Commander Showdown — Kumena vs Sygg

Under the Sea

Commander Showdown is back! We had a brief bout of Un-Mander articles during the Unstable season, but now we're back to black-bordered Magic, so it's Rivals of Ixalan time! I won't waste time with preamble—these fishy friends were the most-requested matchup for this week's Showdown. You know who they are: Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca and Sygg, River Guide!

I previously wrote about Sygg, River Guide in my Sygg vs Sygg article, comparing him with Sygg, River Cutthroat. That was mostly a silly name-based matchup rather than an ability-based matchup, because the blue-black Sygg didn't actually have much to do with Merfolk tribal. With Rivals, however, we have a new Merfolk tribal commander on the block, so it's time to revisit Sygg and see how blue-white Merfolk compares to blue-green. Let's get to it!


I'll start by reviewing my conclusion from my previous Sygg article:

"In short, Sygg is a tribal deck that hovers between combat and combo. If you’re ever up against a Sygg player, you’ll have to keep your wits about you; highly-tuned decks will probably search for their combo as quickly as possible, but if that fails, they’ll have a Coat of Arms waiting in the wings. This may be the “nicer” version of Sygg in the lore, but make no mistake: in the right player’s hands, he’s clever, crafty, and cunning."

I think this still holds up. Sygg can grant protection to your Merfolk, which makes him slippery, but not necessarily aggressive. Though Merfolk are famous in Modern for having a high density of lords (such as Lord of Atlantis and Master of the Pearl Trident) that density sadly doesn't quite exist in singleton EDH. If he's allowed to get out of hand, Sygg can build up a powerful swell of Merfolk, but that's more likely to be Plan B. His first plan would be to bust out a combo.

Stonybrook Schoolmaster and Intruder Alarm is the classic example. Combined with Azami, Lady of Scrolls or Paradise Mantle, the Schoolmaster will make an alarming number of tokens. Drowner of Secrets is another excellent option, milling your opponents down to nothing. Judge of Currents can give you infinite life. If you manage to land a Lullmage Mentor as well, your opponents are officially out of the game.

However, I'm not going to linger too long on Sygg, mostly because I've written about him already. If you're interested in finding out more about his cards and his tricks, you can check it out here. I simply want to establish this aspect of Sygg's strategy, so we can use him as a tool by which to measure up the newcomer, Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca. While evaluating Kumena, keep Sygg's combos in the back of your mind. This will be important later.

The Tyrant

Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca. This is the guy you really came to see. He's currently the most expensive card from Rivals of Ixalan, as well as the most-built commander, with 90 decks to his name and more coming every day. Let's break down his abilities real quick, because he has a lot of them:

Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca

  1. By tapping one of your other Merfolk, he can become unblockable. Right away, this sets off the Voltron bells in players' heads. An unblockable commander like Kaseto, Orochi Archmage is nothing to scoff at.
  2. By tapping three Merfolk, Kumena can draw you a card. This is pretty impressive, and probably my favorite of his abilities. Like Thrasios, Triton Hero, this card advantage will build up over time and can put you miles ahead of your competition.
  3. Lastly, by tapping five Merfolk, Kumena puts a +1/+1 counter on each Merfolk you control. Five creatures is a big hurdle, but that payoff is excellent.

Kumena's tap abilities are very cool for three reasons: first, he can tap himself for most of them; second, he can tap Merfolk even if they have summoning sickness; and third, he synergizes beautifully with the Merfolk from Lorwyn.

Merfolk like Fallowsage and Surgespanner are excellent, but often had a problem: the best way to tap them was usually to attack, and since they're fairly small, they'd rarely survive combat. Kumena again sidesteps this weakness, because he's a tap outlet. Though Kumena loses access to Judge of Currents and Stonybrook Schoolmaster, he has access to other powerful blue creatures that are much easier for him to activate than for Sygg.

(If you'll permit me to geek out for a moment, this is easily the coolest aspect of Kumena's design. Backwards compatibility with creatures from a tribal set that came out a decade ago is just plain fantastic work. Kudos to Wizards for such an elegant throwback.)

Naturally, I'd be remiss if I failed to mention that Kumena synergizes with one of green-blue's strongest qualities: cards that imitate Prophet of Kruphix.

This is why I like Kumena's second ability so much. Drop one of these bad boys and by the time it gets to your next turn, you'll have drawn enough cards to make Consecrated Sphinx proud.

There are a lot of options for these effects, and they're frankly all quite frightening. Seedborn Muse isn't a Merfolk, but it doesn't need to be. Quest for Renewal is laughably easy to get online. Paradox Engine is famous by now for doing V.G.T. (Very Gross Things), and in this deck, it's no exception. There are also a multitude of one-off spells you can use, such as Benefactor's Draught and Dramatic Reversal. Stick one of those onto an Isochron Scepter and you're in business.

Hit the Deck

If it isn't already clear, Kumena is a value engine. There are so many moving parts here, all constantly in motion, tapping and untapping and providing you with incremental advantages that, if left unchecked, quickly become insurmountable. To that end, I threw together a potential Kumena list:

The Tyrant of Orazca

View on Archidekt

Commander (1)
Creatures (32)
Sorceries (8)
Instants (6)
Enchantments (10)
Artifacts (7)
Lands (36)

If I could describe this deck in one word, it would probably be 'inexorable.' Like Meren of Clan Nel Toth, this deck accrues extra advantage by simply playing into the color pair's natural strategy. Play creatures, tap and untap them, draw cards, counter spells, and crush your foes.

