At long last, our Artifact Commander Showdown is here! These two commanders have been the runners-up in the post-article votes, but they’re certainly not runners-up in games of EDH! You know them well: Sharuum the Hegemon, the enigmatic metal sphinx, and and Breya, Etherium Shaper, the four-color queen of Thopters!
These commanders rule over all things metallic and historic. One will revive your treasures, while the other will transmute them into something brand new. One is stoically Esper, while the other mixes red in for a twist of invention. How do these subtle differences change their respective strategies and deck construction? Let’s find out on this week’s Commander Showdown: Artifice Edition.
We’ll waste no time and jump right into the Venn Diagram. I’ve assembled the Top and Signature Cards for both commanders below. Since these commanders share three of the same colors, and they’re largely working with colorless cards that can fit into any deck, I expect we’ll see quite a lot of overlap.
|Seat of the Synod||Solemn Simulacrum||Daretti, Scrap Savant|
|Thran Temporal Gateway||Etherium Sculptor||Sharuum the Hegemon|
|Vault of Whispers||Padeem Consul of Innovation||Storm the Vault|
|Ancient Den||Trinket Mage||Skullclamp|
|Sculpting Steel||Myr Battlesphere|
|Tezzeret the Seeker||Baleful Strix|
|Unesh Criosphinx Sovereign||Thopter Foundry|
|Phyrexian Metamorph||Commander’s Sphere|
|Inventors’ Fair||Ashnod’s Altar|
|Sphinx Summoner||Fellwar Stone|
|Sphinx of the Steel Wind|
|Thirst for Knowledge|
There’s almost no overlap at all! There are only four cards in common! Solemn Simulacrum and Etherium Sculptor make sense, because they help both decks with mana. Trinket Mage is a staple in most artifact decks, and Padeem, Consul of Innovation keeps them protected. Even so, I expected much, much more overlap than a mere four cards. What’s going on here?
First, it’s important to note that Breya’s column is significantly shorter than Sharuum’s. This is because Sharuum has a Top Cards and a Signature Cards Section. Those Signature Cards are the ones that she plays more often than other Esper commanders like Oloro, Ageless Ascetic. Since Breya is basically one of the only commanders in her color scheme, she doesn’t need a Signature Cards section.
Second, I have to swallow my pride and admit that I was quite wrong. Even though these commanders share a lot of colors, and the artifacts could go in any deck, their strategies are clearly different enough that they warrant entirely different columns, and therefore different playstyles.
I’d normally take some time to discuss each commander’s column in more depth, but these are so distinct that it will be more prudent to extrapolate past their Top and Signature Cards and discuss their whole decklists. Let’s get to it!
We’ll start with Sharuum, the Hegemon. This regal sphinx hails from Alara and provides a respectable 5/5 flying body for six mana. Best of all, she Refurbishes one of your dead artifacts whenever she enters the battlefield.
We saw a lot of cards in her column above, but let’s take a peek at her Average Decklist to get a better sense of her strategy.
The first thing I notice are all the Sphinxes. (Yes, I know, the technical plural of ‘Sphinx’ is ‘Sphinges,’ but that word is ridiculous, so we’re going with ‘Sphinxes.’) With Azor, the Lawbringer and Unesh, Criosphinx Sovereign we can clearly see that folks have elected to make Sharuum and Sphinx Tribal list. It’s not a terrible plan, actually, because so many other awesome creatures in her deck are incidentally sphinxes, like Sharding Sphinx and Sphinx of the Steel Wind. These huge creatures are excellent to recur with Sharuum’s ability, particularly Magister Sphinx, which will knock a cocky opponent down to a lowly 10 life!
Sphinx Tribal is really cool, but it’s not her only point of focus. Her ability revives artifacts from your graveyard, a very peculiar type of necromancy; a Meren of Clan Metal Toth, if you will. It’s no secret why we see Fact or Fiction and Thirst for Knowledge littering Sharuum’s Average Decklist; every card in your graveyard gives you more options when you cast your commander. Toss away your expensive cards, like those high-cost Sphinxes, and Sharuum will save you a ton of mana by getting them back for free!
