I’ve been playing Commander since Shards of Alara. It’s the one format I play; not Modern, not Legacy, not Vintage nor Pauper. Standard? Not enough options for me. I want a bit of chaos in my games. I also love multiplayer games. Whenever there’s a new set, I examine all the legendary creatures first. And when I saw this ogre spirit artificer-ish Kurkesh, basically a Rings of Brighthearth for artifacts, I knew I was going to build a deck around him one day.
I have played many mono red commander decks: Kiki-jiki, Heartless Hidetsugu, and Feldon, to name a few. I Regularly play vs Purphoros, Krenko and Urabrask. In all my years of commander, never have I seen a Kurkesh deck. To be fair, I didn’t try to google some, this is just from personal experience – mtgo, friends, customers – no one would approach this Kurkesh. After some research, it appeared to me that Sensei’s Divining Top, Liquimetal Coating (planeswalker -> artifact means double activate with Kurkesh), Keening Stone, Memory Jar, Temple Bell, Tormod’s Crypt, Trading Post, they were all pointing toward the same direction: milling. Or at least some graveyard manipulation of sorts.
So I went all in with milling. A mono red Kurkesh mill deck…
For starters, it’s surprisingly consistent. The intense draw it brings to the table, namely Temple Bell, Memory Jar, Howling Mine, Anvil of Bogardan, Font of Mythos, Wheel of Fortune, Wheel of Fate, and Reforge the Soul will make this deck pass as a mono red group hug deck for inattentive players, so you might get a few extra quiet turns out of it as a bonus. But when you start copying the Wheel effects, whether from Kurkesh + Jar or Fork effect + wheel effect, then they might smell that something’s fishy. When/if Mesmeric Orb hits the board, all hell breaks lose. If you are good enough at MTG (i.e. lucky) when you play Mesmeric Orb you’ll have a Mirrorworks in play, making 2 of them. Possibly shenaniganing with Goblin Welder or Daretti to get Mesmeric Orb in the graveyard and back for an extra copy of it, as having 3-4 mesmeric orbs in play is awesome. Having both old Kozilek and Ulamog in the deck ensures that you won’t fall victim to your own nonsense, and Tormod’s Crypt and Relic of Progenitus ensure that your opponents will.
So you wheel, fork the wheels, mill and try to stay alive.
Then something happened.
I obtained a Past in Flames.
Sure, I was already playing Mizzix’s Mastery and Recoup to wheel from the graveyard. I once made 9 copies of Reforge the Soul – thanks Howl of the Horde + Increasing Vengeance flashbacked – but I felt that Past in Flames opened more doors then that. Suddenly I felt like I could try to actually use the wheels as fuel for a greater scheme… Storm!!
I took the wheeling shell of the deck, removed a few artifacts and most of the creatures, as I had to make space for the cantrips, rituals, and kill conditions. Had to take out the eldrazis, since I aim at crafting myself a graveyard.
So here’s how it plays out: Kurkesh in play, Memory Jar activate, copy with Kurkesh’s triggered ability, now there’s two Jar effects on the stack. Resolve. Nice, you play your turn with the seven cards and at the beginning of the end step, two Jar triggers on the stack. As the first resolves, each players gets ALL of the cards exiled by both Jar effects in hand, so both face down hands, and then the second Jar trigger resolves making all players discard all cards in hand. This is because both triggers are from the same Jar, so when the trigger asks for all cards drawn this turn, both hands are taken so when the second resolves there’s nothing to get and all to discard. Remember, all you want is a full graveyard, this works in your favor.
We’re playing storm so there’s going to be rituals that’s for sure. The mvp of all rituals is by far Mana Geyser. Of use also is Inner Fire and Battle Hymn, all three of which can two-card combo with Reiterate for infinite mana, provided that the spells give 7+ mana. In fact, to start a storm I often go Mana Geyser + copy it with all I can, to make a mana base for the rest of turn to finish the job. Possibly something like: 50 cards in library, 30 in graveyard, cast Past in Flames from hand, wheel from graveyard then with seven cards in hand Inner Fire + Increasing Vengeance then copy Increasing Vengeance with Fork and/or Wild Ricochet, Reverberate, all from Graveyard. As mana and spell count pile up you have a good start to storm off. Fun!
