Cryptic Commander: The Killer (Combo) Queen
Hello guys, I hope your week has been better than mine!
Today, I’d like to talk to you today about one of my newest Commander decks, my love and hate for it, and why I decided to keep it built up. Ladies and gentleman, I give to you…
… I bet you didn’t expect that, did you? Yes, the Orzhov Scion is a little innocuous for those who haven’t seen her before, but she’s probably one of the best combo generals I’ve ever seen and had the privilege of playing with.
This History of Teysa
Teysa was first an idea in my head a few months back. At the time, I’d finished tweaking Azusa aggressively, and was almost done with my Intet, the Dreamer build. It was then that I had the thought of expanding my play style into colours I hadn’t explored. While my playgroup had already done Mono White and Black decks in the past, there hadn’t been anyone who’d produced a deck with both colours together (outside of 5-colour decks, obviously). My challenge set, I then looked at what the colours offered me in terms of generals:
–Ghost Council of Orzhova was the first standout to me. At 4 mana, he was incredibly affordable, and castable with a Signet on turn 3. Pretty well shielded thanks to his ability, the idea would be to drain opponents through his ability as well as some of the drain spells (Exsanguinate, Death Grasp, etc). He seemed to fit my Johnny needs for comboing out, but he also seemed fairly slow, albeit well protected.
–Selenia, Dark Angel is the most classic of the three available generals, coming out way back in Tempest. Evasion and a protection ability certainly warranted her place in my thinking process, but the Johnny in me ultimately decided against it: I felt that Selenia would serve best as a Voltron*-style general, which would have been a little more linear a plan than I would have liked. Sure, I could have put combos into her build, but with little interaction with the general, she wasn’t what I was looking for.
–Teysa, Orzhov Scion was actually the last card on my mind as I searched through a few ideas. She comboed very well with other cards, and the benefit of only needing a minimal amount of effort to achieve maximum gain certainly was appealing. Lacking protection certainly hurt a little bit, but my main issue at the time was that another friend in my playgroup had a token-centric theme through one of his decks, albeit in Naya colours. I decided that since the token producers and game plans weren’t going to be that similar, that Teysa would be the major choice, and gave me a quicker, more powerful set of combos than Ghost Council, which also achieving the same ferocity of Selenia.
Building Teysa, and the components of Black and White
The first challenge I set about solving was how to build the deck. I knew that a token theme would be evident through the use of my general, and feeding her ability to Exile opposing creatures should be paramount. I also knew the difficulties in creating a deck without Blue or Green: Blue’s card advantage and Green’s ramp were two of the things I loved about Intet, and I knew it was an uphill battle from the start. However, Black and White do give a fair amount of positive areas to their game:
- There is no shortage of Token producers from either side. Along with Elspeth Tirel, Conquerors’ Pledge and Decree of Justice, I had no shortage of flooding the board with tokens should I need to. Black also offers Bitterblossom and Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder so I can produce both White and Black tokens, which can be very important depending on which combo you wish to produce.
- White has plenty of board sweeping devices at its disposal, including the classic Wrath of God and the utility card Austere Command Black tends to focus more towards spot removal, though Damnation gives you more solid board control should you need to reset.
- Card draw is very abundant in Black, and though a little more costly in terms of life paying, it’s often a little more loose in terms of mana use. Take for example Ambition’s Cost compared to Concentrate: Though they both have the same mana cost, Ambition’s single black mana means that you can cast it much easier than the Concentrate, for the cost of 3 life. In a format where your life is a starter at 40, it seems pretty reasonable to pay 3 life in order to cast spells, especially in a colour where life gain is a general theme.
- Combos run rampant in this archetype, often revolving around the general herself. I love this kind of interactivity in a deck, and the fact that you have a combo piece that your opponent can rarely get rid of (Stupid Hinder…) means your combos gain more resiliency.
