A Generalized Approach – Maga, Traitor to Mortals

I’m back!  Did you miss me?  Did you even know that I existed?  Don’t answer those questions.

A little housekeeping before we begin this week’s foray into the deep rabbit hole that is Commander deck building.  I’ve opted to write under a nom de plume for my column from here on out.  Nobody knew who “Henry Presten” was (why would they?).  I’m also really only focused on one aspect of Magic these days: Commander decks!  That’s why, in my infinite wisdom, I’ve decided to do a bit of rebranding so to speak.  From here on out, I’m just gonna be Commander Guy.  Same great content; same cat picture.

Moving on!

In past articles, I cursed my predilection for writing about blue-based Commanders and vowed to write about ones that didn’t contain the best color in Magic blue.  Without further ado, here’s today’s subject matter

I’ve always had a soft spot for Maga.  I think it stems from my earliest days playing Magic where I powered up huge Carrion Ants and Frozen Shades via Mana Flare and Dark Rituals.  I’d like to think that I was doing powerful things back then.  Nostalgia, don’t let me down.

Anyway, Maga’s always been on my short list for legends that I’d like to build a deck around.  Coming off the heels of my last big-mana article (Rosheen Meanderer), it seemed only fitting to focus on another.

Because that’s all that Maga really asks of you.  There aren’t too many subthemes beyond “cast me with lots of mana”.  Sure, there are Kamigawa-block themes and I guess Human/Wizard/Human Wizard tribal themes, but neither of those really encompass who Maga is as a commander.  Let’s stop pontificating and start building.

I [Heart Symbol] Mana

As illustrated by the abundance of mana-hungry cards below, this deck wants mana, and lots of it.  It should almost always have something to do with said mana, with a huge fall back being “cast Maga for a bunch”.  While I generally don’t aim to fiddle with mana fixing until the end of the building process, I wanted to tackle it early with this deck so that I could know just how many other spells I’d be running.

It should come as no surprise that black has a lot of incredible mana producing options:

With all the “swamps produce extra mana” cards, it’s quickly apparent that our deck wants lots and lots of lands.  To that end, I think we’re going to want to play a higher land count than normal—say, 42 even with all the mana producers that we’re planning on running.  We’re also going to want to run some cards that ensure that we’ll hit land drops well into the late game:

In keeping with the “your lands produce extra mana” theme, let’s double down (pun alert) on that effect.

I forewent Gauntlet of Power simply because we’ve got plenty of that effect for the time being.  We’ll want cards to actually play eventually.  But before we get to that, a few final mana-focused cards.

Black Market and Altar of Shadows are two cards which really benefited from the “no more mana burn” rules change.  I can see them netting us absurd amounts of mana as the game goes on.  Everflowing Chalice seems like another great mana dump while also being a wonderful source of mana itself.  Finally, Expedition Map can go fetch up Cabal Coffers, likely the most powerful card in our deck.  Speaking of which…

Let’s talk lands.  Generally, I avoid dictating what lands I’m going to run so that folks don’t feel pressured to include a ton of high-priced duals or insulted that I’m not running one of each fetch and applicable dual land to maximize consistency.   Here, however, I think we only want a few choice non-basics, as we want to maximize our Swamp count.

These all strike me as fairly obvious inclusions.  Shizo seems incredible here as a way to get through a huge Maga to OTK someone.  Scrying Sheets allows us to mitigate issues associated with running a lot of land (obviously, we’ll be including snow lands here).  Cabal Coffers, Thawing Glacier and Terrain Generator all progress the “have lots of mana and lands” plan.  Winding Canyons provides an on-board way to flash in Maga as a deterrent from folks thinking about attacking us.

X marks the spell

Thus far we’re at 56 cards plus our general which means we’ve got 43 spots remaining.  Let’s jam them full of stuff.

Presuming we have access to a ton of mana, what mana sinks are we going play?  There are a slew of black spells with “X” in their cost (which seemed like a good starting point).  Here are the ones that I thought showed the most promise:

I’m really excited about this lot.  It covers a lot of the “bases” of a good EDH deck.  We’ve got card draw and tutoring, some creature kill and a board wipe, some direct damage spells, and a surprise, end of turn kill card in Empty the Pits.  I see that card ending a lot of games.

One card that almost didn’t make the cut is Deathcloud.  While it’s a powerful spell, it’s also one which slows the game down tremendously and gets rid of our precious, precious lands.  I really couldn’t think of many reasons to play it until I realized that we can cast a largish ‘Cloud, wiping everything from all players’ boards and then coast to victory on a moderately sized post-resolution Maga.  Boom.

It struck me that I should be looking at more than just “X” spells and abilities.  Frozen Shade, for instance, is essentially a spell that might as well have “X” in its cost as any amount of mana could be pumped into it at any given point.  There were a lot of great options for permanents with activated abilities that could act as mana sinks for us:

These four essentially play the same role: they nuke the board.  I also really like that they do incidental damage to our opponents, which means that our Magas don’t have to come down for quite as much in order to kill people.

These all struck me as pretty powerful yet fun mana sinks.   I’m not in love with Nantuko Shade or Stromgald Crusader—they seem a little fragile—but they also represent pretty significant threats late game while being able to come down early should we need a threat/blocker at the beginning of the game.

Filling in the gaps

We’ve got 24 spots left.  I’d like to include some utility cards, big-mana bombs that we can cast with all this mana, and some weird, Maga-specific includes.

Even though we’ve already got some good “Wrath” effects, let’s include some that can address some trickier permanents, e.g. artifacts, enchantments and indestructible creatures.

I’m not above some direct spot removal.  Being able to take care of an opponent’s general is a great way to stymie their plans.  I also like that we’re gaining some life with Tendrils considering that we may be dealing ourselves a ton of damage via Pestilence and the like.

More card draw!

Okay, let’s add some other cards that can make use of our large reserves of mana.

I love playing Herald, as he fits so well with the theme of the deck.  Myojin is a nice nod to Maga’s Kamigawa roots.  The other expensive cards are just ones that I’ve wanted to play for a while, but haven’t found a home for yet.

Finally, let’s add some cards that are potentially great in this deck but that might not be immediately apparent.

Sorin is nice if our opponent gains a million life somehow.  Glistening Oil and Tainted Strike are great for the same reason: allowing us to kill with infect damage.  They both also work great in conjuction with our Pestilence creatures (e.g. Thrashing Wumpus).  Dauthi Embrace is an interesting card that lets our Maga (or Nantuko or whatever) become essentially unblockable.   Bubbling Muck is a very specific type of mana boost, but hey, why not?

I’ve got two final spots it seems, so I’ll likely add something like, say, Thoughtseize and Duress to ensure that we can pave the way for a lethal general enters the battlefield effect

That’s it!  Jam the rest of the deck with Swamps and call it a day.  I hope you guys enjoyed the article and I look forward to writing the next one.

Commander Guy

Commander Guy

Commander Guy prides himself on building interesting, powerful, or at the very least, original Commander decks on a more or less frequent basis. An otherwise agreeable fellow, his only flaw is his intense and all-consuming hatred for Sol Ring. If you play one, prepare to suffer his wrath.
Commander Guy




Published:March 7, 2016


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