Non-Basically Speaking — Jolrael, Empress of Beasts
Hello friends and fellow tree huggers, welcome back to EDHREC and our continuing biweekly column, Non-Basically Speaking, the series that strives to identify non-basic lands that should be considered valuable staples or hidden gems based on their visibility on EDHREC.
Throughout the Non-Basically Speaking article series here on EDHREC it has been a common occurrence to discuss non-basic lands that contribute to our overall deck-building strategy. Today, my friends, our basic Forests will play an equally important role in our gameplan as we work our way towards a win condition that will include smashing into the red zone with an army of animated lands. Yep, animated lands.
Mechanically, our Commander deck will behave and function similar to your ordinary run-of-the-mill, mono-green ramp deck. However, it will be our overall goal as a casual EDH player to reach the point in the game where we can turn our lands sideways. Not for mana, but as an attack force of 3/3 living timber! Manipulating the activity from the command zone will be a reclusive spell caster from the Mwonvuli Jungle on Dominaria, Jolrael, Empress of Beasts.
Winning as Easy as One, Two, Tree
Jolrael, Empress of Beasts was part of a Spellshaper cycle in the Prophecy expansion. She is an enticing commander to build around with a unique ability to turn all lands target player controls into 3/3 creatures until end of turn. However, the glaring drawback is that we have to discard two cards to activate her ability. With such a steep cost to bring the wilderness to life, we need to build our deck so that we only need to call upon Jolrael when it is time to finish the game. So, what's the plan?
A good portion of our beginning game is dedicated to ramping and getting lands into play, but soon afterward our board state begins to blossom. While our overall goal is to smash our opponents with our giant oak trees, there are a few underlying strategies in our deck that could very well win us the game before Jolrael makes it to the battlefield.
Our first deployment of threats could very well develop through our token sub-theme. Avenger of Zendikar (51% of decks) and Arachnogenesis (11% of decks) tokens, amplified by the infamous Beastmaster Ascension (69% of decks), will take away huge chunks of our opponents life total. Can you imagine the explosion of the 4/4 green creatures we would get if we cast a Boundless Realms with Rampaging Baloths in play? About as crazy as a pond full of Mogwais (sorry... corny Gremlins movie reference).
Should our tokens not prove worthy in their efforts to attack and defend, we have the stompy part of our deck as the next phase in our master plan. Void Winnower, Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger and Kozilek, Butcher of Truth will be affordable to cast and slightly oppressive if our playgroup is unable to follow up with an answer.
Admittedly, our Jolrael EDH deck won't dominate or shape a meta. However, we will have a resilient stack of nature's might that could obliterate an entire table out of nowhere. Are we ready to get our hands dirty? Let's see what it takes to get our lands into the red zone and take a look at Jolrael, Empress of Beasts, Non-Basically Speaking!
Jolraelly Stone National Park
Tramp, Tramp, Tramplin Fuel
Since Jolrael's army is also our source for mana, we need to be wary of tapping too many lands before declaring war. So instead of including a large number of Overrun-type spells, I opted for a couple of creatures that will provide our animated lands with a static anthem effect when Jolrael brings them to life. Thunderfoot Baloth is included in 43% of Jolrael EDH decks and its value to our commander as a lieutenant is unmeasurable. The Baloth has the potential to not only give our Forests +2/+2, but it also applies Trample which is absolutely necessary if we want our 5/5 forests to stampede through opposing forces. Along these same lines, Sylvan Advocate can also toughen the bark on our trees with a +2/+2 power/toughness boost, but alas, the lack of trample may stonewall a few of our forces when they encounter potential blockers.
Moving on. If we can get him to survive a turn, Garruk Wildspeaker (30% of decks) can empower our Lands with a crunchy +3/+3 bonus that won't deplete the number of soldiers in Mother Nature's army. On prior turns, Garruk could help out by untapping two of the lands we may have used to activate Jolrael's ability, putting them back in the line of duty!
While I tried to steer clear of incorporating spells that need to be cast prior to our alpha swing, I simply cannot deny the power of a well-timed Triumph of the Hordes. This uncommon fruit from New Phyrexia is a game ender and can be found in a wide array of commander decks that choose to take the shortest path to victory.
