Pursuit of Knowledge – Boros

(Boros Guildgate | Art by Titus Lunter)

The Boros Blues

Welcome back to Pursuit of Knowledge, the series where we use EDH gameplay data and EDHREC statistics to identify the best cards to select in each category to design a deck around a featured commander. In this installment of Pursuit of Knowledge, we will spend some time digging treasures for Boros, the most overlooked guild in EDH.

EDHREC’s database contains a low 7,308 Boros decks spread across 24 Boros commanders. To give a measure of comparison, the most prominent guild, Golgari, features 14,259 decks, almost twice the number of Boros. The most popular commander, Aurelia, the Warleader leads a meager 941 decks, despite being featured in a surprisingly high 9,558 EDH decks as part of the 99, the fourth most prevalent of all legendary creatures. In fact, three of the four most popular legendary creatures in the EDHREC database are red-white creatures: Gisela, Blade of Goldnight, the top legendary creature, can be found in a staggering 11,956 decks! Iroas, God of Victory‘s presence can be felt in 10,674 decks.

Boros has a reputation of offering a one-dimensional, combat-centric toolbox. However, even if that is one-dimensional, it does excel in that area, and I am surprised that this strength does not translate into a greater following. After spending time crunching numbers, analyzing cards and synergies, I, for one, am now a convert. How about you?

Boros’s bad reputation extends to the Command Zone gameplay data: Only thirteen Boros decks made it in the 435 streamed games part of the EDH gameplay corpus! This is almost four times lower than the average 50 decks we see for each of the other guilds.

I originally had Aurelia, the Warleader in mind for Boros, but two of our readers requested Adriana, Captain of the Guard for Boros, a commander out from Conspiracy: Take the Crown, that masters the art of Melee. Adriana’s combat support is a good fit as a Boros commander. She gets my nod for the featured commander.

Every time we attack, Adriana gives our army +1/+1 for each attacked opponent. With three creatures attacking each an opponent in a four-player game, this reads: “At the beginning of every combat, each attacking creature gets +3/+3 until end of turn.” Not bad. If we can add combat steps to our turns, our creatures grow bigger every combat step. Our goal for this deck will be to get enough creatures in play that can safely attack each of our opponents each turn to eventually overrun them. To achieve this goal, we will attempt to go wide. We also want our attacks to be multiple and impactful. As we implement our plan, our aggression will likely cause our opponents to get mad and we will likely become a target. Consequently, we will design our deck to provide enough of a defense to survive retaliation.

Boros provides a suite of very effective token producers and lends itself well for a go-wide strategy. The following graph presents the average Adriana card type distribution. For our deck, we will go lower with the creature count to bring in more cards that generate tokens in order to go wider.

Average Card Type Distribution

The extended Command Zone gameplay data ranked 626 spells and 142 lands complying to Boros color identity. We will now present a breakdown of the different cards from our deck in categories. For each category, we will present a table of the best ranked spell according to the card pool. We will highlight the cards we select for our card with a shaded background and display the rank of each card in parenthesis beside each card name. We include in our deck some cards that have not been seen enough times in our gameplay data to be ranked. These cards are typically found at end of table.

In addition to the basic categories (ramp, card advantage/filtering, disruption, mass removal, standalone creature/noncreature spells and lands), we will introduce four new categories: tokens, combat enhancers, evasion and swarm. The tokens category will allow us to go wide. The combat enhancer and swarm categories will provide us more impactful combat phases. The evasion category will ensure our attackers can safely contribute to each melee.


Ramp

With our average CMC hovering around 3.41 and our commander requiring 5 mana to get into action, we need a comprehensive ramp package. Ideally, our ramp package would also complement our token production and strengthen our ability to be impactful during our combat phases. This requirement for versatility in ramp puts some pressure on the presence of mana rocks in our deck. Our ramp will end up focusing more on bringing in lands quicker to the battlefield, with cards like Wayfarer’s Bauble, Solemn Simulacrum, and Sword of the Animist.

