Hello, everyone and welcome to a very special December edition of the Underdog’s Corner! This week, we return to Ravnica after taking a brief visit to the Carnival of Souls with Davvol. We’re not quite back to our regular programming yet, despite returning to Ravnica, so why is this article special? Two reasons:
First, this marks the end of my second year writing with EDHREC! For those who may not know, I was part of the original wave of writers when the site launched its articles, and I’ve been writing the Underdog’s Corner since the beginning. Second, this is my 50th article for the site! It’s a milestone that I realized I would reach at the end of this year, and I’ve been excited to reach it. I love writing for EDHREC, and I look forward to another 50 articles in the future!
However, you’re here to read about Commander, so let’s get started with our semi-Underdog of the week: Emmara, Soul of the Accord.
You may be wondering why Emmara is considered an underdog. Currently, she is the second most played commander from Guilds of Ravnica, with 124 decks. That is a very respectable number for a Standard-legal walker only two months after release. If we look at her place among Selesnyan commanders, she currently sits as the 17th most played commander.
Those numbers don’t tell the whole story. She has already overtaken Shalai, Voice of Plenty who released in April of this year, and she is within 10 decks of Dromoka, the Eternal who released in Fate Reforged a few years back. If we look further up the chain of command, we can see Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist with over twice as many decks as Emmara. Once again, those numbers don’t tell the whole story, as Mirri released almost a year and a half ago. In time, we’ll see Emmara climb up the ranks. So why am I considering Emmara an underdog?
The reason I consider Emmara to be an underdog is because I never gave her a chance when she was first released. When her card was first spoiled, I read her text and immediately dismissed her. That’s a habit my series openly fights against, yet I still didn’t give her a fighting chance. I didn’t spend any time thinking of how her synergies stacked up or how to best leverage her ability and potential. That all changed thanks to fellow writer, Christian Alexander. If you’ve never read his Playgroup Brews series, I would highly recommend it, as it shows how many of the writers view commanders at first glance. I picked Emmara as my choice of commander, and I was “forced” to write about her. The whole experience completely changed my perception of Emmara as I started to dig into her synergies, and I started to see the power of what can read as an innocuous ability.
Emmara is now my favorite commander I own. Whenever I leave to go play EDH, she is the singular deck that I never leave home without. Enough sentiments, though. Let’s get to the reasons I fell in love with this deck.
What does Emmara bring to the table? At first glance, she’s a two-mana 2/2. That’s a fine rate for stats, but the key point is her cheap mana cost. Emmara can and should be played early, and even if she gets killed she can come back quickly. I’ve never blinked at the notion of recasting her for six mana, and I’m sure I would only be mildly annoyed by it at eight. She is resilient, and that is incredibly important for the deck. Now lets look at the ability that I initially glossed over, but has won me over:
Whenever Emmara, Soul of the Accord becomes tapped, create a 1/1 white Soldier creature token with lifelink.
At first glance, this doesn’t seem too impressive. We have to tap Emmara to get a 1/1? Even if it has lifelink, that seems very low-power, and she doesn’t scale like other green-white token commanders. For example, when she was initially spoiled, I saw many comparisons saying she is just a worse Rhys the Redeemed. While I think it’s a valid comparison, as they both lead go-wide token decks, Emmara has a few of “hidden” advantages that aren’t as obvious until you play her.
The most prominent of these is that her ability is mana-less. I cannot stress how important that is. Creating a token for “free” or as a bonus when activating other abilities is a massive boon, and it wasn’t until I started playing her that I realized how strong of an advantage that can be. So how do we put this ability to use?
The name of the game is tapping Emmara for value. However, she isn’t the only creature that gives us additional benefits for being tapped. Mirri, Weatherlight Duellist draws a massive line in the sand both offensively and defensively. Mirri is only included in 18% of Emmara decks currently, and I think that’s too low. While I can see the merits for not including Mirri, I can’t excuse the 31% inclusion rate of our next card: Stonybrook Schoolmaster. Say it with me: Redundancy. Stonybrook is almost a carbon copy of our commander, and I see no reason for it to not be included in every Emmara, Soul of the Accord deck on EDHREC. Our plan is to tap our creatures for value, and having a second copy of our commander is lets us do just that.
