Making the Cut – Reader Submission: Livin’ in Enchantment Paradise

(Kestia, the Cultivator | Art by Zezhou Chen)

Careful Consideration

Last time on Making the Cut, we took a look at a reader’s Selesnya Hatebears deck and made cuts for cards they knew they wanted to include in their deck. Which begs the question: what about cards you aren’t sure whether you want to add?

This week, we’re going to help another reader get to their best 99 by taking a look at some cards they’re considering for their themed Kestia, the Cultivator build. Note the word considering. How can you be sure whether or not you like a card, and whether it deserves to make the final list?

Let’s hear about today’s deck straight from the Pegasus‘s mouth. According to the deck’s creator, Holmhollow:

“ELYSIUM // Odyssey to the Blessed Isles” is a Greek-mythology-themed list helmed by Kestia, the Cultivator. It’s an enchantress build that rewards attacking with enchantment creatures, playing enchantments, and making big mana.

While it may seem at first glance to be just another Bantchantress deck among the many that came out in the wake of Commander 2018, Holmhollow has actually jumped through quite a few hoops to theme the deck as part of the Greek mythology, specifically that of Elysium. Outside of being a Matt Damon movie, Elysium in Greek mythology was a paradise where the heroes who had been given immortality by the Gods could hang out and enjoy their retirement, presumably being fed grapes by Nymphs and the like.

Despite being a theme deck, Holmhollow has made sure it packs quite the punch. Let’s go through the decklist as it exists now, taking note of the deck’s different categories (Here it is with the proper artwork for the theme):

ELYSIUM

Commander (1)
Ramp (8)
Tutors (3)
Protection (6)
Draw (9)
Removal (9)
Wraths (4)
Enablers (10)
Finishers (6)
Disruption (5)
Recursion (3)
Lands (36)

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Certainly not a bad list! One of my favorites, Curse of the Swine, has already made it into the deck.

So what are we thinking about adding to it? According to Holmhollow:

My problem with the list is that I never quite know which card group to cut from when I want to try something new. I’d love to run with Dulcet Sirens and Curse of the Swine for a while, and Tendershoot Dryad and Bramble Sovereign seem like obvious includes for a deck that’s all about that Age of Mythology flavour.

I often end up just looking at these cards wistfully and never actually trying them, because each card already in the deck feels so crucial to me. Is the deck just done? Am I blinded by love? I’m not really looking to optimize, but that 100 card limit hurts my soul, dudes and dudettes.

Man, I know that feel. When you’ve been working on a deck for a while and you’ve got it tuned, it can be heart-wrenching to make changes to it. Let’s take a look at Holmhollow’s list of cards under consideration and see if there are any others we’re in love with–or that we aren’t so crazy about right off the bat.


The Contestants

Whether looking through a decklist or choosing an answer on Who Wants to be a Millionaire, your first impression is often correct. I’ll run through a few of my initial impressions on the cards above.

Bramble Sovereign was hyped on its release, but I’m not sure it lived up to that hype. It can be tough to play its ability politically, and even to hold up extra mana. Plus, many of our enchantress effects are cast triggers, not ETB effects. Defense of the Heart is a cheaper Tooth and Nail, but I’m not sure it fits the theme, and the targets for it to tutor into play seem good, but not game-breaking. Tatyova, Benthic Druid is great, but to be frank, I think we’d draw more cards with regular enchantress triggers. I’m not sure she fits the theme for enchantress or for flavor.

Dulcet Sirens looks to be a flavor choice rather than a power choice, which I’m totally for. Knight of Autumn is probably my favorite card out of Guilds of Ravnica; probably 90% of the time you’re going to use her to blow up an artifact or enchantment, but that other 10% you’ll have the flexibility if you need it. Plus, the artwork is perfectly on-theme.

Finally, we have Tendershoot Dryad and Holistic Wisdom. Tendershoot can run away with the game if it goes unanswered, but doesn’t fit the enchantment theme very well. We have to ask if there are more synergystic game-finishing cards we could run instead. Holistic Wisdom, meanwhile, is a card I’ve always wanted to try in Commander. This might be the perfect deck to do so, since enchantresses will fill our hands with cards and let us get back key cards from our graveyard. You can even use it at instant speed to “gotcha!” an opponent by reclaiming your Swan Song!


Decisions, Decisions

A lot of this info is difficult to parse as a third party. Is the deck performing well enough at its current power level? Are there cards that seem on-theme to Holmhollow but which don’t feel right to me because we have different knowledge of Greek mythology? Whenever a fellow brewer asks for advice, it’s always important to make sure you’re not hurting feelings by dismissing or writing off selections that someone else put a lot of thought into.

