Please consider supporting us by adding EDHREC to your adblock's whitelist.
Commander Showdown – Equipment Battle Royale
Dreaming of a Mono-White Christmas
It’s that time of year! Folks are lighting their Candelabra of Tawnoses, chopping down Doran, the Siege Towers to dress them up with Mishra’s Baubles, and desperately avoiding their grandmother’s Fruitcake Elemental recipe.
It’s also the time of year that we take all our new toys and equip them to an awesome creature and bash our opponents’ life totals from 40 to 0. Seasons beatings!
Over the years, mono-white has yielded an impressive number of Equipment-based commanders. Kemba, Kha Regent broke fun new ground back in Scars of Mirrodin, and Nahiri, the Harbinger gave the world a fun twist in Commander 2014. These two remained the longstanding champions of mono-white Equipment decks for many a year, but over the past few sets, two newcomers have also entered the ring: Sram, Senior Edificer and Balan, Wandering Knight.
Each one of these commanders revolves around Equipment in some form or fashion, so how do their decks and their strategies differ? If you like Equipment, which commander is the right choice for you? Here on Commander Showdown, it’s my duty to analyze commanders with similar abilities to find that exact answer. I hope you enjoyed the Landfall Battle Royale, because this time around, we’ve go ourselves an Equipment Battle Royale! Let’s get to it!
A Venn Diagram… Ish
I’d like to start with a Venn Diagram comparing the Top and Signature Cards for each commander, which will help us find overlaps in deck construction and strategy. Since these commanders all share a color, and interact a lot with colorless cards, I expect we’ll see a lot of shared cards between them.
13 cards are shared between all four decks, which may not sound like much, but is definitely a significant crossover when examining four different commanders. What kind of goodies lurk among them?
Well, notably, Sram, Senior Edificer appears in every deck, including, obviously, his own. He functions as an additional Puresteel Paladin, keeping hands and armories well-stocked. We also see an array of tutor effects, from Steelshaper’s Gift to Stoneforge Mystic. Cost reduction is popular too, as both Sigarda’s Aid and Danitha Capashen, Paragon (in truth, another commander we could have reviewed for this article) appear in all four lists.
The Equipment cards themselves are also interesting, and many match the most popular Equipment cards in the format. Swiftfoot Boots, Sword of the Animist, and Loxodon Warhammer all show up on the Top Artifacts page. Even some weapons in the Three column, like Sword of Feast and Famine and Lightning Greaves, are among the most popular artifacts of all time. However, we also find Equipment that doesn’t show up among the most-played artifacts. Masterwork of Ingenuity, Hammer of Nazahn, and a few others. Even Strata Scythe shows up in three of the four decks, pairing nicely with a mono-colored mana base.
In other words, these commanders care very intensely about their theme, stretching beyond simple staples. The only cards I can spot in the columns above that don’t feel explicitly tied to the Equipment theme are Sun Titan and Return to Dust, but those are classics of mono-white decks anyway. There’s a good amount of overlap for all four of these commanders, so their thematic identity is definitely strong.
Which means it’s time we take a look at what makes them unique instead!
Kemba, Kha Regent
We’ll begin with Kemba, Kha Regent. I’ve actually written about Kemba before, testing her creature-making ability against Valduk, Keeper of the Flame. In the previous article, I came away with this nugget of what I hope is wisdom:
Kemba isn’t what I’d call a token deck, or even a Voltron deck. She’s what I’d call a Snowball deck… Left unchecked, she’ll produce such a number of tokens that your opponents might not be able to catch up. Unfortunately, this Snowball status carries with it an unfortunate reality: your commander is rarely ever left unchecked… Kemba picks up steam over time, but if she falters, she falters hard.
This is still largely true, which is why I came up with a few tips and tricks to try for Kemba in the previous article. I won’t spend too much time one Kemba, but I do want to see if her Average Deck has changed at all since the last time we took a look at her.
Average Kemba Deck
There are a few minor tweaks to the old list, mainly from Dominaria, such as Blackblade Reforged and Danitha Capashen. Forebear’s Blade also shows up, though I think it should immediately leave; the benefits are minimal compared to many other blades at Kemba’s disposal, and besides, Kemba doesn’t die, she returns to the command zone, so you won’t get the benefit of attaching this to another creature when the holder is vanquished.