Now that I’ve said it a few times, how important is tapping creatures in this deck? How much of the deck is dedicated to this theme? Well, I currently have 16 different ways to tap creatures in my build, and sometimes I feel like I may even need a few more. While the end results is the same, each card fits into a different niche. I’m going to separate them into three different categories: Mana Advantage, Singular, and Repeatable, so we can focus on the variety of effects we have.
Mana dorks have always been a powerful accelerant in Magic. “Bolt the Bird” is a mantra for players who know the dangers of an unchecked Birds of Paradise, and at one point, Llanowar Elves was considered too strong for standard. Now, what if every creature on our field became a mana dork? Well, we’re running four different ways to do just that. The most powerful (and least restrictive) of these is Cryptolith Rite. I still have trouble believing this card exists, but I love that it does. Turning all of our creatures into a Birds of Paradise for two mana? You literally cannot beat that.
Another variation for the same mana cost as Cryptolith Rite is Song of Freyalise. While we only get two turns of mana production, Song of Freyalise can still be around long enough to do damage. And if we make it to Chapter 3? Well, we get to freely swing with whatever board we’ve amassed in those two turns. Even with just a handful of 1/1s, we’re able to swing for a decent chunk of damage. With how explosive these effects are, we would expect to see them in a decent amount of decks. Cryptolith Rite appears rightly in around 69% of decks, but Song of Freyalise trails mightily with only a 36% inclusion. These are some of the most explosive effects in my build, so I think these accelerants should be valued highly.
Let’s look at two other options. Appearing in 19% and 23% of decks respectively, Rishkar, Peema Renegade and Citanul Hierophants are included in a fairly low number of decks. Unlike their enchantment counterparts, they only allow our creatures to tap for green mana, while also being saddled with the fragility of being a creature.
Despite that, these cards put in work. Tapping a field of tokens for mana unabated is dangerous, and it has won several games when a player drew a board wipe too late. Riskhar is a little trickier to use, as he only conveys mana-production status to creatures with +1/+1 counters. However, we can offset that by including cards that put counters on all of our creatures. The opportunity cost to this choice is low, since powering up our entire field is what we’re aiming to do anyways. Cards like Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Gavony Township are incredible inclusions that wouldn’t be scoffed at even without that Rishkar synergy.
With all of this talk about producing mass amounts of mana, what do we do with all of it?
The answer, dear Watson, is elementary: we make more tokens. This deck will snowball out of control with a Cryptolith Rite variant in play, by sheer force of making more tokens. March of the Multitudes works even without one of our mana-enablers in play because of Convoke, and its fellow X spells like Secure the Wastes, White Sun’s Zenith, and Decree of Justice become very massive very quickly. Passing the turn while holding up all of our mana for one of these spells is an intoxicating feeling. If we look to permanent methods, cards like Jade Mage, Ant Queen, and Mobilization also let us consistently produce tokens at a decent rate.
As mentioned with March of the Multitudes, Convoke makes for a powerful addition, as we will have plenty of bodies to tap, including our commander.
I’ve always wanted to play Sprout Swarm, and this deck is the perfect place for it. When boards begin to clog, casting this once or twice to create a few tokens is very worth it. While the cost-per-token ratio is among the highest in the deck, the ability to reuse it over and over can’t be overstated. If we want a more cost-effective spell, Scatter the Seeds is also available.
