Pattern Recognition #141 - Voltron
20 February 2020
20 February 2020
Hello everyone! Welcome back to Pattern Recognition! This is TappedOut.net's longest running article series. In it, I aim to bring to you each week a new article about some piece of Magic, be it a card, a mechanic, a deck, or something more fundamental or abstract. I am something of an Old Fogey and part-time Smart Ass , so I sometimes talk out my ass. Feel free to dissent or just plain old correct me! I also have a Patreon if you feel like helping out.
So, Go Lion was released in 1981 by Toei animation and became something of a benchmark for the giant / combining mecha genre. It was adapted in 1984 for American/Western audiences along with Dairugger XV as Voltron.
Why is this relevant? Well, today I'm going to talk about the Voltron deck archetype, and I wanted to point out that the name is actually relevant to the deck at hand.
To begin, Voltron is a deck archetype that focuses on mid-range combat to secure the victory. To do this, they tend to focus in only a few creatures - even so far as to go down to just one - and to stack as many boons and boosts, enchantment and equipment and send them across the board. After all, when all you need to do is to deal 21 points of damage via your Commander, it doesn't actually matter what their life total is.
As an archetype, Voltron appears mostly as a Commander thing, but can an does appear in other constructed formats with some degree of reliability. And due to the randomish nature of limited, I doubt it really shows up in Sealed or Dfatf all that much. Now, having said that, I have to concede that Knights from Throne of Eldraine definitely had a Voltron-subtheme running through it with how much they cared about Equipment. Enough so that their Brawl Commander, Syr Gwyn, Hero of Ashvale is actually pretty solid as an Equipment Commander. Well, I would like to think so. My decks for her never got out of the pencil-and-paper stage.
But for the purposes of this article, I'm going to focus on Commander and to a lesser extent Brawl and how Voltron works in that context. After all, if Wizards has decreed this to be the Year of Commander, then why can't I be a relevant content creator! After all, I would love to raise more awareness of this method of playing Commander, and who knows, maybe I will raise my awareness enough that Wizards will allow me to preview one of the cards this year!
Regardless, back to the subject at hand and not my kow-towing. Voltron as a concept exists because of the addage that "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts". The idea that - and this comes from Go Lion itself - that each piece of the titular robot - each Lion - can do things on its own, can act and react independently. But only when they come together can they exceed the limitations of each part and create something bigger and more perfect.
Like a Coalition Victory . A perfect machine from imperfect parts.
Now, if you're thinking that I just described a Combo Deck, you're right. But unlike normal combo decks, which depend on the active interactions between multiple cards to build up into something winning, Voltron decks are built around passive boons from permanents, Aura and Equipment for the most part. The difference is also in one of interaction. Traditional combo pieces tend toward self-interactions like The Great Machine, but Voltron doesn't really care about what pieces are on the board, just that they are there. It isn't a specific card set that you can point to - though I will list some good examples later on - just that they exist.
So let's start off with the various colours and how they apply to Voltron so you understand how this sort of deck gets built. And let's start off with the single most important colour, the one you really can't build a Voltron deck without. Not unless you choose to make things harder for yourself.
No, I'm not kidding. is the core of the Voltron and you can't really built a deck without it. And this is perhaps the one strength in Commander, the one thing they can claim they can support better than anyone else. So why not play to ones strengths instead?
There are two really vital parts to Voltron, and shines in both aspects. The first is the most obvious and that is making your creature bigger and meaner. And here, is no slouch. From Blessing to Sentinel's Eyes , is the go-to colour when it comes to adding permanent stacks of boosts to a creature.
Now while I did mention way back when I talked about the colour pie and 's slice of it how this colour was the colour of going wide in terms of creatures and just throwing a horde at the opponent. But, is also the colour that can choose a Champion. To pick a single creature to literally rise above the rest and lead them all to victory. From the first, they had Serra Angel , but even now they will pull out creatures that are far and away above and beyond the run of the mill. They know that God-Eternal Oketra walks into their decks, that there is a Captain of the Watch who literally brings an army with him.
And to do this, not only does have good champions, good Commanders, not only do they have enough ways to make their creatures bigger and more viable, they also have the most ability to recur these Auras and Artifacts. From the ancient Argivian Find to the more current Cavalier of Dawn to the very powerful Enlightened Tutor and multi-targeting Restoration Specialist . If something goes away, can get it back.
