The Return to Ravnica prerelease is upon us, which means all the new gold, hybrid, and guild cards are legal to use in Commander decks. Every new set has cards that are going to be workhorses in one deck or another. Not every new set has new multicolor generals. Thankfully, RTR does supply five new Commanders.
Every Magic player has a favorite two-color combination. Even mono-red aggro and mono-black control players have a favorite pair of colors when forced to choose I am an Izzet. After seeing fan reaction across the internet, I know I am not alone.
The initial trip to Ravnica demonstrated the result of pairing chaotic and impulsive red with calculating and planning blue. A blue-red Commander deck can surely be assembled, but what direction should it take? Blue control and card draw with a splash of red burn spells, or red and blue Burning Vengeance flashback, or perhaps a tribal deck? What do you do when you cannot decide between really “good” (read: fun) ideas? Flip a coin? Ask a friend? Ponder the issue for longer than necessary? How about we choose both!
Both decks are Izzet-aligned, but with very different playstyles. Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind will lead an Innistrad-inspired flashback “value” deck with Burning Vengeance and Secrets of the Dead. Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius will lead a Wizard tribal deck with a lot of card draw. For the record, Curiosity will not be in either deck. Neither of these are hardcore competitive decks, but both will force other players to make sub-optimal choices while squeezing out as much value as a piece of cardboard will allow.
“Doc, I’m (Flash)back”
Innistrad block gave two new value-centric cards to this color combination. Burning Vengeance and Secrets of the Dead are only valuable in a deck with flashback cards, but if both enchantments are in play you get a free Shock and a free Think Twice. That is 1UR mana worth of value for the low cost of having two enchantments on the board and flashing back a spell. Altar of the Lost and Catalyst Stone are two artifacts that also support flashback spells. The Altar provides two colored mana to cast flashback spells, and the Stone reduces the flashback cost of spells coming from your graveyard by two. Value-city. In the unlikely event that you have managed to draw, cast, and keep all four flashback supporting cards on the battlefield, victory is imminent.
Looting is a mechanic with a history in blue and has recently seen an increase in red. Red has a twist on some of its looting creatures. Mad Prophet and Faithless Looting work like classic blue looting, but newer cards like Wild Guess and Rummaging Goblin require the discard prior to the draw. This drawback is much less of an issue in “flashback.dek.” Always a strong ability, looting a flashback spell into the graveyard sets up an increase in value without “wasting a resource.” There is no such thing as being “just a looter.”
Aggressively looting away flashback cards to search for the two focal enchantments gives the player a goal and a good starting point of how to play this deck. This deck will also show newer players the strength of looting. Greatly eliminating the bad feeling of discarding a card away forever, flashback demonstrates how digging for the best answer in the deck is better than any card that will not impact the game state.
Niv-Mizzet, the Flashbacker
Either Niv-Mizzet could lead this deck. There is enough mana to support activating the Dracogenius’s ability multiple times per turn. The draw-a-card portion of looting will trigger the Firemind’s ping ability, and is the reason he is the current Commander. The next few weeks will allow both versions of the Izzet leader an opportunity to lead this deck to determine which one will reign supreme.
As expected in a blue deck led by Niv-Mizzet, the deck has a lot of card draw. However, the only tutor effect comes on a creature. Drift of Phantasms will leave many Vorthosian deck builders scratching their head until they realize he has transmute. Transmute allows you to cast Drift of Phantoms for its transmute cost and search your library for a card with the same converted mana cost. Drift of Phantasms allows you to tutor for either three-mana flashback-support enchantment or secure the ground game if both are in play and he is drawn late in the game.
Golgari lovers will be jealous of the heavy graveyard focus of this blue-red deck. This also means Relic of Progenitus, Bojuka Bog, and other forms of graveyard hate will have a devastating effect on the outcome of the game. Thankfully blue has counterspells (pro tip: save the counterspells for graveyard hate and game-ending combos).
Spells to Consider
As always there are cards that had to be cut. Some might fill a role this deck is missing. Some fit a different play style better. Here are a few cards that did not make the cut:
Charmbreaker Devils: A Wee Dragonauts on steroids. Getting stronger for every instant and sorcery cast can be powerful in a deck like this. It also recurs a spell from the graveyard every turn. This allows for multiple uses for each flashback spell. However, once a spell is cast from the graveyard it is exiled and will no longer be able to be brought back by these Devils.
Kederekt Leviathan: An Evacuation effect on a creature with “creature flashback” is a flavorful and effective addition to the list. If creature heavy or token swarm decks are strong in your playgroup this would be an auto include.
Blasphemous Act: This potential board sweeper was pulled out to make room for the new overload spells from RTR. Mizzium Mortars and Street Spasm both have a cheaper converted mana cost and leave your creatures unscathed. There are times when Blasphemous Act would be cheaper to play and do more damage. This mass removal spell is waiting patiently to come back if either of the replacements do not adequately fill this role.
Off to See the Wizard
Some wizards over Magic’s 20-year existence have powerful effects that can bring a Commander game to a screeching halt. These wizards were avoided. The 34 wizards that made the cut all made it on their abilities. Resembling a good deck, these abilities vary: ping, loot, counterspells, card draw, the list goes on. Similar to the flashback deck, this wizard tribal deck is fun to play and can be confusing to play against.
The original dragon wizard’s activated ability can be summarized as “tap: draw and ping.” Niv-Mizzet 2.0 is, “UR: ping and draw.” Six-mana pingers. Awesome. The original pinger, Tim, aka Prodigal Sorcerer, can add another fun and combat math-altering mode of the deck. But Tim is not the only pinger around to support the Firemind. Six other wizard pingers are included to pinprick opponents, and their creatures, to death.
Unlike a lot of decks that I concoct, there is no obvious “Christmasland Combo.” The deck draws a lot of cards and has creatures with abilities that can prolong a game for you to cast either (or both) Niv-Mizzets and out-resource your opponents.
Niv-Mizzet, Leader of the Wizards
Meet the Wizards
Magus of the Future & Magus of the Moon — Two on-tribe creatures with constant board changing effects. An extra card from the top of your library or turning all non-basic lands into Mountains can disrupt other strategies enough to secure victory from otherwise hopeless board states.
Riptide Entrancer: This wizard with Morph is from Onslaught. After dealing combat damage he (she?) can be sacrificed for a permanent Mind Control effect. While you won’t be able to steal a tapped Primeval Titan anymore, there are plenty of creatures worth stealing in Commander games.
Vedalken Anatomist: Adding -1/-1 counters to creatures is like a pinger with infect. The ability to tap or untap creatures can lead to huge combat blowouts. Combine these two abilities and this Phyrexian wizard can be a serious role player for Niv-Mizzet.
As these decks were being built, a third group of cards kept popping up. A mill and self-mill variant started to form. Mill decks have a reputation for being bad in multiplayer games, but self-mill in a deck packed with looters and card draw can be effective. Either deck could be modified with this new theme, but the flashback and looter deck is more likely to succeed. Burn through your deck as fast as possible, get Laboratory Maniac onto the battlefield, protect him with Darksteel Plate and Swiftfoot Boots, and win the game. This is a fragile win condition, but would be awesome in a 100-card format. If this direction is interesting, some cards to add include:
The newest set has both monocolored and gold goodies that will make their way into Commander decks. Other decks will be built around cards from this set, but updating previous decks with new cards is the best way to keep your games of Commander fun and interesting. What cards are you excited to build around? Is there a new mechanic or theme you want to try out? Have fun at your prerelease. Keep playing Magic!
Tom Lloyd III
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