Now, how to pilot such a fine vessel? I play it disguised as a lunatic group-hugging mono red eccentric Kurkesh. Let’s be honest, once you put Kurkesh beside your deck before the game no one takes you seriously, and that plays in your favor. Let them think you’re a lunatic, and when you’re about to die or when the graveyard is full enough, unleash the storm!
So by now everybody has seen the new God of Dimir colours, Phenax. When he was previewed (without the rest of the set) it was met with mixed reactions, at least it was on Mythicspoiler.com. Half the people were saying how this card sucked and that they wished that Wizards would move away from the Mill deck, and the other half were screaming at how great the card would be, especially if you combined it with Consuming Aberration. Let that combo sink in for a minute. A powerful combo indeed and almost guaranteed to kill your opponent within 2-3 turns. But that is almost entirely a casual deck. Not that there’s anything wrong with casual, as it drives the market, but what surprised me was that nobody was talking about how this card could impact limited.
In limited this card is going to be a bomb, and in my opinion it is almost assuredly a snap first pick. When you figure that your opponent is running a 40 card deck then draw 7 on average for their first hand leaving them with 33 cards, and then by the time you get to play this baby down they have drawn 4-5 cards more leaving them with 28 cards or so. And with this guy as a milling engine, the games won’t last long. Much in the same way that Jace used to pump your deck in 2-3 turns when he hit the table and milled 10. Only this isn’t a planeswalker, can’t be destroyed or attacked directly. It’s an indestructable God. So there is my limited analysis for you.
But back to the group of people that really drive this game, the casual market. This guy is going to be a lot of fun and people are going to try and work him to death to make the fabled mill deck that seems to have become as niche a collection of cards as classic burn has. So I thought to myself, why not try and see what can be done by combining as many high toughness stall out wall-type creatures in the deck as possible and waiting out Phenax to drop.
Sadly we have no one drop defenders in Black or Blue, but we have several two drops that will fit in quite nice. The first is Doorkeeper, a 0/4 defender which has built in milling already, which works well if you don’t have Phenax out already, but is probably a little lackluster once Phenax is in play. Next we have Murmuring Phantasm, a very simple 0/5 defender for one and a blue. Nothing too complicated, but it will clog up the ground rather nicely. In keeping with going alphabetically we have Returned Phalanx next at a 3/3 with defender and a little combat trick that will let you attack if need be.
Moving into our three cost slot we can find Corpse Blockade, a nice 1 /4 creature that has a little combat trick of sacrificing a creature to gain deathtouch. An ability that should make opponents wary about attacking into you at all times if you have another creature to offer up to the god. After that comes a very nice Hover Barrier, a 0/6 defender with flying to boot. There isn’t much out there that isn’t monstrous that this fat wall won’t take care of. And after that comes an old goodie in Wall of Frost, a 0/7 defender that can cause your opponents creatures to stall out for a turn if they are blocked by him. And then we have the new member to the Fat Defender family from Born of the Gods with Black Oak of Odunas, a 0/5 defender for two and a black that can pump itself up with +1/+1 until the end of the turn at the cost of a Black mana and tapping another creature.
But we can’t rely on just these defenders in order to keep our opponent at bay, we need spells too. Defensive spells, such as Hero’s Downfall, Doom Blade, and Voyage’s End. Cards that can stall out our opponent until we can get our awesome defender mill engine online. Another card that came to mind is Far//Away, a multi-purpose card that acts as both an edict and a boomerang effect. Versatility goes a long way in deck construction.
So where would that leave us? Well, lets throw something together.
Overall, this is a very casual deck, and doesn’t appear to do very much, but when you get the engine online your opponent is bound to pull his (or her) hair out. It has the potential to be a very deceiving deck.
Until next time,
~ Gerald Knight