage|foil
1 Stormscape Familiar|foil
1 Whitemane Lion|foil
1 Skyclave Apparition|foil
1 Brazen Borrower|foil
1 Nadir Kraken|foil
1 Spell Queller|foil
1 Archon of Emeria|foil
1 Eldrazi Displacer|foil
1 Recruiter of the Guard|foil
1 Stunt Double|foil
1 Faerie Artisans
1 Selfless Squire
1 Glen Elendra Archmage|foil
1 Thassa, Deep-Dwelling
1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence|foil
1 Venser, Shaper Savant|foil
1 Karmic Guide|foil
1 Body Double|foil
1 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir|foil
1 Sun Titan|foil
1 Agent of Treachery|foil
1 Enlightened Tutor|foil
1 Mystical Tutor|foil
1 Swords to Plowshares|foil
1 Unexpectedly Absent|foil
1 Cyclonic Rift|foil
1 Mana Drain|foil
1 Muddle the Mixture|foil
1 Brought Back|foil
1 Fierce Guardianship
1 Force of Will|foil
1 Chrome Mox|foil
1 Mana Crypt|foil
1 Mox Diamond|foil
1 Sol Ring|foil
1 Sensei's Divining Top|foil
1 Azorius Signet|foil
1 Talisman of Progress|foil
1 Altar of Dementia|foil
1 Smothering Tithe|foil
1 Arid Mesa|foil
1 Flooded Strand|foil
1 Polluted Delta|foil
1 Misty Rainforest|foil
1 Marsh Flats|foil
1 Windswept Heath|foil
1 Prismatic Vista|foil
1 Hallowed Fountain|foil
1 Prairie Stream|foil
1 Irrigated Farmland|foil
1 Tundra (FBB)
1 Adarkar Wastes|foil
1 Mystic Gate|foil
1 Emeria, the Sky Ruin|foil
1 Command Tower|foil
1 Glacial Fortress|foil
1 Mystic Sanctuary|foil
1 Nimbus Maze|foil
1 Sea of clouds|foil
1 Scalding Tarn|foil
1 Ancient Tomb|foil
1 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx|foil
1 Strip Mine|foil
1 Myriad Landscape|foil
It's possible that the deck would be stronger with more control elements; there's a user with a fairly similar deck to mine that eschews some of the more questionable hatebears for more powerful non-creature spells. If you want to take the deck that direction the best thing to do is probably start removing the worst creatures and replacing them with stronger spells or creatures that are stronger on their own - it ought to be relatively obvious from looking at the list which creatures are the weakest.
Since our gameplan is to play Ephara and draw cards with her every game, there are almost no sources of card draw. There are sources of recursion to get back key tools and we can generate some decent card advantage through cards like Sun Titan if Ephara is not on the field we are at a decided disadvantage. The deck runs a lot of mediocre creatures who are just not that great of an investment if they don't replace themselves, but if they do they are quite strong. There are several strong sources of card advantage such as the blink engines Soulherder and Thassa, Deep-Dwelling as well as the recursion pieces, but in general we're falling behind if Ephara is not out.
We don't play a lot of tutors; despite having a lot of artifacts, there's no Fabricate or Transmute Artifact because they don't wield swords or provide card advantage. We don't run a lot of counterspells (instead running things like Venser, Shaper Savant and Glen Elendra Archmage. We run Hushwing Gryff but no Torpor Orb. We run Stoneforge Mystic and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite instead of Cathars' Crusade or Eldrazi Monument.
Examples of other token generators I consider strong enough to potentially be in the deck:
Thraben Doomsayer - is free, and generates a card when he comes out
Brimaz, King of Oreskos - is free, can threaten to generate on defense, relevant sword wielder, and generates a card when he comes out
Hero of Bladehold - free tokens, provides an anthem effect, relevant sword wielder, generates a card when he comes out.
Monastery Mentor - free tokens, generates a token when he comes out, can be a relevant body. Would probably belong in a deck with a slightly higher spell count (maybe 12-ish instants would be where I would consider him. His tokens having prowess can also be relevant.
Elspeth Tirel - Makes tokens the turn she comes out, provides some lifegain potentially, and can wrath the booard in a way that leaves Ephara. Very high on the list.
Generally, a token generator that is not on a body needs to be amazingly good (re: Sacred Mesa, Elspeth, Sun's Champion).
That said, the means of getting there is the key to the deck. It strives to set up any of a number of soft locks that achieve either a massive tempo advantage or a complete lockdown. There are a variety of means of achieving that end, but they usually involve a combination of hatebears that allows Ephara to build up a huge board presence while everyone else stalls on the bears.
There are multiple other ways of achieving a soft-lock that I haven't listed but they usually come when you're down to 1v1. The deck can absolutely win by just going over the top without lock, but it's much harder since we rarely have huge amounts of mana to work with.
The Infinite Combo
After enough games with the Timestream Navigator loop combos I have come to the conclusion that they are too inefficient and generally require Lightning Greaves to be very practical, which marries the deck to an equipment package that I no longer think is required. So with that in mind, the combination of Recruiter of the Guard and Intuition and Trophy Mage enable easy tutoring of the classic Reveillark combos.
Intuition can set up nearly the entire combo (searching for lark, guide, body double or recruiter/guide/double), and Recruiter of the Guard can get any piece except Reveillark. This combo is much more mana efficient (requiring ~11 mana for most iterations instead of 15-16 and multiple turns). Because of Blasting Station it can also be used to kill creatures preventing a kill (such as Shalai or Platinum Emperion.
After much testing I've switched to Altar of Dementia as a sacrifice outlet, because Remorseful Cleric allows us to beat shuffle triggers. Altar is a bit more consistent and beats more forms of hate, and having an actual open sac outlet is strong in this deck. Any problem permanent but RIP can be beaten by self-milling for answers like Venser, Shaper Savant.
At this point I think it's probably the correct option for a combo finish in this deck. If you desire to be more combo focused, it is easy to add cards like Fiend hunter or additional sac outlets such as Phyrexian Altar to enable additional ways to kill the table (For example: Altar + Lark + Venser + Guide resets everyone else's board).
For a while I've been trying out Tidespout Tyrant and it offers a few new angles to close the game out with a combo or a near-combo. Generally speaking, any mana positive rock (Sol Ring) plus a 0 cost spell (e.g. Chrome Mox) will generate infinite colorless mana, which can then be filtered into infinite of a color with Azorius Signet. Infinite colorless mana can do a lot of work with Eldrazi Displacer, and infinite colored mana can bounce the board with Venser, Shaper Savant since with Tidespout it can just bounce itself with its own trigger and bounce something else with Tidespout's trigger.
While I am not certain Tyrant will be sticking around it's definitely a powerful angle with this deck; cards like Whitemane Lion can go bonkers with it without going infinite -- a few turn cycles can result in a clear board, and it can clear the way for lethal attacks quite easily.
I play a lot less these days, but I've got hundreds of games into this deck so the core is pretty well established. As such I will focus most of my energy on the core of the deck. At the end of each section I'll discuss some of the cards currently in the deck, that could go in, or that I have tried out.
You'll note that many of the cards I do not play are rejected for being non-creatures; I know a number of folks who play a more spell heavy version of Ephara, which is arguably a stronger deck. I prefer the creature heavy version but if I were to make a significant change in direction that's likely the way I'd go -- pull out all of the weaker creatures and play stronger spells in their places. Many cards like Monastery Mentor make eminent sense in that approach.
This section is for cards that by virtue of being fantastic on their own, or highly synergistic with Ephara, I would consider the core of the deck.
Gilded Drake - It triggers Ephara and takes the best creature on the board. He's bonkers with Venser. Second best way you can spend 1U in the deck, which leads me to...
