Commander Showdown - Trostani vs Ghired

(Trostani, Selesnya's Voice by Chippy | Ghired, Conclave Exile by Yongjae Choi)

Populate Popularity

In January of 2017, I pitched a series idea to EDHREC called Commander Showdown, which would pit two similar-looking commanders against each other to help highlight how the slight variations in their abilities affect core differences in their gameplay, strategy, and deck construction. To my good fortune, EDHREC liked the pitch, and the first article, which can be found here, examined the commanders Trostani, Selesnya's Voice vs. Rhys the Redeemed. It was a Selesnya token battle that set the stage for many awesome future matchups.

Today, over two and a half years later, Commander Showdown comes full circle. We're going back to our roots - literally, in Trostani's case - because we have a newcomer to the Populate crowd: his name is Ghired, Conclave Exile, and he's bringing a big ol' dose of red to the table.

Both commanders are 2/5s. Both commanders Populate huge tokens. Trostani must use an activated ability to produce a token, but also provides a lovely dose of lifegain. Ghired brings his own Rhino to begin the Populate value train, but must risk his neck in combat to produce another. How does red change the formula of the longstanding Populate strategy? How are these commanders similar, and how are they different? Let's find out on this token-tastic Commander Showdown!


The Voice of Selesnya

Let's begin by revisiting Trostani: in the two years since the original Commander Showdown article, Trostani's EDHREC page has undergone quite a few changes! The majority of her Signature Cards remain the same; effects like Hour of Reckoning, Parallel Lives, and Sundering Growth are constants for Trostani, and her potent lifegain ability will always mean that Aetherflux Reservoir and Phyrexian Processor never wander far from her hearth.

Let's look at some of the things that have changed on her page:

Trostani 2 Years Ago Trostani Now
Collective Blessing Song of the Worldsoul
Selesnya Signet Selesnya Eulogist
Druid's Deliverance Full Flowering
Doubling Season Crested Sunmare
Aura Shards Anointed Procession
Cathars' Crusade Dawn of Hope
Avenger of Zendikar Sandwurm Convergence
Shalai, Voice of Plenty
Growing Rites of Itlimoc
Camaraderie

To be clear, Trostani's page then and her page now still share 21 cards in common with each other, so there's still a ton of remaining overlap. The changes we see above are quite fascinating, though, and this is a good time to remember that EDHREC is now restricting its data collection to decks that have been updated in an online deckbuilding wesbite within the past two years, rather than data from all time. As new cards come out, we don't want precedent to bog down innovation, so the time limit helps highlight new trends on a commander's page.

So is that what's happening with Trostani? No, actually, I wouldn't say so. Let's analyze the cards that have disappeared from her Signature Cards. These cards are still enormously popular for and powerful in Trostani decks. Druid's Deliverance has been demoted from one of her Top Cards to the very first card in her Instants section, but it's still played in 40% of decks. Avenger of Zendikar is also still quite prominent in among her most-played creatures, and enchantments like Cathars' Crusade and Aura Shards are also still very prevalent in their respective section as well. The only card that seems to have dramatically been demoted in popularity for Trostani is Doubling Season, but this is much more an issue of the card's increase in price over the years rather than a testament to its synergy in her deck.

What about the new cards on Trostani's page, the ones that weren't popular for her two years ago? These have an even easier explanation: they simply didn't exist in January of 2017. In fact, three of them are from the new Naya Populate deck from which Ghired originated just this year. As another example, the Amonkhet block from April of 2017 introduced us to Anointed Procession, Crested Sunmare, and Sandwurm Convergence, each one making themselves quite happy at home in Trostani decks.

That said, there are a few cards here that make me raise my eyebrows: Shalai, Voice of Plenty is a surprise, though I'll admit it's a happy one. She has little to do with tokens or lifegain, but her hexproof ability is quite potent, making her a nice inclusion. The new card I don't like, however, is Dawn of Hope. Sorry folks, I just don't think this is a particularly good card, even in a deck that gains as much life as Trostani.

Rishkar's Expertise only appears in 21% of Trostani decks, and that's just criminal. For a total of six mana, Dawn of Hope can draw you two cards with your commander in play, whereas for six mana, Rishkar's Expertise will draw you at least two cards with your commander in play, and also let you play something else for free. Or there's Shamanic Revelation, only in 30% of Trostani decks. That's especially crazy since we know from the Growing Rites of Itlimoc in Trostani's Top Cards that she plans on putting a lot of creatures into play. If Camaraderie can be a Top Card for Trostani, Shamanic Revelation can be too. I'd sooner play a Harmonize in this deck than a Dawn of Hope; the cost per card is just not worth it compared to the many other options already available. I'd also sooner play Idol of Oblivion, another entry from Commander 2019, which only appears in 27% of Trostani decks built since that set's release. Dawn of Hope will allow you to spend mana to draw a card whenever you gain life, which is normally resultant from Trostani making you a creature token, whereas Idol of Oblivion will let you draw a card whenever Trostani makes you a token, too, and at no extra cost!

