Playgroup Brews - War of the Spark (Pt 1)

(Storm the Citadel | Art by Grzegorz Rutkowski)

The Budget Brewers

Welcome to this set's edition of Playgroup Brews, the series where I, along with three to four members of my EDH communities, choose a bunch of legendary creatures from the newest set, give our first impressions on each of the commanders, and brew decks for them! For this edition, we've chosen a cycle of commanders: the new Gods: God-Eternal Oketra, God-Eternal Kefnet, God-Eternal Bontu, God-Eternal Rhonas and of course, Ilharg, the Raze-Boar.

PS - Last month you may have seen EDHREC's announcement of a partnership with Archidekt last month, and since this series is all about brewing, and Archidekt was used to brew all these new decks, stay tuned for the brewers' reviews of that deckbuilding website at the end of Part 2!

Today's group of writers hail from our playgroup at Battlegrounds Gaming in Norwalk, CT. We collectively decided to make all of these decks on a budget, with a maximum of $100, not including the commanders themselves. This budget is using CardKingdom prices, and each deck is $100 or less at time of the writing. If there are any obvious inclusions for these commanders that don't appear in the decklists, that budget might be why. Still, we've got five really awesome and fun decks that we hope you enjoy! Without further ado, let's meet the team.

Brief Intros:

Ray: Howdy y’all, I’m Ray and I like building decks focused around the commander (possibly to a fault), and boy, do I love combos. I chose God-Eternal Rhonas because nothing says green and stompy like doubling your creatures' power for a turn.

Ricky: Hello, mortals. I’m Ricky. Like the Golgari Swarm, I enjoy strategies based around recursion, destruction, and sacrificing my own permanents for value. I chose God-Eternal Bontu for this very reason. I’ve always loved that crocodile head.

Travis: Hi folks! You may remember me from the Core 2019 and the Commander 2018 Playgroup Brews. I've been playing Magic for twenty years, but EDH is where I really found my home as a player. I enjoy finding obscure relationships between cards and challenging myself to win in creative ways. I chose Ilharg, the Raze-Boar because it takes me back to the days of $3 Urza’s Saga boosters and windmill slamming a Thundering Giant.

Matt: I’m Matt, and I like decks that rely on the commander, even to the point where the deck doesn’t function if the commander isn’t in play (looking at you Neheb, the Eternal). I chose God-Eternal Oketra because cats are awesome, and really, who doesn’t like free 4/4s?

Christian: I am the head writer for Playgroup Brews. I mostly play casual but tuned Commander decks, straying away from competitive. I am a big fan of cheating cards into play or casting them for cheap, so I chose to go with God-Eternal Kefnet for this edition.

First Impressions: God-Eternal Rhonas

Ray: My first thought upon seeing Rhonas was that I definitely need to get him for my Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma deck. My second thought was 'how can I flicker him in mono-green?' The doubled power combined with vigilance allows for a powerful offense and defense.

Ricky: He’s big, green, and stompy. Definitely an explosive effect that, given the right setup, can be game-winning. This plus Overrun effects are a threat not to be taken lightly.

Travis: At first glance, this card looks right at home in a linear beatdown strategy. However, there is some stiff competition from Rhonas the Indomitable. Perhaps mono-green Infect?

Matt: A Berserk that gives vigilance instead of killing the creature!? To all your creatures!? From the command zone!? Consider me terrified.

Christian: Rhonas is very reminiscent of cards like Pathbreaker Ibex, Craterhoof Behemoth, and Xenagos, God of Revels. I don’t think he is as fun as a commander as the original Rhonas, but I definitely want him in the 99 of a lot of green decks.

Ray's Rhonas Deck Tech

Big. Green. Stompy. That’s the way Rhonas likes to roll. When he enters the battlefield, the power of all our creatures is doubled. We love this ability, so how can we make him enter the battlefield multiple times? Well, stay tuned.

First things first, this is mono-green, so naturally we have our fair share of mana dorks, like Karametra’s Acolyte, Priest of Titania, Viridian Joiner, and Marwyn, the Nurturer. You can never go wrong with massive amounts of mana, so let's bring in another fine addition to compliment these bad boys: Sword of the Paruns and Umbral Mantle allow these mana dorks to generate infinite mana, which gets us to our next step.