To round out our attunement with nature, let's not forget that Beastmaster Ascension (69% of decks) will do the same thing for our 3/3 land creatures as it does for tokens. Ever hit someone in the face with an 8/8 Reliquary Tower? Get this enchantment on the board and watch epic EDH stories take root!
I would be remiss to not mention why I chose to exclude Craterhoof Behemoth (14% of decks) from the 99. Craterhoof might be one of the most infamous win conditions for mono-green decks, but if we have to tap our animated lands to pay the casting cost, its effect will be minimalized. Of course, we do run a couple of effects like Vitalize (31% of decks) and Patron of the Orochi (15% of decks), but a lesser played alternative, like Pathbreaker Ibex (0% of decks), might be the answer.
Final thoughts. Why trample over when we can clear the path? Sending Breaker of Armies or Nacatl War-Pride to draw out an opponent's blockers will allow our terrain thumpers to storm through and complete the mission.
Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires
While our path to victory so far seems like a wonderful stroll through the garden, we need to take a moment to address a few high-risk dangers. Instant-speed board wipes such as Evacuation and Nevinyrral's Disk will absolutely demolish our animated lands. Heck, even a Vedalken Orrery with the potential to flash in a Wrath of God is terrifying when we are putting the game on the line. I highly recommend incorporating Hall of Gemstone and Dosan the Falling Leaf into our defenses to help minimalize the potential for disaster.
How about some politics? Jolrael does have a motherly instinct to protect the wildlife that has gathered around her. Should an opponent contemplate wiping the board, we can respond by activating our commander and turning their mana base into 3/3 creatures that will get swept up in the destruction. With Jolrael monitoring the battlefield, our opponents will need to ask our permission to cast a mass destruction spell or face the true wrath of Mother Nature.
Our conversation throughout the article has revolved around our lands being basic, or non-basic I guess, it doesn't really matter. Jolrael turns them all into 3/3 win cons. So, let's end the day with a peek at a few notable non-basic inclusions, per tradition of course.
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx can potentially be a mini-Cabal Coffers for mono-green. Nacatl War-Pride and Garruk, Primal Hunter can account for a solid contribution of devotion to green making the Shrine to Nyx an ample staple for big mana.
Our Jolrael EDH deck is chock-full of beefy creatures that could tempt our kitchen table friends into gaining control of them. To prevent losing life at the hands of our own critters we will call on the services of a non-basic favorite, Homeward Path (0% of decks). With an untapped Homeward Path, we can protect our cards from the likes of Bribery, Animate Dead, Zealous Conscripts or whatever the case may be.
The Hideaway ability of Mosswort Bridge can create a bit of mystery and possibly even a strategic advantage. Being able to unleash a hidden card at the opportune time could save our hides or tilt the tides of battle. With the high power level of creatures in our mono-green deck we should have ample opportunities to activate the card hidden away with Mosswort Bridge.
While it's common knowledge that the options and control provided by graveyard decks such as Meren of Clan Nel Toth and Karador, Ghost Chieftain can be menacing, a card like Spore Frog could bring Jolrael's wilderness militia to a grinding halt. While the reasons for graveyard hate is abundant, its the Fog Frog that warrants running Scavenger Grounds.
If a Tree Falls in the Forest...
Are you interested in seeing this deck play out? Well, you are in luck. Not too long ago my friends and I released a gameplay video featuring the 2017 anthology commanders. At the time of the video, I did not have a Freyalise, Llanowar's Fury deck, but I did have Jolrael, Empress of Beasts. Simple solution, we moved Jolrael into the main deck and replaced her with Freyalise in the Command Zone.
Honestly, it was interesting to see that my Jolrael deck didn't miss a beat with Freyalise at the helm. While I won't spoil the details, I will say that Tony was able to get Jolrael onto the battlefield and she definitely made her presence felt. If you have time, I highly recommend checking out this video and see what Jolrael, Empress of Beasts is capable of!
That's all I have for you today my EDHREC friends! So. I gotta know. What do you think of our Jolrael deck? Is this the first time you have ever seen this commander? Are there some cards you would recommend? Would you like to see a new version of Jolrael if she fits in the 2018 Dominaria storyline? Let's discuss in the comments below!
On to the Next! ---wallyd