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!
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 A 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.
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.
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!
- 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. [↩]
- 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. [↩]
- 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. [↩]
- 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. [↩]