Wayfarer’s Bauble (3) Solemn Simulacrum (16) Dowsing Dagger // Lost Vale (38) Lion’s Eye Diamond (89)
Astral Cornucopia (5) Expedition Map (17) Ashnod’s Altar (47) Basalt Monolith (119)
Sol Ring (6) Gilded Lotus (23) Azor’s Gateway // Sanctum of the Sun (49) Oblivion Sower (124)
Temple of the False God (~7) Thought Vessel (30) Myriad Landscape (~58) Crystalline Crawler (143)
Phyrexian Altar (9) Everflowing Chalice (31) Conduit of Ruin (67) Gauntlet of Power (145)
Chrome Mox (13) Mox Diamond (32) Legion’s Landing // Adanto, the First Fort (69) Sword of the Animist (165)
Mana Geyser (14) Primal Amulet // Primal Wellspring (34) Thaumatic Compass // Spires of Orazca (71) Oketra’s Monument
Mana Crypt (15) Shrine of the Forsaken Gods (~35) Curse of Opulence (77) Smothering Tithe

Two of the ramp cards that we select have the potential to generate tokens. The first one, Legion’s Landing, an enchantment that brings in a 1/1 lifelink token, can be used once transformed to either provide an additional white mana source or a way to generate tokens. Since our focus is to attack wide, transforming Legion’s Landing should be trivial. Our second mana accelerator that helps with token generation is Oketra’s Monument. Although our focus is not so much on creatures, the Monument should facilitate their casting and allow us to get creature tokens that can attack but stay untap, providing us good defense on our opponents’ turns.

Two of our mana acceleration sources also provide us added power to help in combat. Dowsing Dagger is a low cost Gilded Lotus and plays well in a go-wide deck or with evasion. Sword of the Animist pumps one of our creatures while bringing more lands every combat step.

Smothering Tithe, the new star for white, rounds up our ramping package and has the potential to provide us at least three additional mana each turn, mana that can be kept aside for a more explosive turn.


Card Advantage/Filtering

Red and white are not traditionally good sources of card draw. However, red and white bring some of the best enchantment and Equipment tutors in the game. Our card advantage/filtering choices will thus be a balanced mixture of card draw and tutoring.

Enlightened Tutor (1) Primal Amulet // Primal Wellspring (34) Trading Post (70) Oracle’s Vault (139)
Reliquary Tower (~1) Tamiyo’s Journal (35) Sram, Senior Edificer (92) Heliod’s Pilgrim (142)
Skullclamp (2) Filigree Familiar (44) Planar Bridge (99) Scroll Rack (146)
Sensei’s Divining Top (7) Recruiter of the Guard (46) Cathartic Reunion (109) Wall of Omens (149)
Solemn Simulacrum (16) Stoneforge Mystic (51) Ichor Wellspring (110) Herald’s Horn (150)
Kozilek, Butcher of Truth (18) Godo, Bandit Warlord (57) Sandstone Oracle (114) Mindclaw Shaman (155)
Path of Ancestry (~18) Steelshaper’s Gift (63) Blasted Landscape (~115) Stonehewer Giant (157)
Imperial Recruiter (28) Drifting Meadow (~63) Mentor of the Meek (120) Temple of Triumph (~177)
Sanctum of Ugin (~29) Thalia’s Lancers (65) Mesa Enchantress (126) Academy Rector (207)
Alhammarret’s Archive (33) Conduit of Ruin (67) Smuggler’s Copter (138) Grenzo, Havoc Raiser (466)

Our top card draw spell is Skullclamp, especially effective in a token deck, turning tokens into card draw. Recruiter of the Guard and Imperial Recruiter allow us to search for either a creature that ramps, a token producer or a creature like Academy Rector that can cheat into play a finisher enchantment like True Conviction, Cathars’ Crusade or Luminarch Ascension.


Smuggler’s Copter fits well the Melee aspect of the deck, providing us a creature that can fly over our opponents’ defenses for card draw. Trading Post can cycle artifacts in and out of the graveyard with token assistance to produce some form of card advantage. Grenzo, Havoc Raiser rewards us every time one of our creatures connects with one of our opponents, giving us the opportunity to play cards from their decks, an additional source of card advantage.


