Nearly Identical - Minsc and Boo or Halana and Alena?

(Roaring Earth | Art by Tuan Duong Chu)

Who's the Better Partner Pair?

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 Gruul +1/+1 counters commanders that want to make one enormous creature: Minsc & Boo, Timeless Heroes and Halana and Alena, Partners.

Gruul Power Matters feels redundant because all Gruul wants to do is make big creatures and hit face, but our commanders hone in on making one creature really big. Minsc & Boo will create an inconspicuous 1/1 Hamster with trample and haste, but with Minsc's +1 ability, that Boo token will grow, and fast. The -2 ability is the payoff for making such a large creature as we can sacrifice it and deal damage to any creature equal to sacrificed creature's power, and if that creature happens to be a Hamster, we draw cards equal to its power as well. Halana and Alena won't draw us cards, but they are a haste-enabler. We can cast Etali, Primal Storm, put two +1/+1 counters on it, and swing, getting to use her powerful effect right away. Both commanders present a way to grow one large monster, so what types of cards are we looking to include in a Gruul Counters deck?

Managorger Hydra and Taurean Mauler are already terrifying creatures to be faced against as each spell your opponents cast (and you cast, for the Hydra) will grow these into massive threats. Forgotten Ancient does the same thing, but can distribute those counters onto other creatures however you like. Normally, you'd probably use this to grow an army of creatures by spreading out all the counters, but here we'd want to move them all onto one creature. With Minsc & Boo, we can put all the counters onto Boo and then sac it to then draw a ton of cards, and with Halana and Alena, we can just grow them and then use them to put counters onto a new creature.

Rhythm of the Wild gives us the option to either give a creature haste or counters, but since both of our commanders make hasty creatures, we'll always want to choose counters. Since we're pretty committed to putting counters onto creatures, it'll be devastating to our board when faced with a wrath, so The Ozolith is the perfect piece of protection as it'll save all the counters we've made and store them until we're ready to use them again.

Based on data provided by MtGDS, Minsc & Boo and Halana & Alena have a similarity coefficient of 85%, meaning that there's an 85% chance a card found in a Minsc & Boo deck is also found in Halana and Alena deck. Even though the creatures they want to grow are different, how they plan on making them big seems to be consistent between both commanders. For Minsc & Boo, I want to go full Voltron and suit up Boo with ridiculous weapons that a Hamster probably shouldn't have. As for Halana and Alena, I want to lean in on +1/+1 counters and see how we can best take advantage of their haste effect.

Get 'em, Boo!

First up, let's take a look at what we're equipping to Boo.

Blackblade Reforged is a classic Voltron Equipment that makes the equipped creature stronger the longer the game goes. Hero's Blade doesn't look like much, but when you consider that we'll want to sacrifice Boo throughout the game to refill our hand, having Equipment that'll attach to him when we create a Boo token on our upkeep is quite powerful. We'll never have to pay the four to equip him.

With Luxior, Giada's Gift, we're effectively doubling Boo's power and toughness whenever we put counters on him. We can even equip our planeswalker, should we need it. While our focus is on Boo, he won't be the only creature in the deck.

As I've said before, Managorger Hydra is absolutely terrifying if left alone. Since it has trample, we could put counters on it with Minsc & Boo should we need the extra power, but this will often be our secondary beater behind Boo or a way to deal damage to a larger creature. We have additional trample synergy with Quartzwood Crasher. Crasher will create Dinosaur Beast tokens whenever we deal damage with a trample creature, allowing us to snowball and create up to three Dinosaurs a turn.

Normally, we wouldn't have any need to go wide in this deck, but One with the Kami works so well here. If we enchant this onto a non-Boo creature, then we'll be making a ton of 1/1 Spirits as we sacrifice Boo over and over.

Now that we've covered the meat of the deck, what are our finishers?

Chandra's Ignition will turn your biggest creature into a boardwipe and/or a wincon. Especially when Boo is equipped with Blackblade Reforged, Chandra's Ignition will be the go-to card to win out of nowhere. Belt of Giant Strength will turn Boo from a 1/1 into a 10/10, and with all the counters already on him, this will easily make Boo lethal.

