Hi everyone! Welcome back to the Knowledge Pool. Last time I teased that we would explore a deck intent on making fat tokens, and this week I’m bringing you just that.
I first began playing Commander when Return to Ravnica released. Before that I’d toyed with a few different strategies, but I never pulled the trigger on a deck. When Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice was spoiled, I was finally inspired enough to put my first deck together. I always enjoyed tokens, but in most formats token decks were relegated to “go wide” strategies. The concept of focusing on big tokens, and making big creatures consistently every turn was super exciting to me. My first draft of Trostani ultimately transitioned into the Mayael the Anima deck that I described in my first series, and throughout the years I’ve built and dismantled several different variants of Trostani. Each time I’ve updated the deck, I ultimately find one reason or another to take it apart. Sadly these previous iterations weren’t saved, as they would have presented us a unique opportunity to observe the changes in deck building mentality over time. However, I remember a few constants: the deck always focused on big tokens, life gain was never a primary goal of the deck, and I favored a heavy inclusion of removal.
The last few Standard sets have introduced a bunch of new toys to Trostani’s arsenal, including Anointed Procession, Crested Sunmare, and Aetherflux Reservoir, and I think it’s time to put a version of Trostani together for the long haul. Let’s take a detailed look at our commander, and decide how we want to approach this deck.
For me, Trostani’s most striking ability is the activated ability that allows us to Populate. With Trostani on board, a single token can quickly grow into an army, and if that token is big enough, our army can quickly close out the game. We can also build around this ability with spells that copy activated abilities, or with spells that increase token production. I would also like to point out that tokens as a whole have gotten more complex in recent years. The Amonket block brought us the Eternalize and Embalm abilities which allow us to make token versions of real spells. The possibility of populating tokens with abilities is tantalizing, presenting us the chance to build towards more value than the token body would normally offer.
Trostani’s other ability gains us life equal to the toughness of any creature we put into play. In the past, I’ve always put minimal focus on this ability for a simple reason: if I’m playing fat tokens, each populate trigger is going to gain me a ton of life. With this in mind, I’ve never seen the need to build additional life gain into my Trostani decks. Each iteration has never had trouble gaining tons of life just through playing out my tokens, and I’ve always approached the extra life gain as a buffer of sorts to help me stabilize through wraths and to put me out of reach of opponents attempting to kill me through combat oriented strategies.
With this most recent design, I want to put a heavier focus on life gain. Instead of simply attempting to outlast my opponents, I want to use the life gain as an additional source of value, and potential win condition.
Before we get into this week’s decklist I want to address an elephant in the room. Of the potential GW commanders available, Rhys the Redeemed provides Trostani with some stiff competition as a token general. He provides an effect that potentially allows for a much quicker generation of tokens, and is better at playing an aggressive, go wide style of deck. I prefer Trostani for a “fat” token deck for several reasons. First, most spells that make large tokens make 1 or 2 at a time. When the starting number of tokens is so few, the difference in output between Trostani and Rhys is not as noticeable, and Trostani’s ability comes at a much better rate. Trostani’s life gain synergy with fat tokens is also not negligible, and helps us to play a more consistent long game. Finally, in some circles Trostani’s lack of explosive potential is a blessing in disguise. In my experience, opponents are going to try to kill Rhys on sight so that he can’t start doubling tokens. In contrast, Trostani is much less of an immediate threat, and I’ve found that she doesn’t tend to be the top priority for opposing removal. Rhys is still an awesome and potent Selesnya commander, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for putting him at the head of a similar deck.
Now let’s take a look at the deck:
After a quick look at this deck, a few characteristics are apparent. First, the deck’s curve centers around 4. We won’t be getting off to super fast starts, and we’re ultimately aiming to out value our opponents in the mid-game. Because Trostani’s our commander, we’re in an interesting spot. Normally having an average cmc of 4 would make us rather vulnerable to aggressive decks, but because Trostani can gain us massive chunks of life, we can be a bit more greedy with our game plan. Even if we take some early hits, we can plan to play Trostani and follow her up with tokens to stabilize. A small but noticeable benefit of Trostani at the helm is that she has a really nice defensive body. Five toughness should be enough to act as a hefty roadblock for most things that will be attacking us on turn 4, which should help draw aggro away from us.
