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Commander Showdown — Jhoira vs Jhoira
Back to the Future, Forward to the Past
Our trip through the Dominaria preview season has been topsy-turvy, wibbly-wobbly, and of course, timey-wimey. From Muldrotha, the Gravetide to Firesong and Sunspeaker, this legendary plane has more legendary creatures than we’ve seen in a long time.
Still, one of them stands out from all the rest, not only because of her famous pedigree, but because, at long last, she might just be the long-awaited blue/red artifact commander the EDH community has been well...awaiting: Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain.
This isn’t the only time we’ve seen Jhoira, however. We met this crafty chronomancer the last time we visited the plane of Dominaria. Back in Future Sight, she was known as Jhoira of the Ghitu.
How does this new Jhoira compare to the Jhoira of the past? How has time affected this mage who is so famously unaffected by time? It’s a Commander Showdown: Past vs Present!
Let’s begin with the Jhoira we already know, Jhoira of the Ghitu. A stout 2/2 for three mana, Jhoira showcases the impressive ability to suspend cards from your hand. Rather than pay mana for your spells, suspend allows you to pay with time, exiling the spell with a handful of time counters. During each of your upkeeps, the time counters tick down, and when they’re all gone, you cast that spell for free!
One of the most famous examples of this ability is Ancestral Vision, which has no actual mana cost, and can only be cast using suspend. Other spells, such as Phthisis, force you to choose—do you want to pay only a little mana and cast this spell in five turns, or wait until you ramp up into the larger mana cost? Balancing your expectations and anticipating how the board state will look in the future is the key to mastering the suspend ability.
Suspend spells can take any amount of time, from the short-term Rift Bolt to the long-term Heroes Remembered, but in Jhoira's case, each spell she exiles is set to the same timer: four turns. There are ways to manipulate those counters, which we'll get into later, but for now, I want to give a couple quick reminders about the way suspend works, which sometimes get forgotten.
- Cards in exile cannot be proliferated. Sorry, Atraxa, Praetors' Voice. Proliferate only hits counters on permanents and players, so your time counters are safe from this ever-popular Phyrexian Angel
- When you finally do cast a suspended spell, if it's a creature, it gains haste! It's easy to forget this little interaction, but it's very valuable. When your exiled creature finally enters the battlefield, it'll hit the ground running.
- This is a little trite, but... don't forget to remove time counters. Triggers are missed all the time in Commander, from Rhystic Study to Soul Warden, and suspend is no exception. Players routinely forget to remove their time counters, which is genuinely one of the biggest reasons we haven't seen this mechanic return since the Time Spiral block. Be vigilant about your time counters, cuz your opponents aren't going to do it for you.
With that aside, let's get to the exciting stuff. Jhoira allows us to bypass enormous mana costs by paying with time instead, so what cards does she normally like to cheat into play?
Was there ever any doubt? The Eldrazi titans are some of the most expensive cards in the game, and Jhoira gives you a massive discount on their mana costs. Cheating Eldrazi into play is an extremely powerful move, which is why several of these titans have graveyard triggers. When they hit the graveyard from anywhere, they'll shuffle back into your deck, thus preventing them from being brought back with an Animate Dead. Thankfully, Jhoira takes a different angle, making her one of the few decks able to skirt around the mana costs of these enormous colorless titans.
(Don't forget—when an Eldrazi comes off of suspend this counts as casting the spell! You'll still get to draw four cards with Kozilek, Butcher of Truth, or exile permanents with Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.)
Let's Do the Time Warp
Big creatures aren't the only thing up Jhoira's sleeve, however. Let's take a look at her Average Decklist to see what other enormous spells Jhoira likes to play.
Average Jhoira Deck
The Eldrazi are not alone! There are only four creatures in the entire deck with converted mana cost 4 or lower. From Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur to Blightsteel Colossus, there are some exceptionally terrifying threats in the 99. My personal favorite creatures are actually Aeon Chronicler and Deep-Sea Kraken, which already have suspend. These creatures have abilities that trigger while in exile, regardless of whether you or your commander put them there. Jhoira can suspend them herself and you'll still draw extra cards from the Chronicler, or severely shorten the clock for your Kraken.
I'd like to draw your attention away from the creatures and toward the spells. Eldrazi are scary, but check out some of these sorceries:
"Exodia, Obliterate!" There's a substantial amount of mass land destruction in this average deck, and it's no secret why. Jhoira avoids mana costs, and just like Etali, Primal Storm or Kaalia of the Vast, when you can destroy everyone's resources but still cast spells, the game is yours for the taking. Suspend Jokulhaups and Kozilek, the Great Distortion, and in T-minus four turns, you'll demolish the board, leaving behind a beautiful, clear stage for your massive monster's grand entrance.