Phantasmal Image - This guy is the stone cold nuts. He's so efficient it hurts. He's copying Glen Elendra Archmage and persisting as a Blightsteel Colossus, he's gaining infinite life with Reveillark and Soul Warden, he's getting brought back off a Sun Titan trigger and chaining into a Sword of Feast and Famine. One of the best creatures in the deck.
Ethersworn Canonist - A very strong board stall tactic that usually allows you to play around it; you can sac it to Helm of Possession, cast a bunch of things, bring it back with Sun Titan or Reveillark, you can Venser, the Sojourner it and do your stuff. If all else fails, you have a ton of artifacts you can cast too. You can drop her at the end of a big turn to keep everyone in check too. She's easily recurred and tutored for which is nice.
Phyrexian Metamorph - Arguably the best clone in the format needs no introduction. It's especially amazing here given all the ways in which we can abuse it, recur it, and blink it to change its form. It's a very good card and should probably never be cut.
Recruiter of the Guard - It does everything we want to do for a reasonable mana cost. The body is somewhat underwhelming but tutoring for a hatebear or a clone is just insanely good. Because it can be bounced/cloned we can do all kinds of ridiculous chains. She enables massive turn 4 plays like recruiter for image copying recruiter, or recruiter for whitemane lion, draw all the cards, etc.
Glen Elendra Archmage - Recurring counterspell on a creature who usually draws two cards from Ephara. One of the best cards in the deck that you should not leave home without. And of course it flies and wields swords.
Venser, Shaper Savant - He stalls uncounterable spells, bounces your own guys, shuts down very strong plays, and can be easily turned into a game winning bomb with the Reveillark combo. Add a Deadeye Navigator for lots of rage scoops. He's got flash, too!
Reveillark - Recurs about half of the deck, synergizes hilariously with clones (especially Phantasmal Image) and is a good sized flier no one wants to remove. He provides you a huge leg up if you have to wrath.
Sun Titan - If you read all the other entries you'll see how many times this card is referred to. It's probably one of the best white cards in EDH, but in our deck it's insane. He enables numerous soft locks, he's straight up value, and a huge vigilant beater. I'd never consider removing him.
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite - The Norn fills so many roles in this deck it's ridiculous! It's functionally a sweeper, makes your little goofball creatures a huge threat, and has a respectable booty of its own. The only way I would ever cut this card is if I was running in a Bribery heavy meta -- but I probably still wouldn't since the look on someone's face when you cast Aven Mindcensor in response, or blink Elesh with your Flickerwisp or Venser, the Sojourner.
Venser, the Sojourner - The first card I thought of when I considered this list. He reuses out creatures, he makes our team unblockable, and his emblem happens insanely fast and ends games. In the early days of this deck I would win by Venser Emblem + Stonecloaker on a regular basis. He does tons of things, in addition to setting up a soft lock with the next card..
Elspeth, Sun's Champion - Wraths, makes guys, and ultimate wins games. Hard to top this lady. She's an army in a box and one of the few topdecks that can turn almost any board state around. She's everything you could ask for in a planeswalker. Her ability to trigger Ephara for free every turn is almost worth the price of admission.
Land Tax - Eh, it does what it says on the tin! It generates an absurd amount of card advantage for a deck that is rarely actually ramping, and powers many engines including Forbid (one of the most oppressive soft locks in the deck). As a bonus it fixes our land drops and thins our deck. I almost never lose if I hit an early land tax.
Mastery of the Unseen - I've long wanted to try this card out, and it's in the deck right now to bring some much needed lifegain to the deck and to attempt to dig through my deck a bit more than Mesa used to. I have recently added a lot of reactive spells to the deck and some blink engines, which I think can take strong advantage of Mastery. With Smothering Tithe and Tidespout Tyrant we have a few ways to generate absurd amounts of mana so I think this card might be more feasible now. It can also be tutored with Muddle the Mixture which adds another way to get to it.
Sacred Mesa - The main reason Enlightened Tutor exists. This card is an early and late game powerhouse. It makes an army of 1/1 fliers to wield swords or get pumped by Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and generally draws you a card for 1W as well. Remember that you can untap and then make a pegasus to sac it by stacking the pegasus creation trigger above the trigger to sacrifice sacred mesa.
Muddle the Mixture - I've had this card in here for quite a while now and frankly cannot imagine not having it now. It tutors for so many things that are important that the mana inefficiency is not a huge deal. Five mana is generally the sweet spot for the deck and with great regularity I find "get your best 2-drop and cast it" to be a fantastic 5 mana play. Also, it counters a lot of stuff we care about such as wraths and other people's counterspells.
Spellseeker - I don't see how this card can ever be anything other than core. The things you can tutor for with it are so good. In my deck it can get answers (unexpectedly absent, cyclonic rift, it can get either of our other mirage tutors (mystical tutor, enlightened tutor). The effect is extremely likely to close a game, and probably belongs in any Ephara deck that runs good spells.
Over the years (Yes years!) I've been playing this deck I've had occasion to question even some core cards in response to meta shifts and new card options. This is the old core card graveyard (that I'd guess to not be permanent given how long most cards were core).
Stoneforge Mystic - This gal is one of the best cards you'll ever draw in the deck. She gets swords, greaves, skullclamp, she cheats stuff into play, she wields a sword. She gives your army of little donothing durdlemachines teeth. Everyone who plays EDH knows how great she is, and she's even better in a deck with 30 weak creatures.
I'm experimenting with cutting the equipment package at the moment, mostly because the format feels like it's trending more toward bombs which makes Stoneforge a little less impactful than typical - and people are really prone to removing the equipment these days. I'm trying including some more individually powerful cards and (e.g. teferi's protection, monastery mentor) in hopes that I can shore up some of the power level changes.
Sakashima's Student - We have tons of evasive fliers and early creatures who will not be blocked. You can steal games with this card with the predictable "I clone Craterhoof/Blightsteel/etc." or you can just reuse your other ETB triggers and get more Ephara draws. This card is amazing, and is functionally a 2 drop...and of course it's recurrable with Reveillark. It's one of my favorite cards but it's also one of the most powerful. This card is still in the deck but I no longer consider it to be core, despite the power level. It's been on the chopping block a few times.
Sword of Light and Shadow - This card dodges some of the best removal in the format, is easily tutorable, provides some serious evasion, and generates massive card advantage (usually 2-3 cards every time you connect -- one for the creature you get, one for triggering Ephara when you cast it, and one for its ETB effect). Over the years the mana investment to equip has gotten kind of rough, as I have so many more efficient things to do most of the time, so this sword became less relevant as I have more ways to get karmic guide and lark especially (with adds like intuition and recruiter of the guard)
Aven Mindcensor - He stifles fetchlands. He stumps some of the best green cheaty cards in the format. This bird is the word - he also lets you draw a second Ephara card by playing in someone else's turn, which is in fact the best time to play him. The bird makes Zur players cry. On top of all that, it flies and carries swords. Retirement comment: My meta shifted to be less fetchland and tutor heavy, and mostly the bird was a 3 mana 2/1 with flash, which is not good enough. Sometimes I'd get people, but not often enough to be worth the slot with all the new sweet cards we've got available.
Catastrophe - This versatile sweeper locks games up. It's a slightly more expensive Wrath of God at its worst, but more often than not you can put two Sun Titans out and then blow up everyone's lands and people scoop. It's far better than either Wrath or Armageddon in this deck, which is very short of non-creature spells. I wound up cutting this, only the second core card to get cut that I can recall, because enchantments and artifacts got to be more of a problem in my meta and I needed room for Austere. It may come back but I doubt it as it's a less common way to win these days for some reason.