Disruption

Our disruption cards contain a mixture of targeted removal, protection, combat enhancers, and chaos spells.

Strip Mine (~2) Scour from Existence (27) Grand Abolisher (62) Odric, Master Tactician (199)
Swords to Plowshares (4) Gift of Immortality (39) Selfless Spirit (64) Boros Charm (206)
Scavenger Grounds (~7) Fork (48) Cauldron of Souls (66) Wear // Tear (273)
Lightning Greaves (8) Scourge of Valkas (53) Thaumatic Compass // Spires of Orazca (71) Savage Beating (304)
Reverberate (10) Soul of New Phyrexia (55) Zealous Conscripts (72) Gideon Jura (455)
Path to Exile (12) Kor Haven (~56) Collective Effort (80) Grenzo, Havoc Raiser (466)
Teferi’s Protection (22) Thalia, Heretic Cathar (58) Rootborn Defenses (106) Gisela, Blade of Goldnight (488)
Comet Storm (25) Triskelion (59) Hellkite Charger (123) Disrupt Decorum

To keep our army growing over the course of the game, we need our creatures to survive as much removal as possible. For this reason, we include a number of protection spells. Lightning Greaves protects our commander and is key to insuring we can come up strong every combat step. Teferi’s Protection, Soul of New Phyrexia, Boros Charm, and Rootborn Defenses are good protection against mass removal, but could also insure all of our creatures survive a concerted attack. Rootborn Defenses even helps us grow our ranks, copying our best token in play.


To help us open breaches in our opponents’ defenses, we bring in three cards that forces our opponents to attack with some or all of their creatures. Disrupt Decorum forces our opponents to go head-to-head, Goading all of their creatures, and Grenzo, Havoc Raiser lets us Goad the most menacing creatures in play, provided we can damage our opponents. We can then sit and look at our opponents battling it out until our next turn, at which time we have the field open for an attack that should bring one or more of our opponents’ life totals very low. Gideon Jura acts as both a targeted removal,and a way of making one of our opponents open to our next attack.

Collective Effort can be quite effective in a go-wide deck and quite versatile at either removing permanents from the board or bolstering our creatures with +1/+1 counters.

We will talk more about Gisela, Blade of Goldnight and Savage Beating in the Combat Enhancer section.


Mass Removal

We will select our mass removal spells to take advantage of our go-wide strategy.

Fumigate (11) Elspeth, Sun’s Champion (61) Molten Disaster (154) Mass Calcify (216)
Blasphemous Act (24) Austere Command (85) Pyrohemia (166) Cleansing Nova (232)
Chain Reaction (41) Earthquake (98) Ryusei, the Falling Star (173) Hour of Revelation (235)
Volcanic Vision (42) Martial Coup (135) Archangel Avacyn (176) Hour of Reckoning (245)
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite (52) Divine Reckoning (152) Akroma’s Vengeance (182) Chandra’s Ignition (308)

Elspeth, Sun’s Champion is a perfect fit for our deck. Clearing the board of creatures with power 4 or greater before our combat phase leaves the board open to our creatures, whose power will be less than 4 before the Melee ability takes effect. Martial Coup clears the board, but leaves us with an army of tokens.

Chandra’s Ignition could be used as an emergency measure to remove all creatures from the board, but it shines most as a finisher when one of our creature becomes really tall – for instance, after growing from a Cathars’ Crusade and the Melee ability.


Core Synergy: Tokens

Our main strategy is to go wide, so our first core synergy, tokens, provides us the means to do so. We have an assortment of spells that can generate several tokens in one shot: Increasing Devotion, Martial Coup, Tempt with Vengeance, and Secure the Wastes. We also have some spells that can be used to sink our excess mana before the start of our turn to create more tokens: Luminarch Ascension, Sacred Mesa, Trading Post, Legion’s Landing, and Kjeldoran Outpost. The 0/1 Goat token that comes from Trading Post usually serves as sacrifice outlet or block fodder, but with the Melee ability, we can send the Goat creatures to combat. Aren’t we all dreaming of getting our Goats to assign lethal damage?