What I'd really like to draw your attention to are the lords (such as Merfolk Sovereign and Merrow Reejerey). As I mentioned above with Sygg, one of Merfolk's biggest problems in EDH is that it doesn't have the same density of lords as Modern Merfolk decks. In my previous article, we deduced that the average Sygg deck only contains about seven lords or so, which makes it far less aggressive than its Modern brethren. This is why Sygg decks so often turn to combo; it's more reliable to spit out a bajillion Merfolk than it is to try and push damage through with a scant few lords.

Kumena, however, sidesteps this weakness, because he himself is a repeatable lord. If you look at the decklist above, you see a lot more than just seven lords. There's the new Merfolk Mistbinder, but there's also Metallic Mimic and Adaptive Automaton. The aforementioned Murkfiend Liege not only untaps your creatures to reactivate Kumena's abilities, but also gives them a boost. Deeproot Elite may not technically be a lord, because it doesn't pump your entire team, but it still makes the most important pieces of your army stronger.

Beastmaster Ascension Triumph of the Hordes

More importantly, green gives us many more options than white when it comes to pump spells. Cathars' Crusade is solid for Sygg over time, but Beastmaster Ascension is immediately powerful for Kumena. Triumph of the Hordes just flat-out steamrolls unwitting opponents. From Overwhelming Stampede to Craterhoof Behemoth, green just has more options for combat than white, and it gives Kumena's Merfolk that aggressive Modern feeling.

That's the real difference between Kumena and Sygg. Sygg is explosive. If he assembles a combo, he'll take the game from out of nowhere. Until then, he plays it safe, protecting himself and his creatures, waiting to find an opening. Kumena, on the other hand, is a snowball. He slowly builds up steam, and if he's not cut off quickly, he'll keep ramping up and up into a tidal wave. His primary win condition is indeed combat, because unlike Sygg, he can reliably assemble an army of low-cost creatures that power each other up. Plus, he can supplement those creatures with better pump spells, and keeps a steady stream of card advantage with his second ability.

To put it simply, if you like Modern Merfolk, Kumena is your bag. He is a genuine Merfolk Tribal deck. Sygg is tribal too, but fin-to-fin combat isn't necessarily his forte. Sygg is a deck for the tricksy and elusive brewers, the ones who like to lay low in the shallows until they find the right time to strike. Kumena is more along the lines of what you'd expect from Merfolk. He is synergy incarnate, and I'm frankly terrified to play against him.

Cards to Consider

I've already given some suggestions for Sygg in my previous article, but here are a few things you should consider if you're fixing to brew a Kumena deck:

Quest for Renewal Stoneforge Masterwork

  • Quest for Renewal: This enchantment currently only appears in 26% of Kumena decks, and that's just plain criminal. It's basically Seedborn Muse, just with some assembly required. It's a cinch to activate in Kumena, and a total value engine when you do.
  • Intruder Alarm: Sygg uses this card for his combos, but it has fantastic synergy with Kumena, too. Any creature entering the battlefield untaps your army, letting you pump them up again or draw more cards. With a Deeproot Waters in play, casting a Merfolk spell will give you two untap triggers. This is what we call Powerful Magic.
  • Stoneforge Masterwork: I didn't spend too much time talking about Kumena's Voltron capabilities, because I think he works better with an army than on his own. However, cards like Stoneforge Masterwork give him a stellar excuse to use his first ability. Assemble a school of Merfolk, slap this equipment on him, make him unblockable, and the rest of the table will have a very rough time indeed. This equipment in particular lets you threaten one opponent with an army and another with commander damage.
  • Hardened Scales: This one's pretty straightforward. Kumena puts a lot of counters on creatures, so you might as well double them!
  • Breaking Wave: Like Rout and Twilight's Call, this plucky sorcery can be cast as an instant for a little extra mana. It's basically a Thoughtweft Gambit. During an opponent's turn, you can tap your Merfolk with Kumena, then cast Breaking Wave to tap down their army and untap your own, leaving you free to reactivate Kumena and then to alpha strike them next turn, while their defenses are lowered. This is a super cool card that a lot of players have probably never heard of, but it definitely deserves to see play in this deck.

Hook, Line, and Sinker

If it wasn't already apparent from Tishana, Voice of Thunder's EDHREC page, players were hungry for a green-blue Merfolk tribal commander. Even though Tishana doesn't particularly care about Merfolk, her page is littered with Merfolk synergies. The green-blue Merfolk of Ixalan are fun and powerful, and players clearly wanted a place to run them all. Thankfully, with Rivals of Ixalan, we now have precisely the place to do so: Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca.

Kumena and Sygg both give us options for Merfolk tribal, but in alarmingly different ways. Sygg's strongest asset is definitely his combo potential, while Kumena is the king of the aggressive fish. Sygg is still a great commander with powerful, out-of-nowhere win conditions that take a whole table by surprise, but I expect we'll eventually see Kumena eclipse Sygg's popularity, since he falls more in line with the traditional expectation of Merfolk strategies. With so many tap-and-untap effects in his deck, he has a lot of moving parts, which appeals to all types of players; Timmy/Tammy is sure to love the huge stompy Merfolk he can create, Johnny/Jenny will plunder his tap-untap effects to find Sygg-like combos, and Spikes will revel in Kumena's detailed, complex abilities to eke out incremental advantages. I'm still just impressed that Kumena's design works so well with the Merfolk in Lorwyn, so Kumena's definitely a winner in my book.

PS: If you can't decide between white-blue Merfolk and green-blue Merfolk, check out Matt Morgan's most recent article for some Bant Merfolk shenanigans.

Oh, and and don't forget to vote on which commanders you'd like to see for the next Commander Showdown!


Til next time!

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