Tricks of the Trade: Commander 2014: White

Welcome back, chil­dren. Today we’re talk­ing Forged In Stone, the monowhite deck from the recent Commander 2014 release, and a sur­pris­ing­ly pow­er­ful deck for what’s usu­al­ly ranked the sec­ond least pow­er­ful colour in the for­mat (with the unhap­py crown for weak­est colour almost unan­i­mous­ly hand­ed to red, which actu­al­ly had one of the most pow­er­ful decks this year. Has the world gone mad? Possibly! Fun, isn’t it?) with a trio of Commanders who all have a sur­pris­ing syn­er­gis­tic rock-paper-scissors fit with one anoth­er; Kemba ben­e­fits Jazal by pump­ing out crea­tures, Jazal ben­e­fits Nahiri by buff­ing her wee­nie tokens and Nahiri ben­e­fits Kemba by recur­ring lost equip­ment. Of all the 2014 decks – which I must say are quite impres­sive, much more so than pre­vi­ous releas­es – white is the one which has worked best straight from the box, a quite sur­pris­ing accom­plish­ment given the diver­gence between the two playstyles the deck is attempt­ing to merge. On first glance at the spoiled deck­lists I admit to find­ing white’s a lit­tle con­fus­ing; it appeared that the deck was attempt­ing to go both wide (small amounts of power spread over lots of crea­tures, which are then buffed into stronger crea­tures and sent out in an over­whelm­ing attack) as well as deep (with the var­i­ous equip­ment the deck packs being used to buff up a sin­gle crea­ture into a destruc­tive colos­sus, which is hope­ful­ly snuck past an opponent’s defences for a pre­ci­sion strike and mas­sive dam­age). The two approach­es are hard to rec­on­cile, with one eschew­ing sin­gu­lar pow­er­ful crea­tures in favour of addi­tion­al bod­ies and the other pre­fer­ring to drop mana on expen­sive arms and armour for their big hit­ters, but the deck strug­gles by and can actu­al­ly pro­duce some enter­tain­ing results with its blend­ing of styles; it’s always hilar­i­ous to take some­one out of the game with a ‘roided-up 1/1 token.

As before all effort has been made to test the Commanders in both duel and mul­ti­play­er con­di­tions, but where this has not been pos­si­ble I’ve been cer­tain to note it. Now, with my back cov­ered against any who might feel like rav­ing that I total­ly under­es­ti­mat­ed a card and should prob­a­bly per­ish in a mys­te­ri­ous blaze, let’s get on with the show!

Image.ashxNahiri, the Lithomancer

Duel: 7/10

Multiplayer: 8/10

Walkommander the sec­ond is a lithomancer, and what a lithomancer!. Nobody has ever manced those liths quite like her. Note that she isn’t just lithomancer but THE lithomancer, the lithoman­tic stan­dard against which all oth­ers are judged, and it’s easy to see why; the way she mances liths is truly out­stand­ing.

OK, no, I don’t know what a lithomancer is. Something to do with rocks, I’m guess­ing, big pointy ones used to bash in people’s heads1. Nahiri cer­tain­ly enables that par­tic­u­lar flavour of vio­lence, capa­ble of get­ting both bod­ies and equip­ment onto the field ready to smash some face. Her first abil­i­ty craps out a wee­nie 1/1, which while pal­ing in com­par­i­son to the likes of Elspeth, Sun’s Champion’s capac­i­ty to pump out dudes has the upside of being able to attach any of your equip­ment to the token for free. While it might not sound like much, the deck does fea­ture more than a few heavy duty equip­ment that can turn our tiny lit­tle sol­dier into a fear­some threat. If noth­ing else it’s two free cards when we throw Skullclamp on the poor lit­tle guy, which is the kind of pure card advan­tage that white often strug­gles with.

