Challenge the Stats – Etali, Primal Storm

(Etali, Primal Storm | Art by Raymond Swanland)

Primal Fun in the Sun

Hello, and welcome to Challenge the Stats, the series based off of the segment on the EDHRECast, where we challenge the inclusion rates of 10 cards on a commander’s page on EDHREC. We’ll highlight cards that we think are overplayed, underplayed, or sleeper picks (according to our data).

These suggestions are meant to accompany EDHREC’s data. However, inclusions made on account of flavor, budget, art, or anything important to you, as the deckbrewer, are always valid and are what keep our format unique.

In the last Challenge the Stats, readers voted on selected reprinted commanders from Jumpstart, and Etali, Primal Storm was the clear winner! I’m secretly always rooting for one of the choices, and this week, I was hoping y’all would pick Etali.

Why is Etali so great? She lets us play our opponents’ cards, but in a way that embraces fun and randomness while minimizing bad feelings from the other side of the table. Yes, we get to cheat mana costs and cast those cards for free, but we have to jump through the hoop of attacking. Also, we’re not stealing cards from opponents’ hands or boards, and we have the same chance of whiffing with a land as hitting a bomb (feel free to casually remind your opponents of this). That said, some people might be intimidated by Etali, so don’t be afraid to test the waters with politics (“If I play Etali, will you counter her?”).

The new C20 Partners, Pako, Arcane Retriever and Haldan, Avid Arcanist, are philosophically similar to Etali. They do need to pay mana for the cards they get, but they trade that downside for the addition of blue and green to their colors and the potential to commander damage opponents to death with a very good Doggo. Heads up, all of these commanders are a webcam nightmare; have post-it notes at the ready!

As we can see from the EDHREC page, most Etali decks support her ability, suiting her up with powerful Equipment and taking extra combat steps to trigger multiple times. It’s like a Voltron strategy, except we don’t care about the damage. Some decks are playing their own bombs and using top-deck manipulation to make them happen, and some decks are playing full-blown chaos. These strategies are represented in the themes on the page, and we’ll be evaluating the data of all of the nearly 600 Etali decks (at time of writing) as a whole.

One of the other great parts of Etali is that it’s a deck that can be played at any budget. We can make an effective Etali deck on the cheap, and I’ll include a budget decklist at the end of this article, as well. The base deck and challenges we’ll call “mid-budget”, with no cards over $20. We’ll leave out the top-end cards like Mana Crypt, Sensei’s Divining Top, and City of Brass–you don’t need me to tell you those will be good in your deck, and we’ll discuss effective alternatives. Hang on–why would I play a City of Brass in a mono-red deck? Stay tuned and find out!


Overplayed

1. Footfall Crater (49%)

Ideally, we want to set ourselves up to cast Etali for the first time on turn 4 or 5 with haste. Let’s strictly evaluate any cards with barriers that make this goal harder to accomplish. I’m happy with something as simple as a Crashing Drawbridge (42%) to give Etali haste for the first cast. Cards that require extra mana to give Etali haste might mean it takes an extra turn for her to attack, including Equip costs on things like Crystal Slipper (13%), or taxing a land with Footfall Crater (49%).

We can see from the data that a lot of people already have this idea. Fervor (62%), Bloodsworn Steward (48%), Otepec Huntmaster (57%), and Generator Servant (60%) are all played at high rates in Etali decks. On the ultra-budget side, we can even look at cards like Bloodlust Inciter, Bloodthorn Taunter, and Goblin Motivator.

Also, note that if we’re playing Anger (53%), let’s make sure that we have enough effects to help get it into the graveyard early, like Faithless Looting and Thrill of Possibility.

2. Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle (32%)

Bear with me: I know Valakut is amazing, but I want to use it to highlight an important decision point in building our Etali deck. Mono-red decks often want to use both Valakut for damage and Blood Moon effects to tax our opponents, simply because we can! Let’s consider another strategy. We want to play our opponents’ cards, which gives us the potential opportunity to be able to take advantage of any activated abilities from those cards that require colored mana.

