Pattern Recognition #267 - Slow Grow 4 - Commander Options
19 January 2023
19 January 2023
Good day everyone! My name is berryjon, and I welcome you all to Pattern Recognition, TappedOut's longest running article series. I am something of an Old Fogey and a definite Smart Ass, and I have been around the block quite a few times. My experience is quite broad and deep, and so I use this series to try and bring some of that to you. Be it deck design, card construction, mechanics or in-universe characters and the history of the game. Or whatever happens to catch my attention each week. Which happens far more often than I care to admit. Please, feel free to talk about my subject matter in the comments at the bottom of the page, add suggestions or just plain correct me.
And welcome back! Well, today I have some good news for you, or at least those of you who like the Slow Grow Tournament just as much as I do, or even a mere 50%. The Rules have been posted, and the theme of this year is Back to Basics. No, not Basic Lands. Those exist. Rather, the rules glut of the past few years have been trimmed away, and we're running with the basic, core rules of the format. Which is to say they are as follows:
- +4/+3/+2/+1: Coming in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and fourth or worse respectively.
- +1: First Combat Damage
- +1: Cast your Commander 4 or more times in a game.
- +1: Save another player from their loss.
- +1: Commander Damage kill.
- +1: (2nd Week and later) Kill the player at the table with the most points at the start of the week.
The Commander Ban List is still to be recognized, and in addition, the following Commanders are Banned: Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer, Meren of Clan Nel Toth and Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver. If you picked the deck that has Trade Secrets from Commander 2011 in it, then you are required to substitute it in week 1 as a free substitution.
Each week, starting with the second week and going through to the sixth and final week, each player may remove up to five cards from their deck, and replace them with an equal number of cards, as long as all other rules are followed. This will be a total of up to 25 substitutions over the course of the tournament.
As you can see, a lot of the various points and rules from previous years have been ripped out in order to streamline the process, or so it is hoped. Gone are all the negative points, gone are all the narrow edge cases of bad feelings. We're back to basics with this! And that means that some options are now more open than others. But one of the important parts to keep in mind with my deck going forwards is that I don't have to cast my Commander or else loose points. But I'll talk about how these interact with my plans as I move forward. So, let's get to the possible Commanders, shall I?
Option 1: Arahbo, Roar of the World
This face Commander from the precon has actually jumped up in viability for my deck thanks to the removal of the necessity of casting my Commander in a game. Because of his Eminance ability, he can provide a bonus to key cat each comment, allowing it to hit above its weight class in one way, or just to have an additional benefit. An Adorned Pouncer or a Sacred Cat that swings as a 4/4 on turn 2 or 3 can be extremely viable as an opening, though in Commander, the life totals would be an issue.
Building Arahbo is a concept that is already mostly done for the deck. By focusing on him, I can start to gut out the Voltron aspects of the deck. Yes, some of the equipment are no-brainers to begin with, from Swiftfoot Boots - actually how many people out there still call them Swiftwood Boots? - to Loxodon Warhammer, there are a few choice choices of Equipment I can keep in this deck, but in the sum total, it would be the first to go.
In their place, I would aim to both do some work in punching up the mana base to be a little more aggressive - but that's going to be a theme across all possible variations on the deck, so I should probably deal with that as its own thing, separate from everything else. But to put more focus on the deck, I think that an established archetype should be my best option here, and that is go for a Companion for the Commander.
Being a cat itself, it stays on theme, and its Lord effect for all other Cats just synergizes so well with the deck. Yes, it's a + cost to put it into the battlefield, but as all it's doing is providing a simple +1/+1 in a deck that I can assure you, will have plenty of those, its effect becomes less a case of 'Must Kill Now' that some Companions bring to the table, and more a case of 'Slightly expensive redundancy'. This, in no way, makes Kaheera a bad card, and it will probably find its way into my deck sooner or later. It's just a good choice all around for a Cat Deck.
But while we're on the subject of Cat Lords, let's also look at some of the other important choices for that position. Feline Sovereign, Regal Caracal and King of the Pride all fill this slot, and all are pretty easy on the mana costs. In addition, artifact support for Tribal decks is both traditional and well established, so cards like Urza's Incubator, Vanquisher's Banner, Icon of Ancestry, Obelisk of Urd... etc. However, and this is very important, because everyone is starting out with a prebuilt precon, I am expecting quite a few people to roll into this tournament with the Warhammer 40K decks from earlier this year thanks to their recent printings and general power scaling. For those of you who don't know about them, they are four Tribal decks with a theming and alternate artwork from the Science Fiction/Fantasy (don't get me started) setting of the same name. These four Tribes are Astartes, Necron, and Tyranid, and to the least extent, Demon. To that end, before committing to something like Coat of Arms, and rolling up with my army of Cats, I need to make sure that the metagame for this tournament isn't going to be Tribal heavy to the point where such an option will backfire on me horribly.
