Forgotten Harvest – Hellbent on Innovation
That’s Latin for “Hello everyone!” My name’s Kyle, avid land-tapper and creature-caster for nearly 20 years now, and I have to say that I’m ashamed of you, Online Commander Community. While you’re all busy optimizing your decks and drooling over shiny new Magic expansions, there are some perfectly good cards for Commander that lay sad and neglected in the corner. They deserve at least a look, and that’s what this article series will be about: a discussion of cards listed in 300 decks or less on EDHREC.
Did that scare you off? No? Good. Because this is going to be so much fun!A few words on the format of these articles and what to expect: I’ll be looking at cards I think are severely underplayed given their power level, grouping them by theme, and discussing the neglected cards within that theme through the construction of a featured deck. I want to make it clear that “neglected” doesn’t necessarily mean “cheap.” Angus Mackenzie is only played in 407 decks, but I’m sure if he weren’t so expensive (thanks Reserved List!), he would see more play. The commander for this first article is also expensive due to RL status. But, as I do in today’s article, I’ll offer alternatives to the wallet-hungry cards. I want these articles to be valuable, and that won’t be the case if I only talk about cards no one can find or afford.
Speaking of valuable information, the cards I’ll be talking about will not be in the bargain basement of power level. I’m not doing 1,000 words on the merits of casting Vizzerdrix. At the same time, don’t expect the top-tier, tuned-deck power level, either. Those cards are definitely being played in more than 300 decks already. There are some great, situational cards that look like superstars in the right deck. Expect a lot of those from me.
A Flaming, Falling Goat-Man
The “right deck” this week is a Jund Hellbent build. Red and black certainly have a lot to "draw" from to play into this theme, and green has some surprising contributions. The first one is Aether Rift. Played in a mere 23 EDH decks on EDHREC, this Hellbent hero really shines when you can remove the 'random' portion of the discard. Perhaps you begin the turn with only one card in hand. Specifically, a creature card. More specifically, a great creature card. Most specifically, a Vorinclex. Alright, it doesn’t have a be a Praetor, but some big beefy chunk of power and toughness is what we’re looking for.
“But Kyle,” you say, “Somebody’s going to pay five life for sure!” To which my reply is, "That’s why WotC made Genesis and Oversold Cemetery," along with any number of other cards that repeatedly recur creatures to your hand (I’ll get into them next). I guarantee after a few turns of stopping your tank of a card from entering the battlefield, either you’ll finally get your creature, or the table’s rage will have ended the Rift. Either way, lots of life will have been paid, and you’ll be glad for it.
There is a strike against Aether Rift: the card just does not play well with Madness. As of Shadows over Innistrad, the Madness mechanic exiles the discarded card until you make the decision whether to cast it or not. Because of how the triggers from Madness and Aether Rift stack, the discarded Madness card is in exile when the Rift tries to return it. I’ve still included Madness cards in the deck below, despite this negative interaction. There are plenty of other ways to discard, which make those cards worth it.
Speaking of Repeatable Recursion…
Running cards like Aether Rift, as well as a vast array of discard effects typical for a Hellbent deck, we need a commander capable of selectively adding back to our hand after it’s depletion. Adun Oakenshield, the Jund legend from Legends, takes care of that for us. Most certainly a neglected card, Mr. Oakenshield only appears in 151 decks on EDHREC (not just as commander, but anywhere in the 100). We’ll want to use his recursion ability just before starting our turn to bring back a key creature card for use on the coming turn. I won’t say he’s top-tier, and there are other, better Jund reanimator commanders, but I’ll argue that none of them do for Hellbent what Oakenshield can.
Now, I did say I would provide alternatives to expensive cards, so if you find yourself without Adun, I recommend the also-neglected Xira Arien (293 decks total). While Xira won’t give you the ability to put a specific creature into your hand, the card draw option right before you start your turn is a big help. She’s far easier on the budget, and some minor tweaks can increase her effectiveness as a replacement (I’m looking at you, Haunted Crossroads). For the rest of the article, I’m going to stick with Oakenshield to simplify the discussion, but if you want more information about using Xira Arien and similar abilities in a Hellbent deck, ask away in the comments.
Naturally, there’s a need for redundancy in the deck, so let’s look toward another neglected favorite that raises the dead and also functions as a discard source: Undertaker. Found in only 280 decks online, this is a card just begging to be sleeved up. Yes, it is stuck on a skimpy 1/1 body, but the threat posed by this card is so minimal that I’ve never had trouble with its removal before I get off a couple of activations. This is a go-to card for me whenever I want a Raise Dead effect, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Spells of all Shapers and Sizes
I would wager that Spellshapers are the most neglected of any creature type. In addition to Undertaker above, I have a trio of Spellshapers to help enable Hellbent. First, we have Silverglade Pathfinder helping us to dig for land and empty our hand. Only used in 243 decks, please consider it as an alternative for (or in addition to) Sakura-Tribe Elder in reanimator decks. Instead of reanimating the Elder over and over, the Pathfinder allows you to pitch cards for lands, which we can then recur with Oakenshield later. I’m not saying it’s at the same power level as the Elder, but it can create different scenarios.
Next up is a great source of repeatable removal also from the Mercadian Masques expansion. Notorious Assassin is only played in a mere 86 decks, but a Dark Banishing each turn can be so beneficial. I like to think of this as the equivalent to Attrition in a sacrifice deck. I will concede that four mana for the creature can be on the steep side, but the cost per activation of its ability is right where it should be.
Finally, Hammer Mage provides some great mass-artifact removal, and it’s only played in 151 decks. Melting down all the mana rocks on the board for scrap can be such a fulfilling ability. Afterward, maintaining that threat on the battefield, preventing additional artifacts from hitting the board, will set your opponents back a few turns. This extra time just provides you more turns to reanimate something sweet, or maybe extra triggers on Aether Rift if you’re lucky.
One with Nothing
Now, onto the deck itself! In addition to a hefty smattering of Spellshapers, there are some excellent “discard-matters” cards like Archfiend of Ifnir, Nahiri's Wrath, and Big Game Hunter. This deck expects to play with a big graveyard and very little hand. Ergo, there are also some elements shared with reanimator decks in the form of Stitch Together and Anger. It certainly helps to have some heavy hitters, so three of the Praetors from New Phyrexia are also included.
You’ll notice that the deck is creature-heavy, and that’s intentional. This maximizes the value of our reanimating cards and allows us to easily get back anything that’s destroyed. Doing this does potentially put us at a disadvantage to cards like Torpor Orb, but I’ll let you make appropriate adjustments depending on your playgroup’s meta.
Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer
We Did It!
Thanks for giving this first iteration of Forgotten Harvest a read. I know you all must be brimming with questions, comments, and maybe even snide remarks! Please let them loose in the comments section below. I’ll be on there to debate with you why I opted for Necrogen Mists over Bottomless Pit, or how I dared to not include Demonic Tutor in a deck with access to black, or how the deck counts listed above have fluctuated since I submitted my article.
Oh, and please let me know which underplayed cards you’d like to see featured in this series! Remember that I’m looking for cards with a total deck count of 300 or less on EDHREC. Go see what hidden gems exist in sets of yore, and next time, we’ll bounce around some other ideas.