There are two paths to follow with this infinite mana. Green Sun’s Zenith and Vivien’s Arkbow can help us find our friends Wolfbriar Elemental and/or Temur Sabertooth. Greater Good and Evolutionary Leap can also help us find our way to this magnificent creatures. Once we've found them, we can cast Wolfbriar Elemental and put all that infinite mana into its Multikicker ability. Alternatively, use Temur Sabertooth to repeatedly bounce and recast Rhonas, and we're good to go!

As with any deck on a budget, this one is not without its faults. Board wipes are a major threat; unless we have Temur Sabertooth to send creatures back to our hand, there is no way to protect all our creatures. The only way to recover would be to refill the hand. Luckily, the plan with this deck is to draw as many cards as possible to drop those combo pieces. Colossal Majesty adds passive extra card draw if we control a creature with power four or greater, and Abundance allows us to decide if we want to draw a land or a nonland, to filter through our deck a bit faster. Regal Force, Harmonize, and Shamanic Revelation all provide excellent card draw, too.

As any green deck should, this deck has plenty of ramp. Five of the nine artifacts in this deck generate mana or lower the cost of green spells. Many of the creatures are mana dorks as well, allowing for early drops of big baddies like End-Raze Forerunners. For removal, things like Woodfall Primus, Desert Twister, and Beast Within can remove most permanents, while fight effects from Pounce and Nature’s Way help with enemy creatures. Next, we have our sources of protection. Swiftfoot Boots is the budget Lightning Greaves, while Prowling Serpopard and Archetype of Endurance provide wider protection to the board. Lastly, we have our ways to get damage through. Bellowing Tanglewurm gives all our creatures Intimidate, while Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma, Thunderfoot Baloth, and End-Raze Forerunners all provide trample to our potentially massive creatures. Naturally, Overwhelming Stampede found its way into the deck, so we can double our creatures' power even further!

Here is the list I came up with:

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Rhonas will most likely find his home more often in the 99 of other decks than as a standalone commander, but with deathtouch, vigilance, and power doubling in the command zone, he certainly makes for an interesting brew.

First Impressions: Ilharg, the Raze-Boar

Ray: Ah yes, the Boar God of the end-times. Nothing says fun like cheating out big creatures. Red cards with enter-the-battlefield effects like Demanding Dragon, Burning Sun’s Avatar, or Inferno Titan could be pretty strong here.

Ricky: While I understand the need for a mono-red God in this set, I’m still upset it wasn't Gruul. Regardless, this angry Pumbaa makes for an interesting commander. While not as explosive as the God-Eternals, cheating something into combat is sure to lead into some massive damage.

Travis: I, for one, welcome our new pig overlord. Mono-red has been getting spicier as the years go by, so this will be a wild ride.

Matt: Ah, yes, the ol’ command zone Sneak Attack. It loses a lot of versatility by only being red (and not having haste). The body is nothing to scoff at, and I’m sure it’ll win a lot of Limited games, but not being green hurts it a lot. I’m not overly impressed.

Christian: This Boar God is one of my favorite cards I’ve seen in a long while. I’m a big fan of cheating things into play, and if Travis hadn't called dibs on this one, I definitely would have chosen him. He seems like a really goofy Kaalia of the Vast.

Travis's Ilharg Deck Tech

Let’s paint the picture: You’re eight years old, and you just opened up a red seven-drop in a booster pack. Your older friends say that it’s a dud, but you are STOKED. You jam it into every deck that can play it, until you eventually learn better, and it gets tucked away in a bulk box somewhere. Years pass, and then War of the Spark spoilers come out. You see Ilharg for the first time, and the fire begins to burn again. Welcome home.

Prime Speaker Vannifar is basically a Birthing Pod in the command zone, and in a similar vein, Ilharg does a darn good Sneak Attack impression. In this case, instead of sacrificing cards for payoffs, we can keep the party going by returning them to our hand. We have an ETB-centric list that aims to maximize the value of Ilhrag’s ability. Just as important, though, we have to pay attention to the shortcomings of mono-red in EDH, and we have designed it with that in mind.

Before we get into the strategy of the list, let’s get one thing out in the open. There will be two types of decks for Ilharg: those that play Tyrant of Discord, and those that don’t. The choice is ultimately yours, but I elected to opt out. The effect is a chore to resolve, and splashy enough to cause a stir. Are the 0-3 random permanents you'll remove worth having the other players turn on you? The effect of randomly removing some nonland permanents simply isn’t worth the shift in table politics that it can bring. For those reasons, I chose not to include it.