Yet there is a flipside to this that you people might already be aware of. The Two-For-One problem that I talked about back when I examined equipment in general only becomes more and more pronounced when you put more and more Auras and Equipment onto a creature. Taking out the creature underneath is a great way to bring the whole stack down.
What does is protect the creature. I see a lot of decks run cards like Lightning Greaves or Swiftwood Boots to protect a creature and to give them haste at the same time, but has better options. Gods Willing is a card that has seen a couple of reprints, though it only showed up in Standard in Theros and then in Core 20. Giving a creature you control protection from a given colour in response to removal or the like is absolutely vital. That it is so cheap and adds on a Scry 1 to help set up the next turn is a bonus, that's for sure. But even then, is no slouch in protecting (PUN INTENDED!) your creatures. Add in Giver of Runes and Mother of Runes and the like and you begin to see that one decides that you aren't touching something, you aren't touching it.
The next most important colour to Volton is I think.
like in all decks that use this colour, brings a lot of utility to the board from card draw and counterspells. I mean, this is just stuff that just sort of shows up when gets added to a deck, no real effort required.
But also includes a few things that are relevant to Voltron more directly. And the most important part is that is the colour that makes your creature(s) unblockable.
One of 's weaknesses, one that they cheerfully ignore is that they tend to have weak creatures. In exchange, they get cards like Tidal Kraken or Gudul Lurker , creatures that don't have interesting value to the player, but rather they can attack with impunity.
And attacking with impunity is something that Voltron wants. Yes, Rogue's Passage is a card that goes into many of these types of decks, but has cards like Aether Tunnel , Aqueous Form , Artful Dodge , and cards like that. Enchantments that keep a creature unblockable, that don't require constant payment or upkeep to maintain. This is the core of what brings to the table.
I mean yeah, sure, and also brings Flying to the table, but flying can be easily countered by other fliers or by Reach, so it's not all that useful.
In addition, also brings about Curiosity effects. Cards that reward attacking by card draws. I know this is in the minority, but as a utility effect, cards like Curious Obsession cannot be understated. Effects on attacks, when combined with cards that make attacking safe simply encourage this playstyle.
just makes Voltron better in many utilitarian ways, and cannot be underestimated.
In deciding which colour comes in third, I eventually have to give it to . While the top two colours focus more on protection and the slower tempo that comes from slamming face with a creature, encouages a faster pace while at the same time keeping up with the others in terms of bringing the pain.
Whereas focuses more on permanents to provide their combat boosts, their temporary boosts such as from Charge affect all creatures or are cast at sorcery speed. But will focus on a single creature to give them larger bonuses, from Brute Force to Samut's Sprint . And do this at Instant speed, making combat tricks go from Dangerous to LETHAL with no warning.
But the real reason why edges out for third most important colour isn't because Brute Force is just a colour-shifted Giant Growth , rather it is because is the only colour to grant extra combat steps.
Aggravated Assault . Relentless Assault . In a deck type that needs more opportunities to swing and to deal damage, taking extra combat steps prevents opponents from untapping or restoring their board state to prepare for the next round of hits. wants to get into the brawl and never let up, and once you have committed with a Voltron Commander, there is no backing out. Pick a person and keep smashing face. You can't afford to back down, and lets you keep swinging.
Fourth, we have . In many ways, is a poor-man's . They both have cards that boost their combat, certainly. I can't deny the effectiveness of Rancor or Blanchwood Armor , nor in cards like Creeping Mold to remove a particularly obstinate obstacle.
But lacks the same depth of resources that brings to this archetype, lacks the ability to recur the relevant cards, or to tutor them from your library.
This isn't to say that can't contribute. They certainly can, but the colour as a whole doesn't really lend itself to the buildup that a Voltron deck builds toward. They're not big on artifacts or enchantments, and while they will cheerfully make big creatures, it trends more towards going wide then casting something like Craterhoof Behemoth to go for the kill.
is there, but it does nothing that the previous three colours can't do and do better.
Lastly . This colour more than any other just doen't work with the archetype. If anything, it's the antitheses of Voltron, focusing more on destructive interactions rather than positive ones. It is a colour of sacrifice, which is not something you want in this sort of deck.
If you're running in a Voltron deck, I'd have to wonder what you're doing, and ask you how it's helping because I can't figure that one out.
You know, I think I should talk about various Commanders and how they all apply as Voltron Commanders, and from there explain the hows and whys.
