For the past year Wizards of the Coast have been promoting Commander through releasing commander preconstructed decks with all standard releases. This is great because it provides a vehicle for older more valuable cards to get reprinted. These decks can be played out of the box and provide an enjoyable experience, but they are far from being optimized. Take Ten takes a look at these preconstructed decks and provides ten card suggestions to improve the deck and what cards to remove to add these cards. If you are looking for Undead Unleashed you can find it here. Today we look at Coven Counters.
Deconstructing Coven Counters
The commander, Leinore, Autumn Sovereign, out of the box suggests two themes immediately. First is to activate the coven ability to draw a card. Second, is to place counters on creatures to activate that coven ability. For those who do not know, coven is an ability on cards that activates when you have three or more creatures with different powers. We think that Wizards of the Coast forgot that a coven is a group of witches as the coven ability has nothing to do with this. There is a broader meaning to coven, but in a gothic horror set, the coven meaning is more appropriate to be that of a coven of witches. Wizards loses Vorthos points for this one. Back to Leinore…
Leinore automatically puts the deck in a counters theme which can be worked around. There is plenty of support for the deck. As for coven, I feel it can be difficult to activate as normally powers range from one to six. Our commander is a zero power which often will not overlap with other creatures on the board making coven a little easier to obtain. It does mean you will have to plan out your turn and how you cast spells and place counters to make sure you activate coven and to keep coven.
An additional Commander
The deck contains a secondary commander in Kyler, Sigardian Emissary. He is an intriguing build because he goes tall with humans on the battlefield while buffing your humans to go wide. This means the preconstructed deck is also a humans tribal build. We expect a critical mass of humans and it is also a potential theme we can build around. There are only have ten cards to put in and take out. It will be more likely that we will add some humans to the deck but not add any human payoffs to the deck unless it is a glaring human payoff. We are not guaranteed to draw these cards if there are low quantities in the deck. It’s less of a priority. This is because it is more efficient to add counter payoffs instead.
So from the commanders we can determine we will want the standard packages of card draw, ramp, and removal. We will want 10 cards in each package and if the preconstructed deck allows us we will try to increase one of these packages to 15 cards. Our initial target for lands is 36. We will also want cards that support our counter themes. We will target 15 to 20 cards that do this . This is an attacking deck we will want around 33 creatures with the majority of them being humans. Finally, decks do not run on theme alone. Often they include just solid cards that will give a twist for the deck to make it synergize in an unique way or answer problems. This is the misc. package. We will include a maximum target of 10 cards as well.
Looking at the Stats
Breaking down the deck we notice the quantity of cards in each package. First there are seven card draw cards. We can have Leinore in the command zone which helps but we still want more card draw cards. It also means we will not want to cut any of these draw cards even if they are underwhelming. There are only seven removal cards so the deck would like three more of these cards. In reality we only added two removal pieces. Instead we are opting to add more “counter fun” to the deck. The ramp category comes in with ten cards which is just enough we will not touch it.
The deck contains 37 lands and 19 cards that work with counters. None of the counter cards are the top staples in the counters theme. (Shame on you Wizards for not reprinting The Ozolith in this deck.) The deck will need us to upgrade the counters theme a little as well. Since counters are the crux of the decks strategy we want it to sizzle. This is a great place to upgrade the deck. Humans come in at 26 cards which is good enough for the feel of the deck. We don’t need to add to this package unless we take out several humans.
Just looking at this deck I would want to do an overhaul and rebuild the deck significantly lowering the mana curve and adding in significant counters upgrades and a humans payoff outside of just Kylar and Angel of Glory’s Rise. Those cards don’t need to be human payoffs exactly than something with tribal synergies would do as well. For example, Door to Destinies would be such a payoff.
Cards to Add
First we must address the card draw of the deck. Without cards we will not be able to have a board presence to attack with and draw more cards. Also the more cards we have the easier it will be to activate coven to draw even more cards. We added two cards to take the deck up to nine. This is cutting things a little bit short, but we are going to count on Leinore giving us some card draw in the game despite the hoops we will have to jump through to get the cards.
Beast Whisperer is a payoff that we get by just casting creatures and is a great fit despite being an elf. It gives us cards immediately and the deck needs that! Hunters Insight is an opportunity card. It’s instant speed. When you know who will be giving out the damage cast it and draw away. The deck wants to be aggressive and this card encourages us to remember to be so.
Removal sees two additional human cards as well. Unfortunately, they are slow because they have tap abilities. If you are lucky enough to draw into Swiftfoot Boots it can speed up the interactions. Devout Chaplain lets you tap it and two humans you control to exile and artifact or enchantment. If you can’t attack then at least you can impact somebody’s board to try and break parity.