If you haven’t noticed yet, almost all of our mass tokens producers can be cast or activated at instant speed. While this wasn’t a deliberate choice at first, once I noticed it, I shifted all of my token producers to fall into line, and several other spells too. Chord of Calling, for example, is a creature tutor at instant speed. I don’t think I need to convince you why this is good. My gut instinct is usually to try to grab a Craterhoof Behemoth as quickly as possible, but the ability to grab any creature gives us amazing flexbility. If we wanted, say, Wrath insurance, we could Convoke for something like Selfless Spirit, keeping our army alive so that it can continue to pump out tons more mana.
We’ve discussed ways to tap our creatures en masse, but we also have some “single target” options. While these offer the most benefit when combined with Emmara (or the Schoolmaster, lest we forget), they still advance our gameplan. First, Selesnya Evangel is possibly the only card in the deck that I am willing to play on Turn 2 over Emmara. The usual gameplan is to rush out Emmara as early as possible to start generating tokens. Unless we have specific cards in play already, that first token will only be created on Turn 3. Starting with Evangel on turn two lets us follow up with our commander, immediately tap her, and still gain that usual turn three token.
Creating multiple tokens per tap of Emmara is one of the strongest plays the deck can enact, even if it seems low-power at first glance. Presence of Gond is another way to create this net advantage. Remember how I mentioned that Emmara’s token-producing ability is mana-less? This is where it starts to pay off. Tapping Emmara to create two tokens is exactly what we want to be doing.
If not tokens, we can also use Emmara as a fulcrum in which to fix our mana. Survivors’ Encampment and Holdout Settlement are functionally the same card, and I’m running both in my deck. For what it’s worth, I don’t think I would run a third version even if it existed. At face value, an untapped colorless land is fine, but not remarkable. Tapping a creature for any color of mana on an untapped nonbasic? That’s something worth more consideration, since this deck uses creatures as currency just like life or mana.
If we look beyond lands, we also have Springleaf Drum and Paradise Mantle. Springleaf Drum is the superior card in this deck, as it doesn’t require haste to tap down our creatures, but both pay off in the end. We can see all of these cards included in around 60% or more of Emmara decks, which sounds about right.
Now, let me introduce you to the best card in the deck. Among all cards that I see on Emmara, Soul of the Accord’s EDHREC page, this is the one where I take its percentage as an insult. 42% is usually a respectable enough inclusion rate for any card, but I think that this card should be found in every single Emmara deck. It’s just that good.
Let’s look at the oracle text for Nature’s Chosen.
It’s a simple card, but the benefits are far more than that. Once we enchant Emmara with Nature’s Chosen, we can use the second ability – the one that isn’t restricted to use only during our turn – to tap her, and target herself. This creates a token and untaps her! Repeated once on each opponent’s turn, this will net us four tokens over the course of an average turn cycle. Four tokens per turn cycle for one mana? That is the best rate in this deck. This effectively turns our commander into a pseudo-Tendershoot Dryad. If we have a card like the Springleaf Drum, Cryptolith Rite, or any other tapper, we can make five tokens per turn cycle, because this humble one-mana Aura also allows us to untap the enchanted creature once per turn on our turn. If we get this on our Commander early, it’ll be the most explosive start the table will have seen in a long while. Even without Emmara, we still have Stonybrook Schoolmaster as a second prime target, and we can still use it as a simple untapper with other creatures. The card has amazing utility, and if you’re not playing it, I would love to hear why.
This is both the smallest and least defined section, but I didn’t think either of these cards necessarily fit into the other categories, so here we are.
Both Glare of Subdual and Nullmage Shepherd debuted alongside Convoke, and they’re some of my favorite cards in terms of design. While they may not have Convoke themselves, they act as if they do. The Shepherd allows us to destroy artifacts and enchantments as long as we have a total of four creatures. This level of control is incredible once we start to establish a board. This will put a target on her head, but that’s okay if we’re able to eliminate problem permanents like Doubling Season and such.