Aetherling - The old RtR finisher, by which all other control finishers will henceforth be judged. This card dodges wraths, synergizes insanely with Ephara, and with a decent amount of mana and a clone can kill people dead. I've swept tables with a Phantasmal Image and this guy before--16 unblockable is a respectable clock when you've got a soft lock on the board, and they're nearly impossible to remove. As my meta has sped up, this fairly inefficient 6-drop had to go for more powerful cards with more immediate effect. It could come back if my meta got slower as the unstoppable card advantage engine is real.
Ramp and Fixing
Mox Diamond - Well, this is a pretty obvious card I never played a lot, but since adding so many ways to search for land I think the card is playable. it requires 4 lands to accelerate into turn 3 ephara, but it has a few other ways of getting there -- it can create turn 2 Ephara with 3 lands and another mana rock, or it can work with 3 lands and Tithe, Land Tax or Weathered Wayfarer. I think on the balance it's better than a 2 CMC rock. But time will tell if I have a high enough land count to make use of it reliably.
Azorius Signet - Makes colors from colorless, comes out at 2. One of the best ramp cards in the deck.
Pearl Medallion - This mana reducer reduces a huge portion of our deck, including Ephara, and often lets us play a lot more spells - mid to late game it's equivalent to 3 extra lands most of the time.
Talisman of Progress - It makes colors and comes into play untapped, good tempo, about as good as it gets. Bonus for the favorable interaction with Azorius Signet.
Silver Myr - See above.
Stormscape Familiar - A second pearl medallion that wields swords. What's not to love?
Ancient Tomb - Another surprise card that enables a T3 Ephara with moderate cost. The life loss is usually irrelevant to the ability to accelerate with a sol land in this deck.
Sword of Feast and Famine - This card is, like Nykthos, primarily a mid to late game ramp spell that enables larger than typical turns. It's also got very relevant protections and buffs of course.
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx - One of the few ramps that doesn't involve Ephara. This is a very deceptively strong card in the deck as it will regularly enable huge plays - it's almost always white mana, but we have a lot of mana symbols in the deck. I've had turns go: Sun Titan for Phantasmal Image as another titan, Nykthos for Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. It's one of the few ways we have to generate massive mana and the investment is pretty minor.
Boreas Charger - I'm unsure about this card but it seems very powerful and a creature so going to give it a try. It seems like it should be good at closing games (getting Emeria online) or making early games more consistent, and it's a critter. Not a lot of ways to generate a big mana advantage in the mid game with this deck and this is one.
Wayfarer's Bauble - It's slow but it's recurrable and does accelerate into turn 3 Ephara. I'm rarely unhappy to see it in an opener. Bonus of actually getting land, unlike most ramp we have access to. Downside is fairly slow and requires being drawn on turn 1 to make a turn 3 ephara.
Fellwar Stone - Almost always makes one of our colors and as a bonus comes into play untapped. It's a very good tempo card. I mostly cut this because I can't make myself buy a 150 dollar foil. May put it back in when we get a reprint. And Mox Diamond seems slightly better.
As Foretold - This has been in the deck for a while now so I figured I'd do a write up. It's really not part of the core strategy, sadly, but it's just so powerful with the number of things we can do on other people's turns that I wanted to try it out, and I have found it to be very good. Games that go long are usually the ones I win, and this card is very good at getting all the stuff you've drawn out of your hand to help win the game. It's a very compact way to generate tons of mana that doesn't really require anything else -- the Monolith package, for example, requires a lot of setup and a lot of cards (voltaic key, grim monolith, basalt monolith, mana vault, thran dynamo, etc.). This card lets us just play it and accumulate crazy amounts of mana.
Bonus for being recurrable with Sun Titan.
Aether Vial - This card doesn't accelerate into Ephara, but it ramps you and lets you play creatures at instant speed without worrying about counterspells. It's amazing with the deck due to the high density of 3 and 4 CMC creatures. This card has a very high ceiling but a very low floor, replaced by Tithe.
Coldsteel Heart - I used to run this, since it makes colored mana, but it's currently on the shelf for mana myrs.
Gold Myr - I am only recently trying the mana myrs - they work functionally equivalently to the ETB tapped colored rocks, but may also replace themselves if drawn late game. I wound up cutting this one because I didn't like being so exposed on mana creatures, but kept the blue one because I felt slightly short of blue mana.
Marble Diamond - Same as Coldsteel. Color limitation makes it worse.
Sky Diamond - Same as Coldsteel. Color limitation makes it worse.
Knight of the White Orchid - This guy is only doing the job if an opponent plays exploration or rampant growth ahead of you pretty much. He's a creature who fixes though, so I'd consider putting him back in before any of the rocks.
Chromatic Lantern - 3 drop ramp is bad in this deck, but this is the best of it. Consider it if you don't have access to a great mana base.
Walking Atlas - This is my favorite mana dork-like effect in the deck. Ephara tends to keep your hand pretty full, and Land Tax is a card I see often enough that it tends to sneakily add up to a ton of ramp in the mid to late game. It has some downsides in that it requires extra lands in hand to work, but this is usually not an issue. This does make it somewhat less likely to enable a turn 3 Ephara (as it requires you to have seen 4 lands in the first 10-11 cards). This got removed because it was not as good as Mana Crypt (duh).
I tend to think of "answers" pretty globally as solutions to stuck board states or people's attempts to win. These cards remove stuff, sweep the board, prevent spells from resolving, etc.
Mystical Tutor - I have a lot of very, very good instants and sorceries and this would get vastly better with a time magic package. This card was just as good as I thought and once I got spellseeker in the deck it became even more powerful - being able to spellseeker for any spell in the deck at the cost of a card is pretty strong.
Swords to Plowshares - Instant, exiles, too good not to play despite not being a creature. We need instant speed answers and this is the most efficient.
Muddle the Mixture - This card warrants some serious discussion; it's borderline core, and may make its way into that section later. The 2-drop spot in this deck is incredibly crowded with great cards that let you dictate the game. Need a board presence? transmute for Stoneforge Mystic. Need to shut off Maelstrom Wanderer? Transmute for Canonist. The options are nearly endless. And in a pinch it can stop most annoying effects for a reasonable mana cost. In EDH it is usually counterspell with an upside. Notably, it also transmutes for Reality Shift, an interaction that has come up multiple times now.
Umezawa's Jitte - Like some other cards here, both a question and an answer. Jitte fixes a lot of problem board states primarily in this deck; it's great at winning too but fixing problem creatures is its best mode. Ephara almost always has some evasive creature she's willing to strap a jitte to. Having 3 other cards that get it is nuts -- Muddle, Stoneforge and Lancers all get it.
Forbid - This is really close to being a core spell for the deck. It counters spells and lets us trade cards (which we almost always have a ton of, and don't mind having in the graveyard anyway) for more counterspells.
Capsize - Very flexible, answers everything return to Dust does while also being a game winning engine if you get enough mana (or As Foretold counters).
Supreme Verdict - An uncounterable, very efficient wrath. The uncounterable effect is incredibly important.
Leonin Relic-Warder - Synergizes with sacrifice and recursion effects, and exiles important card types. And it's a bear.
Spell Queller - Counters uncounterable spells, handles the vast majority of problem cards in EDH, generates a card with Ephara, and survives opposing elesh norns, which is surprisingly relevant. This card is likely to become core.
Stonecloaker - Flash graveyard hate that bounces your guys and flies. See this guy for why Whitemane Lion is bad.
Helm of Possession - This card is so close to being a core card! It's been amazing every time I've used it. It's ridiculous with Sun Titan and just flat out great on its own. It is super, super good. Stealing creatures at instant speed, enabling hatebear shenanigans, etc.
Thalia's Lancers - It was tough finding the right section for these guys. They're both an answer (in they get some specific stuff that I classify as answers) and an engine in some contexts (blinking/cloning them is absurdly powerful). The consistency they add to the deck by finding elesh norn or Linvala or jitte or nykthos is huge. Almost core.
