Making the Cut - Oops, All Creatures!

(Sapling of Colfenor | Art by John Avon)

Sweet, New Creatures!

...But now what do we cut?

Hello, and welcome to Making the Cut, where we make the backbreaking decisions to get you to your best 99. This week, in the wake of War of the Spark, let's look at an ancient "Oops, All Creatures!" deck in its literal and figurative configurations, and figure out what we need to cut to fit in all of these new Golgari goodies.

Video Killed the Uktabi Orangutan

Since building it way back in 2010 as my second Commander deck ever, I've pretty much always referred to my Sapling of Colfenor deck as my creature deck. In the beginning, that was literal. Other than lands, the deck was 100% creatures. Which makes a lot of sense, as I built it with two things in mind:

  • Draw a lot of cards
  • Have a Commander that is hard to kill

Take those two things together, and building an all creature deck with Sapling of Colfenor at the helm is the logical next step! At least, it was for me. I mean, who doesn't want a conditional, indestructible, five-mana Phyrexian Arena that can also block in a pinch?

Just me, then?

Regardless of how good an idea it was to build the deck, one way or another it has survived for almost 10 years of play. As you can imagine, it's gone through some changes along the way, but the initial decklist (or at least a very early one) has survived the years! Let's take a look at deck built by someone who had no idea what EDH really was, just for kicks:

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Oh boy, look at that mana curve! It is all over the place. Outside of the seed the deck was built on, synergy doesn't appear to be a concept I was aware of. Still, not only was I younger and less experienced at that point, so was EDH itself. In 2010 the format was the wild west, where there was no EDHREC, Gatherer was the only reasonable search engine for cards, and players - at least in my playgroup - had a very loose understanding of the rules themselves.

With that in mind, I ask you to judge the list a little less harshly, but also to really take a look through and see what we were working with at the time. Commander as a product wasn't available, many of the staples we know and love/loathe today hadn't even been conceived of yet, and the format itself was just a very different place. My offhand mention of Uktabi Orangutan at the top of this section wasn't a mistake. The Ape was all we had at the time (well, and an Elf with a similar ability), and we were thankful for it!

How Seriously Do You Take Your Theme?

To make a long story short, as I played the deck more, and the format evolved, and my playgroup crept up the power scale, changes were made. First it was a Cream of the Crop to really make sure I was drawing cards as often as I could with my Commander. Then, with the addition of that one noncreature card, I figured 'why not go ahead and include a recursion engine? And maybe a search effect as well?' Before long, about a tenth of the "All Creatures" deck was made of actual spells.

Fast forward a couple years, and the deck actually began to skew too high for my group's power level. It would bide its time, fly under the radar, then swoop in for a timely Aristocrats win with Blood Artist and Grey Merchant of Asphodel effects. I therefore decided that I might want to power it back down and go back to pure creatures, though I kept the bastardized version in the side of the deck box, marked for which creatures to pull out to put it back together in case I was playing in a group with a higher power level.

Let's take a look at the hybrid version of the deck, then, and what we're considering adding to it from War of the Spark.

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The "Maybe" Pile

Adding to this deck specifically has always been a bit of a bear, because it really does want to be mostly creatures. That said, while none of these cards are an auto-include, they are all worth at least a short look. Let's take a look at each of them individually and then choose which is the best to include in the deck.

  • Command the Dreadhorde: While it doesn't stack up to Living Death in most situations, in this deck specifically, a lot of our creatures are actually fairly cheap, and it being a one-sided effect can be absolutely huge. Add the fact that we can grab our opponent's utility creatures (or bombs) as well, and this thing could really pack a punch that would be worth six mana and some life.
  • Dreadhorde Invasion: Okay, it's bad Bitterblossom. It's also a tenth of the price, at least so far. The fact that it can also become a large creature over time isn't all bad, either. Although that part isn't exactly great if I do ever decide to start experimenting with Skullclamp in the deck again.
  • Finale of Eternity: While the deck isn't always drowning in mana, it can get to the level where twelve mana is more than doable. Add to that the extra targeted removal in addition to all of our Ravenous Chupacabra effects, and there is certainly some upside here even for lesser amounts of mana.

So what do you think? Which of these new toys would you include in the deck?

The "Definitely" Pile

Purpose Printed

Massacre Girl is the exact card this deck has been praying for for nine years now. Her enter-the-battlefield ability isn't hand-restricted like Deathbringer Regent, which is huge when you're constantly recurring creatures from the graveyard. She can't be utilized at instant speed like Kagemaro, First to Suffer or Bane of the Living, but that's really where the disadvantages end. The ability to recur her and wipe the board over and over again without having to pay excessive amounts of mana is huge, and it's hard to imagine too many situations where her -1/-1 ability won't end up stacking up high enough to wipe out a decent portion of the board. The fact that it kills the Blood Artists first is a bummer, but that's a small price to pay when it comes to repeatable board wipes.

So... what do we cut for her? As much as she is better than the other board wipes mentioned, we aren't actually playing that many of them, so cutting them seems like a lesser option. That leaves us with the option to cut dissimilar cards. So, outside of similar effects, what are some cards that leap out? Let's pull out some cards that have been drawing some snide remarks from our competitors or our own evaluation.

Before we look at the other cards, there's two things you need to know about Lifeline. First, its Gatherer wording is much different than the Freudian slip that ended up on the actual printed card:

Second, you will have to pry my Lifeline from my cold dead hands. You would be hard pressed to find a bigger proponent of the card than me. Though others protest its symmetrical nature makes it bad, I do feel that it leads me to victory. Still, I would be remiss to not at least put it on the list, as outside feedback is important, especially when it comes to cards where ego gets involved. Just know that if you're the deck planning to abuse it, Lifeline can and will let you board wipe over and over again, repeating ETB abilities and death triggers like nobody's business. It also has a second-to-none interaction with Massacre Girl herself, where she can wipe the rest of the board and remain as the last creature standing, which ensures we'll bring those creatures back. Lastly, keep in mind that our commander is indestructible, which will also ensure Lifeline's trigger.