Still, at the end of the day, we have to make decisions, and I know which cards in the list of potentials above that I would consider adding, and which ones I wouldn’t.

All three of these cards have spots in many a deck – Defense of the Heart is $20.00 for a reason – but all three have issues for this deck specifically. Tatyova, for example, is a more expensive enchantress who might not draw you as many cards as a Satyr Enchanter, and Defense of the Heart will paint a target on your back the size of the Parthenon. All three also don’t feel as on-theme to me as the others. Maybe I’m missing a piece of Greek mythology that makes these cards very flavorful, but even so, I would argue that in a thematic deck it’s just as important that opponents can understand card references as it is for the deck’s owner.

With that in mind, we’ll focus our energies on the four other cards under consideration.


Okay, But Now What Do We Get Rid Of?

Each of these cards easily fits into one of the existing categories Holmhollow identified in their original decklist. Holistic Wisdom slots into the Recursion category, Dulcet Sirens goes into Protection, Knight of Autumn is Removal, and Tendershoot Dryad is one of our Finishers.

The easiest strategy would be to make room for these cards by cutting others from those identified archetypes. Just because that’s the easiest route, however, doesn’t mean it’s the right one. Let’s start with Recursion. 


Staying Power

Holistic Wisdom, combined with all the card draw in this deck, could be a recipe for all sorts of soft locks, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we want to cut the recursion package that already exists in the deck to make room for it.

The three existing recursion spells in the deck are all very powerful, and I can’t see even one of them I’d want to cut for Holistic Wisdom. Eternal Witness is darn good value, especially when paired with Deadeye Navigator, and Sun Titan builds a nice pillow fort with Constant Mists by returning our lands. Neither hold a candle to the sheer power of Starfield of Nyx in an enchantress deck, especially when combined with indestructible godlike enchantments.

To include Holistic Wisdom, we’ll want to expand the recursion package, rather than replace a piece of it. This begs the question: which archetype do we cut from instead? Obviously we don’t want to remove anything from the Draw category, since those cards fuel Holistic Wisdom in the first place. Ramp is too important to cut from, as well. The Wrath section is too light to make even lighter, as are the Tutor and Disruptor categories. I don’t think it’s wise to remove anything from Finishers either, because we’ll need those to make sure the deck’s flavor doesn’t obstruct actual victory.

That leaves us with Enablers and Protection, 16 cards to choose from. Let’s look through them and pick out the weak links.

While no one would call Rhystic Study a weak card in Commander, I would consider it so in this particular context. It only fits the lore in a tertiary sense, and strategically, the deck isn’t focused on taxing opponents. I also suspect you’ll earn less hate from the table if you don’t repeatedly ask them “Are you paying the 1?” There’s a strong argument that this card fits in the Draw category instead of Enablers, but whether folks view it as a taxation effect or a draw spell, my focus is on its lack of flavor and the aggressive attention it could garner from our opposition.

Archetype of Courage synergizes nicely with Kestia, but is perhaps the weakest of the Archetypes.

Blind Obedience could draw similar annoyance from the table, especially with its Extort ability, and some folks who’ve encountered Obedience in the wild might disagree with me calling it one of the weaker cards on the list above. Compared to the other options in the Protection category, though, this sticks out as the one that’s less necessary.

Finally, Sphere of Safety often reads “No one can attack you” in an enchantress deck, but five mana is a lot, especially when you’re trying to cycle through your deck quickly by casting efficiently-costed enchantments, which draw you cards, so you can cast more efficiently-costed enchantments. We need draw velocity to find our limited number of win conditions, and a five mana spell in the middle of that chain can bring everything to a screeching halt.

So, given these choices, what would be your cut?


Hearing the Call

We move now to Dulcet Sirens. It definitely fits into the Grecian flavor, but does it fit into the deck’s archetypes? It could be viewed as either protection or removal. Rather than doing a one-for-one swap, let’s try zooming out on the deck as a whole, to see if there are any cards that leap our as problematic or off-theme.

I hate to get on my #PlayLessTutors soapbox again, but Congregation at Dawn is fairly problematic. While it’s powerful to assemble a Dryad, a Knight, and a Centaur with a mohawk, I think it’s dangerous to reveal to your opponents that you’re about to play a Perplexing Chimera, Sun Titan, and Thassa, God of the Sea in back-to-back turns. Even if you play them in a speedy manner, two turns with a target on your back can be more than enough to destroy you in a game of Commander.