Jhoira doesn't (and can't) cast all of her spells through suspend, of course. Her low-cost spells are just as important as her titans for two reasons: first, they'll keep her protected while she's waiting for her exiled spells to clock in; and second, because they can manipulate your time counters, allowing you to cast your monstrosities far sooner than normal. As the flavor text of Telling Time tells us, "Mastery is achieved when "telling time" becomes "telling time what to do."
Paradox Haze sees play in a handful of decks with important upkeep steps, such as Zedruu the Greathearted. Jhoira takes excellent advantage of it by removing two time counters a turn, halving the number of turns before you get to cast your exiled spells. However, as someone who's been on the other side of the table from a Jhoira deck, I can report that Fury Charm and Clockspinning effects are the most terrifying. Just when you think you'll be able to beat the Jhoira player before their huge spells come off of suspend, they cast Timecrafting and cast Emrakul, the Promised End three turns faster than expected.
Jhoira's ability is powerful, and there may indeed be many players who are sick to death of her repetitive strategy. Since she also dabbles in mass land destruction, a highly contentious ability in Commander, there are lots of folks who consider her quite unfun. I'm not here to cast judgment either way---you should always play the decks you enjoy---but I am here to talk about Jhoira, and that includes her weaknesses.
First, Jhoira is not tricky. She telegraphs her intentions four turns in advance, which means your opponents know exactly what's coming, and have some amount of time to deal with it. Once an Eldrazi and a land destruction spell have been suspended, you're Public Enemy Number One.
Jhoira is also deeply susceptible to removal. This probably sounds like a no-brainer, but for Jhoira, staying alive is vital. The trick is, she doesn't need to stay alive for very long. She simply needs to stay alive long enough to suspend one or hopefully two spells. After that, her work is basically done, and she can hand the task off to a Jhoira's Timebug or a Timebender to speed the process along. This is why Jhoira players rarely cast her on turn three. It's far wiser to cast her when you have five mana, so you can both play her and suspend a card in the same turn.
Jhoira is therefore extra vulnerable. If she's Counterspelled the first time you try to cast her, it will then cost a total of seven mana to both cast her and suspend a card. Once you're paying seven mana to suspend a card, you're approaching the point where the mana discount suspend provides is no longer worth the four turns it will take to cast the spell. Just like Kaalia of the Vast, casting your commander too many times has severely diminishing returns. This is why we see so many mana rocks in the Average Deck above; if your commander didn't help you cheat mana costs, you're going to have to pay for them the honest way, which means Thran Dynamos and Gilded Lotuses galore.
I'll also posit that Jhoira, despite being a blue deck, struggles with maintaining card advantage. Because her strategy is so specific, she is forced to devote many of the slots in her deck to high-cost cards, mana rocks, and time-manipulating spells. This leaves little to no room for cards that help her draw back up after her hand is emptied. Just look at the decklist above; I count only four or five total cards that help her draw. If Jhoira does manage to sneak an Eldrazi titan into play, but it gets removed, she's left with very few cards in her hand in the aftermath. Jhoira packs a powerful one-two punch combo, but if you manage to withstand her opening salvo, you stand a good chance of clawing back into the game and overtaking her with superior card advantage.
Is It Izzet Artifacts?
At long last, the artifact-centric Izzet commander players have all been waiting for, Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain!
In truth, no, I don't believe so. Players have been asking for a blue/red artifact-based commander for a long time, and while Jhoira does play nicely with artifacts, I don't think she's the commander we've all been waiting for.
Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain has upgraded to a 3/3 for four mana, which is excellent flavor, because it means she can crew the Weatherlight all by herself. She now proclaims a most curious ability: whenever you cast a historic spell, you draw a card. Historic spells include artifacts, Sagas, and legendary spells. Sagas, of course, are the new enchantment type in Dominaria, such as The Mirari Conjecture, which creatively depicts the plane's history. We're also already familiar with legendary spells since we play a format with legendary creatures at the helm of our decks, but don't forget that this includes new legendary sorceries like Karn's Temporal Sundering and also planeswalkers, which were recently changed to all be legendary.
More importantly, all artifact spells are considered historic, which means Jhoira will draw us a card every time we cast an artifact. This sounds like excellent value. Who wouldn't want to draw cards every time they cast a Darksteel Forge, Myr Battlesphere, and Sol Ring?