The second thing we should notice about this deck is that this build favors a more “traditional” Commander strategy. In addition to our synergistic elements, we’re also playing a significant amount of removal and ramp. The former will allow us to weather faster decks, or decks with explosive starts, while the latter will help easy the strain of our high curve. Both will help us to win the war of attrition that tends to stump creature based strategies.
As expected, tokens and life gain are the deck’s primary focus, and in the following sections we will outline the specifics.
We can see that we have 28 cards devoted towards making tokens or else synergizing with tokens. Tokens are our first line of offense, we’ll attempt to amass an overwhelming board state to end games. Of the token generators, I’ve aimed for tokens with power 3 or greater, and of the token synergies, I’ve aimed for spells that will either double our token output, or else provide us a steady stream of tokens from turn to turn. Let’s take a look.
A critical point to remember for this deck is that we only require our token generators to make a single token. Obviously, if we can get multiple tokens from our spells we’ll be in better shape, but even if we only have a single token we can begin populating it with Trostani.
A few of our token makers stand out as being particularly potent in this deck. Crested Sunmare has the potential to put a lot of power on the board, and given the amount of life gain built in to the deck, we can expect to make a horse on most turns. Angelic Accord operates on a similar axis to Sunmare, and while the trigger cost is more challenging, the tokens it makes are evasive.
Embalming Angel of Sanctions gives us a source of “reusable” removal. We can populate the token with Trostani to make an evasive army, and remove problem nonland permanents at instant speed.
Now we enter the realm of “massive” tokens. This category includes the following: Phyrexian Processor, Phyrexian Rebirth, Giant Adephage, and Desolation Twin. Processor is potentially one of the most powerful cards in the deck with Trostani on board. If we have 8 mana, we can pay any amount of life into the Processor, and immediately make a token equal to that amount. With Trostani on board we recuperate all the life that we paid, and then poopulate the token. We have to be a bit careful that we don’t lose our Processor when trying to make this play, but if we can pull it off our tokens will be near impossible to beat in combat.
Rebirth is primarily a wrath in this deck, but the fact that we can wipe the board, and come out with a massive token is promising.
Adephage is a unique case. Normally I’m not a fan of cards that require combat damage to trigger their abilities, but Adephage is one of the few exceptions. It has natural trample increases the odds that we’ll be able to connect, and each token has the ability to self-populate. Essentially, the ceiling is too high to ignore for a card like this, as it can easily end a game on its own if left unchecked.
Twin is a big beater, essentially allowing us to invest 10 mana for 20 power. One of the more appealing aspects of this card is that we get the token as a cast trigger. This means we won’t get double tokens with Panharmonicon, but if an opponent counters the Twin, we’ll still get the token (and ultimately we only care about the token).
Beyond these, we have a couple of unique token generators that can help us get value back from creature death: Mimic Vat and God-Pharaoh’s Gift. Under the right conditions both of these cards will allow us to turn any of our creatures into tokens that we can Populate. From here, the interactions get really wonky. For instance, if we have Sunmare imprinted on Vat, we can make a token of it, and then Populate our token. Since both tokens are copies of Sunmare, they are both indestructible, and they will both make more horses when we gain life each turn. I recommend taking a look at each of the creatures in the deck, and considering what happens when we have a token version of it. Can you imagine being able to populate Eternal Witness or Rampaging Baloths? Thinking about the potential here may be a tad optimistic, but it gets my Timmy heart pounding.
There are some additional interactions with Vat and Gift that make them a bit more versatile under the right conditions. Vat allows us to imprint our opponents creatures, which opens up all kinds of wacky possibilities, and more practically it allows us excise potential reanimation targets. Gift turns any of our creatures into a 4/4, which is a blessing and a curse. On one hand, we suddenly make token beaters out of our 1 drops, and Serra Ascendant has the potential to be 9/9 Flying with lifelink. On the other, Adephage becomes a lot less scary as a 4/4.
There are a handful of other token producers that are more straightforward. Luminarch Ascension is a classic, and playing it early can easily take over a game. Ascension, however, has a bad reputation due to it’s potentially high power level, so be prepared to face down hate in response to playing this card.
Sandwurm Convergence is another new addition to this deck, but I love everything that it brings to the table. Enchantments are one of the more difficult permanents to remove, and the promise of a 5/5 every turn is appealing. The protection from flyers is also rather important, given how few potential blockers we have in the sky.