From there, it's just a matter of adding Good Cats (but not Good Dogs, that's a different deck) to the options available. Leonin Warleader is always a solid pick, while Keeper of Fables is an additional draw engine as the game advances. Several of the Ajani Planeswalkers are also good picks, not only for being on-theme with the creature type, but Ajani Steadfast gives my board a bit more presence, while Ajani, the Greathearted provides the ever-vital Vigilance to my entire board.
In summary, Arahbo, thanks to no longer needing to be cast in a game, is pretty viable, and I can do work with it. And if I do cast it? Well, that's just opening up another option for me with the activated ability.
Option 1.5: Kaheera, the Orphanguard
This is a lighter-weight option to having Arahbo in the Command Zone. By making this one my Commander directly, I avoid the Companion restriction, should I need it, and I have a cheaper Commander that I can cast in a reasonable frame of time. In many ways, this would be a good support Commander if I can get a wider board state; a Cat Lord in the Zone is a much larger threat, especially if I can recast it after it being removed. Of course, this option would mean moving Arahbo to the 99, and thus losing out on the Eminance ability.
Going this way will share many development options that I will discuss in more detail with Option 3. But I do want to put it out there as a potential option. Just not a likely one.
Option 2: Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist
Of all the options for a Commander, this one is the one closest to my Comfort Zone as a Magic and Commander Player. This past week, I mentioned to my Local Friendly Spike that I won my round, and admitted to taking out another player simply because they had Rest in Peace in play, meaning that my Graveyard was no longer accessible. His response was a shocked look at me and to ask me if I was feeling alright because I play , and that doesn't really interact with the graveyard like, say does. I responded that it was because I was running a Flashback heavy deck, and he changed his tune to understanding.
But I have have a known 'thing', and a known play style, which I have never hid. I like Voltron styled decks, and going with Mirri in this tournament is a legitimate option. There is already a small Voltron package involved here, though unlike Wyleth, Soul of Steel's work from last year, I'm nod saddled with a poorly planned Sunforger package to rip out.
Mirri, as a Commander, is something of a risky venture. While she is in the two colours of protection, there is very little in the way of that in this deck, outside of the two pairs of shoes that were standard for the time. I would have to add in things like Heroic Intervention, Tamiyo's Safekeeping, Gods Willing, Blacksmith's Skill and the like.
In addition, I'm going to have to do some serious work on the Equipment and support for them in this deck as well. These are cards that were printed six years ago, and the quality of Equipment has improved drastically since then. Things like Mirror Shield, and Shadowspear are must-includes in week 2, as are equipment cheaters like Brass Squire, Puresteel Paladin, and Sigarda's Aid. I'll also need to see if I can find a Robe of Stars to help things along.
But as I mentioned, going this way plays right into my personal preferences for good and for ill. I know how to run a Voltron deck, I came in fourth last year, and the only Non-Sultai coloured deck in the top 5 or 6. Man, Aesi was popular last year. Might be again, who knows? But on the other side of the equation, berryjon + Voltron is a known factor in my local meta, and something that people know how to adapt to. This entire idea is something of a risk and gamble, but one that could get me higher points as while Commander Kills are only one point this year, that's still effectively giving me second place at a table I score even one kill at.
Risk, and reward, it's something I'm comfortable with, but it also leads me into the next option;
Option 2.5: Sigarda, Host of Herons
Sigarda is a more midrange option to Mirri, but comes with built in evasion, and more importantly, she has Hexproof. I can't stress this enough as when combined with her anti-sacrifice ability, removing her usually means removing everything on the board. Also, her higher cost is a bit less stressful when I'm dealing with so many tapped lands. Dropping Sigarda on turn 5 is a lot easier for me to plan around than Mirri on turn 3.