Heliod, God of the Sun (21) Young Pyromancer (78) Tempt with Vengeance (153) Hanweir Garrison // Hanweir, the Writhing Township (210)
Spawning Pit (26) Increasing Devotion (87) Phyrexian Processor (163) Divine Visitation (214)
Intangible Virtue (29) Nahiri, the Lithomancer (88) Decree of Justice (164) Karn, Scion of Urza (218)
Anointed Procession (40) Hero of Bladehold (90) Kjeldoran Outpost (~166) Captain of the Watch (219)
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion (61) Utvara Hellkite (101) Elspeth Tirel (167) Batterskull (225)
Legion’s Landing // Adanto, the First Fort (69) Rootborn Defenses (106) Secure the Wastes (183) Oketra’s Monument
Trading Post (70) Sacred Mesa (116) Thopter Assembly (198) Brimaz, King of Oreskos
Luminarch Ascension (75) Martial Coup (135) Akroan Horse (203) Legion Warboss

Our last source of tokens comes from creatures, artifacts, and planeswalkers, either from attacking, activating a planeswalker ability, or just casting a spell. Brimaz, King of Oreskos and Oketra’s Monument‘s vigilant tokens enhance our own defense.

We include in the deck three enchantments that improves the quality and quantity of our token generation. Anointed Procession doubles our ability to generate tokens. Divine Visitation turns all of our tokens into 4/4 flying Angel tokens. Cathars’ Crusade buffs each of our token (and nontoken) creatures when a creature enters the battlefield on our side. Each of these enchantments has the potential to be a game finisher in its own right.


Core Synergy: Combat Enhancer

Our second core synergy comes from a suite of cards that makes our combat phase more oppressive, pumping our creatures, giving them more combat abilities, increasing the damage, or forcing the damage through on our opponents. We also include a couple of cards that increase the number of combat phases we can perform each turn.

Heliod, God of the Sun (21) Hellkite Charger (123) Gratuitous Violence (231) Savage Beating (304)
Intangible Virtue (29) Scourge of the Throne (162) Relentless Assault (234) Jazal Goldmane (336)
Godo, Bandit Warlord (57) Duelist’s Heritage (169) Furnace of Rath (256) Reconnaissance (353)
Cathars’ Crusade (82) World at War (197) Frontline Medic (262) Flamekin Village (~392)
Hero of Bladehold (90) Odric, Master Tactician (199) Mirror Entity (268) Gisela, Blade of Goldnight (488)
Inferno Titan (97) Boros Charm (206) Sun Titan (296) Aurelia, the Warleader (509)
Hanweir Battlements (~105) Purphoros, God of the Forge (222) True Conviction (298) Adriana, Captain of the Guard
Hall of the Bandit Lord (~105) Odric, Lunarch Marshal (230) Akroma’s Memorial (301) Brimaz, King of Oreskos

We plan to attack a lot, but we do not want to leave our defense open. For this reason, we include a number of cards that provide vigilance to our troops: Heliod, God of the Sun, Intangible Virtue, Akroma’s Memorial, and Reconnaissance. We also took good care selecting a number of creatures with built-in vigilance.

Our creatures have the potential to grow +3/+3 every combat step. Adding an additional combat step each turn with the likes of Hellkyte Charger or Aurelia, the Warleader, or as a combat trick with an Entwined Savage Beating, can wreak havoc on our opponents.

With Odric, Master Tactician leading an attack, we can plow through our opponents at will, dispose of any threat through combat damage, and deliver the rest of the damage right to our enemy’s life total.

Gisela, Blade of Goldnight and True Conviction double the damage that each of our creatures can inflict to our opponents and their creatures. Gisela, Blade of Goldnight also prevents half of the damage that can be done to us or any of our creatures. Chandra’s Ignition with Gisela on board can become a one-sided board wipe.

