Playgroup Brews – Back to Our Roots (Part 2)

Previously on EDHREC…

Hey everyone! I’m back for round 2 of Playgroup Brews! Last time we discussed two of our five Elder Dragons before the M19 prerelease: Arcades, the Strategist and Chromium, the Mutable. We got lots of great feedback, a lot of folks loved the Chromium deck, and we hope that you had fun brewing these commanders yourself both before and after the prerelease! This weekend the M19 set was actually released, so now it’s time to talk about the rest of the bunch! If you’ve pulled any of the new Elder Dragons and are thinking of building them as commanders, hopefully this will be helpful! As a quick recap, I want to reacquaint you with my team here.


The Battlegrounds Brewers

Jeff: Jeff is our goofy guy on the team. He likes to make decks that are fun for both himself and for the rest of the table by using unconventional strategies and simply silly deck concepts. He chose to build Arcades, the Strategist.

Nick: Nick, like me, is a friendly neighborhood jank brewer. If there’s a bad card that can be made good, but only if played with six other cards, he will build it. Due to this, he decided to brew Chromium, the Mutable.

Travis: In Travis’s view, EDH is the perfect way for Magic players to truly express themselves and their personalities. He stepped up to the challenge of figuring out the weirdest way to build Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner, and as you’ll see in this article, he did a pretty great job.

Mike: Mike started with competitive decks, but soon found that anyone can build a powerful Commander deck; it takes a lot more work to build a fun Commander deck. From here he likes to do big, dumb, stupid things that also happen to be REALLY powerful. It was natural that he would build Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire.

Christian: You all may know me by now. I build decks that no one would expect with very well-known, goofy commanders. I decided to go for Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, but took an unconventional approach.


First Impressions: Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner

Christian: I was hoping for more. She looks phenomenal in the 99 for several decks, but I’m thoroughly unimpressed. I was hoping each Elder Dragon would be unique and do cool things. I hope to see weird brews, but am definitely skeptical.

Jeff: It’s a big dumb Naya thing that becomes worse when it does what big dumb Naya things usually do. Unfortunately, it looks like Palladia-Mors is the least impressive of this new cycle of Elder Dragons.

Mike: For Commander, this is a worse Uril, the Miststalker. Might be interesting to mix up your Bogles and Voltron cards into a single deck and see how that goes, but I’m not really impressed.

Nick: Naya big. Naya strong. Naya boring. There’s a ton of design space here, and I feel like Wizards kinda fell on their face with this one. With better commanders for generic or “goodstuff” builds in these colors, it’s hard to see a creative direction here. She seems fun to sit on Dragon Throne of Tarkir though!

Travis: This is a big, mindless Naya creature that will likely not see play outside of Limited. It’s a shame, not just because Naya is my favorite shard, but also because there could have been so much more to the design of this card. While you can find a variety of more vibrant commanders in the Naya catalogue, I invite you to take step down the rabbit hole with me as we try to find a non-Infect non-Voltron shell for her.


Travis’s Palladia-Mors Deck Tech

I’m going to level with you right now: Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner is an uninteresting design that is better off suited in the 99, or at your local draft event. If you’re looking for a linear Naya beatdown strategy, then there are far better options out there for you. However, if you’ve made it to the third sentence of this deck tech, then you’re exactly the kind of person that will roll up your sleeves and get to work with me. How can we make this Limited bomb playable?

There are better commanders for Infect. There are better commanders for Voltron. But there isn’t a better Naya commander for a Birthing Pod deck. That’s right, this commander is exactly what we’re looking for in the command zone.

Our strategy is pretty simple: Palladia-Mors will get us Protean Hulk off of Birthing Pod. It isn’t just that she’s has a converted mana cost of six, but rather that her hexproof ability allows her to sit on the battlefield for a few turns while you set up your pieces. She’s not invulnerable, but you can ramp into her early enough to set up and go off with Protean Hulk combos the following turn. If we don’t draw/tutor into Birthing Pod, we have plenty of ways to still tutor up good ‘ol Lord Trypophobia, with a variety of sac outlets close at hand. Our combo suite employs a variety of old favorites from these three colors, and now they’re all joining forces for an EDH combo supergroup. Think of it as something like Cream, The Three Tenors, or Asia, but it’s actually all three of those groups performing at once with Squidward conducting them.

I won’t go into every possible way that you can win a game of EDH with Protean Hulk, but the simplest for us is to use Protean Hulk to get Karmic Guide, which you can then pass through your sac outlet to retrieve Reveillark. The revival triggers will loop all three creatures around and around again, allowing you to tutor every creature in your deck and find something to the tune of Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Restoration Angel, which, as we all know, produce infinite creatures with haste. You can either attack with these infinite creatures, mill opponents out with Altar of Dementia, deal lethal ETB damage with Purphoros, God of the Forge, or throw them all away to Goblin Bombardment.

