Did you know that Commander 2016 brought us 105 different commanders? Well with the new Partner mechanic and 15 different creatures being printed with it, we can combine them into 105 different pairs to allow for insane amounts of brewing. We here at Frantic Talks have decided to tackle this seemingly insane task and will bring you two articles a week covering the partners, starting with the way they were given to you in each deck (four color pairs), then moving into the wedges, shards, and guilds!
I was excited to learn about the Partner mechanic. Nothing like having tons of options for commanders with a plethora of potential synergies, right? As we will come to learn through this series not all the partners have clear-cut synergies, but today’s topic comes straight from the Breed Lethality deck: Reyhan and Ishai – the +1/+1 counter loving duo.
If I had to pick my least favorite color in Magic, it’d probably be Red. The lack of late game Red has is very depressing to me. Being a Commander player first, I have seen how weak Red is in the format. So with that in mind, I decided to buy the Breed Lethality deck. A deck without Red seemed to be pretty awesome, and boy was I right on that assumption. The deck was a powerhouse. The synergies were plentiful and rather apparent: stick a fat creature with counters and prosper. The amount of times I played a creature and, at minimum, doubled its power by my next turn was absurd.
Reyhan and Ishai want to stay on the battlefield for more than a turn, it is how they were designed. So with that in mind we must find ways to protect them while also using their abilities to the best of our capabilities. Seems pretty straight-forward right? Well we have to make sure we pack enough of each avenue to maximize our chances of winning, so let’s dive into the main idea: +1/+1 counters.
Building Over Time
Reyhan likes for us to have +1/+1 counters on our creatures. Her ability gets the most from this since it protects our investment into those creatures by putting the counters elsewhere should they perish. Assuming we have more than one creature on the battlefield, Reyhan laughs in the face of targeted removal.
Ishai wants your opponents to play spells. This is usually a dangerous route since a good amount of spells you will go up against will either be threats or removal, either targeted or board wipes, but with Reyhan on the battlefield you have less of an issue in that category. Ishai benefits from us countering our opponent’s spells since her ability triggers upon casting. We’ll talk more about counterspells later.
On top of these two, the deck already comes with some great creatures in the form of Kalonian Hydra, Master Biomancer, Ghave, and Forgotten Ancient. These cards are great on their own and only get better with Reyhan. Forgotten Ancient is Ishai on steroids and Biomancer makes your creatures better just by existing.
Kalonian Hydra and Ghave are powerful, but with doubling effects they get out of hand, fast. Doubling Season is basically an auto-include. I know it isn’t creative, but it is ridiculously good in this deck. The deck already has Corpsejack Menace who really is a menace because doubling counters gets absurd if you have enough of it. Just imagine attacking with Kalonian Hydra while having Doubling Season and Corpsejack on the battlefield. That is terrifying.
Now these aren’t the only creatures that like +1/+1 counters and they aren’t the only “bonus” counters abilities in the deck. I’d bore you by going through all of them, but a lot of the “out of the box” deck won’t be changed too much because it has so much synergy already. Hydras, Crystalline Crawler, Juniper Order Ranger, Hardened Scales, and Cathars’ Crusade are just some of the seemingly endless amount of counter synergists that exist in this deck.
There is one little issue though. The danger of +1/+1 counters is similar to that of the danger of enchantment auras: going all in on one creature is high risk but high reward. We need to protect our creatures, and there is more than one way to protect them beyond counter magic.
Persist is a mechanic I adore. Headline puns aside, the ability allows for a creature to eat a removal spell and can often cause 2-for-1s which is great in the realm of attrition. Persist creatures have very unique abilities which usually revolve around the entering the battlefield, so usually you get two effects from your persisters (one from casting and one from their first death). Wouldn’t it be cool to have their abilities more than that?
The good news is that we can! Persist cares about -1/-1 counters. The ability checks if the creature had a -1/-1 counter on it before it died and then will return it to the battlefield with one if not. So ideally you want to get rid of those counters, right? +1/+1 counters and -1/-1 counters negate each other meaning a creature with equal amount of both has zero counters. Basically, Cathars’ Crusade can make your creature with Persist die and comeback the same size as before. Pretty bonkers right?