Which brings me to the main takeaway for Kemba: lower your curve. Kemba, like Valduk, wants lots and lots of things attached to her, which means you don’t have time for large Equipment with clunky costs. Even if you have Brass Squires and friends to help with mana requirements, Kemba needs some streamlining.
In fact, the biggest difference between Kemba’s Average Deck now and her Average Deck back at the start of the year is her mana base. Back then, she had 37 lands, 11 of which were plains, while the rest was filled with nonbasics like Mistveil Plains, New Benalia, and Reliquary Tower. Now, she still has 37 lands, but 29 of them are basics, majorly cutting down on the extraneous flourishes.
I’ll stand by the original observation; Kemba isn’t a token deck, nor is she a Voltron commander. She’s a snowball. Get her rolling quickly so your opponents have less time to stop the oncoming avalanche.
Card to Consider: Eldrazi Monument
Not an Equipment, but that’s not an excuse. She makes tokens to appease the Monument’s sacrifice every turn, so you always get the amazing bonus. Keep your army out of harm’s way at all costs and you’ll be much closer to victory.
Nahiri, the Lithomancer
Next in line, we have Nahiri, the Lithomancer, ever-famous from her debut in Commander 2014. She had a lot of business in her original precon, so let’s take a quick look at her Average Deck now and see what she’s been up to in those intervening years (not including that time she brought an Eldrazi Through the Breach to the plane of Innistrad, obviously).
Average Nahiri Deck
Kemba brings a tension to her strategy because she’s a commander who wants many Equipment attached to her, but also wants to go wide. In much the same way, Nahiri has some tension with her abilities; she’s a commander who likes Equipment, but who cannot wield any of it. This means she also misses out on one of the biggest appeals of a power-boosting theme like Equipment: commander damage.
Still, she offers neat ways around this tension, such as by making tokens, auto-attaching weapons, and cheating them into play. Nahiri’s strength is that of any planeswalker – persistent value. Rather than a snowball that avalanches out of control, her pace is slow, steady, and solid. It takes several activations of her abilities before her mana cost begins to pay off. In some ways, this is also true of her Equipment, which don’t merely offer power upgrades, but also have on-hit effects, like Sword of Feast and Famine and Sword of the Animist.
I think Nahiri therefore diverges from her fellow weaponmasters. While the rest are largely interested in piling everything they have onto a single creature, I think Nahiri is more comfortable with spreading the love among her many minions, arming an array of fighters. It’s less of a blowout to lose a creature carrying your Equipment if you have backup Soldiers, rather than a singular fighter wielding the entire armory. This is a tricky strategy, though, since folks usually like to assemble one unstoppable fighter with +10/+10 and every combat keyword known to man. Still, it’s an option to Nahiri, and to make sure she carves out her specific niche, I’d recommend exploring that avenue.
Overall, her list is a bit more scattered, still heavily influenced by some of the card choices from her original list, including creatures like Angel of the Dire Hour or Angelic Field Marshal. Despite the time she’s been around, I don’t think Nahiri’s truly found her place just yet. She makes it easy to attach weapons to tokens, but you’d usually prefer to attach them to your fun creatures.
Card to Consider: Odric, Lunarch Marshal
While Kemba needs to streamline, Nahiri needs to reforge herself. Nahiri invites us to think about Equipment in a different way; they’re not merely a means of powering up your creatures; they’re spells. Argentum Armor, Sword of Fire and Ice, Moonsilver Spear, these all have additional abilities when the equipped creature engages in combat, and those abilities, over time, will add up. We don’t need to concoct a 14/14 with flying and trample, we need to guarantee our Equipment proc their specific effects.
Which means sharing the love even more. Odric, Lunarch Marshal assists a wider strategy by granting many of the best benefits of Equipment to our other creatures. One token wielding a Loxodon Warhammer while another wears a Darksteel Plate and another holds a Quietus Spike means you’re in for some fun combat steps. Spread the love!
