Monomania - Coach of the Year

(Planewide Celebration | Art by Wisnu Tan)

What Team?

Greetings, everyone, and welcome back to Monomania. In this article series we build mono-colored decks as a way to explore ramp and draw packages that are synergistic with our particular deck’s strategy, challenging staples and misconceptions about the color pie. Today I’m tackling a popular theme, looking at how to build a championship team using +1/+1 counters. Let’s get into it.

Rishkar is a surprisingly potent commander when given the right tools. While he may seem innocuous, his subtle ramp effect can help power out powerful cards a turn or two earlier than opponents expect it. Whether this means an early Zendikar Resurgent or drawing five cards off of an errant Shamanic Revelation, it will almost always be an important play.

The real power of this commander is that first ability: putting a counter on up to two creatures so that they can immediately tap for mana. While technically any counter on a creature we control will allow it to tap for green mana, I have chosen to focus on a simple +1/+1 theme to abuse his ability.

The idea is simple: make our creatures bigger, enable them to tap for mana, and scale them to the game with Proliferate effects to ensure they remain relevant throughout the game. Rishkar isn’t necessarily 'better' than other multicolored +1/+1 options, but his point on the mana curve and his ability to facilitate high quantities of mana makes him a great commander option. With a little bit of work, he could even take his team to state.


Practice for Success

+1/+1 counters imply important choices in every category, and ramp is no different. There are several effects that can help us ramp efficiently and effectively to keep up with the game state, and maybe even get ahead of our opposition.

These three creatures are par for the course in +1/+1 counter decks. Gyre Sage is particularly potent in mono-green. If we can even accrue two or three counters on this creature, it becomes a great source of green mana; if left unchecked, the mana it produces can support powerful pivot-turn plays that launch us from last place to first. Incubation Druid has a lower ceiling but a higher floor. With even one counter, this creature taps for three mana of any color. That rate is incredible with the right shell. In a Rishkar deck in particular, second-turn Incubation Druid into turn three Rishkar can accelerate us into a the mid-game with an advantage.

Finally, Fertilid is a staple card here. This card works well with counters and also fetches lands from our deck, a more stable source of ramp. If we can add more counters and a steady stream of mana, we’ll be able to use Fertilid to gain a significant land advantage.

In addition to these creatures, we have two planeswalkers that will also help us ramp efficiently while also contributin to our counter theme. Jiang Yanggu, Wildcrafter is a severely underrated card for Commander. I don’t like planeswalkers in this format, but the War of the Spark 'walkers without ultimate abilities or emblems have proven to be decent role-players. There’s nothing threatening about Jiang, and that's his greatest strength. Because he isn't menacing, our opponents might point their aggression in other directions. His ability actually is threatening, just not in an obvious way. He provides redundancy for our commander’s ability and he also puts more counters on our creatures when we need them.

Meanwhile, Nissa needs no introduction. She doubles mana. She puts counters on lands. She’s an all-star in this deck.

Finally, take note of the card Harvest Season. This one isn’t applicable in many decks, but when it is applicable, it's often the best ramp effect in the deck, and with Rishkar, Harvest Season is right at home. In this deck we want to play creatures and tap them for mana. With a few tapped creatures, Harvest Season suddenly becomes an above-the-curve play. Don’t take this card for granted; it only sees play in 36% of Rishkar decks listed on EDHREC, but that number should be much closer to 100%.


Playing to the Competition

As above, so below. The +1/+1 theme provides a few good options for us to accumulate card advantage. While situational, this strategy can pay off marvelously when considering how and when to draw cards.

These two cards have the same text, but are very different. The Judge is a good card here because of its body, but Inspiring Call is an instant that we can hold until there’s some threat of removal. In an ideal world, these two cards are discounted versions of Shamanic Revelation. If all goes according to plan, they’ll be exactly that. In its worst case, you can play Rishkar and Inspiring Call in the same turn for an instant-speed Divination.

I don’t think these will be popular choices among most players, but I truly believe that cantrip creatures are phenomenal in a Rishkar deck. When building Rishkar, yes, we want +1/+1 counter support, but we also want bodies on the field to absorb buffs and tap for mana. These cantrip creatures are perfect for just that.

One of the traps inherent in commanders that include a form of ramp in their text is that they can run out of gas fairly quickly, leaving us with nothing to ramp towards. By including a suite of creatures that cycle through our deck, we can hopefully keep our momentum rolling, finding threats and dropping them onto the field.

Finally, here are two miscellaneous card advantage effects that I believe earn their place here. Skullmulcher might ask us to sacrifice a few of our utility creatures, but it provides a big body on the board and can help to restock our hand. I’ve raved before about Return of the Wildspeaker but it deserves another mention. I’ve had the chance to cast a few copies of this card in the last couple of months and it hasn’t disappointed—it's exactly what we need it to be at any given moment. When we have a big creature pumped up with counters, it can net us great instant-speed card advantage, and when we have a lot of bodies on the battlefield, it's a great buff to make the team lethal.


The Deck

With all that set and settled, let’s take a look at the deck as a whole. I don’t think I’ve put together a perfect or even tuned Rishkar deck, but I do think it will do the job at a Commander night. My curve is fairly high, and I think it could bear to be lowered by a decent amount, but I like the shape of the deck as it is. As always, season to taste.

Coach of the Year

Commander (1)
Creatures (33)
Planeswalkers (6)
Instants (9)
Sorceries (6)
Artifacts (5)
Enchantments (3)
Lands (37)

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Among the other notable inclusions here, we have a few ways to protect our creatures. Heroic Intervention is almost always good, but Cauldron of Souls is the real star here. Because our deck has ways to put +1/+1 counters on our creatures, we can essentially undo the Persist effect and use the cauldron to protect the same creatures again and again. We also have a few Proliferate effects to pump up our team and also support our very minor planeswalker subtheme.

Speaking of 'walkers, I’ve included a few such as Vivien of the Arkbow, Garruk Wildspeaker, and Vivien Reid. I like the angle of planewalkers in this deck. We can hopefully protect them behind a wall of creatures and squeeze out incremental value.

Finally, Vitalize is a very important card in our deck. Because we turn our creatures into mana dorks, we can easily spend this one green at instant speed to untap and produce much more. Vitalize is a monster in our strategy.

Anyway, how did I do? I know that +1/+1 counters is a beloved theme in the EDH community and I have very little experience playing with it. In fact, I have much more experience losing to it. Is Rishkar a premium choice for this archetype, or do we need another color, such as blue, to really juice the counters theme? What did I miss? What other facilitators are necessary to get this commander off the ground? Let me know in the comments below! Remember to EDHREC responsibly: always dig a little beyond the statistics. I’ll see you all on down the road.

Steven Vincent is an ESL teacher located in Oaxaca, México who uses Magic as a teaching tool. He hasn't introduced his students to Commander yet, but he is inching them toward the format so that he has a play group and can more frequently sate his thirst for EDH.