Imagine being able to take full advantage of our opponents’ Golos, Tireless Pilgrim, Glen Elendra Archmage, Erebos, God of the Dead, or Luminarch Ascension. Swapping a handful of our basic Mountains for lands that tap for any color will help us do this. Etali can’t play our opponents’ lands since her ability casts those cards, so we’re on our own if we want to make mana of other colors. We have options at any price range, from ultra-budget lands like Exotic Orchard (hooray that it’s budget now!) and Unknown Shores, to mid-budget Grand Coliseum and Spire of Industry, all the way up to Mana Confluence, City of Brass, and Forbidden Orchard.

Also, being in mono-red and leaning away from basics gives us options to utilize more land slots for utility. There are so many great options that can increase our deck’s power, from Scavenger Grounds for graveyard hate, Field of Ruin and Ghost Quarter for land removal, to Bonder’s Enclave and Arch of Orazca for card draw. Even more importantly, we can use utility lands to help Etali. Rogue’s Passage, Labyrinth of Skophos, and Maze of Ith to help protect our commander when attacking, and Isolated Watchtower and Zhalfirin Void can help stack the top of our deck.

3. Irencrag Feat (25%)

Rituals may be able to help us get Etali out early, but they’re dead plays when we trigger her ability later. Unless we have something to sink it into right away, all that mana will fizzle once we move out of combat. We want these to get Etali out faster. Irencrag Feat, Seething Song (36%), and Geosurge (16%) all allow us to play Etali on turn four, but so do Worn Powerstone, Basalt Monolith, Coalition Relic, or Palladium Myr, and these stick around when we hit them off of Etali’s ability. I also buried the lede here: Irencrag Feat has that annoying little text that says, “You can only cast one more spell this turn.” If we can make Etali hasty (which we want to do), this ritual will block us from casting any more spells from her ability that turn.

4. Ruination (20%)

There’s a chunk of Etali decks that are playing some form of mass land destruction (MLD), including Ruination, Wildfire (13%), and Destructive Force (11%). We can see whyonce Etali is out, she doesn’t need mana to have a big effect. However, I implore you to think carefully before including MLD cards. At this moment, you’re either scoffing in disdain or nodding in agreement, right?

I believe there’s no wrong way to play Commander, as long as we communicate. Ask your playgroup first, whether it’s people you play with regularly or new friends. Surprising opponents with MLD is the quickest way to make a game miserable for everyone, and it might mean that folks don’t want to play with us again. In addition, most Etali decks are heavily dependent on her, so upsetting our opponents in this way might make Etali more likely to be countered or removed in the next game to prevent the same thing from happening.


Underplayed

5. Crystal Ball (17%)

Many Etali players are looking for topdeck manipulation to power out their own haymakers. Scroll Rack (24%) and Sensei’s Divining Top (46%) add nearly $150 to our deck cost, so let’s look at some alternatives. Crystal Ball does a dang good job of stacking the top of our deck for cheap. Treasure Map (6%) gives us a few chances to scry 1 and then gives us ramp in the helpful form of Treasures, or card draw if we need it. Isolated Watchtower (7%) is a repeatable scry ability attached to a land. Some clever players are even using Explorer’s Scope (7%) to reduce the number of times Etali will whiff and hit a land off of our own deck.

Speaking of topdeck manipulation, Mystic Forge (2%) is great in Etali decks. Mystic Forge will always show us if our top card is a good hit off of Etali, and if it’s not, we can exile it and try for the next card. Additionally, we are running loads of artifacts, so this will function as card advantage more often than not. Let’s make sure that we have at least 30 artifacts in our deck if we’re including Mystic Forge. If there are fewer than that we’ll lose effectiveness for card advantage.

6. Tome of Legends (10%)

Any deck that has a commander that wants to attack is going to be happy running Tome of Legends, and we’re hoping to attack with Etali every turn. If we get to tap this artifact even twice we’re getting a good rate on our draw, and it only gets better. We’ll get one card for 3 mana, two cards for 4 mana, three cards for 5 mana, etc. Another great option, Endless Atlas (33%), is seeing a Double Masters reprint, but at about a dollar, Tome of Legends is hard to beat.


