Challenging Prossh Stats with Bennie Smith
(Prossh, Skyraider of Kher | Art by Todd Lockwood)
The Things Worth Kher-ing About
Welcome to Challenge the Stats! This series is based on the awesome EDHRECast segment where we pick out cards that we think are overplayed, underplayed, or sleepers to challenge EDHREC’s data regarding a particular commander. Here on Challenge the Stats, we occasionally bring in a guest expert, and this week I'm excited to have Bennie Smith on to help us look critically at the data for one of his personal Commander decks: Prossh, Skyraider of Kher.
Special Interview with Bennie Smith
Hi, Bennie, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me! First of all, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do in the Magic community?
Hi, Jevin, thanks so much for having me here! My name is Bennie Smith, and I write about Commander each week for Starcitygames.com. I’ve also written an eBook about Commander (the first of its kind) called The Complete Commander, which you can also buy from SCG. I’m also very active on Twitter and love engaging in discussions about Commander as well as Magic in general.
What are some of your favorite decks in your collection?
That’s definitely a tough question to answer. I have this philosophy that if a deck doesn’t bring me joy, I take it apart. But, being in quarantine this past year, I've gone on a deckbuilding spree. Even though I occasionally take a deck apart, I've built up to about 30 decks. Last year, Ikoria had so many cool legends, and then Commander Legends brought so many more options. Literally, every spare moment I have I'm tinkering around with a new deck idea.
But to answer your question, if I gotta buckle down and pick one of the 30 that are my favorites, probably the top deck I would say would be my mono-green Grothama, All-Devouring deck!
It’s kind of my signature deck, mainly because I think it took a long while for anyone else to really get how to build a deck with it, given the card is so weird. It does crazy things that I’ve never seen any sort of green deck do before, and I’ve never run into the mirror—bringing a “unique” deck has always been a huge draw for me in Magic.
I also really love my Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis deck. I’ve had it together since the card was printed in 2016, and it’s always been, at its heart, a pile of my favorite Magic cards. It’s got a lot of interaction, fun synergies, and a super-fun endgame where I can potentially kill everyone with all the lands that they've been playing extra because of K and T.
I guess my third-favorite deck would be my Feldon of the Third Path deck. It's kind of clunky and slow, and it doesn't win much, but I love having a mono-red graveyard deck. It's just weird and off the beaten path. Pun wasn't intended, but I'll take it. I don't see a whole lot of people playing Feldon, so it's a deck that I can pull out and odds are people either have never played against a Feldon deck or they haven't seen one in a while.
Could you describe your Commander philosophy?
If the cards you choose and the plays you make always keep in mind “we” instead of “me”, then everyone wins when they play with you.
My outlook on Commander comes from my early days of Magic in 1994. Basically, me and my DnD buddies would play these giant 300-card decks with five or six people sitting around the table drinking beer, talking smack, and laughing a lot. So, it was all about having fun, and nothing beats having a good time with your friends.
Even when I started playing tournament Magic later, I still always enjoyed that multiplayer camaraderie. So, when I first heard about EDH from Sheldon, and people were getting interested in it, I loved all the attention that it drew towards multiplayer Magic. I love the philosophy that they put into the format right from the beginning: let everybody play Magic and do their thing.
If you want to be super competitive, there’s every other format in Magic that scratches that itch. So, when people want to bring that ultra-competitive mindset to Commander, I always kind of wish they would take that elsewhere.
I feel like the Commander format is better with more of a casual board game attitude, where everybody is just here to have some fun. If the cards you choose and the plays you make always keep in mind “we” instead of “me” then everyone wins when they play with you.
When everybody has fun, then everybody wins, right? But, if everybody is obsessed with winning the game, then one person wins and three people lose. In that case, most of the time I sit down I'm going to be angry because I didn't win. At that point, you have to ask, why am I playing? That's why I think people need to keep their motivations in mind.
That’s also why I don't typically set power levels on a 10-point scale with my decks. Pretty much all of my decks are built in a way that I could sit down with anybody and I'm not going to run them over or lock them out of playing. Whatever you're playing, you should have the opportunity to play your deck, right? I mean, assuming you're not trying to lock me out of playing. So that's my general philosophy, but it's definitely not everybody's cup of tea.
There's a caveat that I should put in there that, if your local playgroup wants to play ultra-cutthroat and they actually have fun doing it, there's nothing wrong with that. But, I think Commander is such a popular format and there are so many opportunities to play with strangers that you've never played before, that I think your default settings should be building decks that can be played in a way to make sure everybody can have some fun and let their deck do their thing.
So, we’re talking about Prossh today. You’ve had a Prossh deck for quite a while, even writing about it in your ebook, The Complete Commander. Can you tell me about the evolution your deck has gone through over the years?