First on my list is... Sigarda, Host of Herons
This Commander brings not only a hefty body to the table - a 5/5 is nothing to sneeze at, especially with Flying. The Hexproof though is of absolute value, as being able to ignore direct removal on the base creature is worth far more than getting it from some other source. No Murderous Rider for you! Sure, an overloaded Cyclonic Rift still hits her, but that's a bounce, not a kill, so it's easier to recover from.
But her real specialty is that she prevents you from sacrificing things as long as it's an opponent trying to force it. I mentioned earlier that is the worst enemy of Voltron, and not only is it because of the direct removal, but also because you can bypass protections with sacrifice effects. Dictate of Erebos is a very powerful card in the right - or wrong - deck, and can quickly short out any attempt to gain traction on the board. Thus, having a Commander that has the best staying power allows you the time required to build up into a lethal attacker.
Next up, let's talk....
Feather is a potent Commander, one that eschews the normal style of Voltron while keeping to the spirit. Her strength lies in her eternal recursion of otherwise non-recurring instants and sorceries, combat tricks that while they require a constant investiture of mana to keep coming, they never stop.
As a Commander, Feather represents the colour combination that I keep hearing need the most help because it doesn't play the format to its strengths. And you're right, it doesn't. This doesn't mean that decks in this colour combination can't be viable or powerful.
Feather's style also very surprise heavy. A hand full of cards that could be anything causes far more hesitation than a hand that is empty or wholly known. Yes, a Feather deck will eventually reveal what they have, but the the idea of the known-unknowns always leaves room for doubt in the minds of your opponents. And in a chaotic game, the exact details may be forgotten, leaving Feather open to be better than she appears on paper.
Also, if you want to watch Feather do her thing, please watch this video from the Command Zone where Feather does what she does best.
Third, let's talk the Commander that was my first serious attempt at a Voltron Commander. Geist of Saint Traft
The Geist is a low-cost Commander that carries with it the two most important colours that I feel are needed for a Voltron deck - . Equally importantly, he brings a natural Hexproof on his body, something that I covered earlier with Sigarda. Of course, he's also in , so you can in theory have counterspells available to deal with things that Hexproof cannot.
But his special ability is something else. When he attacks, he makes a 4/4 Flying Angel that is also attacking - though it doesn't have to be the same target. While this may not sound all that impressive given that he basically comes with his own Invocation of Saint Traft attached, and the idea behind Voltron is that it's the Commander that deals damage, I found that this ability actually synergizes well with Mace of the Valiant , a recently printed equipment that gives larger bonuses when a creature enters the battlefield - something that will happen each time the Geist attacks.
The other card I found that worked well as a supplement was Ephara's Enlightenment , a card that gives a +1/+1 counter when it attaches to a creature, then when the angel appears, the card returns to your hand (optionally), allowing you to cast it again to put another counter on the Geist.
While the deck did have some issues - mostly due to my inexperience - I found that the idea was solid. And having a free creature every turn triggers a lot of fun things, like lifegain from a Soul Warden ! And knows exactly what to do with all that extra life. Win.
Lastly, let's talk about my most recent Voltron Commander. Elsha of the Infinite
"But that's a Combo Commander!" I hear people crying out. "This commander is about self-mill and winning that way! Heck, you even did that with your slow-grow last year!"
And you would be right. Elsha is very much a combo enabler, but she also has one very important ability, one that makes her a surprisingly powerful commander.
Elsha has Prowess. She gets bigger just by casting spells. So I went hog-wild on this, creating a creature-less deck that spammed Equipment and Auras and mana rocks and top-deck manipulators to basically swing and cast cards from the library at Flash speed, shuffling the top of the deck to avoid lands where possible or drawing past them to deal heavy amounts of damage. And while it worked on paper, my experiments showed that it was harder to pull off in practice as you required a lot of mana - I had 32 lands and 12 rocks in my version to cast spells, and even then it was a chore to put everything together. I also forgot my own words and didn't include enough protections for my commander, and once Elsha dies once, it becomes harder and hard to keep them in play.
I will come back to Elsha sometime in the future to try and make it work better, for now, she's back in my box.
There are a few cards that I think are vital to this archtype, and here is where I single them out a cuple of them and try to explain why.
The first and most important is a classic face-beater, and comes to us all the way from the first Equipment block - Loxodon Warhammer . This card is relatively cheap for what it does, and what it does is very simple and direct. Adding +3/+0 is already good, but it's the combination of Trample and pseudo-Lifelink that are the real prizes here. While I cannot stress the importance of making sure your Commander is never blocked in the first place, when it it blocked, having Trample is vital to keep getting the most out of your large power. The not-quite-Lifelink is equally important as a Voltron Commander may find itself in a race to the finish line, and gaining life against other decks that also look to win through damage is paramount.