Her sec­ond abil­i­ty is inter­est­ing too, veer­ing between a cost-reduction method for get­ting our Argentum Armour and the like onto the bat­tle­field (which presents a big advan­tage in early turns, allow­ing the equip­ment to be attached the same turn it comes down with­out going bank­rupt on mana) and some sweet equipment-based recur­sion for whichev­er cool arti­facts our oppo­nents have already decid­ed to blow up. The com­bi­na­tion of Nahiri’s first two abil­i­ties make her a much bet­ter util­i­ty ‘walk­er than Teferi, as they offer pow­er­ful effects which aren’t some­thing the deck already has a bun­dle of ways to achieve. Redundancy of effect is always essen­tial, but there is a limit, and draw­ing cards/generating mana are both things Peer Through Time excels at. By con­trast, Nahiri’s abil­i­ties sup­port the theme of the deck and increase our capa­bil­i­ty to get threats on the board. Unfortunately the ulti­mate is pret­ty unex­cit­ing, for while +5/+5 and Double Strike (so basi­cal­ly +10/+5 in prac­tice) is handy I don’t envis­age it being a game-ending play unless you’re already in a posi­tion to win and just want a lit­tle extra insur­ance. The buff it pro­vides to a sin­gle crea­ture, while nice, isn’t going to swing the game in a way that some­thing like Quietus Spike is on con­tact and it isn’t going to make it any eas­i­er for that crea­ture to land as Whispersilk Cloak would.

I’ve rated Nahiri slight­ly high­er in mul­ti­play­er than in duel, unusu­al­ly for a Walkommander, thanks to her arti­fact recur­sion abil­i­ty. Her 1/1 tokens are more valu­able as chump block­ers against a lone oppo­nent cer­tain­ly, but in a mul­ti­play­er match there are going to be more destruc­tion spells loosed towards your bet­ter equip­ment and so Nahiri’s abil­i­ty to dredge them back into play shines brighter. A solid pick all around, all the more so for the fact that there isn’t much point shoot­ing for her ulti­mate – feel free to keep cycling her plus/minus abil­i­ties for value, with the added bonus that unob­ser­vant oppo­nents might not throw removal at her so long as they don’t think you’re try­ing to reach her ulti­mate abil­i­ty. The smart ones will clock imme­di­ate­ly that the card’s power is in the first two abil­i­ties, but you might still get a few acti­va­tions out of her before she eats a Hero’s Downfall.

Image-1.ashxKemba, Kha Regent

Duel: 4/10

Multiplayer: 2/10

Forged In Stone’s re-print Commander is an old favourite of the Voltron play­er. By stack­ing up equip­ment on Kemba – some­thing a Voltron build is like­ly to be doing any­way – she can pump out a small army of tokens in just a few turns, pro­vid­ing much-needed block­ers to hang back while she sal­lies forth on the attack. She’s par­tic­u­lar­ly potent com­bined with some of the deck’s other stand­outs, notably Jazal who turns her army of wee­nies into a fear­some force, or True Conviction to make your block­ers into potent attack­ers. Alone she isn’t a par­tic­u­lar­ly pow­er­ful asset as a some­what aver­age 2/4 for 3 mana, but once she straps on her equip­ment and invites her kitty com­pan­ions to the party Kemba begins to look more threat­en­ing.

Unfortunately the deck isn’t real­ly opti­mised to utilise her. The deck runs a fair few equip­ment arti­facts but for the most part they are 6+ mana to play and equip, assum­ing we aren’t cheat­ing them into play with Nahiri. There are cheap­er options, but of these Mask of Memory gives a ben­e­fit on dam­age with­out mak­ing land­ing that dam­age any eas­i­er and Skullclamp is some­thing you never want to put on your Commander2. Swiftfoot Boots remains as solid and fan­tas­tic as ever, but after that the mana costs begin to get more daunt­ing. From my test­ing it’s pret­ty rare to be able to have more than two or three items of equip­ment on Kemba dur­ing a sin­gle game, and while a cou­ple of tokens each turn is a nice bonus it isn’t real­ly game-winning mate­r­i­al. Kemba’s a solid Commander gen­er­al­ly but Forged In Stone aims to play quite a speedy game by buff­ing crea­tures or cheat­ing equip­ment onto the bat­tle­field, mak­ing her an uneven fit with her patient, dur­dling game­play style. Running her in a mul­ti­play­er game tends to feel like a con­stant cycle of cre­at­ing kit­tens, using them all to chump block on your oppo­nents’ turns and then get­ting some new kit­tens. It’s hard to push for­ward into the attack when we’re only cre­at­ing a few tokens per turn, and so with Kemba at the head Forged In Stone tends to lag behind the table before even­tu­al­ly drop­ping out of the race for good.