This is one of my personal favorite features of a Sharuum deck. She cheats big stuff into play. Not just from your graveyard, either; Master Transmuter and the new Thran Temporal Gateway can put those Darksteel Forges and Myr Battlespheres into play for a lot less effort.
However, there’s a darker twist lurking in this decklist. While she looks magnificent on the outside, Sharuum can actually be deeply cruel.
Beneath all the Sphinxes and massive artifacts she revives for free, Sharuum’s Average Deck also contains an explosive number of tutors. Enlightened Tutor, Fabricate, Vampiric Tutor, Whir of Invention, and both Demonic Tutor and Diabolic Tutor. Even Tezzeret the Seeker searches your library for a specific metal object.
As we all know, tutors are often a sign of competitive combos, and that’s exactly what’s happening here. You may have noticed the card Bitter Ordeal in Sharuum’s deck. If you aren’t familiar with it, this Future Sight sorcery exiles cards from your opponents’ libraries for everything that’s died this turn. Quite a strange card to see in an artifact deck, no?
Enter Sculpting Steel. This artifact probably seems innocuous at first blush, but when paired with Sharuum, it’s a total blowout. Sharuum can revive Sculpting Steel from your graveyard, and once she does, the Steel can become a copy of Sharuum. This will immediately engage the Legend Rule, so you’ll put either one of your Sharuums in the graveyard as a State-Based Action. However, the Sharuum Copy’s ability will still trigger, which means you can revive an artifact. Get back the Sharuum that just died, which will force the Legend Rule, but will still trigger, which revives Sharuum again, which will force the Legend Rule…
In other words, you have an infinite number of death triggers. Your commander and a single Scultping Steel (or, if you prefer, Phyrexian Metamorph can create so many death triggers that it makes Disciple of the Vault squeal with delight. After you’ve looped your Sculpting Steel combo a billion times, you can cast Bitter Ordeal to exile every single card in your opponents’ libraries.
This is the nastiest combo Sharuum has at her disposal, but it’s not the only one. Take a gander at these:
Formerly banned in Modern, the Sword of the Meek + Thopter Foundry combo can generate an obscene amount of card advantage. Sacrifice the Sword of the Meek to the Foundry’s ability to gain a life a create a 1/1 Thopter, and bam! The Sword will return, ready to be sacrificed anew. For one mana each, you can create as many Thopters as you like, not to mention stave off ruin with incidental lifegain. Most importantly, add Time Sieve to the mix. Pay five mana, create five Thopters, sacrifice them all, and take another turn. Forever.
If I may quote Billy Mays: But wait, there’s more! Notice that Mindslaver in Sharuum’s Average Decklist? Combine it with Academy Ruins to forever control another player’s turn. How about Darksteel Forge plus Nevinnyral’s Disk? The disk doesn’t sacrifice itself, but as an indestructible artifact, it cannot die, which means you can repeatedly destroy your opponents’ boards without ever compromising your metallic palace!
In short, Sharuum’s magnanimity is matched only by her deadliness. Like a true Sphinx, she appears regal and mystical, but can pounce and deliver a killing blow before you even know what hit you.
Let’s move now from one Esper queen to another. Breya, Etherium Shaper also hails from Alara. Exactly like Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder, her magic was changed by the reuniting of Alara’s shards, and it turned her into a total powerhouse.
We all know Breya, the greenless artifact manipulator and third most-built commander of all time, with 3163 decks to her name. While Sharuum revives artifacts, Breya gets ride of them. By sacrificing any two artifacts, she can deal 3 damage to a player, give a creature -4/-4, or gain you 5 life. This ability is incredibly versatile, and truly showcases that she is thoroughly non-green. While green’s philosophy dictates that your role in the world is pre-destined, Breya can take anything she likes and give it an entirely new purpose.
Let’s hop right into her Average Decklist to see how folks are building her.
Here’s the thing: Breya has access to all of those combos and more.