There are a lot of different directions that this Naya shell can go, so you can tune it to your local meta. If you want to take a walk on the wild side, feel free to build this version, Palladia Pod. See the decklist below, or click here for my deck on TappedOut!

Palladia Pod

Commander (1)
Creatures (32)
Instants (14)
Artifacts (12)
Enchantments (5)
Lands (37)


First Impressions: Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire

Christian: Vaevictis Asmadi blew me away. This is something I was not expecting, and a refreshing way for Jund to do Jund things. It’s unique enough to be awesome, but general enough to allow a lot of different deck themes like lands matter, topdeck matters, or sacrifice.

Jeff: A symmetrical pseudo-Chaos Warp every time it swings can lead to some pretty interesting stuff. Plus, Jund likes when people sacrifice things. I can see him being a really fun and interesting build-around commander.

Mike: I like this card. It’s a lot of fun. I can’t put my first impressions into a short paragraph, so check out my deck tech instead!

Nick: Oh man, this is going to be fun to play against. I love unpredictability in Commander, and this card does not disappoint. It’s like Pyxis of Pandemonium every turn! Jund has always been good at getting value out of sacrificing your own permanents, and Vaevictus seems like the best mass removal on a commander this side of Child of Alara. I think the deckbuilding excitement here extends only as far as you are willing to accept that you may be forced to watch a Xenagos, God of Revels player flip an Akroma’s Memorial off the top of their library.

Travis: When in doubt, Jund-hug them out? This is an interesting control choice to help police the board from Theros Gods and the like. It is similar to Shattergang Brothers, but has some more reach, with the drawback that the ability can only be used by attacking. However, Jund Primal Surge deck, anyone?


Mike’s Vaevictis Asmadi Deck Tech

Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire, the Jund Elder Dragon himself, has turned up in M19 with the most interesting ability for Commander of any of the new Elder Dragons. No longer a power-pumping brute, he has become a political tool and free card engine who can turn a game in any direction simply by attacking. His ability is essentially identical to Commander staple Chaos Warp, but with one very important difference: you don’t shuffle. Without this randomization, you can gain a massive advantage and political edge by controlling what is on top of each library and making everyone put down new permanents each turn, all while dealing with problems on the board. It is a touch of chaos and a lot of fun.

The first two cards everyone thinks of when they see this ability are the colorless top-deck manipulation all-stars, Sensei’s Divining Top and Scroll Rack. Top lets you reorder the top three cards of your library, and can put itself on top of your library, making it a vital tool to select cards to reveal with Vaevictis. Scroll Rack is a phenomenally powerful Commander card, and when combined with Vaevictis’s ability, it becomes potentially game-breaking. If you have this card out and attack with Vaevictis, you can effectively put any permanent from your hand directly onto the battlefield and ‘draw’ cards to replace it.

But why should your library be the only one you manipulate? What if you want to give an opponent back something in exchange for all of the things you destroy? What if you need someone on your side and a free card or two would mean a lot of influence? Agonizing Memories and Stunted Growth hurt your opponents, but also offer them ‘free’ permanents. Oath of Druids is a Vintage staple that can potentially benefit anyone, but since you’re choosing many of your top decks, you can usually use this for some sneaky shenanigans. My personal favorites, however, areTahngarth’s Glare andSoldier of Fortune. Glare lets you rearrange the top three of your opponent’s deck while they do the same to you, without either of you knowing the results. Soldier of Fortune forces a player to shuffle their library, adding the randomness back to the Chaos Warp ability. Make anyone’s flip, including your own, totally up to chance.

Last up are the spicy synergy cards. Some of them are your payoffs for the Vaevictis ability, while others are just too fun to pass up. Sepulchral Primordial andThrilling Encore pair very well with the constant sacrificing. Aid from the Cowl acts like a second Vaevictis, since you will normally have Revolt. Stolen Strategy is on theme and can help you find answers if you put cards on top of an opponent’s deck and then cast them. Using Maze of Ith on your own Vaevictis is also a nice way to convince your opponents to let you use the trigger without potentially killing someone.

Vaevictis is capable of some very broken and unfun things. I built this deck to use for a fun, extended game of Commander that doesn’t simply end when you stick a free absurd permanent or combo off. The payoff cards are powerful but not game-enders on their own, and the deck focuses a lot more on helping you justify all the attacking you’ll be doing by actively involving each of your opponents in every one of your combats in a potentially positive way. Be a little bit group hug, a little bit group slug, and turn your next game of Commander into a circus of value. Check out what I made below, and click here if you want to see it on TappedOut.

The Circus of Value

Commander (1)
Creatures (22)
Instants (7)
Sorceries (11)
Enchantments (13)
Artifacts (8)
Planeswalkers (1)
Lands (37)


First Impressions: Nicol Bolas, the Ravager

Christian: I love having a cheap and flippable Nicol Bolas, but he seems a bit generic to be a commander. I’m really excited to see what I can do with him, but looking at his card doesn’t give me an initial impression of how I should build him.