Intrepid Hero is repeatable creature removal. The creature must be power four or greater. This is not much of a drawback. Because we want to be an aggressive deck we want to remove the high powered creatures in order to make way for our creatures to attack. It would be rare that we will want to remove a one or two power creature with this effect. Our opponents will chump block with them.
The remaining six cards to add are counter fun cards. First are two staples that should be in most counter decks if not all of them. The Ozolith is the first card. This allows you to recycle your counters and they are not lost as your creatures die. Your creatures will die. Aggressive creatures are meant to be expendable. The other card is Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider. Vorinclex doubles the counters you place on anything. This ability is on a body with trample. This will enable your attack theme as well as increase the capacity to place counters on your creatures. These two cards are elite counters cards and excellent includes in any counters deck. It would be remiss not to add them in this build.
Cathar’s Crusade should be in almost any deck that wants to go wide. As a creature heavy deck, it’s an excellent fit. Just make sure when you are deploying creatures you are deploying them from the highest power to the lowest in a turn. This seems counterintuitive because normally you will want to bait out your opponent’s removal, but not in this case. If you play the weaker creatures first Cathars Crusade will put more counters on them and this limits your ability to activate coven on your commander. Finally when it comes to single target removal the wily commander player will not use the single target removal until it affects them. Often you will not be able to bait out the single target removal.
Gavony Township will add to our land count but that is OK. It’s first and foremost a mana sink. As long as we have five extra mana we can activate it to build the power of our entire team. This is wonderful because if we satisfied the coven ability, then it will keep coven intact for us. Because this ability is on a land, it will be difficult to remove. Similar to Gavony Township is Shalai, Voice of Plenty. She distributes counters across the whole team and also adds an additional layer of protection by providing hexproof to our creatures. Decks run more single target removal spells than board wipes. This means our opponents will have to burn two spells in order to take out an offensive creature on our side of the board.
Value for Now and in the Future
Last but not least there is Thalia’s Lieutenant. The card provides value immediately while growing as the game progresses. It’s a human payoff that will add a counter to each of them and when another human enters play she will gain a counter as well. As we play more humans this card will grow out of hand. This can come down early and help you be the pitbull in the room. It is the type of card that will help us have explosive turns.
Cards to Cut
While we want to activate coven, putting three tokens on the battlefield all at once is veerrryyyy slowwww. Such cards can get clogged in our hand. Bestial Menace, Somberwald Beastmaster, and Trostani’s Summoner were cut for these reasons. They are way too mana intensive and not worth the five to seven mana it costs to cast them.
Mana intensive is a theme for these cuts. The mana curve of the deck is quite high. These big mana spells are going to be the first to go. Thus, Biogenic Upgrade, Verdurous Gearhulk and Kessig Cagebreakers as high mana cost cards that provide minimal value are cut. A couple of counters or tokens is just not enough.
Kurbis, Harvest Celebrant scales in mana but his ability to prevent damage is underwhelming as it does not prevent mass board wipes or destroy effects. Riders of Gavony provide a one time protection as we have no blink effects to abuse what humans get protection from. It is effective best against tribal decks. There is no guarantee you will be playing against one. The the odds of being able to swing out and not be blocked is minimal at best. Without the protection a 3/3 vigilance isn’t going to impact the game much.
Finally we will remove the two curses in the deck. They are great for Innistrad decks but this deck’s theme is first and foremost humans, not eerie.. They affect only one player and provide a diminishing return as the game moves forward. Because of this, both Curse of Clinging Webs and Curse of Conformity are removed.
Adding these ten cards are rather inexpensive when it comes to commander decks. The current price of these ten additions is $70.62. Half of the price is tied up in two cards: The Ozolith and Vorinclex. If you are buying this precon then you want to play counters. In which case an investment in these two cards is worth the cost. Shalai , Cathars Crusade, and Beast Whisperer cost in the $4.00 to $6.50 range. The other cards are bargain bin prices. In the end, when buying the precon and purchasing the upgrades you will be spending a little over $100 which in today’s commander economy is quite affordable.
Summing it up.
Counters can be a fun theme to build around and play. They may not be the strongest archetype in the format but they synergize well for a fun experience and can attack for the win. With counters you will always be doing something. Consider these ten upgrades for a quick play out of the box. You can visually see the cards on Archidekt here. For more counters fun you can read about a Drizzt Hydra counters here. In reality, several more cards could be swapped to power up the deck even further. We at commander clinic are pretty certain that we will revisit this commander again as we can’t seem to help from tinkering with decks. What other cards would you remove or add? Feel free to comment or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.