The Top Shelf
On the Hunt for Combos (Commander)
16 Jul 2020 - 15 min read
Welcome back to another article in The Top Shelf series. This week we will be dipping back into the well of commander precons. C20 featured the return of Partners with, a mechanic I found very interesting and was happy to see again. I think that Partners with outshines the original Partners mechanic because it allows the design team to build in bespoke synergies or game plans with a lower risk of accidentally creating something overpowered. In an effort to branch out from my comfort colors of Naya, I’ll be looking at a Sultai deck this week! (I won’t give up green, you can’t make me. I have rights!)
Cazur, Ruthless Stalker and Ukkima, Stalking Shadow are great partners, where the synergy immediately jumps out at you. Swing in with Ukkima to get buffs from Cazur and quickly snowball into a commander damage win or burn for a bunch when your whale wolf leaves the battlefield. In this article we will be exploring a build that falls into this high synergy, partner focused, category and a very interesting competitive take utilizing Food Chain combos.
The Power to Bite
Let’s jump into our budget list first. The deck should run you under $200 and offer a well-tuned gameplan. It will focus on beefing up Ukkima, Stalking Shadow to land powerful hits and to punish our opponents for removing him.
We want Ukkima’s growth to be permanent, so we are going to be focusing mainly on +1/+1 counters as opposed to combat tricks and temporary buffs. When building this deck, my mind immediately jumped to cards like Hardened Scales , Winding Constrictor , and Corpsejack Menace . These cards will give us significant incremental growth to bolster the counters we are already building up on Ukkima. Strategies that rely on counters always love Proliferate, so we can toss in Thrummingbird and Inexorable Tide as well. Finally, I always find it helpful to sometimes just win the game, so let’s have Simic Ascendancy as our cherry on top.
There are a few all-star cards when it comes to +1/+1 counters we get to include that I’m very excited about. Reyhan, Last of the Abzan is great at saving the counters from our dying creatures and getting them back on Ukkima where they belong. Forgotten Ancient also does a great job of sharing the wealth of +1/+1 counters, eventually funneling them onto our favorite Whale Wolf. Vorel of the Hull Clade and Hydra’s Growth let us stomp on the gas and kill our opponents much faster by just doubling the counters on Ukkima. Speaking of killing our opponents quickly… Don’t tell anyone I told you, but Tainted Strike is super gross in this deck and you should absolutely run it. I can’t say it’ll win you friends but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t win games.
Now that Ukkima is big, we’ve painted a target on our backs. People will try to lock him down but may be careful about killing him for fear of the damage he’ll do when he dies. I expect to see a fair amount of hate aimed at us as soon as Ukkima’s any larger than 6/6. We can always try to prevent his destruction, but then we have to go through the whole rigmarole that is the commander tax and dodging counterspells. Instead let’s just swerve that and blink that boi! Displace and Ghostly Flicker are spells that will help us save Ukkima and Cazur from any targeted removal. Evacuation and Flood of Tears act as the nuclear option, allowing us to fully reset the board, sometimes we even get to put Ukkima or another key creature right back into play.
Under the Sea:
Darlin blue’s better, down where it’s wetter, take it from me! Let’s talk draw. In our last Top Shelf article we were relying on green to move through our deck… Spoiler: that’s not very good. In this deck we’ll still be looking to green for cards like Greater Good to help with drawing cards, but now that we have blue and black a lot of new doors are open to us. Cold-Eyed Selkie and Edric, Spymaster of Trest will work very well with Cazur, Ruthless Stalker , allowing us to get more benefits from our attacks and draw some cards. Mystic Remora , also known as THE FISH, will be a great draw tool for us. You’ll never get tired of interrupting your friends with “You gonna pay four for that?” (Another spoiler: they probably won’t be paying four) Of One Mind and Treasure Cruise let you draw multiple cards for one mana in a lot of situations, which is really gonna help us find our powerful cards. Finally, shoutout to Tezzeret’s Gambit for being a totally fine draw spell that also gives us more proliferate.
