July 30, 2015

Willbreaking the Format

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A few weeks ago I shared Magic Origins's Willbreaker with the world. It was a lovely Johnny-meets-my-birthday surprise that led me to consider a thematic deck built around Skeleton Ship. You know, Skeleton Ship, that wildly popular blue-black commander everyone raves about and is all-too-common on the battlefield?

Skeleton Ship | Art by Amy Weber & Tom Wänerstrand

While Skeleton Ship is an obvious-but-doesn't-light-up-the-rest-of-the-world commander for Willbreaker, there are many other legendary creatures in the blue-black sphere that entice Commander aficionados.

And it was time I built a control deck with Silumgar's Command. I really love that card.


The Black and the Blue

Fortunately, to help me see what's possible with a blue and black Commander deck, I asked the lot of you to tell me what to use. It turns out a horde of you like to leave your opponents the same colors you're playing and have clever ways to explain that, like Quinten:

Handle building a blue-black Commander deck with Willbreaker in it.

I would start by putting it in my Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind deck. But that ain't blue-black . . .

So that wasn't helpful at all for me, but it made me laugh out loud. If you ever had a doubt I read your submissions let this be a reminder I do.

Fortunately, Alan was there with the save:

Making a commander deck usually takes me a few months, but here are some thoughts on what would be on my short list for the main themes.

I think I'd have to copy you, as Skeleton Ship seems the best blue-black general for taking advantage of Willbreaker.

As with your deck, Cowardice and Dismiss into Dream work with Skeletal.

And I'd also steal your Teferi, Temporal Archmage to target four permanents. Usually those would be your own, stealing is a great new twist to this Planeswalker.

Cauldron of Souls is also a great choice for multiple targets.

Other Planeswalkers that target: Tamiyo; Liliana of the Dark Realms; Jace, the Living Guildpact; and Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

A few spells that give creatures negative P/T could work well, giving you the option of killing small creatures or just targeting larger creatures.

With -1/-1 counters and Planeswalkers, proliferate seems ideal. Contagion Clasp, Contagion Engine, Inexorable Tide are favorites. Core Prowler and Viral Drake offer infect too. More infect and wither may also be helpful. Blight Sickle, Corrosive Mentor, and Oona's Gatewarden always seem like good bang for your buck.

There are so many cards that do great things to do with -1/-1 counters I think my short list would include:

Blowfly Infestation, Carnifex Demon, Crumbling Ashes, Grim Poppet, Harbinger of Night, Incremental Blight, Necroskitter, Quagmire Lamprey, Soul Snuffers, Unstable Mutation, Vedalken Anatomist, and (best of all) Shambling Swarm.

The downside of losing the counters becomes a boon when you steal control of the creatures.

Chainbreaker, Leech Bonder, and Giant Oyster for removing counters from your creatures. Though the Giant Oysters method takes a couple of turns, I love to find ways to use cards that are unexpected. Putting on +1/+1 counters is another route for removing -1/-1 counters. With ways to get rid of -1/-1 counters, Glen Elendra Archmage gets even better.

Then there's the problem of shroud and hexproof. Arcane Lighthouse and Glaring Spotlight are my candidates.

River Kelpie to get card draw from persisting.

Astral Cornucopia, Everflowing Chalice and Coalition Relic are a few of the good mana rocks that like proliferate. Likewise City of Shadows and Dreadship Reef for land options. Also Æther Vial, Powder Keg, Ratchet Bomb and Lux Cannon like it for their effects, as do Night Dealings and Jar of Eyeballs for getting cards you may want.

My first pass at a deck featuring Willbreaker went all-in on the theme of targeting opponents' creatures. Alan doubled down on this theme with more suggestions that fit into the wheelhouse.

Alan's point here is awesome, but a step away from what I feel I want to play. I like Willbreaker and plan to play with the theme, but I'd also like to do more than aim for two or three cards in the deck to be in play to perform at peak capacity. Options—more than the deck needs—to fill out a theme makes it easier, but I'd also like those cards to have utility beyond synergy with Willbreaker and friends.

