Nearly Identical - Vadrik, Astral Archmage or Melek, Reforged Researcher?

(Livaan, Cultist of Tiamat | Art by Ioannis Fiore)

Spellslinger at a Discount Price

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, I'm taking a look at two spellslinging commanders that get big and offer massive cost reductions to our spells: Vadrik, Astral Archmage and Melek, Reforged Researcher.

Izzet Spellslingering is best known for playing cheap cantrips to accrue value faster than their opponents. Playing instants and sorceries with mana value greater than four comes few and far between. But what if our commanders could help out with that? What if our commanders encouraged us to play big spells and reduced their costs to two or even one mana?

Vadrik, Astral Archmage gets +1/+1 counters whenever day becomes night and vice versa, then instants and sorceries spells are reduced based on his power. And with Melek, the first spell we cast each turn is reduced by three mana and then his power and toughness is equal to twice the number of instants and sorceries in our graveyard.

The plan is simple, play big spells at a reduced cost and win with our big commanders. For Vadrik, I'm narrowing in on casting X spells to get the most out of Vadrik's mana reduction. And for Melek, I want to fill our graveyard with spells and win with our massive commander. But first, let's see what cards we want in both lists.

Balmor, Battlemage Captain is an enabler and a finisher for the deck. Each spell that we cast will pump our creatures and give them trample. The buff to Vadrik means we can pay more for X each time we cast another spell. And while Melek doesn't need help increasing his power, having trample allows him to get through when he becomes a 20/20 late game.

Drown in Dreams works in two parts. With Vadrik, it's a great way to draw equal to how much we can put into X. But for Melek, this is an excellent way to fill our yard at instant speed. Then there's Wyll's Reversal, a Deflecting Swat that can copy the spell we redirect if we roll high enough. And our chances of rolling high are even better with our commanders out. Now that we know what kind o0f spells we want to play, let's see what our gameplan is for Vadrik.

Not All Mages Are Weak

Vadrik has a way to give himself counters through the day/night system. However, this mechanic is pretty lackluster in Commander, so we can't rely on it to grow our commander. We'll need other ways to increase Vadrik's power. Hero's Blade is a great equipment that we can curve out with and cast on turn two and then Vadrik on turn three. By turn four, he'll have four power and be big enough to get our gameplan going.

Livaan, Cultist of Tiamat can increase Vadrik's power whenever we cast a noncreature spell. Paying X into a spell and then increasing Vadrik's power based on that mana value will set us up for the next X spell we cast. Tavern Brawler is one I expected to be more popular in Vadrik lists, but it's only showing up in less than 200 decks. It's an additional card you see in your upkeep and it'll increase Vadrik's power. How do we plan on taking advantage of casting big X-spells?

Zaffai, Thunder Conductor generates value according to the mana value of the spell we cast. Getting to cast spells with five or more mana value won't be hard with Vadrik out, so we'll be able to populate the board with 4/4 Elementals. And once Vadrik's power is high enough, we can start slinging 10 damage to our opponents for just one or two mana.

Metallurgic Summonings will make a Construct token equal to the mana value of the spell we cast. It'll be hard for our opponents to get through when we can make an 8/8 at instant speed. Lastly, we have Ovika, Enigma Goliath. While he is a massive seven-mana to cast, once he's out, we can fill the board with Goblins that'll overwhelm the table. Making tokens is great, but how do we plan to finish the game?

Crackle with Power has a hefty mana cost with triple X and two red. Thankfully we won't have to pay too much into it since Vadrik will help reduce that cost. It'll take some work, but once he's big enough, Crackle with Power will be our best win condition. Fists of Flame takes advantage of our large commander and gives him trample. And if cast any other draw spells this turn, it'll enable Vadrik's cost reduction and take out an opponent with commander damage.

Octavia, Living Thesis can turn any creature into an 8/8 whenever we cast an instant or sorcery spell. For one, turning Vadrik into an 8/8 is exactly what this deck wants to do, but also gives us the potential to turn any other creature into an 8/8 at instant speed. Turning one of the flying tokens we make from Talrand, Sky Summoner or Murmuring Mystic is a great way make each of our spells a deadly force.

Let's check out the deck!

Vadrik's X-perimental Spells

View on Archidekt

Commander (1)
Instants (22)
Sorceries (15)
Creatures (13)
Artifacts (10)
Enchantments (4)
Lands (35)

Weird Magic

Now let's get into what our early game plan is for Melek, Reforged Researcher.

We're running a suite of rummage spells like Demand Answers and Thrill of Possibility that'll help fill our graveyard with instants and sorceries. Once Melek's out, Big Score and Unexpected Windfall will pay themselves back by making treasures at the cost of one or two mana.

Mindsplice Apparatus will reduce the mana value of our spells for each oil counter on it. While Melek already reduces the spells by three, having a backup cost reduction when Melek gets removed ensures our gameplan can keep going. Descent into Avernus is great at speeding up the game. With Melek being five mana, having Descent out on turn three means having Melek out on turn four with one mana leftover to start casting spells. Now let's take a look at what spells we want to reduce with Melek.

Since Melek can reduce spells by three, we can run the suite of five mana counterspells that give us value back. Hurl into History will Discover X equal to the mana value of the spell we countered. This and Spell Swindle will give us a ton of value for two mana. Practical Research is loot effect that draws us four cards and keep three if we discard an instant or sorcery, which is exactly what we want to be doing to increase Melek's power.

Once we've filled our yard, we can finish off the game with an explosive Chandra's Ignition. If we have ten instants or sorceries in the graveyard, then Chandra's Ignition will deal 20 damage to everyone for only two mana! One other way to plan to win is with Temur Battle Rage. When it only takes six spells in the graveyard to make Melek a 12/12, having a way to give him double strike and trample is a great way to knock someone out of the game.

And here's the deck!

Melek Spell Searching

View on Archidekt

Explosive Spellslinging

Vadrik, Astral Archmage leads with 3,700 decks on EDHREC. While the day/night mechanic isn't that attractive to commander players, it's hard to deny the power in his cost reduction. Attaching the cost reduction to his power adds a bit more complexity to his deck build than Mizzix of the Izmagnus, which just wants to reduce spells and doesn't care about having a big commander. Melek, Reforged Researcher, on the other hand, only has 400 decks right now.

Having just come out in the previous Murders at Karlov Manor set, he hasn't had much time to attract fans. But I'd imagine it hasn't gained any traction with most of the focus being on Voja, Jaws of the Conclave and Judith, Carnage Connoisseur. Players might also be off put by Melek's five-man casting cost. He can't come out as early as Vadrik can so his gameplan will take longer to get going. But I think both are great options if you want to cast massive spells for cheap.

Let me know what you think of these commanders! Do you prefer to cast X spells to get the most value or win with a giant commander? Let me know down below and I'll see you next time!

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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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