Andrew Jackson Highlander - Thantis, the Warweaver
The Webs We Weave
Welcome to Andrew Jackson Highlander, a biweekly series where I build and share $20 Commander decks. With Commander 2018 released this month, I will be devoting my articles to some of the alternate commanders within each of the decks. To kick it off, we incite violence and ensnare our opponents in our political webs with Thantis, the Warweaver.
Thantis was not well-received at all when she was spoiled. It was a commander in a "Lands Matter" deck that had nothing to do with lands, and a legendary Spider that had nothing to with spiders. I can understand why people were a bit underwhelmed... but I was quite excited.
You see, I am a huge fan of the Goad mechanic and an even bigger fan of effects that speed up the clock on a game. While Grenzo, Havoc Raiser is a fine card for this type of strategy, his mono-colored status, as well as the specific wording of his ability, sort of force you into a typical Goblin/weenie strategy. I had always prayed for a Rakdos Goad general, and while Thantis doesn't specifically Goad creatures, she definitely fits the bill, and Commander 2018 was kind enough to toss green in with the red and black as well!
While Thantis is a bit expensive and the +1/+1 counter payoff is not much, I am most excited about this line of text: "All creatures attack each combat if able." Thantis starts up a series of constant skirmishes, and this deck will deter attacks from coming our way.
The Webs We Weave
This deck is unique for Jund, because it's basically a Pillowfort control deck without any of the typical "pillows" to protect you. The goal of the deck is to ramp quickly into Thantis, to get everyone attacking. Once you hit that stage of the game, you want to deter your opponents from attacking you while protecting your commander, so that the mayhem continues.
My playgroup buddy Brian absolutely loves one-drop deathtouch creatures like Pharika's Chosen and Sedge Scorpion. He runs them in just about any deck that can support them in any way, shape, or form. I drew inspiration from him for this deck, as deathtouch creatures are a good way to deter people from attacking us. A tiny creature that can trade with any big beater coming your way will certainly convince your opponents to look for other people to swing at.
Importantly, this means we want to wait to drop our deathtouch creatures until we think we absolutely need an untapped blocker, because Thantis says that we also have to attack if we’re able. Luckily, deathtouch makes it likely that our creatures will get in for some chip damage whenever we do have to attack with them.
Once we've woven our web and everyone is swinging willy-nilly, the name of the game is simply to batten down your hatches and weather the storm as best as possible. Remember, we're Jund, so we still want to Jund'em out, even if this particular deck goes about it in a very unique way. We'll grind to the end game and simply outlast and out-resource our opposition.
The endgame is where Thantis shines as something more than a mere political tool. Near the end of the game, when you're facing just one or two remaining opponents, the pool of people to attack becomes much less optimal. They'll be forced to make significantly non-optimal attacks, and any they make towards us will certainly buff our commander and eat their creatures, helping us knock them out even faster. Couple that with Thantis's natural vigilance and reach keywords, and you have a late-game threat that excels on both offense and defense.
Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs - This is the way red builds a Pillowfort, and this Tyrant is a perfect fit for our deck. It either discourages our opponents from attacking us, makes it more expensive for them to do so, or gives us bodies with which to block or to counterattack.
Marchesa's Decree / Thorn of the Black Rose - Marchesa's Decree is another version of the deterrent enchantments above and Thorn of the Black Rose is a deathtouch creature, so they are both on theme. However, the really important detail is that they introduce one of my favorite "clock" mechanics for Commander: the monarch. I enjoy any cards that help speed up Commander games and love cards that introduce 'sub-games' to a typical game. The monarch token does both, and that makes these two cards among my favorites in the deck.
Crown of Doom - Speaking of fun "sub-games" in Commander, Crown of Doom becomes an on-theme game of hot potato that can take all of the forced attacking to the next level.
Warmonger Hellkite - This card is redundancy for Thantis that also can push extra damage through. Keep in mind that this pumps any attacking creatures. You aren't forced to activate this ability only when you are the one doing the attacking; you can be even more political with this cool dragon.
Archetype of Finality - As stated above, deathtouch is important to our strategy, so it makes sense to run a creature that gives it to our whole team while denying it to our opponents.
Defend the Hearth / Terrifying Presence / Winds of Qal Sisma - Sometimes we are going to have big attackers coming our way that we just cannot ignore. These three Fog effects not only protect us in these situations, but they allow us to make profitable blocks in those situations as well (and even can help us out if we have to attack into boards we do not want to). Terrifying Presence is particularly good with Thantis, and the flavor is absolutely through the roof!