There are a variety of other big, splashy payoffs to be had with Ilharg, so let's touch on some of the cornerstone pieces to the strategy. Things like Duplicant, Spawn of Thraxes, and Ingot Chewer offer repeatable removal, and Steel Hellkite and Bogardan Hellkite can help us two-for-one our opponents. To help out with all the high-mana-cost spells in the deck, Rapacious One and Emrakul’s Hatcher give us some ramp so we don’t fall far behind.

We all know that mono-red has its challenges with raw card draw, so let’s talk about how we get around it. In my opinion, Dangerous Wager is underrated in mono-red, because if we're out of cards, it can easily be a two-mana instant-speed Divination. Bedlam Reveler represents another interesting engine, since we’re going to rack up some sizable card velocity by ripping through our deck. With Feldon of the Third Path, we don’t have to be too worried about the forced discard clauses of these cards. I've also included Otherworld Atlas to keep up on cards and to provide some politics; as the person with the “Ancestral Recall for Everyone!” button, it’s easy to start making friends.

Now, let’s talk strategy here. We don’t want to overextend and get hated out of the game quickly. Luckily, we can’t easily overextend into a boardwipe, since the creature Ilharg summons goes back to our hand at the end of the turn. Since we can’t win early without some sort of combo, this mono-red deck is grindier than one might think. By staying in second or third place as the game progresses, we can keep the heat off our backs and keep pulling rabbits out of our hat each turn.

In the later part of the game, Sundial of the Infinite and Conjurer’s Closet help us build up a board presence and keep the value train moving, since they can circumvent Ilharg's 'return to hand at end of turn' trigger to keep the creature in play permanently. I also recommend Cauldron of Souls, which can both save our creatures from imminent doom and repeat some of those awesome ETB triggers. We can even give our Ingot Chewer and Faultgrinder Persist when we Evoke them, so we’re getting two ETB triggers for a discounted casting cost. That is some spicy, spicy value right there. Finally, Warstorm Surge and Fanatic of Mogis will help us cover those last remaining points of damage, and will help us get across the finish line.

Speaking of the finish line, here's the finished list:

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The options for Ilharg are wide open. Simply search creatures with ETB effects, and you can tune the deck however you see fit. For those upgrading to a powerful non-budget version, they'll probably look to include the likes of Blightsteel Colossus, Mana Crypt, Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, and Wheel of Fortune. Until then, though, live your best life and windmill slam those seven-drops. Your inner child will thank you.

First Impressions: God-Eternal Oketra

Ray: Creating 4/4 creature tokens feels like a very green ability to me, but I won’t complain. White has a lot of token support as well as creatures that can activate Oketra’s ability. Throwing in an Odric, Lunarch Marshal can really make the tokens a threat, since they will all gain Oketra’s double strike.

Ricky: While I question a mono-white commander making an army of black creatures, I dig how powerful of an ability this is. I think there’s a lot more flexibility with her as part of the 99, maybe in a Selesnya or Orzhov token deck. Even so, putting out 4/4 bodies with vigilance for each creature you cast makes her a powerful threat on her own.

Travis: It’s easy to start slotting in your usual token generators in here, but I’d like to see someone abuse the fact that Oketra makes black creature tokens. I don’t know if there is a workable engine in there, but perhaps the interwebs could figure it out?

Matt: I think she’s best in a white-black Aristocrats shell, such as Teysa, Orzhov Scion. She does have some competition with Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder, but perhaps this cat can stand on her own.

Christian: It is very weird for a white commander to generate black tokens, but a 4/4 with vigilance is no joke. I imagine this will lead a creature-heavy deck with mostly one-mana creatures; paying one mana for a 1/1 and a 4/4 with vigilance is absolutely insane.

Matt's Oketra Deck Tech

Of the five Gods in War of the Spark, God-Eternal Oketra is the most sly. At first glance, Oketra lends herself to a heavy token strategy, but there's much more to it than that. Oketra isn’t just any cat. She’s a cat God. She should be treated with the utmost respect. She should be given a deck that plays on her strengths.