If you don't have one, you can use Shadowspear as an alternative. But I prefer the Warhammer as it gives +3/+0, rather than +1/+1, and you need all the damage you can get in a short period of time.
Next is Sigarda's Aid . For a deck that relies on Equipment and Auras, being able to cast them at Instant speed - and most importantly - attach them for free at the same speed is an amazing thing, and is the card I put into my Voltron deck right after the Commander, Sol Ring, Arcane Signet and the Warhammer. And while the Hammer of Nazahn also allows you to equip for free, it's the added Flashing in of the relevant spells that I think makes Sigarda's Aid far more important. It's also cheaper.
Temur Battle Rage is a hidden powerhouse in terms of viability, and it's not hard to see why. As outside of very unlikely circumstances, your Commander will have a power of 4 or greater. And a Double-striking Trampler is death incarnate to anyone who thinks they can barely survive. And it's cheap too! but if you already have Trample thanks to another source, Psychotic Fury is just as viable and also lets you draw a card. And you should be running multi-coloured Voltron as even mono-White has issues here.
Speaking of, Danitha Capashen, Paragon and Sram, Senior Edificer are excellent supplemental creatures. The first serves as a way to encheapen your equipment and Auras, and can act as a stand-by Commander with her natural skills already in place. The latter allows you to draw cards to replace the ones you just cast, so having the two of them in place makes your entire deck more efficient.
And honestly, if you have to go mono- with your Commander, go with Danitha. She's better in combat, which is where you'll do most of your work.
Lastly, Whir of Invention . This card is vital for many artifact centric decks, and Voltron is no exception. As an added benefit, your Equipment can be tapped and it won't affect their workings, so that's free cards to Improvise with!
But honestly, there is only one possible capstone to this archetype, one card that hearkens back to the origins of the name for this type of deck. One card that is the perfect finisher, the ultimate expression of the Vorthos in me when it comes to Voltron.
You have to...
So, what are your thoughts on this archetype? Ever tried it yourself? Have some ideas? Talk about them in the comments section below!
That's all for this week. Join me next week when I talk about something. I don't know yet.
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Black Voltron is possible. I've got a Volrath the Fallen Voltron build.
February 20, 2020 12:22 p.m.
Hey Berryjon, thank you once again for producing another fun article.
I just wanted to say though, I don't think that you gave Green all the kudos that it's due for what it can add to a voltron strategy. So just to even things out a bit, I'm going to toss some additional info here for people who might be new to the format and/or the voltron strategy.
First off, Green does offer protection for your commander with cards like Heroic Intervention and Vines of Vastwood, which not only protects your creature but can also help it hit harder as well. Granted, White's color protection spells also allow your creatures to attack past blockers while Blue's counterspells can stop wrath effects and enchantment/artifact removal, so I do understand that Green's additions may seem lackluster in comparison.
But where green can shine is that it is the primary color for Hexproof, which shows up on a number of its creatures. You see it on the Sigarda, Host of Herons that is mentioned in the article, and on other classic voltron commanders like Uril, the Miststalker. Being able to save some card slots on protection because your commander already has some built in allows you to include more cards for hindering your opponents so that your commander has more opportunities to swing in.
Speaking of hindering, Sigarda, Host of Herons's ability to prevent sacrifice effects is part of the green color pie, although I think it only also appears on Tajuru Preserver. Green can hate on counterspells, which are a particular bane of strategies like voltron that focus primarily on producing single big threats, with the help of cards like Prowling Serpopard, Vexing Shusher, Rhythm of the Wild, and the newly printed Destiny Spinner. Green likes to see its creatures hit the board and it has the tools to help make it happen.
Green is also one of the colors for a notable selection of effective voltron commanders beyond the ones that have already been mentioned, so just to list a couple more:
Jenara, Asura of War can often enter the battlefield as early as turn 2 with the help of something like Birds of Paradise, has built in evasion with flying, and is capable of permanently pumping herself. If nothing is done about her, A turn 2 Jenara can potentially kill an opponent as early as turn 5 all on her own.
Rafiq of the Many is another classic voltron commander that can quickly kill opponents with his exalted boosts and double strike. Giving double strike with cards like Silverblade Paladin is really effective at ramping up a voltron commander's kill time, and Rafiq already has it built in. Rafiq's double strike also make him a dangerous carrier of equipment like Sword of Fire and Ice since it lets you get twice the number of triggers if you manage to deal combat damage.
