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Andrew Jackson Highlander – Varina, Lich Queen
All Rise For The Queen
Welcome to Andrew Jackson Highlander, where I build and share a Commander deck tech that you can purchase with an Andrew Jackson ($20). This week, I am going to continue with my focus on the Commander 2018 alternate commanders. This week, our commander will be Varina, Lich Queen.
Varina leans toward Zombie tribal, which is a perfectly viable option for her. However, I have decided to go a different route. In a previous article I built a Taigam, Sidisi’s Hand deck around cycling through your deck and casting a big Rise From the Tides. I have decided to revisit that deck with Varina at the helm for two main reasons.
The first reason is that Varina makes more sense from a thematic and mechanical standpoint. Her title is literally ‘Lich Queen’ and her token ability allows us to turn cycled cards into Zombies as needed. The second reason is actually more of a draw to me. There are plenty of good cycling payoffs to play in Commander, but my favorite has to be Astral Slide and Varina’s color identity allows us to to play it.
As before, the name of the game is cycling for value and surviving until we can raise an army of Zombies for our Lich Queen off the back of a large Rise From the Tides.
All Rise For The Queen
This deck is a bit weird because it plays like a combo deck and a control deck without really being either. It feels like a combo deck because we’re filtering through our deck to fill up our graveyard and to find Rise From the Tides. It feels like a control deck because oftentimes cycling gives you the flexibility to play reactively and just say “Draw, go,” knowing that you can cycle some cards in your hand away if you do not have to respond to anything.
Three-color decks are always hard to build on a budget manabase, and you’ll notice that this deck is light on dual lands and color-fixing artifacts. That is because we have a lot of landcycling cards that can help us find basic lands. We tend to spend out early turns using cycling cards to smooth out our draws and pitching cards like Jhessian Zombies and Sanctum Plowbeast to find the mana we need.
Once we make it to the midgame, we use cycling payoffs like Archfiend of Ifnir, Ruthless Sniper, and Astral Slide to help us maintain control of the board. By this point we have hopefully found Rise. If not, we keep searching for it, making sure to keep our interactive cycling cards available, and making Zombies with Varina as needed.
When we hopefully survive into the lategame, the plan is simple: overrun our opponents with a ton of Zombie tokens, either from Varina or a huge Rise.
Rise From the Tides- The namesake of the deck. Obviously this card is important to our strategy. I just wanted to note a few weaknesses on it. It is sorcery speed and all of the tokens come into play tapped. Be aware that this makes us extra weak to board wipes.
Astral Slide – I’ve been theorycrafting and testing this cycling + Rise from the Tides deck for a while now. I am extremely pumped that Varina gave us an on-theme commander with white in it, because Astral Slide is the card I most wanted to include. While it can be used as an engine to abuse ETB effects in the right deck, in this deck it is just an absolutely fantastic way to protect ourselves and disrupt our opponents.
New Perspectives – With the right hand, this card can waterfall a lot of our deck into our graveyard, letting us find the exact cards we need and allowing for a huge Rise from The Tides. The deck is not built around this interaction, but it is nice that the ways we tutor for Rise also can grab this.
Ethereal Usher/Netherborn Phalanx – Anyone who is familiar with me knows that I absolutely love Transmute cards. Unfortunately, Drift of Phantasms and Dimir Machinations have increased in price enough to not make it into this list. Fortunately these other two are right within our budget. They have a CMC of 6, which means that we can grab Rise from the Tides or New Perspectives with them.
Perplex – We can still afford one of the 3-CMC Transmute cards, which can help us find Astral Slide and Faith of the Devoted. This one also has the corner synergy of being able to target one of our own spells on the stack, so we can dump our whole hand into the graveyard to fill it for Rise from the Tides if need be.
Cast Out/Forsake the Worldly – These are two of my absolute favorite Commander cards from Amonkhet because they are so flexible and not absurdly costed. In this deck, they are absolute powerhouses and another reason I am extremely excited that we get access to white.
Cryptbreaker – This may sneakily be the best card in the deck. Gives all of our cards psuedo-cycling, but instead of card draw, we get a Zombie token instead. Then it also allows us to use those tokens to draw cards. Plus, it’s a Zombie itself!
Archfiend of Ifnir/Curator of Mysteries/Faith of the Devoted/Ruthless Sniper – These are our cycling payoff cards. Archfiend of Ifnir is the strongest, just by dint of the control options it offers us, and Faith of the Devoted is an alternate win con, especially if we have a New Perspectives engine online.
Possessed Skaab – This deck is not as focused on recurring Rise as previous versions, but I just wanted to note that this was a way to do so and is a Zombie to boot.
Utter End – To sneak this in under budget (and to stay more true to the cycling theme) I did not include Utter End or Anguished Unmaking, but they should 100% be in this deck. They are potentially the best two removal spells in Commander, so if you are in the right colors, you should be running them.
Merciless Eviction – Along those same lines, Merciless Eviction is a fantastic board wipe. This is another Commander staple that should be included.
Fluctuator – An obvious include for any cycling based deck.
Anointed Procession – This one is a no-brainer (sorry Zombies) in this deck. We are a token deck, with access to white but not green, so this is an auto-include if you can spare the extra money for it.
Azorius Signet/Dimir Signet/Orzhov Signet – While the Cluestones actually work fairly well in this deck because they give us cards in our graveyard to exile with Varina, the Signets are still superior. Unfortunately, Azorius Signet and Dimir Signet are the most expensive Signets, so they just could not quite make the cut for this article. However, they aren’t all that expensive and most Commander players probably have spares anyways, so get them in there.
Drift of Phantasms/Dimir Machinations – Once again, I must note my love for Transmute cards and also note that they are fantastic for this deck. They trigger our cycling payoffs and leave a card in the graveyard for Varina to exile. These two can grab Astral Slide and Faith of the Devoted, which makes them extremely worth including. If you do include them, I would consider running Drake Haven as well.
Interaction – Well, every deck is weak to interaction, of course, but as noted above, our big Rise play is very vulnerable to board wipes and to counterspells. One of the first quality of life upgrades I would make for this deck is a more robust countermagic package: Counterspell, Swan Song, and Muddle the Mixture come to mind. There are plenty of good budget options like Negate to consider as well.
Graveyard Hate – This deck absolutely folds to a Stony Silence. Depending on the meta-specific hate spells that see play in your meta, the countermagic package above can help handle. Either that or you may need to pack more Disenchant effects, such Fate Forgotten or Revoke Existence.
Aggressive Strategies – If aggro runs rampant in your meta, this deck may not have enough time to stabilize. Running Dimir Houseguard as a virtual second copy of Archfiend of Ifnir would be a good idea, and adding in some pillowfort effects like Ghostly Prison and board wipes like Rout should be a priority.
IT’S ALIVE! Yes! I think that I have finally found the right Commander for my cycling, Rise From the Tides experiment in Varina. She is a strong Commander in her own right, with perfect tribal strategies. For this deck, both of her abilities synergize with our plan, she gives us access to a third color that I’ve always wanted access to in this strategy, and she makes perfect thematic and flavorful sense.
Now, take this deck and make sure that all of our your opponents show Varina, Lich Queen the respect she deserves! All rise for the Queen!