We all have certain colors that we lean toward, and this tends to put us into certain regular categories in terms of deck archetypes we like to play. I tend to stick to red and black as my core colors, and while I may splash another in there on occasion, most of my decks have red, black, or both in them. As a result, I tend to play aggressive and punishing decks that like to blow up my opponents’ things or disrupt their strategies through destruction.
The flip side of this is that there are certain colors and color combinations that we don’t like and tend to stay away from. For me, these are squarely in the green/white, blue/white, and black/blue color pairings. Again, add a third color to any of these and I’m fine with it, but Selesnya, Azorius, and Dimir all feel terrible to me, and as a result I rarely, if ever, play them.
…Which brings me to the next entry in this series. Emmara Tandris was the ‘maze runner’ for the Selesnya guild during the Dragon’s Maze set (which I still don’t fully understand – if your set is going to require extra reading to get even the basics of the plot, you’ve done something wrong), and she is at heart a token-creature enabler.
She’s also pretty terrible at it. In these colors, the obviously better choice for tokenswarm.dec is Rhys the Redeemed, and Emmara is a pretty decent addition in the 99 for that.
But we’re not looking for the best commander in this series – we’re looking at ways to make ‘bad’ ones fun. Let’s see what we can do.
There are a few problems inherent in Emmara:
- Casting cost! Seven mana is a lot for a centerpiece card even if you are in green.
- She just enhances another strategy without actually adding to it. Emmara doesn’t generate tokens herself, and you need to have the shell for that deck in place without her.
- She prevents damage rather than grants indestructible – board wipes still kill all of your tokens.
- She does not protect herself – her 5/7 stats certainly help, but she has no abilities to keep herself alive.
So…she’s a central piece to the deck, comes out late, is fragile, and really only works in combat.
Okay, this is bad. But we can work with it.
Really, this comes down to spewing out tokens and making them more effective. We’ve all built tokenswarm.dec, so I’ll not go into that aspect; basically, you want things that make token dudes and you want a lot of them. It’s the part about making them more effective that I want to look at. The simplest way to do this is to make sure your tokens are always going to win in combat; most token generating cards make small bodies, so we need to make use of deathtouch. Thankfully, there are a few ways to do this:
Bow of Nylea
Not a lot, I will grant you – and most of it really only helps one creature at a time. But it’s enough to make you the least palatable target for attack. It also means you can attack strategically, forcing uncomfortable decisions on your opponents.
The second thing you can do to make your tokens more effective in combat is to make them bigger. This is actually a lot easier, especially in these colors. Cards like Intangible Virtue, Leyline of the Meek, Phantom General, and Glorious Anthem are well-known, and others like True Conviction and Collective Blessing also do a lot of work. Wayfaring Temple doesn’t help your tokens, but certainly benefits from them when it comes to combat.
Emmara’s casting cost is solved with ramp. The standard package should be sufficient, with Cultivate and Kodama’s Reach and the like, but the tokens you get from Freyalise, Llanowar’s Fury are pretty great here for a few reasons; this leads me to another aspect of this deck that may not be readily noticeable – planeswalkers.
The ‘walkers in green and white are all pretty outstanding on their own, but a lot of them also produce tokens to defend themselves, and that fits really well with this theme. Freyalise, as mentioned, produces Llanowar Elves, but Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, Elspeth Tirel, and Elspeth, Knight-Errant all make 1/1 soldiers. Tirel also makes use of your token swarm to get back in the game with her +2 ability. Garruk, Primal Hunter makes 3/3 beasts, and if you manage to pull off his ultimate, you’ll be the proud owner of a lot of 6/6 wurms that are pretty tough to kill. Nissa, Voice of Zendikar makes plants much like Avenger of Zendikar, and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar makes 2/2s.
Keeping Emmara alive is a problem. People will see what’s coming from a long way off and will plan accordingly. The standard protection package – Lightning Greaves, Swiftfoot Boots, et al – this should be enough. Really, the better plan is to just hold her back until you need her. Token swarm decks tend to do just fine without her protection, and can often overrun an opponent with just numbers alone. Having her prevent all damage to your dudes is something that you can hold in reserve until you really need to break somebody’s back.
Finally, there are a few cards that should be considered specific to this deck. Hour of Reckoning is a corner-case card that I have personally never seen played, but which would absolutely work well here, and Geist-Honored Monk is a fantastic card that is criminally underplayed; there is no reason for it to not be in this deck.
Finally, let’s look at the obvious – we’re playing tokens. Doubling Season and Parallel Lives are in this deck. There is no reason for them not to be; this is exactly why I feel bad mentioning them – I like to stay away from the bleedingly-obvious cards when I can. Were I building this deck, I would probably leave Parallel Lives out for that reason, but Doubling Season would likely stay in. With the heavy planeswalker presence, Season is just too good. A late game Garruk, Primal Hunter with Doubling Season out is going to net you, conservatively, 20-30 6/6 wurm tokens immediately.
It’s hard to say no to that, so Doubling Season absolutely makes the cut.
Finally, looking at it on paper, Cathars’ Crusade seems like an auto-include. It makes your tokens so much bigger, and does it very quickly. Yes – I love this card. It tickles every part of my brain that it should, and it screams to be included in this deck, but trust me when I say you do not want this in a token list. Yes, your tokens get huge quickly, and yes it is easy to accomplish that, but think back to the last time you were managing a lot of token creatures:
You have your lands out in front of you, and a few permanent cards, and then six or seven dice identifying six or seven different token types.
Maybe that d6 is three 1/1 soldiers.
That other d6 is a 1/1 bird, and that d8 is seven 3/3 beasts.
A d10 shows 18 1/1 flying pegasi, while you have 0/1 plants indicates by a d8 and your 1/1 saprolings with a pair of d10s.
Now, let’s have all of those have different stats, because they have all bumped each other up one at a time with Cathars’ Crusade. Instead of six dice, you have to track 20 or 30 dice, and you have to keep them all in your head or scratched down on a piece of paper, and the game slows to a crawl as you have to explain to everybody what each of them is every time anyone needs to enact with your board.
Cathars’ Crusade is one of those cards that does its job so well that it is unplayable. It makes you have to track stats rather than play Magic.
And that’s a bad time for everyone.