Sleepers

7. Dolmen Gate (3%)

This underplayed card is currently in less than 2,000 decks total on EDHREC. It’s great in any deck that wants to attack willy-nilly. It was also just reprinted in Mystery Boosters, so it’s a great time to pick it up. For us, it’s another way to swing Etali in freely and not worry about her tangling in combat. On top of that, any powerhouse creatures we play can attack with impunity!

8. Wildfire Devils (2%)

Let’s not forget to include some other fun cards! Even if we’re not going full chaos, we can accompany Etali’s ability with some juicy options to play our opponents’ cards. Wildfire Devils gives us an instant or sorcery from a random player’s graveyard each upkeep. They get to choose the instant or sorcery, but, if we hit our own graveyard, we get to choose the exact card we want. Even getting the worst instant or sorcery in an opponent’s graveyard can be good, and they might be left with one powerful card that they have to give us. This is also an opportunity to use politics, such as advocating for a mutually beneficial board wipe.

Along similar lines, Chaos Wand (24%) lets us play the next instant or sorcery from an opponent’s library. Ornate Kanzashi (0%) lets us play the top card of an opponent’s library (including lands!). Finally, it currently needs a reprint but Grenzo, Havoc Raiser (10%) lets us play cards off the top of our opponents’ libraries whenever we do combat damage.

If you want to see more of the Chaos theme, check out this video about Zurzoth, Chaos Rider from Jumbo Commander.

9. Glaring Spotlight (0%)

Even though it’s one of my new pet cards and I’ve mentioned it before, Glaring Spotlight does two important things for our deck: it lets Etali attack freely when the board is full (not to mention sneaking through a huge alpha strike for a win), and it protects Etali in response to targeted removal. On-board protection means that our opponents will either leave our stuff alone or will need to blow up the Spotlight before getting to Etali. Also, the static ability on Glaring Spotlight helps our opponents’ removal point elsewhere.

Other cards that make Etali unblockable might be a nice alternative to support Etali’s ability instead of (or in addition to) the extra combat spells, which can get pricy. We already see Whispersilk Cloak being played in 43% of Etali decks. If this is a route you’re interested in, check out Key to the City (4%), Trailblazer’s Boots (4%), Prowler’s Helm (2%), and Manifold Key (6%).

Finally, another way to support Etali’s trigger is attached to an extra turn! Gonti’s Aether Heart (0%) is a great budget-friendly inclusion for us. We are playing lots of artifacts, so it shouldn’t be too hard to trigger this in a turn or two.

10. Manascape Refractor (0%)

In addition to lands that tap for any color, mana rocks that do the same are also valuable to us. The new Manascape Refractor makes sure that we can tap for any of our opponents’ colors, in addition to giving us any other powerful effects on lands that might be on the board. We can also look at Fellwar Stone (30%) and Chromatic Lantern (2%), or any of the numerous Manalith variants on the budget side. Cards that produce Treasure tokens are also great for us, like Brass’s Bounty (11%) and Curse of Opulence (14%). I’m always looking for a deck to make Golden Guardian (1%) work, and Etali is big enough to help transform the Golem, giving us access to any colors and letting us churn out 4/4s.

Let’s check out a decklist!


Dont Mind if I Do

Commander (1)
Creatures (13)
Artifacts (30)
Sorceries (10)
Enchantments (6)
Planeswalkers (2)
Instants (1)
Lands (37)


This deck focuses on supporting Etali and relies on opponents’ haymakers to close out the game. Flavor to taste with your own haymakers if you like! If you’re interested, here’s the link to a budget version of this deck. Think about it as a precon: a good place to start if you want to play Etali! It comes in at less than $60 at time of writing, but there are a few powerful cards that might go up in price over time.

I hope you enjoyed the cards we discussed in this article. If you have your own Etali challenges or want to challenge my challenges, let us know in the comments below. Before you go, be sure to vote on the commander you want to see challenged next!

Jevin Lortie has been playing magic on and off since Portal. He was terrible at Magic as a kid because he built singleton kitchen table decks. He is a nutrition science grad student, so he always tells people to get a healthy serving of fruits and vegetables – especially ramples and drawnanas. You can see him ramble about non-magic topics at https://medium.com/@jlortie