Alright, I'll get off my soapbox. Let's take a look at what I'd posit a modern-day Trostani deck should look like:

Trostani Speaks for All

Commander (1)
Creatures (16)
Enchantments (15)
Instants (10)
Sorceries (13)
Artifacts (6)
Planeswalkers (3)
Lands (36)

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

Trostani strikes me as a commander with a somewhat lofty goal - not an unrealistic one, to be clear, but one that age and wisdom must temper. You may note the absence of cards like Desolation Twin, or the new Full Flowering, in the list above. Though we'd be living the dream if we could Populate that 10/10 token, we'd be in a nightmare if we're stuck with an uncastable ten-mana card in our hand throughout the vast majority of the game. We aren't guaranteed to hit that point of the game anymore; bit by bit, new cards like Torbran, Thane of Red Fell push Commander to quicken the tempo. Big, swingy, extravagant plays are the exact reason why we play this format, but the game is so chock full of efficient, excellent cards that we also have to make sure the deck has the connective tissue to stand upright in the first place.

Luckily, even if some of the more extravagant cards may no longer make the cut, Trostani is a commander who thrives when we make sure the deck's wheels are greased. We'll get to her strategy a bit more later, but before we can, we have to address the Rhino in the room, as well as the man who made it: Ghired, Conclave Exile.


Rhinos are Just Grey Unicorns

Ghired, Conclave Exile wasn't content in Selesnya, so he joined the Gruul clans for a short while instead. What he found was a love of aggression, a rugged sense of realism, and also the ability to create his own Rhino pals.

At a glance, Ghired compares very favorably to Trostani. Though he's three colors, his mana cost is far less restrictive than Trostani's quadruple-pip requirements. Additionally, adding on an extra color is seen by many in the Commander community as a boon, since it opens the doors to a whole new suite of delicious effects. Ghired's biggest leg up on the competition, though, is that he creates his own 4/4 Rhino token when he enters the battlefield.

If Trostani struggles with anything, it's getting the ball rolling. Once she does, her momentum can carry her to crazy heights, but the first step is the hardest for her to take. Ghired, on the other hand, hits the ground running. He has no inherent lifegain ability, and his Populate trigger is dependent upon attacking, which means he must put himself at risk to enact it, and loses out on any instant-speed-create-a-surprise-blocker interactions Trostani enables. Even so, that first step is momentous.

His additional color also opens up several new doors Trostani cannot access. For instance:

Red doesn't have an enormous array of token producers, though there are certainly a few haymakers. One of the best is Omnath, Locus of Rage, who fashions some very impressive 5/5s. On the subject of 5/5s, Dragonmaster Outcast is a lot of fun for very little investment. Most frequently, though, red's foray into token production usually takes the form of temporary token masters. Flameshadow Conjuring and Feldon of the Third Path will create a one-time burst of power, but Ghired's Populate ability will allow you to keep a copy of those tokens for as long as you please; this can be a very mana-efficient method of acquiring token copies of nontoken creatures, a thing normally only available to other token decks through effects like Mimic Vat and Helm of the Host.

Speaking of Helm of the Host, this thing is bug-nutty on most legends, but especially with Ghired. If you manage to equip it to him, he'll create a nonlegendary copy of himself, which will also produce a 4/4 Rhino. Then he and his token doppelgänger (which has haste) can attack, and Populate the nonlegendary Ghired token. You'll get two more Ghireds, already attacking, and two more Rhinos, which will not be attacking.

Some quick math: We started with 6 power in play, with 2 from Ghired and 4 from his original Rhino. We ended with 24 power in play - four Ghireds and four Rhinos. If we get to do this again next turn, we'll end with 60 power in play - ten Ghireds and ten Rhinos. And that's assuming we play no other spells or creatures. Granted, we're also assuming no one messes with us for two turns, which isn't totally realistic, but out-of-control interactions like these really define Ghired's best attributes.

Before we proceed much farther, let's take a look at a Ghired decklist. His EDHREC page is still bogged down quite a bit by the influence of the original preconstructed deck, but let's see what he might look like with a bit of tuning and pruning:

Ghired, white, and green

Commander (1)
Creatures (15)
Enchantments (11)
Instants (13)
Planeswalkers (2)
Artifacts (7)
Sorceries (15)
Lands (36)

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

Despite our discussion of them above, you may notice a lack of Flameshadow Conjuring effects in this list. I've unfortunately found these spells a little unwieldy for Ghired; the timing on them can be awkward, but more than anything, I found that the deck didn't have many targets for these effects. A good number of the creatures in this deck wound up being legendary, which has, at least in my brewing, only left about 10% of the deck available for nonlegendary creatures that these effects can successfully copy. Even among that 10%, creatures like Selesnya Eulogist are not exactly the most appealing creatures to make multiple copies of. This is likely not a testament to the cards themselves, but rather a byproduct of the way I personally brewed Ghired, which ends up having a lower-than-average creature count and uses more spells to provide token payoffs. If you're going to use Flameshadow Conjuring effects, I think this is actually a very valid strategy for Ghired; just maintain awareness of the number of viable targets they have, and build your suite of creatures with these effects in mind.