Sram, Senior Edificer
Onto our Dwarf buddy from Kaladesh. Sram has made quite the splash, overtaking all of his competitors as the most popular mono-white commander. He even shows up in all four of these decks when we looked at the Venn Diagram above.
It’s not hard to see why Sram would be so popular: Whenever you cast an Aura, Equipment, or Vehicle spell, you draw a card. He’s a pseudo-Puresteel Paladin in the command zone. Excellent stuff.
This will come as a shock to no one, but a typical Sram deck looks substantially different from our previous two entries:
Average Sram Deck
Sram draws cards not just for Equipment, but for Auras as well, hence the inclusion of so many enchantments. However, it’s the type of Equipment he sports that makes him so distinct from his fellow weapon-wielders. Like Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain, whenever you put ‘draw a card’ as your reward for casting artifacts, you’re likely about to step into Cheerios land – that is, artifacts that cost zero mana, such as Cathar’s Shield and Bone Saw.
Sram is classic in his approach. Play him early, slap a half-dozen cheap enchancers onto the field, and reap the rewards. He keeps himself well-stocked, so the minor improvements offered by all the tiny Equipment will eventually add up.
Take note as well of Sram’s average land count. Only 32 lands, about 5 less than the others. That’s a significant drop. To ensure he continues to chain into more cards, Sram can’t afford to hit a dead-end with lands.
However, that’s another note to bear in mind with Sram; while many of the Equipment are cheap to cast, they might be pricier to attach. If you don’t find your Puresteel Paladin to help with costs, you may be stuck on mana. That, however, is exactly the point; Sram isn’t precisely a Voltron deck. He wants the draw triggers more than he wants to wield a dozen swords and shields. In fact, given the nature of his play pattern and the sheer number of spells he can cast in one turn, it’s not unusual for Sram decks to tout Aetherflux Reservoir as a win condition; that’s why it appears in 21% of Sram lists.
Card to Consider: Leering Emblem
There are several good choices for Sram, such as the good ol’ Pariah and Inviolability lock. However, I’d like to focus on Leering Emblem. This is not the typical Equipment/Voltron strategy to which players are already accustomed. Sram is a Storm-style deck, and this Equipment falls perfectly in line with his love of metal and his love of cast triggers.
Balan, Wandering Knight
Finally, we have Balan, Wandering Knight, from Commander 2017. Her debut was overshadowed by a great many of the other commanders from that product, but it’s unwise to ignore her. Not only can she become a mean, lean, double-striking machine, but she can also cheat all Equip costs for a mere two mana.
That may not sound like much as first, but it’s big. Equipment decks have two hurdles to pass through in the event that their commander is removed. First, they have to struggle with the commander tax, and second, they have to reattach all their weapons. This takes both a lot of mana and a lot of time, and makes it difficult for heavy hitters to force their way back into the game.
Not Balan. She can run out a ton of Equipment, even big ones like Argentum Armor, and slide right into it without any trouble. She’s not the card you play first, but the one you play after putting half a dozen blades out for her to scoop up and start slashing right away. She even beautifully sidesteps the downsides of Shroud from Lightning Greaves!
So, what’s her deck looking like these days?
Average Balan Deck
This is a beautiful pile of cards, though I’d hesitate on some of those creatures like Leonin Shikari and Taj-Nar Swordsmith, which feel a little extraneous or clunky. Balan is quintessential Voltron. You need focus on only one creature here, and it’s her. No Cat tokens like Kemba, no spreading the love like Nahiri, no Storm chains like Sram. Balan is exactly what you’d expect from a Voltron commander. Play big stuff. Equip big stuff. Hit people like a truck.
A Commentary on Mono-White
If you’ll permit me, I’d like to take a moment to get on my soapbox. The fact that Sram draws you cards does not automatically make him the best Equipment-based commander. As a group, we EDH players like to rag on red and white for their minimal card drawing capabilities. While I understand the desire to find card draw effects in Boros, mono-red, and mono-white, I consider this to be a question wrongly asked.