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite - She's an answer and a question, but I primarily use her as a board reset. She's also a wincon, turning any army of derpy bears into lethal pretty much instantly.
Mana Drain - The best counterspell ever printed for EDH, the ramp can help you convert a turn 3 Ephara and it's great late game too as it can represent advancing your board and keeping up interaction for yet another turn. Really not required for the deck to operate but I like it.
Cyclonic Rift - I originally eschewed this card because I hated it, and also it was quite expensive. What I found was that when I switched to a Muddle the Mixture package, this card turned into pure gold. It allows Muddle to essentially turn into a win condition which is hugely powerful in this deck. I would not run it without running merchant scroll or muddle or mystical tutor to find it.
Unexpectedly Absent - A second removal spell that is very flexible and pretty strong in the deck in general. Lots of applications. Can tutor with Muddle, which is very strong.
Austere Command - A very versatile wrath that often leaves us with a full board and opponents empty. Almost a win condition. This is back in the main deck after a year or so on the shelf. Enchantments and artifacts are becoming overwhelming in my meta.
Return to Dust - It's a two-for-one that exiles some of the most important cards in the format. All important answer to Darksteel Forge and Gods. I wound up cutting this because it's too slow to want to main phase in my current meta, and too inefficient otherwise. Replaced with Capsize.
Reality Shift - This is a cheap instant speed answer that gives us the chance to mess with a common theme in EDH - topdeck manipulation. It could easily get cut but so far I have liked having a second removal spell. Also a Muddle the Mixture target.
Desertion - On the expensive side, but often a huge blowout that will win games and as a bonus often trigger Ephara. I stopped using this cos I picked up a mana drain.
Vendilion Clique - Flash, check, flying, check, steals people's combo pieces, check, decent power, check. Only doesn't get the "core" nod by virtue of being non-recurrable with Reveillark.
Path to Exile - Ramps them. It's still one of the best removal cards in the format but I just hate ramping people.
Arcane Denial - One of the most efficient counters in the format but I just don't like playing the mass of counterspells, and the ones I do play are better for the deck.
Pact of Negation - It's a great card but the deck runs on such low mana it's often virtually timewalking yourself to cast it. If I had to play a free countery effect I'd play the next card, or Misdirection.
Force of Will - A very very close card to being included in the deck. My blue count is a little low to support it, but its mana efficiency makes it highly desirable. Countering spells when you're tapped out is good, just ask a legacy player!
Duplicant - It's too expensive for my tastes but can be recurred and blinked and is very good. Would consider it if I had more mana generation.
Wrath of God - A great cheap wrath that goes with the mana efficiency theme of the deck, but not quite versatile enough. I like my wraths to double as winconditions or bring something really unique to the table.
Evacuation - This virtual sweeper is so good in this deck it's always on the verge of being included. If I included an Archaeomancer package, I would play this since it's so hugely strong with him.
Fiend Hunter - Exiles creatures, synergizes with sac and recursion effects, and has a body. It's slow but wields swords and is recurrable. 3-drop slot is just too crowded right now, and he can't be tutored for with Recruiter which is a shame. Note that in the right deck this card can go infinite with Sun Titan (needs a blasting station or similar) so worth keeping in mind, especially for decks trying to be faster. Now that blasting station is in the deck I'm still considering this card, but not being searchable with Recruiter puts it very low on the list.
Voidmage Husher - Bounces himself, so he's a nice slow engine, but he also shuts down a lot of cheaty attempts to win like Rogue's Passage. I've generally found him too slow and the 4-drop slot too demanding lately. Note: I really, really miss this card sometimes. It's regularly on my mind to put it back.
This section will discuss the eponymous creatures of the deck, the bears! They're not all strictly speaking bears, but they are similar - small creatures with big upsides (well, downsides for your opponent). Some of these critters could be considered "answers" but generally I consider
Core Hatebears: Ethersworn Canonist
Containment Priest - Flashes, which is very important, and shuts down a lot of methods of cheating creatures into play which we hate seeing. Slight nonbo with some of our cheat effects, but still usually asymmetrical. I have really liked this card over the years. I've blown out a number of crazy plays with it, and also completely shut off a lot of boards combined with Curio and Flickerwisp. It's slow but it gets the job done.
Hushwing Gryff - It shuts down some of our shenanigans but we have ways to get rid of it and reuse it, and it flashes and flies. Great card.
Linvala, Keeper of Silence - She shuts down many infinite combos and wields swords in the air and generally shuts down a lot of shenanigans as well (Geth, Lord of the Vault for example). She's probably going to become a core creature after I get a feel for just how strong she is.
Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir - While nowhere near a bear, Teferi generates a lot of devotion, flashes, gives all your creatures flash, and stops other people from casting instants or flash effects. He's ridiculous, and on a good body. His mana cost makes him barely not a core creature, but he's borderline.
Grand Abolisher - He's half of Teferi and more, with 2 white pips for Ephara. His body leaves something to be desired, but his effect is undeniable. I rarely lose if he sticks, so he's borderline core, but I could see cutting in a more spell-heavy build. I wound up cutting this because my meta got a little less interactive, and I wanted more power -- I put Timestream navigator in the place.
Eidolon of Rhetoric - All the good things about Ethersworn Canonist with a big fat blocking butt and tutorable for with enchantment tutors should you choose to run more. People will misplay around this card left and right and constantly ask to look at it and shake their heads. It's fantastic, and we can usually play around it in much the same way we can the Canonist. I wound up cutting this as the effect got less in demand and muddle fills the role of my second copy by tutoring for canonist and recruiter the third. Sadly this card is just better than canonist, but not being recruiterable is really annoying.
Spirit of the Labyrinth - Has been in the deck before. It's really, really strong in a meta full of wheels, as we rebuild from hand destruction very quickly--every other topdeck is 2 cards and we have numerous persistent engines.
Leonin Arbiter - I've played it before and found it to be good, but people having a choice is bad - they can play around it, and his body is undesirable. I'd wish for about 3 more functional reprints of Aven Mindcensor please Or a straight up Stranglehold bear, that'd be great.
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben - She's solid bear territory but my main issue was that she regularly slowed me down more than other people who ramp harder. She'd be really good if you played more stax (e.g. Grand Arbiter type stuff) effects on bodies for sure. This deck could certainly handle Smokestack type stuff with a little tweaking too.
Kataki, War's Wage - Nonbo with our artifacts, but could be considered in a more enchanty build.
Eldrazi Displacer - Displacer is the truth. Even with my bare minimum number of colorless sources this card always threatens to take over games. It acts as a slow maze of ith, it often churns out repeated cards with Ephara, and it can turn into a machine gun of death with Containment priest. It does it all. I consider it to be a core card for the most part, but need some more reps.
Whitemane Lion - This card recently made its way back in as an engine because of Recruiter of the Guard and I am liking it a lot with recruiter. It's somewhat underwhelming when drawn on its own, but does a lot of work protecting your board too. It can be transmuted for with Muddle the Mixture as well which is nice.
Emeria, the Sky Ruin - It's slow and unreliable due to our not huge number of plains but the opportunity cost is quite low to have one tapped plains given how oppressive it is when assembled. With Land Tax it's relatively easy. Tolaria West and a few plains tutors could make it much more reliable if desired.
Weathered Wayfarer - So it took me a while to come around to this card being important enough to get an entry but man it is good. It's just such a powerful thing to do for 1 mana when we're playing in Elder Dragon Ramp. Everyone always has more lands than me, and so I can just tutor up all the great lands in my deck. Prioritize Emeria, the Sky Ruin, Academy Ruins and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. I'm not sure I will ever cut this. The percentage of the time where I run away with the game with wayfarer is high -- usually just setting Emeria up on its own.