My first thought was, obviously Prossh is a strong commander that can one-shot somebody with commander damage, but wouldn’t it be hilarious to kill people with a horde of Kobolds? They’re 0/1 creatures that are basically Dragon snacks! That's the kind of story that you can build into your deck and have people walk away going, “I can't believe I got killed by a bunch of Kobolds!” I also happened to have some of those old “Kobold Matters” cards from Legends, like Kobold Drill Sergeant, Kobold Overlord, Kobold Taskmaster, and Rohgahh of Kher Keep. Oh, and Kher Keep, too!
So, I started with that and looked for other ways of boosting them like Beastmaster Ascension, Pathbreaker Ibex, and Creeperhulk. I later put Path of Discovery in there to act as a super-scry, so each Kobold explored lands to your hand and non-useful cards into your graveyard until you found something powerful to leave on top of your deck. All the tokens can be fed to Bloodspore Thrinax’s Devour ability (which will buff any subsequent Kobold tokens), and Prossh can easily sacrifice a creature to trigger Deathrender. Reality Scramble can turn a Kobold token into a real creature card.
As you can see, it was basically built to just durdle around and do weird things with different synergies and then eventually maybe try to kill everybody with Kobolds. So, it basically was a Bennie deck – the kind of deck that does silly things, grinds, and doesn't really kill anybody until later in the game.
But, whenever I would play it, people assumed I was playing food chain, which, at the time, wasn't even in the deck. It wasn't put in the deck until a year or two later, when I actually ran across my copy of Food Chain that I thought I had lost or traded away. So, I basically just threw Food Chain in there and kept the deck very similar to what it was. I was just figuring, well, I have the opportunity to create infinite Kobolds if I need to.
I also loved that Eternal Scourge and Squee, the Immortal worked awesome with Food Chain to give you the ability to play any creature card you wanted while leaving up the rest of your mana for other things.
But, of course, once I actually added Food Chain to the deck, it was hard for me to say, "Oh, no, no, it's not that kind of Prossh deck." There was a lot of tension between the deck and expectations from my opponents.
Every time that I wanted to play Prossh, people would be like, “Oh, you're playing Prossh, I'll make sure I get out my high-powered deck.” So, at some point, I decided, I have a lot of decks, and most of them are built very similarly, so why not just go ahead and embrace the high-power nature of Prossh that everybody expects. That way, if somebody wants to sit down and have a higher power game, I'd have a deck that can hang with that.
What did it look like to eventually tune up the deck’s power level to meet those expectations? What types of cards were out vs. in?
So, I finally started cutting a lot of those silly and durdley mid-range and grindy synergy cards, and I went ahead and added in some tutors, like Demonic Tutor and Vampiric Tutor, that can find you Food Chain. I added Dockside Extortionist so I can get more fast mana. Korvold, Fae-Cursed King is obviously ridiculous with a bunch of permanents sitting around that you can just sack it will Prossh. I threw in Underworld Breach, which is a silly card, too.
I also added in Purphoros, God of the Forge, which is a way to kill everybody outside of the combat step. I got Embercleave in there to try to make it easier for Prossh to one-shot somebody with commander damage.
That was the movement towards embracing the expectations of the deck. Subsequently, I don't play it a lot, because that's not exactly the sort of games I want to play. But, I'm glad to have the option for people that want to play that sort of game.
How would you evaluate the power level of your current Prossh deck?
I consider it higher power, but I don't consider it cEDH level. I think I could probably hang at a cEDH pod, but I don't think it would really win a lot. It's sort of aimed more towards the higher power, regular Commander pods.
What’s the general play pattern of the deck?
The cool thing with Prossh is that it gives you Kobolds based on the mana you’ve spent to play Prossh. So, ways of trimming the cost of cards are not as good as just actually having the fast mana early that can play Prossh early – that’s preferably permanent-based mana. You don't necessarily want a bunch of rituals, since, if something happens to Prossh, then you want to have a good chance of playing him again. So, you play Prossh, and if you can tutor up Food Chain, you can exile Prossh and one Kobold to give you enough to cover your two-mana commander tax. So basically, you're able to just constantly get more and more Kobolds on the table.
What are some new cards that you’ve been excited to find a home for in the deck?
Well, I won’t say I was “excited” to add Opposition Agent, but I did accidentally open one in one of my Commander Legends boosters. It wasn't a card that I was looking to buy, but since I had it, I went ahead and added it to Prossh. It's at the right power level and can certainly lead to a big combo turn! If somebody else is playing a way to tutor, you can turn that around and use Opposition Agent to go find Food Chain or any other cards you need.
Even though your deck is tuned to be high power, I can see a lot of personality and self-expression in your deckbuilding. Are there any particular cards that you can point out that show this off?
