Ebony Vs Ivory part 1

Ebony Vs Ivory – A Commander Deck-building Challenge By Alan Hale

Ivory - Part 1

I laid down a challenge to James Stewart: to get off his ass and write something about Commander or judging (he’s a level two judge, don’t you know).  After a little cajoling he agreed and I explained what I had in mind: with New Phyrexia on the horizon we have seven new legends arriving on the Commander scene.  The Mirran generals don’t leave me excited, although at least Meleria can work as second Juniper order ranger if you’re trying to combo out with persist creatures.  However, I have been enthusiastic about the Phyrexian Praetors ever since the first spoilers hit MTGsalvation.

Getting back to the challenge, I suggested a colossal duke-out of deck design, Commander fanatic vs. Commander fanatic, deck designer vs. deck designer, Praetor vs. Praetor.  James and I would each choose one of the Phyrexian Praetors (if you’re not familiar check out the New Phyrexia visual spoiler here ) and chronicle our deck building process.  I decided on Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and James nabbed Sheoldred, Whispering One. The Ebony vs. Ivory challenge began.

On to business!  Elesh Norn has a converted mana cost of seven including double white. She is already a hefty beast at this cost in a format that tends to top out at six-mana generals (often of the planar chaos dragon type).  However, her -2/-2 to opposing creatures and +2/+2 to your creatures ability can easily wrath the board the turn she comes into play.  Similar creatures such as Ascendant Evincar, Massacre Wurm and Crovax, Ascendant Hero are totally outclassed by her.  While the 4/7  and Vigilance are a little underwhelming (although seven toughness does let her survive a number of red damage effects) it’s going to be her ability to both swell your forces and diminish your opponents that will let her dominate. 

So what direction will we take in building around the Grand Cenobite?  The initial consensus when this card was previewed was that she would punish token decks in Commander.  The flip side of this is that the smallest token you can control will be a 3/3.  Creating tokens is a strong feature of the white part of the colour wheel.  This immediately gives us a clear path to deck design however the other theme I want to incorporate into the deck is a strong enchantment component.  White has access to a number of strong board controlling enchantments (Moat comes to mind) as well as ones that can produce the required tokens (my favourite, Sacred Mesa).

So before we go further to the card selection process let’s outline some goals for the deck:


  1-      We need to be able to cast Elesh Norn multiple times if possible

  2-   The deck will be aggressive (tokens) but needs to have some controlling elements (Enchantments)      

  3- We need to carry out the aggressive part of our strategy (tokens) even if we don’t have access to Elesh Norn.

The next thing we should keep in mind is the strengths and weaknesses a mono-white general will face.  We will have no problem enacting our token plan: we have access to a number of token producers such as Sacred Mesa, Martial Coup, Storm Herd and Hoofprints of the Stag.  To support the token plan we also have the market cornered on creature pumping enchantments: Crusade, Glorious Anthemn and Honour the Pure are just a few we can use if our praetor is unavailable.  White also has plenty of good enchantments we can run such as Moat, Humility, Aura of Silence and cards such as Opalescence, Replenish and Open the Vaults to support the enchantment plan.  White is also the home of boardsweepers - to be honest we have too many choices and we will need try and use only the ones that play well with our battle plan.  While sweepers are good in white we will only get to use them once while other colours (notably black and green) have more recursive threats.  The cards we will be looking at are Austere Command, Final Judgment and Mass Calcify.

Two of the weaknesses we will face are the ability to draw cards and accelerate our mana production.  White doesn’t have a vast number of accelerants so we will need to pack in the typical commander artifact package of Sol Ring, Mana Vault, Solemn Simulacrum and Coalition Relic.  An advantage of the mono-coloured deck is access to Gauntlet of Power and Caged Sun to double our mana.  While we lack equivalents to Cultivate, Oracle of Mul Daya or Hunting Wilds we have access to a number of land searchers.  Among these we have Land Tax, Eternal Dragon and Weathered Wayfarer.  While we won’t be able to play more than one land a turn we will make sure that’s exactly what we do.  For card drawing we will again have to look for artifact solutions.  Mind’s Eye is a good start and cards such as Sensei’s Divining Top and Scroll Rack will supplement this.  One thing we do have going for us is a good range of tutors: Elightened Tutor, Idyllic Tutor, Academy Rector and Enduring Ideal that will supplement our enchantment plan.

Since we will often be enacting an aggressive plan we will also need to protect our team as well as Elesh Norn.  To protect the Praetor we will be look at Lightning Greaves and Darksteel Plate. To protect our team we have a few good choices:  Brave the Elements is a good option if we intend to alpha strike our opponents, more reliable may be Eldrazi Monument (an answer we will have no problem feeding).

So did we meet our initial goals?  We have the artifact mana and land search to keep playing our Commander (some such as Caged Sun/Gauntlet of Power will also pump our

creatures).   The deck has access to both aggressive and controlling cards, but will one strategy hamper the other?  Should we give up one theme to maximise the other?  Finally we have access to enough enchantments and spells that can create and pump tokens so if our Commander isn’t present we can still enact our game plan.  So a good start, however this raises two more questions that will confront our choice of a mono-white commander.  Firstly, what’s our plan for interacting with our opponents outside of the combat phase?  Secondly, can our deck present recursive threats, something that traditionally is the realm of Green and Black? 

        We’ll take these questions into account next week as we start with our card choices.  For the moment here are few of the                                  auto-includes for our deck:          

        1.           Sol Ring

        2.           Land Tax

        3.           Gauntlet of Power

        4.           Caged Sun

        5.           Austere Command    

        6.           Emeria, the Sky Ruin

        7.           Sensei’s Divining Top

        8.          Sacred Mesa

        9.          Mind's Eye

        10.       Crovax, Ascendant Hero

 Well thanks for reading, now read James’ half of the challenge as he takes on Sheoldred, Whispering One…Till next week, Alan.