- As well as card draw, you have access to one of Black’s most powerful options: Tutors! Black is the king of fetching, which is paramount in a deck like this. Sure, some of these do cost a little bit (Demonic Tutor and Vampiric Tutor), but some such as Diabolic Tutor and the Transmute cards from Ravnica are incredibly cheap and very powerful.
Teysa, the current build
Below, I outline my current build of the deck, as well as its various combination plays:
Caves of Koilos
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
City of Brass
Temple of the False God
Flagstones of Trokair
Boseiju, Who Shelters All
Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder
Archon of Justice
Yosei, the Morning Star
Decree of Justice
Promise of Power
Beseech the Queen
Combo Play: The major ones
As you can see, the main build reacts around forming up a variety of combination plays, allowing it to attack from a multitude of different directions;
–Nether Traitor + Phyrexian Altar + Teysa, Orzhov Scion: By having all three on the field, you can sacrifice Nether Traitor to the Altar, generating a 1/1 Spirit and 1 Black mana. By sacrificing the spirit for a mana, you can use the Black mana in your pool to return Nether Traitor to the Battlefield, netting a gain of 1 mana of any color every time you use it. Repeat for an arbitrarily large amount of mana, which you can channel through one of the X-Spells to secure the win.
–Yosei, the Morning Star + Debtor’s Knell + Any Sacrifice Outlet: This isn’t a combo I use very often, as it tends to be a little more fragile to use than the others. With this, you create a recursion loop with Yosei and Knell, locking down a single opponent. Less useful in multiplayer for obvious reasons, and does generate heat, so be wary when using this combo.
–Mirror Entity + Karmic Guide + Reveillark + Blasting Station / Altar of Dementia: Another favourite. Using the three former cards, you can create an infinite loop of sacrifice. Using their recursion effects to return to play, you can activate as many triggers as you like on a Blasting Station to deal them damage, or trigger a mill effect via the Altar.
–Teysa, Orzhov Scion + Elspeth Tirel + Darkest Hour: One of the other favourable combos. With Teysa in play, along with three tokens and Darkest Hour, you have the ability to exile any number of creatures: When you sacrifice the White tokens, they are also Black via Darkest Hour, and thus trigger Teysa, giving you three more B/W Tokens. This helps you clear a path for your bigger buys to get in, or just helps you stabilise should you not have a mass removal effect in hand.
-Tutors: Academy Rector Enlightened TutorVampiric Tutor Shred Memory Demonic Tutor Diabolic Tutor Idyllic Tutor Dimir Machinations Beseech the Queen Liliana Vess: The tutors are what makes Teysa tick. If any of you are massive proponents of competitive formats, then you’ll have had it drilled into you that consistency is key. In Highlander formats like Commander, you’re very limited in how you can attain consistency, but tutors help solve that problem, and both colours are no slouch when it comes to finding what you need. From powerful draw-fixing tutors like Vampiric and Enlightened, to the amazing straight-to-hand tutors like Demonic and Idyllic, you have no shortage of being able to find every piece of your combo that you need. There’s very little downside to tutors, but they give you the added consistency that you need, especially running this sort of deck.
-Draw: Graveborn Muse Ancient Craving Ambition’s Cost Promise of Power Skullclamp Sensei’s Divining Top Skullclamp Mind’s Eye Phyrexian Arena Necropotence: Just like tutors, draw is also very important in Commander decks. Black is clearly a lot more damaging to you than Blue’s draw effects, but they’re certainly just as powerful, and even more powerful in certain areas. Cards like the Arena and Muse give you a constant course of card advantage for very little cost, and the bigger spells offer you a way to refill your hand effectively. In a 40 life format, the life you lose is certainly less important than it is in other constructed formats such as Standard: Double the life means double the resource available, which is crucial for Black in order to succeed.
-Mana Ramp / Search: Solemn Simulacrum Eternal Dragon Land Tax Tithe Sol Ring Expedition Map Orzhov Signet Phyrexian Altar Darksteel Ingot: Again, White is kind of subservient to Green in the area of ramping – it doesn’t so much ramp as fetch lands, so you often have to rely on Artifact mana to at least get you started. Staples in Jens and Sol Ring always get the nod in my decks – they’re too good to pass up on the majority of the time, especially in multicoloured decks. One card I really love here is Tithe. A hidden gem, it lets you play off of your opponent’s ramp and grab those vital dual lands to help fix your mana for the coming turns, and dropping it at Instant speed is great.