Speaking of control, check out Glare of Subdual. This deck aims to have more creatures than our opponents, and Glare lets us leverage that. We can cut off mana dorks, rocks, and dangerous attackers by tapping them in awkward phases like the upkeep when our opponents aren’t able to capitalize on them. Even with a handful of creatures, we can keep certain decks in check by denying them resources. In corner cases, we can also turn off old-school artifacts like Winter Orb.
One of the things I enjoy most about Commander is finding the “perfect” home for specific cards. You usually recognize those as the ones with the highest synergy scores on EDHREC, but sometimes they’re cards that mechanically just “work” within the context of the deck. Since I’ve covered most of the nuts and bolts of this deck, lets talk about some of these cards that finally have homes.
Huatli, Radiant Champion is an odd one. She ticks up to four loyalty without any board presence, which is what we should expect from a four-mana Planeswalker. However, the potential of her +1 is what should scare opponents. Ticking towards a planeswalker ultimate is an alarm bell for most players, and Huatli demands that you answer her immediately, because she can easily ultimate the turn after she’s cast. While card draw isn’t as threatening or game-ending as other emblems in the game, it provides an overwhelming advantage for a deck that churns out this many creatures. Attaining this emblem is a best-case scenario for this deck. This deck actually struggles to draw cards, since we can routinely play out our hand so quickly. While green can draw cards easily by going tall, it’s much more difficult when we want to go wide.
Speaking of going tall, Huatli allows us to do just that. With her -1, Huatli can turn one of our creatures into a massive beater. Turning Emmara into an 8/8 or more may not be exactly what our deck always needs, but I’m happy to have the option. Emmara is currently the 5th ranked commander in which Huatli appears, with only the legendary dinosaurs and fellow GW token commanders Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice and Rhys the Redeemed ahead of her.
Throne of the God-Pharaoh is the definition of a card that I’ve never found the right home for. What deck could possibly afford to tap all of its creatures at the risk of putting such a big target on its head? As it turns out, Emmara can. Pinging opponents for two or three damage each turn is annoying, but not threatening; there are already plenty of effects in the game that do similar things. However, Throne scales better than all of those other cards. If we look at the commanders who play the Throne in greater numbers, we see legends such as Krenko, Mob Boss, The Locust God, and Edric, Spymaster of Trest. These decks will either overwhelm you with numbers, swing with evasive creatures, or both. While we can find these three at the top of the list, we can find Emmara as the 14th ranked deck. I think she should be higher, and her moment will come in time.
It’s abundantly clear that the commanders who want this effect are very aggressive; the main way they’ll tap their creatures is through combat. This creates a dash of negative synergy for those commanders, who leave themselves defenseless, and that’s where I think Emmara stands above them, making more crea. I might be underestimating the sheer effectiveness of Throne of the God-Pharaoh in those other decks, but it certainly feels more organic with Emmara.
While this shouldn’t be shocking to see, this is actually my second deck with Harvest Season (I also have a Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca deck). The card is simple, but let’s break it down. We ramp as many lands as we have tapped creatures. Simple, right? That is a trivial cost for this deck. One thing to note about this card is that you’ll want to play it when it’s optimal, rather than sandbagging. Yes, you can wait an extra turn to grab another land, but is it worth skipping the chance to ramp early? Casting this with X=2 is good enough for the cost. Don’t forego your gameplan just to be greedy. However, if you play in a meta where you can get away with it, aim for that high score. It’s Commander; play to your meta.
While I could continue for couple thousand more words explaining every card choice I’ve made, I’ll leave it at that. Emmara, Soul of the Accord is my favorite commander right now, and I’m so excited that I’m able to share her with you. Below is my current decklist for Emmara!
As we move into the new year, I also have a small list of potential additions to the deck, when budget and availability allow, along with a few cards that I’ve recently been inching closer to the chopping block. Keep a close eye on these!
I hope you have enjoyed reading about Emmara, and if you have any questions about how she plays or card choices I’ve made, please ask them in the comments! Thanks again for joining me in the Underdog’s Corner, and I’ll see you all again in 2019!