Keegan stretched the definition of "blue and black" deck but nailed the end-goals I wanted to achieve:

I don't have a full brainstormed decklist to provide you Adam, but I do believe I can help you glean some information on how to abuse Willbreaker from my Sliver Overlord deck (which is decidedly not Slivers) which will be slotting in Willbreaker shortly, and which has a Dismiss into Dream subtheme to boot. Cheap, repeatable ways to target are king to abusing Willbreaker and Dismiss into Dream. And the more you can do it the better.

Here's the list, for reference

Keegan's Silver Overlord Commander

COMMANDER: Sliver Overlord
Artifact (2)
1 Claws of Gix 1 Sol Ring
Tribal instant (2)
1 Crib Swap 1 Nameless Inversion
Other (1)
1 RnD's Secret Lair
99 Cards

So there's a bunch of silly stuff going on here, but there are a couple important things that playing this deck has taught me.

  1. Taking peoples' stuff is unpopular. You better have a way to survive hate.

  2. Build around the "target a thing" mechanic can be busted. It's easily the best thing this deck can do.

  3. The best way to abuse this is cheap or free stuff, and repeatable stuff.

This deck plays a number of examples, not all of which fit into blue-black, but they have their own upsides, food for thought.

Goblin Sharpshooter, Trap Runner, Vhati il-Dal, Tolaria, Unnatural Selection, Minamo, Griffin Canyon, Desert are repeatable, cheap, have other uses, or are a combination of those traits.

Additional support cards include:

  • Kamahl, who takes lands.

  • Memnarch, slotting the combo into one card.

  • Privileged Position, which is a great way to add to the survivability of my commander plus Unnatural Selection.

  • Claws of Gix, which is a useful sac outlet that can be transmuted for, keeping the attitude that, if I can't have it, you can't get it back.

  • Also, soft prison/stax elements play well with the Willbreaker effect.

Cheers, and I hope this insight is useful.

Sneaking Secret Lair into the mix there was a clever one, Keegan. But my love of the card means nothing in the face of keeping a legal Commander deck in my hands. However, the functionality of cards that work with Willbreaker, and on their own, to control games was perfect for my purposes.

Using your cumulative feedback and thoughts I built a Commander deck that put Willbreaker and more to work at wearing everyone down. I took the cue to expand to a third color and I used that opportunity to finally nail down an Oloro, Ageless Ascetic deck I've also been itching to create.

Here's where I ended up:

Stybs's Oloro, Willbreaker

COMMANDER: Oloro, Ageless Ascetic
99 Cards

The deck is pretty straightforward, and includes many of my hallmarks when building my own takes on things:

Alhammarret's Archive | Art by Richard Wright


The Eternal Struggle

Is my Willbreaker-meets-Oloro deck any good? Well, that's for this year's Gen Con for me to find out. As you read this I'll be prowling the convention for a variety of reasons, one of which is getting in great games of Commander.

That's the point here too. While I have plenty of ways to slow down and stretch out the value I generate in games, I'm also wary it's not punchy enough to close out battles either. I'm going to get focus-fired whether I'm ready for it or not, but I'll also have ways to curry political favors for a little gain along the way.

Which leads me to this week's question: How do you handle being in "the king's throne" when you're leading a game of Commander?

  • Feedback via email, in English
  • 300 word limit to explain how you play while ahead in the game
  • Sample decklist (does not count against word limit)
  • Decklists should be formatted with one card per line with just a leading number, such as "3 Mountain"—just a space (no "x" or "-") between the number and the card name, without subtotals by card type (Submissions that don't follow this rule will be ignored.)
  • Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column)
  • Your Twitter handle if you use it

Being behind is often a comfortable spot to play from: Other players let actions and plays slide they may otherwise take action against. When you're ahead—or perceived to be ahead—in the game, the tables often turn quickly. Innocuous plays like finding another land or casting an otherwise awkward card gets everyone's attention and interest. It isn't always fair, but taking aim in a loose alliance against the leader is all-too-common in Commander. Tell me how you sweat it out in the sweet seat on top.

Join us next week when we take a look at how to handle the mess of Planeswalkers my deck is planning to muster. See you then!



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