I'm by no means saying Jhoira isn't powerful. Far from it, in fact. I'm simply saying that I don't think she's the commander we've all been waiting for. Why? Because of Sram, Senior Edificer
Sram, Senior Edificer is a mono-white commander that draws you a card every time you cast an aura, equipment, or vehicle spell. He's a truly excellent equipment-based commander, but he's quite unlike his other equipment-based peers. Where Kemba, Kha Regent and Nahiri, the Lithomancer often run classic equipment like Argentum Armor (72% and 87%, respectively) Sram only plays the Armor in 38% of decks. He eschews the big equipment in favor of Cathar's Shield, Paradise Mantle whose mana costs are a big fat 0, which frequently gives his deck the nickname "Cheerios." A multitude of zero-drop equipment allows Sram to draw tons and tons of cards for free, giving him a powerful edge.
What does this have to do with Jhoira? Everything, basically. Sram is ostensibly an equipment-based commander, and Jhoira is ostensibly an artifact-based commander, but they aren't precisely true to form. There are other avenues to explore with equipment, and there are many other avenues to explore with artifacts, but both Sram and Jhoira only truly focus on one aspect of artifice: low drops. Every zero-cost spell you play draws you another card, and every card you draw can be another low-cost spell, so you'll cycle through your deck at lightning speed. This pulls the focus away from artifacts and more towards something else—something a lot more sinister. Check out this potential Jhoira decklist to see what I mean.
Jhoira, Captain of the Storm
That's right, this is a Storm deck. Storm is famously seen on spells like Grapeshot and Brain Freeze, duplicating effects for every spall that has already been cast this turn. The mechanic is so powerful that it has an entire Storm Scale based on its name, which rates how likely a mechanic is to be repeated in future sets. Storm devolves so frequently into games of Solitaire that it's a 10 on the scale, never to be seen again because it's nearly always broken, and rarely fun for others.
Grapeshot is a little low on the power level for EDH, but that doesn't mean Storm decks are out of options. One of the greatest win conditions for Storm was very recently printed in the Kaladesh block: Aetherflux Reservoir. If you can cast multiple spells in one turn, you'll gain a total of 1 life, then 3, 6, 10, 15, 21, 28, 36, 45, and so on. With all that life, the Reservoir can blast one opponent to smithereens, paying 50 life to deal 50 damage. Cast enough spells in one turn and you can fell each opponent in quick succession.
So how do we accomplish such an epic turn? How do we cast that many spells in one go? It's actually frighteningly easy.
There's no shortage of cards that reduce the colorless costs of your artifacts. Since nearly every spell you'll play will be an artifact, this is excellent news. Etherium Sculptor and Foundry Inspector have recently been joined by Jhoira's Familiar, and all of them can turn your Lightning Greaves into a free cantrip.
The entire deck can't be artifacts, of course; eventually, Jhoira will draw you a handful of lands, instants, or sorceries, and those won't help you draw more cards. What to do? Return your artifacts to your hand, of course! Hurkyl's Recall will bounce your artifacts back to your hand, so you can cast them again and draw tons more cards. Paradoxical Outcome will do the same thing, and draw you even more cards for it!
That's the nice way to do it (assuming that any storm strategy is 'nice'). There's also this:
Paradox Engine has never in the history of ever done fair things. When you see this card, you know you have to run for cover, and Jhoira's deck is no exception. Every spell you cast will untap your Sol Ring and Thran Dynamo and Mana Vault. Every artifact you cast will also draw you a card from Jhoira's ability. With both the Engine and Jhoira in play, it's not only possible to cycle through your entire deck, but it's actually possible to gain mana by doing so! This is a perpetual motion machine and it's terrifying.
Paradox Engine is especially powerful with Isochron Scepter. Every time you cast a spell from the Scepter, the Engine will untap it. If you have mana rocks that produce three or more total mana, you can produce infinite mana by abusing this loop. You can also accomplish this with the Engine and Strionic Resonator, copying the untap trigger, which untaps the Resonator itself, leaving you free to copy the trigger again, floating mana between each activation. If you imprint Dramatic Reversal onto the Isochron Scepter that will also accomplish an infinite mana combo.
Worse still are the combos you can accomplish with Sensei's Divining Top. With Paradox Engine in play and either Rings of Brighthearth or Voltaic Key, you can tap Sensei's Divining Top for its 'draw a card' ability. Don't let it resolve immediately, though; either copy that ability with Rings of Brighthearth, or untap the Top with Voltaic Key, then tap the Top again. This will draw you a card, put the Top on top of your library, then draw another card, which will of course be the Top itself. Recasting the top will untap your mana rocks (and Voltaic Key) and draw you yet another card with Jhoira. With enough rocks, you not only can get infinite mana, but you can draw your entire library.