Luckily, several other delicious synergies present themselves to Ghired, regardless of specific strategical direction. Godsire spiked exorbitantly in price when it was not reprinted in this deck, and it's not hard to see why. Though I eschewed effects like Flameshadow Conjuring, Blade of Selves is excellent even when it's slapped onto your legendary commander because the copies will create Rhinos for you.

My favorite, however, is easily Breath of Fury. Slap this on a token and attack, allowing Ghired to Populate that token. If you make contact, which your trampling Rhinos are likely to do, you'll sacrifice that token and get an additional combat step. You can put the enchantment onto the token you just made, which will of course have summoning sickness, or you can load it up onto another member of your presumably sizable army. This is a great source of extra damage that many enemies are not prepared for.


Voice of the Conclave vs The Conclave Exile

If we compare the decklists above, very few cards appear in Ghired's list that don't also appear in Trostani's. The real differences are largely the red cards that Trostani simply can't play. Looking the other direction, a great many cards appear in Trostani's list that do not appear in Ghired's. At first, the underlying factor would seem obvious: Trostani's lifegain abilities lend her affection to cards like Felidar Sovereign and Aetherflux Reservoir. The difference between these two commanders could be boiled down to "lifegain versus aggression."

That, however, strikes me as far too simplistic. The fact that Ghired brings his own toys to the party sets his deck apart at a much more fundamental level than just sheer aggression. Trostani relies upon her 99 to get the party going: Armada Wurm, Rampaging Baloths, Advent of the Wurm, and so on. Ghired has little need for these. They're good, to be clear, but he doesn't lean on them the way Trostani does.

In essence I'd say that's the main difference in strategy for these popular Populate engines: Ghired's 99 relies upon him; Trostani, by contrast, relies upon her 99. Ghired's a battering ram who will beat constantly at enemies by using spells that amplify the tools he brought himself. He does not give the other players a break, and even without crazy Doubling Season shenanigans, he may wear opponents down through sheer, relentless inexorability.

Meanwhile, Trostani takes the longform approach. Rather than fair, persistent battering, she's more likely to enjoy the exponential nature of token-based strategies. One token becomes two, which Parallel Lives turns into four, and which Rhys the Redeemed turns into approximately one billion. Trostani will have the time to embrace this exponential power because of her lifegain ability, which she can also threaten to use as a weapon all unto itself, both with the obvious Felidar Sovereign/Aetherflux Reservoir effects and with the less-obvious cascading nature of Crested Sunmare-style token production.

In short, where Ghired is enhanced by his spells, Trostani enhances her spells, and that's a much more important distinction than mere lifegain and aggression.


Cards to Consider

Before wrapping up, let's quickly observe a few special cards for these commanders that should not go overlooked.


Trostani

  • Luminarch Ascension: This is one of the best white cards in the format, let alone in Trostani's deck. I know it can put a target on your head, but it can also put a clock on the game.
  • Test of Endurance: Perhaps not well-known, but certainly tried and true.
  • Storm Herd: I know it's a lot of mana, but it's also a lot of tokens.
  • Ajani, Strength of the PrideA solid 30% of Trostani folks are using this so far, but it should be far more. This is a one-sided Wrath for a deck that gains as much life as this one.
  • Ezuri's PredationOnly 9% of Trostani players are using this!?

Ghired

  • Adorned Pouncer: 4/4 tokens with double strike? Purrrrrfect.
  • Aurelia, the Warleader: Ghired likes to attack. That is all.
  • Overwhelming Stampede: I'm genuinely surprised to only see this in 8% of Ghired decks. This is a great game-ending spell in creature-based decks, and Ghired is no exception.
  • Tendershoot DryadI find myself extremely surprised at the low levels of adoption for Tendershoot so far. I know you don't want to Populate a Saproling, but this thing can take over a game all by itself.
  • Mirrorpool: I mentioned above that there aren't too many nonlegendary creatures in the deck to make token copies of, but having this effect on a land is a much lower opportunity cost than having it on a Twinflame.

Token of Affection

The army of token-based commanders is as populous as the battlefields they oversee. Rhys the Redeemed, Trostani, Selesnya's Voice, Ghired, Conclave Exile, Emmara, Soul of the Accord, Marath, Will of the Wild... there's a lot of competition in this space. As each plant in the crowded garden fights for sunlight, they have to grow and adapt into more unique niches. Luckily, both Trostani and Ghired have plenty of tools to help make sure they stand out among their comrades, and they're sure to continue populating EDHREC pages with many decks yet to come.

So, which Populate prodigy do you prefer? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! Oh, and don't forget to vote for the pair you'd like to see on the next Commander Showdown!

 

Til next time!

Joey is the lead editor and content producer for EDHREC. You can find him hosting and creating tons of great videos over at https://www.youtube.com/edhrecast or give him a follow at @JosephMSchultz on Twitter, where he likes to celebrate Commander, coffee, and corgis.