Welcome back to another installment of the Underdog’s Corner! Due to personal scheduling details, I have been away for what feels like far too long from writing, but I am excited to be back! What has happened in the world since? Well, Rivals of Ixalan was released, and the higher ups even let me write a Top Ten article about it! So how has the EDH world been shaken up by the newest release? Well, according to our data, Merfolk are currently leading the pack from Rivals with Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca, and Dinosaurs are still making a gigantic splash with Zacama, Primal Calamity and Etali, Primal Storm. However, a few tribes are left to fend for themselves a little more, the legendary Vampires in particular. Vona, Butcher of Magan and Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle were two of the fewest played legends from Ixalan, but I think they’re trajectory is on the up with this week’s contender: Elenda, the Dusk Rose!
If you don’t follow the Magic storyline, Elenda is basically the ultimate martyr. She took upon the curse of vampirism to protect Ixalan (the plane) from the abuse of the The Immortal Sun.
“Whenever another creature dies, put a +1/+1 counter on Elenda, the Dusk Rose.”
As those around her fall, she only becomes stronger in her pursuit. This is a good ability, and it helps to mitigate some concerns that many had with her. Elenda instantly became one of the more polarizing commanders upon her release for several reasons. One of them is that a 1/1 for 4-mana really is not that exciting. Her first ability helps with that as she can quickly grow. The other dealt with her text box:
“When Elenda dies, create X 1/1 white Vampire creature tokens with lifelink, where X is Elenda’s power.”
Oh, the power of words. “Dies” makes such a difference for how Elenda plays. If you are not already aware, “dies” in Magic means “moved from the battlefield to the graveyard.” This means that Elenda will not generate tokens if we use the Commander replacement effect to move her to the command zone. Bummer. Fear not though, as I think this is a blessing in disguise for her. Usually Commanders with quirks form the most unique strategies, and this isn’t any less true for Elenda. If we gear our deck with the thought to maximize this “downside”, we can equally create a greater synergy in the total deck when she’s sleeping in her tomb.
Before we wade into Elenda’s more unique roads to victory, I do feel inclined to mention the usual suspects that fit into her deck. These combos are tried-and-true to the format, and they may seem a bit boring. However, the individual pieces are never dead draws on their own which makes their inclusion more justifiable if you are personally adverse to combo win-conditions.
Ashnod’s Altar is a crucial piece of any deck that is willing to sacrifice creatures as fodder, and Nim Deathmantle gives a repeatable way to return a creature to the battlefield. Combined, they usually create an infinite loop to close out the game, especially if a commander can somehow generate tokens. Elenda, the Dusk Rose is no different. The best thing about this combo is that is doesn’t need any mana to kick off. Here’s a brief rundown:
When I first ran through this combo mentally, I was in a bit of despair that I might need a fourth piece. I often forget that Nim Deathmantle actually does more than resurrect dead creatures, and that it’s first half gives a +2/+2 buff. This allows us to generate infinite vampire tokens as well as infinite mana.
Of all combos in EDH, this one feels like one of the most iconic in the format. Combined with a sacrifice outlet, this does very much the same thing as our first combo: generate infinite vampire tokens. Depending on what sacrifice outlet we use, we also generate infinite value from whatever we may be using. Infinite scry 1 with Viscera Seer, infinitely sized Carrion Feeder, and much more. Individually, they both pull their weight as well. Returning Elenda to the battlefield over and over again is going to be an important theme for the deck.
Here me out. Ixalan block was focused on tribal themes. Elenda is both a vampire and a knight… So the general thought would be, if you were to make a tribal deck, that Elenda would lead either a vampire deck or a knight deck (Haakon, Stromgald Scourge has a home!) While both of these are valid, in my opinion, this isn’t the direction I want to explore Elenda.
Introducing… Anthem Tribal.