As a side note, both of those commanders being Bant colors means that they get access to Finest Hour. Who needs red for extra combat steps? :D
So yeah, Green can contribute some pretty strong tools when it comes to the voltron game. Is it better than Red? I have to admit that all the extra combat step cards that Red has makes a compelling argument for its superiority. But when I see an Aggravated Assault teamed up with a Nature's Will or Bear Umbra to create infinite combat steps, you'll have to forgive me for smiling just a bit. ;)
February 21, 2020 2:41 a.m.
Great article! As being mainly a Voltron player reading this put a smile on my face and gave me a few ideas on new decks. It's always nice seeing Voltron decks getting some love.
February 21, 2020 2:54 a.m.
Hi, berryjon, interesting article as always. I just wanted to leave a thought about black voltron - I used to run Grimgrin, Corpse-Born and it worked very well as a voltron commander, so there definitely are some nice exceptions in black.
February 21, 2020 3:01 a.m.
I completely agree on White being one of the best supplementary colors for a Voltron strategy, if not for anything else than their affinity for equipments, auras and not letting the opponent do anything on your turn.
I feel like you're not giving enough credit to Green and Black and too much credit to Blue. Mainly because blue-white (as the preference for at least 2 of the colors for your Commander) don't have that good Voltron commanders to blow the other colors completely out of the waters.
Green have ways to protect with Veil of Summer, Heroic Intervention, Autumn's Veil. Green can re-use the graveyard far better than you give them credit for. Which is not irrelevant if your plan goes awry and your Commander ends up dead or countered a lot. Or if all your equipment gets blown up with a Vandalblast.
Green has a lot of card draw available to them to substitute blue's card draw. And in certain situations their card draw is more efficient than blue, especially for Voltron. Hunter's Insight, Return of the Wildspeaker, Soul's Majesty, Rishkar's Expertise. If you choose the aura approach, there's the entirety of the Enchantress group that white also have some additions for.
And how could I forget about the lovely interaction between trample and deathtouch - you're basically getting unblockable at that point. Hmm, it seems like black is more keen on giving it to creatures than green is.
Moving on to Black, there's a group of surprise cards that Voltron Commanders can take advantage of, like Hatred and Tainted Strike. And the ever-weird Endless Scream that's permanently applied firebreathing. Of course not to mention the best variety of tutors available in Commander.
One way to get past your opponent's defenses is if they don't have any. Black is certainly one of the better to provide in that aspect.
I'm quite certain I don't even do black justice here, but I'll refrain from bloating this response further. I just feel like the ranking is skewed disproportionately.
February 21, 2020 9:01 a.m.
White has a handful of unblockable effects - nothing so direct as the Unblockable ability itself, but it has at least three Protection from Creatures auras - Unquestioned Authority and Spirit Mantle are the ones I know off the top of my head, plus Spectra Ward.
February 21, 2020 12:07 p.m.
Tzefick- I agree that green should have maybe edged out red, but I disagree about UW not having as many good voltron commanders. One of my favorite decks is my Bruna, Light of Alabaster voltron deck. Geist of Saint Traft like what was mentioned in the article is also good, Brago, King Eternal also has some good synergy with permanents that buff creatures upon ETB, and even Grand Arbiter Augustin IV can be used in a voltron build that reduces the cost for UW enchantments and equipments.
February 23, 2020 8:03 a.m.
GeminiSpartanX I didn't say they didn't have good Voltron commanders at all. Just that they didn't blow other color combinations out of the water.
February 23, 2020 4:03 p.m.
My personal best Voltron Commander is Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest. He plays very similar to Elsha, except he has a built-in double strike ability. Toss a few instants to pump him to 11 and he can insta-kill any player.
February 24, 2020 9:36 a.m.
Nice article! My girlfriend has a gnarly Korlash, Heir to Blackblade voltron deck. Voltron can really be done in any colors, but I do agree with you that WRU provide the best support for the archetype.
February 24, 2020 2:53 p.m.
I have to disagree with green being the 4th voltron color. Maybe it's just me thinking mostly with aura's opposed to spells and equipment, but Green has enchantresses which solves one of the big problems with Voltron which is running out of gas. I think by far Bant is the strongest combination for voltron with Naya being close behind.
February 24, 2020 4:40 p.m.
The Voltron archetype was my very first attempt at building my own commander deck with Tromokratis as the general... although not exactly competitive the idea of a superpowered beatdown from your legendary of choice has always been fun for me.