Oasis Ritualist is in the deck for Kiora’s Follower and Pemmin’s Aura. The infinite mana potential is great and all, but the body is fragile. Add in the fact that the Cobra-Naga body is much more in the Hindu/Buddhist/Egyptian camp than the Greek mythos and you really start to run out of favors to give this guy.

Prognostic Sphinx was one of my favorite cards in Theros Standard, but he never makes the cut in my blue decks. Sometimes, a good creature just isn’t good enough in Commander. He’s five mana and he doesn’t fit the enchantress theme very much, which means he might not be worth the slot.


May the Options Be Ever in Your Favor

Knight of Autumn does a great Reclamation Sage impression, and then goes a step further by also allowing you to choose to instead make it larger or gain some life. At three mana, it’s aggressively costed, and more importantly recurrable with Sun Titan. Given all of that flexibility and possibility, surely it can compete with some of the existing removal package?

Right off the bat, we’ll take the most flexible removal options off the chopping block; Song of the Dryads, Capsize, and Grasp of Fate can deal with any kind of problem and fit in extremely well with the theme. On the creature removal side, Curse of the Swine is straight out of Greek legend, as is Hypnotic Siren. Oh, and check out the Judge Foil art Holmhollow is using for Path to Exile:

Beautiful, and completely on point.

Swords to Plowshares, however… is not. I know, I know, it’s blasphemy to suggest removing StP from any deck that can play it. Swords is amazing in every way, but it just struggles to fit the theme. The sword style in every depiction is much more Renaissance Fair than Bronze Age, and the best callback to Greek mythology I can think of for the flavor of the card is Odysseus wanting to return home, which is pretty generic. It could stay in based on power alone, but if we’re building a thematic deck, we have to be willing to challenge some staples.

That leaves artifact/enchantment removal, which could be a one-for-one swap for Knight of Autumn as a more flexible option.

I’m a huge of Aura of Silence. It’s extra-difficult for opponents to deal with, can remove anything we need at a moment’s notice, is perfectly at home in an enchantress deck… and doesn’t fit Greek mythology at all. The figure in the artwork appears more Easter Island than Greco-Roman, and the effect doesn’t call to mind any particular Greek legend. A more thematic choice like Knight of Autumn might be worth considering on that basis alone.

Finally, Nature’s Claim, the other removal spell with a stone Sphinx in it. This is as cheap as it gets for a Disenchant, and you barely notice the 4 life in Commander… but since we’re trying to defeat our opponents via combat damage, that life could actually matter after all. Sure, every once in a while we’ll snatch a win by playing Enchanted Evening and Calming Verse, but most of the time, we’re swinging with creatures.

It’s up to you, the voters! Well, and Holmhollow, who would be well within their rights to ignore everything mentioned here. Still, what would you cut?


Dealer’s Choice

At the end of the day, the cuts are up to the deck’s owner. Advice on what to cut is just that: advice.

With that in mind, let’s look at the cards Holmhollow was already considering cutting, so we can make room for everyone’s favorite upkeep-step-abuser, Tendershoot Dryad. In Holmhollow’s own words:

MIGHT CUT QUESTION MARK?

Cutting either Mistveil Plains or Tolaria West here feels like succumbing to the “Just Cut a Land” mentality that can get us in to trouble in the long run, but at the end of the day, it is just one land. While the mana curve and overall cost of the deck don’t call for it, going to 35 lands wouldn’t be the end of the world, either. As for the others, we’ve discussed all of them except Courser of Kruphix. Courser is a neat form of card advantage, and fits every theme we’re looking for. I don’t personally think it should be removed, but I’m willing to listen if I’m outvoted!

Do we take the easy route and cut a utility land that slows down the deck, revisit one of the other cards we’ve already considered cutting, or take a swing at Courser of Kruphix? What needs to go to make room for our token-swarming Dryad buddy?

 

What do you think of Holmhollow’s deck? How do you feel about theme decks as a whole, and how much do you stick to a theme when you’re up against format staples?

What do you have roaming around unsleeved in the side of your deck boxes? What cards are you wishing you could put in your decks but just can’t find room for? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll help you get to your best 99!

Next Time: Narrowing Your Options

Doug has been an avid Magic player since Fallen Empires, when his older brother traded him some epic blue Homarids for all of his Islands. As for Commander, he's been playing since 2010, when he started off by making a two-player oriented G/R Land Destruction deck. Nailed it. In his spare time when he's not playing Magic, writing about Magic or doing his day job, he runs a YouTube channel or two, keeps up a College Football Computer Poll, and is attempting to gif every scene of the Star Wars prequels.