Finally, Voice of Resurgence is a somewhat controversial Commander card. I’m not a fan of the argument that opponents will simply not cast spells during our turn to navigate around Voice. The reason we’re playing Voice is to discourage plays made on our turn, and the investment cost is so little that we’re not setting ourselves back by playing it. More importantly, however, is the fact that Voice gives us a small amount of wrath insurance. I’ve included cards like Selfless Spirit, Dauntless Escort, and Rootborn Defenses to protect our team, but in the event that our board does get hit, we won’t be left with nothing.
Now that we have an idea of the sorts of tokens we will be able to make, I briefly want to point out some of the synergistic spells we’ve included.
Parallel Lives and Anointed Procession will double our token output, and make each of our populates increasingly dangerous. They also double our life gain when combined with Trostani. These two are arguably the most important cards in the deck, as sticking either will greatly enhance our potential to overwhelm our opponents, or put us out of reach of opposing armies. I’ve specifically included Enlightened Tutor in this deck because of its ability to find either of these two spells.
When compared with Procession and Lives, Growing Ranks seems quite underwhelming. However, I’ve mentioned multiple times in this article how we want to outlast our opponents, and the extra bodies that Ranks provides will help us do that. I also want to have redundancy with Trostani, so having another, consistent source of populate is appreciated.
Finally, I want to make a note of Garruk Wildspeaker. This is the only planeswalker in the deck and for good reason. If we need additional mana, Garruk’s plus ability ramps, and his minus gives us a token that we can populate. But perhaps most importantly, Garruk only needs a single plus trigger to get in range of his ultimate: Overrun. In Commander, Overrun is somewhat lackluster in comparison to the other potential options. However, when we can get the boost from Garruk in addition to his other two abilities, we suddenly have an effective way of putting our token army over the top. This range of utility makes Garruk deadly in combination with our Populate shenanigans, and most opponents will neglect his impact until it’s too late.
Our token strategy is the meat of the Trostani deck. We will usually win or lose based on our ability to make tokens, and so we’ve included them to be the largest share of nonland cards in the deck.
Our secondary strategy is life gain, and I’ve aimed to make it an important role player. I try to always build my decks with multiple avenues to winning, and for this deck, life gain will be our alternate win condition.
The first component of our life gain package are the “Soul Sisters”: Essence Warden, Soul Warden, Soul’s Attendant, Suture Priest, and Anointer Priest. These are a new inclusion in Trostani for me, as I’ve previously considered their abilities to be too minimal to have an impact on a Commander game. However, after several experiences playing against these sorts of cards, I’ve decided that I wanted to give them a shot in our deck. What the Soul Sisters lack in immediate board impact, they make up for with their consistency. Opponents don’t want to “waste” removal on our Sisters, even though we’re gaining life for every creature that enters the battlefield (in the case of Essence Warden, Soul Warden, and Soul’s Attendant). This life gain adds up, and plays really nicely with several other life gain triggers in our deck.
We talked previously about Crested Sunmare and Angelic Accord, and our Sisters help us to make the most of both of these cards. Sunmare in particular doesn’t care about the quantity of life gained, so on each turn, if an opponent plays a creature while we have a Sister, we will make a horse. With Rhox Faithmender or Panharmonicon on board, the life gain from our Sisters suddenly becomes a lot more noticeable as we gain multiple life from each creature we play. With Well of Lost Dreams we will suddenly be drawing tons of cards as we’ll be gaining life constantly. Finally, Anointer Priest boasts the Embalm ability, so we will be able to make and Populate token copies of our Priest to create a steady stream of life gain.
Beyond the Sisters package, we have a handful of other ways that we can gain life outside of Trostani. Fumigate and Shamanic Revelation are primarily included for their value as wrath and draw spells respectively. However, both can gain us chunks of life while fulfilling a necessary quality in our deck. Thragtusk operates similarly, gaining us life, while doubling as a token producer. Verdant Sun’s Avatar is another case of commander redundancy, giving us another means of turning each creature played into substantial life gain.
While not directly a life gain card, I would like to acknowledge Serra Avatar. With Trostani on board, playing Avatar will double our life total, while making a massive beater in the process.
