Intellectual Offering — Brion Stoutarm

With each new set we must begin again the process of evaluating the new cards. This can either take some time if the card is very complex or be quick if it's extremely straightforward; Paradox Engine was the later. This card was easy to evaluate, or so I thought. It’s insanely powerful. It does bonkers things. After playing with it though, I realized I'd missed something very important: how boring it would be. Like many others, I started brewing all the decks I could put this in the moment the card was spoiled. My initial thought was to put the Engine into one of my existing decks: Nin, the Pain Artist a deck that Jason Alt discussed in this article. The deck was a “Tims” deck that relied heavily on creatures with activated abilities that required you to tap them and lots of untap effects to reuse them. With the addition of Paradox Engine I decided to take the opportunity and update the deck to include green for cards like Seedborn Muse and Murkfiend Liege, better mana ramp, and more (read any) ways to deal with artifacts and enchantments in cards like Nullmage Shepherd.

But if I can somehow untap my Mercurial Chemester...

The deck was interesting, in a Rube Goldberg sorta way. The problem was that Paradox Engine, the reason for building the deck, didn't do anything. Well, OK that’s not entirely accurate, it did exactly one of two things: either it would hit play and immediately win me the game through some convoluted combo, or it sat in my hand because I didn’t have a way to combo with it and knew I’d get hated into the next century if I played it without any interaction. So it was boring; an instant-win card that did nothing to help the deck otherwise. I figured I had a few options at this point:

  • I could swap the deck back to Nin and see if that made the card more interactive (seemed unlikely)
  • I could scrap it altogether and call it a loss
  • I could build a new deck in which I tried to maximize the use of Engine without making it unfun.

I opted for number 3. So what deck would like to utilize an untap effect without breaking it? After some noodling the answer still escaped me. I thought maybe go with Captain Sisay but felt like Engine would end up unfun the second you fetched a mana-producing legendary creature. Then, while playing with my local group, the answer hit me square in the face...with a 20/20 Malignus: Brion Stoutarm. He’s perfect for the job! He wants to throw as many things as possible, and often include cards that benefit from the accompanying array of Rings of Brighthearth, Thousand-Year Elixir, and Illusionist's Bracers such as Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Feldon of the Third Path.

Obviously my first recommendation for this deck is going to be Paradox Engine. Having now had the chance to play about a dozen or so games with the deck (yes, I’ve been busy) I can say that it’s performed as I’d envisioned. Since Brion wants to untap, and I’ve included a fair number of mana rocks, plus a couple of my favorites out of the Nin deck, it works like a mass Thousand-Year Elixir. The most "broken" I’ve found it to be was when it allowed me to play out my hand of five cards. In EDH, honestly, that’s not that broken. It’s balanced by the fact that red and white are arguably the least powerful pairing, and since the deck lacks powerful card draw engines (pun intended) common to other colors I can’t just keep refilling my hand with gas, thus stopping the nonsense at a reasonable point. Also, unlike other decks that use Engine as a combo piece, it’s perfectly acceptable to play Engine with little to nothing going on, as you’re almost equally happy to have opponents use their removal on it as opposed to your Illusionist's Bracers. It provides the perfect boost of card advantage the red/white deck needs, while still being interactive and fun for both me and my opponents.

The second card I draw your attention to dear reader is Emeria Shepherd. Yes, I know that 40% of people are playing it already, but seriously I think that’s 30% less than should be. I think part of the reason is that there haven’t been all that many deck lists added to the database since the card was released. Brion is an older commander in terms of the popularity of the format, so most of the lists were front-loaded into the database. This is, in a way, a form of precon effect, where the precons in this case are the established deck lists that people previously published before a new card is released. Thus, when people went to look for help building the deck, the newer cards are drowned out. Reanimation in white isn’t unheard of, but this is particularly powerful, especially if you include multiple fetch lands which allow you to Resurrection multiple creatures per turn. Gotta keep up with those Meren of Clan Nel Toth decks somehow!

My final recommendation for Brion players is one that (sorta) pairs with Emeria Shepherd: Kor Cartographer. This card may be 70% of a Solemn Simulacrum, but 70% of my favorite card is still a great card. Ramp that actually puts lands into play in red/white is very rare, most of the time you’re reliant on either mana rocks or simply having the lands already in your hand, which white has plenty of help with, but this doesn’t generally get you ahead in a game of EDH. Kor Cartographer offers you a body that can be reanimated (or recurred in some way) along with the ramp, and while it may not be the biggest body, you can technically toss it at your opponents. Note there’s a cute little trick, if you have Brion, Shepherd, and cast Cartographer, you can toss it in response to the enter the battlefield trigger, chip an opponent for two, then recur the Cartographer for another plains once the ETB trigger resolves and has triggered the Shepherd. Now that’s what I call good value.

As for cuts, last week I was a little light on suggestions, this week not so. The first target in my sights is Hamletback Goliath. This is sitting pretty at 60% inclusion in decks. I get why, it can get huge, but getting it there in the first place isn’t the easiest thing to achieve. First off, intelligent opponents will always attempt to kill this in response to you casting your next big creature. If that happens then you’re at best getting seven mana, plus an activation of Brion, for six damage. That’s not a good return by any stretch of the imagination. Also, because Goliath doesn’t have a useful ability like other six and seven mana investments, you're going to be left in the dust as answers will always be more efficient that the Goliath. Sure not every creature can be Sun Titan, but then again you can do better than Hill Giant XXL.

Act of Treason has a 51% inclusion rate. I also get why people are including the card, steal an opponent's creature and toss it at them after you get an attack in is very powerful, I've even included a couple of these effects in my version of the deck, but of the 23 cards that untap a target creature and let you gain control of it I don’t think that Act of Treason is one of the better ones to include. I am fairly certain that even if you're trying to fill your deck with cards like this and end up using more than half those available, you shouldn't be reaching for this one. Act of Aggression only has a 39% inclusion rate yet I see it as superior for being an instant that can cost the same amount (for a paltry four life). Blind With Anger is one mana more than Act of Treason and is also an instant that can be fetched with Sunforger and it's only at 18% inclusion. Maybe someone has a reason for Act of Treason, but I don't see it.

Finally one that I think will be slightly controversial: Stalking Vengeance. My biggest issue with this card is that is says “another creature”, so you’ll already have to have things in play to make this worthwhile, and again you open yourself up to a blowout via removal targeting your big monster in response to this. You’ll then have to sac in response, thus losing out on the extra damage. I think, in this case players are starting to agree with me as well. 39% inclusion isn’t great to start with, I’m just advocating it be even lower.

As for my decklist, it’s got a couple of specialties to take advantage of Paradox Engine, but other than that I’ve mostly stayed true to tune with only a couple of my own pieces of flair. Get big creature, toss big creature, find next target, that's the plan.

As with most weeks there's some stuff I didn't mention above that I wouldn't necessarily recommend yet, but that I'm testing out to see. My biggest leap is going to be Blessed Alliance. I feel like, as a trick that can be fetched with Sunforger, it's a good tool to have in the box. Only time will tell though.

That’s all for this week, as always please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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