The deck already tries to give persist to your creatures , but with only one single card: Cauldron of Souls. At a whopping five mana we can give everything instant speed Persist on our side and continue to do so every time we untap. But what else can give our team persist? Well the only other option, beyond playing creatures that just plain have Persist, is Cauldron Haze. For two mana we can grant our team Persist at instant speed, but it is only a one-time use. So we don’t have much in terms of granting Persist, but if we take a look at existing Persist creatures, we find that these creatures are pretty powerful.
Just looking at the above list I see some pretty insane abilities. River Kelpie draws us a ton of cards assuming our things die (or if Flashback cards are popular with your opponents). Puppeteer Clique can take an opponent’s creature card and use it against them and then permanently remove it. Woodfall Primus can start blowing up noncreature permanents which gets ridiculous assuming we can abuse this. Heartmender acts as another way to remove -1/-1 counters assuming our Reyhan somehow doesn’t trigger or wasn’t on the battlefield. Glen Elendra makes one crazy good reusable counterspell. And the list goes on.
Be warned: Doubling Season is somewhat of a nombo with Persist. If you don’t have a way to put +1/+1 counters on your Persist creatures, they’ll enter with two -1/-1 counters, meaning your Glen Elendra only counters one spell instead of two.
Other Forms of Protection
So now that we have an engine of +1/+1 counters and our creatures are recurring themselves with great persistence, we have to make sure we can protect them beyond Persist. In a two-person duel the persist every turn would make it rather easy to keep our guys on the battlefield. But with a bigger playgroup (and by extension, larger creatures), a big target on your back you will have. I’d say that having to survive two board wipes before your untap step is definitely a possibility. With only 2 ways to give persist to our creatures and the potential to not have Reyhan out means we should probably pack plenty of counterspells. But because we are running four colors, we want to try and keep the mana cost to as little restriction as possible.
Counterspell is definitely the best unconditional counterspell out there, hence the name, but having two blue could be problematic if we aren’t running something like Chromatic Lantern or are overloaded on basic lands. My suggestions are more conditional spells, like Arcane Denial, Remand, Bant Charm, and Clash of Wills. Remand is the weakest one here but being able to stall an opponent’s board wipe (or removal spell) until your next untap step might be all you need to keep your army alive.
Board wipes are something you absolutely need in your commander deck. The good news is that we have ways of combating board wipes. Sometimes we will need to sacrifice our creatures for the greater good of the game, but the upside of this trade off is that we have crazy power in each of our creatures. The suite of board wipes you run is up to you, but the most optimal list is Wrath of God, Day of Judgment, Damnation, and Supreme Verdict. These are a bit restrictive in mana cost, but looking at all the board wipes that fall in our colors these are the cheapest to cast. Plus, nearly all of the other board wipes in these colors fall into conditional category or similarly restrictive mana cost category. What you run is really your preference here.
The stock mana base in this deck is pretty good because most of the spells aren’t very restrictive in mana cost. Nothing in the deck will cost more than two of one single color but we should still try and have the most versatile deck. It’s easy for me to say “add all ten fetch lands along with all applicable shocks and duals” without considering your wallet, but that truly is the most optimal way to go. Add what you can afford/already have and seek budget options like dual colored pain lands, scry lands, and life gain lands (or whatever duals you prefer). Beyond that you should absolutely run Gavony Township. It is just too good not to play in this deck. Depending on the amount of doubling you can achieve it can take over games fast.
Last Few Notes
To wrap up this post I must mention some cards I’ve added and some cool combos I’ve found in the deck upon playing it. Out of the box there is some crazy synergy with Ghave and Cathar’s Crusade. Using Crystalline Crawler we can basically go infinite with tokens and make our other creature’s infinitely big. Lorescale Coatl is one of my favorite cards because it just naturally gets bigger over time. This deck won’t have you drawing a ton of cards, but River Kelpie and Fathom Mage get along with the Coatl quite nicely and should help you refill your hand once you’ve exhausted it. And you probably have already seen it but Atraxa and Odric make for a powerful team.
I hope you are as excited for the new opportunities these commanders give us as I am. This long series is going to test our creative deck building abilities and I hope that it inspires you to dig deep into the endless possibilities they give us. As always, I hope this helped you with your next EDH deck and happy brewing!