ImageJazal Goldmane

Duel: 10/10

Multiplayer: 9/10

Affectionately dubbed “Bro-jani” (by nobody but me, admit­ted­ly) the O‑G white Planeswalker’s big broth­er is a seri­ous pow­er­house at any stage of the game. He makes a turn 5 attack with a hand­ful of tokens into a legit­i­mate threat, keeps the pres­sure on in the mid-game and then as we hit the end zone he trans­forms a horde of weak­lings into a wave of pure destruc­tive force. There’s a whole lot to love about this card, but most of all it’s the fact that his abil­i­ty doesn’t require him to tap, mak­ing it pos­si­ble to drop 15 mana into him dur­ing your big strike and give your attack­ers triple the power. All hail the new king of the aggres­sive token decks!

Forged In Stone makes token crea­tures like they’re going out of style, gen­er­al­ly enabling any attack led by Jazal to be at least a mod­er­ate threat. He’s the per­fect mar­riage of the “width and depth” arche­types I men­tioned ear­li­er, where the amount of tiny crea­tures deter­mines the size those same crea­tures can grow to. He’s def­i­nite­ly the deck’s star pick for me, since – bar­ring a board wipe – there is always going to be enough attack­ing power on the field to sig­nif­i­cant­ly pump all our crea­tures. Even if we are the vic­tims of a Wrath, Forged In Stone doesn’t usu­al­ly take very long to get up and run­ning again and can refill the field with rel­a­tive ease. He also syn­er­gis­es per­fect­ly with the deck’s Lieutenant, as the only thing bet­ter than an army of pow­er­ful attack­ers is an army of pow­er­ful attack­ers who can then become wee­nie chump block­ers next turn.

Honestly gang, I may be a lit­tle bit in love3. I’ve always had kind of a thing for white, dat­ing back to my early days when the very first 60-card deck I built was monowhite life­gain4, but have never quite been able to make it work in Commander. My White Mike/Archangel of Thune counters-and-lifegain deck face­plant­ed at first sign of a board wipe, my Darien, King of Kjeldor just result­ed in oppo­nents wait­ing until they could deal lethal dam­age before strik­ing and the less said about my attempts to get Kongming to work the bet­ter. Jazal is a new breed of white gen­er­al, clos­er to Elesh Norn than Thalia, and he’s very much at home in this deck. Make tokens, pump tokens, crush all who oppose you into dust. If you’re going to run this deck, put Jazal at the head of the table. Trust me.

That’s all for today chaps and chapess­es. Come back next time when we will be check­ing out Green’s elf-tastic offer­ing, Guided By Nature!

  1. Out of inter­est I did Google it, and dis­cov­ered that lithoman­cy is a form of div­ina­tion that…well, basi­cal­ly, it’s pre­dict­ing the future with shiny rocks. Presumably if one found a very shiny and sus­pi­cious­ly diamond-like rock, it’s a rel­a­tive­ly sim­ple task to pre­dict that rich­es are com­ing your way. As fun as that nugget of triv­ia might be, I’m not real­ly see­ing the flavour seep­ing through to the card; Nahiri is more of a stone­ma­son than a rocky ora­cle. I sup­pose Nahiri What Does Stuff With Rocks didn’t scan quite as well. []
  2. Pro tip: Commanders do not, tech­ni­cal­ly, die – they return to the Command Zone with their tails tucked between their legs, which doesn’t cause Skullclamp to trig­ger. Putting Skullclamp on Kemba is basi­cal­ly card dis­ad­van­tage, and we real­ly don’t want that. []
  3. Editor’s Note: This is indeed a sexy card, and it’s made its way into my lat­est project, Alesha, Who Smiles at Death. But more about that later. []
  4. Which is, for those who enjoy anec­dotes and life lessons, Where Tom Learned That Lifegain Is Not Actually A Win Condition. The deck was sim­ply out­stand­ing at gain­ing a huge pile of life in a short amount of time, it just didn’t do any­thing with it. I could hap­pi­ly sit back and get up to 800 life while other play­ers knocked each other out of the game, but when the sur­vivor final­ly turned on me that enor­mous stock­pile of life meant only that it took a long, long time to kill me. The moral of the story is that if Felidar Sovereign and Test of Endurance aren’t in your life­gain deck, then you’re prob­a­bly not going to win a lot of games. []

Tom Dawson

About Tom Dawson

Tom Dawson is, in no particular order; a two-time Olympic bronze medallist (synchronised swimming), ancestrally Atlantean, a compulsive liar, the Green Lantern of space sector 2814 and the inventor of the cordless drill. His fondest wish is that someday he’ll get paid for writing stuff like this.