Forgotten Harvest – Dromar's Bounce House
(Dromar, the Banisher | Art by Dave Dorman)
"Returne from Whence Ye Came..."
Welcome back to Forgotten Harvest, home of cards used in 300 decks or less on EDHREC. Before getting into it, I want to say how grateful I am for the positive response to my last article. I had no idea there was such a hunger for something different in a Jund deck. If there are other color combinations where you're looking to spice things up, or a commander you think needs some attention, let me know in the comments. Generally, I plan to let the underplayed cards guide the type of deck I discuss, but if I can do that while scratching an itch felt by the community at large, then all the better!
As hinted at the end of the last article, this time I'll be exploring a bounce deck, helmed by the bounciest Dragon I know: Dromar, the Banisher. Before getting into all the beautiful bouncy gems that lie in Magic's past, we should talk about how self-bounce has lost the war for relevance to blink strategies.
Going back to the success of cards like Time Spiral's Momentary Blink, Wizards of the Coast has been emphasizing the role of blink in the game over self-bounce. Yes, we did just see Paradoxical Outcome and a reprint of Rescue, but these have been the exception more often than the rule over the last 10 years. I say this as someone who vividly remembers Flicker and Liberate as the only blink options for a long time.
Since those simpler times, blink has effectively demolished the modern usability of self-bounce strategies. I get into this because I expect a number of readers to question the relevance of a deck that uses self-bounce rather than blink. Be aware the deck I'm proposing here isn't trying to be the best. It's taking a look at self-bounce and specifically focusing on the cards that don't translate into a blink strategy. You're not going to find all this stuff in Brago, King Eternal. If you like a competitive, edge, blue-white blink is probably more correct for you. However, if you want a deck that's fun, dynamic, unpredictable, and customizable, then keep reading.
After a Quick Search on Gatherer...
There are only two cards I know in all of Magic: the Gathering that trigger when a creature is bounced: Azorius Aethermage and Stormfront Riders. These cards are appropriately underplayed given their niche usability, appearing in 49 and 242 decks on EDHREC, respectively. Even so, their abilities are fantastic! Stormfront Riders replaces a bounced creature with a nice chump blocker, and Azorius Aethermage gives you access to some very cheap draw upon bounce. The Aethermage triggers not just for creatures, but for all bounced permanents you control (Hint: this may become relevant in a future article).
With these two cards as the foundation, it should be clear why Dromar, the Banisher is the preferred commander over, say, Merieke Ri Berit. There's a 60% chance that, upon triggering his ability, Dromar will bounce himself back to hand. That's definitely not a great ability compared to those of the other Primeval Dragons. However, this deck tries to turn that to our advantage. Naming white, blue, or black after a Dromar connection could mean an army of Soldiers or a bunch of draw triggers. Plus, you get to recast all the creatures of that color with great "enter the battlefield" effects.
I tried to include some cards to help the Dragon connect with an opponent, such as Rogue's Passage. Alas, as is the case in most decks, there's a balance in finding room for all the critical strategies of one's deck. I highly recommend that you customize the amount of evasion and removal in the deck below to suit your playgroup's meta. As someone creating a deck for public viewing, this becomes the hardest variable to consider while brewing. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of customization: don't just copy, but make it your own.
I Never Thought I'd Cast Escape Routes
Since we're focusing on bouncing our own stuff, let's look at some more options for returning creatures to our hand. Played in a mere 31 decks, Escape Routes is a card that I would normally walk right past. In this deck, though, it can be a real superstar, enabling shenanigans with Spell Queller and Faceless Butcher. With the "enters the battlefield" trigger on the stack, use Escape Routes to bounce the creature. This will cause the "leaves the battlefield" ability to resolve first. Since no card has been exiled yet, that ability fizzles. This is followed by the original ETB trigger, which exiles the targeted card permanently. This will also work with self-bouncer Tolarian Sentinel (played in only 28 decks), and Wizard Mentor (played in 78).
Also included in the deck are Crystal Shard and Erratic Portal. While both of these already see plenty of play, they also help turn your Spell Queller into a Dissipate. While I'm on the subject of these conditional bouncers on sticks, I should also mention the inclusion of Cowardice in this deck. While it's only used in 255 decks on EDHREC, it turns Crystal Shard and Erratic Portal into a surefire threat against opposing creatures. The icing on the cake is that it also complicates the plans of opponents playing Voltron, equipment, or token strategies. Cowardice isn't going to make you any friends at the table, but sometimes you need to make a little mischief. I mean, if we all played Group Hug, games would only end through Divine Intervention.
Back in Planeshift, we saw a series of 'gating' creatures. Many of you are familiar with a common from this series: Cavern Harpy. This card has some great repeatable self-bounce, and is an obvious choice for many decks. There are two other neglected cards in this series that find a home with Dromar. Sawtooth Loon sees play in 260 decks, and offers some self-bounce along with some great hand filtering. Doomsday Specter, on the other hand, hurts your opponents' hands, bounces a blue or black creature, and is on only 189 decklists.
I'm a big fan of these 'gating' creatures, if you can't tell. I think they're a frequently overlooked option for many decks, not just Esper bounce. Fleetfoot Panther is a staple for me in any Cat tribal build, and I'm still dying for an opportunity to use Natural Emergence in a deck. Don't be surprised if, like Spellshapers, these 'gating' cards become a frequent soapbox of mine in this article series.
Let's Give These Folks a Big Hand
I've talked a lot about bouncing cards so far, but not so much what sets self-bounce apart from blink strategies, nor how this deck plans to win the game. In the end, it all boils down to three words: cards in hand. Without proper choices in deck construction, blink decks don't always keep a full hand. With bounce, you're sure to be rocking 6+ cards at any given time. In an effort to prepare, I added typical cards like Reliquary Tower and Thought Vessel. There's another great addition that's frequently passed over, and it recently gained some new relevance. Trusted Advisor from Saviors of Kamigawa is a wonderful addition to a deck that expects to rock a big hand. Currently played in 70 decks, I expect this number to shoot up thanks to its creature type and a certain new common from Ravnica Allegiance. You know the one.
While we're talking about Saviors of Kamigawa cards, I also looked at the Esper cards in the cycle of "Maro" legends from that set. Kagemaro, First to Suffer provides some excellent removal on par with Mutilate in a mono-black deck. It's an absolute all-star right after a Paradoxical Outcome or a connection trigger from Dromar, the Banisher. I left Soramaro, First to Dream out of the deck, but it would fit in here as well. In its place, I dropped a Sturmgeist which I would argue is better given the curve and how little this deck cares about bounced lands.
The underplayed gem of this cycle comes in at 187 total decks, and goes by the name Kiyomaro, First to Stand. Sure, it needs some evasion, but we're already running that to help Dromar. Plus, the lifegain triggers on any damage, not on combat damage to a player. So long as your hand stays heavy (and it definitely will), Kiyomaro will pose a great threat and keep us in the game. And don't stress about removal, given all the sweet, sweet bounce we're running.
Alright, enough talking about it. Here's the deck:
Esper Bounce House
Time to Bounce
Thanks for walking down this bouncy road with me. Got a question, comment, or snide remark? Do you have a favorite card in under 300 decks on EDHREC? Or do you want to tell me bounce isn't worth my time, and I should have talked about something else instead? Let's talk about it in the comments. If these articles on my janky brews can, at their worst, inspire conversation, then that's super-duper! See you next time!