Reconnaissance‘s ability can be activated at end of combat after damage is applied to untap all attacking creatures, giving them something very close to vigilance. Or it can also be used to remove from combat one of our creature that is about to die. This gives us a way to attack and increase our Melee effect without sustaining any loss in creatures.


Core Synergy: Evasion

We will be sending creatures to as many opponents as we can each combat. Giving our creature evasion allows us to keep our creatures safe from combat and ensures our opponents’ life totals keep going down each combat.

Reveillark (20) Utvara Hellkite (101) Sword of Fire and Ice (178) Bruna, the Fading Light // Brisela, Voice of Nightmares (257)
Knollspine Dragon (43) Sacred Mesa (116) Trailblazer’s Boots (188) Citadel Siege (278)
Scourge of Valkas (53) Hellkite Charger (123) Sunscorch Regent (192) Squee, Goblin Nabob (284)
Karmic Guide (54) Hellkite Tyrant (137) Eldrazi Conscription (194) Endbringer (289)
Luminarch Ascension (75) Smuggler’s Copter (138) Yosei, the Morning Star (196) Akroma’s Memorial (301)
Eldrazi Monument (84) Scourge of the Throne (162) Odric, Master Tactician (199) Rogue’s Passage (~339)
Tyrant’s Familiar (93) Decree of Justice (164) Divine Visitation (214) Grenzo, Havoc Raiser (466)
Dragon Mage (100) Ryusei, the Falling Star (173) Hoarding Dragon (236) Aurelia, the Warleader (509)

Evasion comes in the form of creatures with flying, but also some additional combat tricks, like Goading creatures, forcing our opponents to attack Gideon Jura, or messing with the selection of blockers with cards like Odric, Master Tactician. Evasion serves two purposes: the first is to connect with our opponents to bring their life down; and the second is to prevent the creatures that attack and enhance the Melee effect from dying, which helps preserve our board state.

Akroma’s Memorial acts as another finisher in our deck. With the right board state, we can attack with impunity, with an army ready to block pretty much any wave coming our way.


Core Synergy: Swarm

The idea behind our last core synergy, Swarm, is to add spells that leverages the go wide aspect of the deck, spells that shine with an army large in number.

Eldrazi Monument (84) Coat of Arms (147) Hangarback Walker (246) Shared Animosity (440)
Metallic Mimic (107) Scourge of the Throne (162) Mirror Entity (268) Throne of the God-Pharaoh (557)
Hellkite Charger (123) Purphoros, God of the Forge (222) Jazal Goldmane (336) Obelisk of Urd (601)
Gauntlet of Power (145) Goblin Bombardment (240) Adaptive Automaton (366) Impact Tremors (613)

Mirror Entity beefs up each of our creatures, especially our tokens, to a level that can be lethal to our opponents.

Purphoros, God of the Forge, a classic include in any red token deck, and Impact Tremors chips life away from our opponents every time a creature enters the battlefield. Purphoros also makes our tokens more lethal with its pumping ability.

Throne of the God-Pharaoh adds insult to injury, pinging each opponent at end of turn for one life for each tapped creature.


Standalone Creatures

With all the good cards we stuffed into our deck to implement our go-wide strategy, there is not much need for additional standalone creatures, but one shines in this deck despite not being part of our ranked card pool: Stalking Vengeance.

Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker (19) Magus of the Wheel (148) Armory Automaton (265) Suture Priest (400)
Dragonspeaker Shaman (50) Artisan of Kozilek (151) Soul Warden (277) Akroma, Angel of Wrath (406)
Felidar Guardian (68) Lovisa Coldeyes (174) Charmbreaker Devils (325) Emeria Shepherd (408)
Soul’s Attendant (113) Myr Retriever (179) Rhox Faithmender (332) Reya Dawnbringer (423)
Stuffy Doll (122) Gisela, the Broken Blade (193) Leonin Shikari (343) Pilgrim’s Eye (438)
Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder (127) Mikaeus, the Lunarch (200) Heartless Hidetsugu (355) Akroma, Angel of Fury (458)
Guttersnipe (140) Oreskos Explorer (260) Goblin Chieftain (356) Stalking Vengeance

Stalking Vengeance ensures that any attacking creature that dies does an extra round of damage. This creature may also dissuade opponents from performing mass removal when we have enough power in play to dispose of someone from all our creature dying. Stalking Vengeance can also have an immediate impact on the board from its haste ability and its power, which could get pumped to 8, nothing to scoff at.