A Step in the Right Direction
Apologies if all of these combos are confusing. Such is the nature of artifice; there are so many moving pieces that it's hard to keep up. The main takeaway is this: Jhoira is not a specifically artifact-based commander. She uses artifacts, yes, but she uses them the same way highly-tuned The Gitrog Monster decks use lands. Jhoira is an engine, and when the engine is this powerful, it's hard not to slant your deck away from classic, big-mana Spine of Ish Sahs and more towards free-ramp-and-card-draw like Mox Amber.
Even if I don't think this is the Izzet artifact commander we've all been waiting for, it's not all doom and gloom. I actually happen to think that Wizards of the Coast also doesn't think this is the Izzet artifact commander we've all been waiting for. Wizards has their ear to the Commander format more and more every day, and there's simply too much cool design space in Izzetonian artifice for this to be the only offering. Jhoira rewards low-cost artifact strategies, offering a fantastic combo potential for the combo-minded among us, and perfectly respectable value even without all that storming around. Perhaps I'm foolishly optimistic, but if you ask me, Jhoira is just the beginning.
Cards to Consider
Finally, I have a few suggestions for cards that probably won't see a lot of play for Jhoira and Jhoira, but warrant some extra consideration. Check them out below:
Jhoira of the Ghitu
- Windfall: After Jhoira has emptied her hand of all her good spells, cast this bad boy to refill your hand, and disrupt your opponents' strategies in the process!
- Fog Bank and Guard Gomazoa: One of the best ways to stop Jhoira's spells from coming out of exile is to just eliminate the player piloting her. Jhoira will be attacked, and these are two of the finest blue blockers you'll find to protect your precious life total.
- Disrupt Decorum: This is a red Fog, even if it doesn't look like it. Need to keep other folks off your back? This'll do the trick.
- Utvara Hellkite: Not everyone can afford Eldrazi titans. Utvara Hellkite is one of my favorite budget options, because it closes the game down quickly. One dragon becomes two, which becomes four, which becomes eight, which becomes more than enough to sweep up the game.
- Omen Machine: Okay, this one is a little silly. It's usually not a lot of fun for your opponents, either. The idea is simply that as long as you have a higher-than-average number of super-high cost cards in your deck, you're more likely to cast useful spells off of Omen Machine than your opposition. It might not be a good call after all, but it's worthwhile to look at other potential methods of locking down your victory besides just land destruction.
Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain
- Words of Wind: This card is simply insane here. Usually skipping your draw triggers would be a horrible restriction, but here, you'll have more than you know what to do with. This enchantment will force all players to bounce permanents back to their hands. This includes you, which means you can repeatedly bounce your super-cheap artifacts back to your hand, recast them, and turn the draw triggers into bounce triggers, evaporating your opponents' boards.
- Riddlesmith and Quicksmith Genius: This is one excellent way to make sure you don't run out of artifacts. Toss out the excess lands, keep the mana rocks! These aren't advantage, but they're selection, and that's just as helpful.
- Manifold Insights: Yes, this weird Group Hug card is my recommendation. Why? Because it will draw you three nonland cards. Several of them are bound to be artifacts. To keep Jhoira going, she can't run out of gas, and blue spells like this help make sure her tank is full.
- Semblance Anvil and Cloud Key: These are slightly older cards, but they're worth remembering. Reducing the costs of your artifacts in this deck is crucial.
- Herald of Kozilek: Don't just search for cards that mention artifacts! Herald of Kozilek doesn't mention artifacts at all, but it's another card that will help you throw your entire hand onto the table. No matter which Jhoira, it seems there's always at least one useful Eldrazi in the 99!
Turn Back Time
Jhoira has undergone quite the change since we last saw her, but one thing has stayed the same: she's still doing super broken things. Whether messing with time or storming the table, she's a force to be reckoned and dealt with sooner than later. Keep a weather eye on the horizon, and make sure you're prepared for this blue/red redhead. If you're not careful, its your victory that she'll put in suspend.
So, which Jhoira would you rather build? Which commanders should face off in the next Commander Showdown?
- Kemba, Kha Regent vs Valduk, Keeper of the Flame: Both create tokens for each equipment attached to them, but how do their colors affect this ability?
- Ramos, Dragon Engine vs Jodah, Archmage Eternal: Five colors, no waiting.
- Ezuri, Renegade Leader vs Marwyn, the Nurturer: How does the new Elf tribal commander compare to the classic Ezuri?
- Sharuum the Hegemon vs Breya, Etherium Shaper: This artifical showdown was the runner-up last week!
Cast your votes!
Til next time!