However, she is still an MV Commander, and I need to keep that in mind as I weigh my options. Improved mana production will be a must, as this deck was printed before Arcane Signet, but at the same time, I don't have to worry about protection for her. I would be basically hijacking a Selesnya Cats deck for this purpose, and that would mean a total overhaul of about 50% of the deck, which is a huge time investment. 25 cards in and out is major restriction, and while going all-in on a Sigarda-Enchantress deck would be hilarious, it would also go well beyond my ability to modify the deck.
Again though, this option pushes straight into my personal comfort zone, with a side of having better protection to work with. And a 5/5 Flier in a colour with easy access to Doublestrike is a very quick way to take out players. But, as you may have already noticed, my comfort zone. I can talk about this all I want, but in the end, it's nothing new to myself or to you, and perhaps I should be using this time to push my own limits?
But looking at EDHREC's compilation of Sigarda Voltron decks, I see a few cards that are already in the deck, so the basic modifications are already in play, another point in favor here.
And don't remind me that I bought Sigarda off my brother when he was drawing down his collection, then again when I was making plans for this year because I forgot about the first time, please. Eh, I can live with two in my collection instead of 1.
Option 3: Jinnie Fay, Jetmir's Second
"But berryjon!" I can already hear you crying out, "You're adding to the deck! You can't rebuild your mana base fast enough to make it matter!"
Look at it again.
Jinnie's Fay's ? That's hybrid mana. It's . In this deck, she's not . Her casting cost is . I can't find it now, but one of the Command Zone's podcasts, they mentioned trimming colours out of Commander by taking a look at their activated abilities and asking yourself what can you pay for or not. Yes, this was in context of the Tarkir commanders with activated abilities like Alesha, Who Smiles at Death, and how she could be , or or and you weren't required to use all her colours in a deck she helmed. Same thing with Jinnie. If I treat her as a pure commander who makes Cat tokens, things fall into place.
Jinnie would be a Cat Commander without being a Cat herself (removing Kaheera as a Companion), but she would invest heavilly in turning this deck into a token deck. White Sun's Zenith is already in here, but this deck really lacks in token generation in total. Sure, Dawn of Hope will be a nice addition, I need to look at the more cost-effective ways of making tokens and start re-building the deck that way. March of the Multitudes would be absolutely insane, but requires setup. Alliance of Arms could easily backfire, Aura Mutation would require people playing high-value enchantments, but I can be assured that it would do work regardless. Awaken the Woods is a recent card printed, and being able to make 2/2 Cats or tokens of Dryad Arbor would benefit me both ways. Decree of Justice is something I'm looking at as a powerful option as well.
There are plenty of options, but the rebuild would be intense and very tight as I made the conversions.
But going this way also opens up my Cats to non-Cat Cat Lords that wouldn't be an option otherwise. With Jinnie Fay, I can look into Adaptive Automaton, Brass Herald, and Metallic Mimic as more Lord options that wouldn't fit with a more pure-Cat theme. And as I mentioned earlier, Kaheera works well here, not as a Companion, but in the 99 as another Lord.
And yet that is still chilling out. Why not use it? Purely for Hybrid cards so I don't have to worry even more about my mana base. With Jinnie Fay, Guttural Response becomes a surprise counterspell, and I get access to potentially game-changing cards like Blade Historian, Boartusk Liege, Manamorphose, Marisi's Twinclaws - On Creature type even! - Vexing Shusher and Wild Cantor. It doesn't look like a lot, but the options are there, and they need to be accounted for in the deck building by myself and the players who realize what the hell I'm doing.
And the players who have no clue what I'm doing? Well, this is a tournament. I will gladly be nice right up until it's time to murder everyone under my hordes of Cats.
So, those are my options going forward. I really want to see how Week 1 falls out before committing to a plan, and I'm pretty sure that the only person at my FLGS who reads this is the guy running the store and the tournament, so I'm not worried too much about airing my plans ahead of time.
Wait. Shit. What's-her-name also read this last year for my post-analysis and to make sure I had my running totals of points accurate. FORGET I SAID ANYTHING! YOU SAW NOTHING!
Everyone Else? If you have any opinions, suggestions or ideas, feel free to respond in the comments below. Having a sane second look at these ideas will always be a good thing to me, but do be warned, once Week two rolls around, I need to commit, and you won't know what that commitment will be until afterwards.
Thank you for your time, and I'll see you all next week.
Until then please consider donating to my Pattern Recognition Patreon. Yeah, I have a job, but more income is always better. I still have plans to do a audio Pattern Recognition at some point, or perhaps a Twitch stream. And you can bribe your way to the front of the line to have your questions, comments and observations answered!