Oketra, meet Whitemane Lion. This cool cat can save you in a pinch, but its most important function is to repeatedly return itself to our hand, constantly summoning more and more Zombies to join the army. Bouncing our own creatures is the bread and butter of this deck, and the Lion isn't alone. Kor Skyfisher, Aviary Mechanic, and Jeskai Barricade all provide us with a way to abuse Oketra’s trigger, reuse any enters/leaves-the-battlefield effects, or simply to save another creature from pesky removal spells. Stonecloaker gives us another way to call the army while also providing insurance against graveyard strategies. Finally, our best card for this is Stormfront Riders, which acts as a “bounce lord” and makes all our future hit-and-run acts all the more potent. Plus, he laughs in the face of Cyclonic Rift.

As this is budget, we don’t have Land Tax or Smothering Tithe at our disposal, so we will do our best without them. Luckily, since the plan is to play Whitemane Lion roughly a thousand times, our good friends Mentor of the Meek and Bygone Bishop are here to keep our army fed. Oketra has even called in the favor of her pal Alms Collector to make sure our blue opponents don’t get too out of hand, and Oreskos Explorer and Knight of the White Orchid help us keep up with our green enemies.

Speaking of which, how do we keep up with enemy threats? The quickest way of dealing with a dangerous permanent is to simply eliminate the owner, of course, but we can also use cards like Mangara of Corondor. It's slow, but if we bounce it in response to its ability, it's repeatable. Palace Jailer removes a threat and provides some much-needed card advantage, and our opponents are going to be hard-pressed to get through our vigilant forces to take the Monarchy away from us. Hour of Reckoning, Austere Command, and Dusk // Dawn offer versatile mass destruction while leaving the majority of our forces intact.

Here’s the fun part: attacking with our army. This is a deck will mainly win by using the combat step, so we need ways of guaranteeing victory in combat. For this purpose, we call upon Odric, Lunarch Marshal and Jazal Goldmane to make combat a nightmare for our opponents. Cathars’ Crusade and Meadowboon allow our army to go tall as well as wide. Elite Scaleguard and Regna’s Sanction make sure our forces get through unimpeded. Our opponents aren’t just going to stand by as we create this army, so cards like Unbreakable Formation and Make a Stand are quite important.

However, our true defensive capabilities lie in the hands of our enchantments. Oketra demands nothing less than Fanatical Devotion, and she knows her Martyr's Cause is just. There are so many tokens that we can expend them to regenerate creatures, give them protection, or make ourselves invulnerable. If and when our creatures bite the dust, we have a bevy of other enchantments to buy them back. Among them, Marshal’s Anthem is the most versatile. We can use it to resurrect a fallen Kor Skyfisher, for instance, which in turn can bounce back the Anthem to do it all over again. Nothing short of exile will stop this army; it is as resilient as it is powerful.

I’d like to briefly mention a few cards that synergize with those 4/4 Zombie Warrior tokens. Mardu Woe-Reaper cares about Warriors, and guarantees that our Zombie army will be the only Zombie army. Binding Mummy, meanwhile, cares about the tokens' other creature type, and ensures that nothing will stand in the way of Oketra’s army. Sometimes though, Oketra likes to employ some Unconventional Tactics. For times when you really need to end someone, Oketra will get the job done herself. All it takes is two applications of these tactics to bash our enemies for 24 commander damage.

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Now that the cat’s out of the bag, you too can make her proud by crushing your enemies with an endless horde of Zombies. If you'd like to give her treats, consider upgrades like Teferi’s Protection, Anointed Procession, and dare I say, Coat of Arms. Perhaps you’d even like to go infinite by adding Phyrexian Altar and Aetherflux Reservoir. There’s still much to explore with this cat and I look forward to seeing other players' takes on her. 

The End Step

Thanks for reading! We hope you enjoyed these three budget decks, and remember, this is just Part 1! Stay tuned for our Part 2, where we will discuss God-Eternal Bontu and God-Eternal Kefnet!

What did you think of these decks? Would you build them differently, even on a budget? How would you upgrade them? Please let us know in the comments below! Until then, enjoy War of the Spark! 

While getting a degree in evolutionary biology, Christian spent all of his free time in college building commander decks after being introduced to the MTG in the Theros block. After spending the last several years building and playing biologically-themed tribal decks and surprising people with wonky builds of well-known commanders, he decided to share his thought and design process with the community, incorporating ideas from his many playgroups into articles, while also spending way too much of his life underwater. Find him on twitter @Evol_Leap!

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