Epic Experiment - Illuna Storm
(Illuna, Apex of Wishes | Art by Chris Rahn)
Hello, EDHREC fans! I’m Bernardo Melibeu, and this is Epic Experiment, a series where we throw all common sense aside and experiment with some unusual strategies, changing how we normally build our deck. Is it going to work? Who knows?! We’re making science here. When you’re an Izzet mage, blowing things up is half the fun.
In today's article, we'll be looking into one of the Apex predators out of Ikoria; its ability to be a Polymorph in the command zone makes it a truly unique commander. Yes, it's Illuna, Apex of Wishes!
(If you cast this spell for its mutate cost, put it over or under target non-Human creature you own. They mutate into the creature on top plus all abilities from under it.)
Whenever this creature mutates, exile cards from the top of your library until you exile a nonland permanent card. Put that card onto the battlefield or into your hand.
Illuna is quite a unique commander. For one thing, it has a turbo version of Polymorph that isn't restricted to only creatures. This is a double-edged sword, since, on the one hand, it amplifies our possible targets, but on the other hand, it broadens the hit pool, making it harder to build around it.
While Illuna rewards us for Mutating it multiple times, the mechanic is still not on very many cards. It feels more like a bonus than a build-around when constructing a deck at this point, not to mention that it does seem like a mess to keep track of in a multiplayer game.
Regarding Illuna's triggered ability, the possibilities are endless. Are we just playing one nonland permanent and cheating out Omniscience? Are we using it as a value engine? Are we playing a color-shifted Demonic Consultation Thassa's Oracle deck?
The Old Formula
As you can see, Mutate is a theme that is fairly well explored with Illuna, Apex of Wishes. However, given the current pool of Mutate creatures and the nature of Illuna's trigger ability, I do think that less is better; having as few duds as possible makes Illuna's kit drastically better.
The Epic Ingredients
I want to explore Illuna's potential to work as a Polymorph commander, which leads to the big question: which permanent(s) are we trying to cheat into play? Omniscience is a strong contender and so is Blightsteel Colossus. However, this is Epic Experiment, and we're going to cheat a two-CMC card with our six-mana Polymorph!
Underworld Breach is a new version of Yawgmoth's Will that, unlike its counterpart, doesn't exile the spells that get cast, instead giving them an Escape 3 cost). But why is Underworld Breach better than classic "cheat into play targets" like Omniscience? It's simple: Breach is a draw engine, mana engine, and a finisher, all in one pretty little enchantment. With some graveyard set-up, playing Underworld Breach means that we have a guaranteed line of play. However, part of making Breach successful it that we need to set up our graveyard in order to get the full benefit, and even then, sometimes we can whiff.
First, we need a way to generate lots of mana; this can be in the form of untapping permanents, like with Turnabout and Rude Awakening, or with rituals, like Seething Song and Mana Geyser, for instance. Then, we need a way to put cards into the graveyard, like Brain Freeze, Stream of Thought and Taigam's Scheming; doing so acts as both card draw and fuel for our Escape costs. Finally, we need one of our Storm cards to win the game: Brain Freeze, Grapeshot and/or Ignite Memories.
We need a lot of mana in our combo turn. After all, six of it is going straight into our commander's Mutate cost, and then we need some left over to keep casting spells. Sure, we can choose to put it into our hand, but doing so is very risky, and it'll attract the aggro from the rest of the table, potentially killing us before we untap. While small rituals can help our initial ramp up to a certain amount, their mana-to-exile cards on the combo turn is quite bad. Plus, they usually need some sort of color filtering to be useful. If we need to rely on Desperate Ritual to get to six mana, that's at least nine exiled cards that we won't have to use anymore! This is why having more expensive ways to generate mana is really important: they cost more, but we need to cast them less frequently, and some of them, like the ones that untap permanents, can even color-fix for us!
Another key aspect that we need to have in mind is the need for non-Human creatures that don't count as permanents in our deck. This basically means that we need token-producers and/or creature lands. We are currently packing a very cheap and somewhat recursive token suite, mostly made up of cards that aren't all that demanding on our mana on the combo turn and can be used twice in case the token gets destroyed. If we can't ever find them (or if they get countered or removed), we still have the added fail-safe of playing cheap manlands, like Mishra's Factory, to use as target for our commander.
Illuna StormView on Archidekt
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Before I go in details about the list, there's something important to say about building a combo deck, especially Storm. While it's true that this list isn't cEDH material in terms of power level (I didn't aim for it to be, in the first place), it still preys on the slow nature that many less-optimized tables might regularly feature, and its playstyle may not resonate well with many members of our community. All of this is to simply say: don't bring this type of deck to a table without a proper conversation about it, and if you notice that someone might not enjoy playing against it, change decks. One person's fun shouldn't come at the expense of the rest of the table.
Artifact Mutation can act as both removal and token-producer, while Frantic Search is a way to fill the graveyard, draw, and even fix mana on the combo turn, and Brain Freeze is both a way to generate graveyard advantage and a win condition.
The rest of the list is pretty streamlined, with cards belonging to one of the following categories: removal, draw, ramp, tokens, and finisher. There are some cards that can fit multiple categories, but they usually fill one big role with a small secondary upside. Artifact Mutation (great thematic name for the list, by the way) is primarily a token-generator; it has the added benefit of also working as removal, which is a nice upside, but it's not the main reason that we're including the card. The same can be said for Growth Spiral and Explore, which are great ways to ramp and draw but their main role is to ramp.
For our opening hand, we are looking at ways to develop our mana. After all, our combo relies on having us cast our six-mana commander into another string of spells. Another priority is draw to dig for our (many) moving parts. Unlike many Polymorph-esque lists, this deck is happy to draw our target card, which helps a lot with the flow of play. One thing to notice is that, while we can draw Underworld Breach, if we mill it we'll be in big trouble unless we have a Regrowth effect, so we should only mill ourselves after we have found Breach.
In the early game, our plan is simply to ramp. We should probably be careful to not attract much aggro to our side by ramping to quickly: taking it slow can, sometimes, help us save some precious life points by not painting a target on ourselves right away. If needed, we can always resort to casting some of our early token-producers just for chump blockers. This isn't the optimal line, and we should consider whether saving the life points is worth risking losing our tokens before the combo turn, but it's an option nonetheless.
In the mid-game we should probably be close to comboing off. This is the part of the game where we should be a little patient, because there are many moving parts, and going off a turn earlier than needed might increase our chances of whiffing. One thing to notice is that, even if played correctly, there's still the random factor of not knowing exactly how many and which cards our commander is going to exile. If Underworld Breach is in the bottom, let's say, 20 cards of our library, we'll probably run out of cards in the graveyard to fuel it. The same can be said if all of our Storm cards are exiled, but, hey, sometimes Illuna is hungry.
Outside of the combo, our chances of winning are, to put as blunt as possible, negligible. After all, it's hard to fit another non-permanent-based combo in a deck that has the tendency to eat away its cards as this one. Winning by turning sideways is technically possible with our tokens and manlands, but it's more a one-in-a-million type of situation, and doing so should be treated as such.
This was more of a proof of concept type of list; there're a lot of possible targets that we can build around (he says after a full week and four different builds). Do you want to take all the turns? Timestream Navigator is a pretty funny way to do it. How about a little belching with Goblin Charbelcher? Need a fairer deck? Craterhoof Behemoth with a bunch of tokens got you covered!
That’s it for this Epic Experiment! What do you think about this list? Do you have any questions about the deck? Which cards did you like? Which didn’t you? Was this Epic Experiment a success? Please let me know in the comments below!