-Removal: StripMine Wasteland Stonecloaker Necrotic Sliver Archon of Justice Hero’s Demise Martial Coup Damnation Hallowed Burial Austere Command Akroma’s Vengeance Vindicate: …and if it’s one thing White and Black love, it’s making sure your opponent can do jack all about your game plan. White and Black pride themselves on their excellent, cost-effective removal: From Wraths, to Artifact and Enchantment removal, these colours have it all, not to mention the more tricksy Wrath effects such as Final Judgment and Hallowed Burial. My pick for a hidden gem? Hero’s Demise. Albeit only being a single target removal spell, it does what no other card does better… it makes your opponent’s General look like chump change. In a format where you have to have one general (and often carry at least a couple more), Hero’s Demise will always have a target. It does seem a little cute, I’ll give you that, but heck, try it for yourself and look at the result!
-Token generators: Kjeldoran Outpost Springjack Pasture Twilight Drover Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder Skeletal Vampire Decree of Justice Conqueror’s Pledge Bitterblossom Mobilization Elspeth, Knight-Errant Elspeth Tirel: These cards are the life blood of the deck: Withoutthese, it makes things much harder by having to assemble an army by paying tons of mana and using up your hand in order to get enough to trigger Teysa. Most of these guys trigger for enough dudes to sustain you, ala Elspeth and Pledge, and some even help you jump the curve, such as Endrek. For one card, you can net potentially massive amounts of tokens before he falls to his effect, netting you a significant amount of board prescence in the process.
-Recursion: Volrath’s Stronghold Mistveil Plains Argivian Find Crucible of Worlds Debtor’s Knell: Obviously, combos can be disrupted a number of ways – counterspells, removal, etc. with these, you can aim to stem the bleeding a little. Knell and Stronghold help you re-use creatures with strong “Enters the Battlefield” abilities, Crucible helps revive your destroyed lands, and Argivian Find helps you recur those crucial Artifacts and Enchantments. Mistveil Plains is also incredibly powerful in this style of deck: Paired with Black’s immense amount of tutor, you can quite easily recur something and tutor it back if need be.
Cards to be Considered
Wrath of God: The premiere board sweeper, Wrath is just as powerful as it was when I first saw it used in 2003. An Auto-include in any White deck for sure – the only reason I haven’t had one in here yet is due to being unable to find one! Regeneration does pop up from time to time in Commander, and though Day of Judgment is close, it’s nice to be able to take care of any Thrun, the Last Troll or other Green beasty when you sit down at the table.
Sun Titan: A fatty for sure, he also kicks it with a sweet Recursion ability. Your important permanents cost 3 mana or less, so he should see some inclusing into the list very shortly.
Mine Excavation: A card very similar to Argivian Find, but with the ability to Conspire it and create a 2-for-1 situation is pretty strong. With the amount of tokens in the deck, you should very rarely fail to Conspire it if you need it, and it’s certainly in my forethought right now.
Scroll Rack: It’s found its way into both my Azusa and Intet for its ability to turn seeming poor hands into amazing draws. Not to mention it combos well with Land Tax to trade your three Basic Lands for ‘live’ cards when you need them later in the game. It certainly has a high reputation with me, and it’s creeping up to Sol Ring, Solemn Simulacrum and Sensei’s Divining Top in terms of its auto-inclusion into most of my decks.
Well, I think I’ve rambles on for long enough. In closing, if you’re a very Combo-oriented player, I’d certainly give Teysa a try. She’s very powerful, highly interactive with the rest of her build, and certainly provides a lot of fun and interesting interactions in order to take control of games. As always, if you have questions you can post them here, or straight to my Facebook page. Have a plesant week, and keep Commanding!