Jolrael's Favor / Medicine Bag / Ring of Xathrid - These are some of the ways we can protect Thantis. Medicine Bag gets an extra nod of recognition because even though it is card disadvantage, we can use it to protect other creatures if needed. I talked about my love of the "Ring of" cycle in my last article and Ring of Xathrid is very strong in this deck.
Magmaquake / Starstorm - These two cards are some of my favorite budget board wipes in all of Commander. Scalable, instant-speed wipes are very strong in a multiplayer format. I especially like them in this deck because we tend to want the board to be packed, and it is nice to have the option to clear things up if that packed board suddenly turns our way.
Rite of the Raging Storm - If we want everyone attacking anyways, it is certainly not a bad idea to give away some creatures that can never swing at us.
Vow of Lightning / Vow of Malice / Vow of Wildness - I know that most people are incredibly down on these cards and think they are not very good. However, they certainly are fun and I actually believe that they fit here not just because they are on theme, but because they are strong enough for this build.
Harvester of Souls - This has the potential to be the best card in the deck. Harvester of Souls draws cards off creatures dying, has a pretty good body, and has deathtouch. With all the combat we're inciting, expect a lot of death triggers. This card is so strong in this deck that I would honestly put one of our regeneration cards on it instead of Thantis.
Bitter Feud - This is a high-risk card to play, because a lot of the time it could just encourage both players you choose to attack you instead. However, if you drop this at the right time and play the political game correctly, it has the potential to quickly knock two opponents down or out of the game.
Besmirch / Goblin Racketeer - Unfortunately there are not a lot of Goad cards and our budget keeps us from running the best ones, but I have to mention the ones that we do have. I really hope that Goad gets revisited soon because it is a very fun keyword for Commander.
Disrupt Decorum / Grenzo, Havoc Raise - Speaking of good Goad cards, here are the best ones. Disrupt Decorum is good enough to be a staple in any combat-based meta in my opinion, and Grenzo has added synergy with our small deathtouch creatures.
Curse of Opulence - I considered working in some Curse cards into the deck, but decided to go with the "Vow cycle" instead. This is definitely the best of the Curses in this color combination, encouraging your opponents to attack a certain target for extra mana.
Ankh of Mishra / Harsh Mentor / Painful Quandary - Speaking of speeding games up, if you really want to take it to the next level, you can put in some more "Punisher" cards. Fortunately, there are a lot of good budget options if you want to go down this route, such as Burning Earth, Mana Barbs, and Spellshock.
Being the Target - People may not appreciate your attempts to play "tablemaster" and may decide to just knock you out of the game so they can continue to play on their own terms. This deck requires you to be good at politicking. Some players do not enjoy playing the political games and some metas will not stand for it, so keep that in mind if you decide to run this deck. If you decide that you're going to run this deck even if it makes you the Archenemy, you'll want to pack more spot removal (Go for the Throat / Terminate), better fog effects (Constant Mists), or better ways to discourage people from attacking you (No Mercy).
Combo or Control Decks - This deck is light on interaction, and the interaction we do run is meant to keep us safe from attacking creatures. If you are up against combo decks, running some targeted discard like Cabal Therapy can help disrupt their combo. You could also look into red "Punisher" cards like Stranglehold to slow them down. If control decks are giving you fits, Vexing Shusher is great anti-counter-magic tech, and effects like Dosan the Falling Leaf keep them from playing on your turn. Reverberate is always good to counter a Counterspell and black gets some interesting counter-magic options in Imp's Mischief and Withering Boon.
Removal- This deck really relies on having Thantis in play, so we may need to pack additional ways to protect our commander, such as Vines of Vastwood or Withstand Death. We could even potentially run Geode Golem or Command Beacon to help us cheat on mana costs in case our Spider gets squished. Heroic Intervention is probably the best anti-removal tech and also can protect our whole team.
While I can understand why people were initially disappointed when Thantis was spoiled, I really hope that people give Thantis a chance at the helm of a deck. This brew turned out really fun and has a lot of build paths. You can turn this into a full on political deck, a Pilllowfort deck, a Group Slug deck, a deathtouch tribal deck, or even a Voltron deck. Not to mention, Thantis is still a Jund-colored legendary Spider, so even though there is no specific Spider tribal payoff, you still get to stick Dragonlair Spider into the 99.
This build in particular is really fun for casual creature-based and battlecruiser metas because it encourages everyone to do what they really want to do: attack in with their creatures. All Thantis does is force that combat to happen even faster. This has the added bonus of speeding up games, which means you'll get more games in during each play session! Thantis is simply fun, on so many levels, and she can get you some awesome wins as you entangle your table in a political web.