Nearly Identical - Commander Liara Portyr or Neyali?

(Skyhunter Strike Force | Art by Slawomir Maniak)

Charging into Battle

Hello! Welcome back to Nearly Identical, a series where I take a look at two commanders with similar designs and archetypes, find out what separates them, and help you find your next commander! Today, we're looking at two Boros commanders who give us impulse draw for attacking: Commander Liara Portyr and Neyali, Suns' Vanguard.

Boros lacks the card advantage that other color pairings are capable of. Akiri, Fearless Voyager was one of the first Boros commanders that provided card draw in the command zone, however, with the caveat that you must attack with an equipped creature. While it's card advantage, it's still linked to the redundant Boros Equipment deck. So, where can Boros go from here?

Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate introduced Commander Liara Portyr, a combat-focused commander that gave us impulse draw equal to the number of opponents we attacked. On top of that, spells cast from exile are reduced by one per the number of players attacked that turn. This seems like excellent value but at five mana, the commander is clunky. Then we got a new exile commander, Neyali, Suns' Vanguard. She's restricted to only tokens that have attacked, but not only do those tokens gain double strike, the cards we exile stick around. Despite being the face commander for the precon, Neyali only has 1,800 decks, and I'd like to shed some light on these two.

For Commander Liara Portyr, I'm going to build an exile-matters deck that utilizes her impulse draw to our advantage. And for Neyali, I'm going to build a resilient token deck that can take advantage of giving tokens double strike. But first, what kind of cards are we looking to include in both lists?

Elturel Survivors becomes a real threat the longer the game goes on. Aggressive decks look to put pressure on the board early and end games quickly or else be outpaced by other players who have their value engines online. Elturel Survivors not only gets bigger the longer the game goes, but it works great with our commanders. Commander Liara was designed with Myriad in mind, so just attacking with the Elturel Survivors will give us the full benefit of her effect. And while tokens that come in tapped and attacking don't trigger Neyali, a large creature with double strike and trample is certainly a game ender.

Pia Nalaar, Consul of Revival is the perfect payoff for these commanders. Each time we cast spells or play lands from exile, we make a Thopter that can attack and help trigger our commanders. Filling up the board with a bunch of fliers is never a bad thing.

Needing to divide our board so that we can attack all of our opponents isn't always the best. We usually want to focus on one or two players that we can hit and then move onto whoever remains, but these commanders benefit the most from attacking everyone. That's why having cards with Melee like Skyhunter Strike Force will give us the pump we need to still deal a ton of damage to the table. Now that we've seen the types of cards we're looking for, let's move onto what we're including in Commander Liara.

Three's Never a Crowd

While Commander Liara Portyr doesn't care about tokens, they're an easy way to build a board without investing too many resources. Adeline, Resplendent Cathar creates a 1/1 token that attacks each opponent. While those tokens may not survive, it's enough to give us three cards off the top that turn. Hammers of Moradin is another Myriad creature that taps down a troublesome blocker for each opponent. This is helpful when we're faced with the possibility of losing the original creature in combat.

Skyknight Vanguard may not make a token for each opponent, it can come down early and still allow us to attack two of our opponents for Commander Liara's ability. Now that we have ways to reliably trigger our commander, how do we benefit most from exiling cards?

Wild-Magic Sorcerer helps churn through our deck as the first spell we cast from exile will have Cascade. What's great about this is that we'll be reducing the cost of our spells and still Cascade off the original mana value. Kami of Celebration is an enabler and a payoff for this deck. As we cast spells from exile, we'll put counters onto our creatures which in turn will give us more impulse draw. And we're not limited to just three cards a turn.

Invasion of Kaldheim gives us a burst of card draw. Once all the cards in our hand are put into exile, we can then cast them for a reduced cost with Commander Liara's ability. And the backside can be useful too. If we flip it, we can discard lands to get an additional impulse draw. However, I'm not too concerned if we never flip it. Now that we know our gameplan, how do we win?

Having all the cards in exile cost three less means we're more likely to cast multiple spells a turn. Passionate Archaeologist will see all of those spells and burn down our opponents. Volcanic Torrent also benefits from us casting multiple spells a turn by sweeping the board of all our opponents' creatures. And if we cast it from exile, it'll only cost two mana and still Cascade into a spell with mana value four or less.

Legion Loyalty gives each of our creatures Myriad and makes combat simple. Swing everything at the player with the least blockers and let Legion Loyalty do the rest. Finally, it wouldn't be a combat deck without a few ways to get even more combat steps. Karlach, Fury of Avernus gives all attacking creatures first strike and an additional combat after that. Giving our commander first strike is already nice since she's a 5/3, but it also means we'll see six cards from the top and they'll be reduced by six mana! Nothing in our deck has more than two color pips, so we could cast anything for just one or two mana.

Let's check out the deck!

Liara's Command

View on Archidekt

Commander (1)
Creatures (28)
Sorceries (5)
Enchantments (13)
Instants (5)
Artifacts (11)
Battles (1)
Lands (36)

One-Two Punch

Now let's move onto Neyali, Suns' Vanguard and see how we're building our token deck.