So, pretty much my favorite card from 2020 was Radha, Heart of Keld. I just love the way it helps you draw gas off the top of your deck by playing lands off the top of your deck. I also added in Grand Warlord Radha, which I haven't really seen in any other Prossh builds. Grand Warlord gives you mana when you could attack with a bunch of Kobolds.
I've also long been a fan of Cindervines in higher-power decks because that pain can really add up if people are playing a bunch of non-creature spells. Then it's always sitting out there to slow down people that are maybe relying on the key enchantments or artifacts arriving. I also added in Veil of Summer, which could be an unpleasant surprise for someone hoping to kill Prossh or counter something. I have yet to play it, but it's in there and I can't wait for it to be good one time.
Moving on to challenge some stats, if you could take a look at Prossh’s EDHREC page for me, are there any cards you see there that you don’t agree with or think might be a mistake to put in the deck?
This is way outclassed by removal spells these days, especially in high-powered decks.
Butcher of Malakir (34%)
This is a punk card to run in this sort of deck. Just kill people, don’t keep your opponents locked out of having creatures while you durdle. This is a DRAGON deck!
Dragonlair Spider (18%)
What in the actual world is this doing here? It’s an expensive creature and its effect is pretty small. Unless you’re playing a Spider tribal deck, it kind of blows my mind to see this in here.
Second Harvest (13%)
Doubling your Kobolds doesn’t make sense to me. Prossh isn’t a “token deck” – it’s a Prossh deck.
On the flip side of challenging the stats, are there any cards that you think are missing that really should show up on the page?
Being able to “go off” with Prossh and Food Chain is exciting, but if someone stops you from actually killing everyone with it, having these two cards in your deck means you can just rip “I win” cards from the top of your deck. I was shocked that these cards weren’t on the page.
Like the storm cards above, after you “go off” with Prossh/Food Chain, Jeska’s loyalty will be arbitrarily large, so the -X loyalty ability will just kill the table.
Between Berserk and Embercleave, it’s possible to one-shot a player with a ton of damage, so why not spread it around to everyone else?
I have gone to war with all these dumb Treasure tokens from obnoxious Smothering Tithe, and Gorilla Shaman is my sword.
Is there anything else unique or special about your deck that we didn’t touch on?
I’ve definitely embraced the conventional wisdom of Prossh. There are some cards that are my own style, but it’s a pretty straightforward Prossh deck.
One thing I did want to mention that might be different from a lot of peoples’ decks, is that I still play a lot of lands. I’ve got 40 in there right now. I know people like to shave lands to put in cards like Sol Ring and Mana Vault, but Prossh is a lightning rod, so people are going to kill it multiple times. This applies to all of my commander decks, but particularly with Prossh, I want to hit my land drops early and often so I can replay him.
Thinking more broadly, how do you feel about the current health of our format and the direction we’re moving in the future?
I’m very happy with the health of Commander. I love that more and more people are falling in love with the format and building Commander decks. I know that’s a bit controversial, but I love that Wizards is actively supporting the format and making cards specifically for it.
I would say I have two main areas of concern. First, I think a lot of newer fans have a hard time building decks and making plays with “we” in mind, rather than “me”, and it leads to some poor play experiences. Especially when people come over from competitive Magic, it’s easy to get mesmerized by all the powerful plays in Commander and forget to think about what it’s like for our opponents to play against our decks. It’s like the line from Jurassic Park: “Everybody was so busy thinking about if they could, they didn’t stop and think if they should.” But I’m going to continue evangelizing for keeping the “we” at the front of each player’s mind.
Secondly, I’m also a little concerned that Wizards isn’t bringing designers in-house that “get” Commander with the same dedication they give for bringing in competitive-minded talent. That mindset is very different for making a good commander card. Nor are they reaching out enough to the community and consulting with a broad base of talented content creators that would be thrilled to help nail down great designs for Commander. But let’s remember that Wizards paying attention to Commander in this way is relatively new, and there are growing pains. I feel confident as this format remains popular and exciting that they’ll get more and more people with talents specifically geared towards Commander.
Bennie, thanks so much for talking with me and sharing all of your insights! Where can people find you and what are some things you’d like to plug before you go?
Thanks so much for having me on! Please check out my weekly content over at Starcitygames.com—while it is behind a paywall, all content is available after one week, so bookmark me and check it out. Also, I occasionally stream on Twitch and make YouTube videos, so if video is your jam, be sure to subscribe and follow there, where you can find me as “TheCompleteCommander” for both.
Check out Bennie's Prossh deck below!
Prossh by Bennie
Are there any other cards you would challenge as overplayed or underplayed for Prossh? Let me know in the comments below! Next article we'll be challenging the stats on Varina, Lich Queen, since she won the vote in the last article. As always, you can find me and Bennie on twitter @jevin_mtg and @blairwitchgreen.