As for the other creatures on the possible chopping block, Torgaar, Famine Incarnate does often do work when you're getting recursion after recursion, but the "target player" limitation feels less impactful when compared to the might of Kokusho, the Evening Star, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, or even Dire Fleet Ravager. The fact that he can sometimes act as a bad sorcery speed sacrifice effect is something, but often feels exactly like the drawback that it is.

Lastly, Woebringer Demon is just a worse version of Magus of the Abyss here, with the exception that it flies. Magus is particularly important because it doesn't sacrifice, it destroys. As such, we can choose to destroy Sapling, who is indestructible, and loophole our way out of a bad situation. Woebringer Demon has no such loophole, though. Having an extra pseudo-copy of the Magus's ability is nice, but not necessarily needed in a deck that already has Butcher of Malakir and a couple versions of Plaguecrafter.

So... what would you cut for everyone's favorite Mass Murderer?

Why Rely on the Topdeck?

Vivien's Arkbow isn't the shiniest engine to ever come to green, but it's also far from the worst. The reason I feel it's an auto-include in the deck is just the sheer amount of synergy it has. Discarding creatures to the graveyard to recur them later, grabbing creatures further down in the deck, and doing it all at instant speed actually makes me want to swap this in for Breeding Pod straight across, as I generally subscribe to the #PlayLessTutors mantra anyway, and the instant speed feels very strong.

That said, this is supposed to be the more powerful version of the deck, so let's take a look at a few other options for what to cut. As a general rule with my more powerful decks (or at least the ones I don't make bad on purpose), I try to start looking at cuts at the top end of the mana curve, especially when I'm adding something as cheap as Vivien's Arkbow. After all, the cheaper your stuff is, the more of it you'll be able to cast!

Now, we already know we're glancing at Breeding Pod out of the corner of our eye, since it's a similar effect, although it's probably still quite a bit more powerful. Of these expensive options, then, let's look at what else has a similar effect to Vivien's Arkbow but costs a bit more mana.

Of these options, Doom Whisperer really jumps out as the experiment that never really paid off as well as we might have hoped. Paying two life to Surveil over and over again sounds great in theory, and in similar fashion to the Arkbow it also helps us keep relevant cards on top of our library to draw with our Commander. While Vivien's Arkbow needs something else to look at the top of the deck or else rely on guesswork, Doom Whisperer can look by himself, and even sift through tons of cards to find exactly what we need without even spending any mana. The big thing that has me considering it for removal, though, is that if we have the life to pay to Surveil over and over again, we're often already winning, as most of our lifegain comes from the life drain effects we use to win the game.

Tooth and Nail leads to some interesting discussions. Most of the time when it's cast in a game of Commander, it basically just has the words "You Win" printed on it. That's purposefully not the case in this deck, and involves a whole other discussion about the social contract, and matching power levels, but suffice it to say, in this context, Tooth and Nail is an extremely powerful card that can help win the game, and also costs nine mana. As such, even if your most powerful option is to go fetch Craterhoof Behemoth and Hornet Queen, others that know you're playing the card may come after you for it. That's all well and fine, but it does mean it's at least worth consideration if the deck tries to lay low for portions of the game.

Lastly, before we get to voting, I'm sure some of you reading this are wondering why we're not just keeping the Arkbow as an additional tutor-like effect, rather than replacing one of the other tutors in the deck. For me personally, Commander is about unique crazy stories, and in pursuit of that lofty goal, decks that feel the same often get in the way. Part of the reason this deck feels powerful in this configuration is because of these tutor-esque effects, but it also means that when the deck does win, it can feel like deja vu. With that being the case, I'm not going so far as to start pulling even more tutor/digging effects out, but I am at least trying to limit the ones I already have to the current level.

So, with that out of the way... which card would you cut for Vivien's Arkbow?

For those of you interested in the newly powered down, "true" version of "Oops, All Creatures", here is the full decklist:

Oops, All Creatures!

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Commander (1)
"Sideboarded" Creatures (9)
Black Creatures (32)
Green Creatures (18)
Artifact Creatures (3)
Lands (37)

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This deck is a blast of nonsense to play, and is manages to stay competitive without feeling samey or overpowering to my more casual meta. I highly suggest if you have a deck like this, where it's 95% on-theme, you keep track of the non-on-theme cards and have easy swaps so you can make a version that goes all-in.

Other than that, what do you think of thematic decks like "Oops, All Creatures"? Is it okay to limit a theme for more power, or not? What do you think of keeping together your old decks, even if they've had a better Commander printed for them in the meantime? With the rate that Wizards of the Coast prints amazing new commanders across the color spectrum, it might be a legitimate question for you before long!

And of course, what do you have floating around in the side of your deck boxes? What cards are you having trouble finding room for? Let us know in the comments, and we'll help you get to your best 99!

Doug has been an avid Magic player since Fallen Empires, when his older brother traded him some epic blue Homarids for all of his Islands. As for Commander, he's been playing since 2010, when he started off by making a two-player oriented G/R Land Destruction deck. Nailed it. In his spare time when he's not playing Magic, writing about Magic or doing his day job, he runs a YouTube channel or two, keeps up a College Football Computer Poll, and is attempting to gif every scene of the Star Wars prequels.