Urabrask's Forge creates a Phyrexian Horror at the beginning of combat with X/1, where X is the number of oil counters on the forge. With Neyali, we don't even have to wait a few turns for this to deal a lot of damage. By the time it's a 2/1, it can deal four damage, and then deal six when it's a 3/1. And since it has trample, the damage will get through chump blockers.

Sacrificing creatures through Gut, True Soul Zealot doesn't seem like something we want to do, right? Why sac creatures we want to keep around? Well, Gut turns our sacrificed creature into a 4/1 with menace. Pair that with double strike, and it becomes increasingly difficult to block and kill. Turning a measly 1/1 token into a 4/1 that can deal eight damage is incredible. But my favorite token maker in the deck is Rite of the Raging Storm. Having each of your opponents make a 5/1 with trample is just free damage across the board, but when we make a 5/1 token, we can deal ten damage every turn. What makes token makers like Urabrask's Forge and Rite of the Raging Storm powerful is that we don't lose them to creature board wipes. Once it comes back to our turn, we'll rebuild quickly without having to spend any additional mana. What are some other ways we can take advantage of the double strike?

That's right, Equipment! Thought you weren't going to see any here, did ya? Well, when our tokens can hit twice, having Equipment that trigger with combat damage means double the value. Goldvein Pick can make two Treasure tokens a turn, which helps to cast the cards we exile. And that +1/+1 shouldn't be overlooked. Tack that onto a token and that's an additional two damage. Mask of Memory will draw you four cards each combat. Sure, you have to discard two, but if you're getting to see four cards, it shouldn't be hard to get rid of two of the weakest.

Only showing up in 20 Neyali decks total is Five-Alarm Fire. This three-mana enchantment isn't the strongest, and needing five creatures to connect only to then deal five damage to a creature or player isn't worth it. But, when each token can strike twice, we'll get six blaze counters from connecting with just three creatures. Creature tokens made from Urabrask's Forge, Rite of the Raging Storm, or Loyal Apprentice are made every turn and can reliably get in for damage. In this deck, activating Five-Alarm Fire multiple times is a real possibility. Let's see how we plan on closing out games.

One of the limitations of Neyali's exile ability is that you can only cast those spells when you've attacked with a token that turn. However, that doesn't stop us from casting spells in your combat. Mercadia's Downfall can be exiled with Neyali and then can be cast before damage resolves. Or, surprise our opponents by casting it from hand after blocks have been declared. Commander players love playing nonbasic lands, and Mercadia's Downfall is the perfect spell to take advantage of that. Five color decks won't know what hit them.

Taunt from the Rampart is an absurd card. Giving us a free combat phase with a board of double striking tokens is brutal. And since our opponents will have to attack with their creatures, they won't be able to leave up many blockers for our next combat. That's if they don't manage to kill each other first. My last card isn't a wincon, but one that allows us to stay in the game. There are twelve enchantments in this deck. Seven make tokens, and five either pump our tokens or give them haste. Cards like Inspiring Leader essentially mean each token deals an additional four damage every combat. These enchantments are crucial to this deck and as such are subject to removal. That's why having Hall of Heliod's Generosity is important as it can repeatedly recur these key enchantments and allow us to never get knocked down.

And here's the deck!

Neyali, Tokens Strike Twice

View on Archidekt

Commander (1)
Creatures (17)
Sorceries (9)
Instants (12)
Enchantments (12)
Artifacts (13)
Lands (36)

The Dust Settles

Commander Liara Portyr only has 800 decks on EDHREC. A small number for a fairly unique Boros commander. It's card draw and ramp in the command zone, but a five-mana commander that needs creatures that can attack every turn to get that value can be clunky. Neyali, Suns' Vanguard leads with 1,800 decks. More than twice as many as Commander Liara, but still a small number considering that this was the face commander of the Rebellion Rising precon. In comparison, Ixhel, Scion of Atraxa, the other face commander from Phyrexia: All Will Be One, has 4,300 decks.

Neyali is a token commander, but unfortunately was the commander meant to showcase the For Mirrodin! Equipment cards from that set. It led her to be seen as just another Boros Equipment deck when really she's an open-ended token deck. Goblin tokens? Thopter tokens? You could build a typal deck around her and she'd be great in the command zone. And Commander Liara also has a few different build paths. You could go the artifact route and reduce the artifacts' mana value to zero with her ability or an extra combat theme to get multiple attack triggers. It makes me wonder if players really see the value in the combat step.

What do you think of these commanders? Do you prefer to make the most out of exiling spells, or do you prefer to hit hard with tokens? Let me know down below and I'll see you next time!

Read More:

Nearly Identical - Korvold or Korvold?

Nearly Identical - Yuriko or Satoru?

The Other Ability - Pia Nalaar, Consul of Madness

Josh is a creative writer that started playing Magic when Throne of Eldraine was released. He loves entering combat and pressuring life totals, and to him, commander damage is always relevant. Outside of brewing many commander decks, he can be found prepping his D&D campaigns with a cat purring in his lap.

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