Read the Bones is a classic example of Black’s style of draw, turning in some small portion of your life for resources. Sign in Blood and Night’s Whisper are both similar draw options, so we’ll be running both of those as well. When we combine black with blue we get some unique draw adjacent effects. Fallen Shinobi and Mythos of Brokkos are great examples of resource generation that don’t necessarily fit into the category of draw.
Now that we can move through our deck even faster, we want a lot of mana to play as many of these awesome cards as quickly as possible. There’s not a ton of unique ramp in here so I’ll keep this quick. We’re gonna run a standard set of mana dorks like Llanowar Elves and Elvish Mystic as a baseline. Then drop in a nice mix of ramp sorceries. Migration Path is a nice new ramp spell, but who could forget the classics such as Kodama’s Reach and Cultivate . We’ll put all of ‘em in just to be safe. Spells like this are actually going to work really well with Evolution Sage to keep those counters growing.
So, we have our battle plan and our pack (pod? pock? We’ll stick with pack) behind us. Now let’s start circling in for the kill. Blue and black are going to give us the ability to easily disrupt our opponent’s game plan as we are working on our own. Counterspell is the OG, but Arcane Denial is a personal favorite. Conditional counterspells and removal are often a great include. It’s pretty easy to find options where either the condition is easy to manipulate or accidentally achieve. Drown in the Loch is a great card in this category. Finally, cards like Putrefy and Beast Within will help us clear out any final permanents stopping Ukkima from going in for the kill.
That’s the full story for our first deck. As usual I’ve included some options that you may want to toss in from the maybe board depending on your preference or meta. Take a look at the full list below and let’s head onto our next deck!
In R’lyeh We Wait Dreaming
Now, the competitive version of this deck is much better known than the Atla Palani, Nest Tender deck from last week, but I’m still excited to give my take on it. As I mentioned earlier, we’re going to be mainly looking for a Food Chain combo to win the game. Eternal Scourge and Misthollow Griffin are both able to be cast from exile after they’re banished to the shadow realm via Food Chain . This will allow us to generate one additional colored mana (which can only be spent on creatures) each time we go through the loop. Repeat said loop an infinite amount of times and Boom! infinite mana! This will allow us to repeatedly cast, Ukkima, Stalking Shadow , who when exiled or returned to the command zone is able to damage equal to his power. So we’ll be looking to end most games by spending our infinite mana casting and exiling him over and over again, wiping the table.
I personally do not like Thassa’s Oracle . I think Demonic Consultation and Tainted Pact wins with this card are far too generic and easy to pull off in any UBX shell, BUT! This is one of those UBX shells, so we’ll be running them and I’ll find another time or article to offer my full opinion on this. Jace, Wielder of Mysteries will act as a nice backup to the Oracle.
If you happen to feel the same as me, it’s actually really easy to swap out these four cards with Deadeye Navigator , Peregrine Drake , and Palinchron . This also eliminates the need for a singleton manabase, which can help cut down on deck cost. In this version we just create infinite mana then blink Ukkima for the win, instead of exiling him with Food Chain .
On the Hunt… For Our Combo
Now that we know how to win with this version of the deck, let’s sniff out those combo pieces. Standard black and blue draw are going to help us build a solid foundation to find the cards we’re looking for. Necropotence and Notion Thief will be able to hopefully allow us to draw a lot of cards at once. While we’ll be running some of the more ubiquitous draw spells, like Ponder , Brainstorm , and other cantrips, we get to run some very weird cards that border on being tutors because we are a Food Chain deck. Foresight and Manipulate Fate let us pre-exile either Eternal Scourge or Misthollow Griffin . Extract will also enable our Food Chain combos, but can be used to remove key combo pieces from your opponent’s decks if it comes to it.
There are more cards that ride this line between tutoring and drawing cards. Lim-Dul’s Vault and Plunge Into Darkness will allow us to seek specific combo pieces or key cards we need in a moment. These cards are very powerful, but if you play in a meta where chip damage and life total is relevant they should probably be used as a last resort to either lock in your win or stop someone else’s. Almost all of our tutors will be split between those that only find creatures and those that can help us find anything we’d like. Worldly Tutor and Neoform will help us find our creature based win-conditions, but generic tutors can help find those as well. Grim Tutor , Demonic Tutor , and Vampiric Tutor are all going to be awesome for us. We can hunt down any card we need pretty cheaply and efficiently.