Misc Blink and Recursion - Flickerwisp, Restoration Angel, and Karmic Guide are all three great cards that fill similar roles - reusing ETB creatures, flying and carrying swords. They're all close to core creatures but could swap out for something better
Cloudstone Curio - Hey, we get to reuse our creatures. Lots of hilarious interactions with this (bouncing Ethersworn Canonist, taking our turn and recasting it). Even without Ephara it's very strong, but with her it's beastly. This card found its way out for Blasting Station because I generally was not a fan of the mana investment. It rarely felt like what I wanted to be doing for some reason, though it was very good at setting up Venser shenanigans. Definitely possible it'll come back.
Ranger of Eos - Ranger searches for 3 great cards - Mother of Runes, Serra Ascendant and Soul Warden or Weathered Wayfarer. Mom protects our creatures, Ascendant is a huge fattie that gains us life and the wayfarer can find various ramp cards or other strong lands. The main focus of the Ranger engine, however, is that he turns will often turn one card into 5, which is great.
When playing Ranger, Mother of Runes is the main one I consider to not be optional. I always get her and one other card first, since she can protect the other one.
The Ranger package is quite flexible, and there're a lot of cards that you can try rotating in and out for other one drops. Nova Cleric and Martyred Rusalka are the top of my list, and Soul Warden has been in before. Another strong thing you can do with ranger is get Shrieking Drake which bounces the Ranger and recast him. Drake is a really strong Ephara engine on its own.
The ranger package worked its way out of the deck as more powerful efficient cards showed up. I found myself with ranger stuck in hand not wanting to spend 4 mana on it pretty regularly so gave it a cut and haven't looked back. It's still a great option, but on the outs for me.
Heliod, God of the Sun - He gives the team vigilance and makes tokens, and is a huge fattie sometimes. He's slow enough that he sometimes is on my cutlist, but he's won a lot of games.
Skullclamp - This is a one-card engine that fills our yard with value while drawing tons of cards. It's been a decent backup to Ephara, it's cheap, and tutorable. I no longer run it due to the fact that it is mana intensive and does not typically build my board state; I found I spent too much time drawing cards and not enough winning the tempo game with clamp. Sometimes 10 pegasi and 10 mana are better than 20 cards in hand.
Dust Elemental - He's good. Real good. Huge fattie with double evasion, and can bounce 3 of your dudes. Chances are good it will durdle its way back into my deck at some point as I kinda miss it and it helps my flash count quite a bit. Good solid critter. Unfortunately the 4CMCs are a very competitive spot in this deck!
Thraben Doomsayer - I played this guy for quite a while and he is very, very strong - deceptively so. He makes tokens at instant speed, often meaning you draw an extra card, and he can create a huge army if people let him go for too long. Always on my mind.
Cloudseeder - I found the card disadvantage to be too much for this guy combined with the mana cost. Deceptively bad.
Mobilization - Mana cost is too high and the dudes don't fly.
Elspeth Tirel - I don't own one, but her sweeping ability is really desirable. She's very good and I will try when I pick one up.
Elspeth, Knight-Errant - I found her to be too low impact for her mana cost.
Brimaz, King of Oreskos - He's another guy I sometimes want to put back in. Really good at carrying swords. Problem is he's too often worthless if I can't get a sword on him due to lack of evasion.
Hero of Bladehold - Same issue Brimaz has, but battle cry makes her very desirable as a pump effect.
Monastery Mentor - Needs a bigger non-creature count. Might be good enough honestly due to the high artifact count, but I haven't gotten around to testing it.
Ojutai Exemplars - Same issue as the mentor but additionally much slower and not likely to create an army.
Ephara's manabase is carefully crafted to provide you with a high likelihood of hitting your sources on time. The deck wants at least one separate U and one W source by turn 3, and really wants WW by turn 2 most games and always by turn 4 - many key cards cost WW. UU is usually not required until turn 5-6 or so, but it's pretty important to hit eventually so you can play two blue creatures in a turn. The deck is pretty heavily toward white, but there're a lot of key blue cards. We run most of the fetchlands, but not all to help cut back our life loss a little and to minimize shuffling. Five seems to get the job done.
Because of our strict demand of always hitting UW by turn 3, I've seriously limited our ETB tapped lands and our utility lands. There are only 4 tapped lands, and 4 lands that produce only colorless mana (and two of them are functionally a ramp spell, Ancient Tomb and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx).
Tithe - A cheap card advantage solution that can be flashed back/bought back and generates Plains for Emeria, generally a very strong card - better than the 38th land by a lot. Tithe helps you fix for Ephara, as Tithe + Fetchland + any land will get you Ephara mana most of the time.
Strip Mine - we have Flickerwisp as slight land hate but we're pretty light on it in general outside of Voidmage Husher. This helps shore up matchups where you have to kill a key land.
Mistveil Plains - Graveyard hate for ourselves, to prevent stuff from being stolen/spelltwined, etc, or to cycle key cards back into the deck. It's discussed elsewhere but there are a number of soft locks this card represents, basically any repeated tutor effect + sac outlet + creature, or spellseeker + blink effect + <=2 cmc spell. Cyclonic Rift every turn ends games.
Skycloud Expanse - Most people don't play these filters, but I find it to be very strong at ensuring a T3 Ephara. It has both our colors on one land and doesn't require any colored sources - this + ancient tomb + high market is a keepable opening manabase, whereas it is not with any other dual land in your deck.
Temple of Enlightenment - Scry is good, and it enables some weaker keeps in an opening hand (since a 2-lander with this provides a significantly higher likelihood you hit your 3rd land drop).
High Market - Sac outlets are key to the deck and getting one on a land is important. You'll often want to sac a creature to turn Ephara off, sac Ephara to prevent theft, sac a stolen creature, sac a hatebear to recur it, etc. Very strong card.
Evolving Wilds - ETB tapped fetchlands are bad, ok on a budget.
Moorland Haunt - I don't play this because it's too mana intensive (3 mana functionally), colorless, and hates on my own awesome creatures I'd like to recur. It can be good if you run into people reanimating your stuff a lot.
Brago, King Eternal - Provides a huge amount of resources, adds many soft locks to the deck, and is a good bodied flier. He brings so many tools and should be in the deck. I don't play him mainly because he feels like easy-mode, my playgroup hates him, and it annoys me because I think Brago is a stronger deck than Ephara and it's a constant reminder of that.
Time Warp - With Archaeomancer and Venser, the Sojourner, any sort of time magic makes an infinite turn loop, and it probably belongs in the deck. I just haven't gotten around to making the cuts, and would probably only do so if trying to amp up my competitiveness. It is possible that a time magic package belongs in the deck even without the infinite combo.
Tithe - It's really strong and probably belongs in the deck, but I can't think of what creature to cut for it unfortunately. If it were on a 2CMC body I would play it daily, nightly, and ever so rightly.
Deadeye Navigator - My group has a soft ban on this guy but honestly I feel like he is a bit too mana intensive for the deck. You have to be very very careful about spending mana in this deck, and while Deadeye-Venser can win the game, it's often not as good as Aetherling who can protect himself from wraths.
Palinchron - He combos with Phantasmal Image for infinite mana and is a great creature for Ephara being reusable card draw and a pretty big flying body. He's just in competition with the only 7-drop I believe the deck has room for (Elesh Norn).
In the same way that Ephara can't afford to be playing Fact or Fiction, she can't afford to be playing creatures who solely exist to draw cards--mana doesn't grow on trees.