So why anthem tribal? Well, a few reasons. There are actually a surprising number of them that are relevant to Elenda, as well as a spread over different card types. This gives us a high enough density not only in number, but in our curve as well. We have low drops such as Honor of the Pure and Glorious Anthem, and we also have higher costed anthems with addtional effects like Eldrazi Monument and The Immortal Sun. Along with that, there’s plenty of utility with cards like Marshal’s Anthem and Spear of Heliod.
Additionally, anthems feed incredibly well into Elenda. Let’s say Elenda is on the field with a single anthem, and then dies. We got from having two power on the board, to having four. If we have two anthems, we go from three power to nine power. And so it goes. Anthems are incredibly potent force multipliers, and there are so many that we should never be without one or even two. Not only does this power up Elenda, but it gives us a level of consistency necessary to survive if Elenda is removed from the picture. Let’s take a look at all of the different options we may look to include:
These are the options that are very efficient at what they do. They are all low cost, and they may add an additional benefit. There are a lot of other good anthems that exist at this cost, but for our purposes we really need them to cast as wide a net as possible. While Intangible Virtue or Always Watching exist, the fact that this deck will equally use tokens and creatures will push us to use more general use tech. However, if you want to go all in, I would recommend going for the token specific anthems first.
While most anthems come to us in the forms of enchantments and artifacts, there are a few quality creatures that will help us hammer home a victory. Angel of Invention is the most “stock” anthem among them. She can either can in as a fragile body with multiple tokens, or as a slightly bigger flier. With so many other anthems floating around, she can end up being a force to be reckoned with. Ravos, Soultender is back without a partner, and his raise dead ability plays perfectly into our strategy. An anthem effect and a way to bring back Elenda from the graveyard? Sign me up. He’s a little slow and a little fragile, but that’s the price we pay for the abilities.
However, apparently for a little more mana we get the heaviest of hitters. Mikaeus, the Unhallowed is one of the most powerful and destructive cards available in black, and he’s a great inclusion. There’s a bit of awkwardness with how Elenda’s ability and undying work, but with a sac outlet at the ready, we can generate a few “free” tokens and then buff Elenda with both Mikaeus’ anthem and the undying counters. Lastly, we have one of the most feared and revered creatures in all of Magic with Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. A massive buff and a crippling debuff for our opponents? If Elesh Norn manages to survive removal, I would expect victory to fall into your hands soon.
As the title alludes, these cards both give us a permanent anthem advantage. Sorin, Lord of Innistrad manages to keep the vampire theme alive… undead… whatever you want to call them. What’s great about Sorin is there is no need to attempt to reach his ultimate. Using his plus and minus abilities are all we really need. Next, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is back from terrorizing and warping standard to warp the battlefield around him. If nothing else, we can ultimate Gideon as soon as he’s played and get an immediate and permanent anthem effect. A four mana permanent emblem is everything this deck wants.
Last on our tour of anthems are a few heavy hitting artifacts. Each of these offer us much more than an anthem to the point of where the anthem is the part that feels “tacked on.” For a black-white commander deck, Caged Sun and The Immortal Sun each offer a different form of mana-advantage that is sorely needed. Eldrazi Monument requires sacrificing a creature for its benefits, but for a commander that wants to be martyred anyways it’s actually ideal.
While we have already talked about bringing back Elenda from her tomb with Reveillark and Karmic Guide, there are still a few others cards we need to include to ensure that she comes back to us. Dread Return is a double-down on value since if our machine is working we may very well be able to cast and flash it back on the same turn. With Elenda dying, that also means that we’re likely to be creating tokens which opens up using Victimize as fodder to bring back our haymakers. There are a wealth of options available in black and white, and the questions “how many?” and “which ones?” will depend on personal preference.
That is it for me for this article! I hope you have enjoyed looking at a bit of a different twist on Elenda. I think she is a wonderful addition to the format, and I’m excited to see what clever avenues are explored as she continues her stay with us. If you have any suggestions for future articles, let me know! I’m always looking for new ideas.
Thanks for joining me in the Underdog’s Corner!