Nearly Identical - Kykar or Elsha?

(Whirlwind of Thought | Art by Bram Sels)

A Storm is Brewing

Hello! Welcome to Nearly Identical, a series where I take a close look at two commanders with similar designs and archetypes, find out what sets them apart, and help you find your next commander. Today, I'll be looking at the format's top spellslinging Jeskai commanders: Kykar, Wind's Fury and Elsha of the Infinite.

Jeskai is known for slinging spells and causing trouble at the table, taking particular delight in cards that read "cast a noncreature spell: do a thing", and we see that here with our commanders. These two are powerhouses in the command zone, pumping out value each time we cast spells. If you check out the themes under both of them, you'll see a long list of different ways that players have built these two. They don't care just about instants and sorceries. They can trigger off of artifacts, enchantments, and even planeswalkers, so whatever theme you're looking to build, Kykar and Elsha can be powerful options in the command zone.

Based on data provided by MtGDS, we see that these two have a similarity coefficient of 89%, so despite both commanders having a myriad of themes, that means that there's still an 89% chance that a card found in a Kykar deck can also be found in an Elsha deck.

Because of the scope of what our commanders can do, we'll have to narrow our deckbuilding efforts down to one theme in particular. Thus, I'll be finding ways to build them as spellslinger decks. It wouldn't be a helpful comparison if I built Kykar as spellslinger and Elsha as artifacts, or Kykar as Polymorph and Elsha as Cheerios, even though those are all fun themes that players have come up with for these commanders.

With a focus on spellslinger, we'll need some support from cards like Whirlwind of Thought to draw us into more of our spells. Jeskai spellslinger also relies on cantrips, like Ponder, that can trigger our commanders for an efficient cost. Finally, we'll use Jeskai Ascendancy to dominate the board and close out games.

While both Kykar and Elsha have similar triggers, they have completely different payoffs for casting our spells. Kykar will give us Spirit tokens that can later be sacrificed for mana to help cast even more spells, and Elsha will get stronger off her Prowess ability and knock out opponents in one strike, so I've decided to lean into these different synergies: I'll be giving our Spirits anthem effects that'll turn our 1/1s into deadly monsters, and for Elsha, I'll be including effects that'll double her power and let us win in one fell swoop.

 Attack of the Spirits

Let's take a look at what we'll be including in our Kykar, Wind's Fury list. Harmonic Prodigy is secretly the best card in this deck. Not only will she trigger with Kykar to get an additional Spirit token, but she also works with other cards, like Storm-Kiln Artist, Deep Gnome Terramancer, etc. If we get Harmonic out early, she'll generate us a ton of value and help us outpace our opponents.

While Welcoming Vampire only triggers once each turn, she does trigger when we cast instants (because Kykar makes us Spirits when we do) on other people's turns, making each removal spell a cantrip. Not only that, Invoke Calamity allows us to cast up to two spells from hand or graveyard for free, meaning we'll get three triggers from this alone. The four red pips aren't ideal in a three-color deck, but our Spirits can be sacrificed for one red apiece, so the cost shouldn't be too prohibitive. What other things can we do with our Spirits besides sacrificing them for mana?

Well, what if we could tap them for mana instead? Sorcerer Class turns our Spirits into mana dorks. They can only be used to cast instants or sorceries, but it'll still help us cast our bigger spells. Plus, if we cast enough spells, Sorcerer Class could potentially be lethal at Level 3.

If we have Junk Winder in play, we can take advantage of our tokens by tapping down our opponents' boards. It can tap down the scariest creature or remove any blockers for a lethal swing. Another great card is Mystic Reflection, which can provide additional value by becoming a copy of the best creature on board. However, keep in mind that unless you're making multiple Spirits at the same time, it'll only affect the next single instance of a token being created.

Now that we know what we're doing with our Spirits, how do we close out the game?

There are surprisingly a lot of fun options for this spellslinger deck to swing for lethal. All our Spirits can get a huge buff from spells like Surge to Victory which can either be lethal if we exile a Dig Through Time or provide so much value that it won't matter if we exile a low-CMC spell, especially if it's a Lightning Bolt.

Drogskol Reinforcements turns all our Spirits into 4/4s if we swing at all three of our opponents, and it can even protect them from damage spells, like Blasphemous Act. We even got a new finisher from Dominaria United: Balmor, Battlemage Captain makes each spell we cast a pump spell, so if we can chain together enough spells we could have a board of large, flying, trampling Spirits to ensure we swing for lethal.

Kykar, Token's Fury

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Commander (1)
Creatures (15)
Sorceries (9)
Instants (16)
Artifacts (13)
Enchantments (8)
Lands (38)

Surprise Attack

Moving onto Elsha of the Infinite, we want cards that can manipulate the top of our library so that we can cast them with Elsha's ability. With its printing in Commander Legends, Scroll Rack has managed to stay under $20, and it's perfect for making sure we know what's on top. Our list is full of effects that can let us affect what's on top, with simple scrying from Jace's Sanctum or even Surveil from Dragon's Rage Channeler.

I did want to highlight Windrider Wizard, which lets us loot whenever we cast an instant, sorcery, or a Wizard spell, so, if we don't like what's on top, we can cast one of those spells to keep going. Additionally, Vega, the Watcher gives us card draw if we do successfully cast from our library.

We want Elsha to be BIG, and casting spells gets us there, but we can't cast enough spells each turn to make it lethal for each opponent. We'll want cards like Two-Handed Axe that can double Elsha's power, either as a combat trick or as an Equipment. The new Twinferno also gives us another way to give Elsha double strike, and if we don't need the double strike, it can copy another useful spell when we need it.

I'm adding Spectacular Showdown to the list because it does give Elsha a double strike counter that sticks around. For two mana, we give Elsha double strike, but for seven mana, we give everything double strike and force our opponents to swing elsewhere! One important thing to note is that if we can't win the turn after casting Spectacular Showdown, we're in for a world of hurt.

Now that we've gone over how we get Elsha to be big, how do we make sure she gets through?

I'm a big fan of Key to the City. It lets us swing with Elsha and not have to worry if there are any good attacks. That being said, dealing commander damage to everyone is a cumbersome task, especially if we need to trigger Prowess multiple times just to get Elsha to be that big, so we'll need cards like Kediss, Emberclaw Familiar. While the damage dealt with Kediss won't count towards commander damage, it's still a powerful effect that'll help us close out games. Similarly, if Chandra's Ignition doesn't win us the game on the spot, it'll certainly be a huge swing in our favor.

Elsha One-Hit K.O.

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Coming Out On Top

Kykar, Wind's Fury and Elsha of the Infinite are the top Jeskai commanders in the format, with 5,800 and 3,600 decks, respectively. It was only recently that we got Hinata, Dawn-Crowned, which has proven to be in a league of its own with 4,800 decks, swiftly taking the #2 spot. However, Kykar has managed to hold its place as the top Jeskai commander, while Elsha has a few tricks up her sleeve that still make her a formidable commander. In terms of power level, Elsha can be built for the cEDH environment if you want to combo off with Sensei's Divining Top, but in comparison, Kykar gives us the ability to build a board state with fliers or the ability to make a ton of mana for one big spell.

So which is the better commander? If you're looking to cast big spells or maintain a large board state, then Kykar will give you the advantage you need to win the game. However, if you're looking to win quick and make fast plays, then Elsha is the one for you.

Which style of spellslinger do you enjoy more? Do you prefer to go wide with Kykar or go tall with Elsha? Let me know in the comments below!

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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