I wanted to update this section a little and say that 'bounce guys to your hand at instant speed' has gone up a bit in my estimation because of the new card Recruiter of the Guard (see above). I think having one of these in the deck is right, since recruiter can tutor for it and start a neverending value chain -- sometimes the chain of clones is incorrect or you want to keep some guys in your hand. The most common time I tutor for whitemane Lion is if I anticipate me or someone else wrathing soon, where it protects me from overcommitting to the board.
I still would not play additional bouncers, particularly more mana color intensive cards like Deputy of Acquittals (who also targets, which is a nonbo with Phantasmal image)
* Do I have an engine? Review the card options for more, but engines are methods of generating repeated card advantage usually off of Ephara. Land Tax, Sacred Mesa, Venser, the Sojourner and Heliod, God of the Sun are good examples. You usually want an engine or a way to tutor for one, but a good grip of creatures or ramp can do the trick.
* Do I have creatures? If you don't have at least two creatures, take a long look at the hand. Do you have a way to get more, or some alternate engine? Ephara requires you to put bodies on the board as a way to get more cards, so most good hands start with a couple on-curve creatures (either before or after Ephara).
* Will I be able to cast Ephara without drawing land? If you can't answer this question "YES YES YES!" mulligan that hand with the quickness. If you stall out on lands you'll rarely recover. Once Ephara is on, she'll draw you through most floods.
A good hand has a ramp spell, three lands, and a creature or two. A great hand has an engine in addition to these. The best hand is Land tax, Tundra, and a grip of action.
The early game is usually focused on ramping into Ephara. Your #1 goal is to play her asap. It's a common trap with this deck that I've fallen into myself to cast a strong 4 drop on turn 3 instead of Ephara. Resist the urge to do this. Casting that sweet Clever Impersonator as a copy of someone's Oracle of Mul Daya may seem sweet, but it's usually a way to slow yourself down on cards and playing into a wrath.
Hushwing Gryff or Aven Mindcensor occasionally. Getting your draws out of Ephara quickly is often the right play as it'll set you up for a stronger mid game.
It is usually the wrong decision to play more than one creature a turn unless you have extras. I almost always try hold at least one creature back, as playing being forced to replay Ephara with no creatures in hand is one of the worst spots this deck can be in.
Ideally, you will draw yourself into an engine if you don't have one and then run away with the game in the mid-game.
The best case scenario mid-game is that you've assembled one of the locks and an engine. You're drawing lots of cards and other people are casting one spell a turn or dealing with not being able to tutor, or some other annoying effect. If this is the case, I'll usually start eliminating people in threat order. Because this deck rarely combos off, you're probably going to be killing people with combat damage and not ridiculously quickly, so you've got to focus fire and get rid of the people likely to take your board state away.
The thing I usually look for when picking who to kill first is: Who can get rid of my board state and get rid of my enablers or Ephara? A mid-game wrath will usually put you way ahead since your creatures replace themselves, but a mid-game Merciless Eviction or Perilous Vault might stitch you up. Look to shut down or eliminate people who play the cards that will put you behind.
Lots of times I will wrath/sweep mid-game even if I'm ahead, if I think it'll slow other people down more than me. We don't have bombs like Craterhoof behemoth to turn a bunch of 1/1's into a win, so we need to watch out for people that do as well - many decks present unassuming board states.
Supreme Verdict you need as insurance.
Mid-game is usually where I used to regret not playing Mystical Tutor the most, as so many of our great answers are sorceries. Now with it and Spellseeker I'm finding the midgame a place where I regularly forget I need to get a wrath - but when I remember to play my tutors defensively, I tend to weather it pretty well.
It's also where I'm annoyed that I have a creature deck without green tutors. Remember just how versatile Enlightened Tutor is in this deck when you feel this way. I have in the past tried out Vedalken Æthermage to try to handle some of these weak points as it'd give me another avenue to many of my creature based answers to problem board states by finding Venser, Shaper Savant or Glen Elendra Archmage.
With the addition of Recruiter of the Guard and Intuition some of the former lack of consistency has faded from the deck as well. It's interesting to look back now and see where the deck used to struggle and how it's evolved past most of those challenges over the years.
At this stage of the game it's a great idea to do what you can to remove people's late game setup cards like mana doublers, big fat mana rocks, and similar if you can. I am always on the lookout for the opportunity to kill cards like Mana Reflection. Similarly, other people's draw engines are key targets. One exception here is that I will never, ever spend counterspells on things like this unless it's a bought back Forbid. I don't run a lot of counters and they're vital to preventing game winning plays later.
Because the deck plays a lot of great stall tactics and powerful topdeckable answers, strongly resist the urge to pack it in before you've seen every card you can. I've won numerous games with a timely topdeck and you can too.
Momir Vig, Simic Visionary, Maelstrom Wanderer, Omnath, Locus of Mana and similar. It's important to resist the urge to blow precious removal or counterspells on things that aren't going to make you lose.
The biggest threat late in the game is probably decks that can threaten to go over the top of any of your soft locks. Huge bombs like the aforementioned Craterhoof, Overwhelming Stampede, Genesis Wave and Insurrection are just not what we play and they can be difficult to answer if you counterspelled someone's Gilded Lotus earlier.
Because our few infinite combos are janky and improbable, doing good combat math is also important. We want to kill the most threatening guy first with the most efficient use of damage if at all possible. If you're going to kill someone with Ephara general damage, put all your other combat into someone else. Don't leave damage on the table - every point counts.
I started playing Ephara very soon after she was spoiled. The deck went through several iterations where I played more non-creature goodstuff but I gradually replaced almost all of the non-creature spells with creatures and have not looked back. I regularly watch new sets for ways to cut more non-creatures (see Stratus Dancer for one that was almost good enough).
The deck has been in its current form or very close to it for quite some time now with minor changes occurring regularly. I have not made any major paradigm shifts and don't intend to do so. Changes will be incremental and usually involve swapping one way of filling a role for another.
An example of how I think about the deck that I think will illustrate its history and evolution: At one point I ran another sweeper in the deck (Wrath of God) and an anthem in the form of Cathars' Crusade. Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite replaced both of those in my mental map of the deck and while she isn't quite the same as either she is able to fill both roles.
This is right about where I started to get serious about creature quality
-Moorland Haunt - Removed to
-Duplicant - Too mana intensive
-Brimaz, King of Oreskos - Dumb beater that doesn't do anything, too many fatties in my meta
-Saltskitter - Durdly donothing card
-Mirror Entity - Too mana intensive, don't use the Lark combo
+Pearl Medallion - Improve ramp consistency
+Angel of the Dire Hour - Tried this out as a sweeper, didn't like it.
+Dust Elemental - Really fun card, huge body, works well for Ephara
+elesh Norn, grand Cenobite - Added in a sweeper+pump slot, fills a lot of roles
+Eidolon of Rhetoric - Attempting to try out some rule of law effects to disrupt combos
Primarily mana base tweaking this time, but also trying out a few other engine cards for Ephara.
-Temple of the False God -Dead card a bunch, didn't work with my gameplan much
-Windbrisk Heights - Comes into play tapped
-Winding Canyons - doesn't produce mana, is very mana intensive
-Thassa, God of the Sea - usually doesn't turn on, and isn't good enough as an unblockable/scry engine. Doesn't trigger Ephara being the biggest problem.
-Marble Diamond - swapped for Enlightened Tutor
-Thraben Doomsayer Just not quite as good as cloudseeder. Flying tokens are relevant, despite costing cards and mana. May swap him back in if Cloudseeder doesn't work out.
-Luminarch Ascension - too much of a hate target really, turns you into public enemy #1.
-Whitemane Lion - all the reasons above. It's just durdly and doesn't fly or build board presence as much as I'd like. Usually feels better to focus on building board state while drawing my fuel.