Red and white don’t draw cards for a good reason. If the aggressive colors could also refuel their hand, the game is over before it begins, particularly in 1v1 formats. Speed is an essential component in the game; defeating your enemy before they stabilize is how ‘Red Deck Wins’ wins. The problem, of course, is that in EDH, your opponent has 120 life, so your speed is hampered. That does not, however, mean that your colors are invalid.
There are plenty of ways to accumulate advantage. Equipment with on-hit effects cast free spells. Assemble the Legion and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, over time, give you more game pieces. If you Cleansing Nova ten cards your opponents control, but you only spent one card, that is also card advantage. Advantage doesn’t mean cards in hand, it means game actions.
In other words, drawing cards is not the only thing to look for. You can combine Land Tax and Scroll Rack for sick gains, or Pyromancer’s Goggles a Cathartic Reunion to draw more cards without discarding, and we can Immortal Sun to our heart’s content.
But we can also reframe the discussion. People complain about Boros, but also complain that Purphoros, God of the Forge and Krenko, Mob Boss are too good. They’re not too good, they just accurately convey the speed of red that 1v1 formats are already familiar with. White is supposedly at a disadvantage, yet Path to Exile, Swords to Plowshares, Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, and Teferi’s Protection are staples, and I’ll be darned if Elspeth, Sun’s Champion isn’t one of the best planeswalkers in the format. If your deck runs out of cards in hand, but your opponents run out of life, you’re doing it right.
Red and white have strengths we EDH players are conditioned to ignore. Sure, WotC has some extra work to do to help these colors along, but if they design good cards that work in ways we aren’t willing to try, that’s on us, not them. Look beyond card draw. Look for speed, for damage output, for effects that scale to your environment, for removal, and especially, for cards you haven’t heard of. Be willing to strike a killing blow early in the game, rather than ignoring the combat step because of social niceties.
Play Boros like it’s Boros. Play red like it’s red, and play white like it’s white.
Don’t play them like they’re Simic.
Card to Consider: Grafted Exoskeleton
Back to Balan. I hemmed and hawed a lot for Balan, because there are tons of fun and underappreciated Equipment she can attach for free. Ogre’s Cleaver is a big boost, as is O-Naginata, and Trailblazer’s Boots give you unblockability in 100% of EDH games. There’s also Inspiring Statuary, which doesn’t show up on Balan’s page at all, but which Equipment decks in general could learn to use more often.
However, I’m going to suggest Grafted Exoskeleton. 30% of Balan decks are already running this, but that’s too polite. She has natural first strike, which means she’ll win nearly every combat she enters against another creature. Once she gets hold of another weapon, though, that turns into double strike, which means you’re lining up one-hit kills.
This is one of white’s strengths, so use it. Some opponents may claim that Infect isn’t fun because it doesn’t scale properly to EDH, but you’re playing mono-white. That also doesn’t scale well to EDH. You’re allowed.
Having the Right Equipmentality
Nuances matter when you’re picking a commander, and these four prove it. Though they’re all in the same general category, these mono-white Equipment all-stars each bring a subtle strategic difference to their respective decks. Kemba gradually builds a token Snowball, Nahiri steadily spreads the love, Sram Storms off, and Balan acts like a huge magnet. Some of these elements are classic, some are newer to the genre, but they’re all worth exploring, and I hope this article has given you the proper equipment to help discover which style is right for you.
So, which would you build? Is there another weaponmaster we didn’t discuss that you prefer? Akiri, Line-Slinger, or perhaps Danitha Capashen, Paragon, or maybe Nazahn, Revered Bladesmith? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Oh, and don’t forget to vote for the next Commander Showdown!
- Estrid, the Masked vs Kestia, the Cultivator vs Tuvasa, the Sunlit: We move from a four-commander Showdown to a three-commander precon match! Three new enchantresses, but how have their decks shaped up since their release?
- Saheeli, the Gifted vs Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain vs Tawnos, Urza’s Apprentice: Speaking of precons, Saheeli and Tawnos have done some awesome work in the blue-red artifacts field… but it’s also an area Jhoira has been exploring, too! How do their metallic creations compare?
Cast your vote, and have a lovely holiday!
Til next time!