Silent Arbiter isn't exactly a wincon, but when our opponents can only block with one creature to fend off our massive Hamster token with trample, it ensures that we'll be able to easily get in damage.

Now let's look at the list!

Minsc and Boo, Partners in Crime

View on Archidekt

Commander (1)
Creatures (17)
Artifacts (16)
Sorceries (8)
Enchantments (6)
Instants (15)
Lands (37)

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

Raise Your Weapons!

Let's see how we plan on making Halana and Alena big!

Roaring Earth helps grow Halana and Alena, Partners whenever we play a land. It may not be a powerhouse enchantment, but it'll often go unchecked and be a reliable way to put counters on our commander. Tavern Brawler will buff our commander and provide us with an additional card each turn. If we exile one of our big creatures, it'll not only buff Halana and Alena, but we can then cast that creature, give it haste, and put a number of counters equal to our commander's power. Halana and Alena also have first strike, so it doesn't even matter that this doesn't buff our toughness.

Tribute to the World Tree is possibly one of the best enchantments in our deck. For one, we're running plenty of creatures with three power or more, but the creatures that have less than three power actually want the counters: Incubation Druid, Kami of Whispered Hopes, Wild Beastmaster, the list goes on. The three green pips might make it difficult for this to come down on turn three before we play Halana and Alena, but the value we get from it is worth it.

Now let's move on to what creatures we want to make big with our commander.

Attack triggers are often considered slow because they require a turn to be able to use, but with our commander, giving a creature like Etali, Primal Storm haste is a huge advantage in our deck. Not only that, but we can make Etali big enough that she'll be hard to block and kill. Sigardian Zealot also has a combat trigger that will power up creatures with different powers, and we can stack the triggers so that Halana and Alena will put counters onto Sigardian Zealot which will then buff up all our other creatures.

Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin will snowball quickly in our deck as we can give it haste with our commander and then make four Goblins on attack if Halana and Alena haven't been buffed yet. The ability to suddenly make a bunch of Goblins will help us overwhelm the board, but once we do have a dominating board state, how do we win?

Champion of Lambholt can often win games on her own. Given all the ways we can make our creatures huge, we'll have no trouble making Champion of Lambholt big enough to make all our creatures essentially unblockable.

All Modified cards from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty deserve to be given another look for this deck. Akki Battle Squad gives us an additional combat step as long as we attack with a Modified creature, which includes counters. The same goes for Akki Ember-Keeper, which will make 1/1 Spirits if we lose any of our Modified creatures. Finally, having Cultivator of Blades come down with two counters on it with Fabricate and haste can be devastating to our opponents, especially when we put counters on it equal to our commander's power. If we have a few other creatures on board, we'll easily be able to swing for lethal.

And here's the deck!

Halana and Alena, Lethal Strike

View on Archidekt

Commander (1)
Creatures (28)
Enchantments (11)
Sorceries (10)
Instants (12)
Artifacts (3)
Lands (35)

Partner Up

Minsc & Boo, Timeless Heroes came out in Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate and has garnered 2,500 decks. Halana and Alena, Partners, on the other hand, have only gained 1,800 decks since Innistrad: Crimson Vow. Both are relatively popular, but it's hard to deny that Minsc & Boo have managed to win players' hearts. Being able to draw cards equal to Boo's power will help refill your hand over and over again.

While Minsc & Boo are more potent commanders, being able to give creatures haste with Halana and Alena can be a huge advantage, especially when we're making them stronger. Plus, they're the type of commander that's great for budget builds or for newer players, which I think is noteworthy. Sometimes the simple commanders can be the most effective.

Which commander did you like more? Do you prefer to use Equipment to power up your creatures or would you rather use counters to dominate the game? 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.

EDHREC Code of Conduct

Your opinions are welcome. We love hearing what you think about Magic! We ask that you are always respectful when commenting. Please keep in mind how your comments could be interpreted by others. Personal attacks on our writers or other commenters will not be tolerated. Your comments may be removed if your language could be interpreted as aggressive or disrespectful. You may also be banned from writing further comments.