+Nykthos, shrine to Nyx - good way to accelerate into some power plays later on
+Ancient Tomb - another T3 ephara tech, hopefully like it
+Cloudseeder - replaced Thraben Doomsayer
+Soul Warden - just winds up being very strong
+Enlightened Tutor - more options - can tutor for ramp or swords or sacred mesa
+Path to Exile - just really wanted another single target removal.
+Snapcaster Mage - Usually replaces himself with Ephara, and I upped the ratio of spells enough to make him good I think. ETutor and Path.
+Spirit of the Labyrinth - It's really, really good. No one ever wants to Wheel of Fortune or similar anymore and my hand refills itself fast if they do.
Getting rid of a dead card, adding another engine for Ephara.
-Spell Crumple - tuck change
+Skull Clamp - wanted for a while, alternate draw engine
Minor changes to address rule updates
-Counterspell - just worse than mana drain
-Batterskull - slow
+Helm of Possession - good answer to problem commanders, strong sac outlet
+Mana Drain - better than counterspell
-Path to Exile - Hated ramping people.
+Reality Shift - I got tired of ramping people, and being able to threaten removal with 1U is nice. Reality shift's interaction with people's topdeck manipulation is something I'd like to explore too--there's a decent amount of miracle abuse, and I'm happy to give people Temporal Mastery bears. I think I might miss the tempo of W exile removal but the ramping really was a problem.
This update was large but primarily aimed at increasing creature count and improving manabase consistency. Also trying out a few new cards I picked up, and trying out the improved sun titan/helm package.
+Flagstones of Trokair - Unnecessary
+Kor Haven - Mana intensive and needed for another dekc
+Marsh Flats - Fixing, improved mana base consistency
+Misty Rainforest - Fixing, improved mana base consistency
+Silver Myr - Fixing, improved mana base consistency
+Wayfarer's Bauble - Fixing, improved mana base consistency
+Leonin Relic-Warder - Artifact/enchantment removal, abusable with helm
+Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendant - Trying this guy out for creature protection.
+Karmic Guide - Awesome card I wanted back in for a while.
+Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit - Trying out this new card to see if I can up the clock a bit by pumping the team
+Fiend Hunter - Solid exiling, abusable with helm and sun titan
-Plains - Making space for new lands
-Plains - Making space for new lands
-Island - Making space for new lands
-Cavern of Souls - Doesn't do much in the deck
-Knight of the White Orchid - Doesn't ramp into Ephara
-Coldsteel Heart - Trying out other sources of ramp
-Sky Diamond - Trying out the myrs instead
-Sower of Temptation - Dies to doom blade
-Vedalken Aethermage - Little mana intensive
-Spirit of the Labyrinth - Never really seemed to hit
-Snapcaster Mage - Needed it for another deck, will be procuring another
Minor manabase tweaks to improve consistency.
More minor updates to improve manabase consistency. I've been missing land drops and struggling to make my colors lately.
I got my Linvala and decided to try cutting Restoration angel for it. This may not stick.
Linvala, Keeper of Silence
I found the warden/thune combo was just too hated on in my group, people went out of their way to remove the Angel the moment he dropped and he'd provide no value unless I had greaves out. Then a board wipe was incoming if I got the engine going. He's just not the right way to spend 5 mana in my current meta. Warden goes with him because she is much weaker without him.
Clamp, as discussed, just wound up being too mana intensive and not really all that useful in prosecuting my gameplan most of the time. It's weird that paying 3 mana for 2 cards is too much, but the issue is that it doesn't develop your board state while you use it, unlike Ephara, who draws you fuel while you develop lethal board.
I'm adding Muddle as discussed earlier for the synergy with all the awesome 2-drops. Will report out on how it goes; I suspect it might be too mana intensive, but the temptation to be able to fish for answers is too much.
Bribery is just probably the best way this deck can spend 5 mana. It'll cantrip with Ephara and possibly end the game.
Weathered Wayfarer is a Ranger target who can fetch me answer lands or ramp me really hard with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. Looking forward to trying it out. Nykthos has always been such a house that adding a way to dig for it seems good.
Removed Fiendhunter to try out Peacekeeper in his spot - since peacekeeper brings his own self-removal at an opportune time, and is pretty good with helm of possession and sun titan, decided to give him a go.
First changes in a while!
Removed Island for Prairie Stream - this is forever!
Removed Austere Command for Tragic Arrogance - This is probably just for testing. I feel like I'd like to lower my sweeper curve a little and this one lets me politically screw over a table and turn it on its side. Going to try it out.
Walking Atlas goes in for Gold Myr
Responding to a hostile meta with more board control elements.
Remove high market and eidolon of rhetoric
Add academy ruins and oblivion stone
-1 plains, +1 tolaria west to support Academy Ruins and Nykthos a little better. Seem to have plenty of basics.
-1 Æther vial, +1 oreskos explorer - Vial has been a bit sketchy for me lately, wanted to try out oreskos explorer for the fixing and figured I'd give it a go.
-1 Tragic arrogance - This just never quite got there for me.
+1 Thalia's lancers - I think this card will do a lot for the deck, tutoring up win conditions and answers and such. Should be powerful. Tutoring for creatures has always been one of this deck's biggest lacks. I may try upping the legend count a little eventually.
-voidmage husher -- just the only 4 drop cut I could think of, gotten a little slow in my meta.
-mana drain -- I traded mine off so time to cut it.
+spell queller - yeah.
+identity thief - I think this card is going to be insane. I hope I'm right. It's certainly bonkers with gilded drake, but not sure what else it's good for yet. Maybe I'll get to live the blightsteel colossus dream
Since adding Thalia's Lancers I really wanted jitte. Identity thief was bad. Oreskos explorer was bad. Impersonator is great, but think inferior to recruiter. Clique was just meh. I have really, really missed vial and am looking forward to having it back.
My group's just not been using stuff that mindcensor punishes and the bird tends to be kinda centralizing. I want to try out retainers and it's the best fit.
Bribery, while a strong card, is one I can do without since it costs 5 mana--going to test the artisans. Feels like it could be really strong in the deck--if it's out while Ephara's out, you're going to generate absurd amounts of value.
My group's basically given up on enforcing a sol ring ban since we've been doing more shop play, so I swapped one in for my wayfarer's bauble.
In Cyclonic Rift
Peacekeeper turned out to generally be too mana intensive and often a double edged sword. Someone reminded me that Muddle can tutor for rift so I added that as a reasonable wincon.
In Mana Crypt
Out Walking Atlas
So I replaced the worst mana dork in the deck with the best mana rock ever printed and I don't feel bad about it at all.
In Austere Command
I haven't catastrophe'd for lands in a while and I have been dying for another enchantment/artifact sweeper for a while, figured I'd try austere again. It used to be very good and the pendulum has swung toward enchantments a lot lately in my meta.
I saw a shiny foil, figured I'd try it. It's probable seachrome should stay in but it's really frustrating how often it's just an etb tapped unfetchable wastelandable mountain or whatever. had to cut somewhere.
+Angel of Condemnation
I just think mana drain is a lot more efficient, despite desertion being very strong in the deck. A buddy of mine picked one up for me overseas that was very cheap so there it goes. Maybe I'll have the opportunity to trade it toward a foil or something before they get reprinted
I decided to try swapping angel in for faerie artisans which has never been particularly good. Seems worth trying despite the mana inefficiency.
-Heliod, God of the Sun
Heliod has been on the cutlist for many games. He's just so dang slow. I'd love my deck to be faster and he's one of the worst cards, so I'm cutting him to make room for As Foretold which I feel has a strong chance of being super good in the deck. Our desire to play on everyone's turn really shines there, and with the additional ways of getting whitemane Lion the desire is amplified. I'll keep you posted with how it goes.
I got an RPTQ promo snapcaster mage so I'm swapping that in. Also unexpectedly absent is a bit more flexible than reality shift.
