Hello everyone! Welcome to Heart of the Cards! My previous series, Dig Through Time was all about the underrated gems of the past, but now, it’s time we look to the future! In this new series, we’ll pick a commander, build a shell with all of the supporting, goodstuff, staple-type cards you just can’t do without, and then build several different core packages that could each potentially act as the heart of the deck, defining its unique flavor and personality. In this first installment, we’re going to walk through one of my favorite commanders of 2018, Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire.
Vicky is a powerhouse of removal with a dash of chaos. Every time he attacks, you must choose one permanent per player, and basically Chaos Warp those permanents, swapping each for the top card of its respective controller’s library.
There are a few things every good Vaevictis deck needs: ramp to get your commander out as soon as possible; haste to get him swinging right away; effects to manipulate the top card of your library and ensure that you only hit gas; and some way to break the parity of his ability (the simplest of which is to run only permanents, guaranteeing that his ability will never whiff).
Before we dive into different ways we can define the deck’s personality, we need to take a look at the cards we just can’t play without.
Ramp is super important in any deck, but especially here. Some commanders act merely as added synergy, smoothing out the 99 to finish the game, while others are the main engine that drives the whole deck. Vicky is a big, beefy boi that falls into the latter category, and we definitely want him to come out and start swinging before turn seven. To that end, I pulled up both the Ramp and Lands theme pages on EDHREC and built a shell that includes thirteen pieces of early-game ramp (playable before turn five) and sixteen pieces overall. Remember that we’re looking for permanent cards, since they can enter play with Vaevictus’s ability, so even though staples like Cultivate and Farseek show up in Top and Signature Cards, we’re going to ignore them.
If we want to beef up the ramp, we cut right to cards like Somberwald Sage or Farhaven Elf. Sage ramps harder and faster than pretty much any other mana dork, while the Elf puts out two permanents for the price of one, helping Vicky break parity when his trigger goes off.
There’s nothing that sucks worse than landing your commander a turn early, just to have some jerk Wrath the board before you can swing with him. Haste is almost as important as ramp in this deck, so I’m including six haste enablers allowing Vicky to swing out the turn you drop him. Ideally, our haste effects will be hard for opponents to remove. I’ve really been liking Dragon Breath for this reason. Hall of the Bandit Lord, Anger and Xenagos, God of Revels are all also relatively hard to remove, but there’s just something about cards that keep coming back from the yard that makes Dragon Breath a lot of fun.
I’m calling this category “Card Shenanigans.” It includes effects that tutor and fetch, card draw and advantage, and top deck manipulation. I’ve included some regular tutoring, but apart from Combustible Gearhulk, hardly any card draw. As long as Vicky is on the battlefield and able to attack, top deck manipulation will be the best thing you can do, better by far than card draw, which is why I’m not running things like Phyrexian Arena. It’s a great card, but in this deck we don’t want to put cards from our library into our hand. We want to put the best cards from all various zones on top of our library and then cheat them in with Vicky. ‘Tutoring to the top of your library’ becomes ‘fetching a free permanent’ instead. ‘Putting something in your graveyard on top of your deck’ turns into a reanimation effect. ‘Putting cards from your hand on top of your library’ becomes ‘cheating permanents into play.’ Whatever core strategy you choose for the deck, this suite of card shenanigans is going to determine how smoothly you execute it. Cards that I don’t have in my list, but would be perfectly at home in this shell include Sensei’s Divining Top, Lantern of Insight, Mirri’s Guile, and Scroll Rack.
On the face of things, Vaevictis is random and equal amongst all players. He will remove one permanent per player, and replace it with another one at random. How do we break the ability in our favor? Math. We need to go up in resources while our opponents go down in resources. Basically, we want permanents that hit the battlefield and make even more permanents, or ones that come into play and remove one or more other permanents. A few of the cards in this category may not grant an effect immediately when they enter the battlefield, but it’s useful to run cards that don’t fold to nasty effects like Torpor Orb. In fact, one of the only reasons that Spine of Ish Sah shows up here is as an answer for Overwhelming Splendor, though Vivien Reid and Freyalise, Llanowar’s Fury would also work well to that end.
With the underlying skeleton now built, let’s check out some different strategic directions we could take our deck. This is where the EDHREC’s Theme Pages really shine.
Some players just want to watch the world burn. The only reason to keep ahead of everyone else is so you can keep juggling the chaos. Vaevictis lends himself well to this mindset; as long as folks haven’t manipulated their libraries, the cards he flips are random. Chaos, as a package of cards, can actually lend itself towards control or stax-y styles of play. By throwing all decisions to chance, you aren’t preventing your opponents from doing things, per se, you’re just disrupting them, changing them into some other random thing that might not be useful. Forcing players to tap their lands or attack with creatures that they didn’t want to attack with can spoil their plans for the turn, preventing them from stopping you. Stealing opponents’ cards at random allows you to use things when they’re useful, and keep them in exile when they’re not. In all, chaos keeps you on your toes and makes it difficult for your opponents to plan an exact way to stop you.
I used the site’s Chaos page pretty extensively to compile this package. Here’s a hot tip: if you click on any of the commanders listed under a theme, it won’t take you to the commander’s main page, but to a page specifically recommended around that theme. That’s how I got to Gonti, Lord of Luxury. He isn’t listed on the main Chaos page, but by clicking into some other commanders in my colors (in this case Jeleva, Nephalia’s Scourge) I was able to turn him up.
This package shifts the parity-breaking focus from tokens or lands to recycling creatures from your and your opponents’ graveyards. There’s a surprising amount of permanent-based reanimation available, and packing it into this deck means you get to bring back the same removal and beaters time after time, while sometimes borrowing the best that your opponents’ graveyards have to offer. If you like necromancy, or if your name rhymes with Doughy Schmaltz, a classic reanimator package might be exactly what you want to help define your Vaevictis deck. After all, what is Jund but Golgari plus red?
I built this package utilizing the Graveyard theme page, though Dawn of the Dead is a card I dug up from an old DTT article I wrote. It pays to read through the site’s articles and listen to the EDHRECast because, as Joey says, it gives the data a little more context, and you might have missed a card like this that only sees play in 541 decks otherwise.
This is the package that my personal build most closely follows. My inspiration actually came from Lord Windgrace. I wanted him to play in this fast, aggressive style, but I found him to be disappointingly slow and grindy. Thus, I built the deck I wanted him to pilot, put him in the 99, and swapped Vicky in as the commander. It’s aggressive with lands, putting them into play, blowing them up, and bringing them back again, with a healthy amount of punishment for your opponents should they choose not to play nice. Oh, who am I kidding? It punishes them even if they do try to play nice. This package brings the deck close to Mass Land Destruction™, so be mindful of your playgroup and their play preferences if selecting this route.
The backbone of this package is built using the Lands, Land Destruction, and Landfall Theme pages. This is another area to explore when building a deck; even if you’re going with one theme, like an Omnath, Locus of Rage Landfall deck, explore other similar themes. You might come out with an interesting combination. For example, maybe you find a use for Keldon Firebombers in the deck because it combines with Splendid Reclamation to give you a ton of Landfall triggers, even though the deck’s main focus isn’t resource denial. It’s all about that synergy.
So, what does it look like when we put a heart into the skeleton? I’ve put the Rototiller package together by bringing the land count up to 38. All that’s left to do is shuffle up and start swinging with a deck that curves out at 3.8. This is my ideal form of battlecruiser Magic: speed, power, variance, and fun. I hope you enjoy.
Let me know what package you picked, or if you have a totally different take on the deck, by tweeting @GrubFellow, and be sure to tell me how your games go!