Standalone Spells

The rest of the available standalone spells in our ranked card pool do not really leverage any of the synergies we have put forward. We list some of the top standalone spells in the table below for reference, in case we would want to change the focus of our deck.

Sneak Attack (36) Marshal’s Anthem (86) Paradox Engine (156) Mirage Mirror (239)
Altar of Dementia (37) Mycosynth Wellspring (115) Crucible of Fire (175) Mizzix’s Mastery (253)
Nim Deathmantle (45) Panharmonicon (118) Wheel of Fortune (180) Contagion Clasp (254)
Sigarda’s Aid (56) Increasing Vengeance (129) Bonehoard (185) Blackblade Reforged (264)
God-Pharaoh’s Gift (60) Clock of Omens (130) Bloodforged Battle-Axe (191) Scytheclaw (285)
Crucible of Worlds (74) Helm of Kaldra (134) Inquisitor’s Flail (201) Mirari (287)
Bonus Round (81) The Chain Veil (141) Replenish (224) Land Tax (293)

Lands

Our land base provides a base group of lands for mana fixing and ramping. It also features some lands that help us in the combat aspect and the token generation.

Command Tower (1) Temple of the False God (9) Mirrorpool (17) Temple of Triumph (55)
Reliquary Tower (2) Arid Mesa (10) City of Brass (18) Naya Panorama (62)
Strip Mine (3) Scavenger Grounds (11) Mountain (21) Needle Spires (73)
Wooded Foothills (4) Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth (12) Command Beacon (26) Rogue’s Passage (89)
Scalding Tarn (5) Path of Ancestry (13) Kor Haven (28) Slayers’ Stronghold (92)
Bloodstained Mire (6) High Market (14) Myriad Landscape (29) Flamekin Village (100)
Plateau (7) Sacred Foundry (15) Hall of the Bandit Lord (39) Battlefield Forge (108)
Marsh Flats (8) Sanctum of Ugin (16) Kjeldoran Outpost (53) Plains (130)

Flamekin Village, Hall of the Bandit Lord, Hanweir Battlements, and Slayers’ Stronghold bring some hastiness to our crew, the former also being the last tool in our arsenal to give vigilance to one of our creatures. Rogue’s Passage makes one of our creatures unblockable.

We finalize our land package with a couple of protection lands. Kor Haven can protect us from the most potent attacker on board. Command Beacon saves us once from paying the commander tax in case our commander dies and must return to the battlefield to complete our mission.


Putting It All Together

Winning a commander game with tokens can be a daunting task unless we can generate a very large amount of them. The pump Adriana provides makes the token strategy more realistic. Adriana turns even weak 1/1 tokens into potent 4/4 creatures during our combat phase when we attack each of our opponents. With a go-wide strategy, and the appropriate support, we strive to take our adversaries out through combat and a couple more life loss tricks. With our EDH gameplay data at hand, we have identified cards that should perform well within the synergies of our deck. We have also come up with a list of templates that can be reused to create many more Boros decks.

In our next article, we will wrap up our guild analysis with Selesnya. Sigarda, Heron’s Grace and Karametra, God of Havests have been submitted as potential commanders so far. The polls are still open for readers’ requests!

What is your experience with Boros? What Boros cards have fared well in your gameplay environment? Always curious to hear our readers speak their minds.

United, We Stand

Commander (1)
Creatures (22)
Artifacts (12)
Instants (9)
Sorceries (7)
Enchantments (11)
Planeswalkers (2)
Lands (37)

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Martin has been playing Magic since Fifth Dawn. He has explored many formats over the years and his favorite one is Commander. Curious by nature, Martin enjoys deckbuilding as much as playing the game. He likes to experiment new deck archetypes, explore new synergies and learn about crazy combos.