So what’s the payoff for us gaining tons of life? I’ve mentioned briefly the potency of Well of Lost Dreams in this deck, and this card is on the short list with Anointed Procession and Parallel Lives for most powerful in the deck. Left unchecked, Well can draw us an obscene amount of cards, and there are two cards that we are particularly interested in drawing into.
First, Aetherflux Reservoir allows us to turn our excess life into a game ending laser to blow away our opponents. Unless our opponents are also gaining life, blasting them for 50 damage is a kill shot, and 50 life should be a relatively small investment for us (especially if we’re taking out a potential threat in the process). Reservoir does gain life on its own, although admittedly we’re not particularly well equipped to take advantage of it given our higher curve. I would recommend saving Reservoir until we’re ready to start blasting so that we can limit the window for dealing with it.
Second, Felidar Sovereign has been a staple in Trostani decks since the beginning. Many players hate cards that end the game in this way, so I recommend you play it based on your playgroup’s tastes. But, it can’t be denied that Sovereign provides us a very easy way to close out a game given that we will almost always have more than 40 life. Trickier than having 40 life is having a way to protect Sovereign so that it can survive until our next upkeep. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to include cards like Swiftfoot Boots and Lightning Greaves as safety measures, but in the interest of synergy, our options in this particular list are the spells that make our team indestructible: Selfless Spirit, Rootborn Defenses, and Dauntless Escort.
I would like to mention one final card that can act as a payoff for our life gain. Admittedly it’s far less flashy than Well, Reservoir, and Sovereign, but Cradle of Vitality does present us the opportunity to turn our tokens into disgustingly huge monsters. With Trostani on board, and two open mana, we can effectively double the power of our creatures with Cradle.
We discussed at length our token and life gain strategies, which combined make up 40% of our deck. Factoring in lands, this leaves us roughly 25% of our deck to devote towards utilities (primarily ramp, draw, and removal). Let’s take a look:
Our ramp package consists of 8 cards, and is designed such that we have options for the early and mid game. In comparison to many of the decks I’ve demoed for the Knowledge Pool, this one is less concerned with heavy ramp. Once we hit 4 mana we’ll be able to cast ~65% of the spells in our deck, and beyond 6 mana, only ~13% of our deck requires a greater investment. Only two of our top end cards cost greater than 7 mana. Casting Cultivate and Kodama’s Reach on turn 3 will ensure that we hit the 5 mana mark by turn 4. Casting Wildspeaker or Skyshroud Claim on turn 4 without prior ramp will ensure we have 6 mana on turn 5, and with a land drop we’ll be able to cast ~97% of the spells in our deck.
Boundless Realms is meant to push us over the edge so that we can start casting multiple spells in a turn.
Now that we know that we should be able to reliably cast our spells, lets check out our options for stunting the growth of our opponents.
We have 7 potential creature removal options, and 6 potential artifact and enchantment removal options. Of these, we have 5 wraths, two of which also hit artifacts and enchantments.
I’ve already mentioned the reasons for including Phyrexian Rebirth and Fumigate, and Hour of Reckoning should make logical sense given that the bulk of our army is tokens. Tragic Arrogance will allow us the power to neuter our opponents strategies, while leaving behind critical pieces of ours like Trostani, Anointed Procession, and Well of Lost Dreams. Austere Command is included for a similar reason. Given that ~15% of our deck is made up of Enchantments and Artifacts, there’s a decent chance we will have permanents of these types that we want to save. Command and Arrogance will give us the opportunity to remove nonland permanents on a large scale, while breaking symmetry based on what we need to save.
Aura Shards is a staple in GW strategies, particularly token builds. I’ve heard opponents describe it as “oppressive”, given that it effectively prevents them from playing enchantments and artifacts until it’s dealt with. Given that we will be making lots of tokens, Shards should offer us considerable board control, and might tip a game entirely in our favor.
Thank you all for taking the time to read about my Trostani deck! I’m really excited about this current iteration, and I’m looking forward to testing it out. I love revisiting decks like this one, and experiencing the nostalgia that they bring with them.
I would really like to hear if you have a Trostani deck, and if there are any cards that I’m missing from mine. What do you think of the Soul Sisters inclusion? Is the incremental advantage good enough, or could these slots in the deck be better used for more impactful options?
I hope that I’ve inspired you to venture into the realm of Selesnya, and until next time, I wish you all the best, and happy brewing!