Please consider supporting us by adding EDHREC to your adblock's whitelist.
Conditions Allow – Varchild, Betrayer of Kjeldor
(Lucas Graciano) | Art by
Names from Legend
Hello, welcome back, it’s good to see you again. This is Conditions Allow, where we take legendary creatures with downsides and build Commander decks to make them strengths. If you’ve been following the preview season for Modern Horizons, you know that the set contains cards that feature a few highly-anticipated characters from Magic’s past for the first time. Both Urza, the hero of questionable moral character, and Yawgmoth, the well-loved villain, will soon grace gaming tables everywhere. In recognition of the occasion, I wanted to go over another character of similar significance, and could think of no one better than .
Printed for the first time in Commander 2018, was first mentioned back in Alliances on the cards and . is particularly significant because it introduced Survivor tokens, which return as the primary focus for Varchild’s effects. Whenever she deals combat damage to a player, that player creates that many 1/1 red Survivor creature tokens, and when Varchild leaves the battlefield you gain control of all Survivors. Additionally, Varchild makes it so that Survivors your opponents control cannot block, and they cannot attack you or planeswalkers you control.
Looking on the Down Side
Because Varchild prevents the Survivor tokens from attacking you, this may not seem like much of a downside. In fact, when I first read her card, I thought it was all upside. You can suit your commander up with a bunch of Equipment to make a ton of tokens on your opponents’ battlefields. Your opponents can use those tokens to attack each other, but not to get in your way. Then, if Varchild is ever removed, you will get all of the tokens and continue to play an aggressive game without stumbling.
Unfortunately, this didn’t ever happen for me. Either Varchild was removed with a board wipe, thus killing all the tokens at the same time, or my opponents were able to sacrifice the Survivors for value of their own. I was essentially giving away free resources.
That experience may be indicative of my playgroup rather than the Commander community at large, but and are both among the most popular commanders of the last two years, while is among the most popular commanders of the last month. In addition, is played with over 41,000 decks, almost 20% of all the decks in the database. It is extremely likely that at least one opponent at a random table will be happy to grab some free sacrifice fodder.
With that in mind, I’m going to veer away from most of the cards recommended on Varchild’s EDHREC page and instead look at Group Hug strategies, in particular. is notorious for being a deceptively nice deck. Like Varchild, the happy purple Hippo gives away free resources in the form of cards and creatures before overwhelming the table with a massive combo. Let’s lean into that strategy to make Varchild even crazier than before.
Many of the cards found on ’s page reflect a Group Hug strategy. , for example, lets everyone draw extra cards and play extra lands, perfectly distilling exactly what a Group Hug deck wants to do. Those options won’t be available to us in mono-red, but lucky for us, there are plenty of artifacts to support this strategy too.
, , and give everyone access to reliable card draw, while lets each player play extra lands. is a on a land, while can double ’s damage trigger.
There are also Group Hug cards unique to red, like . acts as a stand-in for , and is a cost-free way to give out more and more creature tokens. The most unique effect we can include, however, is . This enchantment gains counters based on how many lands a player leaves untapped at the end of the turn. Then, any player may remove those counters during their turn to add colorless mana to their mana pool. This adds a fun and powerful political tool to the game. You can make a deal to leave a certain number of lands untapped if the next player in order won’t attack you, or bully the rest of the table into playing slower than they’d like, to help someone behind on lands. can also make counter spells a little harder to use, since leaving mana open to cast them could give another player enough mana to deal with your interaction.
The final piece of our Group Hug puzzle is to ensure that everyone is properly using the toys we give them. It just won’t do to have everyone accumulating Survivor tokens and then not attack with them. In order to ensure combat happens, I’m including , , and . can also encourage early game aggression, and has the added benefit of fitting nicely into our theme of giving away resources. (and Goad in general) is another great way to make sure everyone is doing their part in combat. Not only does it force creatures to attack, it also prevents them from attacking us, a handy feature for ensuring we survive long enough to win.
Equal and Opposite Reactions
Speaking of winning, how will this deck try to do that? Most often, Group Hug decks seek to punish their opponents for taking the gifts we give. Cards like and will deal more and more damage as more cards are drawn and more lands put into play. While we could put into this deck, we won’t ever really obtain the velocity needed to make it a true win condition.
Our tokens, on the other hand, just might do the job. While this version of the deck doesn’t have room for a ton of Equipment to pump ‘s power, we can still try to gain some advantage by taking back the tokens she gives away. In order to trigger her leaves the battlefield ability, we can include to flicker her during each of our end steps. For some redundancy, and can bounce her back to our hand. As a small upside, can even make Varchild unblockable if any of your opponents are using snow-covered lands for their basics.
When repeatedly bouncing , remember that she only stops Survivors your opponents control from blocking. You are free to use them defensively when under your control, even with Varchild on the field.
That said, it might be easier to win if our opponents keep the tokens. That’s right, this deck is going to try and win with . With this enchantment in play, whenever a creature is dealt damage, it’s controller also takes that much damage. Not only does this make combat crazy damaging, even to the attacking player, but it also turns damage-based board wipes into highly efficient burn spells.
If each opponent has ten creatures on the field, wins the game. only needs to hit eight creatures, while wins with four. only needs two. Most decks will usually have a couple spare creatures hanging around; even spell-heavy strategies often rely on their commander. This is also where really comes into her own. Alongside , we can make sure each opponent has a couple of creatures out pretty much all the time. Most often, the smaller of these effects will win you the game, however. Following with a few turns later is usually enough to win the game, and will make sure you don’t accidentally kill yourself too.
Add in some ramp, draw effects, and a little bit of spot removal, and this is starting to look like a deck. No one will expect this kind of playstyle when you sit down with mono-red, but it is a lot of fun. I also enjoy playing this against a grindy table, as it forces creatures to attack and increases the pace of the game. This is also a lot of fun to try if you’ve ever wanted to end a game of Commander in a tie. Bonus points if you do it with .
Varchild, Betrayer of Kjeldor
That brings us to the end of this week’s Conditions Allow. Have you survived your experiences with Varchild? Did you build her as Group Hug, or Voltron, or a completely different path? What ways have you found to punish your opponents for all the tokens you give away? Let me know in the comments!