Cazur is Still Here… Kinda
Unlike the more casual version of the deck, Cazur is probably not going to be in play much. He does offer his friend Ukkima certain benefits though, if you know what I mean… Yeah, I’m talking about green ramp. We’ll be stuffing our deck to the gills with mana dorks and other spells to speed up our curve. Bloom Tender and Arbor Elf are often great choices for multi colored decks, as they can generate multiple mana and/or multiple colors of mana. Wall of Roots and Elvish Spirit Guide are great for generating mana quickly and immediately if the need arises. Alternatively, Deathrite Shaman exile key cards from our opponents’ graveyards, potentially even saving a game, when we aren’t using it for mana. For non-creature based mana sources, Carpet of Flowers is still just as good as it was last week. The list of mana artifacts we’ll be running is the same as last week. I’ll be looking more into cool artifacts and artifact focused decks in the future, but for right now I’m not a big enough expert to make any hot takes.
To be clear, Cazur isn’t just in the deck to activate our ramp cards. He also turns on some of our powerful interaction spells. Abrupt Decay and Assassin’s Trophy are great removal tools in the deck, that Cazur can brag wouldn’t be around if it weren’t for him. We can also enjoy tilting our friends who play standard with Veil of Summer and it’s slightly less cool cousin Autumn’s Veil . As nice as it is that Cazur is here to hang out, let’s just have another round of applause for Ukkima allowing us to run the powerful counterspells and tech cards in UB.
Your Opponents Trying to Win? Just Say No.
Counterspells are one of the most powerful tools in magic. “Counter target spell” is up there for the three best words to put on a card. So let’s take a look at some of the best counterspells for the format, the ones you don’t even have to spend mana on! Force of Negation is unbelievably powerful, while hitting the wallet a bit more gently than Force of Will . If you have both, I would absolutely suggest running them in tandem but I’ll be sticking with Negation. Speaking of negation, Pact of Negation is great for winning the game, when there won’t be a next turn. Narset’s Reversal can also help lock in a win by potentially stealing your opponent’s tutor or game winning spell. Even just a slight tax from cards like Miscast , Spell Pierce or Flusterstorm can help stop a lot of wins where your opponent has exact mana.
Finally, I just want to offer a quick blurb about some fun (for us, not for our opponents) cards I’ve made room for in this deck. Narset, Parter of Veils is the first card that pops into my head as this girl is rude. Remember Leovold, Emissary of Trest ? This has the same unbelievably cursed effect and dodges creature specific removal. Is your opponent looking for a win out of the yard? Maybe they’re about to resurrect Razaketh the Foulblooded before you’ve even had a turn? Faerie Macabre is here to help you shut that down. One last option I’ve thrown in is Gilded Drake . This is a highly meta-dependent call. I run into a fair amount of hatebears, value generating creatures, and other problematic things that this helps address. There have been some other meta-dependent or potentially budget-busting cards I’ve called out here so there’s a pretty big maybeboard for this deck. Take a look at it and see if there are any cards you think you’d rather include. The full list is below.
Alright! That’s all folks! Thanks a ton for reading through this article. I wish you good luck and happy hunting with either of these decks. If you have any commander’s you’d like to see me go over in future articles like this, let me know in the comments or on Hexdrinkers Twitter. Next week I’ll be going over yet another Naya commander, as it is the best color combination… Hold on, I think I hear someone ringing The Hexdrinkers doorbell. Looks like the Azorius Senate. I’ll deal with these schmucks and get back to you as soon as I can.
More Entries in The Top Shelf:
- 06 Sep 2020: Chulane Steals the Show! (Commander)
- 09 Aug 2020: Syr Carah, and why bolt is playable in every format (Commander)
- 23 Jul 2020: No More Ms. Nice Azorius (Commander)
- 06 Jul 2020: An Eggcelent Start (Commander)