-Angel of Condemnation
I picked up a foil Timestream Navigator to try out as a combo outlet with Recruiter of the guard and cloudstone curio. I replaced the card that's been the worst for a while now (Grand Abolisher). I will update the main deck notes if Timestream turns out to be good.
Cutting Aetherling to trial out Eldrazi Displacer which is something I've wanted to test for a while. They fulfill a fairly similar role and I've been reluctant to cast aetherling for a while due to its high mana investment.
Trying cutting my Return to Dust for more mana efficient (if desperate) and also winconditiony Capsize.
Cutting Island for an Inventors' Fair a card which I think is very good in the deck. May prove to be the wrong mana cut, but I think we can support it. Also facilitates Displacer.
Here's hoping it's good -- feels like the non-creature count might be getting close to playing Monastery Mentor, but considering that still.
Cut Sword of Light and Shadow
This card is just very strong and Sword was the only thing I could think to cut for it. I've played it in a few games and Spellseeker is definitely the truth.
Cut Mother of Runes - alas, mother of runes has done such great things in this deck but since moving on from the ranger package her power is less present, so she gets cut for new hotness.
Add Remorseful Cleric - This is more graveyard hate that we want, that can be really oppressive if we start reveillarking / sun titaning it. Really looking forward to trying this out
Small round of cuts
Navigator is a card I think is very strong, but I have found the mana requirements a bit intense. I don't think it's necessarily wrong to play but want to try something different.
Aether vial is a card that I've noticed clogging my hand a lot; its ceiling is extremely high but the floor is super low. Tithe adds a low curve spell that will almost always result in +1 card and help me achieve Emeria.
Archaeomancer has been on my list and I somehow managed to find a way to swap it in without having to take out Snaps, which I am happy with. I think it may prove to be too mana intensive.
Boreas Charger is a card I wanted to try that seems like it will generally perform better than As Foretold in most situations. AF seems best in openers, but Charger can be strong at any point of the game and cantrips with ephara. Cut As Foretold to make room.
Cut Tolaria West for Myriad Landscape - just felt this would make my mana a little more consistent, and getting double plains is really powerful with Emeria.
Cut Sakashima's Student for body Double - a change I'd been meaning to make and forgot to do.
I have been wanting more sweepers, and it's really nice to get a new engine card. I'm sure I'll add a section to the primer about it at some point.
Flickerwisp, Lancers and Austere are generally just the worst cards here I could pull for things, though I still like all three of them as options.
Add Evacuation remove Teferi's Protection.
Teferi's protection has not been good in this deck. I don't generate the kind of board states it's good for protecting and I am almost always the control deck these days. It rarely will buy me the time to combo out. I need something more reusable and better at stopping aggressive decks for longer.
So I'm gonna try starting smallish with the aggro plan:
-Trophy mage has just not been what I want to be doing mostly lately. Too slow. Not getting any other creatures is a big issue too.
-Boreas Charger I *still have never drawn* no idea why. But I owe someone an apology on smothering tithe, it's turned out to be almost the format's most defining white card. so I have to at least try it and this is the only thing I can cut.
Smothering Tithe - I think another way to generate really big mana is worth trying, and I think I misjudged this card initially. Going to try it anyway.
Windborn Muse - really need to try to do something to stave off some early aggro deaths.
Cut Venser, the Sojourner
add Tidespout Tyrant
Venser has been such a theme of the deck for so long but people never let him ultimate anymore and without ultimatting he's not really that great. Sometimes he locks with Gilded Drake but so does tidespout, and it also blocks and cantrips. I suspect Tidespout may be worse than Stormtide Leviathan or Avacyn, or even possibly Kederekt Leviathan, but I am going to just start experimenting in that slot.
CUT inventors' fair
ADD riptide laboratory
I think this slot may wind up going to any number of colorless lands before I get it right, or might go back to just another fetch, but going to experiment with this.
Shortest trip ever, played once when it was wayyyy too mana inefficient and then I traded for a vista.
Cut riptide laboratory
add prismatic vista
Cut Blasting Station
Add Altar of Dementia
With the cut of trophy mage, station is no longer more tutorable, and I have muddle and e-tutor.
I believe Altar will beat a lot more things (such as hexproof) and is cheaper, and also functions as a full sac outlet to protect my board from exile and potentially bounce. It also lets me protect Ephara from bounce consistently by killing enough things to stop her from being a creature as needed.
New meta is much more artifacty than previously. Canonist is a bit of a liability.
Cut ethersworn canonist
add eidolon of rhetoric
Since I shaved a lot of the artifacts ruins has been quite a bit worse anyway.
I suspect the o stone package may come back in. But it has been mostly too expensive, though it does win games sometimes. I mainly want to try Cleansing Nova there to be a bit more mana efficient.
Jitte has been on the bubble for a while as it's just such a tempo problem with the sweepers - just haven't wanted to cast it most of the time much less pay to equip it.
I saved the previous version of the deck so easy enough to revert, but I think this is my best idea for trying to run some of the more powerful spells I want to.
Trying out Mastery of the Unseen in the enchantment finisher slot, cutting Sacred mesa. I suspect this is a temporary move but I have been very impressed with Mastery in another deck and Mesa has been mostly Meh for a while due to the sacrifice effect and my increase in reactive spells.
My hope is the lifegain and increased tutorability combined with increasing my ability to get through my deck to important cards will come in handy.
Cut Brazen borrower feels like most likely to be upside over capsize -- though there are times it's much worse, it's also much better sometimes.
Cut monastery mentor
add faerie artisans
Mentor has been a touch weaker than expected and it's the only real flexible slot for another powerful engine. I expect artisans to be quite good in the new meta that's quite a bit more creature heavy.
cut nimbus maze
add arid mesa
cut mastery of the unseen
add charming prince
Cut mistveil plains add nimbus maze
This has been a super hard decision but I think I need the extra colorless source. Displacer has become a really important part of the deck, and I have found myself constrained on colorless sources a number of times. And I would not mind shaving an ETB tapped land.
I have not activated Mistveil plains in over a year, so I think it can go as a trial.
cut dig through time and temple of enlightenment
add scalding tarn and nadir kraken
I got foil nadir kraken and a foil thassa, so thassa goes in and kraken gets a foil shiny symbol.
Cut tidespout tyrant
Add Thassa, deep-dwelling
Cut Skycloud Expanse
Add Sea of Clouds
Just a small manabase tweak. Since adding the fetches I think I can sustain a slightly more flexible land.
cut terminus and cleansing nova
add force of will and fierce guardianship
This is a change I've wanted to make for a while to give a try to some more free counterspells; I've found myself wanting them a lot.
2020-05-22 - Major testing modification
Probably a lot of stuff won't last in here from these changes but a lot of stuff has been on the bubble now and then too. I really am going to miss relic warder but I think deputy might do the job there and being able to pop walkers and big creatures is nice. Worth a try anyway. I like that it can come back off Sun titan.
Cut 2 plains
Add 1 island 1 Mystic Sanctuary
Feels like I need to rebalance my island count a bit with the move to more blue spells. I may add some more yet. Mystic sanctuary feels like a really nice option to have -- might be better to play this than Salvager of Secrets so that card is definitely on the watch list.
2020-07-15 - Paper changes!
I have a feeling there's going to be a bit of a reckoning soon as there're a ton of cards I want to try and I've been enjoying the paper list with the slow blink stuff a bit, but just want to get the deck moderately ready for playing with people again. It still has the palinchron combo but no idea how long that'll last
2020-07-24 Paper update
Reverting to my previous favorite combo; paper needs a bit of a combo since people don't scoop as aggressively as they do online.
deputy of detention
archon of emeria
Want to try some new cards, these cards have not really performed great