Nim Deathmantle may appear clunky at first glance, but when combined with an Ashnod’s Altar or a Krark-Clan Ironworks, it’s incredibly deadly. Sacrifice one Thopter and Breya herself for a total of four mana, leaving one Thopter behind. Use that mana for Nim Deathmantle’s triggered ability, reviving Breya, and bringing two new Thopters in tow. Then repeat. Every iteration gains you a Thopter. Infinite Thopters means infinite mana with Ashnod’s Altar. Infinite mana means you can activate Breya’s ability infinite times. (This also works by replacing Nim Deathmantle with Eldrazi Displacer.
It doesn’t stop there. Sharuum had access to Open the Vaults, but Breya has access to that and Scrap Mastery. Throw in Second Sunrise and Faith’s Reward and you’ve got a very potent “Eggs” deck. Your entire board can be tossed away, then brought back instantly, netting you tons of mana with Krark-Clan Ironworks or dealing tons of damage with Marionette Master, before doing it all over again.
These combos are available to a wide variety of decks, but for many commanders, playing such combos would be a little out of the way of the deck’s normal path. This isn’t the case for Breya; Grand Architect is solid enough in a Breya deck to warrant play even without the Pili-Pala. Rings of Brighthearth is good enough without having to build around it. While other decks might have to bend over a little bit to make these combo pieces work, they’re already super solid inclusions for a Breya deck regardless of whether you intend to combo out or not.
This is true of Sharuum as well; Phyrexian Metamorph is a fantastic card even without the Sharuum-looping combo. Still, Sharuum’s combos have a slightly more dedicated feeling to them. Sharuum can combo in tons of ways, but Breya can combo in many more, simply by dint of having an activated ability to put your infinite mana. She casts a wider net than Sharuum, which means Sharuum’s combo focus has a tighter scope.
In other words, there’s a reason Breya’s Average Deck isn’t as full of tutor effects as Sharuum’s Average Deck. With fewer combos comes a more dedicated strategy. While Sharuum decks are perfectly fine playing a normal, non-combo artifact-reanimation value engine, the Sharuum decks that do use combos are more dedicated to finding them as soon as possible. Breya also doesn’t have to be built competitively, but even folks who don’t build her without combos in mind may find they go infinite by accident. You don’t need as many tutors—though you’re welcome to run them, of course—when so many of your cards can synergize together anyway.
So for those of us who don’t jump straight to the infinite combos, how does Breya play?
In a word, steady. In my experience, Breya decks that don’t explode into combo-town spend their games amassing an absurd board state. Build up to a Daretti, Scrap Savant emblem, or else accrue advantage with Thopter Spy Network.
Because Breya’s ability can be activated at any time, her deck is incredibly reactive. If an opponent plays a large threat, she can kill it at the end of their turn. If her board is about to be compromised, she can gain a ton of life instead. Then, when she’s amassed too many cards for her opponents to handle, she can toss them at people’s faces. Once you have enough artifact density, your Cranial Platings will be lethal and your Myr Battlesphere tokens will be numerous. Breya can even turn your mana rocks into deadly weapons, so she doesn’t have to overextend herself until the last second, always ready to respond to any action with a crazy play.
That, ultimately, is how I would best characterize the difference between Breya and Sharuum. Sharuum is proactive. She gets the ball rolling by summoning awesome things from her graveyard for free. When she’s played as a combo deck, this is true as well; folks are more likely to directly tutor for pieces to go infinite right away. Whether combo or not, she’s the one bringing threats to the forefront of the game.
Breya, on the other hand, is more reactive. She’s an opportunist who doesn’t respond until she absolutely must, and she’s more likely to solve problems before she creates them herself. Don’t worry though—when she gets to making mischief, she does so with both flair and power at her side.
I’ve got some thoughts below about cards for each commander that should see a teensy bit more play than they currently enjoy. Check them out below:
So, which of these two would you build? Do you prefer Sharuum’s enigmatic sense of superiority, or Breya’s infinitely growing potential? Do you like your commander to revive your dead artifacts, or to sacrifice them instead?
Oh, and don’t forget to vote for the next Commander Showdown!
Cast your votes!
Til next time!