Jeff: He seems like a pretty solid Grixis commander that can do a lot of what Grixis is known for, even without using his flip ability. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him at the helm of everything from control decks to casual Bolas-themed tribal.

Mike: A good creature that does something the moment it hits the field, and a 4/4 with flying for four mana that can become an unholy abomination of power and flavor later. What’s not to love?

Nick: Power, power, power. Grixis Goodstuff has a home. There is a lot to like here with how flavorful and generically good Nicol Bolas is. I think it’s great that his flip ability doesn’t rely on a funky triggered ability like the Origins cycle, (Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, et al.) since it doesn’t steer you toward a specific way to build around him. No matter the strategy though, I think we’re going to see a lot of Geth’s Grimoires in Bolas decks.

Travis: Looks like a bomb in Limited, but will be a real challenge in EDH since the Transform ability isn’t at instant speed. However, there is plenty of opportunity to make it part of a Grixis Goodstuff deck.


Christian’s Nicol Bolas Deck Tech

Nicol Bolas, the Ravager is quite something. For seven mana at sorcery speed, he can turn into Nicol Bolas, the Arisen. A flip-walker in the command zone is cool to begin with, but until now, we’ve never actually had a multicolored flip-walker! Nicol Bolas has proven to be incredible in Limited, but he opens a lot of areas for Grixis as a commander as well. My brewing process for him was actually very complicated. He is pretty streamlined with his discard theme, but since it’s a one time effect and his planeswalker abilities are so generally good, he has the potential to support several different deck types.

I originally started out brewing a discard-themed deck. It was designed to capitalize on flickering and recasting Bolas himself, running some Specters like Hypnotic Specter, and lots of enchantments and artifacts that provide value whenever opponents discard cards. This version of the deck definitely is very powerful, but it wasn’t what I wanted. As my friend Austin said, “There are few things less fun than losing your hand and never being allowed to have one again.” That’s exactly what the first draft of this deck did, but as I said, that’s not what I was after. I also wanted to have the deck seem more manipulative. I wanted less for it to be a Bolas theme and more “how Bolas would play Magic.” I asked myself: “What would Bolas do?” With that in mind, I sought out other options until EDHREC’s very own Nate Burgess said one word: Clones.

The rest is history! This is very much a Grixis Goodstuff deck, with Clones and theft mechanics. The whole point of the deck is to play an opponent’s deck better than they do, which is exactly what Nicol Bolas would do. Sure, there are still some minor discard themes, but you just capitalize on that by reanimating an opponent’s graveyard with things like The Scarab God or Rise of the Dark Realms. There are also plenty of ways to steal your opponent’s cards and play them, such as Etali, Primal Storm and Gonti, Lord of Luxury. And, of course, there are lots of Clones.

Lastly, this is Nicol Bolas we’re talking about. We need to include some flavor within the deck, and those are primarily found in the win conditions. We are still running the other Nicol Bolas planeswalkers, as well as Torment of Hailfire, Insurrection, and, the most flavorful of all, Liliana’s Contract. We unfortunately run no Demons within the deck, but we do run Arcane Adaptation! Turn all of your Clones into Demons and win the game with impostors! To me, while this deck doesn’t necessarily run all of the Nicol Bolas flavor cards, the whole concept of stealing your opponents’ ideas, creatures, and spells is definitely something up Nicol Bolas’s alley. I really like how this turned out, and can’t wait to test it out! I’ve added my decklist for the clone theme below. If you want to see it on TappedOut, click here, and I’ve included my discard theme as well in this link if you are interest in that as well!

Nicol Bolas, the Cloner

Commander (1)
Creatures (19)
Instants (6)
Sorceries (11)
Artifacts (11)
Enchantments (11)
Planeswalkers (3)
Lands (38)


The End Step

Thus we finish this two-part article, with five Elder Dragon brews from the newly released in Core Set 2019! I’m so excited to see what people come up with for these commanders, and to see what the Core Set adds to Commander as a format.

This article series took a lot of work between five people and I’ve gotten an immense amount of feedback on it, but I want to hear more now that it’s completed! Is this an article series you would like to see return with potentially different or fewer guests? Do you want to see the same authors? Any comments would be very helpful, as I look toward potentially doing another iteration of this series for future set releases! Hope you enjoyed the read, and please comment your thoughts on the decks themselves as well!

While getting a degree in evolutionary biology, Christian spent all of his free time in college building commander decks after being introduced to the MTG in the Theros block. After spending the last several years building and playing biologically-themed tribal decks and surprising people with wonky builds of well-known commanders, he decided to share his thought and design process with the community, incorporating ideas from his many playgroups into articles, while also working in museums and scuba diving when he can.